Life’s a Camino

Well, bumps in the road happen on the way to Santiago de Compostela. For example, sometimes you get sick. Cris has come down with a nasty combination of cough, vomiting, and … other stuff. Needless to say, these are not very welcome developments, and even less so when you’re staying in places like these:


So yesterday we checked into a “hostal”, which is the word here for private room with bathroom. This was the place we stayed last night (con cama matrimonial!):


But the little ghost town of Villalcazar de Somethingorother had no doctor. So after a very long night of witnessing Cris coughing incessantly between runs to the bathroom, I put her in a taxi to the nearest health center, which happens to be in the town of Carrion de las Condes, where we are staying tonight. Again we’re in a “hostal” (sin cama matrimonial):


She’s gotten some meds and a little help from the local doctor who is accustomed to visits from pilgrims on their way to Santiago. Now she’s resting while I go out and run errands. Please send out your prayers for her, because it’s hard to be sick in a remote village in Spain when you can’t go home.

In other news, we’ve come a long way since Burgos and the internet connections have been hard to come by. There’s too much to put in one post, but here’s a pictorial update:

What happens to husbands when wives are feeling too beat to carry their bags:


This is the couple that convinced Cris that her oncoming illness was just a temptation of the Devil who was trying to interrupt her pilgrimage to Santiago. Unfortunately, she took a little too much credence in their words.


A three shell pilgrim hostel! That means it’s clean and the showers have some hot water most of the time. Get in there before all the beds are taken!


Ruins of a former Templar monastery and pilgrim “hospital”. Now a highway runs right through one of its arches.


Things you don’t see on churches where I come from:



It’s been really really windy lately. You can’t tell from the picture, but going 28 kilometers into a massive headwind is not easy.


When you come to a fork in the road, take it.



Business Idea: Bartender in Burgos


Burgos is a cool town, for a variety of reasons.


Most importantly, there is a cafe/bar every 7 feet where you can find people drinking beer or coffee at pretty much any time of the day. It seems as common to have a beer or wine with breakfast as it is to have a coffee along with your “pintxo” – the local word for tapas. Oh yeah – they eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner at the bar. Go figure.

And these places are always occupied. There appears to be a 10:30am rush for coffee, despite a similar breakfast rush a couple hours earlier. They eat a big lunch at the same places around 3pm, several beer/coffee/cigarette breaks throughout the day and then back around 8 or 9pm for another beer/wine/coffee and a pintxo to finish off the day, or prior to heading to a more lively establishment. See below, re: lively establishments.


(Come on, 13 days of walking. We needed to blow off some steam.)

Honestly, I don’t know if anyone works other than the bartenders who are busy the entire day dealing with the constant stream of locals who are always eating, drinking, and chatting. I have a hard time understanding how this all works, but it looks pretty luxurious from the outside.

The cathedral here is ridiculous.


All that being said, I can’t wait to get back out into the countryside.

Here are some pictures since my last post.

Goofy German picture of the day.


Ancient rock formation? Can you see the town in the distance? That means coffee.


The sun finally came out, so I took a picture of the blue sky. It has been the coldest, rainiest, snowiest spring in the history of northern spain.


Go right.


Sheep waiting for us at the top of the Sierra Atapuerca.


Shepherd: my true calling.


It got windy again. Really really windy.


Like I said, Burgos is a cool town.




We checked out the Museum of Human Evolution. They found the oldest dude in the history of Europe near here, so it’s a hotspot for that kind of stuff.


Tomorrow, we walk this way.


Cris Speaks

And now a word from the Beautiful and Amazing Cris:


On the 11th day of the pilgrimage I had no blisters and almost no pain other than exaustion. One day I even pushed us to go an extra 12k in order to arrive in Viana, which promised to be more charming than Torres del Rio, our original destination.

With the exception of our triumphant exit from Pamplona, all our days in the camino have been drenched with rain and cold. Yesterday was no exception, and I will admit that beyond any physical hurt, I was struggling with lack of motivation to continue. After walking over 200km, I felt extremelly exausted and saw my spirit collapse.

Along with it, the arches of my feet started colapsing as well. I had felt pain there earlier on the journey, but yesterday it became really really painful. I am not typically a slow walker, but I just could not keep up with the rest of the group. Every step became an exercise in patience and suffering. I was miserable, tired, wet, the wind was blowing hard, I felt my lips dry up dehydrated.

At some point I just wanted to give up, really bad. Beyond giving up on the whole camino plan, I also wanted to give up on making to the next pueblo. I wanted to sit down and cry.

Somehow I found the strength to continue, but with each step, I asked the divine for help – I just couldnt handle this much pain on my own.

The divine never ceases to respond, sometimes in unexpected ways. When I finally made it to the next small pueblo, I came accross a welcoming group of expatriate Brazilians.

The server at the bar quickly spotted my accent as I ordered a coffee. She then brought over the cook, who was from Sao Paulo, and her friend who was sitting at the bar, from Espirito Santo.

They couldn’t quite understand the whole deal with the pilgrimage, and why on earth we were choosing to travel by foot. In any case, one of them noticed I wasnt doing well and offered to drive me to the closest albergue at Santo Domingo de la Calzada, 7k away.

I was torn for a moment there – am I bailing on the camino thing? Is it allowed to enter a vehicle while boasting the pilgrim status? Should I endure hours of pain and make it there on my own?

I followed my instinct and accepted the help. I had prayed for it, so it felt right to take it in whatever form it came. As I arrived at the albergue, I was told by the hospitaleros that a foot specialist was due at the albergue within the hour! He massaged my feet, taped them, and created a temporary insole support for my shoes. I stopped limping almost immediately.

Today I entered every church on the way to thank for the help I had so gracefully received in a time of real desperation. Another small miracle granted by the Camino.


And now some pictures:





On the road again:


Goofy German:


Happy as a clam?


If it snows, get more coffee:


Yes, it snowed today. It snowed in Spain:


But we made it to Belorado (which looks like Mexico):


Adelante peregrino!


Not an Island

20120414-164501.jpgI imagined a lot of things about the Camino – the long walks, the struggle to find the right hostal, the snoring/stinking bunkmates, the blisters, you name it. One of the things about the Camino that I didn’t really think about too much was the people. I mean, I knew there would be other people I would run into on this walk and who I would eat with and see every once in a while. What I didn’t quite get was how social it would be.


There’s just a lot of time to run into the same people, and, once you do, a lot of time to pick up the conversation where you left off. There’s no story that won’t pass the time. Plus, most of these people have a pretty good story to tell, and they all have a reason for doing this trek and not doing something else.

In the past four or five days, Cris and I have been adopted by a gang of Germans. They are wonderfully happy, friendly, and stereotypically goofy.


To their credit, they each came separately to the Camino and bonded on the road. Just like so many others, we met them by walking to the same place and hearing their story. Now we’re sort of a pack. Truth is, however, we couldn’t shake them if we wanted. Today, Cris was having some trouble with her foot. She insisted we stay in Najera rather than continue to Azofra as the Germans were doing. When they found out, they decided to stay with us rather than going the extra 6 kilometers.

Hanging out with the other pilgrims usually happens out of a desire not to miss out on hearing their stories. It also usually means we don’t get a jump on the next day’s walk. But, as I’ve mentioned before, no matter how fast you go, you get there. It’s not exactly the quiet, contemplative walk I had imagined, but the people who walk beside me are invariably genuine – and can’t help to be after 20-30 kilometers. They’ve all come here to think about something and they are all curious to hear your thoughts and your own story. And, walking together, we have an exchange that is hard to find anywhere else.

Some good pictures:


Catching up with Caterina, the 65-year-old Canadian who is putting us to shame:


A fountain that pours water AND wine:







A Templar octagonal church:


Delicious dinner last night in Navarrete at Bar Deportivo:


The cook:


Follow that sign:


Get a rhythm

20120409-221207.jpg So much has happened and there has hardly been time to get to the actual reflections of this journey. We are starting to get a rhythm. The funny thing about the Camino is that no matter how fast you go, you always get there, wherever that may be.

We are now in Puente La Reina after going from Roncevalles to Larrasoan~a on Saturday, then to Pamplona on Easter, and arriving in Puente La Reina today. We’ve covered something like 93 k (more or less) so far.

The most painful day so far was the day with the shortest hike – only about 10 or 11 miles. We arrived in Pamplona shortly after noon yesterday and did our best to go out and see Hemingway’s old haunts. We managed to stumble across some ridiculously delicious food in the strangest place. A gourmet meal for about $25 euros, including two well-poured glasses of delicious crianza.

Spanish deliciousness…

Other Pamplona pics:




They will never quit.

We left Pamplona this morning – happy to get back out into the country. It was our first sunny day and a wonderful reward. Some photographic highlights of our day:



Tilting at windmills. In Spain. Literally.







The Camino Begins

April 5: We made it to St. Jean Pied de Port, the starting point of our journey. That town really takes the Camino seriously. As soon as we arrived in town, we were directed to the official Camino “passport” agency, and they asked us a few questions about our intentions and personal information, issued passports, and stamped them with the St. Jean official stamp. Then, without discussing any options, an old man escorted us and a few other pilgrims to a local hostel. That was it. A room full of bunks, a couple showers, a bathroom. The afternoon was nearly silent as fellow pilgrims prepared themselves for the walk. The air was rich with anticipation.


April 6: We accomplished the first leg of the Camino, from St. Jean Pied de Port, France, to Roncesvalles, Spain, covering 16 miles and and about 4,500 feet in elevation change. We left early and moved slowly. About ten minutes later, it began to rain and proceeded to do so for the entire first half of the hike. As we climbed up in elevation, it also got colder. Eventually, despite the shock to our bodies of this degree of activity, we found a rhythm.

We don’t really know when we passed into Spain, as there was no welcome sign. After finally reaching the top of the climb (at Col Lepoeder), it was a drastic descent into Roncevalles. It was a serious hike, and I know Cris was hurting, but she didn’t complain. The first day is always the hardest, and many other pilgrims have attested to this. We, however, had a certain amout of luck. About an hour after we settled in to our hostel accomodations it began to snow heavily. I don’t think I was prepared for that. The pictures tell the rest of the story.











Change of plans…

Well, after just a couple days, our plans have been altered due to circumstances outside of our control. There is a strike of airport controllers in Europe. I don’t have a clear picture of the nature of the strike, but it is clear that air travel in Spain and France is seriously suspended. I figured this was fine as long as we were planning to walk for a couple months. However, based on the original plan, we were going to fly to Biarritz and then take a train to St. Jean Pied de Port.

We didn’t find out about the problem until we arrived at the CDG airport yesterday afternoon. The following six hours was a struggle to find out exactly how our plans would alter. After an interminal wait in a series of unnecessary lines, we were informed that (1) our flight was delayed by 2 days, (2) we would be staying in the airport Hilton, and (3) breakfast was included.

This presents a few concerns. First of all, we are not likely to start walking on April 5, as planned. Second, it means the wew will incur the additional cost of eating and transporting around Paris, which is ridiculously expensive. Other than that, however, it appears to be a blessing in disguise. Cris and a I are uncharacteristically tired, and we slept last night better than we had in as long as I can remember. We could use the time to break ourselves into the time difference and our hiking shoes, which left both of us with sore spots. Ultimately, despite an immense amount of frustration last night, this is precisely the kind of setback we had set out to find. We just didn’t think it would happen so soon! Ah well.

In other news, we had a perfectly relaxing day strolling through the famous areas of Paris yesterday. We dealt with a little bit of time-difference fatigue (and, I think, a substantial amount of life-change fatigue) by first drinking a ton of espresso, and then, after enough of that, by tasting the local ale. Pelforth gives French blonde ale a good name (much to my surprise).


Of all the spots we walked through, I particularly enjoyed the neighborhood of Saint Germain. It’s not as crowded, but still has the comforting sense of history as the rest of Paris, (including, of course, plenty of friendly cafes). Here are some pictures.






(For more photos, go to the photo page at the link above.)