Archive for September, 2012

Our daily routine has changed a bit since we finished the walk, but one thing that has not changed is how much we are eating! On our first full day in Santiago, Tim and I went to lunch at a restaurant recommended by a former pilgrim – a friend of a friend who gave me good advice before we left and her advice and support have continued. Thank you, Corry. The restaurant she suggested (Casa Manolo) was very good and we in turn recommended it to another pilgrim. He then organized a group dinner there for Monday evening and invited us. There must have been 30 pilgrims there; so many showed up that we had to divide the group in to the old people and young people tables. Everyone had a great time reminiscing and catching up. After dinner that night, William, a Belgian pilgrim friend, organized dinner at the same restaurant for Tuesday night. Walker had left for Finisterre, but I went to dinner, this time with a smaller group of about 12. JimBob were there and so were some German friends, a father-son duo who we met on our very first night in France. At dinner the first night, the son introduced himself as one who didn’t really walk, but who liked to take motorbike holidays. We saw them on and off the first week or so, and then through Facebook knew that there were about a day behind us. It was great to see them again on Tuesday, and it was the father’s 70th birthday. The Dad’s name is Jörgen, but I call him Jack Wolfskin because he wears a lot of clothes of that brand. He doesn’t speak much English, but we managed to communicate with the help of his son Jörg. At dinner that night, the Spanish equivalent of a mariachi band came in and played. I requested Happy Birthday which they played and we all sang happy birthday. Jörgen was very touched and said he had never had that many people at his birthday table. I ordered chipirones (baby squid) and got more than I could eat, so I slipped a few to his plate. He laughed and said I was Mrs. Marshall Plan – a reference to the Marshall Plan that, among other things, sent food rations to hungry Germans after WWII.

Wednesday night in Finisterre, Walker and I went to dinner at a nice looking seafood restaurant. We got there at 8:45 but the dining room didn’t open until 9:00, so we each ordered a glass of wine. Two women at a table next to us were trying to order the same, but without much luck. We helped them out, started talking and moved to their table. By the time the restaurant opened we were having a great chat and then sat together for dinner. There are from Denmark (as with all the Danes we’ve met, spoke excellent English) and are 66 and probably 58 or so. They are old friends, having met when they were young wives and mothers living in a commune. I asked them if they were hippies and they said yes. Now they are both divorced; the older one is retired and the other is a social worker. They had just completed the Camino Portuguese, having walked about eleven days. The elder had walked the Camino Frances (the route we walked) last year, and invited her friend to join her this year. They had a great time. It was very interesting to hear about how the older one lives…she owns her house which is one of 17 in a community where the residents eat dinner together. She has lived there for 20 years and called it a modern community. To live there, you must agree to do your part which includes cooking dinner twelve or so times a year. Meals are served five nights a week and if you can’t make it to dinner, you just write a note and a plate is fixed and saved for you. She said something about the laundry being in this communal area, but i didn’t get the details. When children reach the age of 14, they have the responsibility to do their fair share. The community is comprised of all ages – from young families to the oldest couple in their 90’s. The 90- year- olds don’t have to cook any longer, and everyone looks out for them. I am intrigued by this lifestyle! We walked back to town together, us behind them, and we noticed they were dressed in tights, flowery skirts and sweaters. Walker said to them, “You really are two old hippies” and they laughed and agreed.

Wednesday was the first 100% sunny day we’ve had since Sunday and we took full advantage of it. We walked – it really seems like a stroll even when climbing when I’m not wearing Bertha – to the lighthouse on the furthest point west here. For a long time people thought Finisterre was the end of the earth – the farthest point west on the continent – but it turns out that place is actually in Portugal. Anyway, it is a tradition to watch the sunset from the lighthouse, and that is where pilgrims burn a piece of their clothing. We were there during the day and had gorgeous views. Then we took an alternate route to several ancient rocks and sites related to mythical legends. We looked and looked for one particular boulder that one can move with a finger, but we never found it. It was a bit like geocaching, but without the coordinates. We did wish we had a GPS. It was frustrating not to be able to find it with the few hints we had, but there was evidence that many others had tried various rocks, too. There are many legends about this particular boulder including from the Bible…”if ye have faith as a grain of a mustard seed, ye shall say to this mountain, move hence to another place; and it shall move and nothing shall be impossible unto you.” A pagan practice here was that the movement of the stone proved or disproved the virginity of a priestess before she was allowed to perform certain ceremonial duties.

This morning, Thursday, it’s another beautiful sunny day as we go to catch the bus back to Santiago. We’re down to just a few days left in Spain and are looking forward to returning home to friends and family, but will miss the pace of our lives for the past six weeks.

Thanks to everyone who followed, and commented, on our adventure. It’s been a pleasure. We hope to write a few more posts in the coming weeks as we sort out our thoughts (and photographs) from the Camino, so please stay tuned.

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Alvero Burns His Underwear


Here’s a photo of Alvero and Marlise after he set his underwear on fire. They are very interesting people – well-traveled and curios about the world. I’m glad I had a chance to meet them.

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Yesterday I arrived in Finisterre after a very challenging two day walk from Santiago that covered 90 kilometers over rough, mountainous terrain in cool and rainy weather. Sensible people take three or four days to do the walk (or they take the bus). I wanted to see if I could walk the 45K per day and I proved to myself that yes, I could do it. In the process I learned that 25-30K per day is about right for me. Those last 15k were painful and not fun. So one good thing about the walk was that I learned my personal limit for walking. Dirty Harry was right, “A man needs to know his limitations.”
Another good thing about the walk was that I made two new friends from Colombia, Alvero and Marlise. I met them at the albergue in Santa Mariña where the three of us were the only guests. Alvero and Marlise are not married, they are just good friends and hiking partners who are married to spouses who do not like long distance walking. It turns out that Marlise’s husband and I attended Georgia Tech at the same time. He and Alvero’s wife were sightseeing in Galicia by car and I had a chance to meet them today at the Cabo Finisterre lighthouse – literally the end of the road from Santiago. (Here you see a photo of Pokey and me at the zero kilometer marker.)
I had not seen Alvero and Marlise since I left the albergue yesterday but we were lucky to run into them at the lighthouse. I also got to meet Marlise’s husband who drove up while we were talking and we shared some memories of our time in Atlanta and at Georgia Tech.
While we were at the lighthouse Alvero took part in an old pilgrim tradition of burning a piece of his clothing. I’ll post a photo of that later. I’m not burning any of my clothes – they’ve become an important part of my “Camino gear” and I think they’ve still got some life left in them!

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From one end of Spain to the other…


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After we arrived in Santiago wet and cold, I wasn’t too excited about continuing the walk to Finisterre. Walker was quite eager to, so he set out early Tuesday morning on foot while I stayed in Santiago another day. It’s Wednesday and I am presently waiting for the bus for the three hour ride to Finisterre. Walker will earn another compostela/credential for completing yet another leg of the journey. I will earn nothing but the satisfaction of having two feet that don’t hurt. The walk to Finisterre is about 90k and most people take three or four days to get there, but Walker, aka Survivor Man, is doing it in two. He lightened his load a bit by leaving my sleeping bag and a few other times behind at our hotel in Santiago. I left a few things there as well, but managed to refill Bertha (my backpack) with some souvenirs purchased on the way to the bus station.

Our arrival in Santiago Sunday afternoon, it was rather anti-climatic. Being a Sunday, hardly anything (including cafes/bars) was open. The Camino walk through the city was long and desolate; we never saw any pilgrims in front or behind us. We had been told there would be music as we approached the cathedral, but even the Galician bagpiper was not there. We bypassed our hotel as we felt it would be “cheating” if we didn’t have our backpacks and poles with us, so we traipsed into the cathedral dripping wet to get our final sello/stamp only to learn we had to obtain it from the pilgrims’ office. Back outside in the cold and rain, the pilgrims’ office was a bit hard to find. We had also heard there would be a long line of pilgrims waiting, but not that afternoon – we went straight in. (I later learned that 500 pilgrims checked in that day; we must have had good or bad timing depending on which way you look at it. At that point, we would have enjoyed the camaraderie of other pilgrims even if it meant waiting in a line.) We got our stamps and compostelas and looked at each other like “what now?”

That night we had a quiet dinner and went to bed early. On Monday, we went for our morning coffee at a cafe across from the pilgrims’ office. There we watched pilgrims streaming in, all looking a bit perplexed as if they, too, were wondering, “is this it?” Since talking to others, I’ve learned that we all halfway expected choirs of angels, flashing lights, or some momentous welcome to Santiago. For me, the feeling of all that and more came at mass.

A mass for pilgrims is held daily at noon. When we got there Monday, it was standing room only. We were lucky enough to be told to sit on the floor up front. There we saw many pilgrims we recognized, some of whom were very emotional. The entire service was quite moving, and being a non-Catholic, I can only imagine what Catholic pilgrims were feeling, especially those who made the pilgrimage for religious reasons. The service was in Spanish, so I didn’t understand much, but being in the historic cathedral with the music, fellow pilgrims, tourists, and locals was enough. The church is famous for its large botafumeiro, or incense burner. It is reportedly so big so the incense can counteract the smell of pilgrims! It takes six trained volunteers to swing the botafumeiro, and they don’t use it at every mass. We felt very lucky, because not only was the incense burner swinging while the pipe organ played, we were also treated to the lovely voices of a men’s a capella choir from Italy.

All for now – time to board the bus.


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The Cathedral


This is Santiago de Compostela – reaching it was the goal of our pilgrimage. The photo just doesn’t do it justice. We attended the Pilgrim’s Mass today and reconnected with many, many Camino friends. We are all so happy to see each other at the end of the trail.

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Santiago! We can’t complain – after 30 days of nearly perfect weather, it rained hard today with gusting winds that Walker said were at least 40 mph. It turns out that there’s a tropical storm in the Atlantic and it’s going to be stormy for a while. Oh well, we may have been disappointed if we had carried our rain jackets and pack covers all this time for nothing. Nevertheless, we have completed our Camino. We arrived in Santiago mid-afternoon. We didn’t even pause to check the time or take a photo. We walked straight to the Cathedral, and then to the Pilgrim Office. There our credentials were checked, and we had to answer a few questions from a volunteer (in blue shirt – which meant he spoke English).

Man: When and where did you start your Camino?
Me: 24 August in St. Jean Pied de Port.
Man: It says here 23 August.
Me: Oh yes, we arrived there 23 August but started walking 24 August.
Man: How did you first hear about the Camino de Santiago in Virginia?
Me: A Sunday School class on church architecture.
Man: Did you know the number of American pilgrims on the Camino doubled this year -after the movie “The Way” came out?
Me: I had no idea. I only met one pilgrim who said the movie was why she was walking.

And with that, and a few questions answered on a form, I got my final sello/stamp and a document called a “Compostella” with my name in Latin certifying my completion of the Camino. Tomorrow we will go to the Pilgrims’ Mass at noon where they will announce how many people from every country checked in during the past 24 hours. We are hoping to see some of our Camino friends there. We didn’t see many people we recognized walking today, but Bjorn did come running out of a cafe to wish us Buen Camino. Because of the hard rain he and Baskam are staying at a campground a few kilometers outside of town tonight and will walk to Santiago tomorrow.

After taking care of business at the pilgrim office, these two tired, wet and cold pilgrims checked in to their hotel and took hot showers. Walker even took a bath to help warm up. Yet once again, we had to do our laundry in the sink. Later we went back out in the rain for dinner. Not many more days of red wine and flan included in the price of the meal!

Guess what we’re planning to do Tuesday. Walk. That’s right…walk. Since we finished the Camino in less time than we planned, we now have time to walk to Finisterre – also known as the end of the earth. It’s a three day walk, nearly 90k that only 10% of pilgrims complete. It’s on the coast and is supposed to be beautiful. We’ll definitely let you know how that goes.

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Bjorn & Baskam


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Casa Bjorn & Baskam


We met Bjorn and Baskam on Day 1 as we crossed the Pyrenees. Bjorn is from Denmark and Baskam is his dog. During a mid-day break in the mountains Cathy offered Baskam her cheese rind and he really enjoyed it. Since albergues and other accommodations don’t allow dogs, they sleep under this tarp. We saw them several times during the first week on the Camino and Baskam was having a little trouble with walking the long distances. Bjorn was very attentive and took good care of him. Apparently they have both done very well because they are camped in the courtyard of our albergue tonight. It’s very nice to close the loop with them on this, our last night on the Camino. We will arrive in Santiago tomorrow afternoon. I will try to get a good photo of Bjorn and Baskam and post it later.

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Day 29 – Gonzar to Melide

Last night was not one of our best. First of all, there was nothing to see in Gonzar. We had dinner with JimBob at their not-so-posh, but nicer than ours, albergue, and none of the four of us were very perky. We attributed our funk to our location, a bit of sadness for being so close to the end, and to 28 straight days of walking – 29 for them.

When we got back to our albergue about 9:15, we went right to bed. Some of the others were already in bed, some were outside chatting. Then, a cellphone rang and a man stayed in his bed talking on the phone. People kept saying shhhh…but it didn’t phase him. Shortly after he got off the phone, someone passed gas which made the two of us giggle like school kids. There were a lot of loud snorers in our room, and at one point the youngster in the bed above Walker got up and asked one of the loudest to please turn over. At other points in the night, it sounded like a water bottle fell from a top bunk, and a pile of stuff blew off the windowsill next to me. In the wee hours of the morning, the grandma in the bed next to Tim went to the bathroom. When she came back, she must have thought that my bed was hers and she started to root around in the backpacks that belonged to me and the girl above me. I slept through that part, but Walker was afraid she was going to try to crawl into my bed.

Oh yes, the grandma. We don’t really know if she is a grandmother, but she looks like one. She is traveling with her son who looks to be about 35 or 40. Last night was their first night. She brought her own sheets and pillowcase. Her sheets looked to be vintage, neatly pressed and folded, and were cheery yellow with a design of children playing outside. I was kind of envious; i have a weakness for vintage designs. She slept most of the afternoon until her phone rang. She had a little trouble finding, answering it, and then holding on to it. After she dropped it on her chest, she gave it to her son and he took it out in the hall. This morning, she had a little trouble getting her medication out and kept dropping things (it was dark) and Walker helped her out. Later, when he thought he was missing a pair of socks, he wondered if grandma had accidentally taken them. He eventually found them and grandma was off the hook.

Yesterday was the first time we’ve encountered these cellphone issues. During siesta, we were resting in our beds when a phone rang. It was that of a woman on a top bunk; her husband was on the bottom; he sat up quickly when it rang and bumped his head. We were kind of punchy at that point, and between that and grandma I got the giggles.

Today, however, was another story. The spirit of the Camino was back. We walked more than 30k under overcast skies and pleasant temperatures. The terrain was beautiful, often canopied by eucalyptus and other trees. The path was just about perfect; not much asphalt or too much rock, and covered at times with pine needles.

We really never saw many pilgrims, which is funny because once you get to town and they’re everywhere! We remarked how strange it is to be walking down the sidewalk in a town you barely remember the name of and you see someone you “know”. And even if you don’t recognize the face, you can always recognize a pilgrim by their feet…usually in flip flops with lots of bandages, or sandals with socks, or like us, in Crocs…and then there’s the pilgrim tan! And the pilgrim shuffle. Or, the dead giveaway when, like me, stairs are taken one at a time with both feet hitting each step.

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