Since completing our 5th Camino…500 miles in 2017, she’s been calling us back again. Our first four Caminos were in 15 mile (2012), 32 mile(2013), 270 mile(2014) and 180 mile segments finishing in Santiago in 2015.
So we’re answering the call one more time while our bodies are still willing.
Our primary reason for Camino 2019 was to give us a goal, to provide additional incentives for us to continue to actively pursue a healthy lifestyle in our 70’s. So from that perspective alone, we succeeded.
A real bonus was that we have reached an even higher level of fitness both physically and mentally after 59 continuous days of walking over 400 miles.
An underlying objective for Camino 2019 was to exploit our previous Camino experiences to reduce or eliminate some of the less than positive aspects of this two month experience. This resulted in skipping a few unpleasant sections which not only reduced a negative that we experienced on previous Caminos, but reduced the overall distance we walked from 495 to 415 miles.
We extended our walking range by transporting Linda’s backpack nearly every day, reducing the physical burden on both of us.
We also effectively used public transportation, taxi & bus, to give us extra flexibility to skip the sections mentioned above, as well as to eliminate the problem of finding suitable places to stay when heavy pilgrim traffic and/or lack of facilities occurred.
Our stays in pilgrim hosting private homes and small hotels, especially for multiple days, was a particularly enriching experience.
None of our Camino 2019 “adjustments” adversely impacted the wonderful places we passed through or stayed on our walks. The scenery was still extraordinary, some seen for the first time, others missed but remembered from previous walks. The deliciously, comfortable food was enjoyed daily and new items were discovered as before. The interesting interactions with other pilgrims and pilgrim hosts, as before, enriched our experience and our lives.
The spiritual and meditative and healing environment of the Camino Frances was ever present, as before.
Our Caminos are different than most, because, for the most part, we do not stay in albergue dormitory’s, with communal showers and bathrooms, sleeping in bunk beds and confining our main meals to communal pilgrim settings. And our daily spending (45€) is slightly less than double that of a “typical” pilgrim. Consequently, our Camino experiences can provide alternatives to prospective pilgrims as they plan a Camino that fits their needs.
And one final suggestion: Plan to stay a day or two extra after arriving in Santiago, if you want to receive a Compostela. The pilgrim office is not equipped to handle the ever increasing traffic and no effective remedies appear to be in the works.
This is probably our last Camino. But we’ve said that before and who knows what the future will bring. The Camino Frances has enriched our lives and continues to impact the way we live. We strongly recommend it to anyone, as it can impact one’s life in so many positive ways.
The trains are predictable, almost always on time departing and arriving and much easier and faster than driving or flying. And the scenery can be quite spectacular (inspite of reflections in the large windows)
The 5 hour plus trip from Santiago to Madrid-Chamartin terminal passed quickly, mostly because we shared a four seat table with a delightful couple currently living in Denmark. Lillias, originally from South Africa, and Jonathan, originally from Zimbabwe, worked for an international construction company building bridges, roads, tunnels, etc.
We chatted about our Camino experiences (they had just completed the Portuguese Camino) and just about anything else that came to mind. The time passed too fast as we really enjoyed their company.
They are considering a trip to the US in a year or two to walk the Appalachian Train from Georgia to Maine. We encouraged them to contact us so we can possibly meet when they pass through NC.
We said our goodbyes as we left the train in Madrid as they were going back to Denmark later in the day.
Our connections from Chamartin station by local train to Atoche train station in downtown Madrid and an easy walk to Pension Barrera(95€). had us checked into our room by 2:00.
Our post Camino 2019 R&R continued for the afternoon and next day, reading, continuing to enjoy Spanish cuisine at nearby restaurants and taking brief walks around the city.
Madrid is one of our favorite cities with magnificent buildings and diverse architectural styles, treed streets and parks and spacious sidewalks, all carefully maintained and clean. Museums and historical monuments are everywhere,
but just walking around them is very entertaining and relaxing. Madrid is not as intimidating as many world capitals and large cities can be, especially if you are not fluent in the language. And also very important, its relatively easy and cheap to eat and get around.
On Wednesday morning, our taxi picked us up at Barrera at 9:00 and 45 minutes later, in heavy morning traffic, we were at the AA ticket counter in MAD, checking our backpacks. We were still over an hour before boarding time so we stopped for a snack before proceeding to our gate.
Our flight left on time and the 8 hour flight
to Philadelphia was without incident getting us into the terminal a few minutes ahead of schedule
A 3 hour layover gave us plenty of time to clear customs, recheck our packs and board the plane for our two hour flight to GSP.
Our neighbor, Ed, graciously agreed to pick us up at the airport and was waiting for us when we arrived 15 minutes early!!!
A ten minute drive by car had us opening our garage door and walking into our home after being away for 10 weeks.
It was a very smooth and easy finish for an extraordinary trip and good to be home!
Its all in Latin, including the Latinization of our names. Translated, it says:
The Chapter of this Holy Apostolic Metropolitan Cathedral of Saint James, custodian of the seal of Saint James’ Altar, to all faithful and pilgrims who come from everywhere over the world as an act of devotion, under vow or promise to the Apostle’s Tomb, our Patron and Protector of Spain, witnesses in the sight of all who read this document, that: Mr/Mrs/Ms…………………has visited devoutly this Sacred Church in a religious sense (pietatis causa).
Witness whereof I hand this document over to him, authenticated by the seal of this Sacred Church. Given in Saint James of Compostela on the (day) …… (month) …… A.D. ……”
After we received our Compostelas on Wednesday afternoon, we got a taxi back to San Marcos, a village we passed on our way into Santiago on Wednesday morning, where we had a reservation for the night at Hotel Akelarre.
Thursday morning we slept late and after a late breakfast, walked across the street and caught a bus (1€) into Santiago.
We had booked two nights in A Casa do Peregrino (120€/nt)
which is located on Cervantes Plaza
less than 100 steps from the Catedral (“Cathedral” in Spanish) de Santiago de Compostela. It’s a great location because every pilgrim who walks the Camino and is on his or her way to collect their Compostela, must pass by our room (with a balcony overlooking the street).
As we discovered in 2017 when we also stayed here, the positive energy and excitement of pilgrims from all over the world about to fulfill their goal fills the air throughout each day.
When we weren’t soaking up the energy from our balcony we were walking among the pilgrims, tourists and locals in this medieval city, exploring and marveling at the boundless examples of architectural masterpieces and religious relics accumulated over the past 1000 years or so and beautifully concentrated in this single location.
The Cathedral, whose magnificent exterior we happily saw uncovered for the first time and kept revisiting, viewing and photographing, was almost totally masked in the interior by scaffolding and draped in ugly plastic and fabric sheeting while a near total refurbishing effort is underway to prepare for 2021, the upcoming Holy Year celebration. The noon mass, a central part of most pilgrim’s Camino experience was not even being held here, but in another church, while work was underway. It was really sad to see all the coverings, and knowing from our previous visits, what beauty and inspiration, hundreds of thousands of pilgrims (for many, a once-in-a-lifetime- experience) are missing and will continue to miss for the next two years.
The iconic statue of Santiago (St James) the focal point of the Cathedral, was obscured by scaffolding and plastic draping. Faithful pilgrims still lined up for the chance to embrace the statute from the platform behind the altar and to view the tomb and sarcophagus containing the remains of the Apostle, in spite of the disarray of the refurbishing effort.
We has an interesting lunch at Cervantes, a nearby restaurant discovered by Linda in 2017. We selected a variety of tapas and shared a plate of Padrón pimentos.
This morning, Friday, we checked out of our hotel and walked about a half mile or so, south, away from the old city into the very much more modern version of Santiago de Compostela to Hotel Gelmirez,
our home for the weekend, and began a new phase of our post Camino 2019 adventure.
If our life was simplified on the Camino these past couple of months, it really got simple when we moved into Gelmirez. It was a very nice, modern, roomy habitacion con baño. The hotel had a buffet breakfast but no bar or restaurant or other services. It seemed to be a terminal for pilgrims finishing the Camino or tour groups doing a short version of the Camino.
Bar/restaurants, takeout food and nice grocery stores were nearly next door to the hotel, so eating and snacking were effortless and fun.
We spent our time resting, reading and exploring the area between the old city
and the train station, again, effortlessly and without a backpack.
During the two day stay we had sunshine and overcast/drizzle, but it had no impact on any of our “activities”.
On Monday morning we donned our packs and walked 10 minutes to the train station, had breakfast, bought a snack lunch for the 5:15hr trip to Madrid, boarded the train at 7:35 and pulled out of the station at precisely 7:48 to begin our trip back home.
Our walk today was about as easy as any we’ve had so far. It was mostly on pavement, only moderate inclines and they were short in duration. The fog didn’t make much difference as we were mostly in commercial or industrial areas or city streets.
We played hopscotch with a tour group of 15 pilgrims from Belgium who started their Camino in Sarria.
We also chatted briefly with three ladies from Wales who also had started in Sarria.
We got to San Marcos, where we have a reservation for the night, made weeks ago when we thought room availability would be an issue. But we continued walking on into Santiago, through city streets for nearly 3 miles until we finally saw the tower of the Catedral de Santiago. A few minutes later, we finally, after 3 Caminos, got to see the Catedral without scaffolding blocking the front entrance of perhaps the most beautiful structure in Christiandom.
We took a few photos and walked on to the pilgrims office arriving at 11:00 to present our credentials to receive our Compostela. We were issued a ticket designating our place in line, #881 and #882. At that time they said they were serving pilgrim #331 and were processing pilgrims at an estimated rate of 100/hour!
The pilgrim office recently implemented the ticket system to avoid the long waiting in line (2 hours +) which we’ve experienced in the past. The new system lets you scan your ticket with your phone and see what was the last number served, so you can be at the pilgrim office when your number is called . So the long lines have been eliminated at the pilgrim office, but based on our experience today, the wait times have been significantly increased.
Hopefully the Santiago pilgrim office people will do some more work to improve the system. Pilgrim numbers continue to increase each year (Elena, the owner of our place last night in San Paio, said this year over 350,000 pigrims will receive Compostelas) and with 2021 being a “Holy Year”, the pilgrim traffic could easily double, possibly triple current numbers.
We found a small bar and had a prolonged coffee/hot chocolate break, walked to the Decathlon store to look around, had a long lunch, then returned to the pilgrim office “waiting area”
and waited until our numbers were called finally at 4:15… after a 5+ hour wait (but not in line😜).
So at 4:15 p.m. today, we officially concluded Camino 2019.
As we mentioned earlier, because earlier flights were not available when we tried to adjust a few weeks ago, we”ll now spend the next 4 days (5 night) in Santiago, board a train for Madrid on the 30th, spend two nights in Madrid and then fly home on Oct 2. Hangin’ out in Santiago and Madrid hotels for a week is something we would normally not do on purpose, but we”ll probably make the most of it and use it as a transition from our very simplistic existence for the past 59 days back to the everyday life we left behind for a while.
We’ll also use the transition time to reflect on Camino 2019 and will share our thoughts and takeaways with you from our temporary base in Spain.
It rained a lot last night but appeared to be over when we left Pension CHE this morning. We walked about a quarter mile on the roadside, then took a gravel farm road, that after another quarter mile,
joined the Camino. We chose this route, rather than walk 4 km back into Arca to pick up the Camino there. This cut our planned walk today by about 1.5 miles.
Even though the rain had stopped we dodged puddles all the way.
We did a lot of uphill’s today, mostly of short duration but totaling 65 floors according to Linda’s FitBit. About half was through forest and half on narrow, lightly traveled paved road.
We walked around the Santiago airport, hearing only 3 aircraft over a span of a half hour. Half-way around the airport we broke out of the forest enough to see a stone marker for Santiago, beside a major highway heading into the city. We also got a brief glimpse of Santiago, some 11 km in the distance before going back into the woods at one end of the runway.
Switching back onto a paved surface we entered the hamlet of San Paio (pop.25) and stopped for breakfast. Our casa rural, “The Last 12 km” (65€), is our reserved destination for the day, but after finishing breakfast, we decided to keep walking.
We walked to Lavacolla (pop. 171) which literally means “wash private parts.”
Medieval pilgrims seldom if ever bathed along the journey and even “ridiculed Muslim and Jewish enthusiasms for personal hygiene,” but apparently took advantage of the small stream on the edge of Lavacolla
to finally cleanse themselves just prior to arrival in Santiago. Also, Laffi recorded in the 17th century: “There is a river in a wooded place two miles from Santiago called Lavacolla, in which French pilgrims, out of respect for the Apostle, wash not only their private parts but, stripping off their clothes, clean all the dirt from their bodies.”
We walked on past Lavacolla for a mile or so and finally stopped in Vilamaior (pop.<25) at Casa de Amancio for OJ and Santiago cake, before calling a taxi (13€) to take us back to San Paio.
San Paio and the small Iglesia in the hamlet is dedicated to San Paio (Payo) a Christian child that was martyred for refusing to convert to Islam.
She was 14 when kidnapped by the invading Muslim troops and taken to Sevilla and tortured, body cut into pieces and thrown into the Guadalquivir River.
Our home for the afternoon and evening is located facing the iglesia.
The owner let us check in over an hour before normal. We believe she owns both the bar/restaurant where we had breakfast and lunch plus the guest house where we are staying.
She speaks excellent English and personally
decorated her charming/upscale property. Our late lunch was also enough to suffice for dinner, but we took two slices of Santiago cake and the remains of our lunch wine back to the room for later, just in case.
After checking out this morning we sought out the owner, Miguel Santiago,
who was serving guests in the breakfast dining area.
We have a delightful history with Miguel. He observed some spider bites Linda had gotten several days before we arrived at Albergue Tourista Salceda in 2015 and called a pharmacist friend who advised that Linda go to the clinic in the next town as a precaution. Miguel shared this information with us and told us where to find the clinic and a shortcut to cut our 4 miles walk to less than 3. The next morning a doctor at the clinic saw Linda immediately, gave her a shot and a prescription for followup medication. We filled the prescription at a nearby pharmacy for 5€ and were on our way. Linda subsequently recovered from the bites by the time we got to Santiago, several days later.
In 2017 we stayed at the same place and Miguel was delighted to see Linda was ok and he and his family welcomed us again. When we left the next morning, taking the same shortcut, Miguel was returning in his car to the albergue by the same route and stopped, shook our hands and wished us “buen Camino” with his voice and kind eyes. That moment was one of the highlights of the Camino for us.
This morning in tribute to Miguel Santiago (approximately named) and
because it is indeed a shortcut, we began our walk taking the shortcut to
rejoin the Camino for the day.
About an hour later we stopped at a new cafe, which had not been there in 2017. It turns out, the owner had just finished celebrating their first anniversary. We thought it was interesting to see the contrast in this modern rest stops external design and the more typically new, but renovated multi-hundred year old structures one sees on the Camino. And the toastadas were very nice, too.
The path alternated between eucalyptus forests and
roadside paths. The weather threatened rain, but it was only a threat.
At one point we stopped for a photo in a forest and a couple from Brisbane, Australia stopped and offered to take our photo. We accepted and then walked awhile with them.
They were celebrating her 40th birthday by walking the Camino from Sarria and following with a short trip to Santorini and several other Greek islands. They owned a recruiting business together and spent most of their vacations on the nearby Australia Gold Coast and in SE Asia. They had numerous questions about the Camino and we tried to answer as best we could.
We parted shortly after as we were walking considerably slower than they.
Our walk to Arca (pop. 5,050 )/O Pino,/O Pedrouzo, was relatively easy until we got to O Pedrouzo and began looking for our place to stay, Pension CHE. The Booking.com map and the Google Maps took us to the wrong place, two baggage transport employees said it was 4-5 km out of town, and finally, in a residential neighborhood where CHE was supposed to be, a helpful gentleman working in his yard, explained in beautiful Galícian (which is not Spanish or Portuguese or a blend of the two, but a unique Romance language of its own) what the situation was. Jim and Linda listened intently, after several “repita por favors” and after thanking the helpful gentleman, we walked back into town and still guessing what the guy was telling us, made a few more inquiries along the way and ultimately we figured it out.
It seems that Pension CHE is an extension of a place in Arca called Pension Platas. We actually stayed in Pension Platas in 2017, a several story hotel in Arca. The way it works is, after 12:00 noon you can go to the receptionist at Pension Platas, give her your name and she will summon a driver who will transport you to Pension CHE some 5 km out in the countryside. He then escourts you into a bar/lobby and calls the receptionist, who apparently lives nearby, because she appears in less than 5 minutes.
We discovered later once arriving at CHE that the receptionist copies your passport, accepts payment for the room, advises you that no food is available at the site, but you can order takeout for delivery to the pension or be transported back to Arca for dinner between the hours of 6-8 pm. She points out that tomorrow morning they would transport us back to Arca to pick up the Camino or we could walk a few hundred meters from the Pension and pick up the Camino in the direction of Santiago, saving us probably 2-3 miles of walking. We’ll have to think about that one … for about 4 nanoseconds. You can guess which option we’ll choose in the morning.
She then gives you the key to your very nice, new, clean room
and things get back to “normal” for the rest of the evening.
Now, being the seasoned peregrinos that we are, once we talked with the Pension Platas receptionist at 11:30 and guessed how things might play out, we went into action.
We left Jim’s backpack safely with the receptionist and found a place to have an early lunch, in case lunch might not be available at Pension CHE.
After lunch we found a grocery store and bought the fixin’s for dinner, should we have limited or poor options at Pension CHE.
Below is a list if our purchases in euros with notations where a translation might be needed for you.
We then headed back to Pension Platas at 12:15 to summon our driver to Pension CHE.
We were taken to CHE and followed the sequence outlined above, got into our chore mode, took a short nap and then gathered our purchases and went to the open, but no services, dining area and had dinner.
We need to add that while shopping in the grocery store for wine to go with our dinner, Jim came across a wine that we have purchased at Total Wine for $12-15 a bottle and in restaurants or cruises have paid $20-30 and more. The price for the same wine was €6.75!!!
After a tasty 17€ dinner including wine we rested and blogged for the remainder of the day.
At 7:30, both Accuweather and Weatherbug apps said no rain for 120 minutes, so we left our hotel and stopped for breakfast briefly, before leaving town without our rain gear, but had it easily accessible if we needed it.
Just as we left town and began our first steps on the dirt path, the heavens opened up and delivered some serious rain in our direction (Good work, weather apps!). We quickly got into our rain gear and waited in a relatively dry spot under a tree until the shower let up a bit before proceeding. It continued to rain for a half hour or so, then evolved into a light drizzle, then stopped for the rest of our walk.
Like yesterday, we walked on some narrow paved farm roads
but mostly through forests.
Pilgrims were very much in abundance the entire way. Resting places were nicely spaced and frequent enough to prevent excessively long waits for services.
We had a short chat at one stop with Paul and his wife from Holland that continued later when they passed us. They started their Camino from home and expected to get to Santiago sometime tomorrow after walking over 2600 kms (1600 miles) since late June!
Jim had another interesting conversation with Eddie, another guy from Holland. Jim mentioned that his father had visited Holland in 1942 when his bomber crashed landed on a beach near Vlissingen, Holland and was quickly taken captive by the nazis. Eddie said that his father was a member of the resistance forces in Holland during the same period, trying to disrupt nazi efforts in his country. Eddie said he never knew about his dad’s activities because they were classified and only discovered them after his father died. Jim shared that he had a very similar experience with his dad and related Jim Sr’s roll in the Great Escape. At that point in the conversation Jim realized he was walking faster with Eddie and bid farewell to his new Dutch friend and walked backwards to let Linda catch up.
We also walked briefly with a lady from Sidney, Australia who had started in SJPDP, like us, and had been walking alone. She was curious as to why we had walked the Camino more than once.
When we got to Salceda, our room was not ready. We waited in the Albergue Tourista Salceda dining area until our room was ready and chatted with a young lady from Hanover, Germany, who had walked from SJPDP and we enjoyed sharing our experiences and impressions of the Camino Frances, until our respective rooms were ready just before 1:00.
Both lunch and dinner
were had in the albergue’s modern dining room.
We renewed our acquaintance with the owner and his wife who remembered us from our visits in 2015 and 2017.
We’re both nursing mosquito bites which we received at our hotel in Arzúa last night. We didn’t sleep well last night as a result. We brought a high powered steroid salve from our doc in Greenville that helps the itching. We’ve used it with some success earlier in Camino 2019 and hope it will help us sleep better tonight.