June 14, 2011 Melide to Arzua

Alexa and Addison of Seattle, surprise Americans discovered in Arzua.

Agreed last night with pilgrim family to meet them at 11:00 in Melide. Relaxed at hotel, recharged phone with money, went to cash machine. Arrived at restaurant and waited only 10-15 minutes. Group arrived, many pictures, much conversation. Catia only one to order pulpo.

Left restaurant and began short walk to Arzua. Long talks with Catia and Sebastian. Said goodbye to Catia at Ribadiso. She will wait there for Bea and they will walk together into Santiago. Sad to say goodbye as may not see her again.

Walked into Arzua and found albergue after albergue “completo.” Finally found “Albergue Via Lactea” with room for all of us and kitchen. There met Addison and Alexa of Seattle — a very big surprise to find Seattleites here on the camino. They work at Nilson’s Bakery on Lower Queen Anne Hill, perhaps 1/4 mile from my office.

Andreas and Annina cooked rice/veg dinner and we ate together in front room of albergue with wine, laughter and storytelling. Jacqueline and I both decided to walk full distance to Santiago next day and I arranged to have my pack sent ahead. This will allow us a rest day in Santiago and I can stay in my favorite hotel an extra night.

June 11, 2011 Samos to Mercadoiro

Jacqueline, a blur from behind, as I usually saw her. Walking the "Austrian pace."

Left the Samos monastery albergue and had toast for breakfast across the street. Then walked without yellow arrows from memory out of Samos. Somehow many of the directions from/to Samos have been intentionally obscured by someone. Met Oussie of Hungary at the option (i.e. the fork in the camino) and she suggested the longer route via woods and farms to Sarria. She gave a four-leaf clover she had found as remembrance. Very sweet girl; one of those camino people I wished I’d spent more time with.

I took her route and enjoyed the beauty of green. Many ups and downs, though. Then finally hit road to Sarria. Met the older Brazilian couple at coffee (remembered them from Foncebadon) who mentioned that Alexandre was behind them. Continued to Sarria and met mother/son duo — Deirdre and Patrick of Ireland. Patrick is moving to Seattle in October to work for Microsoft. Debating about living in Redmond, Bellevue, or Kirkland. Asked at albergue at top of stairs for cell phone store to recharge phone with money and waited at Movistar store for probably an hour during lunchtime to be helped. Put 30€ on the phone.

Left Sarria and walked with So. African man, part of a larger So. African group, to Barbadello where I was delighted to meet Jacqueline. Walked with her to Mercadoiro, just shy of Portomarin. Opted to stay at Mercadoiro for total kms of 32.5 that day. Nice dinner with Sven and Britta of Germany, then drinks with Heidi, Beata and a Dane. Lots of laughter, with Beata constantly apologizing for her German and me teasing Dane for actually being Dutch. This is a nice albergue, with a sort of ramshackle layout but rooms no larger than 5-6 beds, each room with stone walls.

June 7, 2011 Foncebadón to Ponferrada

Awoke to cold Foncebadon parochial albergue chapel and hurried to get dressed in the chill air. Breakfast with Sebastian and woman from Quebec and young man from Belgium. Off to walk, mostly uphill until Cruce de Ferro.

At Cruce de Ferro watched Sebastian, Bea and others have their private, quiet time.

Long and grueling downhill to Manjarin where man kicked dog and everything smells of cat/dog piss/poop. Very disturbing scene and can’t imagine ever wanting to spend any time there, much less an overnight.

Further downhill to delightful town of El Acebo where met Daniel of U.S. on his eighth camino. Daniel had been with Danish man who died outside Estella. Told him I would connect him with family of man who died.

Onward downhill to Molinaseca and cervesa on grass near river. Continued out of town with pilgrim family as Ponferrada gradually began to appear. We all put our things in the giant, municipal albergue and went to see the Templar castle which was open but unfortunately too expensive at 6€ each. No pilgrim discount. Along with others decided to bag castle and instead went grocery shopping for dinner — my first pilgrim-cooked albergue meal. Glorious meal of spaghetti with goat cheese/vegetable sauce — three helpings. Had to shoo four women out of the men’s bathroom where they were doing their laundry. They didn’t seem to mind the idea of us showering while they washed clothes, but somehow it seemed like the women should use their own ample bathroom or the outdoor laundry sinks like everyone else. Another pilgrim party with group games under patio arbor. Bed at 22:00 in vast, basement dormitory with no windows.

June 6, 2011 Murias to Foncebadón

Met Nikki and Andreas as well as Alexandre at albergue door in morning and walked with them past Santa Catalina de Somosa to Rabanal where met Sebastian, who was very happy to see us. Many hugs, then brief coffee to Beatles tunes and long walk to Rabanal. Stopped at Rabanal albergue to pay my bill from 2008. Hospitalero did not want to accept my money, but I convinced him and he said he would put it to special use. Felt very good.

Group continued on, very merry, to Foncebadon. Under threatening skies built rock cairn to memorialize our walk and our togetherness. Great group project and many photos and smiles.

Arrived at cold Foncebadon about 13:30 and found parroquial albergue where Andreas hoped to stay. They had 2 beds left for 5 of us, bu agreed to allow us to sleep on mats on unheated church floor. Very cold here and am delaying shower and laundry hoping to get warm. Nikki help make dinner. Sitting in comedor with others, including Andreas, who are writing in their diaries.

Dinner with the warm Finns in the freezing albergue at Foncebadon

Dinner delicious. Filled with attempted conversation with Finns and Germans. Party with our pilgrim family afterward of Sebastian, Catia, Nikki, Andreas, Alexandre, Bea. Cold night of sleeping in chapel.

May 31, 2011 Calzadilla de la Cuesa to Calzadilla de los Hermanillos

After breakfast walked in wet boots with Andreas, Catia, Bea, Alexandre (Brazil), to Sahagun. Many long conversations with Be a and Catia, learning about their lives. Catia has finished university and is waiting to start her student teaching. Be a is a sole dental assistant in a 2 dentist practice. Arrived Sahagun and left Andreas, Bea and Catia at the Cluny albergue. Walked on after cervesas with Sebastian to Calzada de Coto, then the extra kilometers along a deserted Roman road (alternative road) to Calzadilla de los Hermanillos. Stopped to enjoy some Cilantro with Sebastian at a rest area just shy of town. Saw Martin in town.

Dinner with a large group, including: Americans (Paulette and me), German (Sebastian), Russian, Sweed, English (Martin), New Zealand (Mervyn and Sheryl) Slept in cubicles of 4 with Sebastian and two French women.

May 24, 2011, Santo Domingo to Tosantos

Left hotel at 07:00 to meet Monique and stopped with her at cafe then ATM. Walked to Granon, then on to Redecilla, Viloria and Villamayhor where said goodbye to Monique, only to see her again when catching email at Belorado. Would learn later that Rocky was in Belorado at the same time, but didn’t see her as I passed through town. Quick walk to Tosantos in blazing sun to see albergue there just as I left it in 2008. Laundry, shower, and journal writing. Very tired after cervesa and olives at local bar. Looking for good place to lay down, but sun is hot and yard is rough.

Had a nice few Spanish moment with hospitalero here, who was eating lunch when I arrived. Told him this was my second camino, that I was a Methodist priest and that I had returned in order to revisit the albergue.

Just finished cooking in the albergue while singing Taize songs with the hospitalero. Very fun, but everyone though we were totally weird. Dinner as  a group with many languages (all fast). Chapel afterward and hospitalero asked me to do a benediction.

May 15, 2011 Pamplona to Puente la Reina

At Pamplona last night I’d made a plan with the others to walk to Puente la Reina and meet at 19:00 at the famous bridge for which the town is named. I worried about Luke being able to make this walk, as his knee was swollen and painful.

Once again I found myself unprepared for a Sunday, the day of the week in which shops open late or not at all. So I left the hotel at about 08:00 with no food or water. Toward the outskirts of town I found a news kiosk opening and bought 4×0.25 liters of water plus 2 sugar donuts. I wolfed down the donuts (guiltily of course) and walked to outskirts of town where I found a baker with some much-loved chocolate croissants (whew), and then I headed for the climb up to Alto de Perdon.

A large group of Spanish schoolchildren of about 10 years of age were walking along, unintentionally accompanying a stream of pilgrims up the hill. I tried to engage some in conversation but they had been well taught not to talk to strangers. I met a tall Dutchman (Marty?), a nice Italian who loves American music and a New Age Portuguese man who I remember as having been drying his red shirt back at the Roncesvalles albergue’s bathroom. I made the top of Alto de Perdon with the Italian fellow. On the way up I also met a nice Danish pair — two women +/- 50 years old — who needed help with their camera and gave me 1/2 sandwich since I had no food.

Walking out of Pamplona

I continued on to Uterga and Obanos but first made a diversion to Eunate and enjoyed new friends Kim and Janie of Arkansas and James and Laurel of New Hampshire. We laid in sunshine on the grass together and talked about home. Eunate was locked shut but the hospitalero of the adjacent albergue opened it for a few minutes every hour or so. I walked on to Obano by myself until meeting three Koreans approaching Puente la Reina. I arrived at PLR and heard a shout from across street, and there was Rocky getting out of car. She had hitched a ride over Alto de Perdon and also from Obanos to PLR. We walked together past the albergue, went to bridge to find the other albergue across river and saw Luke already waiting for us — sleeping on a bench at the famous bridge. He had taken a bus to PLR and Gal and Lila had walked. Luke’s knee was still hurting, so we strategized about how to get him to a doc. I decided to get a hotel for us and found one in the middle of Calle Mayor. I asked at the desk about a local doc and they called and directed us to nearby clinic. The Doc examined Luke via touch and sight and pronounced that he needed a shot of toradol and a prescription for naproxin. Had dinner at hotel with Canadian couple — she a retired teacher and he retired from a hiking tour company. I’m the one walking pilgrim from our little pilgrim family right now and am hoping that Rocky will get stronger and Luke will heal.

June 15, 2008 Hospitál de Órbigo to Rabanál del Camino

After Hospital de Orbigo there’s another long and quiet plain that stretches out and finally ends abruptly at the overlook into Astorga. This is the end of the Meseta, clearly, as behind Astorga are the Montañas de Leon. These mountains would be the terrain for the next two days of walking.

Although Astorga was visible ahead, it seemed to take forever to get into town. A long uphill walk finally led to the heart of town which is inhabited with two beautiful and very different buildings — the ornate Spanish Gothic cathedral and the fairy-tale-like Gaudi Bishop’s Palace. The cathedral was closed, offering no quiet and cool nave for rest. I stopped for a credential stamp at the albergue, then headed out of town, looking for an ATM. I realized the upcoming towns were quite small and may not include the chance to get cash, but try as I might I was unable to find an ATM in all of Astorga. I headed up to the hills with less than 5€ to my name.

The trail that met me was not quite wilderness walking, but the villages were quite small. I stopped for a drink at Murias and then climbed up to Rabanal, realizing I now didn’t have enough to stay at the albergue. I apologized to the hospitalero, who forgave me my lack of money, and I vowed to bring him 10€ sometime soon. Fortunately there was a small restaurant/hotel across the street that took a credit card, so I had a good night’s meal after a long day of walking.

One difficulty: I left my hiking poles at a cafe somewhere between Murias and Rabanal. I hadn’t been using them that much, so I decided to leave them for some pilgrim who’d need them.

That evening it was Vespers at the tiny monastery between the hotel and the albergue. The service was in many languages and there was great spiritual comfort in this tiny community of faith. I was thankful for food and a night’s sleep for this nearly penniless pilgrim.

May 26, 2008 Villamayor de Monjardin to Viana

That night at Villamayor I announced to Stefan and Trevor my plan: my wife would be in Copenhagen to give a speech on the upcoming weekend and I would surprise her there. That meant I’d need to leave the camino for 3-4 days and make my way to Copenhagen. I determined that I’d make reservations at my next big-city stop, but as I described the plan to other pilgrims I began to understand the true cost of it. Yes, all the pilgrim women agreed it was very romantic to surprise my wife. But others realized that the detour would put me 3-4 days behind the friends I’d made. I’d already said goodbye to the faster American girls. Soon I would be saying good bye to my current crop of friends, Stefan and Trevor being at the top of the list.

After Villamayor I walked on and off with the two South Africans, coming to Los Arcos on my own. And who should be sitting at a cafe near the church but Stefan and Trevor? Along with them were other friends from Villamayor — a Spanish woman, two Scottish women, and Daniel of Ireland. We shared a long, early lunch together as I heard the sad news that Trevor’s tendonitis was making his walking very difficult. It was unclear whether or not he’d be able to continue and Stefan asked me privately what I thought he should do. As I said good bye to Trevor and continued on I wasn’t sure I’d ever see him again. Ultimately Trevor shadowed Stefan by bus, but then after several days flew back to South Africa.

I arrived at Torres del Rio on my own as Stefan held back to care for Trevor. Just after Torres I heard an odd sound ahead and soon was nearly overwhelmed by a vast flock of sheep and, amid them, a small sprinkling of goats. A solitary shepherd kept the sheep together and they all seemed content as they moved from one pasture, across the camino trail, to another one somewhere nearby.

I stayed briefly to write in my journal at a lookout high above the town of Viana, then picked my way downhill, found the municipal albergue with its 3-high bunks, and looked for a place for dinner. I dined with a man from the Canary Islands whom I’d met a few days before. Then I headed back to the albergue for a night’s sleep in the top level of the triple-level bunks.

May 25, 2008 Cirauqui to Villamayor de Monjardin

I was beginning to learn that blisters are worst just after you begin walking on them. After a half hour or so, they move from being excruciatingly painful to only painful. I knew I’d need to get new boots, but more importantly, to get off my feet in order to get them healed. As I left Cirauqui I stepped gingerly on my tender, blistered feet.

I hadn’t seen Stefan or Trevor for a full day now, and I wasn’t quite sure where they’d spent the night last night. The American girls were long gone, so I left Cirauqui feeling a little lonely. I thought, too, that if I walked quickly enough I might be able to catch up to Trevor and Stefan. I also decided to email the American girls to see where there were, with the slim chance that perhaps we’d meet along the way.

The miles after Cirauqui began to fade together, with the first goal being to find the town of Estella. It’s a reasonably large town, and by the time I arrived at its outskirts my main need was to get water and a restroom. I found both at a convenience store across a busy street from the camino. Since the trail doesn’t go through the heart of the city, I wouldn’t learn until my next camino that Estella is a very charming town with a lovely plaza and a nice retail center full of interesting shops. My goal was simply to get as far as I could that day, and I set my sights after Estella on the town of Villamayor de Monjardin.

Outside Estella I stopped at the famous Irache Monastery/Winery with its wine fountain, free to pilgrims. As a late starter once again I found that other pilgrims were ahead of me and I was by myself at this popular pilgrim stop. Unfortunately that meant there was no one from whom to borrow a cup, so I skipped the wine.

After Estella the path went through a stand of forest and I must have missed the yellow arrows to Villamayor because I found myself on an optional track to a destination some 6 km out of the way. Villamayor is surrounded by vineyards, so it is easy to see — a conical mountain with a castle at the top and a village at the base. I realized, though, that it was a mile or two across the vineyards from the route I was taking, so I cut across country and then across the highway to get to the town.

Exhausted as I climbed up toward the albergue I heard the welcome accents of South Africans and saw Trevor and Stefan sitting at a cafe just outside the private albergue. After a long day of solitude I was happy to see my friends. They helped me into the albergue, found me an empty bunk, and then we sat together for dinner at this albergue run by a Dutch evangelical group.

The group invited us to a chapel service after dinner and about half of the pilgrims there that night joined them in the dining room for a time of singing and devotions. I was impressed by the earnestness of the hospitalera who shared her testimony and I enjoyed singing songs as a young man led with his guitar. Best of all was knowing my two buds were here and feeling the joy of camaraderie and fellowship in this place so far from home.