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Camino Frances

Camino de Santiago, Camino Frances, pilgrimage, Spain

What the Camino de Santiago Taught Me About Life

My first directional scallop shell

I may not be able to fully articulate what drew me to walk the 800 kilometers of the Camino de Santiago in September of 2013. I initially learned about it after watching the movie, The Way, and besides the knowledge I took from that, I knew little more, and sought little more out prior to walking.

Follow the yellow arrows…

What I did know was that I was seeking a connection with like-minded, open-minded people, the type I had been fortunate to cross paths with frequently on the back-packing circuit during my previous four years of world travel. I also, admittedly, am a bit of an extremist, so while some people may look at a 35-day walk through northern Spain as a little crazy, it’s these kinds of challenges and experiences that get my heart racing.

The breakdown of a ‘true pilgrim’

That’s about all I can say for what brought me to the Camino. I wasn’t seeking answers to any life long questions, I wasn’t seeking a deeper connection with God, I wasn’t looking to find myself on this pilgrimage. I wasn’t even calling it a pilgrimage. For me, it was going to be a long walk, where it was me, my own two feet, and what I was carrying on my back.

It’s this way.

During my European travels over the two months leading up to my arrival in Spain, I met two people who had completed the Camino. Both told me it would be profound, but neither went into much detail about their own experiences. And, so I just showed up to walk. I had heard September was a good time to go, and I planned on arriving in St. Jean Pied-de-Porte on September 1st. I began the Camino on September 2nd, unaware of what I would learn and how much the Camino would impact me. Finally, I arrived in Santiago 32 days later – tired and with blistered feet, but with a full heart and a deep sense of peace in my entire being, as well as feeling much more in tune with myself.

Below are my Camino lessons, what I learned about myself, others, and the world during those four and a bit weeks of walking The Way.

Smiles on a painful day.

1. Slow down and savor – We rush everywhere. We always have somewhere to be. We overcommit ourselves. We operate at such fast speeds sometimes that I wonder how we enjoy the actual act of doing, let alone find time for little moments of peace. The Camino taught me to slow down, and it did so by slowing me down. I set out in good physical condition, with my head high, covering 27 kilometers on the first day, and 22 on the second. I was in so much physical pain after those first two days, that on days three and four, I barely covered 15 kilometers in 6 hours. (That’s just over one mile per hour). Yes, I was frustrated, but what I did while being forced to slow down was to look around me. I noticed how blue the sky was, I watched kids play, I sat at cafes over long lunches, I engaged in conversations with strangers, I dipped my feet in rivers, I savored more moments. And when I was feeling stronger and able to cover greater distances, I still made a point to do these things on a daily basis. The Camino is a year behind me now, but I still do these little things on a daily basis.

St. Jean Pied-de-Port

Ramon’s scallop shell, which I walked behind many a day.

2. Be kind to yourself – Doesn’t this sound so silly to say? Shouldn’t we be the ones who treat ourselves in the most kind and patient manner? Well, I know when I was leveled on those first few days of the Camino, there was a loud voice inside my head (most likely a bruised ego) saying “You’ve run marathons, you’ve done triathlons, and you can’t walk 20 kilometers!” What I developed on the Camino was a different connection with that voice in my head. First, I started to hear it, and then over time, I began to understand that it was telling me exactly what I needed. Then, I began to fully listen to it, and I became a lot more patient with myself. From slowing down because of shin pain instead of pushing on, to minimizing time with certain people because of their negative energy instead of making excuses for their behavior, I started acting based on what that inner voice was saying. It’s amazing what it will tell you, if you are just open to listening to it. I just stumbled across this Shell Silverstein quote yesterday, which is pretty spot on, “There is a voice inside of you, it whispers all day long, ‘I feel that this is right for me, I know that this is wrong.’ No teacher, preacher, parent, friend or wise man can decide – what’s right for you – just listen to the voice that speaks inside.”

St. Jean at dusk.

3. Be kind to others – It is incredibly easy to judge a book by its cover, makeassumptions about others or quickly form our first impressions. Trust me, there were plenty of times on the Camino where if I were judged on first impressions alone, my Camino family might have been a lot smaller. but along with learning to be more patient with myself, this experience taught me to be more patient with others and to always extend kindness. There’s a quote floating around these days, “Be kind to everyone, you never know what kind of struggles people are fighting.” Everyone has their own set of baggage, and wouldn’t life be a little bit easier if we were that much nicer to each other.

4. Count your blessings – This is a simple one, but we often forget to do it, and can easily get caught up in what’s not going right in our lives. I vented to my Camino walking partner about my family dynamics. She lost her mother five years ago, and her family dynamic was shattered. It put things in perspective for me. Count your blessing everyday. Focus on the good and what is going right. Believe in the law of attraction.

Morning walk, day 1: St. Jean to Roncesvalles

5. Live in the Moment –  It’s all about RIGHT NOW, right this very moment. It’s not about what you have to do tomorrow – that is unknown, and, it’s not about what happened yesterday- that is behind us. Learn to be here and now. One of the members of my Camino family shared this quote with me, “If you’re depressed, you’re living in the past. If you’re anxious, you’re living in the future. If you’re at peace, you’re living in the present.” While a certain amount of reminiscing and daydreaming can be fun, don’t let it steal your now away.

Signs for the albergue in St. Jean

6. You don’t have to have everything figured out right now. I used to get a little overwhelmed by the big picture, but life has taught me that you really don’t know where you will end up, no matter how much planning you put in. Isn’t that the beauty of the joy ride? The Camino taught me that all I really needed to know was how far I intended to walk, what I was going to eat and where I was going to lay my head. Pretty basic, really. Ok, there are a few more variables in the real world, but I learned to break things down and, in general, be less overwhelmed by the big picture and all the variables that we actually have little control over. I learned to enjoy the ride a little bit more.

7. Don’t be too proud to ask for help. One of the major turning points for me on the Camino came on the ninth night. I had just shared a pilgrims dinner and was attending a reading, led by one of the hospitalerias at the donativo. He said, “Do not be too proud, and remain alone. The Camino is not about being alone. It is what you will learn from the relationships you form with other pilgrims…what they will teach you about yourself and what they share with you about themselves.” Life is the same, friendships are the same, relationships are the same. We are all the same and we all need a little bit of help sometimes. Be willing to offer help and asking for it will come much easier when need be.

Country road, take me home…

8. Be fully aware of your feelings. We are so good at letting our heads rule our hearts, and silencing that voice inside, and that’s usually the voice that is telling us exactly what we need. But, instead of listening to our hearts, our feelings, we let logic prevail, and come up with a more ‘sensible’ action plan. I realized that the little voice inside my head (or heart, really) was conveying my feelings, and I believe our feelings are a true indicator of what we need. So, as an add on to number 2, part of being kind to ourselves is being aware of what we are feeling and what we need, and we can figure this out by taking the time to truly slow down, whether that’s through walking, meditation, yoga, or doing something else you love. Figure out what that is, and do it often.

The encouraging graffiti of the Camino.

So there they are my Camino lessons. I never thought I would finish a 32-day walk with so many realizations about myself, my life, my world, my place in the world and my priorities. For my fellow pilgrims, I hope you experienced the same kind of self-enlightenment, and for those considering the Camino, I hope you’ll listen to the voice that is calling you to go.

Buen Camino
x

Camino de Santiago, Camino Frances, pilgrimage, Spain

October 4th, Day 1: Post Camino ‘Mission Accomplished’

Finisterre, the ‘end of the world’

We are supposed to meet Dima and Keren in front of the cathedral at 8am, and I wake up at 7:40. It is pouring outside, but we get up, pack up, check out and store our belongings at the front desk and cruise by the free breakfast area on the way out the door. I grab a banana and chug a coffee – so much for our free breakfast!

As we reach the hotel’s double doors, I see that the rain is falling just as hard as it was yesterday during our walk to Santiago. I want to go nowhere except back to the warm, dry bed I have just crawled out of, but we have one last mission to complete. So, we pull our ponchos over our heads and I put my flip flops on because my boots are too wet to wear, and we walk out into the dark morning.

zero km to go

Dima and Keren are waiting for us in front of the cathedral and we decide to try and take a taxi to the bus station. It’s 8:40 a.m. and we’re hoping to make the 9am bus to Finisterre. I’m becoming more cynical by the minute and as each occupied taxi passes by us, I doubt more and more that we will make this bus. Moments later, though, a free taxi stops in front of us. We pile in, trying to shed our wet ponchos before sitting down.

Enrique, our driver is calm and unphased by the weather and we tell him we want to go to the bus station. He asks where we’re headed and we say Finisterre. Without hesitation, he makes us an offer to personally take us there for 100 Euros for the four of us. I’m already sold. By the time we all pay for a bus fare there and back and add in the time saved, well, this is a good deal.

Keren, me, Tammy and Dima

We inquire about the return trip and how long he will wait for us, and we settle on a price of 135 Euros for a roundtrip fare and two hours to do as we wish while we are there. Just over 30 Euros each.

We begin the 90-minute journey there – the rain still falling hard, but the sun trying to shine through with just as much strength. Enrique finds us some good tunes, but the winding roads are getting to us all a bit. We are all physically and emotionally spent and the sangria and scotch were flowing for some the night before!

When we’re really feeling it, I spot a sign indicating we have 30k to go. It’s so odd to be in a car. 30km is an average day’s walk for us, and now we’re looking at a 30 minute drive!

Moments later, we reach a hill and the ocean sprawls out before us, looking more like liquid gold than blue seas.

Enrique recommends we go to the lighthouse first and we agree. We have definitely fallen into the right person’s hands. We pass a few pilgrims who are walking and we call out ‘Buen Camino’ from the car window.

We park in an empty lot and walk to the cross overlooking the Atlantic. We have the place to ourselves, well before the local and tourist busses arrive. Enrique snaps pictures of us with his iphone and asks us about our Camino.

It is so freeing to see the ocean and smell the salt air. There’s something about seeing the ocean sprawling out before you that makes you feel like going anywhere is possible.

We comment how this is really the end point of our Camino, but we all know what a new beginning this is. The Camino, and what it taught us all, will never fade. And with that, we know there’s one last thing that needs to be done before moving on. We offer Tammy some time, but she says we can all stay. She reaches into her backpack for a small sack and sprinkles her mother’s ashes out to sea. Two handfuls are carried into the ocean air. The four of us hug and I tell them I will never forget this moment.

Enrique our taxi driver/Finisterre tour guide

We walk further out to the edge of the earth and watch as the sun rises into and through the heavy clouds above.

Enrique suggests breakfast in the town and drives us to a cafe near the seaport. He waits for us down the road, and we find a cafe and order coffee with Baileys. Elton John’s ‘Your Song’ plays on the radio and the man running the bar whistles along. We have a small breakfast and finish our coffees and Enrique comes looking for us, letting us know it’s time to head back to Santiago.

Casa Felisa

We all doze on the car ride back, emotionally full, but physically flat from what we have just endured. The reality is catching up with everyone: We have just walked 800 kilometeres in one month.

We arrive back in Santiago and I check into the guesthouse where Dima and Keren stayed the night before, Casa Felisa. I book a small private room for 20 Euros a night. We all dump our bags and go out in search of some lunch. We are mostly incapable of making any decisions, but we wind up at a great tapas joint where we share meats, cheeses and Rioja.

I opt for an afternoon siesta while the others tour the pilgrim museum and wake up when they get back to say goodbye. They are bound for Barcelona, and will fly back to Israel tomorrow. This is a tough goodbye. I met Dima and Keren on day 6 of my Camino. Dima has a heart of gold, and welcomes everyone into the fold immediately. He’s a physicist whose heart is one humdred times bigger than his brain, and he is one smart guy! And Keren – Keren and I took some warming up to each other, but she is a woman of true compassion and warmth. It is so sad saying goodbye and it almost doesn’t feel real. It’s difficult to believe that these people who have become such permanent figures in my life in such a profound and intense way, will be gone now.

Monks with the Fumeria
Catedral de Santiago

Tammy and I have a vino tinto at the guesthouse and head out to attend the 7:30 service at the cathedral. We didn’t think we would be able to see the service and reach Finisterre, so we feel fortunate to be able to see this. We find two seats up front next to the main row of pews. I look around and spot fellow pilgrims during the service. Seamus and his crew have literally just arrived and they look weak and ragged. Bill and Jan, our Camino parents are sitting to the right of the alter, and Peter is to the left.

We listen to the service, conducted in Spanish, and hear the names of pilgrim’s home countries being read aloud.

Sunset over Santiago.

Mass finishes with the swinging fumeria, orchestrated by six monks, and with that, the Camino is officially over. We leave the cathedral at 8:30 and it’s cold and dark, but dry. We head back to Casa Felisa, ignoring the time and ordering one last vino tinto. Tammy’s taxi is due to arrive at 9, but at 9:10 it still hasn’t arrived. We call for another, knowing this one will show up, and we cheers and say one last “Buen Camino,” as the taxi lights shine through the guesthouse window.

We hug goodbye and Tammy gets into the taxi. She rolls down the window and tells me, “You’ll know where you’re going soon.” I feel a deep sense of comfort in this. Yes, Yes, I will.

Camino de Santiago, Camino Frances, pilgrimage, Spain

October 3rd, Day 32: Pedrouzo to Santiago ‘The Proverbial Finish Line’

Arriving weathered on the outskirts of Santiago.

I suppose the last day of walking should be memorable, and memorable it is. I enter into today trying to have no expectations. I have heard how anticlimactic the finish of the Camino can be, so I don’t want to have my hopes up for anything earth shattering, plus, how could one day beat the culmination of the last five weeks? I may also be playing down my emotions here – I am shocked at how quickly the time has passed and I am truly sad to see this walk come to an end. I have however done a damn good job of learning to live in the moment and I’ve savored each day on the Camino.

Tammy and I have really clocked some kilometers in the past few days… 75 in the last two days to be exact, and after chilling out after dinner last night, we aren’t exactly jumping out of bed for an early start. I sleep well and barely stir when other pilgrims are waking and packing up to leave at 5:30 this morning.

Completado

I finally wake up around 7 — to the sound of hard rain falling outside. I feel bad for everyone who is already out in it. Tammy and I pack up our stuff for the last day of walking and head across the road for a coffee. The cafe is playing long lost 80s and 90s music, and I come back to life with a capuccino and we sit til the rain stops.

The weather is odd this morning, very different to what we are used to. The rain has stopped but the winds are vicious – I think to myself, winds of change.

We set out and besides the odd sprinkle, we are spared the rain showers for a bit. We walk through forests just out of town and have a couple of steady climbs. It is actually a pretty morning.

An hour in, the rain begins, at first a steady rain but one that grows in strength with each hour that passes. We stop near an airport about 15km from Santiago and get our ponchos on. I am so lucky my poncho was replaced in Sarria because my thin yellow sheet of plastic would have never weathered this storm.

We stop at one of the only places open for a bite to eat, and they are offering a hot breakfast special: toast, eggs, bacon, fresh orange juice and a cortado. We are damp and cold and order one to share. The place is packed seeing as it’s one of the only places to eat and also a way for people to take shelter til the rain passes. It shows no signs of passing, or easing up though.

There is no point in waiting any longer. We are only delaying the inevitable. Ponchos and packs back on, we set out to complete the last 15km. The rain falls hard and the wind whips into us from every direction. My core stays dry for the most part, and my boots hold up for a surprisingly long time, and we keep a good pace, the rain and cold encouraging a faster walk than normal.

The rain begins to fall even harder now, forming little rivers on the hills we’re climbing up and down. Tammy and I laugh – there’s nothing else we can do. I say to her, “Someone told me this quote recently (I think it was Keren)… When you think you’ve got it bad, God will show you worse. When you think you’ve got it good, God will show you even better.” It’s pretty bad, but we know it could be A LOT worse. We don’t let the conditions phase us and that’s because of a combination of things, the last day walking plays an important part in it all.

Catedral de Santiago

Shortly before approaching Monte de Gozo, we make a left turn and we’re walking straight into gale force winds, whipping rain and quite possibly, some hail. We put our heads down and I look over to see bubbles oozing out of the toebox of Tammy’s hiking boots with each step she takes. Our feet are now saturated.

Just after passing Monte de Gozo, we see a sign for 4.7km. I calculate that we have about one more hour to go. After a steady descent on the outskirts of the city, and with a brief break in the rain, we stop for a photo opp at the first sign for Santiago that we see. Tour busses pass by and we know we must look a sight.

We are so close now, but I feel no true sense of excitement to get there, just mixed emotions: admittedly, relief that I don’t have to walk anywhere tomorrow and sadness that the Camino will soon be over.

Celebratory vino tinto.

The rain and wind let up and we somewhat dry out on our approach to the cathedral. I feel weathered, literally, and tired, and with less than 1km to go, a sense of drunken dizziness hits me. But shortly after, we are walking down the cobblestone streets of Santiago, approaching the Cathedral. We walk straight to it and stand in front of it. We are here. We look around at groups of people congregating in the square.

We have organized to meet the entire group at 7pm in front of the cathedral, so we make a plan to get to our hotel, check in, clean up, get our compostellas and have some celebratory vino tinto.

We have arranged to stay at San Martin Pinario – a four-star hotel that has a separate floor for pilgrims. I think my expectations are slightly too high and I’m a little disappointed in the stark, basic room. Still, we have clean towels and soft bed linens and the shower is the best thing ever. I wring out my walking clothes, but there’s no hope for my boots…they will take days to dry out!

With Laura and Adam in Santiago (Woodstock)

We set out to get our compostellas and begin running into familiar faces. Before we’ve made it out of the hotel, we run into Russ from Atlanta. He is leaving tomorrow and is off to mail some things home. We exchange info and promise we will get together in Atlanta when I return home from my travels.

En route to the compostella office, I run into my friends from Woodstock, Laura and Adam. I haven’t seen them since the meseta. I’m still sporting my tee shirt and we get a photo in front of the cathedral and exchange info as well. It’s like the Camino is coming full circle!

We arrive at the pilgrim’s office and have to wait in line for about 20 minutes. I get to the desk, and I’m asked by a fellow pilgrim and volunteer for my name, my starting point and my reasons for doing the Camino. He fills out my compostella and gives me my last stamp or ‘sello’ in my pilgrim passport. And that’s it.

The crew before our final dinner in Santiago

Just outside of the pilgrim’s office, we look up to see Lynne sitting at an outside cafe table. She has only hours before she will leave Santiago. We haven’t seen her since week three. We hug her hello and goodbye all at once, and it starts to sink in… there are about to be a lot of goodbyes.

We are delirious, hungry and full of mixed emotions, which makes for an interesting afternoon. We wonder aimlessly, looking for the perfect place to have a vino tinto, and we wind up in a dingy cafe with two bar tables. I am emotional – one minute I’m fine and the next, my eyes are welling up with tears. We head to a market, pick up some snacks and head back to the room for a rest before dinner.

At 7pm, we head to the square and our whole group is here – Dima, Keren, Ramon, Kyle, Jennifer, Tammy and me. Plus Peter, Julia, Eric and Serge, and Logan – who I unfortunately only meet on the last day of the Camino.  I see Gerogie’s mum, Penny. She will leave tomorrow morning and miss Gerogie’s arrival in Santiago. We bid farewell, and then our crew heads to dinner.

Tapas and Vino to celebrate the finish of the Camino.

Despite it being our last official night together, spirits are high. The tapas are endless and delicious, and the wine and sangria are flowing, everyone well aware that we don’t need to be up to walk tomorrow. Everyone is in the mood to let lose, but for some reason, after dinner, when everyone is making plans to bar hop in Santiago, I feel like being by myself. I head to one bar with the crew and then make a quick exit. I need quiet, contemplation time, time to reflect and decompress. I say my goodbyes, knowing that I will see everyone again tomorrow and I walk back to the hotel, passing the cathedral and cutting through a side alleyway where street musicians play. As I pass by, “What a Wonderful World” is being played. I sit and listen a little while longer before going inside.

As much as post-Camino emotions flood my head and heart, I have an indescribable feeling of deep peace, a sense of ease and relaxation in my whole being that I’ve never quite experienced before. It trumps my heavy heart and minimizes any thoughts of ‘what next?’ that come creeping in.

I crawl into bed and scroll through the photos from tonight. It is all smiles all around. I know the Camino isn’t over. It’s far from over. To begin with. we have an important mission to cover tomorrow, and with each new day following, I know my experiences from the last five weeks will shape every step I take moving forward.  I fall asleep, waking briefly when Tammy returns in the wee hours of the morning, and then sleep until the alarm goes off. Despite not having to walk today, we have somewhere very important we need to be.

Camino de Santiago, Camino Frances, pilgrimage, Spain

October 2nd, Day 31 Melide to Pedrouzo ‘A Bag of Mixed Emotions, and a few Gnarly Blisters’

We have plans to meet the gang for breakfast in town before we get on the road, so we are up and out early. I have slept incredibly well, but I think after 40km yesterday, I could’ve slept anywhere. The hostel we stayed at was more of an overflow hostel and there were only about five people in our room, so we were rewarded with a good night’s sleep. However, I feel irritable this morning – a combination of exhaustion and mixed emotions as we embark on our next to last day of walking.

The town of Melide, which we didn’t get to see last night, is already coming to life at 7am, which is odd for Spain. Cafes and bars are open for business, so I’m relieved to know we’ll get a coffee first thing. We find the others at their hostel and backtrack a few blocks back to have breakfast, and by the time we leave town, the sun is up.

Dima, Keren, Tammy and I are walking together and the path is busy again today with more pilgrims doing the obligatory last 100 km to Santiago. We stop at a German guesthouse because I need to doctor my feet. It seems cruel to have blisters on the next to last day, but everyone is patient while I apply compede and gauze to the bottom of my feet. We move on, but I quickly drop behind and make a pit stop at a cafe for a cortado. Maybe it will improve my energy! I walk on at a very slow pace, but Tammy and Keren have waited up ahead to do a health check.

We sit on a bench just before entering Arzua and make plans to stop in the next village for lunch. I’m tired and grumpy and in a fair amount of pain. I know when I get like this, I need to be alone. Tammy hangs back to find a pharmacy and I head on.

The path seems to go on forever and I keep thinking that I will stop for food and a rest at the next place, but there is no next place. Ramon catches up and we see a sign for a cafe 300 meters ahead, but we quickly find out this doesn’t exist. I am spent and I have at least another 20 km to do after lunch.

We finally find a cafe, and Tammy, Ramon and I meet up for lunch. I stay longer and rest for almost an hour. I tell the others to head on, that I need some solo walking time. When I feel I have the gumption, I lace my boots back up and head out. The odd thing is, I feel wonderful – good and strong, and my feet don’t hurt as much! For how bad I felt before, I’m really not sure how I feel this good now, but I’ll take it.

I find a good pace and trail Tammy for the afternoon. I finally catch up with her at a picnic table where she is resting because of shin pain. We have really done ourselves in with two long days of walking. Up ahead there’s a small roadside restaurant, and we sit together for an ice cream and an Aquarius – fuel for the last 4 km.I set out just ahead of Tammy, and cross the last town before Pedrouzo. Randomly, I find wifi on the outskirts of this town, and I see a slew of messages from the crew. They are already checked in at the albergue and are saving us beds at Puerta de Santiago. I message Tammy, and as I hit send, she walks up behind me.We walk the last couple of painful kilometers together, arriving at the albergue around 6pm. After showers, we get the laundry going and make plans to go to dinner as a group.

I’m delirious, grumpy, in pain and hungry and thirsty, so before dinner i find a little bar and order a vino tinto, which comes with a calamari tapas. 1 Euro later, I am satiated just enough to rejoin our group of nine and head to dinner.

We sit in the back room of a restaurant and it’s ages before we’re able to order, but the hamburger is worth the wait, and Tammy has treated our table to a bottle of vino tinto – a celebration of the 75 km we have covered in two days.

Tammy, Kyle and I hang back for an after dinner drink and dodge heavy rainfall as we run back to the albergue. Despite the long two days we have had and the solid 20km we have to cover tomorrow, we sit up til midnight, chatting and finishing laundry. The others have made plans to leave at 6am in order to make the noon Mass service in Santiago. I am quite ok with attending evening Mass if it means a few more hours of sleep.

Before I head to bed, I send a message to my old colleague, Trish, in NYC. I’m full of mixed emotions and I feel like I need some advice from someone who has been here before. My message to her reads,

Hey lady, I arrive in Santiago tomorrow!! I am a bag of mixed emotions… Not sure I want this to end. If you have time today, do you have any advice on post camino? How were you feeling? I plan on going to finisterre with a friend by bus and then she will leave. I may go back to Santiago and then walk to finisterre as well. We will see. Hope all is well with u

I fall asleep to the sound of heavy rain, hopeful it will clear for our last day of walking, our entry to Santiago.
Camino de Santiago, Camino Frances, pilgrimage, Spain

October 1st, Day 30: Portomarin to Melide ‘Let’s Walk a Marathon Today’

We wake early in Portomarin, but we don’t move fast. It’s raining, but it looks promising that it might ease up a bit soon, but at 8:30, it’s still pitch black outside. One of the girls who was working the bar the night before is back for the morning shift after less sleep than us, so we sit for a coffee and some toast. At 9am, the rain is done.We bid our farewells to the crew here and hit the ground running. We have ambitions to walk 40km to Melide today. This is ambitious enough to begin with, but seeing as it’s already 9am, we’ve set ourselves up with a long day ahead. Our Irish roommate, Liam, looks at us with skepticism – he doesn’t have much faith that we’ll make it. He sets out for an easy 15km day.Despite another late night, we’re energized and in good spirits this morning. I realize I can only feel better than how I woke up feeling yesterday!

We have a steady climb out of town to the main road which we’re parallel to for a while. The weather improves and Ramon catches up from behind. He cruises past and Tammy and I stop for a snack late morning. The Camino is much busier today, filled with people walking the required 100k to Santiago in order to get their compostella.

We walk on a bit and decide to stop for lunch at the 20km mark. We’re feeling pretty good but a long break on a 40km day is necessary. We find a small cafe on the way. We’re not even in a town, it just seems to appear out of nowhere… and we take a picnic table outside. It looks as if the lunch crowd has come and gone, but the guy working inside is ready for his siesta. Tammy goes in to order and comes back with two vino tintos! My eyes grow wide when I see her carrying these – vino tinto, half way into this long day! She says she couldn’t keep the attention of the waiter long enough to order anything else. I laugh. We will drink vino tinto!

I head in and order a pilgrim’s lunch for us to share, and when I head back outside, two others have joined us. Ale is on the opposite side of the table from me, and I thank her profusely for sitting with me the morning before and for her patience and kind words. The other man that has joined us is in the middle of telling his story of why he is on the Camino. He has just finished chemo and radiation to treat a brain tumor. He decided to walk the Camino while he awaits the results of the treatment. It’s humbling to say the least. I don’t know how much more of his story he wants to share, so we let him guide the conversation and change the subject as and when he’s comfortable.

Lunch arrives – pimentos, potatoes and eggs, chicken with fries, topped off with tiramisu and a cortado. Fueled up, we hit the path for the remaining 20km. The crowds have cleared out seeing as most people have reached their final destinations for the day. The afternoon sun is shining and the green pastures look inviting… I could just go and sit for a bit…

We cross quaint villages where we don’t see a soul and spend the late afternoon walking through Eucalyptus tree forests. We’re reaching end of day and as we approach Melide, a gentle breeze russles the leaves of birch trees that line the path into town. It’s deceiving because we are here, yet we still have about 4 km to go to reach the other side of the city.

My legs will no longer work. My shins feel like they have steel rods running down them, and I can feel blisters under my big toes. I have borrowed Tammy’s walking sticks in hopes that the pressure I can put on them may take some of the pressure off my feet and the click clack of the sticks on the concrete is almost trance like. Tammy is patient with me, more patient than I am with myself, and slows to my pace and asks how I’m doing. I’m sure my answer is filled with profanity!

We cross a small, old bridge into the old section of town at sunset, and by the time we reach the first albergue, it’s dark. It’s after 8:00, so we walk up to scope it out. We are fried! We have just walked a marathon! We don’t see the others though and the vibe seems low energy, but we have no energy to walk on any further, so we pay 10 Euro for our beds and check in.

The guy working the check-in desk doesn’t speak much Spanish or English, and our conversation is broken. We must look pretty rough because he’s giving us sort of hesitant looks, and then hands us two packets of shower gel along with our pillow cases. We try to talk a bit more and find out he is from Morocco. We’re able to converse a bit better in French, and I tell him about my travels there a year ago. I think we’re growing on him.

I order Tammy a vino tinto and I order a large, cold beer. Tammy is on the computer and I sit at a table in the foyer, my back facing the room. I feel pretty anti-social at this point in time, but there’s one American guy with a thick southern accent, and I just know he’s going to strike up conversation. Low and behold, moments after sitting down, I hear “Where ya from?” Turns out Chad is a pastor from Tennessee, here to live through Christ.

Gifts from our Moroccan hospitelaro.

I politely converse for a bit and excuse myself for a shower to rinse off this 40km day. When I return, our Moroccan friend is closing up and offers us last call, filling our wine glasses up to the brim. We sit at a table and he comes over with a plate of proscuitto and chorizo for us… we were too tired to go out looking for dinner and he has taken sympathy on us. It’s these little gestures that mean the most on the Camino. He bids us farewell and locks up for the night.

I spend the evening doctoring huge blisters on my feet. I didn’t think I’d be dealing with this on day 30, but that’s what 40 km will do. Tomorrow we have 35km to cover in order to keep with the schedule of arriving in Santiago on October 3rd.

We send a quick message to the others, who are only doors down from us in another albergue. We will meet for breakfast and set out together in the morning for our next to last day of walking.

Camino de Santiago, Camino Frances, pilgrimage, Spain

September 30th, Day 29: Sarria to Portomarin ‘Cherish Every Moment’

Leaving Sarria.

Today didn’t start so well, and in ways it was one of the hardest days on the Camino, but it was also one of the most beautiful. I wake up in Sarria with a hangover. The wine was flowing like water last night, and I wake up with a heavy head and eyes like sandpaper. I reach for my phone and as I load my messages, Tammy peaks over from the top bunk and says, “Gill wrote.” I figured there would be an email waiting for us. I read the email all the way through in Gill’s voice and despite wanting to be mad, at the end of the email, I just feel very, very sad.

The lesson of the day.

I truly believed we’d have the chance to say goodbye to Gill, and that isn’t the case. I lay back down in bed and just let everything sink in…the hangover, Gill’s departure, fatigue and the sadness that the Camino is coming to an end. We have only three days left til Santiago, three days left of my five weeks of consistency, three days left with these people who have become my family, three days left until I have to face the reality of figuring out what is next. I lay in bed, and I let the tears flow.

Tammy brings me water and an ibuprofen. Ale had shown up late in the night and ended up in our room. She gives me crackers and sits on the side of my bed. She says, “It’s not your heart that hurts, it’s your will.”

For some reason, this soothes me and the tears stop briefly. I ask her to do some reiki on me, and she patiently sits with me for twenty minutes. She says a few words at the end and tells me everything is intensified on the Way and that I will get what I need in Santiago. I need to put my faith somewhere today, and I hold on to every word she says, and have faith that she is right.

We take our time packing up, and everyone else leaves ahead of us. I hug Ramon goodbye, knowing we will see him either later today or tomorrow, and then I say a final farewell to Jesse. Sadly, he is leaving us today too. Tammy and I set out for a coffee, pick up a few supplies, find at ATM and then head out of town.

Making friends along the way.

Today is one of the prettiest walks – rolling green farmlands, stone walls, small villages, farm animals and blue skies. Farmers chase bulls and we literally share the path with deer, crossing from one pasture to the next.

We walk at a slower pace than normal and are in no hurry to get anywhere. We just decide to go as far as our feet will carry us. We stop for a soda late morning, and in the small cafe hangs a map of the Camino. We are shocked at how far we have walked and how little we have left to go.

Lunch in Ferreiros

We spend the afternoon walking through tiny, picturesque farming villages, buy raspberries from a little old lady, and eat them as we walk along. We stop for lunch in Ferreiros, and find a lovely cafe with a tapas menu and outside seating. I order one of everything for Tammy and I to share – local cheese, empanadas, chorizo, peppers and ensalata.

100 km to Santiago.

When everything arrives, I dig into the peppers, excited for the salty treat. As I pop the first one in my mouth, I notice a few people watching me. Then, FIRE!! I had heard about this but hadn’t experienced it yet firsthand. It’s only one in a dozen that are spicey, but these things are HOT…The Germans next to us laugh at my reaction. I have learned my lesson and will be cautious with every future plate I order

Lunch is deliberately long. We could easily stay here for the night, and a siesta sounds glorious, but we move on conscious of wanting to reconnect with the rest of the group for our arrival in Santiago.

The afternoon walk is gorgeous and no faster than the morning portion. Other than a young group of Spanish schoolboys, we have the path to ourselves. We stop in a village with a population of one. Here, an albergue plays music by Diego Cigala, so we stop in for a tinto de verano. Gerber daisies grow in the garden, hammocks hang between trees, a picnic table overlooks farmland for miles and a few tired pilgrims nurse afternoon beers. We soak it all in.

Time for an afternoon break.

As much as I would have loved to already be finished walking, I love the soft illuminating light at the end of the day, and as we cross the bridge into Portomarin, the mossy riverbanks below us glow green and wild horses roam free. It is gorgeous and I feel a flood of relief after arriving here. The challenges have been different today, and I know a rest is going to do me the world of good.

Portomarin

We check in to an albergue and smile at the familiar faces of pilgrims we have seen on a daily basis. We shower and head up to the restaurant that overlooks the river below.
We order dinner and over our meal, we make some plans for Santiago. We book accommodation at the hotel Sean recommended to us during the first week of the Camino, and Tammy books her train to Madrid. We check the bus schedule to Finisterre. We have a vino tinto to toast our plans coming together.

Three days left to go.

It’s getting late and the crew working the bar are cleaning up and having their post-work drinks. They pour us a homemade coffee liqueur and we toast with them while watching an episode of Spain’s ‘The Voice.’

Rain begins to fall again outside, heavy soaking rain. I consult the map and see that because of our shorter day today, we are looking at 40 kilometers tomorrow. For some reason, we are not phased by this. With three days to go, we feel like anything is possible.

Camino de Santiago, Camino Frances, pilgrimage, Spain

September 29th, Day 28: Triacastella to Sarria: ‘No Last Goodbye’

The Way out of Triacastella.

Despite going to bed at 1:00 a.m., I am up and awake at 6:45. I anticipate a tough, long day. I get up and get dressed and wait for everyone in the foyer of the albergue. Ramon and I sit chatting, almost as if we never went to sleep. I feel surprisingly ok. Maybe this wine has fewer sulfites, I tell myself! I do feel sad though, as this is our last day walking with Gill. He has been elusive about his travel plans, so while he will walk with us to Sarria today, he hasn’t told us if he will leave tonight or tomorrow morning.

The others walk on and Gill, Ramon, Tammy and I stay put at a local cafe for coffee and toast. We set out after breakfast and regroup with the others shortly into our morning walk. We are a group of nine leaving Triacastella.

Our last day walking as four.

The morning walk is damp and the skies are threatening, but it’s like a beautiful New England Autumn day. The leaves on the trees glow yellow. We are in the countryside now, low stonewalls surround farmland, and little rivers amble by. A cool, low hanging fog surrounds us, but the rain never comes.

We expect to stumble on a countryside pub, one where you walk inside and a fire’s burning and something warm is baking in the oven. This is our wish anyway, but we succeed in finding hot food – a plate of spaghetti – to tide us over and warm us up.

The afternoon turns warm and the sun makes an appearance, and the walk is easy and effortless. We listen to Gill’s storytelling. Tammy and I ask him about his Camino and his thoughts and feelings on returning home, but we don’t get many direct answers- just more stories.

Kyle and Jesse with their Magnums

We walk on to Sarria together. We find a picnic bench where we stop and wait for the whole group to arrive, and then we cross the town of Sarria, We come to three flights of stairs on the other side of town, which we know we have to climb to reach the older section of town, and to eventually leave the town. At the foot of the steps is a gift shop, where I pick out a new heavy, well made poncho to replace my tattered yellow excuse for a poncho. It’s Gill’s parting gift to me. We climb the steps and find a nice, new albergue on our left and we check in here, get cleaned up, throw on laundry and head to a small hole-in-the-wall cafe for vino tinto.

The afternoon is like many others. We sit, relax, sip vino tinto and decide where we will go for dinner. . Tammy sets off to find a new pilgrim passport as hers is full, and Jesse and Kyle search for the coveted Magnum ice creams.

Our crew at dinner in Sarria.

We head to dinner at a small Italian restaurant near the outskirts of town. We are missing Dima and Keren, but we’ve adopted a couple of new pilgrims into our fold.

Gill, Tammy and I and our vino tinto.

It’s a treat to order something other than a pilgrim’s meal, and we treat ourselves to Italian pizza and a couple bottles of chianti. When those are done, we order more Italian wine. The host loves us. I sit next to the wine cabinet, and when one bottle is finished, I just reach for the next and give the him a nod. He just replies with a smile. I like the way he keeps a tab.

We are here well into the late hours of the evening, singing, dancing, drinking and reminiscing about our Camino. I look at my watch, knowing that Gill won’t make his train, but the next thing I know, Tammy and I are walking back to the albergue. Gill is gone, his bag is gone, but his train has already left, hasn’t it?

We head to bed. Surely he wouldn’t have left without saying goodbye. I’m certain we’ll see him in the morning and have a chance to say one last Buen Camino.

Camino de Santiago, Camino Frances, pilgrimage, Spain

September 28th, Day 27: La Faba – Triacastella ‘What’s It All About?’

Clouds part above O Cebreiro.

We wake up to the sound of heavy rain falling and even after my solid two hour nap yesterday afternoon, I managed to sleep pretty well through the night and avoided bed bugs once again. Tammy comes over to my bed shortly after 6am and despite our intent to get an early start, she says we shouldn’t rush because of the rain. Of course, I agree. If I don’t have to, I won’t walk in the rain. But today we have somewhere to be — we are meeting Gill in Triacastella, and therefore, we’re conscious of the time.

Galicia

I get moving around 7:30, head over to the kitchen for biscuits and coffee and chat with Bill and Jan for a little bit. We then head over to the church and pack up the rest of our belongings, and despite a break in the rain, put our ponchos on. It doesn’t look promising!

We clear La Faba and Las Herreiras in no time, but a thick fog, cold wind, and persistent drizzle sets in and accompanies us. Tammy is a few steps behind me and keeps commenting on how beautiful the landscape is, but all I can focus on is how lousy the weather is. BUT – it is beautiful. The landscape had changed entirely, and I feel like we’re in Scotland or Ireland, not Spain. The land around us is lush and green, and the rolling hills sprawl out before us, shrouded in clouds. Moments later, we pass a sign marking our official entrance into Galicia.

Braving the elements en route to Triacastella.

As we approach O Cebreiro, the wind is howling, rain is drenching one side of my body, and it is officially cold. We’re relieved to arrive at the village, which resembles something from medieval times. It’s charming, despite being more commercialized than what we’ve been used to on the Camino thus far.

We find a warm and cozy cafe, hang our ponchos by the door, and order hot chocolate. We dry off and warm up and try to send a few messages to the group so we can all reconvene in Triacastella. Moments later, Jennifer and Kyle walk in. We sit with them for a bit, and after about an hour, we decide to brave the forces again.

The conditions have slightly improved. It’s still cool and windy, but the rain becomes intermittent. The clouds begin to lift, and we’re afforded views of the land around us. It’s beautiful – stunning!

Homemade lunch in Fonfria

We walk another 5k to Hospital de la Condesa and stop for a drink. We run into Ale, and despite it still being late morning, she’s ordering a tinto de verano and insisting other pilgrims try her favorite drink. Jesse, Kyle and Jennifer are having lunch, but Tammy and I push on to the next town.

We realize when we arrive in Fonfria that we’re starving, and although we only have 9 kilometers left before Triacastella, we stop for a snack. We find a small bar/restaurant set on a farm and make our way to a table by a window. The wind is still whipping outside and we wave to pilgrims as they pass by. We order empanadas, and the family running the bar brings us homemade cheese with fresh sliced tomato. We order a couple of tinto de veranos. How nice it would be to call it a day, but we don the ponchos and packs one last time and begin the 9 kilometer walk to Triacastella.

It’s a pretty afternoon walk and the rain holds off for us. The sun is actually shining as we arrive in Triacastella. We cover the 9k in a record hour and a half, the cold wind helping us to increase our walking pace. As we cross into town, we see Ramon, Gill, Kyle and Jennifer in the distance. Jesse, Dima and Keren are getting checked in to the albergue. The original and entire crew is back together again- if only for a couple of days.

Kyle, Ramon and Jesse.
Tammy, Gill and me.

We check into a lovely albergue with a fireplace in the main living room and we all make sure we’re in the same room. We drop our packs and head to Xacobo, a local restaurant for some vino tinto pre-dinner.

We hear a little bit about Gill’s Camino, his time with his wife, and his feelings about returning home soon. He asks us all about our own journeys, and we all start to reveal how we are feeling as we get closer and closer to Santiago.

Me, Dima, Jennifer and Keren.

Jesse informs us how he has given up on making it to Santiago. His original plan was to cover as many kilometers as humanly possible each day in order to make it to the so-say finish line. But, he tells us his time with the group has proven much more valuable and important to him than crossing that proverbial finish line, so instead of increasing his daily distances, he will just stay with us for a few more days and enjoy the time with our Camino family instead. He says, “F*ck Santiago.”

Ramon and Tammy.

I’ve heard the arrival into Santiago is anticlimactic, and I tell everyone that I feel like I could stop walking today and still take away everything from the Camino that I had hoped and much, much more – that it’s not about Santiago, a certificate, or saying “I walked 800 kilometers.” I think for the most part, that sentiment rings true for everyone.

I’ve realized the Camino isn’t about the walking, the distance, the physical pain, the sellos, or the certificate at the end. It’s all about what has been happening within our Camino Family and within ourselves over the past four weeks.

Cuarenta.

I realize I’ve completed my physical and spiritual parts of the Camino now, and I will just savor the last four days we have to walk together.

We sit for hours, drinking, eating, ordering more vino tinto and eventually toast the night with Caurenta. We give no thought to the 18 kilometers that await us tomorrow.

Camino de Santiago, Camino Frances, pilgrimage, Spain

September 27th, Day 26: Villafranca to La Faba ‘A Rainy Welcome to Galicia’

Rain coat and poncho on, ready for the elements.
La Faba

We rise early in Villafranca, mostly because we are all ready to get out of the albergue. It got even worse in the night, when a few pilgrims discovered bed bugs. Some have been affected more than others. Ramon has a couple of bites, but one of our roommates, Julia, is covered from head to toe in red welts. We pack up and hit the road. Fortunately, I have been spared, and I’m thankful to my sleep sheet for this.

The others have made an early morning start. Jesse and Ramon have chosen to walk the challenging, more scenic route, and Dima, Keren and Tammy have walked ahead. We haven’t linked up with Kyle and Jennifer yet, but we hope to find them in La Faba.

I set out from the albergue at dawn, but heavy clouds prevent any type of sunrise this morning, and it’s obvious that rain is imminent. I walk through the town square, following two pilgrims ahead of me. When they realize I’m following them, they politely let me know they aren’t walking out of town, and I backtrack to the correct route out of town, crossing a bridge and walking along a winding road that takes me under a major highway underpass and eventually puts me on a shoulder parallel to a highway.

I wonder how much more scenic Jesse and Ramon’s path is and if I should have followed that one, but I opted for the easier, shorter and therefore, less scenic route today. And given the weather rolling in, maybe I’ve made a good decision.

I link up with an older pilgrim and we chat as I stop to don my bright yellow poncho. I walk a few steps ahead but call back to him to point out a full rainbow unveiling in the dark, rainy sky ahead. Fortunately, for now, it’s just sprinkling very lightly, and I stop to have a large coffee and tortilla de patatas in what resembles a truck stop cafe. When I set out again, I seem to feel like I’m on the wrong path. I can see what looks like a more scenic path running parallel to me, a river in between us, but eventually the two link up. The other odd thing is that I seem to be the only one on the road. Funny how if I were with the group, I probably wouldn’t question any of this, but since I am solo, I am more aware of my surroundings and the results my choices have…If I get lost, I am lost alone!

After about another hour, the road veers right, and I make my way down a wet, leaf strewn road. It’s as if Autumn has arrived over night. The temperatures have dropped considerably and the leaves seem to have changed color in 24 hours. It’s a welcomed change from our long, hot, dry walks, but the rain seems to be arriving with a vengeance.

I have left all main roads behind me now, and I walk through a number of picturesque farms and villages, where cattle roam, and the chimneys of small homes blow smoke, but I don’t pass a pilgrim or a villager for hours.

Finally, in La Portela de Valcarce, I can’t fight the rain any longer, so I stop in a cafe and order an aquarius. I sit at an outside table, protected by an awning and watch as monsoon rains fall. I have no choice but to wait it out, but the rain is relentless. It shows no signs of stopping. If I want to catch up with the others, I will have to walk through it.

The albergue church in La Faba.

It’s just over 6 kilometers to La Faba, where we said we would walk to today, and it rains for the better part of that walk. It’s an uphill climb into La Faba, which is sort of protected by forest, and I’ve managed to remain relatively dry, but it is damn cold.

When I reach the peak of the hill into La Faba, I can either continue straight to leave town, or hang a right down a narrow path to enter town. I make the right and as I reach the end of the path, I run into Tammy, Dima and Keren. They are on their way into town for lunch, and they welcome me warmly with hugs. It’s so nice to see their faces, and we’ve only been apart one day.

I head to the albergue with Tammy, and we plan to meet Dima and Keren in a few minutes for lunch. Tammy informs me that the albergue owner is having everyone keep their belongings in the church next to the actual inn, in an effort to prevent a bed bug infestation. I get checked in, drop my bag in the church and head into town with Tammy.

Afternoon vino tinto.

We find Dima and Keren at a small cafe and join them for a pilgrim’s lunch. The door keeps blowing open and the air is freezing. Dima loans me his sweater and we warm up with some vino tinto. The weather and the wine is making us all tired and we head back to the albergue. The room is like a log cabin, with a slanted ceiling and wood floors, and the beds are like cots. I roll out my sleep sack, crawl in and sleep easily for two hours.

The typical Galician forecast.

It’s early evening when I wake, and no one else seems up for a walk back into town, so I head to the cafe for a small bite to eat. Dima, Jesse and Kyle join me later and eat Magnum ice creams while I finish my dinner, and we all head back to the albergue together. I’m nervous I won’t sleep after such a long, late nap, but the cooler temperatures and the sound of rain outside lull me to sleep easily.

Tomorrow, we enter Galicia, which is notorious for being cool and damp. Even the pictures in the guidebook show wet landscapes and pilgrims in ponchos. I wonder what we will wake to.

Camino de Santiago, Camino Frances, pilgrimage, Spain

September 26th, Day 25: Molinaseca to Villafranca – A Long Walk and Zero Sense of Urgency

An old deserted village on the outskirts of Ponferrada.

We have just over 30 kilometers to cover today, so we are up early to get on the road. Jennifer has been feeling unwell over the past couple of days and is too sick to walk today. She and Kyle decide to take a cab to Villafranca, and we plan to meet them there.

Ramon, Jesse, Tammy and I link up with Dima and Keren at the municipal albergue and head out. We walk parallel to a main road for most of the morning, picking ripe blackberries all along the way. On the outskirts of Ponferrada, we pass a wine dispatch center. The building looks empty, but the gates are open, so we head in to scope things out.

The wine dispatcher in Ponferrada.

We meet a young girl who is working in the dispatch center, filling bottles with three types of red wine. She doesn’t blink an eye when we ask if we can sample the vino tinto. In fact, she offers to fill our water bottles full. Well, it would be impolite to decline her offer, so we all take turns having our bottles filled from a petrol pump-like contraption. We thank her and bid her farewell, making our way to the center of Ponferrada.

Ponferrada.

Here, we find a cafe and sit down for a long, morning coffee. We have only covered 8 kilometers, and still have over 20 to go, but no one seems to be in a hurry to go anywhere. We check email and hear from Gill. He lets us know that he will be meeting us in a few days time in Triacastella, where he will walk with us for a couple of days. The whole Camino family will be together again soon! I sit at the cafe with Tammy, while a few others head out to tour the castle, and when they return, we make a move out of town.

It’s growing increasingly warmer, and for the most part of the day we are on unshaded roads. Tammy and I keep pace with Ramon and Jesse, alternating walking partners throughout the afternoon. We break away in Cacabelos when the guys sit down for lunch, and shortly after, Tammy stops for a break.

I continue on and pass Dima and Keren in Pieros. They have sat down to have lunch and I visit with them briefly before moving on. We have 5 kilometers to go to Villafranca.

I am walking through vineyards and farmland again now, and not too long after leaving town, I cross a river. I debate about stopping, but remember what Gill said on day eight of the Camino, “We cross too many rivers, without touching the water.” I turn around, walk to the riverbed, drop my pack and unlace my boots. I put my feet in the ice cold water, which is more painful than refreshing, and I rest until I hear Jesse and Ramon approaching. Tammy arrives a few moments later, and the four of us walk on.

Villafranca.

The last five kilometers seem to drag on forever. When I feel like we should be close to arriving in Villafranca, I see a sign indicating we have another 3 km to go. It can’t be!!  To top off a hot, long day of walking, we finish with an uphill climb. We are all exhausted and drop our packs at a bench overlooking the town below and catch our breath.

Dima and Keren are ahead of us somehow and have held four beds for us. We get checked in, and it’s only moments before we recognize a sort of somber mood permeating the albergue. It’s old, damp and dingy and the hosts demeanor seems to be in keeping with the feel of the place. Still, we have come this far and if we walk on, we risk not finding beds. It will make do.

We get settled in, and cleaned up before dinner. Even at dinner, everyone seems on edge, walking on egg shells around the two hosts running the albergue. I decide it’s time to open my Nalgene water bottle, which is still full of free wine. Tammy is sitting next to me, and I pour us both big glasses of vino tinto. We make an effort to not let the energy of this place and the people here zap us of ours, well, what we have left anyways. Dinner is good, filling, and just what we need, and we all head back to our room together. Dima, Keren, Ramon, Tammy, Jesse and I are all in a room with one or two others, and we climb into our bunks for a well deserved night of rest.

We say goodnight, goodnight….Don’t let the bedbugs bite…