Credencial de Peregrino: A pilgrim's passport.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Santiago to....

After walking for 33 days, it is strange not to be walking. Arriving in Santiago has been a bit of an anti climax for me and other pilgrims I have walked with. I have decided to head for Land's End and the sea--Finisterre. The draw of the sea has been a big pull for pigrims for a long time. I don't want to miss my chance to complete this journey. It has been said that regret for things we have done is tempered by time but regret for things we did not do is inconsolable. To the sea then.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011


Arrived in Santiago yesterday about 3 pm--too late to make it to the pilgrim's mass, but I hadn't really planned to go to the mass with the millions of tourists after walking all day. Instead, I met my friend Juliano in the square in front of the cathedral and he welcomed me to Santiago.

I'm happy to be here.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Melide to Arca

Tim and I are now in the land of seafood! In fact, this area is famous for its pulpo--boiled octopus drizzled with generous amounts of olive oil then finished with kosher salt and saffron. I definitely like this dish, but in small quantities.

It is so nice to have Tim here because he speaks Spanish so well, but my Spanish has suffered since he tends to do more of the talking. Interesting how I have become a bit more quiet and self conscious with a more proficient speaker around.Altough, I have to admit that the speakers in Galicia speak Galego, wihich is not so easy to understand even for Tim.

The heat continues to be a plague. After spending the afternoon heat napping in a park and watching the town fiesta of San Juan yesterday, we opted to walk in the cool of the evening for another 15 km. There are so few pilgrims that actually walk in the evening that we had the whole Camino to ourselves practically. It was definitely a switch from the throngs of new walkers and bus loads of Spanish school kids who are doing the last 100 km.

This morning treated us to a cool breeze, which made walking in the heat much easier than the last two days. Even so, we didn´t have far to walk to get to Arca, a town just 20 km away from Santiago. I must admit that the count-down mentality when I first started this journey has definitely changed. I am no longer so focused on reaching Santiago. I will rejoice when I reach the cathedral. I may even cry and fall down on my knees to give thanks to God; however, my plan is to avoid the throngs of turists and to visit a smaller church to give my thanks for a safe journey, for my past with Anthony, for the blessings of the Camino, and for my current joy. The following morning, I plan to visit the Cathedral of Santiago without the crowds of pilgrims for a quiet moment to give thanks for this journey called life.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Triacastella to Sarria to Portomarin to Melide

Once I arrived in Sarria, everything changed. For one, I am now joined by a friend from Seattle which has been great. But, Sarria is also where many more new pilgrims start their Camino in order to get the Compostela (certificate of completion given by the church) in Santiago. The route has become much more crowded with these new pilgrims.

In an effort to be more welcoming of them, I have been trying not to get into the mentality that I need to get up early, rush to the next city in order to beat them to the beds. I admit, there is this sensation among many of the pilgrims that have been walking with me for 31 days now to do this.

Things change.

The weather has become unbearable hot--almost 100 degress, and we refused to push it to the next appointed town just to stay on schedule. Tim has been a great companion for slowing down and walking in a relaxed manner. Coupled with the heat and the competition for beds, we opted for returning to a bigger town even though we had walked further in the afternoon heat.

As I approach Santiago--only 48 km to go--I am feeling like I am not quite ready to for this fantastic journey to end. As my new friend Endika who has walked the Camino 41 times told me, our journey really begins once we reach Santiago.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Villafranca to O´Cebreiro to Triacastela

I slept last night in O´Cebreiro. There was only one computer for the whole town with many pilgrims waiting to use it, so I opted to skip the blog.

Once we arrived in O´Cebreiro last night, we were officially in Galicia. Me encanta Galicia. It is beautful and green here with spectacular views.

The last few days have been fantastic. I´ve been traveling with a local from Navarra, Enric, who has written two guides in Spanish on the Camino Frances. It´s been a treat to be in the "know" about which paths to take, where to eat, etc. After losing his friend on the Camino, Enric has been very reflective, but seemingly happy to have me along for company. I think we were supposed to meet for this reason.

We have been walking a much slower pace than I was accustomed to in the beginning. The blisters slowed me down for a while, and then I slowed down to let them heal. Now that they are almost healed, I like being slower. Strange. What´s even stranger is Enric and I are walking in a very relaxed manner without hurrying while other pilgrims scurry by us, but somehow we arrive befor them. You see this alot with younger pilgrims who walk or run quickly, but then have to take a lot of breaks. We call ourselves ¨Las Tortugas", which means turtles in Spanish. I told Enric the fable of the Tortoise and the Hare--we had a good laugh about this.

I get many strange looks walking along in my shower shoes. For the past 10 days, I have been wearing plastics slides by Addidas. I feel I should write them a letter of thanks for helping me on my Camino.

In addition to the company, the weather has been fantastic through the mountains. Cold in the morning; but warm and sunny in the afternoon. Things seem to be as they should be at the moment. I feel happy. I read a quote by G.K. Chesterton, "Happiness is a mystery, like religion and should never be rationalized." I think he was right.

Tomorrow, I will meet Tim in Sarria. He will be walking with me all the way to Sarria. I´m looking forward to this new phase of the journey.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Molinaseca to Villafranca

After yesterday´s news about the death of a pilgrim, I decided to walk with Enrique to support him. We had a long journey in front of us--30 km--but, the day turned out to be fantastic. Most of the walking was on sidewalks, but I am okay with fewer rocks while walking in my flip flops (I´m back to walking in the shower shoes). Enrique knew about several secret places that most pilgrims don´t, so it was a treat to be with a local who was in the know. For example, in Cacabelos, we stopped in a beautiful hotel around noon that showered us with empanadas and vino tinto free of charge just because we are pilgrims. We also took a detour to the work site of the sculpter who is working on sculptures for La Sagrada Familia in Barcelona. Since it was Sunday, he wasn´t working on the sculptures, but we were able to view them up close. Very cool.

I´m now in Villafranca, which is a beautiful town. There are at least four churches here and one castle built by the Knights Templar circa 1200. Tomorrow I plan to walk another 30 km, if my feet will allow it. We shall see. It was quite hot today--about 27 degrees celesius, and I got a bit burned. This was a change from the mountains yesterday where it was 3 degrees--colder still with the wind chill.

It is hard to belive, but I only have about 180 km to go before I reach Santiago.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Rabanal to Molinaseca

I´m tired and just lost my post I´d been working on. It´s been an emotional day. Letting go of fear in favor of love at the Cruz de Ferro today in the form of a small stone I carried all the way from Discovery Park. Also consoling a new friend from Pais Vasco whose friend died a few days ago in the albergue in his sleep. How do you console a man in pain in another language? The only thing I coud think to do was hold him in my arms, stroke his hair, and cry with him.

Like I said, it´s been an emotional day.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Astorga to Rabanal del Camino

It pays to speak a little Spanish. First of all, I found out about a treasure in Rabanal del Camino--the Albergue El Pilar. It is a family run place with a fantasic vibe. From the moment I entered the puerta and took off my shoes, the hostess was getting me a cold beer and something to eat. Along the Camino, you grow to really appreciate a hot shower and a clean bunk. As usual, I was asked to sleep on the top bunk and save the lower bunk for the older folks with bad knees. If only they knew...

Today, the walk was only 20 km. I left Astorga at 7:30 am and arrived at 11:30. Somehow, I really cruised. I was alone except for the 4 km I walked with a local from Astorga. I noticed him in the distance. He was walking alone and without a backback. He was carefully inspecting trees along the Camino. I knew he was not a pilgrim, but instead a local who had lived most of his long years in the area and cared deeply for it. Instantly I was drawn to him, and when I was finally alongside him I ventured to speak, "Hola, buenos dias". He smiled and we began a nice conversation in Spanish. He complimented me on knowing some Spanish. I think most people here will tell you how good your Spanish is just for trying. Nice. It was a lovely way to spend 4 km on the planet. I´m glad that I slowed down to speak with him.

So, that´s it really. I walked 20 km. I showered. I washed out my clothes. I made up my bunk. Drank a beer. Will dine with other pilgrims tonight. Simple. Just as it should be in my far away world.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Mazarife to Astorga

Today was the longest walk by far: 30 km. It´s the last kilometers that kill the feet and the spirit, for sure. I started out feeling fantastic. Walked for most of the day by myself, but met up with friends and new folks along the way. By the end of a long, hot day I was feeling ready to quit walking, but Astorga was still 6.5 km away. Luckily, I met up with a familiar pilgrim who shuffled into town with me whistling and singing to keep our mind off our feet. We got into Astorga at 3 pm -- a full 8 hours of walking.

Back in Leon, there was a new wave of fresh pilgrims that joined the Camino. New packs, clean boots, bright-eyed and without blisters yet. I watched them marching forward thinking, "Just you wait until you get your first blister."

I haven´t been doing much sight seeing here, but the cathedral and building designed by Gaudi are interesting draws. Even though I didn´t want to spend a single second more on my feet, I ventured out to view these two intersesting buildings.

We had a working kitchen here in Astorga, so decided to cook for ourselves tonight. Dinner tastes better when shared with friends after a long day of walking.

Tomorrow, I will be walking only 20 km. I´m looking forward to an easier day than today.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Mansilla to Leon to Mazarife

Spent yesterday in the city of Leon--the biggest city I´ve been to so far. Even in the big city, my timing is off with all of Spain. Shops are closed when I wake at 6 am. Usually start walking around 7 am. Nothing is open at this time. Sometimes I must walk to the next village before I can get a coffee and breakfast. Spain is not the place for impatience and the instant-gratification crowd. Learning to go with this flow. We pilgrims usally walk about 25 km per day, arriving to our destination just in time for siesta (shops closed from 2 to 5 pm). At this point we are usually desperate for shower, food, and washing clothes. But, we must wait until shops open up again before we can eat. Go with the flow...

The last several days were spent walking in flip flops due to foot complications. I was able to buy some sandals in Leon, but they are really one step above a flip flop. I ingenuously put my boot insoles in the bottome of the sandal to make them more sturdy, but the insoles slowely work their way out the back of the sandal with time, so I am constantly stopping to readjust. Tonight, I will try an old Anthony King solution: duck tape (I have a small amout wrapped around a pencil for emergency gear repair).

Now that I´m in Mazarife, I am happy to be here. I was reunited with old Camino friends; Juliano and Hannes. It wasn´t clear that I would continue on to Mazarife since there was an alternate route to another village. When I arrived at the crossroad today, I wondered for a minute which route I would take. The alternate route is actually the real Camino Frances; although, it runs along the highway. As I stood there, my friend Zsolt waited for me to decide. Finally, I decided to follow him and enjoy some company for the day. Too many days alone before Leon. I´m glad I did even though we argue like me and my real brother do. We meet people for a reason. We did enjoy lunch together in the shade and a nap. I left before and arrived one hour earlier than he did...happy to miss the high noon sun.

Tonight, the host is cooking us a dinner and all the pilgrims will dine together. I love it when we all sit down and share a meal together at a communal table. There are so many languages flying around, but we always manage to laugh together even if we don´t understand one another completely.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Terradillos to Bercianos to Mansilla de las Mulas

I´ve had a hard two days. Alone, except for my thoughts and the blisters. It is odd what you think about while in pain. Actually, it´s hard to think about anything but the pain. The way around this train wreck for me has been talking to myself...out Spanish. It´s a bit like having a conversation with a child when you have to listen carefully to what they are saying to umderstand their meeting. It takes focus. The other tactic I resort to is singing to myself. Funny what songs come to your head when you´re in pain. For me, "Alison" by Elvis Costello, "Brown-Eyed Girl" by Van Morrison, "Take Me Out to the Ball Game", etc. Random stuff.

The scenery for the past few days has been along the freeway. To be honest, I don´t remember what I´ve seen. I´ve resorted to mantras and songs to get me through. Jeremiah 29:11 has been running through my mind for the past several days. For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. This is a promise I claim for myself.

Tomorrow, I´ll be in Leon--a big city. Time for a resupply. I´m out of all sorts of essentials such as sunscreen, face soap, shampoo, blister treatment, etc. So far, I´ve been relying on the kindness of others to share their supplies with me. It is amazing how much we share here on the Camino. Today, I gave Zsolt my cream--don´t need it anymore, but he does. Yesterday, Paul gave me some sunscreen to get me through. I love this idea of taking only what you need, but giving away what you don´t. While in Leon, I´ll be meeting a new friend, Andrea for the first time. She´s coming all the way from Madrid to meet me, and she´s only 16 years old. Brave, strong girl. Looking forward to our time in Leon.

While walking alone has been great, I also have a friend meeting me in Sarria soon--about 9 days from now. I´m looking forward to this reunion. He is coming to walk with me to Santiago. I can´t think of a more appropriate way to enter the city and cathedral than with his presence.

As the pilgrims say, buen camino.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Carrion de los Condes to Terradillos

We meet people for a reason. I met Ralph from Holland the first week on the Camino. He is young..about 30 years old. We have been very pleasant to each other, but it wasn´t until today that we walked the entire day together...getting to know each other more deeply. As I told him my story, he was very moved. It wasn´t until I shared Anthony´s last week, day, hour, minute, second that he finally opened up to me. He has a family friend who is dying of cancer at this moment. It became very clear to me that sharing Anthony´s passing was a huge comfort for him. We shared plenty of tears today. And also some laughs. We marveled at how we have been running into each other on and off, but it wasn´t until we needed each other that we paired up for the Camino. I was so happy to share with him. And, in sharing I feel like I was blessed to connect on a deeper level with someone who is hurting and in need of compassion.

Today marks the half way point to Santiago. I feel like celebrating tonight with some friends who are in the same albergue as me. We will take dinner and wine together and connect.

Maybe you are following the blister saga. I´m not sure how it is possible to get so many blisters in one trip, but I have them. I met an old Spanish man today who decided to rip the skin off my blisters in order to let them air out. I can´t say that it hurt any more than having the blister does. Usually, I´m good for 20 km without much pain, but it is the last 7 km that get me each day.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Castrojeriz to Fromista to Carrion de los Condes

Leaving Castrojeriz, I had a short steep climb out of town. After my foot infection that woke me up in the middle of the night I wasn´t sure I would be able to walk. Miraculously, the infection was gone after I soaked it in cold water, elevated it, and put more Betadine gel than necessary on it. In the dark, in pain and almost in tears, I was not really alone. My virtual Camino angel was able to reassure me.

Alone with my thoughts...just listening without judgement or comment on what I observe. Difficult to maintain. It is almost like prayer, meditation. But what do I hear? Always the birds encouraging me on. My footsteps on the path; a sign that I am ready to move forward. My breath--rhythmic and strong--as I exist in that exact moment. Then, I hear the gentle breeze moving the wheat reasurring me that everything is as it should be. I do not need to struggle against it.

Later, I ate lunch by myself in a little town, Boadilla next to the church. I recognized many pilgrims including the Norwegian woman from the first day, Liv. After lunch, or always after stopping, it is hard to get started again. The foot pain is really bad. But then, I swing back into the rhythm of the road.

Next day. Short day of 20 km. After walking alone yesterday, I was happy to partner up with a fellow pilgrim--my Camino brother, Zsolt. The road today was brutal and souless. Miles of asphalt and paths running along the highway. I was happy to have a companion for this boring part of the Camino, as listening and observing was out of the question with the traffic.

Today, I received a new blister. I am used to these unwelcome visitors. I know how to treat it, so hopefully it won´t stay long. I´m in a lovely albergue run by Augustinian nuns--gracious and loving. The hostel has a kitchen so me and my little bro prepared a feast, which we devoured eagerly and shared with others. This is part of the Camino: sharing what you have.

Tomorrow is my half way point. Only 395.3 km to go!

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Burgos to Hornillos to Catrojeriz

Leaving Burgos on Tuesday, June 7 was the first time on my own. As I worked my way out of the concrete jungle, I ran into three young pilgrims who were quite hungover from the night before. They didn´t offer much in the way of stimulating conversation plus they were slow, so I soon left them behind. Leaving a larger city on the Camino can be a challenge, but I was soon out in the wheat fields again. One thing I have noticed about the wheat fields are the wild poppies that pop up in amongst the wheat. Such beauty.

After a short time alone, I began walking with a woman named Kris from Pamplona. She didn´t speak English, so I was forced to speak to her in Spanish. It never ceases to amaze me how rich conversations can be when I am limited to the vocabulary of a three-year-old child. We talked about life, death, and love. I told her that June 7 marked four months after Anthony died. Difficult concepts to convey, but she understood in a profound way and we were soon hugging on the Camino.

After waking in new shoes for 20 km, my feet had it. I stopped in a small town called Hornillos with only a restaraunt and an albergue. No blogging for the night. It was nice to have dinner with two new friends, Rino and Zsolt. Zsolt is 26 years old and from Hungary. He reminds me so much of my baby brother that I began to call him my Camino brother. I wish I could post a picture of us together so you could see that we even look alike.

After a good night sleep, perhaps a bit too much wine the night before, I left Hornillos this morning at 7 am. It was cold and threatening to rain. It was also a fairly lonely walk; although, I would run across pilgrims I know every once in awhile. My constant companions were the many song birds that serenade the Camino. Some of the voices I recognized; some new. All had beautifully complex songs that I imagined were love songs.

While walking alone today, I thought about how everything is how it is supposed to be. I don´t need to worry, it´s all good. The sun will rise tomorrow. I will continue to walk forward.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Bugos- A Rest Day

We arrived in Burgos via the most lovely park thanks to the advice of a Spanish cyclist. All the other pilgrims conttinued to follow the ever present yellow arrows to what they described as the most boring ten kilometers ever.Many opted to take the bus.

Burgos is a nice place to rest a day. We took an opportunity of thebigger city to get me some new shoes. They are a bit larger than my normal size due to the swollen, blistered left foot. I  sent my boots home with Heidi.

There is a fantastic cathedral that we thought was niceer than Notre Dame. I attende the mass with other pilrims and this time understood more about the significance of the rituals.

My fellow pilgrims all left yesterday while I stayed behind with Heidi  to see her off on the bus to Madrid. It is strange to say goodbye after spending so much time with one person. While today I begin my journey alone, I will never really be alone. We never walk alone. This, I believe.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Santo Domingo to Belorado to St. Juan to Burgos

It´s been a few days since I had opportunity to blog. Currently, we are in Burgos after a wonderful walk. We are about to explore the city with a local, so it should be interesting. I plan on staying to rest one day here.

Yesterday, we arrived in to the town of San Juan during the height of a street party. It was the feast of San Juan and the entire town was in the streets. There were not many amenities so we went to bed without much to eat. We did; however, receive a pilgrim´s blessing in the church. I am hoping this blessing will cure my blister, but so far it has grown after today´s walk. I am feeling a bit like Job, here.

We met another Camino angel today: Jose. He is a cyclist who lives here in Burgos, and decided to stop his ride to show us a much more pleasant entry into Burgos than the highway. While many other pilgrims followed the standard route--10 km of pavement--Heidi and I were treated to a shaded walk along the river. I found out later today that many pilgrims hated the pavement route so much they actually took the bus into Burgos. What a treat to walk such a beatiful route.

Many of the pilgrims we meet are walking with all sorts of burdens and baggage. I´m not just talking about all the overweight packs filled with "essentials". We seem to need to classify and label each other. I´ve been called The American, the widow, the smiling girl, guapa. As I meet folks on the road, I am making an earnest effort to get to know them beyond the labels. To be present with them at that moment. When they ask me who I am, I tell them I am spiritual being on a human journey. And, I try to remember that when we meet someone it is a holy encounter. And, as I see them I will see myself.

Buen Camino.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Logroño to Najera to Santo Domingo

Last night, I had a trio of Camino Angels (three Spanish men named Esazio, Antonio and Santiago) who tended to my gigantic blister on the bottom of my foot. The foot pain, a little local wine, and a lovely Sype session sent me off to bed without blogging a word.

Back in Logroño a few nights ago, Heidi and I got locked out of the albergue. We had taken our Italian friend out for tapas and wine and missed the curfew by one minute. Luckily, we ran into two pilgrims who took us in and let us sleep on the floor of their hotel. This whole experience reminded me of something that might have happened when we were in college. I actually slept well on that floor. Grateful that I didn´t have to sleep outside in the park. Once again, we rely on the kindness of strangers and for all to be provided.

The way to Najera was another long stage: 29 km. Heidi and I walked most of the day together. I felt that old feeling of impatience trying to work on me. Patience isn´t one of my virtues. But, I keep getting presented with opportunities to culivate it. This day was one of those opportunities. It was really great when I slowed down enough to match Heidi´s pace. I enjoyed the walk very much until I got the dreaded blister. This blister is so nasty, other pilgrims were taking fotos of it. I felt all their love as they all offered me sympathy. It was really touching how we´ve all grown to care about each other. After the blister surgery, we shared bottles of wine and our stories. People are keen to know why we are on the Camino. When I tell them my reasons, sometimes they cry, but always they are happy to know that I have been given hope.

When I awoke this morning, I wasn´t sure if I would be able to walk. My foot was throbbing. I hadn´t slept very well. Heidi´s ankle was still tender. We considered taking the day off and resting. But, then we starting talking about all the friends we´ve made and how we´d really like to stay with them. So, we gathered up our stuff and rolled out of the albergue and  hour later than everyone else. Once we started walking, we felt pretty good. The pain just wasn´t as bad as we thought it was going to be. This stage was through the beautiful vineyards of Rioja. As we walked, we really took in the beauty of the place. I was overwhelmed with a feeling of gratitude -- something I haven´t been conscious of feeling for awhile. It was such a great feeling I started to shout all the things I am greatful for. The Camino, Heidi and our relationship, healing blisters, an orange that a fruit vendor gave me, love, the future, hope.