Amenal to Santiago 

Today is estimated at 5 hours of walking, and there are 3 large hills to traverse. But it’s the last day so I try extra hard to enjoy each step. Somehow this has gone by so quickly! Again, beautiful quiet paths and tiny hamlets – then a point along the highway. This reminded me of when we arrived and were being transferred to Sarria to begin. We saw some pilgrims by the road and I thought, in 6 days that will be us. And so it was.

We stopped a couple of km outside of Santiago, in Monte do Gozo, and split the best grilled cheese sandwich ever. I’m sorry I didn’t take a photo of it. (It was the same lucious experience as the Fanta Orange and Pringles while hiking in Morocco….) The hills today hadn’t been so bad – but the downhills ruined my right knee.

Entering Santiago there is still several kilometers to go through the city. It’s a bit jolting to be in an urban setting after so much peaceful countryside. We stop at one more Farmacia (maybe our 14th by now). I get an elastic brace for my knee, Susan invests in her 90th package of band aids. Then we continue on.

At some point the signage is lost to us so I’m still not certain if we entered into the cathedral from the ‘correct’ point. The cathedral is so huge, and there are 4 large open squares surrounding it, each almost its own community. The entrance with the the steps, home to many photos of arriving pilgrims, is under scaffolding but there are so many views to capture. And so many people. We never do find any of our traveling companions which makes me feel a bit discombobulated.

Finally we go to the hotel to check in. It’s in an old monastery, and as you enter (feeling YAY I’m finally here!) you then walk about another 4 city blocks to get to reception. Then up an elevator, and another 2 blocks to the room. Today was a lot of steps, with more to come.

In line at the Pilgrims Office, to get our compostela, we meet a Canadian photographer (www.louishelbig.com) who traveled the entire camino with his wife and 9 month old son Oscar. Now Oscar is 10 months old!  Theirs was a good story. As a side note, if you want to buy his book Beautiful Destruction do so from his website; via Amazon he only makes a few dollars. Now there is something to think about – how our obsession with Amazon and discounts affects an individual.

Walking the camino has not helped my focus. Carrying my cool, collapsible water bottle around town, hoping to run into David the guide as I want to give  it to him…. Well, I guess I put it down somewhere because at some point I realized it just wasn’t in my hand anymore. No amount of backtracking recovered it. I hope whoever found it enjoys it.

At the hotel’s pilgrims’ dinner we did find a few of the people from that group but still it felt odd to have so many we didn’t have a chance to say goodbye to. 

  

  

Day Whatever… Is it Five? Arzua to Armenal. 24 km.

  Being the travel professional I am, I made a mistake on the itinerary I created for myself. So today was not 13km, but 24. No worries, the body is less stiff and with little soreness so it’s just one step at a time, and see what happens next. Susan’s feet are a hot mess but she is being a trooper and her new trekking sandals have saved the day.

Last night at dinner we made two new friends; a gentleman from Miami – originally from Cuba – whose name we never did get, and Louise from the UK. Louise also hikes in a Macabi skirt though hers is black and she looks very chic. Conversation over dinner was great. This morning we got a ride back to town to re- join the Camino and Louise took off on her own pace, but we did cross paths a couple of times in the day, and once for cafe con leche at one of the many places along the way. Then there was Patty from NC and her friend Susan from the UK, we had met before and re-met a few times today. Richard, the gentleman from the UK who is on his second Camino, but he does the whole thing, all 700 km. He says the first time was about getting it done; this time it’s about seeing what each moment brings. It’s nice to walk and talk for a few minutes, then continue at your own pace and find the next compadre. Everyone has a fascinating story.

Other than some time alongside the highway in the blazing sun, much of today was delightful wooded paths with eucalyptus and oak trees, birds and farm animals. It’s hot and we’re grateful for any shade we get. We stopped once for the bathroom, and once for coffee. We decided on our lunch stop but the town was so small we blew right past it. Once we realized our mistake we were a brief 3km from our goal so we just kept going. It’s interesting how we just don’t feel hungry. There were a lot of downhills today, and my right knee is starting to feel it. I’m just holding out til the end before I declare a problem.
There were some crowded times; the huge bunch of Irish students appeared, and 6 Italians who sound like a mobile party.but we moved past them and in the end had a long stretch with no one else in sight. Then you worry you’ve lost the path!

Once we got to Amenal we sat and enjoyed our usual pimientos de padron and ensalada mixto, plus cerveca for me, and a tinto de verano for Susan. Delicious red wine mixed with soda water and a slice of orange, Very refreshing; Leo had taught me this from his time in Madrid and I had forgotten.

 Unfortunately when I went to check in there was no room for us. My irritation was high – I was looking forward to an evening with the same fun group I had played cards with a couple of nights ago. But really, whatever happens on the Camino is OK – we were transferred to a nice hotel about 4km away. I’ve showered and settled in – something else will be here for us. Mistakes happen, and no one did this purpose. So important to remember!

Tomorrow is our last day walking. It’s about 5 hours to Santiago with three big hills to traverse. The pilgrims’ mass is at noon, but they say you have to be there by 11 to get in, it is so popular. I doubt we’ll opt to leave at 6am. And anyway, there is another pilgrims’ mass at 730p. Mostly I want to be sure to greet those I’ve met along the way as we arrive in Santiago so I don’t want to be hours behind them. And David, the guide who is not our guide but has been such a good friend throughout. I want to say goodbye, but in Santiago. Plus I’ve promised him my way cool collapsible water bottle as thanks for his help. The guide is everything! And we’ve been lucky to benefit on the side.

It’s all gone so fast! Our only regret is we did not do more than the 6 days. Keep that in mind when you plan your Camino.

Now let’s chat about practicalities….

Both Susan and I would confess to spending way too much time thinking about what and how to bring what we needed on this trip. So I thought it might be useful to point out where we made and where we missed the mark.

1) Train in the boots or trail runners you will wear, and do it on hills. So different from walking in Central Park!

2) Take a second pair of shoes/boots to use, and consider trekking sandals to wear with socks… If you end up with a blister problem this is a great solution, one we’ve seen often on the trail. But that’s your second pair – they don’t work if it rains! Susan’s feet are much better now, thank you.

3) I don’t care how light you think you’ve packed, take at least half of it out. It’s too exhausting to dig through a suitcase at the end of the day and you just end up wondering WHY you brought all that stuff with you.

4) Do not, I repeat DO NOT take a bag of snack bars with you. And do not buy a 2lb bag of M&M peanuts at duty free because you’ll just give them away to reduce the stuff in your suitcase. Though this does make friends. You are never going to starve on this trail.

5) You do not need more than 2 pairs of socks per day. Not 4. Three pairs of quick dry undies are plenty. Not 7. Forget PJs, sleep in tomorrow’s shirt. It’s too much work and trouble to wear pjs.

6) Bring plenty of foot care with you so you don’t have to spend hours searching them out here. Blister bandaids, moleskin, tape. Bio freeze is very useful. So is Aquafor or  other anti- friction stuff to slather on your feet.

7) Your backpack. Now this assumes your luggage is being transferred for you each day. Your day pack should be small and light. It should have a hip belt to rest the weight on your hips, not your shoulders. Your shoulders where you might get terrible pain. And then you’ll discover you really only need some pockets and a fanny pack! I feel fine now, thank you.

8) And everything you buy, everything, should be the smallest, most lightweight and compact version you can find. The Camino will bring out the minimalist in you!

9) We LOVE repeat LOVE our pacer poles http://www.pacerpoles.com 

10) I love my Macabi skirt, even if it looks dorky. It’s about the most wonderful thing to hike in and it goes from skirt to pants to shorts in no time. Plus it has huge pockets. Www.macabiskirt.com 

11) I tried to stop at 10 but remembered…packing cubes and zip lock bags. OMG how did I live without you??

PS, this photo represents excessive behavior:

  

Melide to Arzua, 13 km

….this morning, when the alarm went off. I was not feeling very well! On top of not enough sleep David, a guide we have befriended (even though he is not our guide – but I think we’ll owe him a tip at the end), said today would be very, very hard with a lot of steep hills to climb. So I set out with a high anxiety level (even though Bernie, a woman from Ireland, said not to worry, Santiago would get me through).

Again, the trail was mostly wooed paths with eucalyptus and oak trees overhead. Yes there were some steep climbs but I didn’t complain, waiting for the really bad part to come. And then suddenly we were in Arzua! Woo hoo.

For lunch I had pimientos de padron which are the. MOST delicious little green chili looking peppers. They aren’t spicy, but they’re roasted in olive oil and salt and they are sublime. That and a cerveca pequeno were the best 6EU I’ve spent the whole trip.

Again we are staying at a lovely country home, outside of town. It’s just as well I can get into the card game again tonight. And since we were here by 3p we actually have time to enjoy the views and quiet. So far I’ve only seen one dog here – he’s asleep at my feet, in the shade and the cows are mooing in the background.

Both Susan and I noted, as we stood up after lunch, that we were feeling good. Not so stiff and paralyzed. I’m pretty sure once we get to Santiago we’ll be in just the right shape for the Camino. Wonder how we maintain this back in real life.

  

On to Melide

  Unfortunately there is no water At. All. in the guest house this morning. Luckily we showered last night and have bottled water to brush our teeth. But for that, along with the dogs that barked all night…well, some of the guests are a bit irate. I sense a torrent of Trip Advisor displeasure is looming…. 

About those dogs… Three of them, a giant white lab looking thing, and an even MORE giant grey and white mottled thing the size of a small horse, their tiny little fur ball puppy (constantly after mom for milk)… And then a teeny tiny chihuahua who scoots in and out of their legs. All very cute (until the barking at 2am). In Spain they do love their dogs.

Oh, but the Camino…Today is an easy day – only 15 KM, about 3.5 hours walking time. Most of the day is spent marveling at how I now see that as something simple. This is a MOST beautiful day of peaceful walking, even though I am pretty sore. The wind is magical and cooling, and makes a wonderful sound to walk by. It’s cherry season in Galicia, and we bought a bagful from a tiny fruit stand – delicious. Along today’s route were two ancient and lovely churches where I gladly paid a Euro each to light candles for those in my heart (you know who you are).

Since we landed in Melide by 130, this is where we had lunch, after checking into our Pension, the Carlos 96. Louis seems to do everything here, from check in to bar tending, to serving food, to doing laundry – and always with a smile on his face. I tried the local octopus (pulpo) cooked in olive oil with lemon. Very tasty. Susan stuck to the ensalada mixto which always has the best lettuce. Then we searched for a farmacia, but everything here shuts down 2-430P for siesta. Which is what we should have been doing instead of walking around town.

Susan has the worst, most disgusting blisters (I have none). So she invested in some trekking sandals which we have seen frequently on the trail. Honestly there really does come a time when money is no object! When the farmacia reopened we discovered you can get 40 tablets of 600mg ibuprofen for under $3. We’re stocking up.

After dinner I made the mistake of sitting down with a small group we have become friendly with, to play some cards. Suddenly it was after 11pm and we’d all had a bit too much vino tinto….but it was fun. Until…….

Day Two. Fifteen More Miles.

Really? Yes. Now I know all about I T bands and groin muscles. But it’s true, you just keep taking one step after another and then you’re done. At lunch – not until we only have an hour to go – we take our boots and socks off so everything can dry out. This must be the only place in the world where everyone does this. Socks are draped over ever chair. The are lots of places to stop for water, bathrooms, food, ice cream – the services are plentiful. But we’ve also learned once you stop oh it is so hard to get moving again. The whole body seizes up!

The scenery is magical. Beautiful wooded trails overlooking farm lands though there are also times we’re on a track next to a highway. The weather is gorgeous, with not a cloud in the sky (did I say that already?). The people are cheery and friendly and you soon learn who the pilgrims on your path are. They come from Ireland, the USA, Germany, France, the UK. And a shout out to Steffie and Frank from Gloucester, here for their 45th wedding anniversary. They’ve breezed right by me a couple of times… They are awfully fit!

Tonight we stay in a guest house outside of town. Parada das Bestas is lovely and peaceful but the extra time to get there (by taxi,  included in the stay) feels a bit exhausting. It is easier to arrive into town and be ‘home’ already… The food is excellent but dinner is so late in Spain – and there is way too much to eat! Long before the 8p dinner time we’re longing to go to bed…..

Day One on the Camino

  
Such a buzz in the hotel lobby! Groups from Ireland, the U.S., individuals from who knows where – all heading out. We left late, about 9, luckily with a few other stragglers so we didn’t get lost immediately. Before we were even out of Sarria we found a small shop and were able to buy our scallop shells to hang from our packs. Probably looking a bit dazed, we started off on our estimated 6 hours of walking…about 24 km or 15 miles.

We meet a few interesting people who walked along with us for bits at a time. A Brazilian woman named Leila who fell way behind her guided group; we stuck together until she found her guide and he took over carrying her back pack for her. An accountant from the UK on his first solo trip. And a crazy student group from Ireland who made me glad I’m past the teenaged years. Too much energy and no time to notice what’s around them! Oh and there was an adorable Italian student who was doing the entire 700 km in about 25 days. We were on our first day of six, yet he expected to be in Santiago in just 2 days. Let’s say he was pretty fit and eager.

But the important thing is, we made it to Portomarin! No blisters, but some sore feet, aching IT bands (that’s me) and stressed knees. The 6 hours of walking was pretty spot on, but we dilly dallied some too. Some small shops along the way, and a nice lunch on an outdoor patio where everyone took off their boots and socks, and  small dogs searched for tidbits under the tables..

Once in Portomarin we braved the steep stairs and found our Pension. Our room is on the 2nd floor, which in Europe means two flights of stairs…. We did come down again for time on the patio and dinner- but no one was going back up for anything forgotten. Once we climb those stairs again that’s it until morning.

Departure and Arrival

May 23…. Reaching Sarria, our starting point, involved 18 hours of airport and flights, then a pleasant 90 minute transfer from Santiago. Where we hope to make it back to by Saturday. Anyway, we made it all through despite misplacing a passport in Madrid, and enduring mediocre food (why do we eat 5 meals trying to figure out what time of day it is??), and a VIP lounge with no WiFi. All of that left us with stiff bodies which we keep forgetting to stretch out….but now we’re here for a good night’s sleep.

  

Buen Camino

For a travel professional I sure have plenty of travel anxiety. All day, packing, re packing, organizing, vaccuming, pacing. Once at the airport I enter the Cone of Travel… Reckless in duty-free and hungry for strange things at the bar, like buffalo wings. 

The last months I have done some odd training for this dream of mine. First I asked my friend Beth to do my walking for me which she gladly accommodated. But then I realized I had to get serious about training my own body. And do I adopted the pilgrim mentality and began my serious walking. But I’m sure I’m not ‘prepared’.the entire 100KM will have to be one step at a time.

Here now at the boston airport, in true pilgrim spirit, I’ve begun making friends and small personal connections with strangers. It’s something I often do in my normal life, but right now it has a deeper feel to it.

About to board. On to the magical wonders of the Camino de Santiago!!

Peru Peru Peru

2007 11 28 057There is something about the way the clouds move through the sky and the light plays off the mountains that is unlike anything I have ever seen before. To be in such a remote place, on top of the world, surrounded by magnificence… this is my kind of paradise.

The hiking is great, but so is the sitting and watching. So once you’ve maxed out your knees there is still an experience to be had, and Machu Picchu – for all of its magnificence – is by no means the pinnacle.  Peru is a wondrous meditation, in every way.

You can visit this country in a sedate way, or in a more challenging hiking way., You can camp in little tents, or even hike all day yet still sleep in lovely lodges only accessible by foot. You can stay in luxury hotels or go seriously budget.

However, let me warn you – After a long hike there is nothing so delicious, nothing as satisfying, nothing so memorable as a plate of french fries dipped in mayonnaise, perhaps with a cold beer in the other hand. For this, I would do it all again.