Walking My Talk 2014


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The Journey Continues! Please enjoy my photos and blog posts from my 2014 walk on the Way of St. James. They will be in reverse order with my latest posts right under this photo. Below each blog entry are photos and below that is a link to bring you back to the top of this page. To fit all the pictures in I have posted smaller sizes, but all you need to do is right click on the photo (with a PC) and choose to open the file in another window. When you go to that window, you can view a much larger version and see details.

Portugal

I am blogging periodically from my walk toward Portugal. To read that blog and view pictures, click on the "blog" link in the menu above and choose the Portugal blog link!

Last Entry:

Well friends we made it to Santiago, we are happy, we are safe and sound and joyful to have completed our goal of reaching here. So with that I am now completing this blog and thank you for your interest and support of Lil and Will on the Way. It has been a wonderful adventure and spiritual journey for which we are deeply grateful to St. James and Mary and all the corporal and non-corporal entities that have helped make this journey a success. On Friday, May 30 Lilly will return to Madrid and fly back to the US on May 31. I shall continue the journey on the Portuguese Camino and see how far my feet and Spirit take me. I will not be continuing the blog (three more letters went out on the keyboard today) but will pick it up again on Will and Lil's next adventure.

Gracias y Adios Amigos!


     

Penultimate residence. Who's that masked stranger? Our Santiago digs.

     

Two cool cats on the Way- the symbol of Being fir Will and Lil. Two shamans on the Way.

     

Two Knights Templar. William and James. Lily at rest.

     

Our last lodgings-a monk's cell. The bones of St. James. Will and Lil almost there2.

  

Will and Lil have arrived. Touching the feet of the Master.

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Day 36: Penunltimate Day on the Way Day Azura to O Pedrouzo - 20K

We slept in an hour later this morning. As we only had a short day today we decided there was no need for an early start and it was luxurious to sleep in a while longer. It reminded me of our early days on the Camino when I would be waking Lilly at 8:30 though recently she has been waking me at 6:30. We were done with packing and hit the coffee shop by 8:15. We had our first croissant since before Burgos and we weren't disappointed as it was very good.

On the road before 9:00 and the weather was warmer than the previous days. It looked to be a sunny morning. This cheered us for though we've been blessed with great weather this trip, having a rainy start to the day, which was predicted, can be a bit of a downer. Starting later we wondered if we might've missed the mass pilgrim exodus leaving town as there were only a few in the cafe and a few when we left the city. Soon, though, we found ourselves in a large group heading to Santiago. Many more than yesterday causing us to wonder about the nature of the ebb and flow of the pilgrim wave. Now that we have crossed paths with so many of these people time and again familiar faces are becoming known to us and it's pleasant to see them as we or they pass by.

The walk was similar to yesterday's path along eucalyptus groves and wooded lanes. We passed through a few larger towns but for the most part were in the countryside. Both Lil and I agreed that with the exception of the first two days of coming into Galacia, where the scenery and views were stunning and dramatic, the rest of the walk in this last province of the Camino has been the least attractive of the journey. Maybe it's just as well for the attention is intended to be directed inward on this Spiritual phase of the walk and perhaps the external environment need not be distracting.

Today I thought about the many gifts of this walk. One of the more obvious gifts is how healthy I feel. Though I've had my challenges with my feet and right leg overall I'm in great shape. It is a joy to lose pounds and see my waistline shrink while eating wonderful meals and drinking great wine and beer every night. The daily walking of 12-15 miles on average with a pack that weighs over 20lbs does burn up a lot of calories. Then there is the gift of inner clarity that comes with having solitary time to reflect and think about my life without distractions and interruptions. I love this aspect of the Way. While there are certainly pilgrims who enjoy walking and talking with companions, for the most part you will find us alone with our own thoughts and musings. Many people come to the Camino for clarity and direction in their lives. I think we all leave the Way wiser than when we began on it. I will also take away memories of the many kindnesses that were extended to us on the Camino. There is a element of grace that accompanies the pilgrim and we've met many wonderful people who have offered their support or help as needed on our journey. The companionship of other pilgrims is also a gift that I shall remember. As I've said in earlier entries walking the Way is like being with a large global family and while I haven't had a great many personal interactions with other pilgrims, those I've had have been meaningful to me. One can quickly form connections that may only last the duration of the journey yet are significant while they do. I'm grateful too for the beauty of the Way. The natural wonder of northern Spain, the mountains, the sweeping wide open planes, the ancient roads, towns and villages with so much history and character. Being outside too day after day walking the earth feeling connected to my own creaturehood has been a great feeling. It reminds me that I spring from the same substance as the elements around me and that this lovely amazing planet is truly my home.

We stopped for our brunch around 11:00. The cafe that is the first on route after a destination where pilgrims may have spent the night will be sure to get a lot of traffic. When we arrived at least one wave had been through there and maybe two. Pilgrims were coming and going. I marvel at the speed and efficiency of the cafe workers in getting food and beverage out in a very timely manner. We ordered an egg and cheese sandwich to which we added watercress greens and a lovely ripe avocado. That and our second Americano set us right for the rest of the walk.

The morning got warmer and was muggy for the first time. I was de-layering clothes as I walked until I was only in my t-shirt, the first time since leaving the Meseta. Speaking of which, in looking back I think that that part of the walk was my favorite. Though most of our challenges were there it was a wonderful experience walking through it. Many people have the conception that the Mesata is the flat and boring part of the Camino and will skip it entirely often taking a bus from Burgos to Leon. For those of my readers who may one day journey the Camino I highly recommend walking the Mesata for it is a beautiful and mystical part of the Way.

After our brunch we took off once more. Waves of pilgrims were usually walking slower than my preferred pace, and I'd pass one group and be in solitude for a while before catching up with another group. From what we've read about tomorrow when coming into Santiago, we'll meet even greater numbers of pilgrims, not only those walking the last 100K and other longer walkers but also bus loads of people that converge on this holy city. It promises to be an experience if nothing else.

At one point on the morning's walk I stopped to take off a layer when a pretty woman who'd been walking behind me asked me if I was the person who wrote a blog about my journey on the Camino. It shocked me and I replied that I was writing a blog but I was sure she was thinking of someone else. No, she said, youre William aren't you? And the name of your blog is Walking My Talk? Wow, you could have blown me with a feather I was so surprised. Just then Lilly caught up and I told her this woman, Ivana, from Sydney Australia, had been reading our blog. Ivana turned to Lil and said and "you must be Lilly?" It was Lil's turn to be surprised. The long and the short of the story is that Ivana, a lovely healer walking the Way, had found my blog on the internet. While posting entries and pictures of her own, she linked my webpage to her messages so her followers could have a idea of what the journey was about. I of course was pleased that others are getting benefit and perhaps pleasure from my entries. It caused Lilly and I to wonder who else might be tuning in. Lilly too was tickled that Ivana knew her as Lilly. Her new persona has taken on its own life now!

The kilometers glided by. For the last few days there've been markers every 1/2K showing how far to go to Santiago. When we got to the 30K mark we took a picture to commemorate the occasion. Hard to believe 35 days ago the marker read 900K to Santiago!

By 1:00 our sunshine had turned to rain clouds and it began to drizzle. It was a good opportunity for us to take a break and we stopped for a hot chocolate during the downpour. While waiting we read more passages from the Tao de Ching marveling that the wisdom of 3000 years ago is so apropos and current for today's world. One of the lessons of the Tao is to stay in the center of the circle or to be in the middle way, not to swing too far one direction or another in thoughts, feelings or actions. This is also a lesson of the Camino: how to be more balanced in my approach to life and how to act from a place of centering rather moving from one extreme or another. By the time a pilgrim has finished the Camino he/she has learned the virtues of being balanced. The Way will bring you to the center or you will suffer accordingly. I learned this lesson the hard way on my last pilgrimage and it took a year of processing for me to fully glean its true wisdom.

We arrived at our lodgings by 3:00. The rain had lessoned and was still lightly falling. We were greeted by a very affable woman who showed us several rooms to choose from. We settled on one with a single and a double bed. Lil graciously offered me the bigger bed. Yeah, a bed I could fit into! The Pension also had laundry service and we readily agreed to have our clothes washed and dried for 10 Euro. After a while jackets and sweaters, which are hard to hand wash, just need to be cleaned of their sweaty odors and the timing was great so to have all clean clothes when we entered Santiago tomorrow.

After our showers, naps and stretches we went out to find an eatery. Once more we were fortunate to find a good place and had a satisfying meal of mixed salad, and roasted chicken, our first on the Way. We saw other pilgrims we recognized at the restaurant. I think the Camino must be a big economic support for the communities along its route.

Now we are back in our warm and cozy room. We have figured out that at least in Galacia, the heat is programed to come on at 5:00, just when most pilgrims are getting settled in. It stays on for a few hours and then goes off sometime during the night. We guessed that on other parts of the Way, the temperature is now warmer so they see no need to warm up the pilgrims at night!

This being our penultimate Pension of the journey now is a fine opportunity for looking back and appreciating all the great and wonderful places we've been blessed to be lodged in. With the exception of one or two all have been excellent. Having good comfortable shelter at the end of a long day has added greatly to the pleasure and enjoyment of our overall journey.

Well friends Lilly is asleep and soon shall I be too. So with that I will bid you all:

Buenas Noches Amigos!


     

30k left to Santiago. Eucalyptus Grove. Lilly and Fuschia.

     

Pilgrim riding to Santiago with friend./i>

     

Spring lambs. Pilgrims take a break on the Camino.

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Day 35: Last 30K Day on the Way Day - Palas de Rai to Arzua 30K

Neither of us slept well last night. 6:30 came early and we had our last 30K day ahead of us. We were out of our Pension by 7:30 and found a place for coffee on the way out of town. This time we both had fresh orange juice as well. I had toast too but it wasn't much sustenance as it was sliced white bread, a shame and anomaly in this country where such wonderful breads are available.

The morning was misting and we started off with our ponchos which we soon shed. We saw fewer pilgrims leaving town and saw fewer still as the day progressed. It was as if we had lost about 1/2 - 2/3 of the crowd we had the two days prior. We speculated that some may have been tired, not used to the walking and stopped for a day, or that some may have been weekend walkers and would come back to finish the second two days to Santiago on a following weekend. Regardless of the reason it made a difference in the solitude factor and I had much more alone time today than I'd had for a while.

The walk took us through forests and wooded paths lined with Eucalyptus trees that fragrented the air with their sweet fresh scent. The path crossed and re-crossed a small river as we followed it west. The weather was ideal for walking, cool and dry with a light breeze. We had a long day ahead of us and yet the Way was smooth and the time flew by. We stopped about 11:00 for a brunch egg and cheese sandwich on which we put tuna for extra protein. This with a second cup of coffee gave us the fuel we needed to push on for the rest of the day.

As I walked I thought about the lessons of this journey and how grateful I am to have been able to complete this adventure so well and with relatively little pain or suffering. I was also aware that at the end of the week I would be saying goodbye to my dear Lilly-Barb, companion and friend of the last 40 days. And it was important to acknowledge the transition and completion of our time together before we moved on in other directions. The I-Ching or Book of Changes speaks of the most critical points of any journey are at the beginning and at the end: most attention must be paid at these times. The beginning of our adventure went very well and now we wish to close it with a sense of similar grace.

We stopped again for a break around 2:00 for a tea and hot chocolate. Sadly again the hot chocolate was a mix and though tasty was not anything as we'd had before. This refreshment helped us with the last two hour slog to our destination. We had already had a number of hills today and thought we were through the worst. However, nature saves the best for last and we had a series of hills each bigger than the previous before we finally arrived in Azura a bit after 4:00.

Sadly with the exception of O'Cebreiro which was a classic example of old Gallacian building, none of the towns in which we've stayed have been at all architecturally interesting. A real contrast to some of the towns and villages we saw earlier in the trip. Azura being no different we felt no interest in exploring further than finding a restaurant.

The Pension was a delight though and right on the Camino. Hot showers with plenty of water and even heat in the room without having to ask. After our usual routine we went looking for a grocery and place to eat. We found the nicest supermarket to date and stocked up on fruit and nuts, things we still want to eat even though we are done with tuna and cheese.

The restaurant was a gem of a find. We had a wonderful mixed salad with delicious lettuce greens and then a vegetarian lasagna that was fabulous. For dessert we had waffles with chocolate sauce and whipped cream. Lilly had been saying this morning she was longing for waffles and once again the object of her desire manifested, though in a different form than she imagined.

At dinner we talked about the important lessons that we learned on this Camino, knowing too that as time passes further lessons will surface. For Lilly a big one was letting go of expectations and outcomes, also of having deeper compassion for herself and others, as well as being more flexible, spontaneous and allowing. Being present to herself and her body in the moment was also an important learning. For me an extension of a lesson from my first pilgrimage was that in order to be a happy walker on the Way I need to be completely present to my body, mind and spirit at any moment. I can't use the joy of physical movement as an escape for my mind. I have to be conscious and present for each step. The second was that by thoroughly preparing for this journey I had a much better experience. Though I couldn't anticipate all challenges, being ready for what I could, made a big difference. And third, my sense of trust in myself and life has deepened. As I learned on the first journey, the Camino, like life, will bring all that I need, maybe not what I want, but all that I need.

One of the best things about this trip for us both has been all the laughing that we have done together. Not a day has passed that we have not had many wonderful and deep belly laughs. We have found much to laugh at about ourselves; pointing our foibles through humor has been a great part of our learning together. Furthermore we have been great companions. Living and walking with someone in such intimate and at times intense situations for 40 days can be trying. Yet, we have enjoyed each others: company, humor, interests, both shared and individual, encouragement, and appreciation. It has been easy to be together and we are already looking forward to our next adventure. How blessed we have been indeed!

Well friends, tomorrow is our penultimate day on the Camino as Wednesday we arrive. For Lilly-Barb it will be the culmination of a 14 year dream. For us both it will be the completion of a journey that began in Geneva and completes in Santiago 1300 miles later. It is an amazing experience to know that the journey of 1300 miles begins with a single step and is a series of single steps thereafter until the destination is reached. It was also a pleasure to walk in the footsteps of the ancient pilgrims who suffered deprivations and hardships much more challenging than we and yet felt their sense of joy and accomplishment, as they long ago, like we now, came closer to reaching their goal.

With that I will bid you all good night and say:

Hasta Manana Amigos!


     

Camino tour bus. Fountain of youth.

     

Pilgrim wave. Pointing the Way to Santiago. Wishing Well./i>

     

View of village. View of countryside in Gallacia. View from ourView from our window in Azura.

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Day 34: The Queen Loses Her Crown Day Portomarin to Palas de Rei - 24K

Lilly Barb woke up early today around 5:30. She practiced healing herself until I awoke at 6:30. This was the first morning that on waking I thought I wanted to sleep in and didn't want to walk another 24K. However, soon I was up and by 7:30 we had left our hotel for the coffee shop where we had our morning joe. While there eating our snack of raisins and nuts Lilly stuck her hand in her mouth and pulled out a gold crown that had just then come loose. We laughed and joked that the queen had lost her crown and pondered on the metaphor of this happenstance.

Loss of crown and all we were on our way by 8:00. As with the day before the wave of pilgrims was ongoing from the time we crossed the bridge leaving town. The morning was cool no rain was in the forecast and we hoped for another pleasant day on the Camino.

The walk was hillier than then previous days so we had a lot of good cardio workouts going up inclines. We stopped for a break and hot chocolate after the first 2 hours which had flown by. This time the hot chocolate was an instant mix, and though still good was not what we had come to expect by way of drinking a hot liquid candy bar. The cafe was packed with pilgrims, both coming and going and the proprietors were very efficient in getting everyone food and drink in a timely manner. One thing we have noticed is that pilgrims have a good appetite and like to eat.

We contemplated our food and decided that we were done with tuna, rice crackers and goat cheese for the rest of the journey. These staples had served us well but now their time had come and we were moving onto something else once we finished up our current supplies. For the remaining few days we would buy ready made food again from the cafes we stopped at. I think all this points to our ending the Camino soon. We are ready for a change of routine.

After our morning break I had a great two hours of walking. The food and a long up hill trek right after eating helped get me into a pace and stride that was pure joy to walk. There was a long trail of pilgrims ahead of me and slowly and surely I passed them all until I was again walking in peace and quiet.

One of the differences I notice between the 100K walkers and the long distance pilgrims is that the short walkers tend to walk in groups at a slower pace often chatting as they trek. Those who have been longer on the Way tend to walk alone and at a faster pace. Certainly we are in better shape and, yet though 100K seems a short distance compared to 900K, the walk is still challenging and I have now more compassion for these new walkers than I originally felt.

A few hours later we stopped again this time for a bowl of the famous Caldo Gallago soup that we like so much. The temperature had been fluctuating in the 40-50's and when the sun was not shining it was chilly. The soup was hot and nourishing. As we sat there eating our soup and finishing the last of our cheese and rice crackers we noticed a number of pilgrims crowding around the counter stamping their "Credential" with the stamp of this particular establishment. This is the document the pilgrims carry and usually get stamped with an individual stamp of the hostel or inn showing that they have indeed been there. In order to get the Certificate of Completion for walking the Way, the pilgrims present their Credential, with all their stamps, on arriving in Santiago proving that they have walked at least the 100K. So these pilgrims, who must have been short walkers, were trying to get as many stamps on their pilgrims' passport to show that they had traveled the requisite kilometers. For Lilly and I our Credentials have stamps going back to Geneva so we have no concern about having walked far enough to get our certificate.

After lunch we still had another 8K to go and that passed quickly. Lil and I walked together the remaining distance which is unusual for us. Our normal practice is to start out together and soon will be walking alone with our own thoughts and musings. However, this afternoon we were enjoying our mutual company and by 3:00 were entering the town of Palas de Rei, translated as the palace of the king, which we thought ironic as the queen had just lost her crown that morning.

Our Pension was a bit off the Camino but we found it without trouble. We had another clean and modern place. The only issue was that the room was chilly and I asked the person who checked us in about it. She said she would take care of it but then only the bathroom heater came on. Later when we came back from dinner I mentioned it again and she came up to see what was up and then of course the heat was on. Now as I write this it is off again. Ah well....

Lilly and I both took long naps. Lilly who has not been a nap aficionado like myself is starting to see the joys and benefits of an afternoon snooze. She now wakes up saying, "that was delicious."...... a sure sign that a nap has been a pleasure. After stretching we went out in search of a place to eat. The town which looked quaint on entering soon lost its charm on closer inspection. There were a few places to choose from and we found one that looked quieter and less frequented by masses of pilgrims.

The menu was standard pilgrim's fare but with a few different items. Lilly had a salad, I creamed asparagus soup, Lil had a Spanish Omelet, our first in almost 3 weeks and I had fried fish that were little fish fried whole. Quite good. For dessert Santiago cake. There were other pilgrims eating there too, ones we recognized from our walking the last two days, seeing many of the same people over and over again. We guess this group of strangers will be our company when we arrive in Santiago on Wednesday.

I didn't take many pictures today so there are only two: one of a statue of an Angel in an unusual pose and one of a herd of sheep making their Way.

Tomorrow we have our last long day, almost 29K. We are hoping the weather will hold out a bit longer. The prediction is for rain on Tues and Weds.

All right it's now 10:15 an early finish for me and so I will say:

Hasta Manana Amigos!


  

Angel who has seen too many pilgrims go by. Sheep on the Way.



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Day 33: Never Ending Waves of Pilgrims on the Way Day Sarria to Portomarin - 24K

We both selpt well although not much as it was past midnight when we turned out the lights. The morning promised a day without rain, the first in four days and we were excited to have a dry walk and even perhaps some sun. We left our lodgings at 7:30 and after a morning coffee, were on our way by 8:00.

The morning began with a wave of pilgrims leaving town and it never stopped all day. Today we saw more pilgrims than any other so far on the Camino. I would venture that most of them were over forty and of those many over sixty. It's hard to know who has just picked up the Camino and who has been on it for a while though my guess is those with new shoes and packs may be recent additions to the Way.

The walk itself was beautiful and we were grateful for no mist or fog which had obscured the fields and countryside traversed yesterday. Today we could see far and wide. The charming paths through enchanted forests, along stone fences and over streams and creeks were delightful. We were still in the foot hills of the mountains we crossed last week and the trek took us up and down hills all day. The temperature was variable and so it was another day of putting on and then taking off or switching layers of clothes.

I had wondered how it would be to be in the flow of so many pilgrims as we approached Santiago especially as I love the quiet alone time that I have gotten to experience so much of this journey. I had decided to accept the situation as it was and find my peace amongst the masses. For the most part it was fine. There were times when I wished for alone time and quiet space, and often when so the crowds would magically dissolve and I would be walking alone or near alone. Today there was a cacophony of different languages being spoken around us, certainly a good cross section of the globe was represented. Besides missing alone time I also I experienced the joy of so many people going to Santiago and the sense of excitement of us all getting closer, in 5 days we will be arriving. Lil posed an interesting question where she wondered about the experience of the farmers and locals who see streams of pilgrims passing by day after day from April through October. My sense is they like the pilgrims for they often wish us Buen Camino or Good Journey as we pass by. It must also be good for the economies of these villages, yet it may also seem an intrusion into their rustic pastoral existence.

We stopped for lunch and had a feast of rice crackers, tuna, goat cheese, carrot, cucumber, the sweetest pear ever, and chocolate. This gave us the fuel we needed for the afternoon. While eating we spied Judy, the pilgrim we had met several days prior when climbing the highest point of the Camino and whom we had taken pictures of laying her prayer stones. She had been incapacitated for several days due to feet issues and was now back on the Way again. Later we stopped at a cafe and had our new favorite, a cup of hot chocolate. Oh so good on this chilly afternoon.

We arrived at Portomarin about 3:00 and though tired we were not beat as we have often been at the end of a day. We found our way to the Posada de Portomarin a three star hotel that had once been the bell of the town. Now it was a bit worn on the edges but still very comfortable and welcoming. We changed from our initial room for the bathtub looked like it had mold around the edges. The management assured us it wasn't and still gladly gave us another room. Being hungry and not wanting to fill up on nuts before dinner we went to the town square and found a restaurant still serving lunch and each had a bowl of the wonderful Gallacian soup that we have come to love.

Back at the hotel we took baths and naps. Lil's foot had been bothering her more this afternoon so we decided to eat in the hotel restaurant rather than going out and walking on it. The dining room was beautiful with elegant place settings on each table. We both had fish dishes for dinner, Lil, Seabass on a bed of turnip greens and I, turbot with grilled veggies and creamed pumpkin sauce. Both were delicious. While we waited we read past blog postings from this trip and played a game of trying to remember where we had stayed each night since starring in Pamplona. In looking back we've had a remarkable journey. One of the things we noted, and were sad about, is that we met many interesting people the first few days of the trip and then few there after. Sadly most of those early folks were fast walkers and have completed the journey by now and we won't have the fun of meeting them in Santiago to celebrate together our accomplishment. However, at this point we are grateful to be getting there ourselves and that, in itself, will be plenty to celebrate.

Well it's late and Lilly is asleep so I too shall now say:

Buenas Noches Amigos!


     

Misty morning over Sarria. Pilgrim wave. Galacian fields.

     

Galacian stone village. Will in Galacia. Pilgrim on enchanted path.

     

Magic waterway on the Way. Dinner setting at Portomarin.



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Day 32: Low Barometric Pressure Day Triacastela to Sarria 19K

It stormed all night. I awoke several times with the sound of pelting rain on the window and roof. I wondered if we'd be going out to a storm in the morning. Around 6:00 Lil got up and read while I continued to drift until 6:30. We were out of our lodgings by 7:30 and headed to a local cafe for coffee and to a breakfast of a boiled egg, almonds and corn cake similar to a rice cake except made with corn. Very tasty. The place was a clearing house for morning pilgrims coming and going at different times. Certainly as we get nearer to Santiago there seem to be more and more of us on the Way.

There were two routes we could take today and again we chose the easier, shorter and recommended route. However, it seemed the majority of those who left Triacastela went the longer route. It did boast an old monastery and perhaps that was a draw for the other pilgrims. The weather was cool and rainy but warmer and drier than yesterday. The path took us up a hill again and after awhile I was too warm and I shed a few layers, though later added one back. The land was probably beautiful but we could see little of it for the mist was thick again today. It also felt like the energy of the walk itself was thick too. Lil remarking at one point that she felt like she was pulling herself through molasses. She said perhaps the barometric pressure was low? When we stopped later for lunch at a cafe some of the other pilgrims were also looking bedraggled and sluggish.

At our lunch stop we indulged again in a delicious cup of hot chocolate. Lilly says it's like drinking a liquid chocolate bar. Hot chocolate is going to be a new daily treat now that we have discovered it and only wish we had done so sooner! As at breakfast there were a number of pilgrims coming and going from the cafe. One pilgrim from Liverpool England whom we've met almost every day for the last week was there too. We found out he was a retired school principal. He'd walked half of the Camino last year with friends and this year he was finishing it alone. He walks very slowly yet seems content and enjoys himself greatly. There was also a woman in her late 30's from the Netherlands who had started a week after we did staying only in the group hostels on the Camino. Now for the last 5 days she was treating herself to staying in hotels or inns with her own room and bath. Something which we enjoy almost every night. Each pilgrim does the Camino in their own way.

Galacia is a very ancient and wild land. Not only does it have the cultural and geographic links to the Celts but it also carries the same faery energy that one finds in other Celtic places. Since crossing into Galacia the presence of the little people and their friends has been palpable. Today coming into Sarria we met up with a modern day witch and Lil saw her unmask for a moment which gave her a bit of a fright. She was walking with two sticks and her movement was reminiscent of a spider scampering along on its many legs. I mention this because in O'Ceberiero we too felt the energy very strongly and weren't surprised when some of the souvenirs sold were figures of witches, faeries and elves. As I thought of the pilgrims of old coming through Galacia, the last part of their journey, the last challenge they faced was the magic of enchantment. And so too we as modern pilgrims felt the energy drawing us down today as we moved through its molasses like pull.

We arrived in Sarria around 2:00 but had a mix up on the location of our Pension. We ended up first at an Albergue with the same name thinking they were geographically linked. However, the Pension was in another part of town though close by. We soon found our way here and were happy enough with our accommodations. Being hungry we went to a restaurant next door recommended by the person who checked us in. It was a bit upscale and we weren't quite dressed for it so when we walked in all eyes looked our way. Yet soon we were seated and proceeded to partake in one of the best meals yet and it was only 10 Euro.

Back at the Pension I took a long nap while Lilly showered and washed clothes. Then she took a nap and I showered and washed clothes. I had a great sleep and I had a wonderful dream that helped me make sense of this right hip, leg, foot issue I've been experiencing on this journey. Lilly too had a dream about being limited and was able to wake herself from it knowing consciously in her dream that she no longer wished to experience this lack.

By now it was getting onto 10:00 and it was still light. So we went for a walk along the river that runs through Sarria and the park it flows through. On our way back we stopped at the Cafeteria Santiago, whose signage showed a picture of St. James the Pilgrim, for an order of croquettes and a beer for me. It was the perfect topping to a great day.

Now it is past midnight and due to a long nap Lil is still awake and reading. However, I am tired and ready for bed so I will now say:

Hasta Manana Amigos!


        

The enchanted path. Magic tree in Galacia land of the faerie people. Tapas in Sarria at the Santiago. Coke machine on the Camino.



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Day 31: We'll Be Coming Down The Mountain Day O'Cebriero - Triacastela 22K

We woke up to a howling wind and the branches of the tree brushing up against the window. The rain was driving down in sheets and it looked cold enough to freeze the witches' bosoms that we were sure lived in this village.

We made ourselves leave the warmth and comfort of our beds to get started on our day. We were so grateful that the heat had been turned on in our room, a first since we started on this trip. It seems in most places in Spain if it isn't down right freezing the heat stays off.

We had breakfast in the cafe, toast and coffee with milk. The latte seemed more comforting in the cold weather than plain Americanos. We shared the dining room with two large groups eating at separate long tables. It seems we've hit the time and place where groups of middle aged retirees come to this part of the Camino to do short country walks and visit quaint Galacian villages.

With breakfast over we had no further excuses to linger and we headed out into the cold rainy morning. The first two hours were long. Descending and then ascending again with the rain pelting us and the winds blowing hard. Besides the regular pilgrims we came across several day hiking groups who had a van to pick them up at regular intervals if they got too wet or cold.

After the second hour we stopped for coffee and a snack. I was wetter from sweating under my rain gear than I was from the rain itself and thought about taking off a layer. However, the coffee and food were greatly regenerating and by the time we left I had cooled down enough to put back on all my layers. It was a good thing too for when we left the tavern the temperature had dropped and was colder yet. Being fortified with food and hot drink, though, I soon got into a stride and rhythm that was the best of the whole journey to date. The mist was so thick I could only see a few feet in front and back of me and the was rain coming down so hard I had to hold my head down to get through it, and it was wonderful. My body felt alive and all my earlier aches and bothers disappeared as I merged with the elements and walked with a grace and agility that was a joy to partake of. I think Lilly-Barb too had a similar experience which she shared with me at our next break.

We walked for another two hours before stopping at another restaurant for Galcian soup and amazing hot chocolate. Here again were other pilgrims as well as tour groups making a stop on their day's itinerary. One woman from a group was drawn to Lil and they discovered they were both originally from Delaware. Lil later remarked that taking one of those tours would be like "death warmed over for her."

The day had been beautiful. The morning started cold, wet and windy; mist masking the valleys below. By noon the fog had cleared and sun breaks were showing the emerald fields and stone fences that lay along the trail we walked on. This land is poor by the standards of other parts of the Camino we had been on. More like the French Camino with small farms and lonely stone villages. The path too was reminiscent of France with its rocky trails and steep inclines. By the time we stopped for lunch the sun was out and the sky a pristine blue with billowing white clouds.

We left the restaurant and the rest of the afternoon flew by. We arrived at our destination by 3:15 and remarked how easy the days hike had seemed. Lil's foot had begun to bother her by now and it was a good time to stop. We'd made a reservation the day before and were happy to have done so for the place was full when we checked in. Yet another very nice room with a great bathroom and hot shower. Yeah!

Stretches, washing and no nap later we went in search of food. We found a small grocery and bought a few staples and then a restaurant. Here we had a light meal with two delicious desserts and came back to our nest. I to write and Lil to read.

Now is a good time for me to tell you about why I refer to Barb as Lilly. It began some years ago when doing a reading for Barb and I received the message that her essence name was Lilly. Since then we have joked about it and from time to time I have called her Lil or Lilly, which I think suits her well. This trip I saw Lilly emerge more and more; playful and at ease in herself, sweet, kind and funny, allowing and letting go to the flow of life, trusting its course. Calling her Lil seemed much more congruent to her spirit than Barb, which more reflects her yang aspect. And at one point Barb agreed that for the course of the journey she would be know as Lilly on the Way and would so introduce herself as such to those she met. It has been fun and she has been comfortable as Lilly, I think. We discovered that there are other associations with Lilly that are significant to her. She has always liked France and the flower of France is the lily, her mother's name was Mary Lyle, and Lyle is another way of spelling Lil. Barb's mother was a southern bell and though she passed many years ago, her spirit has been with us this trip. She is living amends by being loving and playful and encouraging Lilly to bring flair and swirl into her life!

Lil and Will on the Way! It is hard to believe that in less than a week, if the gods and St. James are allowing, we will be in Santiago and this journey together will be at an end. I think for both of us the adventure has been different than expected while also being deeply rich and fulfilling. We are now entering the Spiritual and last stage of the Camino so surprises yet may await us! Regardless we sure have had fun together!

Well the house is quiet and all are asleep. So it is time for me also to say:

Buenas Noches Amigos!


     

St. J on the way. Santiago cake yum! Contrast: the light and the dark on the Way.

        

Galicia. Ancient Galacian Church.

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Day 30: End of the Earth Day O'Cebriero 0 k's

Today we spent the day at the little village of O'Cebriero...someplace that seems like the end of the Earth. We say this because it's isolated in the Galacian hills way up on a mountain top with nothing for kilometers around. The weather is like that of Ireland constantly changing from rain to sun to mist to hail. In an hour you can experience it all. The air is cold and wet and when out in it all one wants to do is to be next to a fire drinking something hot. A great contrast to our summer on the Maseta.

I awoke at my usual hour of 6:30 but as there was no need to get up, we stayed in bed until 8:00. Late for us on our recent schedule.

We were the last in the dining room for breakfast. A couple of pilgrims were still eating, a pair we had seen yesterday on our hike to O'Cebriero. We'd thought they might be father and son, but as we later learned from talking with them they were friends who had met on the Camino. The older man was from Dublin the younger from Gloucester, England. They had become fast friends on the Walk, telling us how they had wonderful conversations and jokingly said they were solving the age old English-Irish problem. Yet another Camino story of souls connecting on the Way.

One of the attractions of this town is its laundry service. It'd been awhile since we had our clothes washed for us and were glad to take advantage of the opportunity. After breakfast and dropping the laundry off, we headed to the cafe and worked on making reservations for the next eight nights on the Camino including our stay in Santiago.

The internet connection in this hostel was intermittent. We were lucky and had a window that lasted as long as we needed to find and book rooms in all of the towns in which we'd be staying. It took almost three hours of patience and perseverance using different internet sites to find pensions and hostels with reasonable rates and availability. And when we finished our task successfully Lil said she liked the part of her personality which allowed her to persevere until all was completed.

Unlike the beginning of our trip where we trusted that we would be able to find a place to stay at the end of our day, the Camino is now getting busier by the day with new pilgrims making their way west to Santiago.

We have been meeting folks now who left St. Jean de Port on May 1. They would have started walking about 11 days after we began to meet us now. Furthermore, in two days we will reach the last 100K mark to Santiago, and this is when the Camino becomes its busiest. The reason being that the Catholic Church has decreed in order to receive a certificate of completion for walking the Camino that one needed to prove that one has walked the last 100K. At this point bus loads of new pilgrims are dropped off to do their 100K walk to Santiago co-mingling with those pilgrims who have already walked 800+K. Finding accommodations thus becomes even more challenging, hence our making reservations ahead of time.

I've heard for the short walkers the journey is more of a party event, fun and celebratory. For the long walker it's also a celebratory event yet may be more a more contemplative one of absorbing the lessons of the Way. As we near the end of our journey I feel a deep sense of gratitude for our having had the grace to make it through the challenges and hardships we faced this far.

Our laundry done and reservations made we headed back to our room for a well deserved nap (at least for me). After resting I read us passages from a new translation of the Tao de Ching, a famous Taoist treatise on how to live a harmonious life. We both resonated with its wisdom and marveled how its title, which translates to the Book of the Way, and its contents are so apropos for one walking the Camino.

It'd been raining and cold all morning and we felt compassion for the pilgrims up at 6:00 and on their way by 6:30 in such inclement weather. Though tomorrow we may be such ourselves. By the time we were done resting it had cleared up and was now sunny intermittently. We ventured out walking around the whole village visiting the church, a 9th century structure. The town seemed stuck in time and reminded me of old New England villages that never change and where strangers are unwelcome. Though there is a constant influx of strangers here every day.

At the church was a bust of a priest who had done more for the modern Camino being firmly established and for the signage that is so clearly posted that the current day pilgrim can always find his Way. As with thousands of other pilgrims before us Lil and I paid our respects with deep gratitude to this man for his service to the Camino.

Dinner was earlier tonight. We both had a mixed salad with real green lettuce, not iceburg, onions, and tomatoes and perfectly dressed. We again had the Galcian soup and for dessert chestnut pie. Fabulous and not too filling. What was fulfilling was our deep conversation about limiting beliefs. We looked particularly at our ideas regarding relationships and how we might have hidden beliefs that were blocking success in this important arena in our life. We both decided we had similar issues though at different ends of the same continuum: me doubting I'd meet someone who I could be met by and Lil believing she didn't deserve a great relationship. We decided both beliefs were limiting perspectives and are using our walking meditation time to reflect more on this before we complete the trip.

Now I'm at the bar finishing the blog as they start to close up and so I will bid you all good night and say:

Hasta Manana Amigos!


     

Ancient Celtic Village. Thatched roof O'cebreiro.

     

Thatched hut in O'cebreiro. The end of the world- O'Cebriero. View west from O'Cebriero.

     

Village inn. Father of Modern Day Pilgrims and two modern day pilgrims.

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Day 28 and 29:Transitions Days on the Way Molinesca to O'Cebriero 58K

We were both beat from our descent from the mountains of the day before. Neither of us had slept very well but we were glad to have had the room for five to ourselves. Today we had a slower morning as we were going to take a taxi to the next town's train station to get Lil's return to Madrid train ticket.

After a very good breakfast of bacon and eggs the taxi picked us up and we sailed past pilgrims making their way to Ponforata and beyond. As the walk was suburbs and city we weren't too disappointed to be missing this part of the Camino.

At the train station we had no difficulty in getting the ticket and in fact got the ticket on promotion saving about $50.00 US. From there we found our way back to the Camino without having to back track through town. It took asking directions from a number of people but we eventually made our way back to the Way.

The rest of the day we walked through one town after another, though it felt like one continuous suburb of Ponforata. It was perhaps the most non-descript day yet of the way. We decided to call it transition day because we were transitioning from the Maseta to Galacia: we had left one but had not yet reached the other.

It was a challenging walk for me because I was both uncomfortable within and without. I was having a bout of "stinking thinking" as Lilly-Barb calls it and my right foot was bothering me. I'm sure the one was connected to the other but I couldn't shake either.

It was an alternate reality day too. While there were a number of pilgrims who had been walking the day before, from the time we left Ponforata until we arrived at Villafranca that evening we never saw any pilgrims walking while we were, with the exceptions of those times when we were stopped for a break in a village or town, when we would see them streaming by in waves.

The last 5K of the walk we finally left the road and were back on the dirt country paths we love so well. However, today the beautiful summer weather we had been enjoying on the Mesata began to change. It'd been cloudy, windy and muggy all day. When we turned off the road it began to storm. We thought we were going to be caught in a tornado the skies looked so ominous. We donned our rain gear, something we hadn't used for almost a month, and took off into the artic blast of wind and cold air that swept down upon us.

The path too changed, after weeks of relatively flat terrain we were once again in the ups and downs in the foot hills of the mountains of Galacia. Though unused to climbing hills (other than the gradual climb of the few days before) we soon felt invigorated and enlivened by the challenges of the trek and the weather. It was as if our sleepy summer walk was being swept aside and we were being awoken to the vigors that lay ahead.

The best defense is a good offense and having rain pants and poncho on seemed to appease the weather gods. Rather than being blasted by hail and pelting rain we only had intermittent showers with sun breaks to soften the journey. By 5:00 we were in sight of Villafranca our destination and only then did we again see pilgrims again who had been mysteriously absent all day.

Our lodgings were on the main square and we were grateful to have them. It seems these towns are busy with pilgrims and getting a spot is not assured. We had a comfortable room with bath attached. I took a two hour nap while Lilly bathed and washed clothes. The naps are so wonderful. I love them almost more than anything else. I always feel a rejuvenation occur that is near miraculous.

The hotel receptionist had recommended a local restaurant and we headed there around 8:30. We've gotten used to eating on a continental schedule. The establishment was warm and welcoming and the proprietor friendly. We had a great goat cheese salad and grilled vegetables. We decided to be brave and tried Octopus, specialty of the region. However, when it arrived neither of us had the heart to eat more than a taste. This being my fault for telling Lil that, unlike squid which have little native intelligence, Octopi are highly intelligent creatures and the thought of eating one of these beautiful beings ended up being our undoing. Ironically the waiter had misunderstood us when we ordered and given us a double helping. He seemed disappointed when we left most of the dish uneaten.

Once back at the hotel I took a bath but sadly the water was lukewarm and soon abandoned that for a quick shower. Funny to have two nights without hot water. The unspoiling of Will and Lil on the Way.

Despite my great nap I was still tired and decided to forgo writing the blog last night. I knew we had long 31K hike today, the last 7K of which was going to be all uphill, and I wanted to be as rested a possible.

By 11:00 I was abed and soon asleep.

Part 2:

Slept well last night. Woke up rested and refreshed. My foot didn't hurt and my inner self was content. By 7:15 we left the Posada and had a coffee at a cafe/bar on the square. There were a number of other pilgrims there too and when we headed out of town we were part of a pilgrim wave.

There were three possible routes we could have taken today, each more challenging than the previous. Perhaps at another time we might have chosen one of harder paths, but today we went for the easiest. It followed the highway to one side and a flowing river to the other. It was flat and easy walking. We passed through a number of little villages, some doing better economically than others. We made good time averaging about 4K per hour including our breaks for breakfast and lunch.

We stopped for lunch around 1:00 and as it had been raining on and off all morning, we opted for eating inside a cafe. They advertised lentil soup and it sounded perfect for this cool wet day. I had a bowl that was delicious. Not only a bowl but a whole pot that I shared with Lil, who was busy making us tuna and avacado cracker sandwiches. We both had fresh squeezed orange juice too, a treat we have recently discovered.

The meal set us up for the last long climb. The morning had begun cold and the weather promised rain showers all day. We spent the first part of the walk taking off and putting on our ponchos and rain pants for it would rain and then it would be sunny for a while. As we climbed the last ascent we kept the rain gear on for it did continue to rain periodically but by the day's end I was wetter due to sweating than the rain itself.

The climb took us up and up and up. Soon we were having amazing views of verdant valleys below. This land of Galacia shares roots with other Celtic lands, the topography looks like Ireland or Scotland, wild and free. Such a contrast to the dry flat land we had come from. The hike itself was very challenging, giving us a great cardio workout.

While my foot was holding out well, Lil's wasn't and it had been bothering her all day. She had a couple of times during the hike up to O'Cebriero that she questioned her ability to continue up to the top. However, she felt she had no choice but to find the inner reserves to persevere and complete the hike, which she did.

When we arrived here it was 4:15 and we'd completed the last 30K day for the remainder of this Camino. With 8 days to go we have no more than 20K to walk on any day ahead. The village was packed with pilgrims, many looking for a place to sleep. Fortunately the night before Lilly had received wonderful help from the hotel receptionist in getting us the last room available at a Casa Rual here in O'Cerbriero. We were so beat and tired that if we hadn't a place to crash in peace we would have been in a bad way.

We settled into our room as we have done now for a month, our routine of unpacking, bathing, washing, stretching, napping. The temperature was in the high 30's, with a damp wet in the air. I took a long hot shower, which felt wonderful after not having one for a few days. Then I realized I was in need of a nap which I took, waking feeling refreshed and happy.

By now it was time to go to dinner in the dining room adjacent to the bar/cafe where we'd checked in. There were few people when we arrived but it gradually filled up with pilgrims in the village. We both had the local specialty Galacian soup made with greens, potatoes and white beans: simply delicious! The bread, which we have been avoiding, was so appealing in its hearty way that we had some too. For our main meal I had fried eggs, bacon and fries, while Lil had fried local trout. Both were yummy. For dessert we had Santiago cake made with almonds, another local specialty.

We now had nine days left to reach Santiago by Wednesday, May 28th giving us a day to spare before Lilly-Barb departed on Friday for Madrid and back to the US on the 31st. As we had an extra day we decided to stay here at O'Cebriero and have a rest day tomorrow to regroup before making the last week's trek to Santiago. Lil's foot needed a rest from walking and we had a reasonable and comfortable place to stay. After confirming we could stay another night Lil headed back to our room and I stayed behind to write the blog in the bar at a table where I could write. I'd almost finished when a pilgrim who had been drinking in the bar with another came over to my table and started up a conversation. Sadly he was deep into his cups so the conversation went nowhere. As soon as I could do so politely, I exited myself and headed to bed. It was then time to say:

Buenas Noches Amigos!


     

Leaving Villafranca. The last of Leon Castile.

        

Selfie at boarder of Leon:Castile and Galacia. Hobbit Land-going into Galacia. We made it to Galacia!

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Day 27: Highest Point on the Way Day - Rabanal to Molinesca 27K

The morning came early for me. At 6:30 I awoke Lil and by 7:30 we were downstairs in our Posada having coffee. This morning's was the first that wasn't very good. Ah well.... always a first.

As the other mornings have been, this too started cold and soon warmed up. We continued to climb in elevation and eventually reached the highest point on the French Camino (after the Pyrenees).

The walk was beautiful and the views breathtaking. The mountains that have been nearing each day were now at hand magnificent with their snow-capped peaks while those closest to us were covered with wild mountain heather. I took a picture trying to capture the Purple Mountains Majesty but was unsure if successful. Certainly seeing such a sight could evoke one to write a song extolling its beauty. The air was cool, fresh and delicious. The light clear and we could see far in all directions. What was most dramatic to Lilly was the change from the flat planes of the Maseta, which had been our home for two weeks, to the heights we were now traversing. This marked the end of the second stage of our journey; we were entering stage three and what we have been told is the "spiritual part of the Way. What lies ahead for us we wondered?

On the way up we stopped at one of the small mountain villages that rely solely on pilgrimage traffic for their survival. There we found a "tienda" or store that offered a better cup of coffee as well as hard boiled eggs prepared as we waited. We each had two and I had a piece of toast because when we were leaving Rabanal I smelled it wafting in the morning air. The store itself was a delight, housed in a stone house, hundreds of years old, with each pilgrims every need met from shampoo and toiletries to food stuffs to souvenirs. The young man who ran it seemed to love his store and his customers.

Later we met up again with Judy, the woman we'd helped with her backpack yesterday. She asked us to take pictures of her laying stones, each with a prayer, at a cross near the highest point on the Way. She had carried these prayer stones with her from the States. She said she now felt both spiritually and physically relieved of her burden. She had over 75 of them!

Soon thereafter the path began its descent. The views had been stunning all morning and continued to be so. However, our attention was more directed to our feet as we carefully navigated the steep downhill climb that took the rest of the afternoon. Both Lil and I were very conscious of our feet placement for neither could afford any more issues. It took a while and we stopped for food and water breaks regularly. In terms of our speed we were in the middle of the pack. There were those who sailed on down the mountain, mostly younger folks, and then there were those who put one foot deliberately in front of the other and these pilgrims we passed. At one point where the road crossed the trail a woman was selling fresh cherries. I bought a bag and we enjoyed their delicious fresh sweet tartness with our lunch.

We went through several villages, charming and delightful. Some of the pilgrims we'd been walking with turned off the path here for the night. I think had we not needed to continue on we would have stayed here too. We did refresh our water at each town and I probably drank more water today than any other. The terrain also reminded us of the paths we had walked on the French Chamin, where there hills were much more frequent. There was a point too today where the topography brought Eastern Washington to my mind.

The end of the descent seemed interminable. Finally about 4:00 we came out of the hills and into the valley we'd been viewing all afternoon and were soon strolling into the town of Molinesca. This little village, with similar stone buildings as we'd seen since leaving Rabanal, is situated on a river and besides housing pilgrims it was also busy with local tourists.

We found our lodgings off the main street. Initially there was confusion about our reservation made on booking.com where we'd registered for a double room with two beds and they only had rooms with single queen beds in them. However, all turned out well and we ended up in a dorm room with 5 beds and only us as the occupants.

The shower only offered cold libations. We have been so fortunate to have hot baths and showers on this journey in Spain. Today our luck changed. We had no hot water but for a minute. It was challenging after a hard day of hiking not to have a hot shower. The day had been hot, though so a cold shower, while not welcomed, was still not pure misery.

After showering we washed our clothes, hung up for the first time on our travel clothes line, something I've carried on two pilgrimages. Then went out for dinner where WiFi was available as our hostel didn't have internet. Again we had good fortune for down the street was a nice cafeteria restaurant with a great waiter and a strong internet connection.

The food was good and plentiful. The wine excellent and the price perfect for a pilgrim on a budget. At a table next to us sat a young woman who was walking the Way alone. From Vancouver, Canada, she was on the Camino getting clarity after a relationship change. She was vibrant and pretty. Her spirit reminded me so much of my sister, as did her tall blond athletic features. She liked walking alone yet was happy to talk in the evening. We related well to that ourselves. She had terrible blisters as so many pilgrims do. The pharmacies on the Camino in France and Spain all have displays and sections devoted solely to products that address healing and preventing blisters.

Lil and I have both been blessed not to have had trouble with this issue on any of our pilgrimages: three for her and two for me. This trip we've each only had one small one. We do wear double lined socks which I believe helps, yet this young woman has used every tactic to help her, including double lined socks without avail. Lilly suggested that perhaps she had anger issues that are showing up in the blisters, something that seemed to resonate with her.

The internet connection was good and I was also able to send the last day's entry and so was up to date.

Back now at our hostel and Lilly-Barb is asleep as I finish this entry. Tomorrow is another long day so with that I will say:

Hasta Manana Amigos!


     

Two friends on the Way. Pilgrims from behind.

        

Pilgrim's stand. Purple Mountain Majesty. The mountain's Magesty. Highest point.

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Day 26: Easy As Empanada (Spanish Pie) Day Astorga to Rebanal del Camino 20K

Lilly didn't have a good night. She had dreams of former manipulative bosses, of bringing a tiger to staff meetings and of friends being tired of having her around. I slept deeply until 5:00 and then on and off until 6:30 when I got us up.

By 8:00 we were in the coffee shop of the hotel having Americanos, then by 8:30 were heading on out to another beautiful day on the Way. The temp was again in the 30s but with each hour it warmed up by almost 20 degrees until it was a perfect 70 degrees for most of the day.

On the way out of town a woman handed Lilly a flyer advertising a restaurant in one of the upcoming villages that offered organic breakfasts. This caught her attention and when we reached the town an hour an a half later the proprietress welcomed us to enjoy breakfast at her place. Lilly had just been talking about wanting granola yesterday, and when we saw one of the items was homemade muesli we jumped on it. Big bowls with milk and fruit. Delicious! To be having comfort food that was good for you.

The woman chatted us up while we ate, telling us how the Camino was getting busier and busier, not as much fun to walk anymore but good for her business as more and more pilgrims are vegetarians or health conscious. She had already run out of her green smoothies for the day. We were happy as clams and spent a leisurely hour enjoying the food outside in the warmth of the morning sun. While there several pilgrims stopped by to purchase sandwiches or drinks for the road. We too left with a panini-like sandwich with fresh tomatoes, greens and peppers inside.

While we were there I noticed one of the pilgrims who'd stopped was carrying her pack in a very unbalanced way. I conjectured it was having an adverse effect on her walk. When we later saw her again at another stop and I mentioned it to her saying should she be willing I could adjust her pack to be more comfortable. She was more than willing and between Lilly and I we got her all situated. And with gratitude she noticed a difference right away.

Having one's backpack correctly packed, strapped and worn properly makes all the difference for long distance walks. Because I learned so much about what not to do on my last walk, I am now an "expert" on how to fit it so its comfortable. Every day I see pilgrims with packs listing to the right or left or slung to low or worn too high. It is a very nice feeling to help a pilgrim in a way that makes their journey easier.

The walk today for both Lilly-Barb and I was the best yet. The kilometers sailed by smoothly without pain or effort. We were both in the zone. This is what one hopes for when walking the Way. That place where it all comes together in peace and harmony. Nothing like it or as Lilly says: "it doesn't get any better than this!"

Most of the pilgrims today were in the gray to white haired end of the continuum. We marvel and admire those that undertake this long journey. All shapes and sizes and ages of people are here on the Camino. It is inspiring to see and that these folks see no limits to what they can do though today there were several who were limping along. It is truly a global community making this journey together to a destination that may have a different significance for each of us yet ties us all together.

We stopped for lunch and ate our panini sandwich and the delicious pears that were Lil's choice for dessert last night and saved for today. They were sweet and perfectly firm. Simple little things like this are pure magic on the Camino because we see how taken care

of we are in everyway. The woman whose pack we'd fixed walked by much happier than she'd been earlier in the day. Another pilgrim told us it was 5K to our next stop at Rabanal Del Camino. Not far now as the day's walk had been smooth and easy.

Gradually climbing elevation we reached Rabanal, around 3:00, now being high above the Maseta plane. Tomorrow we'd be climbing to the highest point on the Camino Francais and then make our way down into Glacia by Tuesday.

Today we were on the front end of town, and our Posada was the first place to greet you on coming into the village. We had a warm welcome and were taken to a great room with royal purple covers and light green walls with French doors that opened onto a small balcony. The bathroom had a fabulous tub complete with bubble bath soap!

When traveling through France the tubs, when at all available were too small for my frame, yet here in Spain almost all have been wonderful for me to soak in. As I have said....Lil and Will are being spoiled and pampered on the Way. And it's totally fine as it is helping us complete this amazing journey by allowing us to take the best care we can of our dear selves.

On settling in I declared that I was going to take a nap and did so for an hour and a half, deeply and fully. On waking I took my bubble bath and soaked easing stress and tension from my body. Oh...baths and the Camino go well together. Like food, a bath is never more appreciated.

Clothes washed and both rested we went to a 7:00 service of Benedictine monks singing Gregorian Chants in an ancient 11th century church. The place was full of pilgrims. The service lovely as 6 monks sang together. Included was a time for pilgrims from different countries to read scripture in their own language. I found myself going into a deep meditative state and imagined being there as a Knights' Templar, singing these songs with my brethren knights while the pilgrims listened and prayed with us.

After the service we wandered around this ancient stone village. Rabanal del Camino is a place we'd both like to come back to. It is on the list of our favorite stops. Not only beautiful in itself, the setting high above the plane with snow capped ranges at it's back makes this little village a special energy place that's lovely to be in. Like some of the other places on the Camino I felt at home and familiar here. We both are in awe of Spain and how it continues to surprise us with is depth and beauty, it's old grandeur and modern hospitality, its refined cultivation and sweet simplicity.

I thought of my brother Rob today as we walked up the old flag stone street, running through the center of town, past stone buildings, constructed long ago, small structures perfect in form, lining the incline, and imagined how much he would appreciate this village. It reminded me of Conques, another town in France he liked very much. A Medievalist at heart and by education, I believe he'd enjoy the whole journey of the ancient Camino as it might speak to his spirit in this same way it has mine.

On the way back to our Posada we found some green grass and stretched. A couple of ladies stopped and chatted while we did our practice. They too were from Australia, starting in Leon and going to Santiago in two weeks. Both in their late fifties they weren't in great shape by any means yet here they were taking this great adventure together. It was their third day and they were doing well.

Our Posada was run by a family. The third family operation we've stayed in that we're aware of. It's a good feeling to see the family members all work together. In Villavante's hostel there were three generations. There's a cooperative spirit here in Spain. We noticed it at the hotels too. Everyone pitches in when something needs doing.

With the increased pilgrim traffic many of these villages that once were dying are now coming back to life. Furthermore the quality of lodgings and accommodations has significantly improved. Pilgrims for the most part of well cared for on the Camino.

Dinner was rice with stir fried vegetables and creamed vegetable soup. Both were light and nourishing and delicious. Again another piece of magic on the Way: food that we crave appears! For dessert a light homemade crepe with chocolate sauce and filling, perfectly accompanied by a solo coffee so I could blog tonight.

Now I have and so can say once again:

Buenas Noches Amigos!


     

Spanish Bell tower. UW colors.

     

Eating organic on the Way. Spanish roses.

     

Cowboy bar on the Camino. Stone Wall and stone mountains.

     

The cart my mother imagined for me! Yet another shot of a stork on a bell tower.

     

coming to town. Hosteria in Rabanal. Will at refugio.

     

Rabanal del Camino.

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Day 25: Gratitude Day on the Way Villvante to Astorga - 22K

The morning broke early. The night had been full of dreams and I was trying to remember the symbols that showed up. However, on coming to full consciousness they disappeared from my memory.

Lilly-Barb had slept hard and long, going to sleep at 9:30 and waking at 6:30. She is working hard on healing her foot and understanding the meaning behind its manifestation. Her efforts are bearing fruit as her foot improves slowly. She continues to love and appreciate herself letting go of that which no longer serves her.

The lessons of the Way come in their own time. Some think injuries will happen in the first weeks of walking, however, the rules of the Camino are dictated by the needs of those who put themselves in its flow and when the experience presents itself one can only surrender and trust that all needs will be met, no matter the lesson metted!

I felt great as we left the Albergue. My pack which has felt foreign to me the last few days, unfamiliar and uncomfortable, felt like my old friend again and I was joyful. My feet both felt fine and my initial walking was brisk, yet conscious.

We walked for an hour then stopped at the first cafe/bar that we came to for a coffee and snack. Inside was the young couple we'd met twice yesterday, we thought they were newlyweds perhaps. They were from Denver, Co, had been married for two years. He wanted to come for the spiritual solitude of the Camino and his wife didn't want him going alone. We liked them and were happy to have another pair of pilgrims to be connected to on the Way.

The coffee was the best yet. The kind server also gave us a slice of pound cake with our Americanos. Lil was in a grouchy spot but once she ate and drank her flagging spirits raised and all was well. She reminded us that eating will help when feeling off or down. We then had another round it was so good.

Our walk now took us through an old medieval town that was charming. Spain is a wonderful country for interesting and beautiful architecture and as we have progressed along the Camino it continues to be changing and varied. Lil took a great pic of me on an old Roman bridge. It felt good to be there. Perhaps in another parallel reality I'm a Roman engineer who built that structure.

The day, another gem amongst the many we have enjoyed, began cold, the coldest morning yet, but by 10:30 had warmed up enough for me to shed down vest, sweater, and pants for shorts. Around this time we had our second missing the trail experience to date and it wasn't a bad one. We were back on route soon, the path taking us up hills in backcountry, the first real elevation since coming to the Meseta. We stopped half way to eat lunch and were surprised by the wave of pilgrims that streamed by while we were sitting there, a group of three even came and sat near us to eat and rest. It amused me because I'd thought we were all alone with the exception of the occasional pilgrim passing by now and then. Lilly suggested that the Way is getting busy, May is the beginning of the Camino season. Yet most begin the walk at St. Jean Pierre de Port on the other side of the Pyranees in France and it would take 3 weeks at best to get here if walking at a very fast pace. Perhaps there are just many more pilgrims who began early this year.

Toward the end of our backcountry walk we came upon pilgrim's helpers offering simple cooked food, fresh fruit, water, boiled eggs, etc., all laying out on a lovely cart for the pilgrims to help themselves. There was a small donation box where an offering could be made if so desired but not expected. This part of the walk was without towns or fountains and I was in need of water so this stand was a blessing to me as intended. Another pilgrim came along, a tall young man, and taking a piece of fresh watermelon smiled saying "now all is fine!"

The end of the trail led us to the edge of the plateau we had been on. In the far distance were the snow capped peaks that had been getting closer each day while in the foreground lay the city of Astorga beautiful and proud in her ancient status and glory. This city has been a major crossroad for trade in the pre and post Roman periods for Spain to all parts of Europe.

The last 5 K were spent walking through another village before Astorga and then through the town itself as our hotel was closer to the end of the city. We liked what we saw though it was quiet due to siesta time. Our hotel we booked online and were very happy with it! A lovely room looking across the square to the beautiful Gaudi Palace (now a museum) as well as the magestic cathedral of Astorga. It had a real bath tub too! Gee, Lil and Will are getting spoiled!

After checking I suggested that we "do something different" meaning than our usual routine of bathing, washing, etc. Lilly was game and both being hungry we went to look for a restaurant. She'd a good feeling for it so we ordered fried calamari, a fruit and goat cheese salad, sparkling mineral water and a beer for me. We ate out on the plaza across from the hotel sitting under the shade of an umbrella eating fabulous food and getting great service. We felt indeed like the king and queen feasting in front of their beautiful palace.

We looked at our guide book and calculated that we have 11 days left of walking (if we are able) with one fudge day to arrive in Santiago on the 27 or 28. All of a sudden it seemed so close: to be on the other end of this amazing journey that once stretched out far in front of us.

After our feast we walked around both the Palace and Cathedral but didn't have much interest in either museum. Instead we went in search of the chocolate museum for Astorga is known for its artisan chocolate. It took a little sleuthing to locate but we did and bought a pound bar of 70% dark almond chocolate. It will be worth the weight to carry it. Later we found a grocery and restocked on lunch and snack staples.

With that all accomplished we returned to our room and Lilly took a bath and washed clothes while I started today's entry so I can go to bed earlier tonight.

A few hours and a great dinner later it's time to say:

Hasta Manana Amigos!


     

Blessed friends. First Cows on the Way.

     

Pilgrim stuck in time. Pilgrim's rest stop.

     

Will bridging realities. Cross and mountain.

     

Astorga in distance. Astorga.

     

On the Way. Puente Romano. The Gaudy Palace in Astorga.

        

From our window. Best Salad of the Way. Heaven's bells.

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Day 24: Speaking English on the Way Day La Virgen del Camino to Villavante - 23K

Lilly-Barb is now becoming the early riser. Before it was light I awoke to her getting ready and lay in bed drifting between worlds before getting up myself. We were out in the cool morning air by 7:15, sunrise was at 7:23. Our earliest start on this Camino.

Unsure of the initial route we followed another pair of pilgrims from the last of the city's suburbs into the campos and fields that we'd been missing for several days. Again back on the familiar Meseta, flat and level far into the horizon though now there were snow capped mountains that framed its edges to the north and west.

Lilly and I were both walking purposefully today, meditative striding, averaging a bit over 3K per hour. It takes more focus and discipline for me to stay steady on this stride than on the gate I regularly like to walk. Gladly my right foot was fine and didn't bother me on the trek today. It did remind me it was there whenever my thoughts wandered off in an "unproductive" way, though. Lil's foot did bother her on and off. And it is slowly improving. She led some of the way today, I following her, both of us going slower than most pilgrims who passed us by.

The day was another amazing gift amongst the many that we have received on this journey. To date we have experienced only 2 rain days and one of those only had a limited shower. The rest of the time we've had varying degrees of blue skies and sunny days. Since hitting the Meseta a week ago we have been blessed with near perfect weather for hiking and sightseeing.

We came to Spain prepared to spend most of our journey donning ponchos and rain pants. Instead the rain gear is stashed in the bottom of our packs and we are wearing shorts and t-shirts. One of the pilgrims we met who had walked the Camino twice before, told us that both times he came in the spring and that he was wet most of the time. We have been very blessed with fine weather on this Way.

After the first hour we stopped at a little village for coffee. An enterprising cafe/bar owner was open early for business and several pilgrims were breakfasting there when we arrived. Oh that first cup of coffee in the morning on the Way, it is one of life's joys!

As we were leaving another couple came in whom I had seen and helped with Spanish translation the evening before at our restaurant. We said hello and introduced ourselves. They were from New Zealand, the first New Zealanders we'd met, and were planning to finish in Santiago on June 6 their 50th Wedding Anniversary. We thought that very sweet.

We've seen a number of older folks (over 70) on this Camino. In fact I might venture to say that I have seen more people over 50 this trip than people under 30. When I walked the Camino in France those pilgrims I met were predominantly younger. I think it is wonderful that no matter the age or condition the Way calls to all and the call is answered by all.

The next 9K took us to another village boasting 3 Albergues. We stopped at one called Tio Peppi because we liked the name. There we had our second coffee and lunch of rice cakes, goat cheese, carrot, chocolate, a wonderful ripe avocado and watercress greens. Food like the first coffee tastes soo good on the Way. We have figured out how to eat well and enjoyably too. We had another 10K to go to our evenings lodgings. We both felt revived after eating and took to the Way once more.

The last three hours were along a long straight road, half paved half not. The wind had picked up and it was just between needing to add a layer to my t-shirt or not temperature. Half way we stopped to rest and gripe about our pains a bit. Not too much, just enough to get through to the Albergue in Villavante which we happily made about 3:00.

We'd made reservations the night before for a double using the name Guillermo Blanco to hold it. It just seemed easier than trying to say Will Whitesmith. Again we were blessed with good fortune as this Albergue is also new and our room is comfy and lovely. While I took my shower Lilly-Barb found a clothes washer available, washed our clothes and then hung them to dry in the afternoon sun. Even my hat! What a treat!

After stretches outside in the beauty of the afternoon sun we went in to dinner. However, there were two seatings tonight so we had to wait a bit as we missed the first one. At dinner we were seated next to an Austrian pilgrim, a first this trip too, who was a Spiritual Coach. With our German being zilch and his English being very little we didn't get too far with our conversation, however it seemed he helped people reduce anxiety and find inner peace.

Dinner itself was an average pilgrim's meal. Good mixed salad, a French omelet (only had eggs) with fries and dessert. No wine or beer tonight accompanied our meal so we passed and decided to teetotal it for a change. Lilly-Barb has developed a drinking habit on the Camino and we thought it was time to break it!

Today we met more English speakers than any day so far. We also met more Americans to date too. Our first Americans were a young newly married couple (maybe this is their honeymoon - if so and they survive it still liking each other they have a promising future). Barb noticed how new and shinny their wedding rings were. We met a woman from Arizona, a woman from Cape Cod, a woman from Colorado Springs. These women were all middle aged or retired and were walking alone. We also met a Dutch woman reading a book in English and found out that she used to be an English teacher and preferred English literature.

Our next two days we begin climbing out of the Meseta getting ready to enter the last stage of the Camino in Galacia four days from today. As all things shift and change on the Way we are now adjusting to our physical challenges and calling ahead for reservations so we can plan the amount of walking we do each day, at least for now. We have reservations for tomorrow and Saturday made. When calling several places were already full so we can also see the Camino is coming into it full season, which May is.

Well friends, I started this entry this afternoon so I am completing it earlier than usual. However, it was a long day and tomorrow promises the same so I shall retire early and bid you all:

Buenas Noches Amigos!


     

Storks and St. J. The patron spirits of the Way. Our Albergue.

     

View from within an Albergue.

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Day 23: Taking the Lessons Deeper Day Leon to La Virgen Del Camino 7K

Barb didn't sleep well last night, unusual for her and for me to sleep through which I did. Around 8:00 we ventured out for breakfast but all was still closed

down from the night's frolities. Back to the hotel we went and shared a pot of good coffee. Later I finished up my writing and editing while Lil went in search of food. She'd seen an American food store hoping to find good peanut butter but the store was a dud, mostly junk.

All packed up we left the hotel in search of breakfast. Now everything was open again and the sun had warmed up the temperature considerably. We found a bakery that did the trick by advertising toast with olive oil and tomatoes. This sounded good to us and we ordered it with two Americanos. Sitting outside in the sun we added tuna fish and fresh cucumbers to our fare and made a pilgrims feast. For dessert we indulged in real treat of Gelato ice cream, two scoops each. Yumm!

Sated, we next headed to the Cathedral of Leon which had a far simpler check-in process than that of Bourges and far fewer people too. We were given hand-held audio guides. The narration was helpful and added to our appreciation of the sublime beauty of this twelfth century masterpiece of gothic architecture and design. The stained glass windows streamed light into the vaulting grace of the columns, knaves and transits. For Lilly it was the most beautiful church she'd ever seen. Awed by the sacred energy yet held by it too, she felt both cozy and divine. We left the church feeling full of grace, blessed with its light to go forward on our Way.

Hence we began our departure from Leon. The route continued through the old part of town passing interesting plazas, churches, and buildings. The day which had begun so cold and crisp was now warm and summery. We walked slowly because we wanted to be easy on our feet. We also were in no hurry as we had a reservation at our next stop. Barb's foot did bother her some but not greatly and she thought that the weight of the pack didn't aggravate it. My foot seemed better too but I didn't put any undue pressure on it by walking at the brisker pace I enjoy. Instead I walked slowly and purposefully for I think that is the message I'm getting.

We arrived at our destination around 3:45. The check-in was at a bar/cafe nearby and the bartender saw us and flagged us down so we didn't have to come back. Our lodgings were clean and comfortable yet had the least character of any place we've stayed so far. However, it did have a bathtub... always a plus!

Barb took a bath while I started the day's blog entry. I then took a long nap awakening refreshed and hungry. We headed out to find a grocery and on the way stopped at another amazing church: the Basilica de la Virgen del Camino situated close to our hostel. This was a modern structure built in 1956 yet inside looked to be from the Baroque period. A very interesting blend of two visions in one building. Beautiful white Lilies were everywhere, smelling sweet and fragrant. We saw them, her name sake, as a blessing for her feet to heal well and soon.

I stopped a passerby for directions to the grocery and soon found it where we stocked up with our favorite foods for the Way: fruit, watercress greens, rice cakes, nuts, chocolate and tuna. Then it was time to look for a place to eat. We made a big circuit in search of a restaurant without success coming back to where we started to eat at a small bar/cafe that advertised macaroni, stewed meat and dessert with wine and bread for 8 Euros.

The waiter and his wife who made the food were lovely and so was the dinner. We are now all stocked up on protein and carbs for tomorrow's walk. Barb and I had fun rereading our early entries from this trip and marveled at all that has transpired on this journey.

We decided that the first two weeks were to get us ready for the lessons of week three that came with entering the Maseta, the part of the trip where one faces the emotional and mental challenges of the Camino. This was when things began to disappear, beginning with an innocuous sock that signaled the start of harder things to come.

Now missing a guidebook, a knife and a usb cable later, we are going through the challenges of physical pain and the mental hardship that comes with wondering if you should keep going, or even can keep going on the Way. Again it seems to come down to surrendering to what is in front of us and trusting what we will need will come our way as it always does.

Yet despite all of the above we are deeply grateful. The lessons we receive only help us to be clearer and more compassionate with ourselves and others. They allow us to ask for help and face our fears and grow in trust that All Is Well!

Now we are back at our hostel and Lilly-Barb has just turned out the light and is heading to meet Nod. I am going to enjoy a nice bath and soon will join her in the land of healing dreams.

Hasta Manana Amigos!


     

Lil: pilgrim's friend. The weary pilgrim.

     

Three friends of the Way. Soaring Spirit.

     

Grace in space. Rose Window.

     

Rose Window. Soaring Spirit.

        

Basilica of Virgen del Camino.

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Day 22: Slowing down day Reliego to Leon 26K

I had a lot of fun writing the blog last night. After taking a few days off due to technical issues it was nice to be writing again. However, there are just not enough hours in the day to do everything I want to! It was late when I turned in and early when we got up and due to a deficit of rest my body hurt today.

We left our lovely hostel at 8:15 after coffee and a piece of what looked like freshly baked pound cake, delicious with a hint of anise flavor. The morning was lovely for walking, bright sunshine and crisp air.

Our destination was Leon and though initially we thought we'd only 20K to walk, it turned out to be 27K, so another long day. With exception of the first hour and a half the rest of the day's trek was along highways and through suburbs of Leon. I told Barb if I were to skip a day and take a cab this would have been it!

Barb's foot, while gradually healing, has not completely mended. Today was the fourth day we sent her backpack ahead by shuttle service. It is a fabulous operation where we leave the pack at the hotel or hostel with an envelope having the address of the next destination and 7 Euros inside, attached. When we arrive later that day magically the goods have safely arrived. This service has allowed Lilly to walk with only a fanny pack and avoid further weight and stress on her feet.

While I have had my own aches and pains, mostly on my right hip and leg, it has been a relatively pain free trip. Yet today my right heel began to hurt in familiar way. I'd problems with my feet on the last journey through France and this brought up memories of those hardships. As the day went on the ache mitigated some after taking an Aleve. Perhaps more importantly Barb helped me see the implied message of slowing down. I changed my pace and it helped.

Things can change so quickly on the Camino, one high moment can soon be followed by a low one. In the end it all seems to balance out. This leads to learning to be in balance to begin with: a major lesson of the Way Lilly and Will are discovering.

By 3:30 we reached our hotel in Leon. A three star establishment very near the cathedral in the town center that we'd found on Booking.com. While it looked nice online to our delight it was even better in person, complete with a great big tub!

Lilly bathed and washed her clothes, I took a long nap. Oh, those naps are so regenerative, especially when I have shorted myself on sleep the night before, as I'd done last night. I awoke at 5:30, took a leisurely bath and finishing my book about Jefferson and Hamilton and their relationship and roles in the founding of the US. By the time I'd done bathing and washing clothes it was past 7:00.

Rested, clean, and relaxed we went exploring this lovely city. The streets were thronged with pedestrians, vibrant and alive, full of their lan, the wonderful spirit of these Spanish people. We dove in and headed to the cathedral. Again we were impressed with its beauty and grandeur, Barb finding it even more beautiful than the one in Burgos. The visiting hours were over so we walked around the plaza enjoying the grandeur and form of the church, thinking we might come back and see the interior tomorrow.

The receptionist at the hotel had given us several suggestions on dining spots. Searching we wandered through the narrow streets and alleys of this old European city looking at the people and shops. One small street opened to another and Barb spied a book store ahead. Wondering if they carried English books she looked in the window display where, front and center, was the guide book for the Camino that had disappeared on us. Though we had managed well since its loss we both thought it wise to get a replacement copy to help us on the rest of the journey.

On buying the book Barb asked the clerk, whom she had a good feeling for, if he know of anywhere nearby where we might find a USB cable (for the keyboard I used to type the blog. It too had gone missing). He said there was a store that sold electronics and phone accessories two doors down we might try.

Great we said and thanked him going onto the shop on the corner where I had an in depth conversation about mini USB cables and did they carry one that would work for my keyboard. The young man was very helpful and we went through several options but none seemed quite right. In the end I went back to the hotel and retrieved the keyboard and returned to the store. Once he saw what I needed he immediately found the correct USB plug and charger and once again I was back in business!

With two of our basic needs met we were happy as clams, with a guide book for our journey ahead and a way to charge the keyboard to continue blogging. Appreciative of our good fortune we continued our search for a place to dine.

When asked for a place he would recommend, the man in the bookstore told us all the restaurants in the area were frequented by locals and we'd be happy with any we chose. As we wandered further there many to choose from. Finally we had a good feeling for one and, like most restaurants here, went up to the second floor dinning room.

The place was almost full with one large table of American walkers, though we weren't sure if they were pilgrims, and a few locals besides. A table for two awaited us and to our delight the waiter offered us a menu in English. The atmosphere was gay and celebratory and it was a happy feeling to know what we were ordering for the first time in Spain.

After careful consideration of our many options we settled for a caramelized apple, walnut, and goat cheese salad, a dish of wonderful roasted vegetables (at last), and scrumptious lamb chops, with Perrier, wine and beer to wash it all down.

Yet another great meal in Spain and we were beginning to think that Spanish food does offer a wonderful cuisine that has been largely unknown to us. I think we had a preconceived notion that the food in Spain would not be of much consequence, yet our gastronomic adventures have proved otherwise.

It was almost 9:00 when we sat down to eat and by the time we finished it was well after 10:00. The desserts didn't excite us so we passed and opted to go to a nearby creperie. Barb had a chocolate crepe and I a "Costa Rica" made with caramel, coconut and rum. Tasty. We enjoyed our treats while sitting on the steps of a neighborhood church eating quickly as the night air was getting chilly.

Walking back to our hotel the streets were now almost deserted. Restaurants closing, shops shut up, the hustle and bustle of the earlier evening now a whisper in the night air. We remarked how fun it has been to see the various faces of these cities at different times of day. We really liked Leon and looked forward to exploring it a little more before moving on tomorrow.

Back in our cozy and comfortable room we settled into our routines of reading and writing. Soon it was time to turn out the light and say:

Buenas Noches Amigos!


     

The Way. St. James-a homage to the pilgrims. St.J. on his Way.

     

Virgen Peregrina. Door of St. James first gate into the kingdom of Leon for ancient pilgrims. Cathederal at Leon.

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Day 21: Most beautiful day on the Way day Sahagun to Releigos 29K

Today was the most beautiful day on the Way. This is of course purely based on today's experience for there were many beautiful days on this journey that were outstanding. However, what is so special about today was the perfect combination of weather, landscape and inner harmony.

This morning we left our wonderful abode of the night before about 7:15. We'd tried to get coffee from the vending machine in the lobby but it was "all out" so we were happy when we saw a coffee shop open this early. We had an Americano each; I've found that solos are now too strong for me in the morning. We were tempted by the croissant that smelled freshly baked but having been disappointed to many times we forwent the potential pleasure.

The walk out of town was pleasant. I really liked Sahagun. They seemed more attuned to rhythm of the pilgrims than most of the other larger towns we had been in. In Carrion I felt we were tolerated, here we seemed welcomed. Of course in the Middle Ages this city was a happening place as it was the half way point on the Camino Francais, those weary pilgrims would know that after leaving here they were on the final leg of their journey to salvation.

We had several highlights in this town: Our lodging, the food, the old monasteries and the storks.

Our hostel was an old, as in hundreds of years old, building that had been renovated. It was a great blend of modern and antiquity. We had a lovely room and were very comfortable. The host was not only nice to look at, he was really helpful in getting us reservations for our next night's stay.

The food came in two parts: Our meal and the grocery store. For Mothers Day dinner we celebrated at a restaurant on the town square. We had a salmon and lobster salad, leg of lamb and an amazing baked custard dessert. One of the two best meals of this trip. The grocery store was owned and run by a man from Jordan who spoke 5 languages. He had wonderful food and we came away not only with great things to eat but also a great feeling about him and the mystery of why he landed in Sahagun Spain.

The monasteries were once numerous in this old city. The architecture a blend of Christian and Moorish with bell towers abounding. At 7:00 pm all they all began to ring, something Barb had wished for. I recorded them as they were beautiful to listen too.

The storks are the spirit animal for this journey. Almost from the start we have seen these magnificent white birds with black wing markings, mostly in towns and cities where they build huge and elaborate nests atop of churches and other towering edifices. In Sahagun they were plentiful and we watched them gracefully gliding the wind currents, lighting on the church towers and building nests. Quite a sight to see.

This morning was cool and for the first time in awhile we put on our sweaters and jackets. For a starter we had an orange, a practice we picked up from a British pilgrim we met in Navarette. By the time an hour had passed we were ready for something more fortifying and ate a hard boiled egg, one of the food treasures we found in our grocery store. The Way was quiet too. No wave of pilgrims to carry us along as had been the case on several previous mornings.

We did connect with a pilgrim from Australia shortly after leaving town who was concerned he might have taken the wrong route. There was an alternate route which we originally thought to take. Barb looked at his guide book, similar to the one we lost, and assured him he was going in the right direction. In the process we learned that this was also the better way for us to travel too! The magic of the Way...all that you need comes to you!

The walk was mostly flat and followed a country road that blessedly had little traffic. Benches were situated periodically along the Way and trees had been planted which would one day offer welcoming shade to the weary traveler. Barb's foot had been improving yesterday but hurt again this morning. As we walked it felt better up until noon when it hurt again. She took an Aleve in the afternoon and she was able to continue the walk. I had brought the medicine for my anticipated aching feet and gratefully I have not had to use it much but it seems to have helped Barb.

There are many who try to complete the Way and not all do. My belief is that when I come to the Camino I enter a river of consciousness that can guide me to a greater potential reality than might be possible to find on my own. However, to gain this wisdom I have to surrender to the current and trust that it will take me to that which is for my greatest good. I think for Barb and me, and maybe for many other pilgrims too, this is part of what makes being on the Way so incredible. Almost every day I am presented with an opportunity to trust and let go and every day I see by doing so the magic and grace that unfolds in ways that I could never imagine. Yet sometimes not finishing the Walk is part of that trusting. The ways of the Way are mysterious.

We had three breaks today. Our first was the first small village on our route. After 10K we were ready for some protein and ate our left over salmon and lamb from the night before with rice cakes and slices of goat cheese. Brunch of champions! We washed it down with our second coffee of the day. Our next stop was at the following town on route, around noon, where I had a snack of my new favorite quick energy food sold here in Spain: a salted mixture of nuts, corn nuts, and dried fruits. It's light and crunchy and gives a good blend of carbs and protein when needed. Barb, who loves peanuts, was taking a day off as she had been indulging of late. We had our third stop on the Way at one of the benches provided. We had a large perfectly ripe avocado, sweet bell pepper and 70% chocolate for lunch. The sky was pristine clear blue softened by wispy clouds and a cool temperate breeze kept us comfortable as we ate.

The rest of the afternoon we walked through the changing Maseta of wheat fields on either side; the turned earth now red rather than the yellow loam of earlier days. In the distance we saw mountains, the first since leaving those at St. Millan almost two weeks prior. To our right, too far away to hear but close enough to see, were trains racing quietly to destinations that were worlds away from the solitary silence of the Camino.

Today was the first time I got into the zone. To a pilgrim the zone is that place where all physical systems are in harmony, nothing hurts, you are connected to your surroundings, and your inner being is at peace. Ideally I would like to live here in perpetuity for it is the sweetest feeling I know. However, it takes a lot of releasing and trusting and allowing to get into the zone so it's not always available. Yet when it is, it is a joy!

By then end of the afternoon I was beat though. The last K's are the hardest for me. I'm an early morning guy when on the Way, that's my best time. Barb's is mid morning. We were both so happy when at 4:15 we turned the corner, something we have not seen much of on the previously straight as far as you can see Meseta, and beheld our Albergue. The first building as you enter this little burg of 200.

We have been very fortunate to have stayed in some very nice and reasonable places this journey. All we have been guided to without our fore knowledge of them. Several like tonight's have been brand new; besides being great accommodations for us it also speaks to the popularity of the Camino and its increased need for hospitality. We have passed many an ancient hospice and hospital that once housed and cared for the pilgrims of old. Now Albergues are popping up to care for a new generation of pilgrims.

After showering and doing bed yoga, a form of yoga I'm developing using the bed instead of the floor, we went down to dinner. Tonight's was the best pilgrim's dinner of this Camino. Though plentiful and economical the pilgrim's meals become mundane after many weeks. So having such good pilgrims fare this evening was a great surprise. Too we were hungry from our day's exertions. I had zucchini creamed soup, Barb (now known on the way as Lilly) had vegetable stew, we both had exquisite fish which came with perfect fries and a crisp salad. For dessert I had the best flan yet and Lilly had custard similar to her fond childhood memory. To finish an orange to clear our pallets. All of this with a great bottle of red wine for only 10 Euros each.

We have a 20 K ahead of us tomorrow as we head to Leon. There we've booked a room at a hostel in the center of town. It's a city that looks inviting and we may spend two days here. Barb calculated that after today we have two weeks of walking to complete the Camino. This would put us there now on May 27th if we went there directly, or we have three spare days to make our deadline of May 30 when she has to be back in Madrid.

This has been a wonderful adventure to date. I am very grateful for my good health and happy feet. Though sore at times my body loves the exercise and being outside in this beautiful world makes me very happy. While I learned much from the first pilgrimage that has helped me enjoy this one so thoroughly, I continue to get new lessons that add depth and richness to this blessed experience for which I am grateful too.

So with that dear friends I say:

Buenas Noches Amigos!


     

Early morning on the Way-old Roman bridge and cross. Lilly with Mary and St.J. Will in shadow.

     

Barb and her drugs. Will and his beer. Our new Albergue.

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Day 20: Mother's Day and Half Way on the Way Day Triadillos - Sahagun 13 K

Back on line again after a one day hiatus from blogging due to technical difficulties. However, the entries will be shorter for awhile.

Yesterday we left our cozy shelter at Carrion de los Condes for a 27K hike to Terridilos. Today we went to Sahagun the geographic half way point of the Camino. We had a shorter walk today and had a lovely afternoon of rest and sightseeing in this ancient town. We celebrated Mother's Day with a great meal and tomorrow have another 30K day so to bed early.

Hasta Manana Amigos!


     

Barb and Will at the geographic center of the Camino passing through the portal. Grain silo.

     

Our beautiful home in Sahagun. Village on Maseta. Church in Sahagun.

        

Albergue Terridillos de los Templarios. Knight of the Templar. Sleepy village siesta time. Sign showing this next 12K of Camino was specially built for it.

     

Stork on arch.

     

Don't quit before the miracle-the sign says. Store's nest. Barb looking refreshed.

     

Lilly at rest. Mother's day poppies.

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Day 19: Technical Difficulties

The blog has been discontinued due to technical issues and may or may not restart. Check back for updates as they become available.

Day 18: Healing Day on the Way: Carrion de los Condes 0K

As I write today's blog, I sit by the river in the sun listening to the birds in the background and a group of happy people talking at another table. This is our second day in Carrion de los Condes. We decided to stay another day and give Barb's right foot a chance to heal. Which I am happy to say it is.

Yesterday, I woke up tired as I didn't sleep well. We took our time getting up and out and stopped at a cafe/bar around the corner for a couple of coffees. I'm drinking solos again because I like the stronger taste and as I am not eating bread for breakfast I don't need the larger Americano to wash it down. Barb still likes the larger Americano. We talked about our options for going forward: staying here longer, taking a taxi or bus to the next day's stop, sending the pack on by a luggage shuttle service. From our understanding of the rhythm of the Way we knew there are no mistakes and if we pay attention all will make itself clear. So the next thing to do was to rest and take it easy and wait to see what showed up.

I went to the local supermarket to shop and Barb returned to our lovely hostel to write the guest blog. While it didn't look like much on the outside, our hostel is actually a large three story structure with rooms on every floor. Each room appears to have its own bathroom which is always a treat. A large well worn wooden staircase takes you between levels and the floors themselves are of Spanish tile. We have really enjoyed our room too. It has a table and two chairs for sitting and eating and a desk and chair for writing. I am always appreciative to have a place to write.

The supermarket had a plethora of goodies including rice cakes and goat cheese. Also the staples of oranges, nuts and dried fruit, and with fresh foods of watercress, carrots, cucumber, and a beautiful large red bell pepper. My only mistake was forgetting that in larger stores in Europe you are supposed to weigh and tag your produce before bringing it to the checkout stand. This error caused a backup in the line as the clerk had to go back and finish the task. I felt a bit embarrassed and regretful for holding up the line. I had the same experience in France but then the woman told me to go back and weigh and label the fruit I had bought. This was on my second leg of my journey through France and it had been several weeks since I'd been in a big town and going into that supermarket was overwhelming to my senses, attuned to the simplicity of the French Camino. When she asked me to come back with the fruit labeled, it was too much for me and I abandoned my apples and went on.

On returning to the Hostel Alma Barb and I feasted. Our treat was a bottle of lemon soda, something neither of us would normally drink, yet was a wonderful and fresh change from drinking so much water. Barb then read me her guest blog and I had fun listening to how I have grown in her perspective from my experience on the Way. I'm grateful to have such a loving mirror.

The afternoon moved on as I took a nap and Barb enjoyed the sun outside. After our siesta we went to find the Church of Santa Maria and the Albergue of the singing nuns. On the way to the church we met an elderly woman who gave us directions. She was kind and had a light about her. She asked after Barb's feet as she saw Barb was limping. She then went on and entered a convent that was on route. We conjectured over her being the Mother Superior of the convent. Regardless we felt she had given us blessing.

The church was beautiful. At a side alter was a statue of St. James with a place to light a candle. This was the first real candle in a Spanish church we'd seen. To date to light a candle meant to put in a coin and an electronic candle would light up. I don't have much interest in those. Barb and I both lit a real taper and said our own prayers to St. Diago. We then sat for a while in the quiet listening to a Gregorian Chant piped in over speakers on the wall. Then in contrast to this sacred moment came the priest or some caretaker and matter-of-factly did chores about the church including getting out an aluminum sliding ladder and sliding and banging it around. We laughed at the juxtaposition of these sacred and mundane moments.

After our meditative time we went out to the grass out in front and did our yoga practice. We seem to attract attention when we do so, which Barb likes and I am not adverse too either. I had checked out the singing nuns and when it came down to it neither of us was up for the socializing aspect that would have been a part of the experience. We were both in a more quiet internal space and being with a large group introducing ourselves seemed more than we wanted then.

Supper was again at the restaurant or cafeteria as they call it. Nothing looked particularly inviting but when Barb settled on Spaghetti Bolognese I opted for the Spaghetti Carminara, she having red sauce with meat, I white sauce with ham. It was very yummy. Again I had a beer and Barb vino tinto.

Home at our hostel for the night we both took long baths. Barb's foot was feeling better and we had bought some Epsom salts to soak our feet with. By the time I finished my bath Barb had turned out the light and was fast asleep. I read for a while and soon followed.

Part 2:

I woke up at 7:00 after a fabulous sleep and asked Barb how her foot was doing. She said "not so good, maybe I should try on my boot?" I said no need if your foot doesn't feel good let's stay another day and see what unfolds. As she was amenable I rolled over and went back to sleep for another two delicious hours. I think I might still be there if nature hadn't called me to get up.

We had a quiet morning breakfasting on fruit and nuts. As we were leaving the room we passed our hostess, a lovely lady, and I told her we needed to stay one more day as Barb's foot was hurt. She was sympathetic and kind. Just as we exited the hostel a van pulled up with the word "Angel" on it and a woman hopped out, passed us and grabbed a suitcase that was in the lobby. Barb and I looked at each other and she said, This is a sign... I can have my pack sent onto the next destination and walk tomorrow." So we made arrangements with the kind help of our hostess to have Barb's pack sent on and made a reservation at a CR there so it and we would have a place to go to. Many people do this with their luggage so they can enjoy walking without a heavy pack. Many of us like to carry our own weight, so to speak, yet it is also a blessing to have your weight carried for you when needed. And it was only 7 Euros to boot.

One of the lessons of the Way we have talked about recently is that each of us has permission to create our own experience of the Camino. Every pilgrim can mold the journey to their own needs and wishes. This has been an insight for me for on much of my last walk I thought there was a "way" to be on the "Way." And I went through some hardships because of my ideas around this. However, that is also part of lesson of the Way, you can grow and learn from your experiences and do it differently next time, as I am now doing.

Having the clarity now on how to move forward we felt a sense of ease. The day was ahead of us to enjoy and tomorrow we would begin our walk again. On our way to coffee we stopped in the pharmacy of the night before where we had bought the Epsom salts. This time Barb was looking for a foot brace and some kind of fiber to help her sluggish system. The woman who helped us was a different person from the pervious visit greeting us with her pretty face and sweet nature. When we got around to talking about the fiber she showed us several options, the final being a suppository, which she demonstrated its use by patting her bum. It was such a cute, funny and yet precious moment that we all burst our laughing and did so awhile. We both like the pharmacies here in France and Spain. They are small, individual, contained, efficient, and unique. So different from our CVS or Walgreens. This particular store was set up like an old apothecary with old fashioned jars decorating the walls.

On we went to our cafe on the square and had coffee. While sitting in the warming sun I read the last two entries of my time with Barb in France, completing the record of our trip together. As I read about saying goodbye to Barb, my then constant companion of 20 days on the Way, I again felt the strong emotions of the sadness of leaving Barb and fear of the unknown I faced once she was gone. Odd to reflect on that moment as I was sitting with her in this one. Both with their own equal footing in reality. I then began to read the entries that have never been published, those I wrote after leaving Le Puy on my own. Two years have passed. 0pening them up to read them for the first time since then was revealing. I'm now excited to read them again and to see what learnings and insights I recorded as I continued on the road to Santiago. As I was no longer writing for an audience I remember being more candid with my feelings and observations. In reading over these past entries I can see the possibility of writing a book about my adventures on the Camino.

Today we decided to have our main meal at lunch rather than in the evening. There was a restaurant near our place that only opened for breakfast and lunch and we had wanted to try it. We were taken to a sweet little dinning room with table laid with cloth, napkins, flatware and wine glasses. We each chose paella: me seafood and chicken and Barb vegetarian. Served on hot metal dishes it was very attractive and tasty. I even ate the inevitable green peas, something my friends and family know I generally detest. After lunch we headed over to the sweets store that advertised what looked like ice cream sundaes, something Barb has been craving. Sadly this picture of the sundae was only that and the only fare they offered was the packaged kind of bars and cones. I had a white choc almond ice cream bar which was delish. Barb had her heart set on the cup of ice cream and went away a bit disappointed.

After lunch we strolled down to the park, or I strolled and Barb limped. It was on the river and we stretched out on the bank in the shade. After awhile we did our stretches and sure enough others started showing up settling in our vicinity. I then did a healing for Barb's foot and could feel the "cold" spot that was at the center of her pain had begun to "thaw," the energy was flowing again. Later when she got up to return to the hostel, and I stayed behind to write in the park, she said that her foot felt much better! Yeah! Thank you, St. Jacques!

Now we have just finished our dinner of rice cakes, fresh veggies, tuna, and chocolate. I like eating lighter fare. My body seems to too. We are packing up to get an early start tomorrow as it is forecast to be a hot day. Once done I'll take a bath and go to bed. So it is now time to wish you all:

Buenas Noches Amigos!


     

Our hostel we're on the second floor window.Our front door. Florist, funeral home, and boutique near our hostel.

     

Our lovely room.

        

Village street leading to hostel. The Way out of town. River Park.

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Day 17: Rest Day on The Way Carrion de los Condes - 0 K

Today is our second rest day. This is Barb and I am guest blogger for today. I'd like to reflect on the changes I've seen in Will on this walk as compared to our first walk on The Way two years ago.

The changes I've seen are pretty dramatic. Two years ago, when we walked from Geneva to Le Puy, Will was like a young boy on a grand adventure. Many things were unfamiliar, and challenges were sometimes difficult to navigate. You can't escape from the lessons of The Way, so Will, like all of us pilgrims, was faced with "his stuff." He did his work and started growing up right before my very eyes. He had his ups and downs, and was able to observe himself and learn who he wanted to be going forward. I think one of my main roles on our trip together two years ago was to "hold the space" for him to have his experience, and be a witness and a mirror, not a rescuer!

Now fast forward to May 2014, where we are once again on The Way, half way along the Camino Frances, to our destination of Santiago. I am resting today because my right foot hurts, so I get to practice patience and trust. Will is gently caring for me.

Will has grown up on this trip. He is relaxed and open. Learning from last time, he prepared for this trip, and made sure he had the right boots and pack, two key essentials. He has an ease about him, and his joy and curiosity are infectious. In some ways our roles are reversed on this trip. I am having more challenges and Will is holding space for me to notice, release and navigate through, by gently supporting and reflecting what he sees. He is gracing me with his healing hands and heart.

It seems to me that Will has grown up on this trip. He is a grown man, fully occupying himself, taking responsibility for all that is. At the same time I am growing younger, letting go of being so responsible, becoming more spontaneous, playful and trusting. We are both moving in the 'right' direction!

Our friendship brings out the best in us. I can't imagine anyone more perfect with whom to travel the amazing Camino. We see each other and we know what's possible for one another. You can't hide out on The Way and we can't hide from each other. Yes, Will has grown up into a beautiful man and watching him walk The Way with grace, ease and confidence is both joyful and inspirational.

Thank you, dearest fellow pilgrim and friend.


  

Lilies at Altar. Prayers to St. James.

     

Barb does "goddess" with Mary. Will does yoga with Mary.

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Day 16: The Path Less Walked Day Boadillo del Camino to Carrion de los Condos - 31K

Had the best sleep of the Walk yet. When I napped in the afternoon the bed had welcomed and cuddled me in and last night it gave me the warmest deepest sleep in a long time. It was delicious.

We stopped by the Albergue of the night before and had a large cup of good coffee. The place was almost empty, most pilgrims already on their way. Barb wanted another but it never showed up so we took off into a lovely early summer day.

The path soon led us by a small canal which we followed to the next town. Here we stopped for a coffee and a snack. Our new routine is to stop for a break every 5K and eat something every 10K. This way we're nourishing our bodies on a regular basis and breaking up the walk in segments making the whole journey more enjoyable.

The route took us again along the main highway. To my surprise there were other pilgrims now both ahead and behind us. Wow, I thought, the Camino is getting busier and I started projecting out into the future that the long quiet hikes of the Way, seeing only an occasional pilgrim, were a thing of the past for me. At that moment a couple of women were ahead of me talking and feeling frustrated I decided to listen to music I'd downloaded to my phone, the first time I've done so on this trip. I'd asked several friends for suggestions for upbeat tunes and my friend Kathryn had given me a number of great choices that I began to listen to. Immediately I felt happier and got my joyful step back into my feet. It also put me in touch with her spirit and I was so glad to experience her presence with me on the Way. I realized how much I missed her.

Soon we came to a sign showing an alternate route available. The direction we had been heading would have continued to follow the highway to Carrion de los Condos about 18K from where we were. The other choice took us along a small river and though it would add a little extra time we opted for this way.

The walk was one of the sweetest to date. The path meandered along with the stream not only giving us shade from the trees that lined the route but also a symphony of sound from the birds, insects and frogs. The frogs got my attention and as I looked down amongst the reeds I could see frogs happily swimming and playing in the water below. There were two literally playing leap frog with one another, these I named Bill and Lil, then another showed up and she was Jill. Barb and I had fun laughing with the frogs, our namesakes and we thought of Kathryn's sister Jill having fun with us in our silly way.

We sauntered along until the next little town which had a playground and shelter for us to rest in. We filled our water containers and had a snack break. There were two pilgrims in sleeping bags snoozing in the shade. These were the only two we'd seen since talking the alternate path. Though, soon one more pilgrim showed up also in search of a rest stop. He was from Germany and wore shoes with toes. I asked him how he liked them and he replied that once he got used to them he thought they gave better support than his conventional boots. I've been curious about this new kind of footwear and may try it on a future trek. We both liked his gentle spirit and were glad to make a connection with him.

The next stage of our day's journey continued along the river and we had it all to ourselves. When we reached the next break it was time to leave it behind and take to the blacktop again. However, by now we only had 7K to our destination and had enjoyed a quiet and tranquil country walk without any distractions. I thought well even if the Way is getting busier, magical moments, as today's walk showed me, are always possible.

The last 6K into Carrion de los Condos were hard. We had already done over 25K and by now it was 3:00 and the heat was at a peak. It had been warm and sunny but once by the highway again it became hot and a bit oppressive. Barb's right foot which has been bothering her all day was getting more painful and we debated going on. However, being the trooper she is, she bucked up and did what she had to, and as she said to me, she is good at it! I put on my sunglasses for the first time as the glare was intense. My feet were getting tired and I put my earphones in again listening to Leonard Cohen's music as I slogged the last k's into town.

When we arrived we saw a number of pilgrims, some walking around the town others sitting at cafes having a beer after their day's exertions. We no longer had our guide book to consult so we followed signs for hostels and hotels. We tried several and found them to be full. Our wandering took us through town and almost out again when we saw one hostel but were not drawn to staying there. Back we went towards the town center hoping to find something better. We did find a small one star hotel but it too was full. I asked the porter for suggestions on another place and he directed us back to the hostel we had just turned our noses up at. We of course laughed at the irony of it and I said now we were returning as beggars not choosers.

Once there I rang the buzzer and waited for a response of "sorry, we are full." However, not only did they have a room for us, but it turned out to be one of the nicer accommodations we have had to date, complete with a large lovely tub for soaking. We were so happy to have a room for the night as we had begun to wonder what we would do if all the inns were full. One further anecdote was that the porter who directed us here had followed us to make sure we did secure a place for the night. The kindness we have encountered on the Way has been wonderful and greatly appreciated.

We settled into our ritual of bathing, washing clothes and stretching. The simple tasks at the end of a day of walking are a delight and comfort in and of themselves. We take our time and when finished it offers a sense of completeness for the day.

Barb's foot was now such that she couldn't walk comfortably on it. We limited our evenings excursion to the nearby vicinity of our hostel, where we found a small grocery and a restaurant. We had a table outside looking out on the town square and though getting cooler the temp was still pleasant. We ordered a mixed salad with delicious asparagus, pimento peppers, red ripe tomatoes, tuna and sadly of course iceberg lettuce, the bane of our existence when wanting real greens. Along with our salad we enjoyed a dish of sauted mushrooms and a small pepperoni pizza. I had a beer and Barb red wine with the meal. We were delighted with the fare and left for our hostel full and happy.

Back at our cozy suite we conferred about the next day. One of our reasons for coming to Carrion de los Condos was to hear the Benedictine nuns at one of the Albergues sing, which they do every evening at 5:00. We had arrived too late today to hear them and Barb wished greatly to have that experience. Furthermore, her foot needed a good rest and we had not taken a rest day since we were in St. Millan, so we decided to stay on tomorrow and hear the nuns in the afternoon. As we prepared for bed we again looked back on our day with wonderment on how our day unfolded and how lovely it is to trust that all we need is coming our way on the Way.

With that we turned out the lights and said to our readers:

Hasta Manana Amigos!


     

Spanish colors on the Way. St. J. de Compestella. Store's nest.

        

End of a fine meal. Dinner in Spain.

     

Barb at rest.

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Day 15: Finding joy in agony day Castrojeriz - Baodilla del Camino 18 K

Though I had my own room, I slept fitfully. Was up at 4:00 and read until 5:00 when I was able to sleep again until 7:00. Got up and finished yesterday's blog and by 9:00 we were on our way.

The CR didn't serve breakfast so we went to a cafe to have a coffee. Neither of us wanted bread today so we settled for a piece of fruit. It seems since Burgos our appetite has abated a bit and we aren't as ravenous at as we were the first two weeks on the Way. We both want lighter meals and today we had only nuts and fruits, both fresh and dried, until we had dinner at our destination.

Our walk soon took us to a long climb up a steep hill that ended on a plateau which is common here on the Maseta. It was a good steady 20 minute hike up a 12% grade and it took focusing to keep a steady pace. At the top we were rewarded with a magnificent view of the surrounding landscape. There were a number of pilgrims on the Way this morning and when I reached the hill top there were more there too. Usually Barb and I miss the crowds in the morning.

The path took us across the flat land for a short while before descending again into a beautiful green valley. This time it was an 18% grade decline. From the top looking at the path winding its way through the valley below, brought the image of a "Hobbit Hiway" to my mind. We followed the Hobbit Hiway as it snaked through fields of ripening green wheat. There were pilgrims ahead and pilgrims behind and I felt a bit cramped for the first time on either of my Camino treks.

When we reached the end of the valley there was a place to rest. Again here was a gaggle of pilgrims as well as some locals offering fruit, drinks and snacks for a donation. I got us a couple of oranges and a banana. The oranges here been particularly delicious: Valencias, sweet and tart.

I was going to take a peeps, as we call a call to nature, when I heard Barb call out to me....."I've lost the guide book and my pack cover!" Oh...Oh! When I returned she said both had been in the side pocket of her pack where she'd kept both for the last two weeks without incident. We always check our packs prior to leaving any stop, making sure we have all important items accounted for. Both had been there when we left the CR this morning. Both were packed in tight, really impossible to fall out on their own. And if they had fallen out since we left, someone behind Barb would have seen it and retrieved it for us. We believe it was one of the mysterious disappearances that happen on the Way. It's part of the process of learning to let go of an attachment. Both were items that Barb was particularly attached to.

In my experience it is hard to loose something on the Way. I begin the journey with as few items as possible to lighten my load and what I do keep often has significance. When it goes missing there is a definite sense of frustration and questioning of myself. Why wasn't I more conscious and careful? How did I miss that? Etc. Yet, usually there is a lesson to be gleaned not the least of which is to be kind and forgiving of myself. It also can lead me to a deeper level of trusting. Though to date only one sock on this trip has gone awol, I lost several items on the last pilgrimage and it was very challenging for me.

Barb, though upset at first, soon found a place of peace around the loss of the guide book and her pack cover. The guide book could be replaced in Leon the next big city as can the pack cover. And the good news is the weather is not predicting rain for a while and we can borrow a guide from other pilgrims if needed.

The rest of the afternoon was overcast and pleasant. The walking was mostly on flat ground as the Mesata stretched out before us in its verdant beauty. We stopped for lunch by a canal enjoying a break while more pilgrims continued to walk by. By 3:30 we had reached Boadilla del Camino our stop for the night.

Barb had heard that the Albergue here was particularly good and worth checking out for a stay and a meal. When we arrived I was despairing of a place for us as it was jammed with pilgrims signing in for the night. Fortune was with us though, and we were able to get a double room at the CR that has recently been added to this Alburgue. It was a brand new facility and we were very happy with our accommodations.

While Barb showered I feel asleep for an hour and a half. I hadn't realized I was so tired and I felt much refreshed on waking. After I showered and washed my clothes we headed back to the Albergue proper with a lovely grassy lawn inside the courtyard. Barb lead us in yoga stretches and soon several other pilgrims joined us. Barb said she was sure she was a yoga teacher in some other reality.

At 7:00 dinner was served in a large room with long tables. The place was full and we found the last two empty spots at one of the tables. To my left was a young man from Lithuania while to Barb's right was a woman from Daytona Beach Florida. This was the man's first pilgrimage and the woman's third walk on the Way. We all agreed that there is something "addictive" about the Camino, it gets under your skin in a good way that keeps you wanting to keep coming back. Furthermore the Camino gets an increase of 10% more people walking every year. Again we heard from those who had walked this before that this year they saw more pilgrims than ever.

The meal was good for pilgrims' fare. Delicious lentil soup, fish with salad, and an ice cream bar for dessert. With wine it was only 9 Euros. Certainly is cheaper to walk in Spain than in France.

After our meal we came back to our lovely abode. I wrote up the day's adventure and Barb read as is our custom. Now I am looking forward to a deep sleep and wish you all:

Buenas Noches Amigos!

P.S. When I tried to send this entry to Kerry this morning it would not transmit, though another entry which I send by mistake did go though, and I wondered why this would be the case? What I have learned on the Way it that there seems to e a reason for everything so I had a sense that it would later become clear. Well half way through the walk this morning I discovered the reason why....I too had lost something important to me yesterday.....after Barb's items went missing....a small pocket knife that I must have left behind when we had our lunch break by the canal. A pocket knife that I was attached to. Once discovered this I understood the reason for the entry not sending....the story was not complete.


     

So far away!. The Hobbit Hiway. Barb happy after tragedy.

     

Pilgrim on top of hill.Pilgrim's shoes at rest.

     

Will and Barb at Albergue.

     

Will and Barb at Albergue. return to top of page

Day 14: First Summer Day on the Way Day : Hontonas to Castrojeriz 10K

Slept quite well last night. Woke up at 7:30 and Barb had already been up for half an hour. We went down to breakfast, which had been laid out for us in the dining room of the CR. The usual of bread and jam, coffee and this time small fried egg sandwiches. We met with Richard again, the guest of the night before. He said he was just going as far as the next town today, as he wanted to take an easier pace.

We were packed up and on our way by 9:30. We anticipated a cool morning, but it was already warming up and soon I was just in a t-shirt. The first for this early in the day.

The walk was quiet and lovely. I gave Barb a lesson on how to use her Pacer Poles more effectively and that seemed to help both her walking and her right foot which had been hurting the day before.

Our first stop was the ruins of the old monastery of St. Anton, about 5k down the road from where we stayed the night. St. Anton was a hermit from France who had come to live in Spain and as happened with St. Millan a group of other renunciates followed him and a community of brothers was formed. This group of monks were known for their healing abilities especially to cure St. Anthony's Fire, a skin disease that could eventually be fatal. They healed the sufferers malady through prayer and love. St. Anton was also known for being the patron saint of animals.

On reaching the spot we saw the door to the old monastery was closed with a sign saying they would be back in 20 minutes. We were ready for a break anyway and had a snack while we waited. As we sat there our friend the troubadour came by saying he was going to stay here today and catch up on his laundry. Apparently this place was also a hostel for pilgrims. After a while a couple of elderly men came and opened up the place and we were able to go in and see what remained of the monastery. It had a lovely feeling and I enjoyed spending a bit of time there.

The morning continued to warm up and by the time we reached our mid day stop at Castrojeriz it was sunny and in the upper 70s. This was a wonderful treat to have such great weather, especially when this time of year is known for being cooler and rainy. Our first summer day on the Way.

This was also another sleepy Camino town. It seems the Spanish like to lay low until there is reason to party when they come alive with a passion. In need of some picnic food we bought some cheese and bread at a bar/store on the town square. I decided to have a beer with my lunch as I had seen other pilgrims do. It was delicious and didn't seem to affect me adversely and my excuse was it would offer good calories for the hike.

By 1:30 we were on our way out of town again. As we passed the sign for the Castillo, the castle that dominated the hill that looked over the town, we both stopped and said it would be neat to go visit it. As it was a fair distance up the hill we hadn't thought it worth the effort with our heavy packs on. However, Barb, reading my mind, suggested we could stay in the town for the night and go exploring instead of moving on. I agreed and was thrilled that we were able to be so spontaneous.

Heading back into town, retracing our steps, something pilgrims usually don't do, we went looking for a place to stay. We'd seen a CR back in town we thought might be nice. On the way we saw a sign for another CR and while reading it a woman came out and invited us in. We took this as a sign and followed her into what would be our residence for the night.

As the rates were very reasonable we decided to have the luxury of having our own rooms for the night. I had one upstairs with a skylight and a window overlooking the town's roofs, while Barb's room on the second floor came with balcony terrace. Barb wrote post cards and I took a brief nap before went for our hike up to the old Castille.

The climb was steep and the views became more and and more spectacular. When we reached the old fortress we could see how this spot was useful in the days of constant warfare as it was well situated to defend the territory around it. The castle had once been a Roman fort and over many centuries had been added onto, the last time in the 15h century when cannon were added to the defenses.

Barb and I explored the ruins ending up on the highest parapet with sweeping views over the countryside. In the distance we could see windmills, the modern kind that were taking advantage of the winds that blow across the Maseta. It was sunny and warm and we took a short nap before heading back to town again.

Now it was late afternoon and there were more people in the town square. We saw our friend Richard who was staying at another CR nearby. I stopped in a small store that sold a myriad of odds and ends for pilgrims and bought a pair of sunglasses. Though I don't usually wear them as the brim of my hat will keep the sun from my eyes, the glare of the sun off the path was so intense the past two days that I thought I needed some extra protection.

Our plan for dinner that evening was to have a picnic on the terrace outside of Barb's bedroom and we went in search of a grocery store. On route we discovered this little sign that said "Hospital for the Soul" hanging outside a door on the main street. We looked inside and found an invitation to come in and spend time contemplating the meaning of Walking the Camino. A series of photographs entitled "Following Your Shadow," showed different aspects of pilgrims learning about themselves on the Camino. There were also comfortable places to sit and rest and meditate quietly if you wished. The exhibition went on through several rooms in the house both up and downstairs. Out back there was a beautiful garden with chairs for relaxing. There were a couple of pilgrims enjoying the peace and quiet in late afternoon sun. Yet another piece of magic on the Way.

After asking a few locals for directions we found the supermarket. While short of fresh vegetables, we did end up with some wonderful food to feast on including a great bottle of red wine from the Rioja region. Our walk back to the CR took us from the lower part of town through a series of stairs and alleys to the upper town where we stayed. These old Spanish villages are fun to explore.

Our hosts were gracious and gave us plates, forks, and glasses for us to enjoy our meal with. There was a table on the patio and we set ourselves up with olives, artichokes, sardines, tuna fish, and a local dish of garbanzo beans with sausage for dinner, washing it down with our bottle of delicious red wine. I read a couple more of our blogs entries from our last trip in France. I was drinking the majority of the bottle and by the time it was gone I was almost too.

It had been a great day. We were proud of our ability to be spontaneous and be in the rhythm of the Way. We have plenty of time to get to Santiago and beyond. Being present to what is in front of us and trusting what is being offered was a breakthrough for us both. I told Barb how glad I wasn't able to make it to Santiago two years ago, because even if my feet had allowed, my schedule then would have rushed me through this part of the Camino and I would have missed the whole purpose of the journey.

I bid Barb good night and went up to my room and took a nice long hot shower. I wrote for a while before succumbing to sleep myself and so will have to say to you all now:

Hasta Manana Amigos!


     

Will and his buddy St. J. Will with a lunch beer.

     

Castrojeriz and convent and castle. The hospital of the soul.

     

Barb in reverie. Barb's castle.

     

Castle keep. Crest I'd St. Anton. View of village.

     

Inside St. Anton's.

           

St. Anton's 11th Century Monestary.

     

Will over the plain in Spain. Two ancient pilgrims returning to their cloister.

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Day 13, Blessed Spanish Mother's Day on the Way Day Tardajos to Hontanas 21K

Woke up several times last night. Felt a lot of energy and wasn't able to sleep deeply. By 6:30 was wide awake reading until Barb awoke about 7:30. We did stretches until 8:15 then went down for breakfast.

Christina, who served us, looked tired. She was busy last night and probably didn't get much sleep. We had a simple meal of toast, jam, coffee and slices of cheese and ham with soft rolls. We ate the bread and jam with our coffee and took the cheese and ham for lunch. As we ate I read more of our French trip's blog entries and we reflected back on how that trek differed from our current journey.

Christina had washed our clothes the day before but they weren't dry by the time we left. We had clean but damp clothes to pack up. Fortunately we had dry gear to wear and all was well.

The day began cold and I had on a pair of silk long underwear when we left the old mill. However, soon I was stripping off layers as the day became warm and sunny. Sunday morning the small country villages were even quieter than usual. Barb remarked how she liked Sundays on the Camino. They had a special feeling for her, she said.

As we left Tradajos the terrain began to change as we stepped onto the Maseta, the part of the Camino that passes through an unchanging landscape with fields of grain, wheat on better soil or barley and oats on rockier terrain, as far as the eye could see. Nothing breaking up the view with the exception of a few isolated trees scattered hither and yon.

Some people find this part of the walk monotonous and boring. I love it as does Barb. To me this part of the Way holds a very special energy. Maybe my sleep was shallow last night because I was anticipating being here today.

The weather was beautiful. Clear blue skies and no clouds in sight. A breeze that kept it temperate. Today's walking was the best yet for me. I was coming into a rhythm and stride of walking the Way. For the first time my feet felt like they were floating on the earth, gliding from one kilometer to the next. Later I laughingly told Barb I'd completed my Camino training today and I was now ready to walk it.

We passed other pilgrims, some we had seen before, most new to us. Stopping for lunch in one of the villages on the Mesata, near the church on the town's little plaza, we saw other pilgrims eating or resting as we were. Watching them, Barb expressed her loved for them.

While the pilgrims change through the ages, these villages have remained the same since the middle ages. Now, as then, they depend on the trade of the pilgrims for their survival.

After lunch we walked for another 2.5 hours to our evenings destination of Hontanas. Being in my stride I was loving the experience of walking without feeling any pain anywhere. Another first!

Though the Way was quiet and I saw few people on the path, I was also aware of a parallel reality where the Camino was packed with pilgrims not only those on foot but also those traveling with horses, donkeys and carts. It was a joyous atmosphere, this mass of humanity headed to the great church in Santiago. Having made it this far on their arduous journey they'd a sense their travails would soon be at an end. I saw myself wearing the robes of a monk, shorn in sandals and carrying a staff.

From time to time in this present reality I'd hear footsteps behind me only to look and see nothing, or hear a voice and turn to look back into empty space. The guide book describes the Mesata as a quiet and even lonely part of the Way. I found it to be just the opposite!

We reached Hontanas about 4:15. It is a lovely little village tucked into the folds of the Mesata. We didn't see it until we came right upon it as we came over the hill. It seemed busy with Pilgrims milling about, lots of happy conversations at the various outdoor cafes. There were two Casa Ruals in town and we stopped at the first to inquire about rooms. In luck we were taken up to the top floor room where our windows looked out at the bell tower across the town square. We were delighted with it.

After showering and doing our stretches we went out for a walk on the town. Our wanderings took us to a point with a great view of the village and the surrounding countryside. Across from us, happily eating grass, we spied the first pilgrim we'd met on the way out of Pamplona. A sweet little horse drawing a two wheeled cart with his master to Santiago. This was our third encounter with him. The second time being when we passed through San Juan de Ortega the day before hitting Burgos. While sitting there another pilgrim bid us hello first in Spanish and then in English. We'd also met him several days prior and being young, handsome and French he proceeded to charm Barb with his stories and manners. Of course I was immune to his charms as he wasn't paying attention to me! When I'd first seen him several days prior, I'd named him the troubadour and now thought the appellation fit well.

It was getting onto 7:00 and we were hungry. Bard didn't much care which restaurant as she believed the fare would all be the same. We settled on the one in our CR and were both pleased with our meal of fried eggs, ham, and French fries. I had a beer and Barb wine.

While eating we chatted with the only other guest who told us this was his third pilgrimage on the Camino Francaise, the route we were waking. Among other things we learned was that we must try the octopus when we get to Galacia, the specialty dish of the region. He also informed us that today was Mother's Day in Spain. This made Barb feel happy especially when the proprietress brought her a bouquet of flowers at the meal's end to honor her as a Mom. It had felt like a very blessed day and knowing it was Mother's Day here on the Camino seemed to top it all off.

Full and happy we came up to our room where I improvised a table to write the blog while Barb took a brief nap before reading a bit. Now she is fast asleep and it is time for me to say:

Hasta Manana Amigos!


     

Will with mill stone. Pilgrim on the Way. Pretty chapel on the Way.

     

Spanish Poppy. Spanish town on the Mesta. Yellow on green on the Mesata.

     

Three Village streets.

     

Barb and our first pilgrim friend at Hontanas. Hontanas in the background.

     

One more k to go! The Spanish Camino:the flair of Spain and the simplicity of the Way. Barb receives Mother's day in Spain bouquet.

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Day 12: Happy to be back in the country Day Burgos to Tardajos - 11K

Didn't have a great sleep last night. Maybe it was being self conscious about not hogging the bed with Barb sharing the other half, or not having enough rest between walking, writing and eating, but by 7:00 I was awake thinking I needed to get up and finish the previous day's blog. As the table I used the night before would be taken with breakfast customers this morning I had to find a way to improvise to write. I settled on the little foot stool as a table top and sat cross legged in front of it to blog. Barb was still sleeping so I was writing in the dark. It surprised me how well I have learned to type for I couldn't see the keyboard.

Writing this blog has been both a wonderful gift and a challenge. I find writing to be a great creative practice and once engaged I can lose myself happily in it. However, the pressure of keeping up daily is trying at times. There are days when I can't write for various reasons and when I have two entries to catch up on it can be very hard. I usually spend about 2-3 hours writing and editing each entry. Though this seems like a lot it's almost half of the time it took me on the last pilgrimage when I was doing all the writing on my phone by thumb!

I am always happy when an entry is completed and sent off to Kerry to publish, and am always feeling pressured when I have it hanging over me to complete. I sometimes feel resentment that I've got homework ahead of me after a long day of walking. Yet, I know if I let more than two entries get ahead of me I'm sunk. I won't ever catch up. So this is my current "smoothing of stones" for this trip, that which creates the wearing down of my ego and opening to humility and grace. All things which a pilgrim can be grateful to learn on the journey.

Speaking of humility Barb was the other day telling me the word humility comes from humus, the Latin for earth. By walking the earth we learn humility and come closer to our true natures. I liked this as it reminded me of a favorite Taoist saying: the goal of the sage is to be like water, the softest element, which always flows to the lowest place, and is yielding, yet nothing resists its force. To be humble is to be in the flow of life.

After finishing the blog entry around 9:00 we went for breakfast at a local cafe. Our usual fare of coffee, croissant and Spanish omelet. I went back to our hotel and packed (Barb had already done so) while she went to buy food for the day. When I finished I noticed I was missing one of the socks I wore the night before. As I take off my socks prior to sleeping I knew I'd left them on the floor last night. However, after going through all my stuff twice I couldn't find it. I have always had a hunch there was a sock elf, for often socks come up missing even when living a "normal" stay-at-home existence. I always attributed it to being eaten by the washing machine. Yet, now I had proof! When Barb came back I asked for her help and she too went through all my stuff, item by item and found nothing. Ok, it has been documented, I said. There does exist a sock elf! What a collection he must have. I also laughed because they were my "vanity" socks, ankle socks that I didn't really need to bring but did so because they made my legs look good when wearing shorts! Oh well says Barb, that explains it, your vanity is being challenged on the Way. Another opportunity to shed a layer of the ego onion.

We checkout of the hotel about 11:00. As we were leaving the young woman of yesterday and her mother were inquiring into staying there a night. It was the daughter's birthday today and they were looking for someplace special to stay, preferably one with a bathtub. Our one star hotel didn't offer tubs.

We left to go see the Cathedral of Burgos. On the way there we stopped for cash at an ATM. We didn't know when we would be in a large town again. Also on the look out for a store that sold artisan chocolate as we'd been spoiled by the chocolate bar that we'd bought in Santo Domingo and were in need of replenishment. We did find one store but the proprietress annoyed Barb with her admonishments to be mindful of our packs in her shop; Barb wanted to tell her to chill. We later laughed at that.

The Cathedral required purchasing a ticket. As we were pilgrims we got a discount. Lockers were available for our packs and were able to visit the church unencumbered. It was an incredible structure and we had hand held sets that offered us a guided tour of the building. However, it was too much to take in and we soon abandoned the tour in favor of just walking around on our own. While both of us were struck with the beauty of the outside of the Cathedral, we thought the inside was too ornate and somewhat garish for our tastes.

The church had first been the site of the royal palace of the king of Castile and Leon. In the 11th century the then king offered the land to the church to build the first cathedral. Later in the 15th century the old Romanesque structure was torn down and the present beautiful Gothic church replaced it. The architect who designed it studied the cathedrals in France and created a church that incorporated the best of all their elements. From then until the 18th century additions to the building were made so it now contains a mix of everything from Gothic to Baroque architecture.

By the time we finished the tour we were both ready to be on our way. The tranquility of the Camino seemed to have faded after our city stay and we were eager to be in the peace and quiet of the Way again. It took another hour to reach the outskirts of town and when we got to the fields and dirt paths we breathed a deep sigh of relief.

The sun had been intermittent and the wind steady so it was chilly walking. I was ready to blow out my carburetor and took off at a steady pace for an hour, happy to feel the earth under my feet again. We stopped for lunch, having a medley of vegetables with our bread and cheese. We had watercress greens from Barb's shopping trip that morning, an avocado we'd been carrying for a few days and now ripened, and our second batch of sprouts that Barb had brilliantly thought to add to our diet on the Way.

Because one of the drawbacks of the Way is getting enough veggies, especially on the Spanish Camino, Barb figured out a way to grow broccoli sprouts as we walked. With a small burlap bag she carries on her pack, she waters the seeds three times a day and by day four we have fresh sprouts to enjoy with our lunch meals. Rightly so she is very proud of her achievement and it gives us needed nutrition.

After lunch we walked for another hour and a half. We hadn't planned to go more than 10K today as we got a late start from Burgos. Though we had thought to stop at a village further up the road, Barb spied a sign for a hostel that she had a good feeling about. It was now around 4:00 and I was happy to be done for the day.

The place was called La Fabrica which meant Mill. It once was an old flour and grain mill that had been converted to an Albergue. We received a wonderful reception from the owner Christina who was lovely herself. She and her family had bought the place when it was nothing but a ruin and shell of its former self and transformed it into a first class hostel. We had a comfortable room with two beds and terrific shower. Everything being new, as theyd opened for business only on April 5, not even a month before.

We put in our order for dinner, Barb fish and veggies and me grilled steak. Then I went up to the room and took a delicious nap. Oh that was what I needed to set me right. Then we came downstairs and the place was packed with what I guessed to be friends, all drinking, talking and enjoying themselves immensely. Barb and I were seated in an adjacent room and served our meal. Once again another winner. Barb was delighted to finally have a plate of veggies with the best fillet of fish to date on this trip, melt in your mouth tender and sweet. My steak was superb and the wine excellent. We struck gold yet again!

Barb had said it was her wish before going on the Camino to find places to stay that were not yet discovered and she had much luck on both her trips in France. Now her intuition came into play again and we scored. Lucky me!

While we waited for our meal I read the blog entries from our walk on the French Chamin in 2012. Beginning from Day 1, "The never ending day" we continued reading through to Day 11, when our meal arrived. It was fun for us to relive the memories and experiences of our first pilgrimage together. We had such a great time then as we are now, though of course there were challenges then, as now, that flavored our experience.

Looking back I have great compassion for myself on that trip and for the hard lessons I learned. Fortunately I've now benefited from those experiences and need not learn them again!

In reading the blog I saw that I had trouble with my feet beginning from day one, something I had forgotten. I am so grateful that my feet, while sore at times at day's end, have not pained me to any degree near what I suffered on the last pilgrimage. Loosing a sock seems like a very minor thing in contrast, thought the journey is only a third through. Remember Humus not Hubris!

Well it is now 11:15 and I have been writing for 2 hours and editing for 1, happily I may add. Yet, tomorrow is another day and will come all too quickly so I must wind up for the night dear readers. Therefore I bid you:

Buenas Noches Amigos!


     

Mill stones. Barb and St.James. Barb at breakfast.

     

La Fabrica.

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Day 11: Big City Day on the Way Day Ajes to Borgos - 25K

Wonderful deep sleep last night. Harmonious group of pilgrims in our attic. No waking from someone snoring, a first for me on either trip when staying at a hostel. Barb was up a few minutes afore me around 6:45. Some folks were still sleeping and others had already quietly left not waking us. We packed up for the day and went downstairs for a "real" breakfast of fried eggs and bacon for me and eggs and croissant for Barb. The food was great with the exception of the croissant: it was the worst yet on either journey. We of course had a good laugh about it for we are croissant snobs.

We were joined at breakfast by a pilgrim from Austria, Robert, who'd just arrived from San Juan de Ortega, the Albergue up the hill where he'd spent the night. He told us staying there was by far the worst hostel experience he'd had after pilgrimaging 2500K of agthe Way. (3 years ago, from his front door in Austria, he started the journey and has walked consecutive parts of the Camino each year.) He told us when he awoke that morning the mattress was cold, damp and wet. He also complained of the "old women, which Barb and I wondered about. The proprietress of our Albergue and restaurant was a sweet buxom country woman and as Robert was talking she teasingly and lovingly held his head her arms comforting him saying it wasn't all that bad. Though she didn't speak English, she understood it and spoke to him in Spanish which I was able to translate. Later in the morning when I thought back on the interaction, I realized that the "old women" he spoke of may have been the spirits of the nuns who once lived there. Maybe they were having a bit of fun with him?

Robert also showed us some pictures he'd taken that morning on the way down the mountain and they were amazing shots of crop circles! They hadn't been there the evening before when we walked down the hill. Very interesting and special!

We left Ajes by 8:00 one of our earlier starts. The sky was blue with lots of high clouds. It was nippy yet looked like it would become a beautiful sunny day later. As we walked we joined a stream of pilgrims heading west. Early morning is the time of day when we are most in mass together. The Spanish family of 6 were walking too and we said hi to one another as we walked.

We climbed one more big hill before getting to Bergos. On the way we passed large prehistoric monolithic stones standing together by the path. There were signs telling of the people, who looked aboriginal that had once lived there. The land and the large hill we climbed felt special to us.

On the hill top we had a magnificent view of Burgos in the distance and the beginning of the Mesada, the large plateau that makes up two thirds of the Iberian peninsula. Our walk tomorrow would start the second stage of the Camino, the long flat trek on the Mesda, the emotionally and mentally challenging part of the walk or so we were told. On the hilltop was a large cross that had been erected as well as a lovely labyrinth, the first we had seen here. Barb walked to the middle of it where I took her picture.

We had expected the weather to warm up as the morning progressed but instead it became colder and I had to put on more layers. It was intermittently sunny but the wind was blowing hard. It felt the most like a winter day that we'd yet experienced.

The rest of walk to Burgos was long. As we approached the city we started to see more and more graffiti on buildings and walls, sure sign of civilization. We had hoped to find the suggested route that bypassed the industrial and urban part of the town but it wasn't in the cards. We ended up going through them both which gave us a full on sense of Bugos.

On route we met a young woman from the Albergue the night before. She was traveling with her mother and they had taken different paths into town and so she walked with us. A chatty Cathy she talked Barb's ear off while I went ahead scoping out the yellow arrows that pointed to direction of the Way. It took several hours to reach the city center and the old part of town. By now it was about 2:30 and the streets were getting empty as people in Spain take their afternoon siestas.

We said goodbye to our young friend, she was going to stay at the municipal Albergue near the Cathedral while we went in search of a hotel. After trying several who told us they were "completo" or full we found one that still had one double. The only catch was that it was a double bed and we'd have to share it. Oh well, we'd slept together on the last Camino and needed a place for the night.

The room was small but sufficient. We showered, washed our clothes and stretched. I then went to the breakfast area in the hotel which had tables where I could comfortably write. I caught up with one day's blog though had a technical issue with the keyboard halfway through it. The "c's", "v's", "x's," and "z's" would no longer type! I puzzled over this for awhile wondering how Kerry would be able to edit the writing when those letters were missing. Fortunately later I discovered that the key board on the phone screen also worked and I could manually type in the missing characters. Yeah problem solved.

It was getting onto 8:00 when we left to eat. On exiting the hotel we were accosted by the energy of the busy crowds that were now filling the streets. Where it had been empty when we checked in it was now packed with busy shoppers and people enjoying a Friday night on the town. For pilgrims used to the solace of the Way it was quite a shock and I remembered how it took me some time to readjust to city life after my last walk two years prior.

The receptionist at our hotel recommended a restaurant nearby and showed us the route on a city map. We were proud of ourselves for finding it. On the way we passed the Cathedral of Burgos which must be the most beautiful of any I've ever seen.

The restaurant was packed. Downstairs was the bar with some tables while the dining room was above. Directed up the stairs we left our name, Guillermo (William) and went back down to wait for them to call us which they did in about 10 minutes.

The dining room was a bustle of talking and activity. Lots of passion in the Spanish culture and it shows up everywhere; something we have enjoyed being a part of. Seated at a long table with another Spanish couple we tackled the menu. Some of it I could understand while much was unintelligible to me. However, with my handy translator on the phone, the kindness of our table-mates, who let us taste one of their dishes, and the limited English of our waitress we succeeded in ordering a feast.

Starting with the best fried calamari ever to cross our taste buds, we proceeded to a salmon dish that was incredible accompanied by a salad that was as delicious as it was varied in its ingredients, one of which I believe was eel. Though Barb didn't want to believe that, for though tasty, she couldn't imagine eating eel. So we pretended it was something else. I had a beer with my food while Barb had Sangria which was fabulous. We finished our amazing meal with an equally amazing dessert that our waitress recommended. A sweet creamy custard of a flavor I'd never experienced before. The custard was complimented by a small chocolate cake and cookie that was a perfect foil to the sweet cream. And the whole meal was only 33 Euros, about a third of what it would have cost us in the States.

It was 10:00 when we finally left to head back to the hotel. We were full and happy and grateful that our day's adventures had led us to that restaurant which was a highlight of this trip so far.

Back at the hotel I went to write some more of the blog while Barb read. I finished around 12:00 and came back to find Barb sleeping and soon I joined her, our third time sleeping together in 20 years of friendship!

Buenas Noches Amigos!


     

The Way. Albergue sign.

           

Cathederal at Burgos.

        

Barb in Labyrinth.The yellow rose of the Way.

           

Burgos in distance. Vista Of Burgos. The Queen in her colors. Pilgrim's foot warn through.

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Day 10: May Day on the Way Day Borlorado to Ajes - 26K

A fitful sleep last night. The hotel didn't have any heat on and I awoke with a chill. Not wanting to leave the covers to get my hat for I feared getting even colder, I snuggled my head under the covers and to my amazement I was able to comfortably fit my full long self inside! The bed had elongated to accommodate me!

The beds on the Way, in France and Spain, are small twin beds no longer than 6 feet. I'm 6'2" and usually there is some of me sticking off somewhere. That I could be fully stretched out under the covers comfortably without sticking a foot off was amazing to me. With a smile I fell back asleep.

We breakfasted in the cafe of the hotel. Good croissants and coffee. Our waiter of the night before served us and was again warm and friendly in his quiet way. We paid up and just after 9:00 headed out to a cool morning.

The day began misty and chilly. Barb and I usually start our day with our Marino wool sweaters and our wind/rain breakers on. Barb's sweater is steel gray with a hood. She likes wearing the hood for not only does it keep her warm and snug against the spring chills of the Camino, wearing it honors all of her, she says. When I see her in her hood, I see a Spanish knight with a hood of chain mail riding over the majestic Spanish hills and plains protecting the pilgrims as they walk the Way to Santiago.

Our first stop this morning was a small Albergue cafe in hopes of purchasing our daily bread. They didn't sell it, the nearest place was 6K on, they said. Departing the village we spied a pair of ladies we'd briefly said hello to the day before, on the way to Bolorado. From Germany, one was probably in her 50's while the second was at least in her 70's, guessing by her snow white hair. The younger woman carried a pilgrim's full backpack while the older lady was pulling a cart with two wheels holding what looked like a pack. Most of note was that the elder of the two ladies was blind. She held the arm of her friend or daughter as she walked.

When Barb and I saw them the day before, they had a steady pace but not as fast as we. So when we saw them leaving this town, which was farther ahead from where we spent the night, we were surprised and somewhat awed by their accomplishment. It is yet another tribute the beauty and magic of the Way; when one surrenders to its flow, it then takes care of you in all ways. Though Barb and I both have experienced this ourselves, seeing these two taking the journey was still inspiring.

By 1:00 we had traversed 10K to Villafranco where we bought more food and stopped for lunch outside the church. While I went back to the store for more cheese, our lunch staple, Barb helped out a Mother and Son from Germany, he currently living in Ukraine, with directions. The mother, also white haired, may have been in her late seventies. Her son was carrying most of the gear, and even had two full umbrellas. They wanted to go by bus to somewhere near the next Albergue and avoid the trek up the hill. They'd been told it wasn't possible, but with Barb's help they found a way for we met up with them there later.

The afternoon walk was a delight. It began with a long ascent which was fine as the weather was still cool and the path was lined with small pine trees and bushes resplendent with flowers which waved at us when the breeze stirred. Their purple violet beautifully contrasted the deep green of the evergreens standing behind them. I tried to capture it on my camera but really won't know if successful until the pics are up on a big screen.

Along this 12K part of the Way we walked by a family of 8. Five boys and a girl and their Mom and Dad. All ages from 16 to 6 would be my guess. We passed each other several times that day and they stayed in the same town as we. After a couple of hours we took a chocolate break. Sometimes we just hit a wall on the walk and we have to stop and eat some chocolate. It's wonderful how it can give us a second wind.

We arrived at San Juan de Ortega about 4:00, what I had anticipated, 4K per hour. Today we both took it easier on ourselves walking slower and more measured, yet we made the same time. Interesting! There we'd hoped to find a Casa Rual with space for two weary pilgrims. No, the inn was full. There was an Albergue, an old converted convent, but the guide book said it was drafty and neither of us was drawn to staying there. We did see the Mother and Son though and they seemed happy eating their snacks in the afternoon sun.

On we went to the next village about 4K away. It was getting later in the day and it had warmed up and the walking was pleasant. The last part of our day's journey lead us out of the pine forest and down the mountain. It was a happy feeling to be out in the big vista again, the horizon stretching our in front of us. We had both remarked how we liked the walk through the woods and how it reminded us of our Way in France and also how glad we were to be in Spain with the wide open spaces it offered.

Down we walked to Ajes a little village that had a few Albergues but no Casa Ruals. We stopped at the first one hoping to get a room for two as they sometimes have them. No luck, but they did have two beds in the attic. We were beat and couldn't go any further today. We liked the energy of the place and the owner too so we decided to stay.

Up past the upper chambers to the attic where almost all the beds were occupied by other pilgrim's or their gear. Two beds under the eves were available and we settled in there. Taking a shower was a challenge but the water was hot and soon we were clean and happy. After our stretches we headed downstairs to the restaurant for dinner.

Our dinner companion was very interesting too. She was returning from a two year stint as a nurse helping pregnant mothers prevent transmission of HIV to their babies in Zambia. She had also walked the Pacific Crest Trail in the past, taking over 5 months to complete it. We both remarked that walking the Camino would seem tame after the PCT. She laughed and told us it was 5 years ago (she might have been in her early 40's) and now she could feel 30K at the end of a day.

The food was again yummy. I had the local specialty garlic soup while Barb had a salad. Our main course was paella, traditional fare in Spain. For dessert Barb had what she thought would be a bowl of fresh fruit but turned out to be canned fruit cocktail. We all laughed at that! I had the local specialty of sheep's milk curds with honey. It was tasty.

By now it was getting late and we headed up to our beds. As there was no place to write and because I was tired, I forwent writing the blog. By 10:00 every one was asleep and I too turned out the light and was soon gone to the land of Nod.

Hasta Manana Amigos!


        

Chuch on a misty morning. Fields of yellow. Pretty bush.

        

Barb and her matching colors.

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Day 9: We've come a long way today day - St.Millan to Belorado 26K

Last night's sleep was restive. Waking on and off. At 7:00 got up and read til 8:00 when Barb began to stir. She'd had a hard night of anxious dreams.

As we finished packing I looked in my wallet playfully wondering if St. Millan may have left us a little money for our coffee this morning. To my great surprise there was a 5 Euro note that wasn't there the day before when we were counting our remaining funds. Yeah! We now had enough to have two Spanish omelet's and two Americanos!

Saying goodbye to our shelter of the past two days we were on our way by 8:45. We passed a woman at the bus stop and asked her if there was a bus to Santo Domingo? No she replied, only to Nareja or Lorgorno. Shucks we said to ourselves, we didn't really want to walk 16K to catch up with the Camino again but we hadn't enough for a taxi and there were no buses. So on we walked.

The morning was overcast and cool. We wound our way out of the valley of the monasteries on the country road and back to the big hill that we had descended down on our way in, about 3K from San Millan. Several times prior we'd stuck out our thumbs in hopes of hitching a ride but to no avail, when I said to Barb, now is when I we need a ride up this hill. Just then Barb put out her thumb and a handsome man in handsome black car pulled over asking us if we wanted a ride. He was going through Santo Domingo and would be glad to drop us off there!

Happy Day! We put our packs and poles in the trunk, climbed in the back seat and enjoyed a comfortable ride up the long hill and all the way to Santo Domingo where we connected again with the Camino, a journey that would taken us 3 hours if walked. We had a nice chat with the driver and I was happy to have studied Spanish in Nicaragua for it has helped me here in Spain.

Once in Santo Domingo we found a restaurant and had...yes you guessed it again...Spanish omelets and coffee. It was near the cathedral and we wandered over there after our meal. However, there was a ticket needed for admission and we decided not to pursue seeing the church. Instead we found a cash machine and withdrew our respective maximums, Barb's bank allowing more than mine.

About three days into the Camino I felt a tooth begin to hurt. It would feel better and then feel worse. I tried to heal it myself energetically and I think I was somewhat successful, yet the pain still lingered. So I told Barb about it and she suggested going to a pharmacy of which there are many here in Spain as there were in France. Even the smallest villages here have one. So after we had money again we went to a pharmacy nearby.

When I told the pharmacist that I had a sore tooth she immediately handed me a box with gel capsules and told me to take one every 8 hours, but only if the pain was present. I was amazed that she knew what to do so quickly and I intuitively felt sure that she was right, though I had no idea of what the medicine was. I took one and right away within minutes I could feel the swelling in my gum, and the pain in my tooth, begin to recede. It is now almost 11 hours later and the pain is still gone and I haven't taken another. Yeah! Miracles of the Way!

Our next stops were the bakery for bread, the green grocer for veggies and cheese and the candy store for delicious artisan dark chocolate. Now we were ready for the road and our 23K hike to our evening's destination at Belorado.

Nice to be on the Camino again and back in the company of our fellow pilgrims. There were a number of towns between Santo Domingo and Belorado and passing through them broke up the long afternoon walk offering places of respite for refilling water bottles and eating our lunch.

One of the pilgrims we talked to in passing told us she was having a hard time with walking due to bad blisters on her feet. She said she had tried everything but they would not heal. Later at our lunch break we saw her again talking and crying into her cell phone and we imagined what her conversation was about. We both felt a deep sense of compassion for her and sent love her way.

Though we've been blessed not to have blisters (so far anyway), I've had my own physical challenges and known the agony of wanting to complete the walk and yet not knowing if I'd be capable of it.

I faced this a number of times on my last pilgrimage walk in France, when some days walking was like being Hans Christian Anderson's Little Mermaid, whose every step felt like knives were sticking through her feet. For me this was due to plantar fasciitis on one foot and a neuroma in the other. Oh...Ouch....Oh.....Ouch.....

Blisters are part of the experience of the Way. On both journeys I have heard the same stories about debilitating blisters and most pilgrims boast or cry about them at some point. I think one of the most important things one can do to prevent them is to have shoes that fit (I like to have shoes at least a size bigger so my feet have room to spread) and to have double lined socks so the sweat of the feet is absorbed by the inner lining while the outer lining buffers the shoe and the foot. I found great socks made by Wrightsocks and have had no problem with chaffing or blisters at all (so far anyway).

The path paralleled the highway today with cars and trucks passing by. I'd heard this was the case sometimes in Spain and had imagined it to be an unpleasant part of the walk. However, though sometimes noisy, the beauty of the surrounding countryside distracted any negative energy from the traffic and the Way was very enjoyable.

By 5:30 we were on the outskirts of Belorado having walked 23K in six hours. We wanted to stay in a Pension, an inn that offered both dinner and breakfast. There were two in town and we searched them both out. It took some asking of directions to find them and when we finally did the first one was full while the second didn't answer their bell.

It was now getting onto 6:30 and having walked through town we were tired and ready to stop. The guide book showed there was still a hotel on the edge of village and as we were headed there we met a pilgrim also staying there who gave it a thumbs up. We'd seen the hotel advertised several places on the route today but hadn't thought about staying here. Once we were here though, we were very happy. The room was sunny and clean, with a wonderful bathroom. It just made you happy to be in it. After our yoga stretches which are so important for our continued wellbeing, and a lukewarm bath (that was our only complaint- the water wasn't hot) we went downstairs and stumbled onto the hotel dining room.

By this point Barb was feeling a chill and she needed something hot to warm her. We thought we would have to go out to find a restaurant but when she opened the "wrong" door which led to the dining room we were warmly invited in by the waiter. It was a lovely big room with many windows facing west and the late afternoon sun was shining in and the blue skies, fluffy with white clouds, made a nice backdrop to our meal. Save for us and one lone pilgrim dining, later to be joined by another, the place was empty.

Once again the food was amazingly good. Such a surprise! After the soup Barb had a delicate fish dish and I had chicken in a wonderful sauce. Both were fabulous. Of course we had another great red wine. We've now tried the wines of three regions: Navarre, Rioja, and today Castille and Leon, the province we crossed into this afternoon. The waiter was very friendly and the service was excellent. They didn't even bring us the check so we can pay when we check out in the morning.

After dinner we came up to our room happy and full. Nice to be stuffed again! Barb had earlier noticed a rash on her legs, perhaps from nettles she might have brushed against when we had to peeps on the Way, and her legs were now hurting her. I cleared the energy from the rash and massaged her legs and feet. The rash receded greatly and she felt much better.

With that we were ready for our nightly ritual of Barb's reading while I wrote today's blog. Now she is asleep and I am coming to the end of the entry. When we did our yoga practice today we began with offering thanks for all the blessings we have experienced today and for all those we've experienced on the Way. In the spirit of San Millan and Santiago Barb and I send you all blessings of the Way and wish you many little miracles in your day.

Hasta Manana Amigos!


     

Barb and the Jesus bakery. Barb on the way to Belorado. Camino do Sol.

        

Electric candles in church in Granon. Pack, poles and water. The boundary line of Rioja and Castilla and Leon.

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Day 8: Time out of Time Day

Today begins the first day of our second week on the Way. One week ago we were in Pamplona getting ready to launch the next part of our pilgrimage. Today, 90K down the road, we are once again in the flow of the Way: grateful to be alive as we walk in Beauty, settling into a place of allowing and trust, and delighting in and learning from our companions and friends on the path, both new and old. Last night was wonderful. My earplugs have had a spell of silence cast upon them and I am grateful to the faery spirit that blessed me thus. I first awoke at 7:00 and then turned over and slept till 9:00. Yum! When I awoke, Barb was reading in bed. We were happy for a day of rest. The sun was out and out we went to explore the Monasteries of Suso and of Yuso.

When we arrived at the office they told us that we could get on the 11:25 bus that went to the old Monastery of Suso. The tickets were 4 Euro but no credit cards taken. There went 8 Euros of our breakfast! We had over an hour to wait and went looking for a restaurant preferably one that took cc. Those few places that were closed yesterday were opened today, yet they all only took cash. Well we said, today we will be food poor and fuller in spirit and spent our remaining funds on our eruditions by going to monasteries instead of eating. We did, however, have enough left over for a coffee and a slice of ....yes you guessed it....Spanish Omelet. Oh boy did they both taste good!

The bus ride up to Suso was quick. This monetary was originally began as a cave in the rock cliffs where a shepherd came in 4th century, decided to stay and become a hermit who led a contemplative life. He was soon followed by others and a community of hermits became established. This shepherd later know as San Millan was to have lived a hundred years and during the course of his life "handed out miracles as others handed out charity bread." St. Millan later became the patron saint of Castile and Navarre.

The old monastery only allowed 25 persons at a time to visit. It was located in a beautiful place, tucked away in side of a hill/mountain. When we went in we could see the different periods of architecture going back to the caves themselves. I didn't feel good in there. If I'd been a monk there in another lifetime it certainly wasn't one of my favorites.

What was of great interest to me was that it was at this monastery that the current Spanish language was born. The first Spanish, and interestingly too, the first Basque words were written down by a monk who lived here in the 5th century.

The tour was quickly over and back down the hill we went to the town. The church bells struck noon as we headed back to our place. The sun was warm at our backs and though a bit hungry we were happy.

Back in our room we took stock of our food store and concluded we had plenty for a hearty meal of cheese, the piece of bread we'd saved from our omelet, some chocolate, and trail mix. A veritable feast! We would even had 5 Euros left after purchasing the afternoons ticket to the other Monastery, enough to enjoy a coffee and yes maybe a Spanish omelet in the morning.

With that important matter settled we snuggled up in our respective beds and read for awhile before falling asleep in a long two hour nap. When I awoke Barb had taken in our sun dried clothes, now ready for tomorrow's journey. We left for the Monastery around 4:00 and as we approached the restaurant that did take cc we smelled the aroma of food wafting our way and delightedly we thought the restaurant would be open that evening and we would dine like the kings and queens we were. Oh we smiled as we thought of the upcoming culinary adventure.

On arriving at the second monastery of Yuso (Suso is Latin for above, Yuso below) our hosts told us that a guided English translated tour was just in process and took us to join them. There were perhaps 10 others and a guide and translator. It was helpful to hear about the building and history in English.

Long story short: this monastery was first built in 1067 as an addition to the existing Suso on the hill. Later in the 16th century the original Romanesque stonework disappeared and the current Renaissance construction replaced it, which is what we saw today. It was a magnificent structure and at one time housed 120 monks, now it has 12. I liked the energy of this monastery much better.

After the tour was over we sat for a while talking about world history, giving me a chance to impress Barb with my wide knowledge of the subject and she being so sweet as to make me feel important for knowing interesting facts. I think that is one of the gifts of walking with Barb: her appreciation of me, and I of her, as I enjoy her erudition on topics of interest.

As we approached the restaurant on our way back I optimistically said, Oh, I can smell something good." Barb, however, smelled nothing and as we reached the door it was as closed at it was the other day. Alas, it was stale bread and goat cheese for dinner tonight!

Yet, when we did eat our meal it was satisfying and filling. We will sleep fine and tomorrow we will find a cash machine in Santo Domingo only 16K away. We may even hitchhike as we see no reason to walk over ground we have already covered. If we had any money we'd take a taxi!

Well friends I'm happy to be caught up with the blog and not have past entries hanging over me like the sword of Damocles. Off to bed and wishing you all

Buenas Noches!


     

The monastery at Yuso. Then Yuso from Suso.

     

Suso the older monastery up the hill.

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Day 7: Going off the Way Day Azofra to San Millan 17K

I slept well last night. A deep restful sleep. Only woke up once for the bathroom and was able to fall asleep again. I awoke at 7:30 and read until Barb stirred at 8:00. She said she'd been up 5 times in the night, yet I never heard her. I could tell that my spacious self was back and the gm's (grumpy monsters) were at bay once again.

Being the last to arrive, we were also the last to leave. In summer, when the Camino is at its busiest, by mid afternoon all of the Albergues are full and late comers must camp outside. This I believe is the reason pilgrims arise and leave their previous night's lodgings so early: in order to arrive at their next destination and have a bed for the night for no reservations are taken at Alberques which serve on a first come first place basis. Barb and I follow a different rhythm, enjoying taking our time to reach our next destination we prefer to leave later and arrive later. Fortunately we have been able to get a place every night without difficulty, most likely because the spring is less frequented than the summer or fall by pilgrims.

On leaving the hostel we went to breakfast at the restaurant of the night before. Our meal consisted of Spanish omelet made with cod I had in a semi-baguette and Barb by itself. We drank Americanos which we found we liked even better than the solos or single shots. Surprisingly to me the bread and coffee in Spain are equal to what we had in France. We are really enjoying both very much!

Today we decided to go off the Way for a day and explore the Valley of Monasteries and the town of San Millan, about 15K from Azofra. This town boasts two famous monasteries and a famous Convent that is on route at the town of Cana.

The day was cloudy and cool as we left Azofra. Taking a country road we passed through several towns including Cana where a beautiful 13th century Abby had been built and was still a working convent of the Cisterciense nuns. Sadly it was closed on Mondays and we didn't get to see inside the chapel. We liked the energy of the place and lingered for a while sitting on a bench in the garden imagining St. Francis, who had stayed there on his pilgrimage to Santiago, with us speaking to the animals.

The rest of the journey to San Millan was pleasant. Though we walked on a highway the whole distance it was quiet and saw few cars. The countryside and scenery was magnificent. Beauty abounded in deep greens and emerald greens and velvet greens. The landscape was wide and open. At times with the wind blowing hard and the sky ominous with foreboding gray clouds I wondered if we would be out slogging through a storm to get to our destination.

However, Oden was kind and the sun intermittently came through and by 1:00 we had arrived at Becco the village ante to San Millan where we stopped to eat our lunch of goat cheese, bread, and chocolate. Shortly thereafter a nice young man approached us and told us about the town and the area and what we might find to see and do. While in Becco we tried to connect with a Casa Rual but no one was home.

We moved on to San Millan about 1K down the road and almost the first house we saw was a CR. I rang the bell and soon a cheerful voice answered and the door opened to our host. She spoke only Spanish but we were able to communicate fine. She showed us upstairs to our room, we choose one with a bath attached for 5 Euro more and we settled into our new quarters.

There was a washing machine available which we took advantage of and both had a long bath. It's a rarity to have tub I could fit into. After we finished we realized how tired we were. We did need more time to rest and decided to extend our visit to San Millan by one more day.

After a nap we went exploring the town in search of the monasteries that the town was famous for. However, as was with the case of the Abby, everything is closed on Mondays. It was just as well that we were hanging out a bit longer as we could see them the next day.

About this time we looked at our cash on hand and realized that we were in need, for few places take credit cards. Though we searched the village for a cash machine we found none. When I asked about finding one was told that the nearest bank was a town 6K away. So we checked our funds and saw while we had enough to stay another night we would be lacking if we wanted to eat. We did find a restaurant in the village that showed it accepted credit cards but it too wasn't opened on Mondays.

By now it was getting onto 7:00 and as there was nothing in the village opened we went back to Becco hoping to find a restaurant or store opened. No luck their either. The best we found was an eatery attached to a local campground that was open and we dropped in for a glass of wine and shared a Spanish omelet (our staple for this journey). There were only a couple of other folks in the place, with the TV turned on and tuned to a Spanish version of "Who Wants to be a Millionaire."

The proprietress of the place wasn't very friendly at first and we conjectured about why she wasn't nicer though she warmed up later. I think she was just surprised to see us show up out of the blue for it certainly wasn't yet tourist season here and we must have been an anomaly showing up as we did.

After our light repast we walked back to our lodgings. As is our custom Barb read for a while before sleeping and I finished the previous day's and today's blog. We were both looking forward to having a full day of rest tomorrow with nothing on the agenda but seeing the monasteries, reading and napping. Unfortunately eating was not going to be on the list of things to do!

Buenas Noche Amigos!


     

Barb and her amazing sprouts. First approach to San Millan.

  

The Cisterciene Abby in Cana.

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Day 6: Mush Day - Navarette to Azofra 23.2K

The bed was comfortable but I didn't sleep enough. The blog and pics were emailed by 12:30 and I'd set my alarm to wake up at 7:15 for us to make it to breakfast. No need though, I was awake at 6:30 and there was no sleeping again for me. When the alarm did go off, dear Barb was awoken out of dreams of former times and wasn't ready to get up either. I think this set the tone for mush day for both of us.

We breakfasted with our co-guests, two couples, one from Australia one from England. Both of the wives were having a harder time than their husbands with the walk so far. Each had started from St. Jean de Port, the usual spot for pilgrims starting the Camino Francaise, the part of the Way that goes over the Pyrenees and ends in Santiago de Compestela: St. James of the Field of Stars. Neither woman was in particularly good shape yet here they were on this great adventure with their more athletic husbands going far beyond their usual comfort zones. What is it about the Way that calls out the greater parts of ourselves, I wondered?

We left Navarette around 8:30 stopping by the church hoping to have another visit before moving on. Sadly it was closed as have been most of the churches in the towns we've passed through. Unlike France where I could drop in for a meditative moment and light a candle for Mary or St. James at any time, ironically here on the most famous part of the Way that once saw thousands of deeply religious pilgrims fill these churches, now has few attendees at Mass and where only 20% of the population are still practicing Catholics. Amazing as Spain once was Europe's most Catholic country!

The day was beautiful. Clear blue skies brushed with wispy white clouds softening the airscape. A western wind, however, was insistent on getting our attention and for most of the day's walk the temperature was in the 50's with the wind chill factor even though it was sunny and bright. There were more pilgrims on the Way than the previous morning. We walked to the next village, about 7K, and had a second breakfast of coffee and Spanish omelet. Our first repast was simple fare lacking staying power so we fueled up again at Vendosa.

The next town of Najera, 12.4K away, was once the capital of Navarre. This route traversed vineyards and wheat fields with the snow-capped Dalmanda mountain range in the distance. We were making our best time yet, about 4K an hour.

Despite making good time, or maybe because of it, today was the hardest day yet on both of us physically and for me emotionally as well. From the start of the day my body didn't feel congruent nor happy, maybe too much good food and wine, excitement, lack of sleep, and hard exercise all contributed to it. By mid-day I was grumpy; the first time I've felt such on this journey. Interesting to witness this aspect of my personality as I walk on the Way. Moving out of a place of graciousness and spaciousness to a place of tightness and self centeredness. I began to realize that my body and my personality were asking me to pay attention to their needs. Maybe we needed a rest day? There was no hurry and we had plenty of time to "spare" for time outs on our journey.

I also had the insight that there is a group psyche that accompanies the pilgrims on the Camino, part of which is a sense of hurrying to get to the next destination. Unlike the more solitary walking that both Barb and I experienced when traveling together or alone in France, here in Spain there is a community of individuals on the move and it is easy to get swept up in that momentum. I think between being tired and the energy of "keep going" (UTREA) I needed a time out to assuage the inner grumpy monster.

Another interesting perspective on the Way was presented when one of the pilgrims we met mentioned that there were three personal stages to the Way that corresponded to three geographic sections of the Camino. The first section began with the ascension of the Pyrenees going on to the town of Burgos, about 10 days of walking. On this part of the Way the pilgrim faces physical challenges, most of his/her concerns are aches and pains and making it through to walk another day. The second part of the Camino, from Burgos to Galacia is the portion of the path where the pilgrim comes to face her/his emotional and mental demons. This is the portion of the Way that is flattest and least interesting visually yet most lends itself to walking meditation and contemplation. It's been said this is where some pilgrims leave the Way for a while taking a bus to bypass this section. The third section which ends at Santiago is the part of the Way where the pilgrim connects with his/her spirit self and finds unity of Self by the end of the journey.

Thinking back on the women we met that morning who were having a harder time with the physical aspects of the Camino, I wondered in 10 days from now, when they were walking stage two, how different their experiences might be from their husbands, and who then might be having a harder time? As for myself perhaps I was having an early taste of that stage today, with the emotional and mental demons paying me an early visit.

By 1:00 we arrived in Najera and languished on the banks by the sparkling river that ran through the town. It was warm and sunny and we enjoyed our bread, cheese and fruit while cannons were being fired off and church bells rang and a marching band passed by. We laughed that the town knew of our arrival and as it was the former seat of Navarrian Kings and Queens, it was only natural that they would give us a warm welcome. While we ate our meal we saw a stream of pilgrims go by and we knew we would be the last on the road that day.

Mush on, we said to our sore tired bodies, please get us the last 5.9K to Azofra where we can spend the night at an Albergue for pilgrims. We arrived about 3:30 and were the last to check in. The building was divided into room units of two beds each so we had a private space as such, though quite tight. After showering and washing clothes we did a long yoga practice and took naps. By this point I was in full grumpy mode and just wanted to sleep and be left alone. I did felt much better for the rest.

One of the great things about traveling with Barb is that unlike me she is not a moody brood. Consistently even keeled she doesn't take umbrance at my grumpiness. Rather she finds humor in it and helps me to remember to take it lightly. Far more than any dark moods, though, we spend a great deal of our time laughing. In fact we both attribute our sore stomach muscles to the wonderful belly laughs that we share every day.

Feeling refreshed we went in search of food. There were two bar/restaurants in the village. We chose the quieter of the two. Once inside we met our Swedish friends from the night before and joined them as they were finishing their meal. Our meal was tasty and filling. After several glasses of wine and good conversation with our new friends all in the world seemed right again.

Barb went to bed and I retired to the common area downstairs and wrote the day's entry until the lights were turned out at 10:00, sending me to bed earlier than usual and leaving the entry to be finished tomorrow.

Hasta Manana Amigos!


     

Barb the wayfarer.William's taxi company. The Way en Espania.

     

Will at rest on a quiet Sunday morn. Las Damantas mountains.

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Day 5: The Big Surprise Day - Viana to Navarette

Slept moderately well. Perhaps it was the excitement of the previous evening or the long day of walking or even the coffee I had had after dinner but I could not get into the deep sleep I experienced the night before. However, by 8:00 we were both awake and shortly thereafter headed downstairs for a breakfast fit for a king and queen. Amongst other wonderful things to eat, the buffet offered the best chocolate croissant I had since being in France 2 years ago.

We breakfasted until we were sated and wanting no more, went back to the room to complete packing and prepping for the day's walk. I finished writing the previous day's blog entry while Barb went to fill our water bottles at the church. Since being at Cirauqui three days before, Barb had become addicted to holi water and so our first fill had to be from the local church font. She insists that starting the day this way is the reason we have been so blessed on this trip. It certainly has been working well!

The morning was overcast and soon it began to rain. As we were in no hurry we waited until it began to lighten before we commenced around 11:00. On leaving we saw next door to the palace ruins of a once large convent. Earlier we had been talking about being King and Queen of Navarre and Barb said it was most likely the Queen was the power behind the throne. So when we saw the convent, I said well the Queen may have thought she was the power behind the throne, but the King, having the final say, put the Queen in that convent and took up with his male paramour leaving his power hungry Queen to languish in the convent thereafter.

As we left Viana we saw a few other pilgrims leaving too but nothing like the steady stream we'd witnessed the previous days. Of course we were getting started late and many of them would have been long gone by then. The next large town was Logrono and by 1:30 we were in the city center. There we met up again with two of our Australian friends who had stopped at an earlier destination the night before and had already walked 22K when we met up in Logorno. They were debating whether to continue or stay in the town for the night.

As we talked another pilgrim we didn't know by name but had seen on and off for the past four days showed up with a policeman. The policeman was trying to assist the pilgrim but wanted help translating. It turned out the pilgrim, who was a young man from Germany, had lost track of the friends he'd been walking with and had run out of money, for his ATM cards wouldn't work and as it was Saturday couldn't get money from Western Union that had been wired by his father. Though he refused our help at first, we convinced him to accept some money from us to keep him afloat until Monday when he could get a wire transfer or until he met his companions. Maybe we will see him again and he'll repay us or maybe we won't. Yet it didn't matter for we knew if it wasn't returned to us it would be passed onto someone else who was in need. Such is the way of the Way, where the pilgrims look out for one another. As another pilgrim said to me later in the day we are one family walking the Way together.

By now we were hungry and so stopped in a cafeteria for a delicious coffee and ate our ham and cheese sandwiches we had prepared for our lunch. We still had another 13K to go (we'd walked 11K) but were in no hurry. When we left the walk through the city was lovely and the path well marked by yellow arrows and scallop shells.

Leaving town we walked through an extensive park that was pleasant and attractive. There we were stopped by a nice looking elderly man who asked us if we were going to Santiago. When we replied in the affirmative he told us that he was a retired priest who had lived and worked in Florida for over 30 years in Bradenton near Sarasota. He told us that going to the US not speaking English when he was 28 was his great adventure and undertaking. Now he was retired and had returned to his home town of Logrono. He gave us a blessing for our journey which was both welcomed and appreciated.

The weather was intermittently sunny and cloudy. At this point we were in a conversation about a dismal subject and I suggested to Barb that we'd change the topic of our talk to something more cheery for we were attracting the rain clouds to us where it had been sunny a few moments before. Sure enough as soon as we did the sun came out again.

By late afternoon we were in the town of Navarette, another little medieval village built on a hill. Despite our best intentions the rain finally started pouring and we were chilled and wet by the time we arrived at our destination, an inn in the old part of town. Here we found accommodations that were comfortable and pleasant. We even could have our clothes washed for an extra 5 euro's which of course we did.

After a great shower and our yoga stretches we went out on the town in search of dinner. We stopped by the church which was open and enjoyed some quiet contemplative time there before going on to the restaurant our host had recommended.

Once there we were led to the back of the establishment where a few tables were set up for diners. We joined three other customers, a couple and a single man who were sitting at the other two tables. Soon we all discovered that we could communicate in English, the couple being Swedish and the man English.

They too were pilgrims and we had fun talking about the Way, Spain, and our personal adventures. The food was incredible! Barb had the famous garlic soup and I a soup of spinach and garbanzo beans. Both were fabulous. Then for our main course we both choose the house specialty, peppers stuffed with fish and topped with a black sauce. This dish was gourmet. Then when we thought it couldn't get any better the host brought our dessert, an almond cake that made angles sing. Certainly this was the best food we have had to date on the Way. What a great surprise! We had been expecting perhaps standard pilgrim fare and were treated to a gourmand's delight.

Each table also had a bottle of wonderful red wine from the region so the conversation flowed as well as the beverage. We laughed a lot and strangers become friends. Certainly the camaraderie of the Way is one of the great joys to be experienced.

Leaving the bar we ran into our Dutch couple friends from the night before. They seemed happy and had enjoyed the night in the hotel after all but left much earlier than we and had been in Navarette since noon. They said that they were planning to walk 30K tomorrow, further than we planned so this may be the last time we see them. Bittersweet partings of the Way.

Now we are happily ensconced in our cozy inn for the night and tomorrow's adventure lies ahead.

Buenas Noche Amigos!


     

The King leaving his palace. The Queen leaves Viana. Cat on a roof in Viana.

        

Barb and the pilgrim's symbol. Will the wayfarer.

        

In Logrono. The Empress in fleece at her lodging in Navarette. The Empress and the hiker.

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Day 4: Rolling Waves of Green Grain - Monjardin to Vianne

This morning was a first of both pilgrimages. I awoke after Barb! She was up at 6:30 fresh and ready for the new day. While I continued sleeping til 7:30 she made sure our damp clothes of the night before were dry by putting them on the radiators in the Casa Rual.

I had a wonderful sleep, relaxed and deep. By 9:00 we had packed up and said goodbye to the Australian couple who had stayed there too. This was our second night to share accommodations with them.

On the way out of town we stopped at the little grocery store and stocked up on food for breakfast and lunch. We were so happy they had hard boiled eggs to go. The bread in Spain is surprisingly as good as the bread in France. They even have whole wheat baguettes now.

The temperature was cold and crisp. The sky ominously overcast and the wind was brisk. We were unsure if we would walk 20 or 30K today. We'd walked 24K the day before and were getting conditioned to the Way but 30K was still a long hike this early on. However, there were no towns between the two possible points so we would either end the day early or late depending on our final destination.

I was surprised at how many pilgrims there were walking. We passed some and others passed us. I found it comforting to see them and though we might only say "Buen Camino" (Good Way) to one another an unspoken bond united us as we walked the Way together.

After an hour we stopped for coffee at a roadside stand where an entrepreneurial Spaniard had set up shop to serve the pilgrims coffee and sandwiches. It was getting colder so Barb and I put on another layer of clothes and ate our breakfast of bread and hard boiled eggs.

The countryside was beautiful. Yet, again I was amazed at the majesty of the land. Many shades of green were on either side of the Way. The north wind blew over fields of new wheat creating a spectacular sight of mesmerizing waves of green motion.

The terrain was flat and easy walking. We passed through a larger town called Los Argos and bought some delicious pastries and carrots to go with our bread and cheese for lunch. There we passed many pilgrims eating at outdoor cafes and even saw two friends from the day before.

Half an hour later we were starved and stopped for our picnic. There are many benches and sometimes tables along the route making it easy and comfortable to rest and eat. We stopped at such a place and enjoyed our goodies while a stream of pilgrims went by. The sun had gotten warmer and the wind began to die down. It was a beautiful day.

An hour later we completed the 20K portion of our day's journey and had to decide to stay in one of the two villages nearby or continue onto Vianna, another 11K or 3 hour walk. I didn't want to overtax my body but I also wanted to continue on to Vianna for there was a palace awaiting Barb and I for the night if we made it. It was now 2:30.

We opted to go on and were glad we did. After we left the last village behind we began an ascent that led us into a gorgeous valley laden with olive groves and vineyards. As we stood at the top of the descent and looked out over the land I felt a deep affection and appreciation for this place. It was familiar and known to me on a soul level. I was at home.

Later when Barb and I were sharing our musings of the day she mentioned having the exact same feeling experience when we were there. She saw herself riding a horse with others following her carrying pendants (flags) with her emblem emblazoned there on! This led us to have some great fun around our being the King and Queen of Navarre in a parallel life so of course this land felt known to us!

The afternoon became warmer and the skies bluer and by the time we reached Vianna around 6:00 it was a lovely early evening. We were now both flagged and ready to get off our feet. However, as luck would have it our hotel, the Palacio Pujiadas, an actual old medieval palace, was at the very top of the town so we still had another long haul to get there.

It was worth it though. We received a reception worthy of our lofty station and once in our room had a wonderful bath, did stretches, and went in search of the restaurant which was reputed to be fabulous. When we got there the place was packed with locals and some pilgrims that we knew. However, there were no tables available so we decided to have a drink at the bar and maybe even eat there.

As I was ordering the meal Barb was engaged in a conversation with a couple of women sitting at a table nearby. It was a mutual recognition of pilgrims. Laughingly they said that they knew Barb was a pilgrim from the black fleece pants that they too were wearing. They invited us to join them at their table and delightedly we accepted. We now had a place to sit!

The conversation led to where we were all from and our new friends told us they had met a number of walkers from Seattle. This was the third time we had heard this since beginning our journey. Seems to be the year for Seattlites to be walking the Way.

These two were from the south of the Netherlands and when I asked where one of them laughed and saying it was a small village which I'd have no way of knowing. I asked if it was near Weert and her mouth dropped open and when asked if she knew the town of El she about fell out of her chair. How did I know about these places she queried me astonished. I laughed and said I'd been trying to find her for two years and was now catching up with her on the Way.

In truth my Dutch friends, whom I stayed with before and after my last pilgrimage in 2012, live in a small town called El which is within 15K of the Beegen, the village she lived in. I had bicycled through there two years ago. She was a social worker as was my friend in El though they didn't know one another. I got her address and when I'm in the neighborhood next will look her up.

Barb and I had an amazing meal. We had been craving greens for there isn't much available with the pilgrims fare and our first course was a large plate of delicious creamed spinach. This was followed by a fabulous filleted Dorado fish cooked in butter and lots of garlic, and we ended the meal with a lovely dessert. This region is famous for its wines and we were not disappointed.

Our new Dutch friends had already been enjoying a bottle and were fun and tipsy. We joked with them about staying in the hotel, our palace, for it suited our status as the King and Queen of Navarre. They picked right up on that saying as they were staying at the poor hostel down the street then followed that they were our servants and how could they serve us? Of course Barb didn't miss a beat and told them they could carry our packs tomorrow. When they asked what time should they be ready, we replied 10:30. Oh they laughed at that for most pilgrims are on their way by 7:30 latest in order to arrive early enough a get bed at their next destination. As King and Queen we were not hampered by such restrictions, staying in palaces as it were.

After we bid them goodnight, Barb and I stopped at another table where two other Dutch pilgrims we knew from the last two days were eating. They invited us to join them and we stayed and talked for a while longer. These two, a man and woman, had only met each other two nights before, the same day we met them at the hostel in Cirauqui, yet it was obvious that they were now a couple. Romance on the Camino.

It was after 10:00 and when I looked at the time and I asked our friends if they didn't need to be back at the Albergue for they usually lock the doors at 10:00? They looked like this rang a bell too and said their goodbyes and departed quickly. Barb and I went to look at the Church where the famous Cesar Borgia was buried and laughed that as we were staying in the palace we didn't have any such curfew.

When we arrived back at the hotel to our surprise there was our Dutch couple; they had been locked out of their hostel and now were checking in to the hotel for the night. The receptionist smiled saying that this was not the first time this had happened. As we went up to our room Barb said well now they had an excuse to spend the night together, something not usually possible in the hostels. No accidents!

As is our custom, the Queen retired early and the King stayed up writing the blog until too succumbed to the call to sleep.

Hasta Manana!


     

View from Villa Mayor De Monjardin. Leaving Monjardin

        

Leaving VA De M. Poppies on the Way. Pilgrims on the Way

           

R.I.P. Vineyards and olive groves. Pilgrim's peaks in distance. Waves of green on the Way

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Day 3: Alernate Route Day - Cirauqui to Monjardin

Last night was a night of stereophonic snoring. I was awakened at different times, first from my neighbor to the right and later from my neighbor to the left. This is just part of the pilgrim experience and when the ear plugs don't work I just have to laugh, count sheep and hope there will be a break in the zzzzz's so I can fall back asleep again.

By 6:00 folks were arising and by 6:30 there was not much point in trying to sleep any longer. Barb and I both got up and by 7:30 we were on our Way.

It was a beautiful morning, cool and misty from the nights rain. As we left the village we saw an amazing sight over to our left of a world map that had been planted on a hillside. Perhaps it was a tribute to the pilgrims from all the nations of the Earth that walk the Way?

As the Albergue (hostel) didn't offer breakfast we walked for a couple of hours to the next village where we had coffee and a Spanish omelet. There we saw a number of pilgrims passing through, some stopping, as we did, for coffee or food others continuing on.

Our guidebook suggested taking an alternate route on the next leg of the Camino and though Barb and I had some traumatic experiences with getting lost on alternate routes in France, we thought given how well the path was marked in Spain we wouldn't have any difficulties.

It was a lovely route taking us past an old pilgrim's hospice that was now a crumbling ruin. I spent a few quiet moments in the former pilgrim's shelter and could sense the spirits of the Sisters that ran the hospice and those of the pilgrims who came there to rest and heal on their way to Santiago. Given the rigors of the Way this was a welcoming place for them.

Later I passed a fenced field with maybe 15-20 horses that were gathered together. When they saw me they came trotting over in unison with greetings. I was touched by their sweetness and attention. I said sweet nothings to them in Spanish before moving on.

After being on the alternate route for a while the trail markers, which had been consistent and clear, disappeared. We were flummoxed and unsure of where to go. As some of our readers may remember we were often lost when traveling in France from Geneva to Le Puy, so this seemed a familiar scenario, though unexpected. We had a general idea of where to go and took off in that direction. Shortly thereafter an angel in the form of a passing truck driver called out, asking where we were headed. I said we were looking for the Camino. He told us what direction to take and how far to walk and within half an hour we had found the track again.

By now it had started raining and being hungry we stopped at a picnic table and ate our cheese (Barb) and chorizo-spicy dried blood sausage (me) sandwiches with our rain ponchos on. There we noticed pilgrims who had passed us earlier now passing us again. This was odd for on the map for the alternate route that we took was 3K longer that the regular Way. So these folks who took the shorter route, and should have been long ahead of us, were just now catching up. Barb and I then guessed that rather than being lost we'd been shown a shortcut that put us ahead of the crowd through the magic of the Way.

The rest of the afternoon the rain came down in torrents. Fortunately we were well prepared for this and had great rain gear. We were headed for a village where we hoped to find a B&B and a double room for the night. By 3:00 we had already walked over 20K with another hour plus to go, when again magically instead of 4K to the next village, a distance which will glide by in the morning and yet can seem interminable by late afternoon- especially when it's cold and wet, the next trail sign told us only 1.5 K to our destination. Oh this gave us a second wind and we found our Casa Rual by 3:30.

Here we were welcomed by a lovely young woman who showed us to a very comfortable double room and we promptly took off our wet things and had a hot shower and warm bath respectively, me liking showers as the tubs are tiny and Barb preferring a bath since she could fit into one.

Our accommodations also included a full kitchen and washing machine where we could wash our clothes. This is always a treat on the Way, to have our clothes "properly" washed. Not only are we spared from hand washing that night but can also easily do larger items like sweaters and pants.

Our host had showed us how to run the machine and we followed her instructions to the T. When the machine wasn't making any noise she said that it was quiet and took time to start its 35 min cycle. 35 minutes later Barb took the clothes out and we marveled at how dry they were. Wow, we thought, this is the most energy efficient washer we'd ever seen and what a spin cycle it had to dry the clothes so well. As they were a tiny bit damp we convinced ourselves they had been washed, and we hung them up to finish drying. It wasn't until later, after we returned from dinner, that Barb smelled the clothes and realized that they'd never gone through the cycle after all. So we repeated the process again and this time there was noise and we could see water and soap doing their thing. The clothes were wet when finished and we laughed and hoped they would dry by morning.

The Casa Rual didn't offer dinner but it was available at the bar in the village. So about 7:00 we headed over and were happy to see many of the pilgrim's from our hostel of the night before.

We ordered our pilgrim's meal and joined the others at the table. Besides friends from the previous evening there were pilgrims we hadn't met before and with whom we struck up conversations. One was a lovely man from Korea, a famous author who wrote on happiness and was walking the Camino to find out what prompted individuals to make the journey. As there are many Koreans who walk the Camino, so much so that I've seen signage written in Korean at some of the hostels, I imagine his reading audience would be interested in what he learns from his journey.

We also met a wonderful young woman from Ireland who worked for the International Red Cross. Her job was to negotiate between conflicting parties in "hot" spots around the world. She told us her last posting was in Columbia where she was the go-between for families whose members had "disappeared" and the government or rebels who may have "disappeared" them. She would find out where the bodies were and help the families have closure. She said part of why she's walking the Camino was to clear her spirit and find resolution of the stories of these families within herself.

Unlike the first walk in France where we met few pilgrims, being here in Spain has already afforded us some wonderful connections that we would never have experienced otherwise. A global community walking together on a spiritual path. Amazing!

Now it is late and Barb is sleeping as I finish this entry. The end of our third day on the Way and though bodily-sore we are joyous in spirit and shall sleep with happy hearts.

Hasta Manana, Amigos!


     

Barb getting holi water for breakfast. New pilgrim at old hospice. Map of the world.

        

Poppies on the Way. Navarre in the rain. Welcoming committee

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Apr 23nd, Day 2: First Pilgrim Dinner Day - Utergo to Cirauqui

I slept better last night though it was still a light sleep and I awoke at 4:30. I read for an hour before going back to sleep until 7:30. We were under the impression that breakfast was at 8:30 so I didn't get Barb up until close to that time. However, when we come downstairs the place was empty and the proprietor looked at Barb like she was nuts when she asked about breakfast. I guess we misunderstood! We ended up ordering from the lunch menu and had a delicious Spanish Omelet sandwich and fresh coffee.

On the road by 10:00. The day was pleasant and temperate. We marveled again at how green everything was with the sky, clouds and sun in perfect harmony.

Though we knew we were taking a risk coming in the spring and the rainy season, for the first two days at least the gamble has paid off. Everything is fresh and new and the beauty of the walk has far surpassed our expectations.

Our first spot of interest was the 12th Century Romanesque church of Santa Maria at Eunate modeled on the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem with its octagonal form. Eunate was also a burial place for pilgrims who had succumbed to the gruelling physcial hardships experienced along the route.

There were a number of tourists at this spot and two buses that brought them. As we left Eunate we passed a sole traveler and struck up a conversation with him. It turns out he was a minister from Denver who, unfulfilled with his small church, decided with his wife to start a company that takes people to sacred places. Today he had a group of Methodist ministers from Mississippi with him.

We stopped in the next town of Obanos for a bathroom and coffee break. It felt leisurely and easy and we had a delicious coffee at the local bar. Barb and I had agreed that we were going to have no timelines or agendas other than to fully appreciate and enjoy each step of the Way and because the villages are so close together in Spain stopping for a coffee break is the fashion among pilgrims.

Walking the Way yesterday and today has been surprisingly simple and easy. It seems to me that I just picked up right where I left off almost two years ago, except this time I feel a deep sense of calm and peace that eluded me on the last journey. Barb says that I seem different too this trip....more relaxed into my Camino experience with a ligher heart. I would concur with that assessment. I feel less anxious and much more certain of myself. The competitive aspect that showed up so strongly on the last pilgrimage is absent. Nothing to prove this time, simply enjoy.

In the next large town, Puenta Reina, we bought fresh bread, sheep's cheese, and fruit for lunch and had a picnic on the far side of the bridge. As is the case on the Way the food tasted so good that we savored ever bite.

By now it was after 2:00 and we started to think about where we would stop for the night. The route took us up our first real challenging hill to date and I remembered the mountainous trail that led us out of Geneva two years ago and was grateful for the relative flatness of our walk in Spain.

I was also grateful for a pack that was properly fitted to my frame and shoes that had plenty of room for my big feet to spread. I marveled at how I was able to complete the last 750 miles with such deficiencies in my basic gear. Of course it had a high price in the pain and suffering I experienced, something that might have been avoided if I had planned more carefully. However, I have gleaned the lessons well and am well prepared and am reaping the rewards in a comfortable walk.

The guidebook showed the next village had a B&B or Casa Rual and we thought that would be ideal for our night's stay. When we got there we walked around and around the village trying to find the CR without success. Finally we asked and were told that it had closed two years prior. So much for the current guidebook edition!

The next village had two Albergues but no double rooms available, only dorm accommodations. We choose the one on top of the town, an old medieval town build on a hill with a magnificent view of the surrounding countryside.

Our reception there was warm and welcoming and though I had to share a bunk bed with a stranger, Barb and I both wanted lower bunks for night time bathroom access, I felt comfortable and happy to do so. I just girded my loins for the inevitable snoring that would intrude my dream state.

After a shower and clothes washing we went to the nearby church portico and did our yoga stretches before dinner.

This was our first dinner to share with fellow pilgrims and we had a fun table keep us company; a Dutchman, an Australian couple from Sydney, and a lovely Italian woman for whom this was her fourth pilgrimage walk. The food was delicious and filling with an earthen jug of local red wine to wash it down. The conversation was lively and fun. We laughed a lot and there was an immediate bonding that happens on the Camino with people whom we may meet only this one time.

After dinner Barb and I went for a short walk and witnessed a beautiful sunset that was the perfect ending to a lovely day.

Now I am finishing off the blog and soon will retire to the adventure that lies ahead in trying to get a good night's sleep with my fellow 16 roommates. We have to leave the Albergue by 8:00 so it will be over soon enough.

Buenas Noche!


     

24-7 vending for pilgrims. Barb in portal. Church Bells at Knights Templar Church.

     

Field of rapeseed (canola) as we are on our Way. A simple pilgrims cross.

        

Puente la Reina, San Gillermo, Santa Barbara and Santa Maria De Eunata.

     

The bridge at Puenta Reina, our Albergue on night 2 of the Way, and Pilgrims enjoying dinner at Albergue

     

Sunset after pilgrim dinner. The winding Way.

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Apr 22nd, Day 1 on the Way: City to Country Day

Last night was not an easy one for either Barb or I. Perhaps it was jet lag or the excitment of staring the walk but we didn't slept well. I finlly fell asleep at 3:00 AM just the time Barb told me that she awoke.

I was feeling the the energy of the Way calling me and my whole being was a-buzz. I tried listening to meditation recordings, soft music, even visualizng sheep jumping fences but nothing worked. Finally I gave up and played with downloading cool apps for learning and translating Spanish and drank a beer from the mini-bar to help me meet Nod.

At 8:00 the sounds of the awakeing city woke me up and having agreed to meet at 9:00 I arose and prepared for the day ahead. As I was packing I remembered all the details that go into making a pack feel comfortable when worn and how to have the necessary items handy when needed. All of which takes time.

Breakfast was generous and Barb, who is a vegetarian at home, piled up her plate with ham and bacon laughingly saying how much she enjoyed it and how she explained it was in Spain do as the Spanish do and proceeded to make herself a generous ham and cheese sandwich for her lunch on the Way.

By 10:00 we were packed and eager to get started. Pamplona, like much of the route of the Camino in Spain, is very well marked for the pilgrims. So we had no problem following it though we made ourselves a promise to stay alert and not miss a marker. That is until we were walking through a lovely park having a great conversation when a sweet man got our attention and let us know we that we'd missed the trail and it was now behind us! How we laughed and joked that this would be a great entry for our reading audience who might have been disappointed if we hadn't gotten lost" at least once!

Though the weather forecast was for scattered showers it was pleasant and sunny. We were soon out of town and encountered other pilgrims heading the same direction.

Already we had seen more pilgrims in two days then we had in much of our early travels two years ago. We wondered how this would fare when it came to finding a bed for the night?

We both felt the full weight of our backpacks for the first time. However, for me it was a delight. This pack fit me well and the weight was evenly distributed. I was so happy that the load didn't bother me and I knew in a week I would be acclimated to it. Furthermore my shoes, two and a half sizes bigger than my shoes of the first trip, were also comfortable and accommodating. Yeah!

We passed a large group of Italian pilgrims who seemed to be having a fun time together. The scenery was beautiful, green green green! A big contrast to when I was here in July of 2012, when everything was dusty and dry. Seeing this affirmed our decision to make the trek in the Spring rather in the summer as is most popular.

Our lunch break was shared with a horse having his own lunch of fresh green grass that he seemed to enjoy immensely. His master, a driver of a sweet little cart, had gone off to have his own meal leaving his friend behind. We were both hungry and the ham sandwiches and chocolate we'd bought at the last village hit the spot.

As the afternoon progressed we could see rain showers in the distance and wondered if we would be next hit by them? Our hike led us up hills and we came to the highest point where a famous sculpture had been erected commemorating the pilgrims who had passed by here through the ages. This spot was called: Where the Way of the Wind Meets the Route of the Stars and in the Middle Ages if a pilgrim made it as far as here but died before making it all the way to Santiago, his/her sins were forgiven anyway.

Shortly after passing this place the rain finally began to fall. We donned rain coats and hats and hoped it wouldn't get any worse before we arrived at our destination for the night, a village a few kilometers away. It was almost 3:00 and as our intention was to gradually ease into the walk we decided to stop soon though we were unsure about having a room at the inn.

When we did arrive at the Albergue there were a number of pilgrims milling about so I was unsure of having a bed for the night. However, St. James was watching out for us and not only did we have a bed but we had a room for two and didn't need to sleep in the dorm room.

The day's trek turned out to be a bit over 10 miles (17K) and took about five hours to complete. Not bad for our first day out.

After showers and washing our clothes, Barb led us in a series of yoga stretches. On our last trip we had found these to be critical to do at the end of a day's walk to keep our bodies limber. After yoga we took a well deserved nap and marveled at how great it was to have nothing ahead us but a great meal.

Dinner was pilgrims fare of a three course delicious meal with a good bottle of Navara (the region) Red. The dinning room was filled with other pilgrims from various countries as we could hear the different languages being spoken. Everyone was having a good time and most of them were middle aged or older.

After the meal Barb and I went out for an evening stroll enjoying the quiet of the ending day. We wondered what people in this village did for entertainment for there seemed little to do.

By 9:30 Barb was in bed and I am now finishing up the day's entry. With this wireless keyboard I am afforded the luxury of going to bed much earlier than the last journey because I can write so much faster with all fingers than just with my thumbs!

I did hear back from the company about the tech issue I was dealing with. However, while they were very nice and offering to help, they were unable to help as they couldn't replicate the issue on their end. So I shall have to rely on the good graces of the tech gods to help me find a way to carry on!

Hasta Manana!


     

Pamplona in the distance, windmills and scotch broom, Barb walking on our first day out.

     

We stop for lunch and hang out with a friendly horse. Will stands where the way the wind crosses the route of the stars

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April 21: "And we haven't even begun walking" day
Our first night's sleep in Spain was fine. Barb went to bed about 10:00. I stayed up finishing the last blog entry with the intention of sending it off to Kerry to upload.

However, the tech gods were not being kind at that moment and the entry would not send the way it was "supposed" to. This brought up all kinds of frustration and bile as I recalled the challenges I had on the last pilgrimage when the "system" wouldn't work. I saw the next five weeks rolling out ahead of me facing these same tech demons again and again as I was in that very moment.

Yet, this being a different pilgrimage and I being far better prepared, though learning new technology was at the end of the list, I rallied and found another way to send the entry. I also sent an email to the company asking them to help me figure out this ongoing issue.

I think part of my learning on this journey is going to be facing the fear and anxiety that many things technological bring up; an irony as many pilgrims make a point to leave all this behind to enjoy a break from that world. Yet, for me, how great it would be to feel smooth and comfortable in this arena too!

At 9:30 I opened my eyes and awoke Barb who was still sleeping soundly. We had an 11:30 train to catch. We quickly readied, ate breakfast, and headed to the metro. Unlike yesterday it was gray and drizzling. On the way there we had a comedy of errors catching the right metro trains, something which had seemed so straight forward yesterday. With the help of some nice Madridians we got to the station in plenty of time. We laughed about it being our first challenge in finding our way on the Way,

The train ride was very pleasant. The countryside became more verdant as we headed north. We got excited when we passed a very cool castle and exclaimed how much we both loved them. Perhaps we were once Knights Templar who protected the pilgrims on their way to Santiago in the Middle Ages.

We arrived in Pamplona about 2:40 and decided to walk to our hotel located in the old part of the city. On route we saw our first Camino sign, a gold scallop shell on a blue background and met the first of what will be many fellow pilgrims. We felt at home!

The hotel was lovely. Barb and I had our own rooms this night. After checking in we went to a nearby plaza for a late lunch. My Spanish was only good enough to get a general idea of what was on the menu and still we ended up with a very good three course meal with an amazing chocolate dessert to finish. The weather which had become sunnier traveling north began to cloud over again. There was a chill in the air as we left the restaurant.

Back at the hotel we parted, Barb to bathe and read, me to tackle technology and write the blog. We meet again at 8:00 and went for a walk around the old part of the city. In the fading light and a soft rain we explored the cobblestone back streets and ended up at a tapas bar populated by locals. I had a delicious local beer while Barb took a risk and ordered a dish where the only recognizable word was tomato. She got lucky!

After enjoying conversations on a range of subjects we marveled at how great this trip already felt and we hadn't even begun walking yet! As is our custom to name each day on the Way, we decided that today would be "and we haven't even started walking" day. With that we felt ready to head back to the hotel and get a good rest for tomorrow the walking would begin.

Buenas Noche


  
  

We see our first Camino sign and walk around Pamplona. Will hangs out with the bulls!

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April 20: Arriving in Madrid
This is my first entry for the blog of the 2014 trip to Spain completing my pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela. I'm happy to say that I am able to write this blog from a portable keyboard and won't be all thumbs on this journey as I was on the last with all of the writing done on the phone itself!

Getting ready for this trip has been a very different process from the first experience. I am far better prepared as I have been to REI at least ten times vs the one mad shopping spree I made just before embarking for Geneva in 2012. I have also had two years to reflect on the inner lessons of the Way and am much clearer on how to take care of my inner being as well as my physical form on this new adventure.

I left Jacksonville yesterday, Saturday April 19, and met my fellow pilgrim and traveler Barb McAllister in Philadelphia and together we flew to Madrid arriving here this morning on Easter Sunday. The flight was smooth and easy and we had no problem finding our way via Metro to our lovely hotel, The Francisco in the heart of the city. Here we were met with kindness and care.

After a wonderful breakfast, a hot shower and a cat nap we took off to explore this vibrant city. Surprisingly, being Easer Sunday the streets were packed with people, the restaurants were full and the shops open and thriving.

We took the metro to a nearby park and botanical garden and enjoyed a leisurely stroll and people watching. We noticed a number of handsome gay couples openly holding hands and being free with their affections and had the sense that Spain, once Europe's most conservative Catholic country no longer is.

We ended our tour in a beautiful city square contoured with cafes and outdoor dining where we ate fresh and delicious Nordic and Goat Cheese salads respectively. A perfect day with clear blue skies and a wafting breeze the square was full of people reveling in the spring sunshine and we had great fun watching all the activity.

Barb and I both remarked how smoothly the day unfolded and how we were met with ease and grace with each part of our day. It seems a very good omen to start our pilgrimage in such a fine way.
Hasta Manana!


     
     

Will and Barb enjoy their first day in Madrid
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