Entries tagged with “Camino de Santiago in Spain”.

As I wrote the posts about each stage, I became tired of simply writing the events in a chronological basis like a diary, rather than telling you about the people and quirky things that happened to us. The description of our Camino wandering wouldn’t be complete without describing the cast of characters that we met on our journey. So, here is a partial list, which will be added to, of that I am sure:

  • Happy: An older gentleman (60+ ??) who is originally from Vietnam, but lives in Europe. We saw him in Leon and met him a couple days later in a small town. He was always happy, smiling and full of energy, so we named him Happy. Although he is short, we walks faster than any of us. The most amazing thing about Happy is that he started his Camino in Paris and the day he walked into Santiago was his 69th day walking. I’d love to know what inspired him to make the journey. Maybe we’ll see him in Santiago and I can ask him.
  • Annet: A fun, friendly Puerto Rican lady who has walked the Camino in 2005. She is a mother of 3 children and the oldest is studying for a semester in Madrid. We met her in the bar in O’Cebreiro that cold, wet, foggy night, and we didn’t see her again until we arrived at the Hotel O’Pino. She was sitting in the bar with her husband, Xavier who had stepped of a local bus at the very moment that she was walking by on the Camino! He had wanted to surprise her by coming to walk the last day of the Camino with her. I guess that story is real Camino magic.
  • Guillermo: A retired Spaniard who we met at Foncebadon. He was videotaping the Kumbaya song circle at the comune – with a video pen! Tony thought he was so high that he was holding up a pen, like people at concerts hold up lighters! Turned out he was recording the session because he liked it so much. He thought Tony was the “lider del tribu” – or leader of the tribe of the commune because he was playing the bongo drums. He was walking the Camino with his grown son and was having a blast. One day he did tell us how he had gotten lost earlier in the day. He took a wrong turn and ended up walking along a mountain ridge, not knowing how to get back down to the Camino. He said he could see the trail far below him. He was ready to call the authorities to rescue him when he found a trail and hiked down through a very wet grove of trees, sinking in water and dirt up to his knees. When he finally got back down, he found an arrow made of stones marking the Camino and followed it, but it ended up being a wrong turn and was lost again for a while. He finally made it to his destination.
    • Grumpy Waitress: A Moroccan waitress in Villadangos del Paramo who was rude to us and every other patron of the restaurant. When we asked whether the “cheeks” that were on the menu were pork or beef, she answered, “Yo que se!?” which in English would be, “How would I know?” Then, she brought the wrong dessert to a nice Brazilian lady and when the lady said it wasn’t what she ordered, the waitress told her that she was wrong, that she was not paying attention when she ordered. I swear that I have never in my life met anyone as rude as that woman.
    • German Sprinter: I already mentioned her, but she was an absolute walking machine of a woman who we did not see after Astorga. And, she wasn’t German, but turned out to be Finnish.
    • Pablo: We met Pablo in the “jousting” town of Puente de Orbigo. He is young Galician and always carrying a camera. He had long hair and beard, and always seemed to be in the midst of the action. We liked him right away. I think he has that effect on everyone. He also seemed to like the smoke wafting from the commune. We haven’t seen him since just before O’Cebreiro. We popped into an albergue to use the bathroom about 8:15 in the morning and he was the last one in bed, just waking up. I guess he had too much fun the night before. Perhaps we’ll see him in Santiago.
    • Jimmy: A young man with long hair and a beard, who has passed us several times in the last two days. He has a small, low slung, square backpack, a bottle of water tied to the pack and he carries two plastic bags full of something. I named him Jimmy because he looks just like one of our family friends.
    • Las Andaluzas: Three young girls from Cadiz who are walking the Camino, but started in a city after Leon. I don’t know which one. One of them had problems with her knee so badly that she was limping like an old woman today. We pass each other on the Camino a lot and they always have something funny to say.
    • Belgian Chocolate: I’m sure that Tony knows his real name, but I just call him Belgian Chocolate. He is a young man who was walking with Pablo when we first met him, and he was eating chocolate from his native Belgium. I think he must be a student. Very nice fellow, who always seems to appear wherever we are – including the cathedral.
    • El Burgales:  The older man that asked about the bus in O’Cebreiro is from Burgos. He has walked the Camino 10 times! He said he had lot of stories to tell. I wish we had coincided with him again, but after we got off the bus in Triacastela, we walked toward Samos and he went directly to Sarria. Perhaps we’ll see him again in Burgos! I’d love to hear his stories.
    • Francesco, the Italian: We met him in O’Cebreiro when he was lit, as they say. He was so drunk I don’t think he remembered meeting us during the soccer game. We saw him several more times during the Camino and again the day after we arrived in Santiago. I was never quite sure where he was coming from, but someone said he was very religious.
    • The Mexican without a Name: We passed him regularly and vice versa. He was tall and thin and walked super fast. When we actually introduced ourselves to him, we were in O’Cebreiro and he said that he carried a pack weighing 20 kilos, which I find hard to believe. In that pack he apparently carried 2 bottles of wine all the time. I’m not sure why anybody would carry around 2 bottles of wine in Spain since you can buy great wine everywhere.
    • Gypsy Girl: Tall, dark, thin and exotic. She turned out to be Brazilian, not gypsy, but once we name a character, it’s hard to change their name. She was a fast walker and was alone on the Camino, like many other women. (We originally thought she was in cahoots with an American hippie who seemed to be tagging along on the Camino, but we never saw him walking.)


    June 22nd

    Santiago Sign

    Lately, our conversations have been about answering the question “What does the Camino have in store for us today?” Our answers are usually wrong… What we think the Camino has planned for us is never what ends up happening. God’s plans for us are not what we expect. Today was no exception. We figured a few ups and downs at first, then flat for a while, then down to Santiago.

    The first part of the Camino today was up and down between groves of Eucolyptus trees, ferns and oaks. Then we were in and out of small villages. Finally we were walking alongside the highway for a stretch and took photos in front of a large stone with “Santiago” carved on the front of it. We thought that we were close to entering the city, but we were completely wrong.

    We were walking along a forest path when suddenly we heard a jet engine, as if we were standing on the tarmac. Turns out that although we were only about 20 feet below the highway, on a path covered with trees and vines, to our left was the Santiago airport! If it weren’t for the noise of the jet engines, it seemed we were in the middle of nowhere in a beautiful forest. Once passed the airport and started our descent.

    Monte de Gozo In the distance we could see a large modern monument with a glass cross on the top. There it was! The Monte de Gozo. The place where pilgrims to Santiago are first able to see the city of Santiago at a distance. This is the place I’d been waiting to see! The three of us yelled “Ultreya!” as we walked onto the flat grassy area next to the monument. That moment of realization that finally, after 12 days of walking we were really in Santiago was great. After taking photos from all angles, we stamped our credencials and continued on our way to Santiago.

    I was not prepared for the rest of the walk down into Santiago and to the cathedral. It was long and hot. We crossed highways on overpasses, walked through a number of different neighborhoods and finally made it down to the historic city center. All the while, we tried to keep the cathedral spires in view.

    The side of the cathedral had a large plaza and a musical group was playing. We decided to get our credencial stamped immediately and receive our compostela. The pilgrim office was on the first floor (2nd floor if you are from the USA). There was a short line and we were taken care of right away. Our compostelas have our names in Latin. We felt an enormous relief and joy that we had arrived.

    Our hotel was close to the historic city center, across the street from a grade school on a busy street. It was a hotel that had been recently updated, and was clean and comfortable. It was quite warm and most small hotels in Spain do not have air conditioning.

    We spent the afternoon wandering around the city, looking in shop windows. We asked the hotel receptionist about where to eat. She recommended a restaurant called Los Fornos, which was FABULOUS! We ate a variety of seafood dishes and rolled out the door to our hotel.

    June 19th

    Portomarin at Dawn

    We had breakfast at the hotel and were out of town by 7:10am. The sun was just coming up over the hills and it was cool and fresh. The hike was to be again through a number of very small villages, in a landscape of rolling hills, cow pastures and corn fields.

    During breakfast we all decided to put our small rounds of bread into our lunch bag to eat during our morning stop. Good bread seems hard to find since we left our first stop on the Camino. Just before stopping, we forgot we had saved the bread rounds and we bought some great fresh bread. After eating the empanada from Portomarin and several pieces of cheese with the fresh bread, we left the rounds from the hotel on a picnic table at a rest area with a ½ bottle of wine we couldn’t finish. The fact is that the wine we had purchased at the grocery store in Portomarin wasn’t very good. I figured leaving the bread and wine on the picnic table was our good deed for the day. (Better cheap wine and bread, than going hungry on the Camino.)

    We arrived in Palas de Rei “sin pena ni gloria” (without pain or glory). It is a small sad town. Even though it was bigger than Portomarin, it didn’t seem to have much to do/see, or much life in it. The hotel Casa Benilde was great! The hotel was updated. The staff was absolutely the most helpful we’ve run into yet. The rooms weren’t big, but everything worked, the street was quiet and bed really comfortable.

    We ate the Menu del Dia at the closest meson and it wasn’t very good. Afterwards, we walked around the downtown, which is smaller than downtown Davis or Woodland. There were some people out in the evening, but considering it was Saturday, there was not much going on. We ducked into a café and Tony and Dave watched a Mundial game and we had “refrescos.” We ran into several young pilgrims we had been “walking” with. There was a mix of Europeans and American college students and they were all eating hamburgers. I don’t get it.

    We went to a grocery store that was open and ran into “Happy”, the older Vietnamese man who was walking the Camion from Paris. We bought fruit, cheese and bread. After that, I went up to the room while the guys watched the game.

    I wish there was something interesting to tell about Palas de Rei, but there isn’t. On to the next stage…

    June 13th

    Ruin in Foncebadon

    When we started off in the morning, we thought we would be walking to Rabanal del Camino. We stopped to drink water and checked the hotel list we are carrying with us. The name of hostel where we have reservations is Convento de Foncebadon, which is a ruined town about 6 km past Rabanal del Camino. We remembered that when we called hotels in March, we could not find a hotel in Rabanal. The Convento seemed isolated, but we wanted a reservation somewhere. So, we would consider walking all the way to Foncebadon instead of staying in Rabanal. We’d decide when we arrived in Rabanal.

    The camino was a gentle rise the entire morning. Young trees were planted on either side of the camino to help the pilgrims and we passed at least 5 or 6 rest areas for pilgrims. The wild flowers were still blooming and dotted the countryside with deep yellow, purple, pinks and blue. There was a stunning view of mountains no matter which way you turned. As we walked, Astorga became a memory and smaller and smaller. Although the towers of the cathedral could be seen for miles after we left.

    Surprisingly, we arrived around noon in Rabanal, a cute town with many restored buildings. We had a sandwich, a refreshment and relaxed for a half hour. We felt good, strong even. We’d push on to Foncebadon. What is it that the guide book says about that portion? The adjective used was “tortuous”, I believe. It is a tough 5 km, but how long could it really take to hike up 5 or 6 km? An hour and a half? It was a steep climb in 5 km, whereas the 20 km hike that we just finished from Astorga to Rabanal was a gentle, sloping climb of 300 meters if I’m not mistaken.

    Off we went… We arrived a bit after 3:00pm in the “ruined” town of Foncebadon after a very tough climb. The scenery was gorgeous and we stopped often on the steep, rocky path. As we walked through the dozen or so houses that still stand, we weren’t sure which building was the “Convento.” Fortunately, it was a beautifully restored stone building, which stood behind the albergue. The rooms were quaint and tastefully decorated – very comfortable, but not fancy. The bathroom held a surprise – a hydro massage shower. There were spouts everywhere – on the top of the shower, on the hand-held head and at least 12 jets down the shower wall. Installed in a corner, the shower doors were rounded and came together to form a sealed enclosure. The drain could be closed and the shower floor filled to soak tired feet.

    The convent’s menu del dia was homemade for the most part. The lentil soup was very good. The bread was stale – at least 2 days old. Tony’s fish was a filet without skin or bones – a frozen lenguado fish, which was disappointing.

    After lunch we walked up the only “street” in the town, which was just a muddy and rocky path between the ruins. Seeing a door to an albergue open and folk music coming out, we ducked in. It was dark and bohemian. There was a group of about 6 or 8 people in a circle with a woman playing guitar. They were singing songs in different languages. I called it the “kumara” group. Once Tony and Dave ordered something to drink, I hurried out before they could ask me to join the circle and sing. The “jamon brothers” as I’ve dubbed Tony and Dave, stayed to sing with the group. Tony ended up playing the bongos and having another “chupito.” I’ll let him finish that story sometime when he gets on the computer…

    The story about Foncebadon got more interesting as we walked around and talked to people. We’ve decided that it is a hippie comune with people who would like to be living in the 1960’s… even though most of them are between 20 and 35 years of age. They don’t seem to mind the isolation, but maybe that’s because they are lost in a cloud of smoke from their “porros” (aka joints.)

    By the way, dinner in most places was served until 7:30 or 8:00pm because most pilgrims go to bed very early.

    Let me start off by being very clear about two things. First, I’m a planner and second, I’m a worrier. Oh, and a third thing – my husband is not either of those. He’s spontaneous, and more carefree. I’ve spent close to a year planning and researching this Camino de Santiago adventure via the internet and guide books. My husband and I made reservations at the hotels at least 3 months before our departure date. This is why what I’m about to describe is such an odd state of affairs.

    At dinner one evening Dave, the third “musketeer” on our great Camino adventure casually asked us if our passports were close to expiring. Tony’s expires in 8 years, but mine would expire in September. He went on to tell us a story of a traveling companion who was not allowed to board the plane because his passport expired less than 6 months from his departure date. The country they were traveling to had a rule that all visitors’ passports must be valid for more than 6 months from the trip date in order to enter the country. We listened, then brushed off his warning. That is, until 14 days before our trip. I was checking the entry requirements for Canada, where we have a layover and didn’t see anything special. So, I clicked on the entry requirements of Spain. There in my screen, in digital black and white it stated clearly that passports must be valid for 90 days past the trip. Mine was 2 weeks short of that!

    Frantically, I searched the internet for the US Dept. of State information on passport renewal. To renew by mail and pay for expediting wasn’t a possibility since the estimated turnaround time was 2-3 weeks. Since I was traveling in 14 days or less, I could renew in person. The only possible options for me were to either take a day off and go to the passport agency in person to renew it and receive it the same day, or pay an expediting service around $330 to do the same thing. So, I followed the instructions on screen and attempted to schedule an appointment at the San Francisco passport agency. I was told that there were no appointments in the next 14 days. I called the next day and the same thing. However, I navigated the voice menus and spoke to a representative of the State dept. who informed me that there would be a cancellation and to keep trying. Alternately, if I was not able to get an appointment in the next week, I could call back and they could schedule an emergency appointment – but ONLY if it were less than 5 days from my departure. Baffling, I know.

    While searching the internet for the exact address of the San Francisco passport agency, I stumbled upon a page on yelp.com, a internet community where people can post reviews of restaurants, local businesses, etc. Why did yelp have a page on the passport agency? Why would there be reviews about a government office? After all, most of us know how a review for the DMV would read. However, I was astounded to see over 1 dozen reviews stating that although the US government website, human operators and the automated appointment system insist that you will NOT be allowed to enter the building without an appointment confirmation number, if you arrive early and have all necessary paperwork, you will be allowed to enter and given a number. If all paperwork is in order, pay the additional $60, you are given a receipt and a time later in the day when you may return to pick it up. That’s it! That’s all! How can that be?! It sounded like “no fuss, no muss.” If it were just one or two reviewers who stated that, I might not have taken them seriously, but there were over a dozen people who wrote about how quick and painless it was.

    So, after getting my boss’ ok to take a day off, I convinced my dad, a San Francisco native to drive to the “City” with me. We arrived at the office a little after 9:00am and read the lettering on the front door “Appointments Only”. There were no guards at the door, so we proceeded up the elevator. We got off and were met by no less than 3 armed guards and metal detectors that rival airport security. The lady behind the bulletproof glass at window 1 asked for my confirmation number. No appointment? Go to window 3. At window 3, my passport and travel itinerary were reviewed and I was given a number. In under 1 hour and 30 minutes, my number was called, paperwork approved, fees paid and a time given for me to return to pick it up. We returned a half hour before the specified time and there was already a line on the sidewalk of folks like me, who just wanted a new passport – in a hurry! A security guard was outside, making sure that everyone had their receipts and was ready to pass through metal detectors. There was something about him that reminded me distinctly of Robert on “Everybody Loves Raymond.” No matter, I was there, clutching my receipt and went up to the 5th floor and through the metal detectors where I traded it for my brand new, chip-embedded passport. Mission accomplished.

    In late February, I went boot shopping:

    After trying on the boots at a local store, I decided to order my boots from Zappos.com since I have a gift card. Even though I’ve used Zappos numerous times, I’m always surprised how fast they arrived. I ordered on a Sunday, and Monday afternoon they were on my porch!

    I decided on a Keen brand boot. The model is Voyaguer and they are mid hiking boots, which were recommended by everyone at REI and several friends.  There are plenty of great customer reviews about shoes on the web, too.  To tell you the truth, I’m not sure how I would “do my research” about equipment without the internet.  Equipment, including shoes and hiking boots have really changed since the late 1970’s! Everything is so light weight and much more comfortable. Can you imagine what pilgrims from the Middle Ages would think if they could see the kind of gear we have nowadays?

    Now I’ll just need some nice cushy socks to wear. The socks will need to wick away moisture, and because I’ve suffered from foot pain in the past, I’m not skimping on the socks or shoes. From the first person accounts of pilgrims on the web, foot care is top priority!

    The more we plan, the more I realize that we’ll need to be committed to training for this adventure. Unfortunately, the nice sunny and warm weather we enjoyed in early February at del Valle Regional Park (near Pleasanton) is gone and the rain has returned.  We’re anxious to start taking long walks, but the weather just isn’t cooperating.

    In February we went to REI to look around and ended up buying our packs. After 4 and a half years of talking about walking the Camino, we’re finally going to walk it. And today, I realized that it is really going to happen this year.

    Even though we’d like to walk the entire 800km Camino from the border of France, we will have to be satisfied with walking 300 km from Leon. The following are my impressions after a shopping trip to our local REI Store:

    Walking into REI is like walking into a foreign country, where everyone is speaking a “sport.” Each section of the store is bursting with merchandise, and sales clerks who are animatedly answering questions, fitting customers and demonstrating how to use equipment. It’s a bit intimidating for us, since we’re novice outdoor types. Yes, we’ve been camping, ride bikes around the back roads on the weekends and have been known to tackle day hikes on dusty trails around California.  None of that has really prepared us for the mission this summer.

    Looking around the store, I don’t know what to look at first. Everything is shiny and pretty, even if I don’t know what it’s for, I think I want it! I feel really ignorant and yet need to make some decisions about these toys and how they work.  We head to the backpack section. Luckily, after we explain a little about our summer trip, the sales clerk covers the basics with us and makes some suggestions as to what type of pack each of us should use.

    We both leave with 40 liter packs, which we believe will be more than big enough to carry the 2 changes of clothing, toiletries and lightweight sleeping bag we’ll need. We know we’ll be back to buy the bags and the hiking boots… and probably a lot more we haven’t imagined yet.  And we thought this would be a “cheap” trip except the plane ticket!