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Last night’s post was very short because of physical exhaustion.  Tonight may be a short post because Nancy, Andrea, Heike and I had a very good meal at the hotel we’re staying at and we were all engaged in a very easy going, familiar free flowing conversation that lasted over 2 hours.  The four of us have a shared experience of walking the Camino together that we will carry the rest of our lives.  Heike studied Spanish for two years in preparation of the Camino. Her Spanish speaking is quite good.  She’s used it a lot and she believes she has improved in her Spanish speaking.  However, although her English was outstanding when we all first met 23 days ago, it has improved even more since she has been speaking to the three of us extensively everyday.  Another unforeseen consequence of the Camino.

Last night at La Casa Milia we shared a table with a very lovely woman from Madrid, Mila, who works quite a bit in America and speaks excellent English.  She offered to give Nancy and I some tips as to what to do and see in Madrid.  Also at our table was a very interesting and sweet Norwegian couple who are missionaries in Spain for a very interesting organization sponsored by the Church of Norway.  Inge (who spent a year in Minnesota in seminary school) and Soveirene (please forgive me for misspelling your name!) the youngest of 4 sisters (they’re all beautiful if they look like her!) are walking the Camino as part of their ministry in Spain.  I hope to see the three of them in Santiago.

Maria who I mentioned last night made us a very good breakfast in which the jams for our toasted Spanish bread was home made.  It was a good start for our 23rd day on the Camino.  The entire day was overcast and threatening to rain.  We walked another solid 23 kilometers.  That distance is no longer a challenge for any of us.  The girls continue to shine.  I was tempted to post a picture today of my raw little toe (skin worn right off) but Andrea said, “ooh Dad, that’s gross, don’t post a picture of your toe!”  OK, I won’t.  Good think we only have one more day to reach Santiago.  Otherwise, I would need at least one or two solid rest days to allow my toe to heal.  Believe me, I consider myself fortunate that after nearly 500 kilometers of walking from Burgos this is the worst injury I have.

The Galician countryside seems to be covered everywhere with river beds and brooks with water streaming down from the high country.  That creates a near constant going down a valley then climbing up the valley on the other side of the water.  It has not been a level walk for any great distances since we entered the Province of Galicia nearly a week ago.

I didn’t see any many familiar faces today on the Camino.  That was be design in that we wanted to stagger our last few remaining stages so that we wouldn’t be staying where the majority of the other pilgrims are staying.  That’s because we wanted to ensure we had rooms booked in advance.  At one of our rest stops today I overheard a phone conversation in which a woman was trying to reserve two rooms this evening.  It didn’t sound good.  These are four women who started in St. Jean Pied du Port in France.  Two are American, one is from Ireland and the fourth from Holland.  I hope they found a place this evening.  As we get closer to Santiago I’m noticing more makeshift memorials for pilgrims who have died on the Camino.  It’s quite moving.

It seems almost surreal that tomorrow will be our last day of walking on the Camino.  We are excited about reaching Santiago,  I am and I’m not.  I don’t remember if I mentioned in a previous posting that there is a man from Holland who started his walk 30 kilometers from Aachen Germany in mid March walking through knee deep snow.  He should be arriving in Santiago tomorrow or Monday.  He will have walked a staggering 2,500 kilometers when he completes his Camino.  He told Heike that he’s thinking about slowing down his pace and add a few extra days on the Camino because he is not  anxious to end his walk

I don’t think we’ll do that tomorrow barring any injury.  We hope to reach Santiago in the early afternoon.  It is supposed to rain tomorrow.  I don’t think that will dampen our spirits at all.  I look forward to sharing with you our thoughts, observations and pictures in my next post from Santiago de Compostela

Buen Camino!

Heike, Solveirene, Mila, Inge, Andrea and I enjoying a home cooked Spanish meal.  Can you see how tired Heike and I look?

Heike, Solveirene, Mila, Inge, Andrea and I enjoying a home cooked Spanish meal. Can you see how tired Heike and I look?

Andrea, Joe, Nancy, Maria and Inge

Andrea, Joe, Nancy, Maria and Inge

The young Norwegian missionaries on the Camino, Solveirene (sp?) and Inge.

The young Norwegian missionaries on the Camino, Solveirene (sp?) and Inge.

One of many interesting and touching memorials of those who died on the Camino.

One of many interesting and touching memorials of those who died on the Camino.

The Gomez's getting ever closer to Santiago!

The Gomez’s getting ever closer to Santiago!

I really like the variety of doors I've seen throughout the Camino.

I really like the variety of doors I’ve seen throughout the Camino.

The closer we get to Santiago, the more discarded boots I'm finding on the kilometer markers.

The closer we get to Santiago, the more discarded boots I’m finding on the kilometer markers.

I saw this shoe this morning as we climbed out of the village of Arzua.

I saw this shoe this morning as we climbed out of the village of Arzua.

Then I found the matching pair about an hour later on the Camino!  The Camino truly has a sense of humor!

Then I found the matching pair about an hour later on the Camino! The Camino truly has a sense of humor!

The girls walking walking under the dreary overcast skies.

The girls walking walking under the dreary overcast skies.

Walking through a typical Galician village.

Walking through a typical Galician village.

This will be a very short post this evening. Nancy, Andrea, Heike and I are exhausted. We woke up this morning in Palas de Rei tired. None of us slept well. I’m developing a distinctive limp normally associated with members of the geriatric club. Heike’s feet ache all day, Nancy starts wearing out at about the 20 kilometer mark and Andrea’s youth is really paying off. She seems the most resilient of all of us.

We made it to a very rustic rural house called la Casa Milia this afternoon after walking in an hour and a half steady rain. I took a few pictures today. The Casa Milia is a fine place to stay. The rooms are large and immaculately clean with a distinctive rustic Spanish decor.  Maria who owns and operates this gray place also does the cooking. The food is home cooked and delicious. I highly recommend coming here.

I’ll post a few pictures. We’ve only got 43 kilometers to Santiago!

Buen Camino

View outside our room from la Casa Milia.

View outside our room from la Casa Milia.

Ponte Velha Furelos medieval bridge.

Ponte Velha Furelos medieval bridge.

These flowers abundantly adorning a old medieval village on the way to Melide.

These flowers abundantly adorning a old medieval village on the way to Melide.

Galician rural scenery along the Camino.

Galician rural scenery along the Camino.

Today was different.  It is not a myth regarding the swelling of people on the Camino after leaving Sarria.  The endless pods of 6 to 12 people in nice clothes, “day shoes”, women wearing jewelry, people looking so fresh, energetic, lively ……… but walking ever so slow and walking like they’re just out for a Sunday morning walk in the park.   And then I saw something I didn’t realize existed on the Camino.  SAG wagons.  I don’t know if SAG is an acronym, it may be.  It’s a term I learned taking part in some cycling events in Colorado.  SAG wagons are the support vehicles for cyclists that provide support equipment for the cyclists.  The Germans call these “broom” wagons.  Good description.  Anyway, there are large groups of people walking the Camino from Sarria in which they’re LUGGAGE is transported to their next hotel and when they stop for breaks, there’s a bus with snacks for them.  These people basically have SAG wagons.  I know how I agonized over using a bus one day for about 20 kilometers to save our legs before heading into the mountains.  I felt like I was breaking some kind of Camino code.  Since we passed Sarria I’m being reminded everyday that each of us must experience our own Camino.  Judging how others are experiencing their own Camino if different than one’s own conflicts with the Camino spirit.  This is two days in a row I’ve brought up this topic.  I should really let it go!  I see a very valuable lesson in this for me.  This is a topic I really need to reflect on and learn from.

Today’s walk was very ordinary in a lot of ways.  I didn’t stop to take too many pictures today.  My blisters were making their presence known, my feet were barking at me most of the day, my left knee was  tweaking now and then forcing me into a limp from time to time.  Hey, what should I expect?  I’m 60 years old and it’s been 21 days since we left Burgos.  We  haven’t taken a rest day since we left Leon more than 2 weeks ago.  Heike’s feet and  blisters and not doing any better but she keeps powering forward to remain in the “Champions League.”  Andrea and Nancy seem to be doing really well all considering.  I think shipping their backpacks forward each day is making a huge difference for them.  I don’t think Nancy’s knees could have done so well bearing the weight of her backpacks each day.  I can attest that the one day I didn’t carry my backpack (26 kilometer walk up and down a mountain) I felt like I was naked.

Yesterday, we met a young English Oxford student, Charlie, on the Camino who not only had a really big backpack but was also carrying a guitar case.  He started in Santander doing the northern route.  That’s about a 500 kilometer walk.  He decided to head south and take the Camino Frances.  Anyway, today we saw Charlie at a resting stop bar/restaurant.  The Camino has ended for him since he said that he “blew out” his knee this morning.  He was waiting for a taxi to come pick him up and send him to an airport so that he could return to England.  His attitude was very positive and said that once his knee is repaired he hopes to do the Camino again but to finish this time.  His attitude was so positive!  Charlie brought home to me the fact that not one single day is every promised to us.  We hope and pray to get to Santiago this Sunday but that is not a given.

As we entered Palas de Rei, an elderly man told Andrea that she must go into the Church because he had something important for her.  The four of us walked into this Church and it was very old and the  altar very beautiful.  As it turns out, the old man had a stamp for our Credencial.  He then told us to put money in the little bowl he had on his desk!  I think we got hustled by an elderly, zealous volunteer at this church!  At least it was a cool stamp to put on our Credencial!

We’re less than 70 kilometers from Santiago. It’s supposed to rain tomorrow all day.  Not a problem, we’re now Camino veterans with only three days to go!

Buen Camino!

A Galician dairy man walking his cattle on the Camino.

A Galician dairy man walking his cattle on the Camino.

Heike at the 70 kilometer marker to Santiago.  That's like walking from Aachen to Koeln.

Heike at the 70 kilometer marker to Santiago. That’s like walking from Aachen to Koeln.

The ants are really big in rural Spain.

The ants are really big in rural Spain.

I think Andrea's over the Camino.  She keeps asking, "Dad, why are we doing this?"

I think Andrea’s over the Camino. She keeps asking, “Dad, why are we doing this?”

Galician home in the country.

Galician home in the country.

Yesterday was a really tough day but a great day!  We spent this past Monday in Triacastela recuperating and relaxing after the ardous hike over O-Cebreiro.  Monday was a “piece of cake” 9 – 10 kilometer walk.  We sauntered into Triacastela so early that we left our backpacks at the hotel Vilasante.  Pepin who is a 3rd generation owner of this family business was like family to us. He really took care of us and made sure that we had everything we needed.  We walked back into the center of this very old haven for Pilgrims and sat in the courtyard of what seems to be the most popular restaurant in town.  We enjoyed our afternoon sitting in the sun, the girls drinking Sangria and your humble blogger drinking Galician beer.  It was literally a day in the sunshine and another opportunity to share our Camino experiences.  We then saw our Canadian Camino friends from Newfoundland, Wayne, Cathy, Lauren and Sharon and invited them to join us.  Wayne and I then had a very stirring conversation about the NHL and most specifically, the Toronto Maple Leafs.  Wayne is as big a fan of the Leafs as I am of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.  Like Wayne, our teams have not fared very well when it comes to hoisting championship banners.  I really enjoyed his passion for his team and the game.  I hope we have other opportunities to talk NHL and the Maple Leafs.  Maybe next year, Wayne?  The Leafs win it all?

Yesterday, was a real grind.  We left Triacastela, a village of 900 people named in Galician after Three Castles, none of which still survive.  Historically, this was a very significant resting place for pilgrims of the Middle Ages coming down from the mountain (like we did the day before).  When leaving Triacastela we started a steady 7 kilometer climb and never seemed to let up.  The remainder of the way to Sarria was basically a descent but we still were going up and down the river valleys which seem to be everywhere in Galicia.  This was also the day I decided to “go it alone” and leave the girls behind.  I’ve been wanting to see how well I would do finding my own rhythm.  Yesterday I found it.  Incredibly, at least for me, we’ve now walked more than 400 kilometers.  My body is really adjusting to the daily 20+ kilometer walks.    The last time I saw the girls was in the village of Furela, 9.8 kilometers into our day.  The next 15 kilometers I just bolted.  I didn’t speak to a single individual (no really!) except for an American career diplomat, Carol, who turned 70 this year and started her Camino in St. Jean Pied du Port in France.  We spoke for about 5 kilometers and parted in Sarria.  Anyway, this was a day that I could really think and meditate for a few hours.  It was wonderful!

Let me make one quick confession before I bolted.  In the beginning of our morning hike as we were climbing steeply up hill, Nancy mentioned that she was getting really hot.  She wanted to stop to take off her jacket and just walk wearing her light shirt.  She stopped and started to take off her jacket.  Nancy  has a great figure for a woman of any age.  I know the Camino is very nonsexual and can be an incredibly strong spiritual experience but I turned around and admired my wife of 34 years with quite a bit of admiration.  Perhaps too much because I made the cardinal sin of walking backwards on this very remote rural path.  I stepped into a fresh pile of  cow manure, which thankfully, was just a small amount!  That’s what I get for losing myself on the Camino!

I really wish that I could better articulate just how beautiful this Galician countryside is.  To be fair, I’ve seen similarly beautiful and idyllic countryside in Germany, England, and the US.  However, I’ve never WALKED this type of countryside like this before.  I highly recommend it.  I’m finding it stimulating.  Imagine that you are able to get alone in your thoughts with the absolute beauty and serenity that being far away from civilization and the surroundings of  lush green rolling hills with the only sounds breaking the silence are birds chirping and singing, frogs croaking in the creeks, and the cows mooing in the distance.  This kind of walk is also set up by the fact that I KNOW that I won’t be going back to work tomorrow or this weekend.  Instead, I’ll be getting another dose of the rhythm, beauty and spirituality of the Camino.  This genuinely pure serenity has been ongoing since we left Burgos three weeks ago.  It’s rapidly going away the closer we get to Sarria.

We have made Camino friends and family along the way.  You’ve read about Heike from Aachen, Germany.  She’s now family.  We’ve traveled together from the start in Burgos and the four of us plan to walk into Santiago together this Sunday and drink Champagne in celebration.  There are other strong friendships that have been formed that Nancy and I plan to follow up with long after the Camino.  There’s something about walking side by side with someone for a few hours, a few days, a few weeks that really deepens a friendship.

The closer a pilgrim gets to Santiago, the larger the crowds and number of people walking the Camino.  Fighting being smug about the “newcomers” is real for me.  But then again, the Camino is all about perspective for me.  I may look at the people staring at Sarria as not “real” pilgrims because they’re only walking the “minimum” to get their Compostela in Santiago.  We started in Burgos more than 400 kilometers behind us!  Then I start thinking of all the pilgrims I’ve met who started in St. Jean Pied du Port, France.  They will have walked about 790 kilometers to Santiago.  Does that mean I’m not a “real” pilgrim.  How about Henrik and Heide who started from their home in France who will end up walking over 1,200 kilometers when they reach Santiago.  What does that make the people starting merely on the French border of Spain in St. Jean Pied du Port?  Then last night, Heike told us of a Dutchman she was talking to who stayed in the same place as we.  He started in his Dutch village which is 30 kilometers from Aachen, Germany.  He started walking to Santiago in mid March in knee deep snow.  When he reaches Santiago this Sunday or Monday, he will have walked over 2,500 kilometers!  What does that make the rest of us!  Perspective.  It’s a funny thing when you start really looking at it.

The atmosphere, however, is noticeably changing as we get closer to Santiago.  Yesterday, a few kilometers outside of Sarria I made way for a group of what appeared to be well off Spaniards out for a ride on their beautiful horses.  The horses were very healthy, well groomed and powerful, the riders looked like wealthy people in fine horse riding clothes (I know nothing about horse riding so I don’t know what proper horse riding clothes should look like except for one of those Zorro movies with Spanish elite on horses which is what they reminded me of).  Then the “twist” of the trip!  I’ve taken over 1,000 pictures on this Camino.  By now, I look ragged, weary, dirty, smelly, and hobbling along the path with my well worn clothes, backpack, beaten up boots, you get the picture……    Suddenly I hear a female voice saying in Castilian, “look, a real pilgrim!”  I turn to find this beautiful Spanish woman who could play the Catherine Zeta-Jones role in a Zorro movie ride by me in her gallant horse AS SHE TAKES A PICTURE OF ME!!!!  God I must look rough!

I reached Sarria, got my Credencial stamped at the local Pilgrim’s Information Office, sat outside and had my lunch of apple, muesli, and water then walked on to yesterday’s destination of Casa de Carmen in Barbadelo.  The last 5 kilometers was another grind as I ascended steadily leaving Sarria.  I was very hot, sweaty, and tired when I reached the Casa de Carmen.  However, the long day of hiking was well worth it.  I made great time doing the approx 25 kilometers in 5 hours of walking with two 30 minute breaks.  Casa de Carmen is a renovated 17th century farm house with it’s own 17th Century Chapel.  The garden sounding this old house with the views of the valley below was a spectacular way to spend the day.  Nancy, Heike and Andrea caught up with me an hour and 15 minutes later.

Today’s walk to Portomarin was an “easy” 20 kilometer walk.  I finally have blisters!  Heike has been walking with blisters for over a week.  Andrea has them the same place as I, our right foot, smallest toe.  Believe me, after 400 kilometers, I consider myself extremely lucky regarding physical wear and tear.  We passed the 100 kilometer marker this morning.  We’re 93 kilometers from Santiago.  Today I met a new couple who I’ve seen since O’Cebreiro.  The man has a very distinctive and sharp looking tatoo on the back of his left calf.  We started a conversation and I walked with them a few kilometers.  They are a very handsome, young Spanish couple named Raul and Belen.  Very nice people.  I hope to see them again on the Camino.

We’re now on the home stretch.  Just 4 more days of walking at the pace we’re going!  Hard to believe!  The Camino.  It’s not just the walk, it’s a way of life!  For those of you who remember me saying at work all the time that I’m “living the dream!”  Well now I say, don’t dream about your life, live your dreams!

Buen Camino, amigos!

A pilgrim's water fountain near the peak of Alto do Riocabo about 5 kilometers outside Triacastela on the way to Sarria.

A pilgrim’s water fountain near the peak of Alto do Riocabo about 5 kilometers outside Triacastela on the way to Sarria.

Fog covering the village of Montan in the lower valley on the way to Sarria.

Fog covering the village of Montan in the lower valley on the way to Sarria.

The waymarkers and yellow arrows keeping us on the Camino are nothing short of outstanding.

The waymarkers and yellow arrows keeping us on the Camino are nothing short of outstanding.

Well to do Spaniards out for a ride on their horses.

Well to do Spaniards out for a ride on their horses.

The door of someone's home as we enter Sarria.

The door of someone’s home as we enter Sarria.

The view of Sarria below as we make our ascent out of town.

The view of Sarria below as we make our ascent out of town.

Back in the back country 2 kilometers outside Sarria.

Back in the back country 2 kilometers outside Sarria.

View from Casa de Carmen where we stayed last night outside the village of Barbadelo.

View from Casa de Carmen where we stayed last night outside the village of Barbadelo.

Casa de Carmen, a restored 17th Century farm house.

Casa de Carmen, a restored 17th Century farm house.

The Gomez-Ortmanns team enjoying the spectacular view from Casa de Carmen.

The Gomez-Ortmanns team enjoying the spectacular view from Casa de Carmen.

The altar inside the Chapel of St. Sylvestre at the Casa de Carmen.

The altar inside the Chapel of St. Sylvestre at the Casa de Carmen.

The 100 kilometer marker to Santiago. We're getting close!

The 100 kilometer marker to Santiago. We’re getting close!

Sharing the Camino with ever present cows in this part of Galicia.

Sharing the Camino with ever present cows in this part of Galicia.

The very handsome, young Spanish couple, Raul and Belen.

The very handsome, young Spanish couple, Raul and Belen.

A new Alberque the Casa de Banderas run by friendly South Africans.

A new Alberque the Casa de Banderas run by friendly South Africans.

Crossing the long bridge into Portomarin with the large reservoir of Belesar behind them.

Crossing the long bridge into Portomarin with the large reservoir of Belesar behind them.

The Church in Portomarin.

The Church in Portomarin.

The days are truly starting to blur.  Walking 8 straight days now has done that.  After taking an extra rest day in Leon and leaving that city on Monday, May 27, we’ve walked everyday since.  The approach we’ve used is that if we’ve had a really hard day, we’d follow that with a now “easy” short day.  For us, a really “easy” day is 10 – 16 kilometers (6.2 – 10 miles).  A tolerable day in which we can walk without any need for a follow up short day is now 20 – 23 kilometers (12.4 – 14.2 miles).  Throw in added difficulty factors such as going up a steep climb and facing really bad weather, then we really need to take it easy the next day.  That is why we only walked 10 kilometers today.

Yesterday was a really long, tough hike.  For my friends in Colorado, I was very curious to see how this hike would compare.  The walk would take us up over 2,100 feet of elevation gain over about 5 miles.  Some stretches were flat but other stretches really steep.  For those of you who have hiked up Hanging Lake near Glenwood Springs, imagine that steepness for about 3 to 4 times the distance.  There were other stretches almost as steep, like hiking to St. Mary’s Glacier near Idaho Springs, Colorado but 2 to 3 times the distance.  Over all, we walked about 7 hours of going up and 2 hours walking level or going down.  Bottom line is that after we completed the entire 15 mile hike, we were very glad to check in to our Alberque.  We started our day yesterday before 0800 Saturday morning in Ambasmestas and ended in a tiny dairy farm community of Fonfria.  We also crossed the border of Castilla y Leon into Galicia.  This region of Spain is absolutely beautiful with the mountainous terrain (OK, big hills in Colorado) with lush green colors and blue skies.  The Galician village of O’Cebreiro sitting near the top of our highest elevation gain of the day provided wide 360 degree vistas of open landscapes that came alive with many different varieties of wildflowers in bloom.  Unforgetable.

We had lunch in O’Cebreiro and hiked another 12 kilometers to Fonfria.

You’ve heard me mention before the incredible spirit alive on the Camino.  Let me share with you another example that occurred yesterday.  During a very steep ascent, I told our adopted Camino family member, Heike, that this reminded me of Hanging Lake near Glenwood Springs only that it is longer.  About 20 minutes after that discussion, we caught up with two ladies sitting on a short stone wall catching their breath.  I said hi to them in which they responded with a smile saying Buen Camino.  I immediately heard their American accent and asked them where they’re from.  “Oh we’re from Colorado.”  I responded where in Colorado are you from, in which they both said, “Glenwood Springs.”  What are the odds that in the wilderness of climbing this Spanish mountain I would mention to Heike this reminded me of a place near Glenwood Springs, and literally, within minutes, we meet two ladies, from Glenwood Springs!  The Camino is magical producing magical moments everyday!

The Alberque we stayed in last night, in the tiny village of Fonfria, is a family run business. The pattern I’m seeing is that these people work like slaves, very long hours everyday, dealing with people from all over the world, most who don’t speak Spanish, and they are generally very helpful and cheerful.  They usually close up between 10 – 11pm and the same people open up for breakfast between 6 to 7 am.  Amazing!  In Ambasmestas we met Luis, a tall, handsome blonde Spaniard from Ponferrada who not only checked us into the hotel, but was also the waiter!  I told him how hard he and the other Spaniards work supporting the Pilgrims and he, like all the other Spaniards I’ve complemented in a similar manner, was very humble and gracious.  He was thankful for having a job and also very conscientious of the terrible unemployment of Spain’s young adults.  In Fonfria, a very youthful looking couple, Miguel and Lola Arias run the family alberque business in which they two were serving all the pilgrim’s needs including running the bar and then cleaning and  sweeping at 11pm to get ready to serve at 6am in the morning.  I’ve seen this everywhere on the Camino.  In the Vilasante Hostel we’re staying in this evening, the 3rd generation owner, Pepin Lopez Valcarce, is constantly attentive and helpful to our needs.  This country has amazing people supporting the Camino.

For days now we’ve been running into other pilgrims we’ve been seeing for over a week, some longer.  Jay from the UK, Inaki from the Basque, Marc from Catalonia, Henrik and Heide from Denmark who have already walked over 1,200 kilometers, Britta from Denmark walking her 3rd Camino, Diane and Nanell  from the UK, Merle and his son, Adam who have been walking from France, Wayne and Cathy Foster from Newfoundland, Canada.  It will be a fascinating experience to see some or all of them when we arrive at Santiago.  Speaking of Santiago, we are now 134 kilometers away!

We passed through some very remote dairy country today.  There was a point in which you couldn’t see or hear anyone.  Heike mentioned that she was going to stop to change her pants since the one’s she’s wearing was irritating her.  Nancy, Andrea and I continue to walk down this empty path to give Heike some privacy.  As soon as she started to take off her pants, out of nowhere a group of Spanish pilgrims on bikes appears next to Heike.  She waits for them to continue, once they leave, out of nowhere, a spanish dairy farmer appears.  Where did these people come from!  That’s the Camino!

Tomorrow we pass Sarria which is the traditional starting point for the shortest distance one can walk (100 kilometers, although Sarria is 115 kilometers from Santiago) to receive the Campostella.  If all goes well, we’ll be arriving at Santiago this coming Sunday, June 9th.

With all the pilgrims walking the Camino, securing a place to sleep is getting more difficult the closer one gets to Santiago.  The traffic is picking up very noticeably.  In Triacastela, the town we’re in this evening, all beds were taken by 4pm.

The weather the last few days has been absolutely perfect for walking.  Cool in the morning, warm in the afternoon and sunny throughout the day.  Great weather is expected to continue to Thursday.  We leave early tomorrow for a 23 kilometer walk to a restored 17th Century farmhouse with terrace and chapel Capela de San Silvestre in the village of Barbadelo, the Casa de Carmen.  We’re looking forward to the walk!

Buen Camino!

Food is still really good and plentiful on the Camino.

Food is still really good and plentiful on the Camino.

This part of Galicia is full of small, family owned dairy farms.

This part of Galicia is full of small, family owned dairy farms.

Pilgrims experiencing the Camino on bikes.

Pilgrims experiencing the Camino on bikes and watching Heike change her pants!

A dairy farmer was leading his herd of dairy cattle through a village with his German Shepherd when another Shepherd pops his head out the window to join in the barking!

A dairy farmer was leading his herd of dairy cattle through a village with his German Shepherd when another Shepherd pops his head out the window to join in the barking!

We had an excellent lunch at a super restaurant in the village of Filloval.

We had an excellent lunch at a super restaurant in the village of Filloval.

Jay from the UK and Marc from Barcelona. He's a real champion as he's been hobbling badly for days but promises to make it to Santiago.

Jay from the UK and Marc from Barcelona. He’s a real champion as he’s been hobbling badly for days but promises to make it to Santiago.

More than 800 year old chestnut tree as we enter Triacastela.

More than 800 year old chestnut tree as we enter Triacastela.

Very old Romanesque Church as we enter Triacastela

Very old Romanesque Church as we enter Triacastela

Nancy and Andrea enjoying a well deserved Sangria today in Triacastela.

Nancy and Andrea enjoying a well deserved Sangria today in Triacastela.

Wayne, Sharon, Lauren and Cathy from Canada.

Wayne, Sharon, Lauren and Cathy from Canada.

Joe and Heike enjoying a beer while Nancy and Andrea enjoying their Sangria.

Joe and Heike enjoying a beer while Nancy and Andrea enjoying their Sangria.

I missed posting a blog last night. The wireless router must not have had the bandwidth to handle all the people attempting to be online. It was impossible to stay online.

A lot has happened since we left Ponferrada.

Everyone has their own reason to walk the Camino de Santiago. There are those who are doing this for religious or spiritual reasons, some cultural, others because they’re having a milestone birthday or recently retired. The reasons are many and varied. There are many who started their Camino at the traditional starting point in St. Jean Pied du Port on the French side of the Spanish/French border. Most start somewhere in Spain.  There are also those who take a “purist” approach in that you must start in France, carry your backpack at all times and walk every step of the way, and make no prior sleeping arrangements.  Not me. I subscribe to the notion that each of us must experience the Camino in their own way, preferably in a way that allows for the fullest, most meaningful memories for each individual.  As I have mentioned in past blogs, the dynamics are completely different of traveling alone (and whether you’re male or female), if you’re traveling with your spouse, child or both.  We started the Camino as “purists” at least “purists” starting in Burgos and not St Jean Pied du Port.  Our 1st three nights were in alberques and taking available beds that are co-ed dormitory style.  This approach, which is undertaken by most of the pilgrims, leaves precious little privacy, and opens one to a symphony of world class, teeth rattling  snorers.  It is not a myth.  The community style meals also creates a “big family” style gathering in which you may sit next to almost anyone from any nationality in the world.  This is all good since nearly every pilgrim I’ve encountered, and being the flaming extravert that I am, I’ve encountered MANY pilgrims, all seem to have a friendly, open behavior.  The Camino, seems to attract these type of people.

With the high number of pilgrims currently walking the Camino and the fact that the closer one gets to Santiago the more difficult it becomes to find a bed if you arrive into a village in the late afternoon  and the fact that I’m traveling with my wife and daughter and adopted Camino baby sister, Heike, my approach has changed from “purist” to “pragmatic.”  Here’s what else I’ve learned.  I don’t really like walking.  Never did!  None of the reasons that motivated me to experience the Camino does not include walking.  Here’s the reality of my disdain for walking any appreciable distance.  I have extremely flat feet.  Virtually no arch.  At the end of each day of walking for hours, my feet are in real pain.  They hurt and ache for hours.  Miraculously, each morning, they feel normal again so I lace up my hiking boots and go walking again.  So here’s my confession which for me speaks to pragmatism.  I’m looking at combining the best possibility of ensuring we have a place to stay each night, that none of us over exert ourselves so that we’re able to walk the Camino and finish in Santiago.  Since Ponferrada we “broke” a few rules,  We took the bus 23 kilometers to a small town that would allow us a 16 kilometer  walk to a village that would set us up for a long 26 kilometer walk over a very steep climb and dramatic elevation gain to would lead us into Galicia.  So yesterday, after our short bus ride we walked 16 kilometers and today 26.  We’re now in Galicia!  We feel like we’re on the home stretch!  Tomorrow I should have more time to blog and to include new pictures.  I’m typing literally in the dark since the common room with the wireless router is officially closed and I’m translating for a young Spaniard and a young English woman who are clearly interested in each other but neither speaks the other’s language.  I will try to post some pictures I took of Galicia today. The views, I’m afraid, cannot be adequately expressed by my pictures.

We made it safely to the very rural village of Fonfria.  It was a very long walk, 9 hours including our rest time and we’re beat!

Buen Camino!

Steep climb as we approach O'Cebreiro.

Steep climb as we approach O’Cebreiro.

Significant marker showing we are now in Galicai!

Significant marker showing we are now in Galicai!

The Galician countryside is very beautiful. I wish you could see the depth and expanse of this countryside.

The Galician countryside is very beautiful. I wish you could see the depth and expanse of this countryside.

In the village of O'Cebreiro in Galica.

In the village of O’Cebreiro in Galicia.

Typical Galician structure

Typical Galician structure

You’re probably tired by now reading how terrible the weather has been by Spain standards for this time of year. Every morning on our 15 day walk has been cold.  This n morning was chilly and by our first break a few kilometers outside of Riego de Ambros, the cold finally gave way to the Spanish sun!  In a beautiful little opening in the woods we took off our fleeces cold cold weather clothes as Andrea was playing a Gloria Estefan Cuban tune. Nancy and I broke out into a few salsa steps as Andrea and Heike laughingly watched and two French women only a few meters away sitting under a tree watched us in bewilderment. People don’t salsa on the Camino! Well, I guess they do now!

For the rest of the day, the weather was glorious. Not a cloud in the sky that was so blue you’d  think it was painted.  We stopped in Molinaseca for a cafe con leche. This is a very old town first built by Romans then became part of the original trail of the Camino de Santiago.  We decided to stay in the much larger town of Ponferrada today to keep our legs fresh for the steepest climb on the Camino – O’Cebreiro the day after tomorrow.  When we descend that mountain we’ll be in Galicia!

At this pace, by this Sunday we’ll only be about 140 kilometers from Santiago!

There is a German phrase I absolutely love which Heike taught us. When someone traveling under ideal conditions, you respond with a partial sentence of “Wenn engel Reise.”  In English that means “when angels travel.”  The angels were certainly traveling with us today! We stopped in Ponferrada, secured rooms in the Hostel San Miguel and had time to eat a delicious lunch followed by a visit to an ice cream shop. We did this sitting outside in the sun! We then visited the Basilica de la Encina, is historically significant 16th Century church and the Castillo de Los Temlarios, a truly impressive 12th Century castle in which Templar Knights protected the area and pilgrims on their way to Santiago. We head off tomorrow for a long day.  Can’t wait!

Starting off the morning in Riego de Ambros.

Starting off the morning in Riego de Ambros.

Heading down a steep hill toward Molinaseca. We have definitely left the Meseta!

Heading down a steep hill toward Molinaseca. We have definitely left the Meseta!

Molinaseca as we approach from the hills.

Molinaseca as we approach from the hills.

Medieval bridge over the Rio Boeza as we enter Molinaseca.

Medieval bridge over the Rio Boeza as we enter Molinaseca.

Notice the short sleeves? It's warm today!

Notice the short sleeves? It’s warm today!

We went over those mountains just two days ago!

We went over those mountains just two days ago!

In the suburbs of Ponferrada.

In the suburbs of Ponferrada.

Shepherd and his dogs leading a flock of sheep across the street.

Shepherd and his dogs leading a flock of sheep across the street.

The 12th Century Templar Castle - Castillo de Los Templarios.

The 12th Century Templar Castle – Castillo de Los Templarios.

Andrea enjoying a beer with her Dad.

Andrea enjoying a beer with her Dad.

Decadent ice cream dessert after a good hike!

Decadent ice cream dessert after a good hike!

The Basilica de la Encina.

The Basilica de la Encina.

statue of a Templar Knight outside the Basilica.

statue of a Templar Knight outside the Basilica.

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