Well, we decided to throw in the towel. This whole Camino business just isn’t worth it.
Just kidding! It’s still tough in many ways, but this trip has definitely been fulfilling. This is a fairly long post so you might want to grab a café con leche and get comfortable.
It’s been almost 4 weeks on the Camino and we finally have a routine down. It goes something like this. Wake up at 6am. Brush teeth, get dressed, dress blisters, grease feet, put socks and shoes on, roll up sleeping bags, pack bags, eat breakfast, hit the road somewhere between 7:15 and 7:30. Walk. Walk. Walk. Walk. Walk. Walk. Walk. Walk. Walk. Walk. Walk. Stop at the first village we see and have coffee. Walk. Walk. Walk. Walk. Walk. Walk. Walk. Walk. Walk. Walk. Walk. Stop at the second or third village to have lunch. Walk. Walk. Walk. Walk. Walk. Is that the village we are walking to off in the far distance? Walk Walk. Walk. Walk. Walk. Walk. Walk. Walk. Walk. Walk. Walk. Walk. Walk. Walk through the town to find our albergue. Check in and pay. Shower. Do laundry. Get our feet up. Ice feet if possible. Write notes for the blog. Strategize for the next day. Fold laundry. Pack bags. Cook. Eat. Treat blisters. Go to bed. Repeat.
Meeting the awesome people happens multiple times a day somewhere in between these steps. That’s our favorite part! Hard to believe one of those other things on our daily to-do list isn’t our favorite, right? We are meeting amazing people every day from all over the world. It reminds us how good people are, how the world really is becoming a better, more enlightened place, and how, despite differences, people will help each other and work together towards a common goal. The guide book we are using says that meeting and connecting with people is a holy experience and we have really taken this to heart. The people we meet are what is getting us to the end.
Our bodies are feeling a lot better but not quite 100% yet. I’m not sure I will ever feel 100% until we get to Santiago and rest for a few days, but that’s ok. I have been thinking a lot during our walks about the pain and how so many times in life people, when faced with an uncomfortable or distressing situation, try to get out of it so quickly. Most of us are so fortunate to be able to live so comfortably. In an effort to make the best of the situation I’m trying to see the pain as an exercise in endurance and self-love. When I walk I try to focus on what does feel good. Karen, a woman I met a few days ago, asked if I had thanked my body for getting me this far. Honestly, it hadn’t even crossed my mind, but in an effort to be more positive I have thanked my body and specific areas of my body several times over. When something is hurting I simply try to send that area some love.
So how exactly are our bodies doing? My ankles are just starting to look normal again, although still a bit puffy. They have been swollen since day 2 and I have tried so many things to try to help keep the swelling down. I think the combination of stretching, icing, massaging surrounding muscles, popping pain relievers, and wearing compression socks has been what has helped the most. My achilles tendons were really angry with me for awhile, but wearing heal supports and stretching and massaging my calves seem to have helped that issue. We met a massage therapist named Julie, from Chicago, who had some great tips. Thanks Julie! Blisters haven’t been much of an issue. Greasing our feet with vaseline or Vick’s Vapor Rub before we put our socks on really cuts down on the friction. When we get the occasional blister we thread it at night and dress it in the morning. I have recently developed a shin splint in one leg. Fortunately I have discovered the medicine of the God’s. Ibuprofen cream. Yes, you read it right. It doesn’t seem like such a big deal, but I had never heard of this miracle worker until I came to Spain. We are trying it on all of our aches and pains. I know it’s not treating the origin of the pain, but at least it’s making the walking bearable.
Here is where I will knock on wood.
I know, it sounds like I’m falling apart. Believe me, I have moments (usually while walking) where I really think I am and I’m worried my body will never forgive me. When I’m thinking rationally (usually while lying in bed) I realize that it’s just my body adjusting and working out the kinks. I’m grateful for the chance to be more aware of my body and how it responds to stress. When I get home, you can bet I’m going to work on strengthening these areas. I never want to feel like this again! It’s not just me though. Most pilgrims started to fall apart somewhere between the first and second week. Everyone has a small pharmacy in their backpack and we are all vigilant about helping each other out if we think we have something that will help.
And Jen? Her body is a strong fortress built up by years and years of basketball playing. Every once in awhile something pains her, like a blister. Recently, a big knot has formed under her shoulder blade. We suspect it is from her fall on our first day. We have been putting ibuprofen cream on it and I’ve tried doing some pressure point release on it. The thing is like steel. We have vowed to get massages once we get to Santiago.
So now, let me catch you up on days 17-24.
We spent a day in Burgos to recuperate but ended up being on our feet almost as much as if we had walked a stage of the trail. We had several errands to run, which included eating breakfast, going to the pharmacy, stopping by the cell phone store, eating lunch, dropping off laundry, eating churros, visiting the Cathedral, going to the sporting goods store, eating dinner, and picking up our laundry. Such a hard life!
Lucky for us Héctor was still in Burgos. Héctor, who loves (and knows) good food, took us to a great place for lunch. While at this restaurant I discovered something called a buñuelo, with a round shell of fried dough, and a spicy meat center. OMG! After lunch we wandered around the neighborhood for awhile looking for an ice cream shop, but had no luck. Even in a bigger city like Burgos, siesta is still being observed. Then we had the best idea! Let’s have churros! We still have yet to find the perfect chocolate dipping sauce (our Spanish food expert, Jen, said this one wasn’t thick enough) but they were still really good!
After having our treat Jen and I headed to the Cathedral. Construction on the Burgos Cathedral began in 1221 and was in use 9 years later, although construction continued into the 16th century. It has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1984. In 1919 Rodrigo Díaz de Vivar, known as “El Cid”, and his wife, were buried here.
We also saw a Da Vinci! This is his Mary Magdalene.
And a bible from 960 A.D.
After making a trip to Decathlon to buy some warmer clothes we headed back to Rimbombín to have dinner with Deb, Martin and some of their Camino friends. I took this opportunity to have another mini cheeseburger (or two!) and a buñuelo, among other delicious tapas. We keep meaning to take pictures of our food but by the time we remember it’s gone. Whoops! We met more wonderful people but unfortunately had to eat and run because our laundry was ready at 7:30, the laundrette closed at 8:00 and we had to have our clothes as we would be leaving early the next morning. It’s not unheard of for pilgrims to rearrange their whole day’s schedule just to get some laundry done. Two pairs of clothes people! I’m pretty sure we will need to burn these shirts once we get to the end. Pew!
We struggled to get out of bed the next day. Remember when you were a child and you were so excited to go back to school on the first day after summer break and then after a week your parents are practically dragging you off the bed by your leg? That’s what’s it’s been like for us and getting out of bed lately, and it’s harder when we have our own room. There is no one else in the room making noises, shaking the bed, rattling around in their backpacks, blowing their noses, playing annoying music, shining flashlights in your face…It’s dark, and quiet, and warm and “Please, just five more minutes mom!”
So, it’s not surprising that we were late to get started. Well, later than our usual 7:30. But, like so many things on the Camino, it was meant to be, because once we were on the road we ran into our friend Teri, who we hadn’t seen since Viana, which was ages ago! She had taken a few rest days in Burgos after some foot and leg ailments. We were able to catch up with her while walking a bit of the trail.
We have now entered the meseta, the plateau in the heart of Spain, with many open fields and flat expanses of land. Many people dread this portion of the Camino, thinking it will be boring, but almost everyone we have talked to says they are enjoying the change in scenery and the simple beauty of the meseta. It is said that the first third of the Camino is physical, the second third emotional, and the third spiritual. Some say the meseta, because of its lack of things to look at while walking, forces one to look inward, contributing to the emotional third.
In Hornillos there was no place available to stay with a kitchen so we had a pilgrim dinner at the albergue we stayed in. The husband and wife who run this albergue are so sweet and accommodating and cook a meal every evening for any pilgrims needing dinner for 10 euros. Jen and I share a meal whenever we can, not only because it saves money, but also because we can’t eat that much in one sitting! We had bread, salad, paella, wine and an amazing lemon mousse for dessert. It was an international affair. Americans, Italians, French, and Irish were all at the table together enjoying the food and conversation. That night we had our first experience with a sleep talker/laugher. Oh the joys of the Camino! Yes, we wear earplugs, but they only tune out so much.
Next, we were on our way to Castrojeriz. We saw some beautiful views on our walk that morning.
We also saw for the second time a person journeying with their dog (some albergues allow dogs), and for the first time a child on the Camino (with their parents of course!). The distant view of Castrojeriz was magical. The town is built around a large hill, and at the top of the hill are the ruins of a fortress. The only thing missing was a dragon, guarding its turf.
We stayed in an albergue called Ultreia, which was highly recommended. There are a lot of people in a room, but they have very clean facilities, a cold foot bath on the beautiful rooftop terrace and two very hospitable hosts who take a lot of pride in what they do. This was the first place that we experienced push faucet showers. You know, like in gas stations where you push the faucet and you get 20 seconds of water. We had heard about them but in our minds were just a myth. No biggie. We would take those any day as long as the shower was clean.
While hanging out at the foot pool we met Kim and Astaria and we all decided to head to the Pilgrim Hospital, per Rich and Karen’s recommendation. This is not a hospital for a pilgrim’s physical body but for the soul. The Hospital del Alma is a house turned permanent exhibition of large beautiful photographs of the Camino done by Nia Peiro and Mau Mariani, accompanied by inspirational quotes fitting of the Camino journey. Mau calls himself an eternal pilgrim and lives in the house, living quietly in the space as people wander through it. There is no cost to enter, donation only, but there are two rules: silence and no photo taking. The whole house is dedicated to the exhibition and the back patio has two meditation rooms, two chapels that are in small caves as well as a seating area for silent reflection. The photographs and quotes are only one aspect of the Hospital del Alma. The most interesting thing about this place was all of the folk art like items that had been added and created over the years. Some of these things included old apothecary bottles and bones from the house’s previous life as an actual pilgrim hospital. The visit to this special place was needed. The quotes instilled in us an extra jolt of fortitude to continue our journey.
That evening we enjoyed another pilgrim meal cooked by the albergue hosts at another large table seated by international guests. The albergue used to be a bodega which used to be a tunnel under the city that led to and away from the fortress. The owner of the albergue took great pride in giving us a presentation about the former bodega and then gave us a tour of the underground tunnel. Jen translated everything he said from Spanish into English for everyone. She did such a good job! Then we got to try some wine!
From Castrojeriz we headed to Frómista. We were able to witness another spectacular sunrise as we climbed over a large hill.
In Frómista we stayed in another Casa Rural. Again, no one else would be staying at this place so we got the whole apartment floor to ourselves. We did our laundry, cooked dinner, and that was basically our entire evening. Look how good this spread looks! Unfortunately we couldn’t find the dishes so we ate the soup out of the pot and used some paper plates we had on hand for the salad. The next morning we discovered that the dishes were not in the kitchen but in the dining room cabinet, which apparently is typical in Spain. Whoops!
On our way to Carrión the next day we walked most of the way with Karen and Rich, who we had met two nights before at the albergue in Castrojeriz. Karen and Rich are from Oklahoma City and have done the Camino before. They believe in the power of the universe and positive thinking. Jen and I both feel like we met these two at the right time. They were able to help us through some of our Camino struggles and were very non-judgemental. When we reached Villalcázar we stopped for lunch at this great restaurant that served us potato salad and ratatouille. What? No, tortilla? No, ham and cheese? This is luxury people! Next door we peeked inside an interesting looking building that we discovered was at one time used to breed doves, called a palomera in Spanish. They would put food in the little coves to attract the doves. The doves would make their nests in the coves and once the eggs were laid people would collect them for food.
We then visited the church after an older local lady scolded us for passing by “the most beautiful church on the Camino” (which is what every local in every town says). We always find the churches beautiful, each having it’s own unique style and flair. This templar church, Santa María la Virgen Blanca, houses the tombs of nobles and royalty and is known for its retablo of the life of St. James, whose remains are in the Cathedral in Santiago. We lit some candles for loved ones and continued on to Carrión de los Condes.
We bumped into Teri again who had a great story to tell. That morning, after walking from Frómista to the next town she realized she had grabbed the wrong hiking pole. After going back and forth in her mind about what to do she finally decided she should go back 3 km to Frómista and return the pole. She found the rightful owner and it all worked out, but it was hard on her knee which she had been having trouble with. When she made it back to the next town she bumped into Glen and Lori, who heard her mention that she was having issues with her knee, and fixed her up with some athletic tape. Apparently, it worked like magic because she was able to walk the next 20 km with little pain. She said if she hadn’t begrudgingly returned the hiking pole her miracle would have never happened. Camino magic people. It happens!
We would be taking a rest day in Carrión and because we couldn’t find a private room we decided to splurge and stay in the monastery turned hotel, San Zoilo.
We had dinner with Teri, after which we said what we believed would be our final goodbye to her. She had decided to take a bus to León because she was running out of time to finish the Camino in Santiago. She admitted to us that she will miss seeing us along the way because when she saw us it “felt like home”. We agree, and will really miss her too. Buen Camino, Teri!
Our rest day in Carrión was much more restful than our rest day in Burgos. Not much to mention aside from icing my shin three times, per Karen’s orders. We explored the hotel a little bit, and wandered into cloister, which led us into the church. We also discovered a copy of the first ever guidebook to the Camino de Santiago!
The next day we headed out in what we knew would be rainy weather. The first town after Carrión wouldn’t appear for 17 km, which made for a long haul. It’s basically impossible to stop out in the open when it’s raining. Imagine trying to squat behind a bush to pee with a poncho and pack on. Nope!
We did however, meet more amazing folks. Nancy is a humanitarian worker from Toronto who recently left Afghanistan where she was working for Doctor’s Without Borders. You may have seen in the news recently that a Doctor’s Without Border’s hospital was bombed by American troops. It happened to be the same hospital where Nancy had been just a few weeks before and she sadly told us that many of her friends and coworkers lost their lives. It’s hard hearing about these world tragedies while on the Camino. Being on the Camino is like living in a bubble. A bubble of self-reflection, camaraderie and support. It makes these events all the more tragic for us. We really enjoyed walking with Nancy and we hope to see her again along the way.
We also met Tom and Roy, two brothers walking the Camino together. Roy has already walked the Camino 3 times and thought the last time would be his, well, last time. Little did he know that his brother Tom would convince him to do it one more time with him. Roy had done three different routes and this is his second time walking the Camino Francés. Roy told us that the Camino had taught him to be more present in everyday moments, and that it was a hard lesson to learn, but one that he is still grateful for every day.
We then ran into Richard, a friend of Deb and Martin’s who we met in Burgos at dinner. He told us about his amazing daughter who started a NGO in India when she was still in college. Infact, she convinced the Dean of her school to allow her to transfer her scholarship money to study in India full time. She also used some of her personal money to finance her NGO, which helps children living on the streets rise above their circumstances. It’s an amazing organization! Check it out here.
In the first town we came to there was only one bar, which was packed with pilgrims trying to get out of the rain. We sat for a good 30 minutes, each having tortilla and bread and warming up. We walked the rest of the way to Terradillos and came upon this lovely sight.
This albergue has only been open for a year, which means it is clean, modern and well thought out. They have a large facility, which is very well maintained, and the staff are so friendly and helpful. All the pilgrims were so thankful to be out of the weather and in this wonderful place, which we nicknamed “the palace”.
Jen and I would be sharing a four person room with Keri and Greg, a married couple from Australia, who were so much fun to room with! This was their first day of rain (lucky right?!) and Keri had realized that her clothes weren’t as waterproof as she would like. So with some plastic bags and our tie-dye duct tape she spent some time that evening fashioning some waterproof clothing. Very fashionable Keri!
That evening we had dinner with Phyllis and Bob, a retired couple from California. Phyllis and Bob enjoyed the rain that day not only because they are originally from Oregon, but because as Californians, they see rain as life. It was good for us to be reminded that it’s not all about us and our discomfort. That if we change our perspective the rain can be seen as a positive thing. And it was so easy to change our perspective as we sat inside in the warm and cozy albergue instead of being outside in the wind and rain.
The next day we woke to howling wind. Jen and I became known as the weather girls because we seemed to be the only people checking the weather forecasts. The weather forecasts here in Spain are fickle. One moment it will say 60% rain but when you check it 5 minutes later it might say there won’t be any rain at all. Yet, when you look out the window it will be pouring. So it is very hard to know what to expect when the forecast mentions a chance of rain. I guess it’s not so hard to understand why people don’t bother looking at the forecasts. We decided we will just expect the rain, no matter the percentage, and if it doesn’t rain we can be pleasantly surprised rather than getting our hopes up.
We waited til it was light out to leave that day for Bercianos. Putting the rain and wind together made for a pretty miserable walk. It’s a fine line between positioning the hood far enough forward to keep the rain off our face and positioning it far enough back to be able to see. Usually it works out that our heads are down and the hoods are so far forward that we can only see what is 2 feet in front of us. It makes the walking drag on and on when all you see is rocks for hours on end. When we arrived in Sahagun it was time for lunch, so we rewarded all of our hard work by splitting a ham and goat cheese pizza. It’s tough to find a pizza on the Camino that isn’t frozen and over priced, but Jen made sure it was “casera” (handmade), before ordering, and handmade it was! YUM!
The rest of our walk was incredibly windy. So windy that there were moments where we had to stop walking completely to find our balance.
We made it to our albergue in Bercianos very worn out. We felt a little sea sick from the wind whipping us around so much. It started raining again after we arrived, but fortunately we had an instant soup packet on hand and didn’t need to leave the albergue for dinner. We went to bed early, and slept hard.
We woke up to this.
We took our time getting ready, trying to wait it out. And it worked! The rain eventually stopped and we were able to walk a considerable distance that day without our ponchos. It was still windy, but without the rain it was manageable. Look how fast the clouds were moving!
We ate breakfast at a cute little restaurant in El Burgo Ranero, a little town along that way. The owner was very proud of it and talked to us about how he and his wife had fixed it up, using tiles from the original home and keeping much of the original adobe.
After more walking we eventually came upon these clouds in the far distance.
And a rainbow! Can you see it?
And these new friends! Julia and Gerard had been walking together for a few days but did not come to the Camino together. We had seen Julia here and there along the way because she had started a couple of days earlier than we had and was also taking her time. Unfortunately we did get rained on again but for only for 15 minutes. Whew!
In Mansilla we stayed at Albergue Gaia, an albergue that has only been open since July. The owners had done the Camino before so they knew what it was like to be a pilgrim and what amenities pilgrims would appreciate. They had an excellent facility! We made dinner that night with Gerard (anyone surprised by pasta?) and shared three pastries for dessert that Gerard bought from the local panadería.
We had decided a few days prior that we would take the bus into León. The path that day would be all along the highway. It would be ugly and not as safe. Our guidebook had recommended it. Plus, it would give us two full days to rest in León to nurse some new blisters we had gotten from the last few wet days. Do we feel bad about taking a bus? No. Back in the day people rode horses to make the pilgrimage (and still do). When nobility made the pilgrimage they had their servants carry them the whole way. The only other time we plan to take the bus is to get out of León, after our rest day. We have made it a point not to judge others on how they do their Camino and we came to the conclusion that we would not judge ourselves either. We’ll talk more about this topic in another post.
So we have a surprise for you. Remember how four weeks ago when we started the Camino we had 818 km to walk to get to Santiago? Well, now we have 328 km to go. Do you see that? Has it hit you? If it hasn’t I will spell it out for you. We are over halfway there!! Can you believe it? We can and can’t. St. Jean seems like forever ago. The days blend together and we have a hard time remembering which town came after which without looking in the guidebook. We think we have about 13 days of walking left on the Camino with a few rest days in there somewhere. Our projected end date is October 23rd, one day before we originally planned to finish. How we are finishing a day earlier than we originally expected boggles our minds, but we’ll take it! Santiago still seems like a long way away though, so continue to keep us in your thoughts.