Tag Archive - Travel

A Pilgrim Tale: day twenty-two


The rain in Spain falls mainly on the plain. And the hills. And irrigation channels and wildflowers growing in ditches. In small towns and big cities. On men riding bicycles. On allees of poplars. On pilgrims.


It comes strong early, but by the time we reach Astorga in the afternoon, it is mostly mist. Astorga is a quaint, old city with winding, labyrinthine streets. The Bishop’s Palace, another Gaudi offering, is just around the corner from our albergue. It is the quintessential marriage of refinement and whimsy.


And there is a civil building with figures on the clock who come out and hammer a bell to ring the hour. Mike and I walk back at 4:00 to see it.

Our albergue, San Javier, is in an historic building in the charming old quarter. A stellar location. The building has nice bones, with stone arches, heavy wooden beams, and a fireplace (especially welcome on this chilly day). But it is a bit of a run down affair. EVERYTHING creaks. The floors. The beds. It would actually be funny if it didn’t make it almost impossible to sleep. OK, it’s still kinda funny. But the beds are tight, there is no room for storage, and the laundry sink is out of doors with only cold water. Brrr.

We buy cheese and bread, olives and wine, and picnic in the common area near the fire. We stuff newspaper in our boots, hoping against hope that they will dry before morning, when we will walk back out into the rain. Again.


Tell your heart that the fear of suffering is worse than the suffering itself. And that no heart has ever suffered when it goes in search of its dreams, because every second of the search is a second’s encounter with God and with eternity.

~Paulo Coelho

A Pilgrim Tale: day twenty-one



I hear it outside the open window as I brush my teeth and it makes my stomach feel tight. We really can’t complain because we have mostly had amazing weather. But it is still hard to make myself walk out in it. I’m not gonna lie.


But there are beautiful snails scurrying across the path. And we can’t help but laugh when the dirt path becomes mud that sticks to our boots in huge clumps and makes us feel like we are wearing anti-gravity boots that weigh 100 pounds and we have to slog off the path and into the far away grass to try and get rid of it and find some way to move forward without being finally sucked into the mud so deep that you can no longer find any trace of us.


Then, in the late afternoon, the rain finally stops for a space and the skies are ridiculously gorgeous and the fields of corn are saturated with color. And though gratitude is not the only possible response, it is the only proper response.


Once we secure lodging in Villavante, we head out to the local pub for dinner. There, I feel like we step through some kind of wonderful time machine. At four different tables sit men of various ages engaged in spirited games of dominoes and cards. There is yelling and laughter and smack talk. You would think we were at a major sporting event. It’s amazing.


Gear note: We read mixed reviews before coming regarding ponchos versus rain jacket and pack cover. Jan and David did the former, Mike and I the latter. While each has advantages and disadvantages, I had first hand experience on this day with one of the disadvantages of the jacket/pack cover option. As it rained ALL day, water trickled down my back between my jacket and pack and invaded my pack from inside, puddling at the bottom, meaning my towel and a portion of my sleeping bag were damp. From here on out, I put both in a large plastic zip bag and had no more trouble.

*Due to the rain, my phone stayed in a plastic bag in my pocket for most of the day. Top two photos courtesy of David.

A Pilgrim Tale: day twenty


The world is silvered with frost, and the most common roadside weeds have become works of wonder.

I am wearing all my clothes.



After the frost burns off, we pass our friend Daniel, a former Royal Canadian Mounted Police officer, as he is resting his feet. He has had some difficulty with his shoes. He has even done the unthinkable and bought new ones along the way, keeping the old ones so he could switch them out while breaking the new ones in. He has just had bad news from home. A family member has died. But he will rally, and we will see him in the cathedral in just less than two weeks.


We arrive in Leon on market day. The city is thronged with people. In the square in front of the cathedral, there is a farmer’s market where we buy nectarines. In another square, tents are filled with pottery. Still another street holds jewelry and cloth and other flea market type items. At one point, we have to step aside to allow an armored knight on horseback and his retinue to pass. I’m never sure what that’s about, but it’s pretty cool.


Leon possesses a number of architectural masterpieces. Gaudi has a building here, Casa de Botines. Not all Dr. Seuss and sandcastles like in Barcelona, but still magic.


Though a great many of our friends are stopping in Leon to have more time there, we decide to press on to La Virgin del Camino. There we stay in the very clean and efficient municipal albergue, Don Antonio y Dona Cinia, though it takes us a minute to find it. We are happy to discover an Irish pub that sells an assortment of beers, the like of which we have not yet seen in Spain. Though the basic blonde, fizzy cerveza is refreshing enough after a long day of hiking, it is nice to find something a little sturdier.


Special Thanks to David for reminding me that this was the day I ate the largest hamburger in the world. And for capturing it on film. πŸ™‚ (Hey, a girl gets hungry.)

Tomorrow, we will wake to rain. But tonight, my mind is filled with images of thistles against a blue sky and bright blossoms in sunshine.




The difference between pilgrim and tourist is the intention of attention, the quality of the curiosity.
~Phil Cousineau

A Pilgrim Tale: day nineteen


Bar Elvis is something of a legend on the camino. A quirky little bar with graffitied walls, inside and out, and a bustling proprietor who carves strips of salty, cured ham from the loin on the counter and piles them onto long baguettes, or stirs them into delicious, freshly-made tortillas. Johnny Cash is on the stereo and the music flows out the door onto the porch where we sit and eat in the sun.


We have lost track of the lads for a couple of days as they have been walking an alternate route, but our paths converge here and it is good to see them again. We also make a new acquaintance. Guido is a tattoo artist from Sicily. He is young, but already he carries the scars of war. He spent time in Afghanistan with the army and it has affected him deeply. He pulls out a square of paper and rolls a mound of dried leaves into a “medicinal” smoke for the road.


Most of our walk this day is on a gravel path that runs alongside the highway. Not especially charming, but easy and flat and comfortable underfoot. We pass a construction zone where road work is happening at a dizzying pace. Dozers and dumptrucks with familiar names like John Deere and Caterpillar whir in a cloud of dust, and I try to think of one time I have passed a construction zone at home when even half the workers were employed at once.

We find lodging at the municipal albergue in Mansilla de las Mulas where several buildings cluster around a central courtyard draped in geraniums and ivy. Guido is here. He announces that he will be making pasta for dinner and we must join him. And because we are not idiots, we say yes. πŸ™‚

Jan, David, Mike and I walk to the mercado to pick up wine, and provisions for a giant salad. On the way, we stop into a bar for a beverage and are happy to see Peter and Nicole from Germany. We have visited with them a couple of times along the way, but it is good to have leisure to visit long and easy. Peter’s first wife died of cancer a few years ago. Now he and Nicole are building a good and beautiful life together. They have traveled widely. And wildly at times. They are full of story.


Back at the albergue the kitchen is humming. People are chopping and sauteing, reaching over one another for pots and spoons, salt and the sink. We find a corner and begin tearing lettuce into a stock pot, the only container left. Guido sweats onions and garlic in a pan, the beginnings of pesto. Meanwhile, the hospitalero offers us a gas operated pot on legs that we can use in the garden for making the pasta, as the stove is all full.


Guido’s guests begin gathering. He has apparently been accumulating them all day. By the time we gather around the long table laid with olives and cheese, pasta, salad, bread and wine, we are a mini United Nations with folks from Russia, Denmark, Italy, Canada, the U.S., Australia, Argentina, Japan, and Poland. There is frequent toasting, and much talk and laughter. And Guido, who carries so much hurt in his body, has given all of us an exuberant and unforgettable night.


Let the beauty we love be what we do.
There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.

*Thank you, David, for the photo of Guido at work. πŸ™‚

A Pilgrim Tale: day eighteen


No, the Hobbits don’t live here!

So says the sign in Moratinos. πŸ™‚ These are bodegas. Wine cellars dug into the side of a hill. Historically, each family made enough wine to provide for their own family for a year. Their wine-making operation would have taken place in these bodegas. Afterwards, the wine, and perhaps food as well, would have been stored here.

The job of digging these out was often assigned to children. The soft clay was easy to dig, but when they pushed it out the chimney ventilation shaft to add to the mound, exposure to the air dried and hardened it to a stony surface. They would dig the bodegas in the winter, but the children would be nice and warm as they worked inside.

Some bodegas are believed to be 500 years old. Most are not used any more for wine-making, but as storage cellars or party rooms. (Hence the antenna, I suppose.) πŸ™‚


When we get to Sahagun, we meet John. His was one of the many stories Otto told us yesterday. His wife died on Easter Sunday. This pilgrimage is part of his healing. Around his neck, he wore a chain with both their wedding rings. His bride had instructed him to find a couple to give them to. She assured him he would know them when he met them.

Two nights ago, he stayed at Espiritu Santo in Carrion de los Condes (as did we). While he was there, he realized he knew who he was supposed to give them to. Espiritu Santo means Holy Spirit, by the way.

He invited Jorge and Kelly to have dinner with him. At dinner, he reached across the table for Kelly’s hand. He slipped his wife’s ring on her finger. It was a perfect fit. In the same way, he asked for Jorge’s hand. Let me pause here to say John is rather small in stature. Shorter than me, I believe. Jorge is a big, strong firefighter. He looks a little like a linebacker. And yet, his ring also fit perfectly. Now, Jorge wears a chain around his neck with the rings he and Kelly will wear when they are married.

John kindly tells us the story again. His voice is soft and reverent, but his eyes dance.


Sahagun claims the title of half-way point on the camino, although the math is a bit fuzzy. Regardless, we stop and take photos and commemorate this important “thus far” moment.


Along with the stories, each day brings a whole panoply of images. Some extraordinarily lovely. Some merely curious. Many evenings, as I lie in my bunk awaiting sleep, these wash over me until the line between dreaming and waking is irrevocably blurred. I leave you with a few from this day…




In silence we must wrap much of our life, because it is too fine for speech.

~Ralph Waldo Emerson

A Pilgrim Tale: day seventeen


You hear about the meseta long before you get here. It can be one of the great trials of the camino. I had expected long, endless days of unbroken plain. It hasn’t turned out to be that at all. Until today. Today is flat and straight with the road stretching out as far as you can see. We begin the hike with a 17 kilometer stretch between towns. No towns mean no food. Or bathrooms. It could be awful, except for one thing.

Today we meet the storyteller.


Otto is a retired electrician from Winnipeg, Manitoba. Because my daddy also made his career as an electrician, we already have that. He is becoming something of an archivist of tales of the trail. He tells us several, beginning with his own, a tiny bit of which we heard last night.

Otto and his lovely wife, Maria, had been planning for some time to walk the camino. She celebrated her sixtieth birthday in December of 2014, and was thoroughly enjoying the life they had made for themselves, each of them looking ahead to the joys of retirement. One night, a couple of months later, the two of them spent a quiet, easy evening at home. Maria made phone calls to all her siblings and enjoyed catching up with them. She and Otto called a granddaughter to ask about an important event she had just celebrated. Then, she sent Otto to the store. When he came back, she was gone.

His children encouraged him to carry out the plan he and Maria had made and walk the camino. He carries a packet of letters written by them and by his grandchildren. He opens one each day. The one today was from his daughter. It was a letter her mother had written her when she was walking through a difficult time. She asks him to read it as though Maria were speaking directly to him.

He wears Maria’s Virgin of Guadelupe medal on a pink cord given to him by one of her friends. When he speaks of his bride, his voice is tender and sweet. His amazing hat was knitted by 6 year old granddaughter Mia from yarn that belonged to her grandmother.

I hear no bitterness in his story, only gratitude. He tells us about all that he is learning on the Way, as though he were giving an account to the camino.

I am learning to slow down. My feet have taught me that.

I am learning to give it away. My back has taught me that.

I am learning to follow your signs, or I will walk the path twice. My eyes have taught me that.

The camino asked, “Yes, but what has your heart taught you?”

My heart has taught me that when you arrive at an albergue early and get to choose a lower bunk, then a tired, older pilgrim comes in, you give him the lower bunk. When you are the last person to get a spot at the albergue, and someone weary and hurting comes stumbling in and is turned away, you give him your spot and move your burning feet to the next town. When someone is running low on food and water, you share what you have with him, even if you have little.

Then the camino said to me, “How have you learned these things? Are you bragging about your deeds? Remember, be humble.”

And I replied, “These are things that others have done for me.”

You can see why we will stay close to Otto, hungering for his words like a certain group of fishermen who walked with another storyteller long ago…



In the afternoon, we walk for a space with Sieglinde and Hans Pieter from Stuttgart, Germany. I’ve been seeing her for a few days now with her jaunty, feathered hat and flippy pink skirt. It is good to finally meet them. In July, they stepped out their front door, much like a medieval pilgrim would have done, and began walking toward Santiago. They are walking still (30 September). Their children are 23 and 21, the same ages as two of ours. And they, like we, are at a transition. We talk about family, and faith and art. And the world keeps getting smaller…


This evening, we sit around a table with James from Ireland, and our friend Adam and feast on fresh local trout. And tell more stories, and spin more threads…


How long the road is. But, for all the time the journey has already taken, how you have needed it in order to learn what the road passes by.

~Dag Hammerskjold, Markings

*I have tried to capture Otto’s stories just as he told them. With a certain storyteller’s license, of course. Feel free to add or correct as necessary, Otto. πŸ™‚ xoxo

A Pilgrim Tale: day sixteen


The waking dawn plays over the Canal de Castilla, and the canal catches her glorious colors and throws them back at her. Trees line the gravel path, and the crunch of our boots against the gravel is the only sound.


In Villacazar de Sirga, we see our first Palomar. A dovecote. It is a circular whitewashed stone building with a conical roof made of wooden shingles. Inside, the walls are lined with recesses which serve as a sort of nesting box. Slender beams crisscross the upper portion of the building, reminding me of the drying racks in old tobacco barns at home. Perches. Historically, doves were kept for their eggs and flesh, as well as for their dung, an important fertilizer. We will pass a great many of these over the next few days. I’m not sure any of them are still in use.

We are developing a reputation for singing; Jan and David, Mike and me. Not so much for the quality of our singing, you understand, as for its frequency. πŸ™‚ Jan and I share in common the disease of archiving the lyrics to pretty much any song we have ever heard. It is rare that we start up a golden oldy, but what one of us can come up with at least a verse or two. We sing everything from classic rock, to old spirituals, to children’s songs (Jan likes the Muffin Man for Mike because of his relentless search for another gooey, molten chocolate muffin). Paul jokes that we probably don’t know anything from this decade. But he is wrong.

Anyway, it is no surprise that we are drawn to the idea of lodging with the Augustinian sisters of the church of Santa Maria in Carrion de los Condes. They are a singing order. πŸ™‚ Alas, by the time we arrive, they are already full. They direct us to Espiritu Santo where we happily share a bright, pretty room with Jorge, Kelly, and Cathy. In the afternoon, we run into Jan’s friend, Natthadeou from Majorca, who tells us we would be welcome to come sing with the nuns at 6:00, even if we are not staying at Santa Maria. Natthadeou is a Camino veteran. He has walked it several times. He knows stuff like this. So we go. (Natthadeou is in the red jacket on the right in the picture below.)


We find a perch on the stairs and are handed a song sheet to share. The sisters choose a couple of songs from the sheets and invite us to sing along. Then, they ask each of us to introduce ourselves, tell why we are on camino, and, if we like, to share a song. So many beautiful, and difficult, stories in that room. This is the first time we see Otto and hear a bit of his story, but we do not know him. Yet.

When they come to a Japanese American woman sitting just below Otto, she says she would rather not sing. They ask her if they can sing a song for her. She nods, and they flip a few pages in their songbook, and begin singing a Japanese folk song. Tears stream down the woman’s face. And it is so good to be here.

I have noticed that two of the nuns are in black, not white. And that their habits appear to be Orthodox. When they introduce themselves, we learn that Orthodox Sisters Jacovi and Stephanie are here for just a few days to help minister to pilgrims. Sister Stephanie walked the camino several years ago and has asked to come back and volunteer. Sister Jacovi has been sent along as well because James is her saint. We speak to them after and find that we have friends in common. Sister Stavriani, whose family is part of our parish, belongs to their order. Truly, the world is smaller than we think.


We piece together a supper in the kitchen of our Albergue, then go to the church of Santa Maria for the pilgrim blessing. We are given paper stars that the sisters have made for us, praying as they did for pilgrims they had not yet met. Then the priest, or one of the sisters, takes our head in their hands and prays for us. This is a beautiful, sacred moment.

A sacrament is when something holy happens. It is transparent time, time which you can see through to something deep inside time…you are apt to catch a glimpse of the almost unbearable preciousness and mystery of life.

~Frederich Buechner

*Hat tip to David who took the photo at bottom. Thanks, friend.

A Pilgrim Tale: day fifteen


Whether we know it or not, we need to renew ourselves in places that are fresh and wild. We need to come home through the body of alien lands. ~Joan Halifax


We rise before dawn, pack our gear, and walk up to the cafe for coffee and fruit before hitting the road. Several pilgrims are there before us, with road dust already in their shoes. They awoke at 3am to see a lunar eclipse. As we are somewhat disconnected from the world, we have missed the news of this phenomenon. We console ourselves by walking our first couple of miles into the radiant full moon.


Five kilometers in, we pass through the ruins of the Convento de San Anton. I tell Jan that he is one of the patron Saints of Animals and she loves him at once. We notice several tau crosses, long associated with this order, and increasingly known as the Cruz de Peregrino (pilgrim cross).


We come to the beautiful hill town of Castrojeriz around mid morning. Here, two wonderful surprises await us. The first of these is the Hospital del Alma (hospital of the soul). A door stands ajar along the main route through town. An inconspicuous sign bids all pilgrims welcome and requests that we honor the silence of this place. We step inside the cool, dark interior where herbs smoke in a bowl, the table is laid for tea, and all along the walls are lovely photographs with wise words underneath. We wonder through the rooms, then out to the garden which is filled with sculptures and plants, and where a meandering path leads to a grotto carved into the mountain. I find my breathing deepens and slows here. And the stillness flows into me and becomes something I can carry inside.


The ideal man is he who, in the moments of most intense activity, knows how to find the silence and the loneliness of the desert. This man has achieved self-mastery. (One of the quotes along the walls.)

The other surprise we find at the cafe just down the street: Jorge, Kelly, and Cathy! We have not seen them since lunch at Orisson on day one. It seems Jorge encountered food poisoning, so they had to rest for a day. Though I am sorry for Jorge, I am delighted to see them again. Don’t worry that there is no photo here. You will see them soon enough. πŸ™‚


We pass the lads (and Isabelle) in Itero de la Vega. They have stopped here for the day, after waking at 3 for the eclipse. We grab lunch, then press on to Boadilla del Camino.


All along the camino, we have passed field after field of sunflowers, many of them completely dry and full of seed. Yet, not once have we seen anyone harvesting them. Though I would still like to observe the machine that removes the seed from its head, I am pretty excited to finally see this.


We secure lodging at En El Camino, one of the more memorable albergues of our whole trip. Though it doesn’t look like much from the outside, once you step into the courtyard, you are surrounded by an explosion of color. Lush plants, murals along the walls, sculpture, and a pool. Grapes grow all through the apple trees on the patio. And the sleeping quarters are in an old timbered house with bunks on the main floor, and cots in the floating, cantilevered loft.


Though none of our party is brave enough to take the plunge into the frigid pool (some others do), we gladly sit along its edge and cool our feet. Our friend Adam is happy to find a fellow ukulele player who is traveling with ukulele in tow. It doesn’t hurt that she is pretty. πŸ™‚


After a delicious, hearty, communal Castillian meal, we drift off to sleep, full of memory…

A Pilgrim Tale: day fourteen


Is there anything I can do to make myself enlightened?

As little as you can do to make the sun rise in the morning.

Then of what use are the spiritual exercises you prescribe?

To make sure you are not asleep when the sun begins to rise.

~Zen master to his disciple


The world is cloaked in mythical clouds of vapor which bring to everything an otherworldly aspect. Rays of early light are bended and refracted by the mist into a delicious kaleidoscope of color. Serendipity is the constant companion of the pilgrim. Extraordinary gifts we could never have planned.


Mike and I have decided to take advantage of a string of shorter days to add on kilometers and make up the time we gave up on the front end. This will enable us to complete the camino in 33 days, one day for every year in the earthly life of Christ, an idea which appeals to me strongly. This means 31.5 kilometers today.


We catch up with Jan and David around mid-day and walk into the afternoon with them. When we arrive in Hontanas we discover a brand new albergue right at the edge of town, Juan de Yepes. It is not in our book. David can’t even find it on his Camino apps. But we see Adam who has already settled in here and he says it’s very nice. So we give it a try. SO glad we did!

We are given a room for four with a PRIVATE BATH!! (Toilet and sink. Shower is still down the hall.) Everything is pristine and new and well organized. And there is a foot bath!! Adam joins us as we enjoy cold cervezas with our toes in the chilly water, and our feet begin to forgive us for the many miles we inflicted upon them this day.


Later, we sit out on the patio which offers splendid views of the village below and, with Jan and David, plan our itinerary for tomorrow. From here on out, the four of us will be inseparable.

The town is very quiet.

A refuge.


Gear Note:

David utilized two different camino apps. They were helpful in that they often gave information that was not in the printed guide. Also, their information tended to be more up to date, as a general rule. Here is what he had to say about each:

The apps I used were: Camino Frances by Wise Pilgrim Guides and TrekRight. The former was the main one we used to determine distances to towns, the availability of coffee (!) in the various hamlets and towns, details of the albergues, phone number of the albergues, availability of wee-fee, etc. TrekRight was useful to find out how much farther we had to go to get coffee, food, beds, etc. (TrekRight has a GPS element)

A Pilgrim Tale: days twelve and thirteen


25 September: I’m surprised to see pΓ’tΓ© on the table for breakfast, along with the usual bread and butter, jam and tea. But I like it. πŸ™‚

Today, our pre-dawn start will cost us. When we come to the edge of town, we lose our arrows. We wave flashlights, scanning buildings and posts, looking for stone pillars. Nothing. We back track. Not another pilgrim in sight. We know that the highway will intersect the trail in a couple of kilometers, so we decide to take our life in our hands and walk along the shoulder with headlights glaring in our eyes and early morning commuters furiously racing past. It is only mildly terrifying.

That which does not kill you makes you stronger. ~Nietzsche πŸ™‚


The sky is dazzling. Again. Clouds move in ever changing formations over steep hills, then fertile plains. I can’t not look at them.

At San Juan de Ortega, we stop at a cafe for second breakfast. πŸ™‚ Here, we have our first encounter with “faux pilgrims”. I am confused by their tiny day packs with scallop shells, and their makeup, and their stylish, but impractical, “workout gear”. Then I overhear one of them explaining their “marvelous setup”. A bus picks them up at their hotel in the morning, fresh smelling with cute hair and make-up. They send their luggage ahead on the bus, while they carry a tiny day pack with snacks and sunglasses. And when they have gotten their little workout in, the bus picks them up and takes them on to their next hotel.

This bothers me more than it probably should. And I ask myself why. Is it righteous indignation that this deeply meaningful journey is being somehow cheapened by people who treat it so lightly? Or is it something far more petty and immature–a greediness that is not willing to share the glory with those who do not do the work? I’m not sure. But I will have opportunity to explore this topic again later, as we near Santiago.

We stop at Albergue Peregrino in Atapuerca, where we enjoy a picnic supper with David and Jan, swapping travel stories until sleep overtakes us.


26 September: We pass through three eerily quiet towns where buildings in ruin sit side by side with tidy modern homes. At Orbaneja, we find a whole collection of our young friends breakfasting al fresco. A bit further, there are two young women traveling with dogs. I wonder how they are getting on as most of the albergues do not permit animals. Probably, they camp.

We take the highway route into Burgos by mistake. Industrial and bleak. However, it is a fun surprise to see hometown company Bridgestone Tire with a compound that occupies several blocks.


Mike and I decide to forego the large municipal albergue and stay at Divina Pastora. Missing our friends, but it will be good to have some quiet. There are 16 beds. They open to pilgrims at 12:00. At 12:05 we are assigned beds 15 and 16. Whew! Incidentally, Divina Pastora does not accommodate pilgrims that ride bicycles or who send luggage ahead. Also, there are three hard and fast rules: No smoking. No alcohol or drugs. EVERY pilgrim MUST shower. I really appreciate that last one. πŸ™‚


We enjoy a delicious tapas dinner with David and Jan. Then we bid a difficult goodbye to Rhys who is busing ahead tomorrow to Sarria to meet up with her mom and finish the camino from there. Goodbye is not my favorite. But for Rhys, and for us, there are still hellos ahead. Still more beautiful threads to be woven into the glorious tapestry that is The Way.


Every moment and every event of every man’s life on earth plants something in his soul.
~Thomas Merton

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