Although yesterday’s ride from near Pedrouza to Sangtiago was only about 23km, it was definitely one of the most miserable days I’ve had on the camino.  It went from raining really hard to raining harder and being windy at the same time.  I got to my rather nice upscale hotel looking like a drowned and slimed rat.  They were very kind and non chalant about it all.  I took my stuff up to the room and squished back down to return the bicycle to the rental firm.  Once that was done, I opened my bags which I had fortunately placed in the bath tub.  The rain cover on my pack had managed to trap water and about a gallon of water and mud came out.  Thankfully, I pack my clothes in dry bags, so I had a change of clothes that was dry.  Waited for my compostela at the Pilgrims office right across from my hotel.  An underwhelming preprinted certificate.   Managed some recuperation and shared dinner with Sean Murphy, an Irishmen that I’d met the night before.  Today, I worked on trying to attach meaning to all the effort involved in this exercise.  Spent the morning with a Catholic sister, Katherine, from Ireland who is running something called Camino Companions.  She has seminars for people to try to help them process the experience.  Ended up with some other Americans from Michigan and we read some poetry and answered some questions etc.  All I can say is I’m very much still in process with it all.  Had a fabulous lunch at the top rated place in Santiago, Abastos 2.0, which is right by the central  market.  They do a degustacion menu for 21 Euros for lunch and they bring you morsels of seafood for about an hour.  Wouldn’t do it everyday, but when in Rome and the price was certainly fair.  Tonight was a rather sad occasion as a mass was held for Denise Thiem, the American Pilgrim who was murdered by Astorga.  It was well attended and very moving, with sections in English, but also the Spanish was spoken so properly and clearly that I could understand almost all of it.  So sorry for her and her family, the huge irony being that she was from Phoenix, which almost certainly has homicide rate almost 10 times that of all of Spain put together.  Anyway, was trying to figure out where to go next, and San Sebastian is so booked up that I couldn’t find anything all that affordable.  So, headed to Bilbao on Friday.  Of course a train strike almost nixed that, but then I found I could work around it by booking one ticket to Burgos and another from Burgos to Bilbao 3 hours later.  Why the RENFE people couldn’t come up with that I don’t know.  It most definitely pays to do your own searches.


O Pedrouza

Ventas de Naron to O Pedrouza, 54km = 33 miles.

Date: 09/14/2015

Got a decently early start today.  Unfortunately the forecast was wrong, and it was pouring rain for the first 12km to Palas de Rei.  Eventually it stopped raining, but by the time I called it a day everything had a pretty good coating of slime.  Note to self, ask for fenders next time!  The goal for today was to get to Arzua, but I thought the place lacked charm and it was early in the afternoon, so continued toward O Pedrouzo.  Eventually there was a nice looking place with reasonable rates just before the town, so I went to check it out.  Run by an expat Brit, Rodger, who is obviously a detail kind of guy.  I was able to hose the bike down (would hate to return it covered in mud) Hose the boots down etc…  He’s done a full remodel on the place and it has stiff white sheets and towels that smell good.  So tomorrow, only about 24km to Santiago.  Hard to believe, as the whole thing is somewhere around 800km!  It’s been an adventure, and I think I’m too sore to full process it.  I booked myself in to Santiago for a couple of days and will plan to go to the Service at the Cathedral for Denise, the missing Pilgrim, on Wednesday night.

Vendas de Naron

Samos to Vendas de Naron, 45km.

Date: 09/13/2015

Today was a long day with lots of up down hill sections.  Made it to Sarria in the morning in rain showers with lots of wind.  Sarria is generally where the “100K” pilgrims start.  Eg. the people who do this for the compostela, because Sarria is the nearest big town the 100Km marker and you need to walk at least 100km to qualify for a compostela.  That said, there were large groups of people departing in the rain this morning and a huge overall increase in traffic on the camino.  Interestingly enough, not that many bikes, probably saw less than 10 all day.  (You need to bicycle 200km for a compostela.)  I had intended to stay at either Portomarin or Palas de Rei tonight, but arrived at Portomarin around 1:00pm and didn’t find the town particularly nice, so decided to press on.  About half way to Palas de Rei after a long climb, I stopped in a little hamlet for a coffee and they had a private room in their albergue, so given the weather and my general level of soreness, I decided to take it.  Definitely basic, but there is a charm to these tiny mountain towns.  Santiago is now within a few days range, probably slight less than 80km, so, I’m looking forward to being done with the bike shortly!

Villafranca Del Bierzo

El Acebo to Villafranca del Bierzo, 39.5km

Date: 09/11/2015

Today’s escapade started with a long ripping downhill.  All the hill climbing yesterday paid off with a series of switchbacks down the mountain.  Classic alpine road type stuff.  Being on a rental bike with stuff on the back, I kept the speed under control much more than I would have on my own bike.  Although Ponferrada was promised to be a navigational mess, my Pocket Earth App. and the downloaded GPS tracks meant that I didn’t get lost.  What followed was a series of ups and downs, almost as if doing interval training.  By the time I reached Villafranca del Bierzo, even though it was only shortly after 1:00pm I was pretty cooked.  This is the only big town, 6800 inhabitants, nearby, so it didn’t make sense to press on and end up in a tiny roadside place.  Bierzo has a good Plaza Mayor with all the umbrellas and places to eat.  I found a reasonable B&B in short order in a 300+ year old house for the night.  Tomorrow promises another almost all day climb up to O’Cebreiro.  Mileage wise it might be a short day, but I’m sure it will be strenous!  It’s interesting to note that much more than walking, the topography is what makes the bike riding strenous.  You could ride many, many miles on the flat or down hill, but even a slight uphill grade wears you down.

El Acebo

Astorga to El Acebo, 38km


Today was one of the tougher days I’ve had physically on the Camino.  I took yesterday off as a rest day and was glad I did.  Had a lovely dinner with 3 Aussies on the main square in Astorga, and managed to sleep quite well at my lovely hotel, Descanso de Wendy.  I got up fairly early and was packed and on the road by 8:30am.  Although I hadn’t planned a super long day it included a substantial grade that is 14km of up with no break.  Sure enough, on cue, that started, and I found that my progress was roughly equivalent to a walking pace.  I often took a break by walking my bike.  The almost summit town of Foncebadon had a wonderful medieval style bar, and I met a nice collection of Brit and American girls who had been walking for quite awhile.  Alex is from SF and does film documentary work.  Anyway, I was able to share some blister foam I’d been carrying, which she needed.  They shared some of the most incredible hamburger I’ve ever seen.  Had to weigh over a pound easy.  After today’s climb, it’s very clear that the central plains of Spain are being left behind and we are now headed into the mountains of Galicia.  I’m not sure where the exact boundary is.  After lots of climbing, the famous Cruz de Ferro appeared on the side of the road.  The tradition is to leave a stone that you’ve carried with you at the cross.  This signifies releasing your burdens.  I had carried a stone from Wonalancet on my last few trips and left it at the cross.  Still contemplating burdens to release.  After a stop at the famous Majarin place run by Tomas who thinks of himself as the last of the Knights Templar, he wasn’t in, a good ripping downhill stretch presented.  A good long run down the hill and El Acebo loomed.  Rumour of a brand new Albergue that had private rooms proved true, and the place looks like a luxury resort, but without the pricing. Private room, 35E, glass of wine 1.80E.  Amazing view from the terrace, pool, laundry, clotheslines etc…  Just amazing, even fast wifi!  Amazing view down towards Ponferrada, and industrial town that I’ll cross through tomorrow.  Pilgrim dinner tonight, so probably pretty basic, but usually does the job.

Leon to Astorga

Leon to Astorga, 58km

Date: 09/08/2015

Today ended up being a pretty long day.  Got a late start from Leon, partly because I actually got a good nights sleep.  The bike shop had put an extension on the handle bar stem for me, and so the riding position was a lot more comfortable today.  After clearing the heavily trafficked urban suburbs of Leon, ended up on lots of very picturesque back roads and the quite a bit of gravel/rocks.   My strategy of distributing some of my stuff into the saddle bags of the bike and then attaching my pack on top worked well.   I clipped the pack to the rack with a carabiner so that it couldn’t possible separate from the bike, and then strapped it on.  Had a lovely lunch in Hospital de Orbigo looking out at an amazing Roman bridge.  Halfway though lunch they drove a bunch of sheep across.  See photo.  Then after many hills, came upon a little booth offering food and drink to pilgrims.  After chatting with the girl who ran it, turns out she was a tango dancer.  Out came the Fresedo and we danced a song.  She was very good!   Another 6km of mostly downhill and arrive in Astorga.  Beautiful mid sized town.  Thinking that I might take tomorrow off if the hotel I’m in can keep me.  Pretty sore from biking.

Some after Camino thoughts.

Lessons from the Camino

Date: 06/07/2015

After some time reflecting on the two Camino trips I’ve made so far, I thought a bit about what I’ve learned from doing it.  In the end, the list is by no means comprehensive and is a work in progress, but I found it helpful to write it down.  I ended up making two lists, although there is certainly overlap between them.  The first list is in the “Life Lessons” category and the second list is some useful technical ideas for people planning to do their own Camino.  I’m hoping to go back and do the remaining part in the fall, perhaps by bicycle.

Camino Life Lessons:

1.  Walk your own Camino!  Be sure to keep your own pace, have your own goals and make your own decisions about where to stay, what and when to eat.  Rushing to walk with others or doing too much distance will result in injuries.
2.  Let others walk their own Camino.  Everyone has their own reasons for being there and their own processes.
3.  In a surprising way, you choose how much you suffer.  It’s really on your own call, nobody is making you do this.  When you’re up to your neck in alligators, remember whose idea it was to drain the swamp!
4.  Be prepared!  It really pays to do some basic research and preparation.  This means physical, mental and gear.
5.  Help anyone you can, without question or expectation of reward.
6.  If a town feels unwelcoming, don’t stay.  As the Buddha said, “Where there is no love, don’t stay.”
7.  Eat the local food, drink the local wine, experiment, try things.
8.  Talk to people and ask questions.
9.  Travel light, anything that doesn’t serve you is weighing you down.  Give things away.
10.  Be flexible. It will not go how you think.   All kinds of things can change, be prepared to change your Camino, change your goal, change your plans.
11.  Be grateful for what is offered, you are not “entitled” to anything.
12.  Take a rest day when you need to.  Stop for a day in the bigger cities if it appeals to you.
Practical Camino lessons, not comprehensive:

1.  Bring your smartphone and make sure you have a plan that allows you to use it.  You have no idea what situations you will be in or people back home will be in, the smartphone is a lifeline.  Be sure to load and have your family load Viber, and What’sApp.
2.  Bring Cash:  Small bills, always have a minimum of enough to get through a few days.  Keep it in different places.
3.  Bring multiple debit and credit cards and keep in separate places.
4.  Travel light, wool t-shirts wash and dry easily and don’t stink, avoid synthetic tops, they WILL stink.
5.  Use a tube system that allows you to drink lots of water continually.  If you are not peeing with some frequency, you are not drinking enough water.  Blisters will ensue!
6.  Use luggage transport if you feel the need.  Jacotrans is great.
7.  Carry some of your favorite Low glycemic index energy bars.
8.  Have coffee at the first place in town, unless you are certain there are more options.
9.  Be sure to walk some long distances in your boots with your loaded pack before departure.  Carrying weight will change your feet, you’ll likely need a bigger size than you normally wear.  If your boots are causing you horrible blisters on the Camino, replace them.
10.  Be aware of yours and others personal space.  Try to keep your belongings confined to the smallest area possible.
11.  If you are using trekking poles, use rubber tips.  Don’t smack your poles into the ground with every step, you are just wasting energy and damaging things.
12.  Yes, you need travel insurance.  Be more concerned about medical and evacuation coverage and less about lost bag coverage.
13.  Have a folding daypack and/or fanny pack so that you can keep your valuables with you at ALL times.
14.  An ultralight headlamp with red led feature allows you to find your way around without blinding others in the albergue.  Find one that runs on normal AAA batteries.