DAY 33: Arca de Pedrouzo to Santiago


October 6, 2018

We are here. In Santiago! We got up early and were on the trail by 6:20AM. As we walked, we reminisced about our journey, marveling that it was about to end. The route was short (12 miles) and we were excited, so we walked quickly.
Our first sighting of Santiago from the hills:
We arrived at our albergue, Porto Real, around 11:00, just as it started to rain. We dropped off our backpacks, grabbed our ponchos and headed to the cathedral for mass. As we got to the plaza, I looked around, but instead of cheering crowds, there was a crowded spiral line of people waiting to get into the cathedral. It took almost 30 minutes to get inside, where mass had already begun. There was no place to sit. Mass was in Spanish, so I had no idea what the priest was saying. I asked Enrique, but he said he wasn’t listening…it was something about God. I wanted to see the swinging of the big incense ball, but the security guard said that they hardly ever put it in motion and no one knew when or if it would happen. Its significance is that when the pilgrims arrived centuries ago, they didn’t smell bery good, so the incense ball was used to mask their odors in the cathedral.
So we only stayed in the cathedral for about 15 minutes, during which time I thought about how fortunate we were to have finished Camino without any illness (many people got sick) or injuries other than a few blisters.
From the cathedral, we headed to the Pilgrim’s Office to receive our certificate of completion. There was a long line there, also. We waited over an hour and finally received two certificates, one in Latin (spiritual) and one in Spanish (distance).
Walking through town afterward, we ran into many Camino friends and had a chance to hug and congratulate each other before saying our final goodbyes. Many people are continuing on, walking another four days to Finisterre, also called, “the end of the world” because it’s a town on the western-most tip of Spain. We’re going there tomorrow, too, but in a rental car. I’m done walking.
I’m sure it will take me a while to process this whole experience. I’m glad I have this blog to look at because many of the cities we passed through are blurs to me now. I’m happy to have completed this journey and grateful not to be a pilgrim from the past. Once they made the pilgrimage to Santiago, they turned around and walked back home.
The End

DAY 32: Ribadiso to Arca de Pedrouzo


October 5, 2018

When we started walking, it was early September. It was summer and the leaves on the trees were bright green. Now it’s fall and the leaves are turning colors and dropping. The sun rose by 7:30; now it’s closer to 8:30. A full moon came (when we were in San Martin) and now has waned. The crops in the fields have been harvested. The chestnuts have fallen from the trees and are all over the ground. And, of course, no one had heard of Christine Blasey Ford.
Tomorrow is the end of our journey and I’m ready. My feet are tired, my back is tired, I’m tired. But the main reason I’m ready to be done is that each day since Sarria (the significant 100 kilometer distance from Santiago) the atmosphere on the trail changes more and more. The people who joined in Sarria have come to the Camino with a different frame of mind than those who started in France. The newcomers are younger and travel in loud groups. They carry light daypacks and send their backpacks ahead via transport vans. They breeze past us on the trail and rarely greet us until we wish them, “Buen Camino.” Their clothes are fresh and clean, even fashionable. Some of the women wear lipstick. They don’t need haircuts. John, the Brit, calls them Mingos. They go on the Camino, but they’re not of it. Even the bicyclists have changed. Once friendly and polite, they now come up behind us very fast, with no verbal warning. I suppose everyone is excited to reach Santiago tomorrow.
Our journey today was supposed to be shorter than normal, but somehow it still ended up being almost 15 miles. We walked a little extra because we followed the Camino signs, as always, but our destination wasn’t on the Camino. We missed a left-hand turn and had to backtrack. Once in town, we stopped at an albergue, but ended up getting a private room in a Pension instead for just a few extra euros. What a treat!
One more day. I can’t believe we are actually going to complete this challenge. That was not clear to me when we started. I’m not sure what I expected, but the reality of the Camino was far different than anything I could have imagined. I think I’ll look back on this experience and marvel that I actually did this.
The forecast is for rain tomorrow. We’ve had perfect weather for this whole trip. We’ll get up early, as usual, and head to Santiago with only 20 kilometers (12 miles) to walk. I’m hoping to arrive by noon to attend mass in the cathedral. Don’t laugh. I want to go to mass because it’s dedicated everyday to the pilgrims and seems like a good way to celebrate this achievement. Enrique doesn’t want to go. He’s Catholic and has been to enough masses to last him a lifetime.



DAY 31: Palas de Rei to Ribadiso


October 4, 2018

Starting out, I knew this was going to be a long day, close to 17 miles. But I also knew it would be the last really long day, with the two remaining days around 13 miles each, so it went quickly. But major indignity! I got a new blister this late in the journey. Thought I was over that. 😟
It’s not too big, though, so Enrique will tape it up tonight and I should be fine by tomorrow.
Crowded trail today. I met a man from Gotland, a Swedish island in the middle of the Baltic Sea, that I never heard of before. Then a woman on the trail (from Texas) stopped me and asked me to tie her boots. She had fallen on the Camino last week and broken her hand, which was in a cast. After my ordeal with my wrist, I felt so bad for her and admired that she was so determined to finish (she is walking alone).
Our albergue, Los Caminantes, is nice, with a little restaurant right across the street, and nothing else around.
Since I wrote about what I would miss when I finish Camino yesterday, today I thought about things I won’t miss at all:
1. Doing laundry by hand everyday.
2. Wearing the same two shirts and pair of shorts for a month.
3. Blisters and taped toes
4. Pain
5. Sleeping in a room with 20+ people I don’t know.
6. Cold showers (although there haven’t been too many of them)
7. Bunk beds (and hitting my head on the top bunk every time I sit on the bottom bunk.)
8. Snoring people (Enrique I can handle, but not strangers.)
9. Waking up at 5:30AM.
10. Packing up my things in the dark so as not to wake all the pilgrims that are still sleeping, although I’ve gotten really good at it. I know exactly where everything is and belongs in my backpack.
11. My backpack
12. My boots
13. Flies…I have bites all over my body.

DAY 30: Portomarin to Palas de Rei


October 3, 2018

Long day today. It was the usual 15 miles, but with a lot of rolling hills and a heavy backpack the whole way. We finally came upon signs of the town, Palas de Rei, when we saw a municipal swimming pool, but then we kept walking and walking with no sign of town. It was probably another mile or two, but felt like ten. When we arrived, we got beds in Albergue San Marcos, a newish, huge albergue. We are in a room of six, with three Italians and one Brazilian (who is doing Camino by bike and will arrive in Santiago tomorrow, while we still have three days of walking).

With the end getting closer, I started to think about all the things I would miss about the Camino:

1. The people…is there another place where you can meet so many people from all over the world so easily? All you have to do is say, “Buen Camino, where are you from?” and you’ve made a friend.
2. The food and wine
3. The beautiful countryside
4. Sunrises
5. Small villages of old stone buildings
6. Walking into a town and not knowing where you’re going to spend the night, and then finding an albergue.
7. Walking into an albergue for the first time and discovering it’s clean and nice.
8. My sleeping bag (it’s soft)
9. Hours and hours of having to do nothing but walk.
10. Listening to all the different languages being spoken around me.
11. Siestas
12. Not having to decide what to wear everyday.
13. Our rest stops by the side of the trail, eating fruit and trail mix.
14. Exploring new towns.
15. Writing my blog
16. Big lunches, small dinners
17. The historical sites we walk through
18. Spanish culture
19. Our daily routine which has become our reality in such a short time.
20. The relief of finally reaching our destination each day.
21. Shopping in the supermercado everyday.
22. Walking in the dark.
23. Camino signs…I see them in my sleep.

DAY 29: Sarria to Portomarin


October 2, 2018

For the past several days, we have been all alone on the trail for over an hour each morning, but not this morning. The trail was fairly crowded off and on all day, as I’d expected.
We started off in the dark with a woman from Mexico who we’d been seeing occasionally for over a week. Today I learned her name is Susannah. She shared her life story with me as we walked, although when she told me she was walking the Camino to figure some things out, she didn’t share what “things.” She did say she was returning to her life in a happy state of mind. We talked about the “magic” of the Camino (her word ) and how to take that magic back into our real lives. After probably an hour or more of walking and talking, we separated. I asked to take her photo and then she was gone. We had talked so candidly and will never see each other again since she is finishing on Friday.
We walked on and met Bob and Andrew, who we hadn’t seen in many days, then Jackie and John, from Britain and then a couple from New Zealand (can’t remember their names). Each meeting was like seeing a best friend who you haven’t seen in a while. Such is life on the Camino.
In Portomarin, we found an albergue, Casa Cruz, and then went out to explore. The city is built up high overlooking a river (very high…with many steps to climb).
In the 1950s, a dam was built upriver and when water was released, the whole city would be flooded, so the city was rebuilt higher up. The church, built in the twelfth century was dismantled and the stones were numbered as it was taken apart. Then it was put back together on higher ground. Many of the numbers are still visible on the stones.
Here’s something strange. About two weeks ago, we met a French couple, Philip and Genevieve. We saw them day after day on the trail and then one day we saw Philip walking alone. Then they both disappeared. Tonight Philip appeared in our albergue, alone again.

DAY 28: Fronfria to Sarria


October 1, 2018

Enrique and I both felt good today even though we didn’t get much sleep last night…big snorer in our albergue. It was a woman from Maryland that we had met several days earlier and her husband was sleeping right next to her and never heard her, I guess. We had planned to walk 15 miles, but that would have put us in a “town” with nothing but an albergue. No restaurant or market or anything, so we walked an additional 2.5 miles to a good-sized city called Sarria. It also helped that the walk was beautiful, through farmland and rolling hills. There was a lot of downhill on a great trail of dirt, no rocks.
Sarria is an important City on the Camino because it’s 112 kilometers from Santiago. Anyone who walks the last 100 kilometers of the Camino is eligible for a certificate of completion and Sarria is the city closest to that 100 kilometers, so many people start here. We expect the trail to be very crowded from here on out.
We found beds in an albergue, Puente Ribeira,(after the first two we checked were full) that has little character, but is clean and has only two bunk beds in a room. The other bunk bed has only one occupant, Roldan, a young man from Mexico. He started Camino the same day we did and hopes to finish on Saturday, like us. But he has had three or four rest days, so he’s obviously a much faster walker than us.
Walking around in towns or cities after we are showered, it’s easy to pick out other pilgrims that are sightseeing. First of all, we’re all wearing sandals, usually flip-flops. The first thing we do when we stop is take off our boots. It feels so good to let our toes breathe after a long day on the trail. With toes exposed, most of the pilgrims in town have bandaged toes and feet (my feet are finally all healed and bandage-free!). We are all wearing sporty, hiking clothes, whereas the locals are usually dressed nicely, and men have a passport holder around their necks. Another telltale sign of a pilgrim is the limp. It seems to me that limping people have become more prevalent in town, which seems strange because our legs and feet should be getting stronger, but I think it’s mostly the newcomers to the trail that are limping.
And then there’s our tans. Pilgrims’ legs are really tan with white feet and a distinct tan line where the socks hit. Today I saw a pilgrim in town with tan marks showing the outline of a knee brace. Our legs are also tannest in back and our left arms are darker because we’re always walking west with the sun at our backs and to our left.
And now it’s October. We walked for almost the entire month of September.

DAY 27: Vega de Valvarce to Fronfria



September 30, 2018

Usually we eat a breakfast of banana and yogurt that we buy the night before in a supermercado. If an albergue has breakfast, it’s toast, coffee and orange juice. This morning at Pension Fernandez, we were greeted with a feast laid out for us when we woke up. We had toast, lots of different pastries, cheese, fruit, orange juice, and coffee. We were well fortified for a hike over the Galician Mountains. There was quite a bit of elevation gain, but it felt good after days of flat walking on pavement. When I hike uphill, nothing hurts for some reason.  We hiked in the dark, as usual, for over an hour and as the sky began to lighten, we had an incredible view of pastures and mountains and the sunrise. I was thinking that there was no place else I’d rather be at that moment, just as Enrique turned to me and said, “ Being up here right now is something else.”


As we hiked, we left the province of Castilla y León and entered the province of Galicia, the province of Santiago! Each region marks the Camino differently, and in Galicia they have stone markers every kilometer with the distance left to Santiago. We have under 160 kilometers remaining which is less than 100 miles.

Partway up the mountain, we ran into Jackie and John, a couple from England we met over a week ago. We’ve been seeing them off and on. It was good to see them walking easily because they’d been having a lot of problems with blisters the last time we saw them.

Up and up and up we climbed. Our destination is a small village called Fonfria, population 41, mostly cows, I think. I was worried that a village this small would have an old run-down albergue, but the place we’re staying, Albergue de Reboleira, is new and beautiful. There is a large room with bunk beds, but then the manager led us to a smaller room with bunk beds, but the bottom bunk is a king-size bed! That didn’t make my list of albergue amenities because I never imagined that was possible. And we finished the evening with a Galician pilgrim dinner.

Monument to the pilgrims:


DAY 26: Cacabelos to Vega de Valvarce


The Camino is generally well-marked with yellow arrows painted on the road or walls or signposts, along with a multitude of signs. However, it’s obvious the markings were posted during daylight hours. When we leave in the dark, as we do every morning, everything looks different and it can be difficult to find an arrow or sign hidden on the side of the road with just the light of a headlamp. We had some trouble finding our way this morning. We struggled along, sometimes just making good guesses as to the correct way. Whenever we did that, when we found an arrow/sign farther down the road, we breathed a sigh of relief. At one point, we reached a town with a conch-shell sign, but no arrow, so we weren’t sure on which street the sign meant us to turn. We kept straight and found no further signs. Luckily, a man came out of a house (it was early, all the other houses were dark) and Enrique could ask for directions. We would have found it eventually, but we were definitely off-course at that point.
Signs of the Camino:
The best scenery was probably going by us when we walked in the dark. We were going through farms and vineyards and rolling hills. By the time the sun came up, we were on a concrete trail that went along a river on one side and the road on the other. We followed that to our destination, Vega de Valvarce.
Last night’s albergue was almost perfect. It had everything on my list except one thing I forgot to put on the list…a steady stream of water in the shower. A lot of showers here have a button which must be pushed continually to keep the water coming. Tonight we are at Pension Fernandez. It’s also a very nice albergue, but we’re back in a communal room. So far there are 8 people in the room, but it’s not full and people keep straggling in. It’s next to a little running river in a picturesque town.
One woman here is from Japan. She took a bus here from Madrid yesterday, intending to start the Camino here today, but then decided to rest today because she got her period. Now she has a little cough and might take tomorrow off, too. I hope she can make it. She’s starting in a very difficult place. Tomorrow’s walk is uphill the whole way.

DAY 25: Molinaseca to Cacabelos


We walked for an hour and a half in the dark this morning to a city called Ponferrada. Its claim to fame, I suppose, is this castle built in the 12th century for the Knights of Templar:
From there we walked another four and a half hours mostly on pavement through many towns. Pavement is tough on the legs, so I was glad when we finally got on a dirt farm road that went through vineyards. We saw people harvesting the grapes by hand, and right after that came upon this man making wine. He offered us a taste. Muy rico.
By the time we got to Cacabelos, we were ready to stop. The municipal albergue is located in an old stone church at the far end of town. It’s like a motel with doors to each room on the outside. Each room has only two beds, two lockers for backpacks, a table and one wall of stone. Very unique. Right off the rooms there is a courtyard with laundry sinks, clotheslines and tables and chairs. And something else that no other albergue has had…children. There are 3 from Alaska, 6, 8 and 12 years old, hiking the Camino with their parents.
Our albergue:
When we check into albergues, we present our American passports to register. Then Enrique starts talking Spanish, which really confuses people. (One person commented that his Spanish was really good.) So then they start speaking Spanish and looking at me, thinking that I understand what they’re saying, until Enrique turns to me to translate. Then they’re not sure what language to use. As someone asked me at dinner the other night,”How did you meet a Spaniard in Reno?”😊

DAY 24: Foncebadon to Molinaseca


Since we added a few miles yesterday, we only had about a mile walk to the summit of the mountain this morning. At the top, there was a tall pole with a cross on top called Cruz de Ferro. Pilgrims supposedly bring a stone from home to leave here, which I had read about before starting the trek, but I didn’t want to carry a stone the whole way! There was a huge pile of stones at the base of the pole, but it was still dark so we didn’t have a great look at it.
Once we hit the summit, it was all downhill. Ten miles of steep, rocky descent. With my history, I took it very slowly and we didn’t arrive in Molinaseca until noon. We had planned on continuing to the next town, but it was another five miles (2 hours), so we decided to stop here for the night, even though we had only done 12 miles. I was feeling great today…no pain anywhere, which was a surprise after the day I had yesterday. How does the body do that?!?
Steep descent:
We found an albergue, Albergue Compostela, and were the first to check-in, so we got a room with just one bunk bed. We were able to shower and do laundry before anyone else arrived. As I texted Enrique ‘s nephew, Miguel, it feels like a 4.5 star hotel! (See below for what makes a good albergue ).
We had another lovely lunch on a patio right next to a Roman bridge as the Camino enters town. As we ate, we watched pilgrims limping across the bridge. (I said it was a steep descent!)
Roman bridge in Molinaseca:
So, what makes a good albergue? Here’s my list:
1. Open when you arrive.
2. Clean
3. Remodeled
4. Beds that are positioned for a sense of privacy or fewer beds in individual rooms.
5. Single beds ( instead of bunks)
6. Good mattress and pillow
7. Sheets on the beds. Some albergues sell disposable sheets for a euro, and a very few gave us disposable sheets for free. We finally learned to save those and use them when necessary, but real sheets are still the best.
8. A night table
9. A spot for the backpack
10. Outlet next to bed to charge phones (very important! A lot of albergues have one or two outlets at the end of the room to be shared with everyone.)
11. Individual light next to bed ( we only had this in one albergue, but it was so nice, I wanted to add it to this list).
12. Windows
13. Enough showers to avoid waiting.
14. Good water pressure
15. Hot water
16. Somewhere to hang the hand-held shower head that is traditional here in Europe.
17. A small dressing area with the shower so you have room to dress.
18. Hooks to hang everything.
19. Good drainage so when you dry your feet after your shower, they stay dry as you walk through the bathroom.
20. Clean
21. Breakfast provided at 6:00AM.
22. Communal dinner by 7:00PM
23. Quiet (no snorers!)
24. Along the Camino so we don’t have to walk out of our way.