Friday, August 28, 2009

About This Blog

Try as I might, I can't get this blog set to come up at the BEGINNING instead of the end. And, since it's a travelogue, I'd like to be able to point people to the planning stages of my trip instead of having them start reading with the end of my story.

This blog is about my travels on the Camino de Santiago de Compostela in Northern Spain during the summer of 2008. It is the story of my pilgrimage across Spain to the Cathedral of Santiago, and afterwards to the End of the Earth, Finisterra, from the tiny hamlet of St. Jean Pied-de-Port on the French side of the Pyrenees Mountains. The blog begins in May of 2008. I began my trip on July 9 and finished on August 11.

The entries are often rambling, and were far funnier to write than they now are to read (at least to me, haha), and many were written at the end of a long day, after hiking about 20 miles with a 30-pound pack through vineyards and fields, alongside roads, through tiny villages, consuming lots of Magnum ice cream along the way. I was often exhausted and somewhat delirious by the time I hit the computer...alternately rushed in the hopes of rejoining my companions in the various bars, and indignantly lackadaisical, knowing that this blog was the ticket to my clearest memories and, perhaps one day, a book on the subject, and therefore determined to take my time and get the story right.

Anyway. I urge you to use the links at the left to begin at the beginning, whether of the planning or the trip itself, and I hope you enjoy the trip.

Buen Camino,

Christine M. Engelen

Friday, August 15, 2008

Finisterra to Santiago to Madrid to Frankfurt to HOME

All right, I’ve been lazy, but as my aunt reminded me, I have a story to finish.

The bar in Finisterra shut down, and the boys still hadn’t come to find us. We moseyed on back up to the pension house and found our note in the street...somehow it had come off the door handle. No sign of the boys. We tried to call up through the windows in case they’d gone in, but there was no response. Christa mentioned that some guy earlier in the trip had scaled his way onto the balcony when he was locked out of a place...yeah, RIGHT...there was NO scaling this building, either side. I checked. (I had already thought of that, but McGyver I ain’t, and our only Chuck Norris relative was one of the missing boys.)

So we waited. It was about 1:30 at this point. There was a dumpster across the street from the pension, and someone had very thoughtfully decided to dispose of a sofa right next to it. So we sat down and waited. Had a butterscotch. Waited some more. I decided to go cruise the harborfront again, in case we’d missed them, and told Christa I’d be back in ten minutes. No joy. The cafes were all shut down and the only people on the harbor were locals. As I climbed back up the hill to the pension, I could hear voices coming down the hill.

2am and the boys were back. Ricardo seemed fine, but Skip must’ve added about another 5k to his walk back by weaving back and forth across the street...he was blitzed. Once again, red wine had done in the kangaroo (turns out that was the story back in Villafranca, the day before he climbed to O Ceb, too). Their beach had been on the OTHER SIDE of the chance we would’ve ever found them. They’d had a blast, and we weren’t to the point where we were pissed off yet (we meaning me, since Christa NEVER gets pissed off), so after being obnoxious in the streets for another five minutes or so and waking up our pension owner on the third floor (something we’d been trying NOT to do, which is why we didn’t just buzz her to let us in), we all just went inside to crash.

I started getting my stuff ready for the morning, which was coming in five hours. We had a room with two twin beds, and when we got into our beds, Christa didn’t turn out the light. It was funny...we both just laid there and looked at each other for a was our last night together and I knew how much I was going to miss her. After I got on that bus, our Camino would be at an end. I think she was thinking the same thing. We went back over a few of our stories and giggled a lot. She was one of the best gifts the Camino gave me, and she said the same thing to me. It was humbling...I’d thought of her as a gift for weeks, but it was hard to imagine that I’d been the same for her. What an incredibly good friend she’d been.

The alarm went off early...I stumbled to the shower and packed up the rucksack one more time. She got dressed to walk to the bus stop with me. We were too late for coffee, but we got one last picture and watched the sun come up over the harbor. We sang her sun song one more time...she taught it to me in German and said she sings it every morning, and also at school when it’s a child’s birthday (forgot to mention, apparently, that Christa is an elementary school teacher and has the same 30 kids from 1st grade through 4th before starting over again with a new crop). The song in translation is:

Light from heaven
Light for your heart
Light for all creatures, and
May light be on your way.

When the bus pulled away, she stood on tiptoe and waved with both arms high over her head till we were out of sight. I assume she waved till we were out of then, I couldn’t see through my tears.

I couldn’t concentrate on that for long, though, for a couple reasons. 1) The bus driver apparently wanted to give all his passengers a taste of what it’s like to be a passenger in a bus doing a NASCAR road course at full speed, and 2) we were driving along some truly gorgeous coastline at sunrise, and I’d missed a lot of it by walking through rain and fog to get there. After a while, I managed to fall asleep.

I was supposed to have two and a half hours in Santiago before I had to make it to the train station at 2, so I was pretty excited when we pulled into the bus station at 10:30, after only 2 hours and ten minutes. So I took my time getting back to the cathedral. Unfortunately, it was still only 10:30 when I reached the cathedral. Uh oh. Watch stopped. After a moment of panic, I got the time, and was back to my former time limit. I wandered the square, looking for Hank or Al or Mimi and Jocelyn...anyone familiar. No one. The familiar faces that had resurfaced time and again on the Camino, friends or acquaintances or just faces, had all cycled through, and this crop had been behind us. It felt really strange to be on my own.

A bit of last-day shopping. Hit the little Thai-incense-thrift store again from a few days ago, where I’d gotten the gorgeous blue scarf that Christa had loved so much and that I left stuffed in the bottom of her rucksack for her to find after I’d gone. Picked up a few for me and one for my mom. Had a spot of coffee, did some thinking about how strange it would be to leave the Camino and the realm of the yellow arrows for good, and headed to the train station.

The wait for the train was uneventful. But like in Paris a month ago, I got everything else wrong as soon as I got on. I got the car right but got the seat wrong, and the conductor had to move me, which was frustrating. No one got into my old seat, and I fumed about it for a little while till the man next to me with the walrus moustache explained in Spanish that there would be stops along the way and someone would eventually occupy my seat.

He was looking at sheet music. I asked him what he played. Mandolin. Samba music. He was an auto shop teacher and was traveling with his two little daughters, about 5 and 8. He was very kind, spoke NO English, and it was very touching to watch him with his girls. And he wanted to talk about EVERYTHING. I’m sure it was clear from my botched Spanish and my ubiquitous present-tense verbs (I NEVER got the hang of verb tenses in Spanish class, either in middle school OR college) that my ability in the language was limited, but that didn’t stop him from wanting to discuss everything from Spanish literature to the history of the Camino to philosophy to the economy to gas consumption in Europe to the American presidential race. I managed to hold my end of a 20/80 conversation and he seemed satisfied with that, taking my pen and writing words I couldn’t understand in my Sudoku book when I got stuck in the conversation. He wrote his email address, too. Told me he lived in Madrid but didn’t like big cities so he visited his brother a lot in Santiago. He had another in Beijing. VERY nice man. Also rescued me from the intercar pneumatic doors once, which, unlike most automatic doors and windows and things in the States, do NOT reopen when something (me) gets stuck in them, but keep pressing firmly closed with bone-crunching force. That man was a saint.

The train arrived in Madrid after 7 hours and it took me a good 20 minutes to find out how to get onto the Metro system, and another 10 to understand how to buy a ticket to Dawn’s stop. Made it and followed her directions to her apartment and buzzed her just before 10pm. She had a couple friends already there and we headed out for dinner. We found a sidewalk cafe (several, actually, all in a row) with music playing and pretty good food...talked a lot about this and that. We hung it up about 12:15, which I hated to initiate, but I was going to be up at 5:30 for another full day of travel after my second 4-hour night in a row.

It was nice to be in a room by myself, but it felt strange to sort through the pack for one last night routine. I got a decent amount of sleep and dragged myself out of bed before dawn for a shower and my trip to the airport.

The flights passed in a blur. I vaguely noted how inefficient Travelocity had been to route me through Frankfurt on a trip from Madrid to DC. The Frankfurt leg had me in an exit row, YAY, and the gate attendant had promised me another for the leg to DC, which would’ve made the whole day a piece of cake. HAH.

Not to be. I was wedged into a middle seat between IndiaNoDeoderant and SnoresWhileAwake. I seriously considered faking a panic attack due to claustrophobia in order to get myself a bulkhead seat, even if it was going to be next to the screeching 2 year old in the row ahead of us...hey, it worked for the guy who had a Pekingese in a carrier. But decided against it. Tried to practice some of Christa’s serenity. She’d gone on a 10-day SILENT Buddhist retreat, and I imagine that must’ve been where she got her infallible sense of placid acceptance. I turned on Life of Pi, timed the 90 minutes it took for the flight attendants to clear away our lunch trays (which would’ve had any American Airlines FA in fits) and tried to just close my eyes and make 8 hours and 5 minutes pass as quickly as possible.

They did. Customs, baggage claim, exit, and there was my dad. It was SO GOOD to see his face. Strange to get in the truck. Didn’t want my bag in the truck bed; it looked like rain, but the rain never came. Was THRILLED to see gas prices had dropped a good $0.40 since I’d been gone (ha ha, thrilled to see $3.60 gas??). Home, Mom, my brother, and pizza...good, honest-to-God American Domino’s pizza. Bliss.

After something like the Camino, you re-enter your life like you’re getting into an ice-cold swimming toe at a time. You’re torn between the joy of being home in your own country, and the fear that everything you’ve just gone through will melt away like smoke on the wind. It’s all too much, and you want to wrap the past month around you like a blanket, to insulate you from life-as-normal. It’s disorienting. Driving a car again. I didn’t want to turn on my phone...afraid it would erupt into texts and voice mails and rule my life again. I wanted to tell everyone everything I’d thought and seen and done, and yet it felt like giving it away, like if I talked about it too much, it wouldn’t be mine anymore, there would be none left for me.

The last thing I want is for someone to ask, “So, what did you learn?” Not ready for that yet. Won’t be for a while. The lessons will keep coming for months, maybe years.

I told my friend Trinity today that what makes the Camino such a living metaphor for life is the fact that it’s a linear walk. It’s not some place in the Blue Ridge you drive to, then go hiking, and then come back to the car, back to where you started. Like life, you walk in one direction. You leave one place and arrive at another place far away, with little stops along the way, and people who may be with you for moments or weeks, and there’s no way to tell which it will be when you meet. All you can do is make the most of every encounter, soak in every stunning vista, and be as solidly in the moment as you can be, without longing for company you once had or a tomorrow you hope will go a certain way. The moment is all you have, the piece of earth you’re standing on that moment...nothing else can be predicted. People may reappear when you least expect with Christa in San Juan de Ortega, or when you hope they will, like the German boys at O Cebriero, or far after you’d expected, like Skip in Santiago. But there’s nothing you can do about someone else’s pace, and to try to match yours with someone else’s is always a mistake. You just have to walk your own walk, open your eyes, and look around you, as aware of the here and now as you can be. Like the woman in the candlelit breakfast cafe said, “Aqui y ahora,” here and now, no more.

One day back, and I went to the supermarket. Bought tomatoes and Philly cream cheese, will probably buy a baguette at Panera to make one of Skip’s bocadillos. Lingered long in the lotion aisle. Made a special trip to CVS for its trail mix, the kind I’d brought at the beginning of the trip, and thought of the Pyrenees and Zubiri while I crunched mouthfuls of nuts and raisins and M&Ms. Strange to buy things irrespective of their weight, strange to not have immediately on hand everything I needed (in the car: where’s my hand lotion?), strange to drive 100 miles of errands today and think, that’s about a week’s worth of walking.... Picked up a clothesline and wooden clothespins...thinking of diminishing my dryer use (doubt Virginia’s summer rains will cooperate, but that doesn’t bother me). Brought my cat home from the folks’ house.

Haven’t unpacked the rucksack yet...not ready yet.

Hit the Starbucks and gave the capsule of Finisterra sand to the gal who asked me to bring her back soil from Spain...told her this was one better and she’d know I didn’t just scoop it out of my backyard. She gave me my Grande Raspberry Mocha on the house, and OH it was sweet.

Finally got some Michael Phelps swimming commentary in English...he just won the butterfly...HELL yeah. It’s been tough to miss Olympic swimming, though I feel silly for thinking about it in the face of the experience I’ve had.

The girls are demanding I come out. I’m hoping their jaws will hit the floor and they’ll tell me how great I look, but so far, no one’s commented much beyond my father saying my knees are skinnier. Ha ha. (He said I looked healthy and happy and bright and wonderful.)

I lost a grand total of TWO POUNDS. TWO. One kilo.

Apparently, my body has declared that we will be THIS SIZE. PERIOD. I’m cool with that. A bit blown that I can walk 500 miles in 30 days and not change much, but I choose to believe I was just in awesome shape to start with. Ha ha haaaa. =)

My keyboard is hard to get used to again. I was lucky to have QWERTYs every day past the first day, but the symbols and things were elsewhere and I keep going for them in the wrong places.

And that’s about it. I gotta go see the girls. This will have to do for my initial postmortem report. I’ll keep posting. Keep reading if you wish. I plan to integrate pictures into my daily posts...we’ll see how that goes over the next couple days. I’ll post an announcement if I do.

All for now. Buen Camino.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Finisterra in the Moonlight

Aaaaaaand...Christa and I are locked out. Ha ha ha. This will be quick, because I only have 13 minutes and am killing time.

Skip made an AMAZING dinner...rizotto. I´ve never eaten any one thing before with so many different flavors going on at once. It was fabulous. He also made a hot German potato salad. Christa had brought ice cream, we had red and white wine, and I brought two little boxes of truffles. It was faboooooo....

After dinner, Christa and I collapsed onto the couches in pre-food-coma mode. Ricardo, the Italian staying with us, had heard about some kind of beach party...buncha peregrinos having a get-together on the beach. The boys were keen to go, but Christa and I wanted to just chill out and maybe take a walk. So off they went.

It wasn´t long before Christa and I decided to take a walk, maybe find the boys, and just take it easy around the town. So we got ready to go...and no key.


No prob...we´ll just go to the beach to find them.

Uh. Which beach?

NO idea. We thought they´d be at the little one towards the lighthouse, only a 5 minute walk away. Nope.

In the other direction is a much bigger beach, so we headed off that way...I knew the way since I´d walked in and had gone back and forth between the center of town and the sports hall yesterday to get my pack. So we hit the beach. Which was DARK. But quiet and peaceful and moonlit and waves crashing and soft sand. Christa picked up a thousand shells along the way. I made a plastic cup full of the white wine from dinner last longer than anyone else I know could have. We saw flashlights and headed towards them, but it was just Esteban, the unicycle guy (who, I forgot to report, made it to Santiago and then to Finisterra) and four girls who were setting up a tent with him. Apparently they´re sleeping on the beach tonight, which is cool. They hadn´t seen Skip and Ricardo. So we went further. Dodged some fishermen in the dark, picked up more shells, stopped and lay on our backs for a while, looking at the stars and the moon and listening to the little waves crashing. I thought about how, almost exactly a year ago, I was doing the exact same thing with a bonfire near Pebble Beach in CA, listening to the Pacific crashing on the shore nearby, and here I was now, on a beach at the end of the world in Spain, listening to the Atlantic crashing on the shore nearby. It was about 6pm back home by this time, and I put my hands in the water and wondered if my lil nephew was in the waves on the other side of the ocean at that moment....

No boys. Aaaaaaand then it started to rain. So we walked back to the town (a little quicker this time, but not to quick to enjoy how the moon looked on the water) and laughed about how, if the boys hadn´t found their party, then they were just two dudes walking on a moonlit beach, and how uptight two American guys would be about that. Haha.

So here we are in a deserted bar, waiting for them to come find us, watching the Olympic reviews, and thinking about how I´m on that bus in less than 7 hours now and GOD only knows when an Italian and an Australian with two bottles of red wine with them and countless beautiful European peregrinas in town will decide to mosey on back home. Neither one of us wants to buzz Ursula...she´s been wonderful and we don´t want to incur her wrath....

So hope this cider lasts long enough...and that they come home soon. The alarm is set, so I should make it onto the bus. Just hope the boys come back before morning so it can be WITH MY STUFF....


If you´re just checking in, I posted about the day below...this is just a little something extra for the evening....

WHAT is everyone CRYING about???? lol =)

Finisterra in the Sunshine

Yes, we got it...the sunshine today!!! =) All your sunny thoughts must have helped, because we had a gorgeous day today.

Skip and I nearly strangled our wonderful German hospitaleros last night. They started telling me I needed to get off the computer because they thought I was just going to check email and didn´t realize I needed some time to write a blog. There wasn´t a timer running, and I didn´t have to pay, and when they started harassing me, I told them I would be happy to pay if they wanted me to, but if not, they needed to leave me alone and I´d be done when I was done. What did they want me to get off so quickly for? So they could watch more idiotic German stand-up comedy on YouTube. WHICH THEY DID UNTIL 2:30 AM. Laughing loudly the whole time, never mind the fact that their guests had paid €10 to SLEEP that night. What a bunch of complete can fill in the blank with your own word. Skip and I were livid. Complete jerks. Can´t believe it after having met so many wonderful Germans on this trip. We try to remind ourselves that 95% of the people and the hospitaleros we´ve met have been simply awesome. However, my next Camino will NOT include Galicia at all. It is a beautiful, beautiful part of the country, but the high-time Camino traffic and the problems associated with it make it totally not worth it.

ANYWAY...woke up this morning to SUNSHINE!!! We resisted our urges to trash the sleeping area and make obscene gestures to the hospitaleros, and headed down to the portside for coffee and breakfast. Which was no longer being served. But we did get the coffee and had some nice quiet morning time. I couldn´t believe it was my last full day with Christa. I´m going to miss her so much. Five different countries were represented for breakfast...Anna from Sweden (whom we met in Foncebadón), Ricardo from Italy (the guitar player from Villar de Mazarife, the night they were singing Proud Mary and all the American classics till late in the night), Christa from Austria, Brad from Australia, and lil´ol´ me from America. Kinda cool when you think about it. We´re missing a lot of the Olympics, but then again, we´re having our own little international party here anyway. order of business was to move our bags to the pension house we got for tonight, which is a DREAM. It´s run by a lovely German woman named Ursula, who claims she´s more French than German because she spent some 50 years living in France. Now she runs this pension house with two doubles and some extra-bed space. It´s lovely inside, and the sunshine made it more beautiful, as did the kitchen and the washing machine. None of us needed a full load, but we all threw something in, so I no longer have to ration underwear for my last couple days. It has French windows that open onto a balcony over the street and a view of the Finisterra harbor. Skip says we´re lucky the guys last night were such assholes, or we would´ve stayed there and missed this. I´m glad I didn´t have to spend my last two nights in the sports hall...they haven´t been free like the sports hall would´ve been, but I need Christa´s alarm tomorrow morning to catch the 8:20 bus back to Santiago. If I miss it, I´m screwwwwwwwwed....

Anyway...Skip just walked by this cafe with a HUGE load of ingredients for the masterpiece he´ll be whipping up for us for dinner tonight. I´m hoping for some more of those mashed potatoes he made in Azofra. There are upsides to travelling with a chef.

So after we got settled in at the pension house and got laundry put in, we decided it was time for the Cape and the lighthouse. The sun was out but the sky showed potential for turning dark. So off we went, carrying the things we´d decided we´d burn when we got there. I´d spent some of our coffee time this morning writing a list of a lot of the concerns that have plagued me over the past few weeks and past few YEARS...jotting down insights I´d gained to deal with them...and wound up hating to burn it because I needed to remember the insights. Brad said send ´em out and they´d come back. I had my list, my Mae West hat (battered and bent and coming unwoven and totally wrecked) and the shirt I wore yesterday for my last walk (GOD did it does my week I´ll wonder how in the hell I´ve put up with this smell for so long, but right now I barely notice it).

The lighthouse was about 3km away, and we walked along this narrow two-way road that did NOT have room for foot traffic, despite the fact that nearly every pilgrim who walks the Camino and goes to Finisterre heads up this path to the lighthouse. Along the way there was another bronze statue of a pilgrim, like the one at San Roque, leaning into the wind on an eternal journey to the end of the earth and destined never to make it. I got some great shots of the harbor and the lighthouse and the statue and the cross and EVERYTHING.

When we got to the lighthouse, we took some time to wander around and look at things before we headed to the firepit. We all took pictures of ourselves holding the things we´d burn. Brad and Christa both had pairs of socks, and Brad had a bunch of dried sage he´d picked off the roadside back in Frómista and tied to an old hemp bracelet he´d broken. One by one, we put our things in the firepit and watched as they burned. Brad went off on a big rock with his sage and did this Indian sage-burning thing he´s been talking about doing for weeks. Christa paced around the fire and spit into it several times...haven´t asked her what that was all about. I tossed my hat in, watched it start to flame, and was suddenly terrified it was going to catch the wind and blow back out, flaming, onto us (Headline: Wildfire Started in Pilgrim Ritual by Idiotic American Peregrina). Tossed the shirt on top of it and tucked the paper in the corner and watched it all burn.

We won´t catch the sunset at the lighthouse, and we didn´t swim, but hopefully our rituals will work and I´ll get better at keeping some of those concerns from ruling my life anymore. I certainly don´t feel like a new person, but maybe some of that feeling will come later.

We had a beer at the End of the World before we headed back to town, and we shared some music with one another. Christa gave me a beautiful snail shell she found along the path back in La Rioja, and gave Brad a necklace she´d bought back in Manjarin and had been wearing for a couple weeks. It was very touching. I shared some music I found poignant for each of them, based upon things they´d said to me along the way.

We got some shots of ourselves at the stone cross and the 0.0km marker stone...

...and the Camino is over. We´ve done everything we needed to do. As they say, it´s all over but the cryin´.

I´ll get a little teary tomorrow when I have to say goodbye to Christa and get on the bus and start the long trek to Madrid and home, but it´ll feel good to be back, I think.

My brother commented yesterday and said he told Eric to wave to me from the Outer Banks today. Funny. We sat there with our beers, and I was pointing West and telling my friends that in 48 hours, I´d be almost home. I wonder if I was waving west when Eric was waving east. =)

I finally found some beautiful conchilla shells for framing. Good thing I was down to about €5 up on the cape, because they were €1 each and I would´ve bought a million if I could´ve. Can´t wait to see what my mom does with the shells.

And that´s pretty much it, I guess...dunno if I´ll post tomorrow. It´ll be the bus to Santiago, about 2.5 hours to get to the train station across town. I´ll go back through the old town on the way and see if I can find Al or Hank or Mimi and Jocelyn at the cathedral...we figure they might be there by tomorrow. Head back out of town to the train station...catch the train at 2pm, arrive in Madrid at 9...hopefully Dawn will find me at the Metro station she told me to go to, and we´ll hang out and kick around till it´s time for me to leave for the airport at 6am. It´s 6pm 49 hours, I´ll be getting in my dad´s truck and I cannot WAIT.

Been a heckuva trip.

If I don´t post tomorrow, don´t go away forever. I´m sure there will be some postmortem musings.

All for now. Love you all and as always, thanks for reading.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Santiago de Compostela to Finisterra

Well, I´m here, at the end of the world, and like I´d wanted, I came upon the ocean on my feet, in my boots, with the pack. No blisters, no Compeed, no company. It was beautiful, despite the rain and fog.

We got up and packed this morning, hit breakfast and the post office. I am KICKING myself. I was hoping to get a flat photo-type envelope, cardboard, to send the watercolor in, but they didn´t have any hard ones and I couldn´t make him understand that I wanted something that wouldn´t bend. That was too hard for him. So he came up with a box that fit the picture if I cut it out of the mat it came on. So I did, and put it in the bottom. UNPROTECTED. AND THEN PUT STUFF ON TOP OF IT. WHAT WAS I THINKING?????

SIGH. The other thing I´m kicking myself for is that this box was HALF as heavy as the one I sent home from Puenta la Reina, and cost TWICE as much. FIGURE THAT!!! I should´ve just carried it, but the rain made me too nervous and it would´ve had to be in my hands. Or I could´ve left it somewhere, but I didn´t want to be tied to return to a place in Santiago since I´ll have about an hour and a half to cross town from bus station to train station on Wednesday. Grrrr. Hassle. So I´ll get home and some of the best stuff I got will be there in a week...when it´s not as exciting to show everyone. And GOD PLEASE one more miracle, that the watercolor doesn´t get messed up...I´m such an idiot. Sigh. Christa says let it go, it´s gone, it´s done, forget about it. I´m SOOOO good at that, you know....

Anyway, left the Correos and headed to the bus a return from Finisterra with an open date and time (I´ll go at 8:20am on Wednesday), and the bus took off. RAIN. Not really rain, just drizzle the whole way, and LOTS of fog. Our maps in our Camino books are limited, so we had no idea where we were, but somehow we ended up on a coastal route, and saw lots of beautiful fishing villages and misty seascapes. I went into the iPod...spent so much time downloading and arranging playlists, but I should´ve just come with Loreena McKennitt´s ¨An Ancient Muse¨´s been my Camino album (keep wanting to mention that and forgetting). My Camino theme song has been Caravanserai, and the two before and after it are my camel-plodding-evenly-up-very-steep-incline songs...stride songs...meditation songs. Give it a´s very moving and great walking music...great for thinking and escaping into your head. PERFECT Camino music.

Midway to Cée, Christa declared she didn´t want to walk in the rain. I am very proud of myself for not adjusting my plans for the sake of staying in company...I told her I wanted to walk and I´d walk come hell or high water. So she and Brad stayed on the bus and I got off...about 14km to Finisterra. Walked alone. It rained, and then it drizzled, and then it stopped, and then it rained again. The rain only lasted about 5 or 10 minutes when it came...guess Dad´s magic raincoat is running out of magic a bit. Ha ha.

A lot of the walk was coastal, and some of it led up over hills and through towns. There was a stretch of eucalyptus forest and then it opened up onto the sea and it was gorgeous...and then it started to rain again. Figures. Hey, with our luck, I´ll take it.

It felt good to walk, and to walk alone, and to walk the last 14 to the sea. At one point, my bag suddenly felt twice as heavy...dunno why, but even that was good to feel, since there were so many times I was plagued with a heavy pack AND a hot sun AND blisters AND 30-plus-km days. The mist and drizzle was was cool but not quite cold, and really, it was nice.

When I got into Finisterra, I ran into some Germans heading back the other way. I asked if the albergue was ahead. Get this. It´s CLOSED for five days due to water damage. But there´s another sports hall. So I turned around and backtracked a km or so with them...hit the sports hall, got a shower (which was actually not that cold) and headed out to find Christa and Skip.

They pulled me off the street from this burger joint where they had decent burgers, Olympic coverage, and a VERY intolerant barman. We got to watch the men´s 400m free relay!!! AMERICA!!! =) Hope someone at home decides to DVR some swimming for me....

We sat and watched the rain for a while, then wandered out onto the pier, then got rained on, had coffee, watched the rain some more...decided to wait till tomorrow for the lighthouse. You´re supposed to swim in the ocean, burn the clothes you´ve walked in, and watch the sunset from the lighthouse, and the idea is that you wake the next morning a new person.´s too cold to swim and I don´t have a swimsuit. I can burn a shirt, but the other stuff I have to wear home, and it was expensive, and isn´t wrecked. And the weather will determine whether we get a sunset. Hope it breaks and we get some sun tomorrow.

Christa and Brad had gotten me a bed at another albergue. I was torn. The sports hall sucks, but it´s free, and it´s fine for me. The albergue was another €10. I need dirt cheap and free right now...I´m SO broke, but Christa finally said she´d cover me, so I went and got my bag and now we´re here. I don´t feel right about her paying for my bed...but I can´t keep taking out cash, not right here at the end. Dunno what to do yet. They also want to move to a hotel tomorrow that will run us €15 for the night. Dunno, dunno, dunno.... We´ll see how it plays out.

We went back to the burger joint for dinner. The Olympics were´s tennis between Spain and Italy. We made the mistake of cheering for Spain and ticked off the barman again. Skip wants me to put in here that he nearly came to blows with the guy. He was very rude and yelled at us...Brad was livid and gave him hell right back. Can´t believe how rude some of the barmen and hospitaleros can be when pilgrims are their bread and butter. Some of them forget that the root of their title is ¨hospitality.¨

No peace yet in Finisterra, and these lovely hospitaleros are hassling me to get off so they can get back on, which just exacerbates my feeling that I just want to go home. I was hoping Finisterra would involve some peaceful reflection, but the weather is limiting my ability to disappear and go sit on the beach, or at the lighthouse, so right now, this side-trip has been more hassle than anything else. I am ready to come home. I´m Spained out. It´s been nice, but it´s time to go home, and I wish it was tomorrow instead of Wednesday and Thursday. I guess it´s just the weather.

Anyway. Off to bed. Pray for some sunshine for me. I WANNA GO HOME!! =)

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Santiago - Day Two

Well, this will have to be fast, as I am late for dinner.

Day Two in Santiago has been both relaxing and strange. It´s the first time I´ve spent more than one day in one place for over a month. Did some souvenir shopping today and am finding it impossible to buy anything for people because a) I am SOOOO out of money, and b) not much here would have meaning for anyone who hasn´t been here and had this Camino experience. If you´re a loved one, please know that I´ve been thinking of you all along, but will probably not be bringing home anything for you...Dad, I know I´ll be getting a reply ORDERING me not to bring you anything, ha ha. However, my Best Aunt in the World badge will be revoked if I can´t come up with SOMETHING to bring my neph. The only things I´ve found are things he would LOVE, but his mom and dad would HATE. (Actually, the fact that his dad would hate them is actually appealing, as I have scores to settle from 20 years ago, but I like his mom and would like to stay friends with her, so I´ll try to resist the slingshot and the godawful child´s Galician bagpipe we´ve been treated to in the streets for two days....) =)

Finally went into the church. We went to mass today at noon...well, tried. It was PACKED. Pilgrims and rucksacks EVERYWHERE. Wanted to ask one of the priests in the confessionals for a blessing, but don´t know how to say it in Spanish and didn´t want him to think I was trying to confess anything. (Ha ha, LOVE not being Catholic....) Didn´t find much for me in the mass, but when I started slowly pacing laps around the entire place, that was much more enjoyable, because I could listen and still hear the singing but got to walk, and after the month I´ve had, nothing feels better than walking...slowly...without weight on my back....

I got in the line to hug St. James and it was a strange experience. It took up most of the mass service, and the statue is a gold one, not a stone one like I´d expected. It makes up part of the big display behind the altar (don´t know the word for it), so behind the service, the audience can see pilgrims ascending steps, embracing the apostle from behind, and descending again. You hug him over the back of his shoulders and it really does feel kind of silly. I kissed the shell on the back of his shoulderpiece and moved on. Down below was the crypt with his bones, and I knelt for a while and said a prayer that I´ll be able to use this experience for good for many years to come. It was pretty emotional.

The main entrance is blocked off, as is the pillar we´re supposed to touch with the stone statue of St. James at the top. Behind the statue is Maestro Mateo, whose forehead you´re supposed to bump with yours to get a bit of his wisdom, and you can´t get to him either. So we filed past and symbolically bumped heads with a quick, curt bow towards him. I need all the wisdom I can get, so I did it twice.

Other than that, we´ve just been wandering and eating and shopping a bit. I had made a mental list of the things I wanted, so as to minimize CRAP I´d come home with, and everything I bought has some meaning. I´m most pleased with the gold shell charm I might replace my Torii gate I´ve been wearing for years. I also got a shell tile and an arrow tile to put near my front doorstep and maybe on my deck or in my classroom. Got the obligatory cheesey Camino T.shirt with the names of all the places on the Camino Frances. Also bought some artsy postcards for framing and a beautiful little watercolor that I´m really excited about.

Jury´s out on sending things home. If there´s a safe place to leave a shopping bag while we´re in Finisterre, and it´s not too much trouble to get back to it on Wednesday as I pass back through, I´ll just carry it. Otherwise, I´ve just added about 5 pounds back onto my back.

Booked the train from Santiago to Madrid. Working out Wednesday night details. Pain in the butt since I´ll be in Madrid for 12 hours and 2 minutes, but the overnight bus was too close for comfort on time, and the overnight train was worse. Don´t want to take the chance.

Did laundry. Thank GOD. Last time for that in Spain. Can´t wait to get back to my own washing machine and clothes that aren´t stained and stinky.

Better go now...the gang is either waiting for me or has moved on, and either way, I´m famished. Tomorrow we´ll catch a bus at 9am to Cée and walk about 10-12km to the ¨end of the world.¨ I´m really excited about one more day of walking with the pack, and about walking into sight of the ocean. Already, I feel like my pilgrim status has been revoked, and our days of walking feel weeks behind us. CANNOT believe we only arrived yesterday. Sigh.

All for now. Love you all and thanks again for reading.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Santiago de Compostela

We´re here. =)

It´s so hard to go all the way back to this morning, YEARS ago, and try to tell the story of our arrival. There´s not much to tell, it seems. It was our last day walking and we were very quiet. Julia came with us at first, but then walked ahead...far ahead...and got here long before we did. So Christa and I were able to do a lot of thinking and a lot of reminiscing. She said she was going back to the day she left her apartment and try to remember each night and each thing that happened, so she was very quiet for a long time. I tried to do the same, but found my thoughts too jumpy, and after all, I have my BLOG!!! So I´ll do the trek back when I get home and can have some peace and quiet for a little while.

(Peace and quiet...and solitude...OH how I crave it....)

Last night, on the way back to the gym, we suddenly heard symphony music! It was 11:30pm and we thought we were passing a late concert. We could see instruments (THREE FRENCH HORNS! YAY! [my instrument from childhood]) and I finally was able to figure out the song was Music of the Night from Phantom of the Opera...then we realized the players were CHILDREN. They looked about 12. At almost MIDNIGHT, they were having a band practice!! I don´t get this country. This was after we passed a family with small children having dinner at the same time of night. And we see that all the time. Weird country. But I digress.

When we got back to the gym, it was PITCH black and hard not to step on people...we could see the rows of sleeping bags when someone opened a door to the bathroom for a moment or two. When I went to brush my teeth, I knew we were one row up from the bathrooms, and could see Christa waving her phone for me to get back to our mats, but couldn´t see the people and was afraid to step on someone!! There must have been something like 250 people...and you should have SEEN the MASSIVE TANGLE of cell phone charging cords on the power strips!! My brother the electrician would have gone into fits. You can´t imagine how many phones.

We got up this morning in the gym after what was a decent night´s sleep. The Thermarest mattress was worth every penny, as has been the sleeping bag. Anyway...slept, woke up slow to the rummaging of countless pilgrims anxious to get on the way. I was not. Christa and I (again) were among the last to leave...big surprise, huh? Had breakfast with Julia and hit the road. Like I said, quiet morning and we walked SLOW. I didn´t want the Camino to end, I think...I really kinda dragged it out today. We had 21km to go. There isn´t a whole lot to say that´s different from the previous several days in Galicia, except today we had to walk around an airport runway in Lavacolla. It was SO jarring and strange to hear a plane taking off and to watch it rise above the eucalyptus trees.

Road choked with pilgrims today, several of them on bicycles. (I want to start a Camino rule that states that the leader of a bike pack needs to call out the number in the group as he passes people, and the last person calls out ¨Ultimo!¨ or something so you know when they´ve all passed. I´ve spent four weeks in constant fear of being run over by bikers.) Several others have been in large groups with matching shirts...something I thanked God for today, not making me part of a pilgrim group with matching shirts. Sigh.

We had a sort of brunch just before Monte de Gozo and dragged that out, too...for about an hour. When we finally ambled our way to Monte de Gozo, I was keen to be the ¨pilgrim king¨ of the two of us...the first person to spot the spires of the Santiago cathedral. I got to the top of Monte de Gozo first, but Christa was the one to point out the one spire we could see...very difficult to spot behind a ridgeline of pines far in the distance. Monte de Gozo is a pretty cool spot, with a huge monument commemorating the Pope´s visit in 2002(?).

We descended and headed into the city, stopping to take pictures by the road signs announcing SANTIAGO. We kept looking at each other with excited smiles as we walked into the city, and I had butterflies in my stomach, but it was still a very pensive experience. We saw spires at one point within the city, but then it took forever to actually find the part of the city where the cathedral is located.

We were almost there...had just left the Plaza de Cervantes with its tall pillar with the bust of Miguel de Cervantes (Don Quixote author) when we got accosted by a tiny little old lady asking us if we needed a place to stay. It was a bit strange. She gave us a price of €35 for the both of us, and it seemed as though she was saying she didn´t mind if we stayed one night or two for that price. The conversation got complicated, and we were around the corner from the cathedral...a very sensitive moment for a pilgrim who has just completed an 800km we disentangled ourselves and walked on, hand in hand, waiting for the view....

And there it was. We´d come from behind, so we had the view of the back of the facade first. When we came around the corner, it was just like I´d imagined. We stood and stared and just breathed. We´ve been waiting 30 days...30 long, hard, blister-filled, sore, exhausting days to see this sight. To me, it felt like I´d been looking at this cathedral every day of my life. Strange.

I was scanning the square for familiar faces, but saw none...and then this battle cry rang out and I didn´t even have to turn around. Skip came charging across the square towards me and we was awesome. He told us later he´d given us about four or five minutes before he pounced, but saw me looking for him and had to come out of hiding. It was great to see him again. He´d arrived yesterday at 8am on 8/8/08 and said he cried like a baby. Julia was with him, waiting for her mother.

I took the last three pictures of the 1000 on my 1G card in the square in front of the Cathedral...then took off the medical tape, put in a new one, taped it back down, and kept firing off. =)

I couldn´t really take it all in. Seeing Brad again after a week or so of being apart...I forgot how much energy he had, what a social butterfly he is. It was a bit overwhelming. I kept trying to catch my breath and look at the cathedral, but there was so much noise and motion, it took a while for me to start taking in details.

There were busquers near the walls...dressed up as pilgrims or saints or Jesus or witches...and I haven´t really gotten a good look at the figures on the facade yet. That´s for tomorrow.

We went and had a beer and waited for the woman who owns Skip´s hotel to come back...he wasn´t sure if the reservation he´d made for us was still good. It turns out it wasn´t, so we got a different room around the corner from the´s not very nice, but it´s a bed, and tomorrow morning we´ll find a different place for tomorrow night.

I went to get my compostela, and stood in line with one of the Canadian ladies for about two hours as the line crawled forward. When we finally reached the top, I presented my credencials, and the guy scanned them carefully and then began to write my name on my compostela. He said it had to be written in its Latin it says ¨Christinam Mariam Engelen.¨ The date is 8/9/08...30 days from when we started. It´s beautiful. I paid him €1 for a donation and another for a tube to put it in, and walked out feeling like I´d just been handed my firstborn child. (And it might well be...the labor was certainly long enough!!)

We started running into people everywhere. The Napoli boys, the Hungarians, Gregor from Poland, José from Barcelona, Agnes from Hungary...we kept hoping to catch sight of Al or Hank or Mimi and Jocelyn, but they´re probably still a few days out. No sight of the German boys...I think they must have gone home, which makes me sad. We spent so much time together on the Camino, it would´ve been perfect to be here with them for at least a few hours.

I still have not gone inside the cathedral...just put my hand on its wall when we arrived and again about an hour ago, as we walked back from dinner. (It´s past midnight now.) I put my forehead against the limestone wall and thought about how far I had walked just to experience that moment. It was powerful and I finally was near tears. As we walked back down through the arch to the front of the facade, a street busquer with a guitar and a harmonica was singing ¨Knockin´ on Heaven´s Door¨ by GNR...I gave him some of my best ¨Ay, ay, ay-ay-ay¨ Axl Rose backup as I passed. Knocking on heaven´s door, indeed.

But I think more of that is coming tomorrow. Skip was collecting people all evening, making a big group of people to have dinner and drink with, and I found it a bit much, so I´m looking forward to vanishing a bit tomorrow and carving out some quiet time for myself in front of the cathedral. We´re going to mass together at noon, and I´ll finally get a chance to finish my all the rituals...hug and kiss St. James, hit my head against Maestro Mateo´s head (to get a bit of his genius) and touch the column (if they still let us...the book said they might not anymore). I want to go to the pilgrim´s museum and see what that´s like. I got to do a little bit of shopping tonight, to find a dress to wear to mass. I have one, and I like it, but it´s not my long flowy white one I was so hoping for. I had to get a pashmina to cover my shoulders, too!! But it was late in the evening and shops were closing and I was afraid I wouldn´t have time in the morning...and I was not setting foot in that cathedral without a new dress to wear.

So there´s a lot we left for tomorrow. I believe the plan is to stay tomorrow night in Santiago, then leave Monday morning for the coast. We´ll stop about 10km from Finisterre, hike up the packs, and walk to the ocean for one last Camino day. We´ll be there Monday and Tuesday, and then Wednesday will be about getting back to Madrid (for me, at least).

Part of me wishes I were going to Finisterre on my own, that the others had other plans. I love them all, but it´s been really hard on me to be surrounded by people and sound and motion and plans for 30 straight days. I need some solitude, and BAD, and when I imagine sitting on the beach in Finisterre by myself, just thinking, it sounds like the perfect capstone to my trip. Especially since Skip is talking about MASSES of people he knows in Finisterre right now. I told him not to be surprised if I vanish quite a bit while we´re´ll have to be done.

It feels so strange not to have anywhere to walk to tomorrow. I don´t quite know what to do with myself.

And nothing is clean. Not even me. Ha ha. Tomorrow.

I think that´s the best I can do right now. I have to go back and meet Christa with the hotel room key, and this keyboard is kinda gummy anyway. So I will hopefully have more to say tomorrow. I will be doing some shopping with the two nickels I have left in my cash supply (ha ha), and hopefully getting a lot of time to myself.

So, we made it. =)

It feels good.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Mélide to Pedrouzo

Please don´t expect this blog to make linear sense like the others might, because today is all scattered up in my head and I doubt it´s going to be very coherent. But it´s the last night before Santiago, so maybe that´s how it´s supposed to be.

Well, we survived the gym floor. My nail-biter last night was wondering if the school door would still be open when we made it back there at 11pm, and it was. And though there were only about a dozen people in there, they were LOUD. For a LONG TIME. Christa lent me some earplugs...I rolled out my mattress and pulled out my (BEAUTIFUL NEW black and teal) sleeping bag and tried to go to sleep. The mattress worked very well (Go Thermarest people, and John for recommending them). The loud folks finally went to sleep (oh, did I mention they decided to SMOKE in the gym?? Yay.) and so did we. It was much better than the cot in Ligonde, I must say.

Up early (well, for us). We headed back to the albergue to pick up Julia...the German teenager who was crying by the roadside before we reached Triacastela. The plan we´d made last night was that her mom (who has a totally screwed up foot for some reason...not blisters, something else) was going to take a taxi to the next stop 35km away, and Julia would walk with us. Christa´s and my rucksacks would go in the taxi with Regina. She would get us all hotel rooms, either two doubles or a quad, provided they didn´t cost us more than €20 apiece (last night in the gym was free, of course). Good plan. She has our stuff, we have her daughter. Ha ha. Turns out Julia is a pretty good fencer (Sarah, are you reading?). And QUITE a talker. Ha ha.

So off we went, and our mochillas (rucksacks) stayed behind. FINALLY, a day without the packs, and all parts working properly. No leg issues today, and the boots felt like a dream for the first 20km. No new notes in the scenery...rolling hills, stone fences, cows, a few horses, rabbits (!!!) and some GORGEOUS flowers. We walked through some pretty pricey house neighborhoods on the way today, and several of them had mind-blowing flower gardens and high grape arbors (which I am totally in love with. I plan to start growing my grape arbors and ivy house-coverings immediately upon return. Landlord, take note).

Today´s major catastrophe: my camera quit. TWO DAYS before Santiago, and the camera goes kaput. I was livid. It wasn´t just NOT was HALF working SOME of the time. I can deal with working, I can deal with NOT working...but don´t give me this maybe-I-will-maybe-I-won´t crap, because that just drives me batty. Okay. We´ve got a town coming up. Arzúa has 8000 people. There will be a camera shop. The last thing I want to do is buy a new digital camera IN EUROPE TWO DAYS before I finish the Camino, but dammit, I did not walk 800km to NOT get a picture of Santiago.

So we walked on. I was far ahead of Christa and Julia (because I was fuming about my camera, and as many of you know, I am not fit for human company when I am fuming...stop laughing, Mom, Dan, Maria, and Joe). I ran into Wim and stopped for coffee and an eclair, and when Christa and Julia showed up, we headed into town. There was this huge market going on...lots of clothes and belts and things. LOTS of people. I saw at least five different skirts, tops, and dresses that would have been perfect Santiago outfits. But we pressed on...walked right through, which is good (if you buy it, you have to carry it, and we´re not QUITE there yet, and to top it off, we had no packs). Hit one camera shop. Large Samoan looking fellow, found out he spoke English after I spent three or four minutes doing terrible things to the Spanish language. He could fix cameras, but didn´t have time at the moment. Pointed me somewhere else. Found that place. Didn´t fix cameras, but had plenty. They ranged from disposables for €8 to digitals for €345. GASP. What to do, what to do.... Danced in indecision for 10 minutes between the disposables and the €21 film cameras (wasn´t touching the digitals) and walked out with 2 disposables. So I was suddenly roadkill...a technological saucer critter. More fuming.

Got back on the path and we all split up and walked alone to re-center. Me to become human again, Christa to shake off the city and noise and people, and Julia...dunno about Julia. I wound up walking with Julia while Christa recovered, and she talked A LOT. It was fun, though...she has very good English and we talked about Harry Potter and Titanic and school and all kinds of things.

We stopped in a place called Calle after about 20km (which seemed to melt under us) and they were playing the Olympic opening ceremonies!! They were wonderful. We must have stayed an hour and a half. I´m so glad we got to see them. I knew today was 8/8/08 and I was hoping we´d see something.

What killed me was that just before Calle, we hit a marker stone that said 29.5. TWENTY-NINE POINT FIVE. Christa and I hit marker stone 765 back in the Pyrenees and now we were under THIRTY. No wonder the boys did the last 117 in one go. The farther you get, the smaller the numbers get, and you want to go forever, and at that moment, I thought we could do it all today. No matter that we´d done over twenty at that point...another thirty seemed like NOTHING. Pick up the packs in Pedruozo and just book it. Hit Santiago by nightfall. Blew my mind.

But like always, the cider and the patatas fritas and the sitting did us in, and we started getting slow again. More picturesque towns, and vóila, my camera started working again. GRRRRRRRRRRRR. I have to push up on the battery and in on the card, but the sucker friggin´ works again. So be it. A quote comes to mind...Oscar Wilde? ¨I have had a great many worries in life, and most of them never happened.¨ Someone correct me...who said that?

By the time I hit Santa Irene, far ahead of the others, my feet were going to crap again. I got REALLY slow. There was no way in HELL I had another 20k in the tank. All day, we´d had partly cloudy skies, and by afternoon we were hot for the first time since Portomarín. No sign of rain today (of course, because I had Dad´s magic raincoat with me). So it got pretty hot, and I was pretty tired, and I just kept thinking about how nice it would be to have a bed for the first time in three nights, and a nice refreshing drove me onward. Nice thought.

I was passing a beautiful hotel B&B and this guy José came running out to flag me down. He and Veronica were inside...the lovely young couple from Barcelona who were with us in Ruitelán. We hadn´t seen them since Portomarín. Their English is about as limited as my Spanish, so our conversations are a hodgepodge of English, Spanish, Spanglish, and Gesture. But it´s always fun. So I chatted with them for a few minutes and we pushed on.

Not long after, right about the time that my dogs were REALLY barkin´, we hit Pedrouzo and found Regina. There was a lot of conversation in German and Christa started looking a bit grave. Finally, she translated for me. No beds. No room in the albergue (no surprise), and NO HOTEL ROOMS. Regina had waited till 11 to take the taxi from Mélide and though the taxi took her to several hotels, nothing was available. Since she was injured, the albergue had offered her a massage bed to sleep on, and Julia could sleep on the floor. But she couldn´t get us beds because she didn´t have our credentials with her (of course...we didn´t think about that, and because of the stamps on the way, I wouldn´t have wanted to give mine up anyway, and besides, we were expecting a hotel room).

SO. Options? Another gym.

So we are in a gym again. A sports hall this time. The gym is huge.


We have room, of course...but I´m talking 200 people in this gym. Now stop. Close your eyes and imagine the smell of 200 pilgrims, their shoes, their socks, their bodies, and a hot, enclosed gym.

Pleasant, right?


But this is the Camino. We survived last night, and I am fine with the gym. Last night went fine, I have my mat and my sleeping bag (as long as no one´s stolen them when we get back, HA HA), and earplugs, and we had another brisk Arctic shower, and we found a restaurant to gorge ourselves into a food coma in. And I still have some Tylenol PM. And who cares anyway, tomorrow is SANTIAGO!!!!!

Can´t believe a week ago, I paid a thousand dollars in rent, and for four nights I´ve been sleeping in garages and gyms. Ha ha.

Okay. Some Camino notes. Snapshots of the pilgrim´s life.

Churches have NOTHING on pharmacies. When you are a pilgrim, you absolutely DO NOT pass the neon green cross sign outside a pharmacy without at least LOOKING in. Pharmacies are magical places, where miracles happen, and the shelves are stocked with lovely things like Compeed and baby wipes and foot creams and things that make pain go away. Pharmacists are angels. If the neon green cross sign is NOT lit, you stand outside, looking longingly through the window at all the potions and magic things inside, or stare at the signs in the window, trying to determine when the doors will open again and the magic will recommence. Hitting a pharmacy in the late afternoon, when feet hurt the most, and it´s siesta time, is TORMENT. Neon green plus sign. Take notes. Forget the churches. Visit every pharmacy.

Similar joy and ecstasy occur in supermarkets, especially in the shampoo aisle, though this is more tormentous than the pharmacy because the things in the markets are usually too big to carry. We linger long in the shampoo aisles, gazing at Garnier Fructis and Herbal Essences and Dove. Giant bottles of lotion throw us into fits. We stand and sigh and dream of home, where (at least for me) a huge shower awaits with GIANT bottles of shampoo and CONDITIONER and HAIR PRODUCTS and LOTS AND LOTS of hot water and PRIVACY. It´s a beautiful dream. And then we leave.

Sports stores. Hiking boots in the window, hiking clothes, walking sticks, socks. Christa and I stand outside and look in, crying out ¨OOH!! THINGS! THINGS! WE WANT THEM ALL!!¨ We sound kind of like the seagulls in Finding Nemo. Like the shampoo and lotion in the market, we stare longingly, sigh, look sadly at each other, and trudge on.

CHILDREN. Grrrrrrrrr. I visited my friend Trinity before I left. She has two small boys, 1 and 2, and wants to walk the Camino BAD. She was wondering how old her boys have to be before they can go. I SAY SIXTEEN. Not a DAY less. I can´t quite make you understand how it feels to come off of 35km like we did today, and sit in the hot sun outside the albergue with the COMPLETO sign in the window, and watch 8 children under the age of 13 burst happily out of the albergue. But it´s something like murder. Today on the Camino, there was a family with a stroller and a four-year-old. I love my nephew, and I want him to have wonderful experiences, but the Camino is serious business to those of us who have been walking for a month. We don´t walk for 30 days to get to an albergue and see a bed taken up by a 6-year-old, or some obnoxious teenager who has no concept of what this pilgrimage really means. This may sound harsh, and I´m sorry. But I don´t think it´s fair that the available beds in an albergue can be decimated by a family with three or four children who started 40km ago and are ¨just out for a cheap walking holiday,¨ as Christa put it. It really sucks for us, and it doesn´t seem right. I´m not saying they should be sleeping in a gym like us, but we´re doing this thing for REAL, and the least we ask for is a bed. Kids don´t get this. We do. It´s been almost 800km. Give us the beds. Go to a hotel room with your family. Or wait until they´re old enough to appreciate this walk. Leave the albergues to the pilgrims.

Like I said, that may be harsh, but until you´ve walked 800km in my boots, please don´t judge me.

What else...bottles of water. I´ve said this before, but they´re like gold. We snatch them up in the stores, the 1.5 liter bottles, and pour them into our Camelbacks and it´s like ambrosia of the gods. When the waiters carry them to other tables, we can´t take our eyes off them. We stare at them covetously.

New blisters can happen even on day 29. Christa has one. And her grape continues to breed and weep and bleed. She´s been wearing my red sandal shoes for three days, and has decided that the most important question you can ask when you meet someone and are thinking of making a friend is ¨What size shoe do you wear?¨ The cold rainy days we´ve had lately, she calls ¨red sofa days,¨ and I know exactly what she means, and my red shoes have had to be her red sofas. She is very happy with them. She promises I will get them BACK. Ha ha. Lucky for me, my boots are great now (just like you said, Mike and Drew) least for the first 25km.

It´s really hard to sit here in this café, knowing that Santiago lies glittering just 21km from here. That´s about FIFTEEN MILES. If we were men, we would´ve charged and gone for it. But we´re women, and we absorb the Camino (and life) in a different way. We are not our German boys. We love them, but thankfully, we are women and we will wait for tomorrow.

Julia has called. Her mom has gone to the hospital and can she walk with us to Santiago tomorrow? Hmmm. We started this thing together, and honestly, we want to finish it together. Peacefully. In the way we walk, together or separate, but mostly silent. Meditatively. Christa and I walk well together. We don´t mind Julia, but tomorrow cannot be endless prattle and the clatter of her two long walking sticks hitting the ground with every step. Tomorrow is big. We want our bubble. But we can´t say no, and Christa went to talk to her and will tell her that tomorrow will be mostly silent, introspective, and very important to us. I´m sure she will understand, and we hope she doesn´t feel bad in the process. We will take her, but it´s still our Camino, each of us...and one thing you learn on this trip is to claim the right to walk your Camino your way. You also learn to allow other people to walk their Camino in their way. Politeness will not steal this from us on the last day.

We´ve talked some about what we think it will be like tomorrow. I have a picture in my head of cresting a hill on a cobblestone street, with the cathedral lying below us, spires stretching to the side, and my pack is on the ground behind me, and my stick is to the side, and I am on my knees, arms raised. It´s pretty dramatic. But in fact, we decided we have no idea what it will be like. It might be, like my dad suggested, totally anticlimactic. Or it might be very emotional. We don´t know.

But one thing is clear. Santiago is a very different thing from the Camino. The Camino is itself. The journey truly has been the destination, as we reminded ourselves the other night in Ligonde. The arrival in Santiago truly has no bearing on what the Camino has meant to us, or the things we´ve learned on it. Likewise, its end has no bearing on the lessons we´ve learned...they will not end simply because the Camino has. I feel strongly that my Camino will go on for months...that in moments of stress or peace or simplicity, I´ll be back on this road and thinking of things in a different way.

In the beginning, I thought that Santiago was the goal. The picture on the right of this blog says the view of the spires is the goal. It´s not. The goal has been accomplished. (The goal, actually, was accomplished on Day Two when Day One did not read: Day One, Camino over, broken ankle. Coming home.) The walk has been a life-changing experience. I have made friends for life in Vienna, Australia, Germany, and several other places. I´ve managed to digest and swallow fears I´ve been chewing on for months...YEARS. I don´t have all the answers, but I´ve learned a lot about myself. I´ve walked nearly 800 kilometers. I´ve been under extreme physical, mental, and emotional stress every day for 29 days now (add financial stress in these last days, ha ha). But there was never any question in my mind that I could handle it...I simply wanted to DO IT. I don´t regret a second of the time I´ve spent in cafés and bars writing these blogs, either...the idea that I´ve inspired people or made people proud or given people glimpses of what their own impending Caminos may hold for them has given my walk a purpose beyond the challenge it held for me myself.

Even my body...I know I see me every day and probably can´t tell, but it seems to me that my body has not changed a bit. I didn´t need it to, I´m fine with my body, but I¨m amazed that I can walk 15-20 miles a day for a month and see such little change. But even that has been a revelation. Maintenance from here on more bothering with trying to get back to my high school weight (which was only a 15lb difference anyway). CLEARLY, if I can come off this month the same size I started it, my body wants to be THIS SIZE and no smaller. So that is laid to rest as well.

All these things have NOTHING WHATSOEVER to do with Santiago or anything that happens tomorrow. It will be a great capstone, a feeling of completion, a dessert for the feast...but like most feasts, I am full long before dessert comes, and a taste is all I can handle. Santiago is a rich chocolate mousse, nothing more. The sustenance has lasted for 30 days, and I have never been so healthy and strong.

People told me this at the beginning, but of course, I had to find out for myself. I will be back here one day, and it will be a totally different experience. I will walk only as far as I want, the parts I want, and stay where I feel it pulling me, no matter how far I´ve gone that day. Next time, there will truly be no destination. The journey will truly be the destination, so much more so than it was this time.

At the beginning of this trip, I was amazed by people who did the Camino multiple times. HOW on EARTH could you do this AGAIN, once you know how hard it is??? All that kept me going the first week, ESPECIALLY the first day, was the ignorance of the path ahead, the constant self-delusion that this hill was the last, that tomorrow would be an easy day, that the pack would get lighter.

But that is such a small part of this experience. The evenings, the views, the sunsets, the brisk early morning air, the forest paths in dappled shade, the old men walking the cows to the fields, the dogs sleeping in the shade, the bottomless bottles of wine, the laughter, the soaring cathedral ceilings, the cloister walks, the simple country churches, the view of a spire on a hillside after a long walk without a building, the views from the mountaintops, the monuments to the pilgrimage, a bronze statue of a pilgrim leaning into the wind, my nephew´s picture on the pillar of an iron cross, the goats grazing in the vegetation grown up through a building that´s been standing for 600 years or more, the kindness of the hospitaleros, the joy of a cold footbath, the ecstasy of mentholated foot cream, the sweat coating your skin as you climb a mountain, the cool breeze like a breath from God, the world falling away below you as you descend into a mountain village, the tangy bubbles of a cold cider, a mouthful of bread, the turning of a hawk´s tail as it soars.

THIS is the Camino, and it is a drug, and there is no kicking the habit.

I´ve seen a good bit of the world in my 30 years. For a lot of it, I was just a teenager, too absorbed in myself and a teenager´s problems to really open my eyes and look around. I understand now why many of my fellow pilgrims are older than I am, rather than college takes some maturity to really appreciate this. I feel so fortunate, not just to have this experience, but to feel as though I grasp at least some of what it has to offer.

It´s been an amazing trip.

I can hardly believe it´s almost over. Santiago, and Finisterre, and Madrid, and home. I´m ready to be home. But this will be one of those experiences I´ll come back to in my mind for years to come. Wow.

Probably better end this for now. Again, for the hundredth time, thanks for reading, and for your comments, and for your emails. The support has meant so much. I wish you could all be here.

(Think happy hotel thoughts for me for tomorrow...pray I´ll have a real bed!!!)

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Portomarín to Ligonde to Mélide

Well, if it looks like we haven´t covered much ground in the past two days, it´s because we haven´t. But it´s a decent story why.

I posted two days ago from Portomarín, before we went to dinner. If you´re on the Camino, a good rule of thumb is to eat dinner or have drinks in a sidewalk cafe on the town square, or the closest thing the town has to a square. There´s almost always a big open space in front of the biggest church in town, and generally, that´s where most pilgrims run into each other in the evening hours. Christa and I make a practice of it, just because we know the habits of the people we´ve travelled with and we´re always hoping to see familiar faces now that they are fewer and farther between. I mean, we have NEW familiar faces, but the ones from the beginning of the trip are the ones we hope most to see, and so we go to the plazas.

That night in Portomarín we sat and had dinner and a few drinks and watched people do the ¨pilgrim walk.¨ Christa gets a real kick out of this. That night we decided to rate them on a scale of one to ten, and it cracks us up. (We feel we´re entitled to laugh because we´ve been there and we do the walk too.) We saw this one guy in a red shirt, hobbling across the plaza to the church doors. He was leaning heavily on a tall wooden stick and one leg was wrapped in gauze, and he was walking so badly that we decided he was going to the church in the hopes that, once he got inside, he would simply die. We called him Stickman. Christa took pictures of him. He was so pathetic looking...poor guy. We didn´t see him come out, but we saw him cross the plaza back and forth to and from the church a few times, so we decided the people inside must have told him he had to go die somewhere else, but his heart was set on the church.... OH the pilgrim walk....

The Hungarians have resurfaced...the pirate and his entourage. They´ve walked the whole way, which sucks for my ego, but oh well. They waited around at our albergue till 6pm and were able to nab three beds on a reservation that hadn´t shown up. Grrr. He asked about Bradley James. I hope Skip reads this, because if he hears that the Hungarian pirate called him Bradley James, he´ll pull a Chuck Norris on Hungary and roundhouse the whole country. =)

We couldn´t figure out all the people in our albergue. For one thing, there were 160 beds...a huge warehouse room with about 40 bunked beds in a partitioned area, then a curtain, and then 40 more, and again, and AGAIN. And some people HAD SUITCASES. HUGE, SAMSONITE, HARD-SHELLED SUITCASES. WHAT are they doing??? We later surmised that they must be sending them ahead every day. But it´s ridiculous. Pilgrims with LUGGAGE. Christ on a crutch. More Spaniards now, and teenagers, and children. Christa is disgusted with the newbies who collapse, mid-afternoon, on their beds and lie there ¨like dead flies,¨ she says. We´re such snobs....

The snoring that night was INTENSE. Particularly from the bunk next to ours. I remember vaguely that at one point in the night I woke up and he sounded like a freight train, and I couldn´t help myself, I snapped, ¨ROLL OVER!!¨ to the guy, even though I doubt he spoke English and wasn´t awake to hear me anyway, even if he did. But surprisingly, it kinda least till I went back to sleep.

Yesterday, I decided I must have blown a fuse on the mad dash to Portomarín, because I was DEAD. NO energy. Christa and I were both snails. Furthermore, we decided not to play Galician Gallop in any way, shape, or form. We just decided to walk and enjoy ourselves (sluggish though we were) and see what the Camino had to offer. We decided to shoot for about 24km and figure something out when we got there. The thing´s not a competition for beds. Competition implies that we can bring something to the fight. And we can´t. We´re not fast enough, we don´t leave early enough, and even if we tried, we can´t cover the kind of mileage we need by 10am, when places are filling up. So what´s the point?? Our elevation is dropping, we´re nearing the coast, and we decided that a field would be fine for the night. Get our night under the stars. I have a sleeping bag now, so I´m no longer we decided just to focus on the walk and what we came here to do.

Rain on and off. Galicia. Very much like the Pac Northwest, I think. Very cloudy all the time, sometimes the sun breaks through, and the rain is never that hard, just misty-sprinkly. Dad´s Gore-tex raincoat he gave me before I left is magic. I put it on, and the rain stops. Never fails. As soon as my rain gear is on, the rain is over. Magic.

Speaking of magic...since there´s not much else to say about the walk yesterday; it was pretty and green and misty and that´s about it...we came upon a table with some people behind it, and they were offering free coffee, tea, and magic tricks! It was a tiny little albergue in a tiny little cow town called Ligonde, run by folks from the Agape Fellowship. There were a few Americans working there...mostly expats in Spain and France who were part of this group, and they were there for a couple weeks working in the albergue. We´d gone about 17km at this point. We stopped for coffee, and a woman named Lisa offered us beds...there were a few still free. It was about 2pm.

I said thank you, but no, I hate to turn down a bed since I doubt I´ll have one tonight, but we have to walk farther for the day. She said all right, and said her sons did card tricks and we were welcome to have a break and sit for a while before we carried on.

I turned to Christa and we talked about how much we liked the place, and I said, ¨Gee, I´d really love to stay´s so peaceful, but we have to walk farther.¨

And she said, ¨Why?¨


Why, indeed. It was a beautiful spot. There were tents set up in a small field across the street. The people were nice, and though I wanted nothing to do with Americans earlier in my trip, it was nice now to have effortless conversation without feeling like I was putting upon someone to speak a different language than their own. They had a large pavilion style tent in which they had all just had lunch. There was a dog in the street with an old man who said she had just had TEN puppies. Lisa´s kids were incredibly charming. It was the first breath of true Esprit du Chemin that we´d had for several DAYS. Why did we have to walk further? Because we´d said some arbitrary number earlier in the day? We had no guarantee for a bed later down the road, and stopping now or in another 7km would have no bearing on reaching Santiago on Saturday.

And the Camino is about more than just walking, and more than just Santiago. It´s about the experiences we have along the way, and the best ones happen in places like this with people like this.

Why not?

So we let go of our ¨plan¨ for the day and decided to see what the Camino had to offer us in this place. We said we´d stay. Well...we´d taken too long to decide. Only one bed available now; some people had come while we were sitting there dithering. I asked what other option there was for me. They told me there was a cot in the garage-type area. I said okay. I asked how much. FREE. Donation, of course, but free.

So we stopped.

It was lovely. We saw Malek not too long after; he´d stopped because his foot hurt again and was in another albergue around the corner. (He said the boys didn´t walk yesterday...he thought they were taking the bus, despite the compostela, which says you HAVE to walk the last 100km.) We got a text from Brad, from someone´s phone, that said he was going to Arzúa (FAR ahead) and was hoping for Santiago the next day.

While we sat, some guy showed up on a UNICYCLE. He had a long red hat, like a jester´s hat with one prong, and multicolored striped cotton overalls like a circus bodysuit type thing, and he had a stick with a jester´s head on it and a horn like a clown´s car. He´s friggin´ crazy but he´s hysterical to see. He´s doing the whole Camino (SOMEHOW) on a unicycle. Malek said he escaped from the circus. I said the circus is probably chasing him down to get him back. I got a picture or two.

Not too long after, I got MY reason why we decided to stay. A wonderful girl from Missouri named Dawn lives in Madrid and will be back there on Monday. I got her phone number and email address and she has offered to let me stay with her Wednesday night...the night before my plane leaves. YAY!! Madrid no longer up in the air...just how to get there!!

The people were wonderful at the Fuente del Peregrino albergue and we had a wonderful time. They made us a huge pasta dinner and held a lovely prayer service in the pavilion tent, where they read Paslm 23 in four different languages and offered up a few prayers for pilgrims we´d all met along the way who have specific challenges they´re facing (or just all the pilgrims in general). It was beautiful. Neat to hear such a well-known psalm in Spanish, French, and German as well as English. No chance of internet in a place that small, so that´s why I´m just catching up now. cot...SIGH. There were six or seven of us in cots in the garage area, and outside, there were dogs barking ALL NIGHT LONG. And the cot was a bit less than comfortable. Not flat like a military cot...curved so you had to lay on your back, which is hard on your knees and on tender heels covered with callouses. I eventually did get to sleep. Christa said her bed was wonderful...grr. We´d flipped for it that afternoon, and I won, but I said she could have it anyway.

So this morning, up and outta there. Breakfast, goodbyes, thank yous...such a lovely place. Glad we stayed there. And we both had our strength back, so today was a good power day.

It´s been uneventful today. Saw the unicycle guy again, ha ha. Lots more clouds and rain off and on. We managed to miss the rain in the morning because we left around 9am again. Then we stopped for breakfast around 11am and it started again. Got our raingear on. It worked again...the rain stopped as soon as we left the bar. We walked through a farmer´s market in Palas de Rei and some old woman tried to sell me a wheel of cheese that I swear weighed a pound. More beautiful countryside, more cows, more stone fences, more corridor-like paths, beautiful forests, eucalyptus now (bet Skip´s loving that), and quaint little towns. Stopped at half-past-Magnum in a little town called O Coto and the man practically demanded I come sit down and rest when he saw me standing by the road with my ice cream. I told him I was waiting for my friend to catch up with me, and he was very pleased when we both came in and sat down. Once Christa arrived, an ice cream became an ice cream, patatas fritas, and a beer or two. (Hey, my pants are getting too big.) It was beautiful. We got ready to leave, and the rain started again. Stayed a bit longer. It stopped.

When we finally got to Mélide, we had to make a decision. Stay and try the nationally-famous pulpo (octopus), or go another 12km to the next town that had an albergue. At this point it was 4pm. We wanted to push on and have a big day to make up for yesterday, but we just couldn´t do it. So we went to the albergue. The woman sitting behind the desk, despite our most positive smiles, kept her ¨completo¨ look on and referred us to a nearby school.

Off we went. The school was one apparently in charge...but there was a sign-up sheet and one rucksack in the corner of the gym and the shower was going. So we put our stuff down. A few more people arrived. We got a shower before anyone else got was ARCTIC. And it´s not too warm outside here either. Galicia is COLD!!! But basically, we´re fine and I will FINALLY use my mat and my sleeping bag tonight, I suppose. I´m not happy about a gym floor, but the only double room we found is €50 and the gym is free, and so we´re gonna get some Camino experience. I actually miss the garage in Triacastela!!!

News from the boys...the people from whose phone Skip texted us yesterday have told us that he was hoping to get as close as possible to Santiago today but his foot is really bad. We don´t know how it´s bad...but we´re worried. Today was his goal and we hope he made it. Felix JUST wrote me from Santiago and said they did 117km in 30 hours in a madcap stretch that I can hardly believe, given how sick Kasey was the other day. They got there YESTERDAY. How, I have no idea. But they´re there and we hope we´ll see them Saturday afternoon...which is the DAY AFTER TOMORROW.

We´re set up for 33.5 tomorrow and might send the packs ahead one last time. After that, 24km on Saturday and Santiago that afternoon...I was hoping for the morning, but it is not to be. The hard part has been a couple of long stretches with no albergues. Like today...either stay where we were or push out another 12 at 4pm. Which would´ve had us getting there at 7pm. No go, not with intermittent rain. Tomorrow, we´ll get to Santa Irene, I think, and that´s at the end of another long stretch with nowhere to 18km. Tough to plan with stretches like that.

But we´ll make it there. We can´t believe it´s almost over. There´s been so much to think many life experiences are now in a new light. The hardship has been good for us, and even the gym floor experience tonight will be a good thing, I think.

Many people have written and said they don´t know what they´ll read with their coffee each morning once I´m off the Camino. I have a feeling I´ll keep writing things the Camino reveals to me even after I come home. I think that´s when the real lessons will start to become clear. So stay tuned.

Tomorrow, Santa Irene. Wish us luck.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Sarria to Portomarín

The Camino has spent two days biting us, and today we bit back. =)

Yesterday turned out pretty good. First of all, I bought a sleeping bag. It´s warm and it rolls up small into a little bag and it wasn´t that expensive...grr...and I guess it´s probably about a pound, maybe less. But I´m happy to trade weight on my shoulders for weight on my mind. I am no longer worried about sleeping outside, if it comes to that, and that peace of mind is worth the money and the weight.

We went back up to the boys´ albergue to eat dinner, but they didn´t show, and today we don´t know where they are...ahead of us or here in town...don´t even know if they walked, or how Kasey´s temp turns out. If you guys are reading this, I hope KK is okay and we´ll see you in Santiago on the 10th.

Dinner was lame. I´ve decided my digestive issues are due to the TONS of oil and grease all our food seems to come with. So I decided today to go back to the good ol´ straightforward bocadillo sandwiches and try to avoid the grease. The food here is so Triacastela I had AWESOME spaghetti...but yesterday´s was like soapy noodles in grease.

At one point the waiter came out carrying two tall bottles of water, the liter-and-a-half kind, taking them to another table, and they gleamed like bags of gold, and that´s how bad I wanted them. Did I mention that walking out of the field in Triacastela, back to the garage, I saw a shooting star? Usually I think of something huge to wish for, but when I thought about it, all I really wanted was a good night´s sleep. The Camino reduces your wishes to such simple´s amazing. Water. Sleep. A cool morning. Strong legs and arms and lungs and back. Bread. A little meat, a cold beer. Fruit. A shower. A place in the sun, or a place in the shade, depending. So, so simple. an awesome night´s sleep...too well, actually...we didn´t wake up till nearly 8, and it was almost 9am when we finished a quick breakfast in the hotel restaurant. (We shared the room with Yasmeen and a Dutchman [not a flying one] named the cost was pretty manageable.) Before we left the hotel we decided to ask the receptionist if she´d help us try to make a reservation in an albergue in Portomarín. We weren´t sure they´d take one, but we may as well try. She made the call for us and asked for two beds, and was told that they´d hold them for us till 3pm. It was now 9am-ish and she claimed that Portomarín was a 4-hour walk.´s 22km. Four hours for 22km is doable, but awful fast.... Anyway, no matter, we had six hours. No prob.

But then we looked out the window. RAIN!!! Dammiiiiiiit...back into the bags, rain gear, wrap my pack in my poncho, shift electronics into the raincoat pockets, cover Christa´s bag with the super-cool bag cover that came with hers (grr), and then on the road around 9:30am.

Well, turns out it wasn´t really raining. It was sort of a drizzle that quickly became nothing more than the mist, but it hung around till noon. I love mornings like this anyway, but when we´re walking, they´re PERFECT, as long as they´re not impeding some awesome mountain vista, which today they weren´t. But the cold misty mornings make everything look kind of magical, and when you get a forest path through farming villages, and your body temp stays down and you don´t have to suck a whole lot of water...well, the k´s go by pretty fast.

And let me tell you, I was FAST today. I don´t think I´ve ever felt so strong in my entire life. We had a lot of uphill this morning, and I seemed to devour every single hill. I´m amazed at how strong my legs are now, and I didn´t even have any foot issues (my pinkie toe was a dried crust this morning and you don´t even want me to describe it any further than that). I was unstoppable. I was passing newbies left and right, and even ran into the three Canadian women from Cacabelos...looking much healthier and in less pain.

We get cow traffic that early. At one intersection I passed a farmer driving a cow with a long stick...then I saw the calf. He looked wet. There was a car coming up the road, and suddenly the mama cow came hustling back down the road to bunt the calf out of the way, and after that, it seemed like the farmer had a hard time getting them both to go in the direction he wanted. I was going to pass right by, but when I saw how protective she was of her baby, I hestitated for a cows charge you if they think their babies are threatened?? Sigh...things my dad hasn´t told me about cattle farming yet....

The second time, I came up behind a farmer driving several cows up the road, and ended up in a rather one-sided conversation with him for several minutes (his side, and he didn´t seem to mind the monopoly). It was just cool to follow all these little roads and dirt tracks between stone fences and under tree canopies, past fields of cattle and crops, everything disappearing into the mist...I could´ve been in Ireland or Scotland or anywhere in the world.

I had left Christa far behind and my book said the 100km stone marker was coming up, so I found a place to stop and wait for her...which took about 8 or 10 minutes I guess. (Told you I was fast today.) I wanted to get a picture with her next to it because I knew it would have been a great experience when we saw it.

We didn´t see it. Somehow we missed it. I don´t know how. But when we stopped for a quick bottle of water, the marker stone said 99.5. I was pissed, but I wasn´t going back a whole half kilometer to see it. There had been a big group of people stopped on the path about that distance back, and I´d said as we came upon them, it must be up there...but as we passed them, I didn´t see anything. It had to be there. Sigh. So we got a picture next to 99.5.

In the bar where we got the bottle of water, we got news from Australia!! The bar book said ¨Skippy Norris was here today...4-8-08.¨ So Brad is probably a whole day ahead of us by now. We signed below him and hustled on. It was past noon by now.

We spent most of the day having no idea where we were, which was frustrating, and looking at the watch, which was more like a challenge than a hassle. We made lunch as quick as possible in Ferrerios and Christa left before I did, since she´s slower.

It took me about 15 minutes to catch her once I left. We had about 9km to go from our lunch spot and had 1:45 to do it in. Tough.

The road is covered in newbies. They are soft and pale and doughy...their feet hurt, their bags are uncomfortable or matching, their knees and thighs and ankles untrustworthy, they are loud, sometimes you see a woman walking with no bag next to a man with two. Today we declared them chum. Christa and I are sleek and dark and fast, with 700km in our strong thighs...our knees no longer betray us, and we can take the downhills fast with footing like mountain goats. We overtake them, devour them, leave them in our dust. It is a powerful feeling and we exalted in it.

It was a steep downhill and we could see Portomarín. 2.5k to go and 15 minutes. We´ll never make it. But the downhill was asphalt alternating with flat dirt and good footing. We charged. It´s not really a run, but we jog down them, packs tight against us, thighs and knees stronger than they ever were in the first weeks, and MAN we´re fast. Hit the bottom...uphill...cross the bridge and the albergue should be right on the other side. Ten minutes to go at the start of the bridge. Bridge takes 5 minutes and at the end are STAIRS. CRAP. Give me all the uphills you can throw at me, but NOT STAIRS. I charge. Christa is way behind me. I hit the top step of perhaps 40 and nearly die. A moment to rest, look behind, she is applauding from the bridge and laughing. Three minutes to go. Up more stairs. Signs pointing left, onward, down. Arrive, soaked with sweat and hotter than hell, out of breath and sucking water. 2:59. Lobby full of smelly pilgrims, laughing and joking with the hospitaleras. Soaking up our time. Christa arrives behind me. One of them finally looks at us. We give her name. It´s not in the book. They holler to someone else. The answer comes back... ¨Sí.¨ We´ve made it.

So tonight we have two bunk beds in an albergue with probably 160 beds, and no one without a reservation is being accepted. Todo completo. So THIS is the game. So be it, we´ll play it.

I wasn´t worried about getting a bed tonight. I was worried about all my clothes being dirty. I had to go two days in one shirt, which is much more of a problem than with pants. But everything´s clean now and hanging on the line...we´re waiting on her laundry, and then we´ll go find something to eat, or perhaps just throw ourselves into the river for a long-awaited swim.

Tomorrow, there is an albergue in our book in San Xiao (Still Spain or will I be in China tomorrow?) that claims to accept reservations. Hopefully we´ll go´s a good goal, about 26km or so. Laundry should be good till right before Santiago on Friday. Can´t believe there´s so little time left, that we´ve come so far. 700km. Wow.

My German lessons continue. Today I got the days of the week and a song about the sunrise that Christa sings every morning. I know greetings, I´m hungry/thirsty, and ¨I have a cat,¨ which I resort to every time one of them says something to me I don´t´s my way of saying I have no idea, that´s all I got, and it cracks them up. Last night Yasmeen gave me her Spanish-German phrasebook...I was looking at Spanish phrases, trying to remember what they meant in English, and then trying to figure out how to pronounce them in German. It was pretty funny. At one point, Yasmeen said to the others in German, ¨Wow, give her something to study and suddenly the loud American is quiet.¨ Christa and Wem made her translate and she turned about six shades of pink, but it was funny.

All for glad we get to relax a bit tonight instead of worrying about where we´re going to sleep and shower and wash clothes. Wish we knew where the boys were, but practicing being in the and now. Trying not even to think about where we go tomorrow till the morning...which is hard.

Catch you tomorrow, if I can...thanks for all the support in the comments, by the way, and love you all.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Triacastela to Sarria

Thank God today was uneventful, because yesterday, like I said, was enough for two days.

The boys had planned to walk at 4am. CHRIST. I don´t understand how they´re doing their Camino...they´re pushing 50ks in a day, just to get it over with, just walking to walk, and not seeing a thing, in my opinion. A lot of men do the Camino this way, I think. I don´t understand. They can walk it however they want, but Christa and I think they´re missing the point, and we´re glad we have the freedom to walk it like women and take our time and look around.

4am didn´t happen. It did for Malek...he was gone when it was still dark. The rest of us laid around till 7:30. The goal today was Sarria...a big enough town that we shouldn´t have the problem we had the night before in Triacastela.

Turns out Patrick and Kasey Kahne were sick...heat exhaustion and upset stomachs. They decided to take the bus to Sarria today. Christa and I just shook our heads...we think they´re pushing themselves too hard and are now paying the price. But we were happy they´d be at the same destination tomorrow; otherwise, we would´ve lost them again right away.

So Christa and I headed out. We took the long route to Sarria, through Samos, site of one of the oldest monasteries (5th or 6th century) in the Western world. It was a beautiful walk, through forest paths and heavy fact, I thought we´d get our first real rain today. But we didn´t, and we covered 10k before breakfast (which was more like brunch).

Morning, pre-breakfast k´s don´t count. Nothing hurts and all you´re thinking about is a cup of tea...they´re free and easy and the more you can do, the better. Once you stop, each restart is harder.

We thought the second half of the day would pass more quickly. It didn´t. We were on narrow highway shoulders almost all day...getting blasted by truckers doing 90mph on turns and not changing to the opposite lane when they saw us coming on the shoulder. We finally followed some dubious fletches off the path and soon found ourselves in largely unchartered territory...not in our books, no idea how far to Sarria. We ended up following the Río Sarria through a wood along a river...a walking course with PT obstacles set up along the way. It was beautiful; Christa loved it. But we were both out of water and soon I was out of sorts.

After forever, we made it to the town and began the 3:30 hunt for albergues. We found them.

And they were all full. And the hospitaleros were, again, NO help. I wanted to throttle them.

So here I sit, in the upstairs internet café of the bar where we found Felix and Patrick and Yasmeen...Kasey Kahne has a fever of 40C...and Christa went to find a hotel room. She´s come back and gone...found a quad for €75, which is great as long as we can find two other homeless pilgrims to split the cost. Shouldn´t be a problem. I have to go soon to find the Hotel Roma. But at least we have a roof for tonight.

The Camino is no longer a game. Suddenly the road is glutted with people who have just begun, and albergues fill up by 10am. Those left over are left to fend for themselves like dogs fighting for a scrap of meat in a cage. I´ve been warned not to let the final stages of my Camino disintegrate into a mad, pre-dawn dash for beds, but it´s a nerve-wracking thing now, wondering how far you can make it before it´s too late to get a bed, and being at unfriendly nighttime altitudes. I don´t know how the next few days will play out, so if I don´t post, it´s probably because I´m sleeping under a bridge. Ha ha. I doubt it´ll be that bad, but it won´t be as cheap as it´s been till now, even if we do get albergue beds (they are more expensive now). The good news is that we´ll be in Santiago on Saturday and the final stage will begin...Finisterra...Madrid...and home next Thursday.

What a day. Off to find the hotel.

By the pinkie toe has exploded and shed the old bubble like a snake shedding its skin. It´s kind of gross and fascinating at the same time. Unfortunately, I had a moment of stupidity, and after popping the new blisters on my toes (one under the shedding skin, one beside it) I put lotion on them. Cross your fingers that that doesn´t come back to bite me in the ass....

Oh, and gastic problems STILL continue, as if this weren´t enough fun....

Christa has been asking for more suffering; she thinks she hasn´t suffered enough.

Now, we both are.