The day started beautifully, from a little rural cottage in which we were the only Pilgrims. (Others were couples and families on vacation.)
Thankfully, the hostess said she would see that our luggage was taken down the stairs for the transport company to retrieve in the lobby.
In the charming city of Viana, we were treated to a walk down Calle Mayor (think Main Street in any Spanish town) right as 12:00 mass was letting out of the massive stone church.
Like salmon swimming upstream, we went into the church for a look around. The place emptied out pretty quickly, and I saw the priest exit through what looked like a private door to the left, let’s call it 9:00 on an old school clock. We were behind the altar (at 12:00 if you’re still with me), went past where he exited, and poof, the lights went out.
”I think we better head for the exit or we’re going to get locked in here!”
As we strolled to the exit, out comes the priest in his casual attire and says in Spanish, “I am happy you are here, but you are lucky that I am here, too.”
He had already locked the exits and escorted us to one he unlocked for us and wished us a Buen Camino.
The Calle Mayor was filled with people having lunch, beer, wine, bocadillos (snacks). Here’s what it looked like as a selfie from the end of the street.
Then, all we did was turn around and here’s a 900-year-old building behind us.
We then headed out of town.
And missed a turn.
We had walked at least 2K on a paved road through a vineyard (in the heat, sans shade) and were starting to be concerned. We hadn’t seen a single other Camino walker or biker in an hour. Finally a car approached us and I flagged him down.
I told him in Spanish that I thought we might be lost, and he said in Spanish, “Yes you are. This is not the official Camino.”
He (and his son in the backseat who spoke broken English) redirected us from whence we came.
As he pulled away, wishing us Buen Camino, I muttered to Donna, “I would have jumped in the backseat if offered.”
Donna said, “I would have stood on the back bumper and hung on for dear life.”
All in all, we added about 5K to the day and an extra 90 minutes in the heat. I ran out of water in my “camelback” with 4K left to walk through the city of Logrono, and there, like a little Camino miracle, appeared a water fountain in a park.
We arrived after 5 p.m., but we arrived. Here is the happy photo we took long before being almost locked in at the church and then a little bit lost after that.
Today, Saturday, Aug. 20 was Day 6 of walking, and we’ve covered more than 100K to date. Today’s “mileage” was 22K to our lodging. We knew it would be a tough one because of anticipated heat (93 degrees at the end of the trail), and the last “services” were at 9.5K.
That means no water fountains, no towns, no nada for four hours (or more?). And, did I mention the heat? In preparation, we decided to take the risk of leaving our rain coats, rain pants and backpack covers in the suitcase to make our backpacks lighter.
We filled our “camelback” water pouches to the brim, 2 liters.
Water or Wine?
Look what we found at the Monastery at 3K mark—la Fuente de Vino. The fountain of wine. One tap is water, one is wine. We didn’t bring cups, so we had to improvise.
Until two Italian bicyclists showed up and offered a tin cup.
Yes, it was bueno. Donna and I each took a sip and called it Camino communion.
(It has taken me more than two hours to create the above post. It’s getting close to bedtime, so I’m going to try and post the picture (I have a great video that I may put on Facebook) that captures the dramatic, albeit somewhat desolate scenery.
And we realized how precious our Camelback water reservoirs were when we stepped to the side of trail for a passing car.
“It’s the police!” I said. “What in the world are they doing out here?”
The car with two uniformed officers stopped beside us, rolled down the window and asked, “Esta bein? You OK?”
I answered yes in Spanish and the officer driving knew enough English to communicate that they were patrolling the Camino with the sole purpose of helping peregrinos (Pilgrims walking the Camino). He asked if we had enough water, we said we did by wiggling the spigot of our water bladders.
Then he told us that there are no water fountains in Los Arcos, which was our destination. And nothing between us and Los Arcos.
OK, we’re OK.
“If you need help, you call 062,” he said as he pointed to the outside of the driver’s side of the vehicle. “We here for peregrinos.”
When we truly looked at the vehicle and read what was on the side, we got so excited and touched by the focus of these men and their mission.
”Can we take a picture?” I asked in Spanish.
“Si, si,” he said, and took my phone from me.
And then Donna said, “We want YOU in the picture!”
Kojak of the Camino!
We ended the day in good spirits. That’s a win, trust me. The last 2 or 3K is when the mental game comes into play. Horse-to-Barn mode is not the best, but Grumpy Town is worse. Today was “Hot and Bothered, but Proud and Powerful.”
Day 3 was walking into Pamplona. Yes! THAT Pamplona ala the running of the bulls. We just missed them a month ago. Walking into a metropolis is not the most fun, so by the time we arrived at our lodging, we were a bit snarly ourselves.
A Pilgrim’s meal was not included that night, so we had to hunt and gather at nearby tapas bars. Poor us, right? More on that later, maybe.
Day 4 Out of Pamplona
We were excited for this day because it includes a climb up Alto del Perdon, the Hill of Forgiveness. At the top is a sculpture depicting a number of Pilgrims either on foot or on horseback as they make their way along the Camino to Santiago.
Look closely and you might see two people photo bombing everyone else’s picture.
Problem is, we took all sorts of amazing photos before and after the one above, but the WiFi at our lodging “down the mountain” in Puente de Reina has the
s l o w e s t
bandwidth EVER. The above is the only photo I could upload all night.
So, trust that we are safe, sound and strong at Day 4. We’ll get to the next post when we can.
Having survived Day 1, we looked forward to Day 2 being shorter by 4K. The weather report said 88% chance of rain throughout the route, so we thought we were so smart to anticipate that it might still be a long day due rain.
Knowing we’d be donning rain gear a good portion of the day, we packed it at the top of our day packs, ready for prompt retrieval. We got an early start (for us, anyway) around 8 a.m. Before we got out of the hotel parking lot, quarter-sized rain drops splatted at our feet.
“What’s the rule?” We asked simultaneously. (See previous post called ABC’s of Camino under R for Rain.)
The Rule (learned the hard way): If it starts to rain, you put on rain pants AND your rain coat. And we did.
The walk out of town was through a beautiful forest, so we convinced ourselves that it must be a light rain, because the trees were blocking it from hitting us.
Fast forward about 5K and we realize that we must be taking one for the entire Camino team in the area because it still had not rained. Figures, we put on the rain gear and it doesn’t rain. We were too superstitious to take it off until after lunch, but by then the sun was shining.
We knew we had two mountain passes to climb that day, but we still had time to enjoy the scenery. And this time, get pictures of the horses.
What goes up must come down.
The uphill effort had our hearts beating hard, our lungs at full speed and capacity, as well as our leg muscles saying “hello again.”
It was the last 4K that killed us. Already tired and sore from the day before, we had to navigate a steep, rocky, craggy and often slippery trek down hill 1000 feet.
How anyone could complete that segment without poles is beyond me. We stopped talking. We stopped smiling. We were miserable, and it was all either of us could do except walk more like a four-legged creature than the humans we are.
Plant a pole, lean into it with your weight and then raise a foot and put it down oh, so carefully. Plant the opposite pole on your left side, put your weight into it, raise your other foot and carefully put it down.
Rinse and repeat umpteen times.
Going uphill is hard because you can hardly breathe and plod along slowly. Downhill is worse. Especially at the end of 7 hour day. Donna said it perfectly, “Everything below my butt hurts.”
We dragged our lower limbs into the town of Zubiri and had to spend a great deal of time in attitude adjustment. The shower helped. “Legs up the wall” was first. Then stretching as best we could.
Again, too tired and sore and exhausted to take a lot of pictures. But here’s the room for the night, and the view:
We left St. Jean Pied de Port at 8:15 am. The red, white and green flags were strewn across the old town’s cobblestone streets to celebrate a Basque festival. We enjoyed marching bands during the day before and tried not to listen to the bands that played two-hour sets at 9 pm, midnight, and 2 a.m.
25K, nine hours and change later, we arrived at Roncevalles. The only place to stop for food or rest or beverage was at the 7K mark. We weren’t really hungry at that point but we split a “tortilla” to load some carbs.
(Tortilla in Spain is essentially potato and egg “quiche,” gluten free for yours truly.)
Our legs were wobbly and at the very end I said, “I feel like my legs are boiled spaghetti and I’m trying to control them with my brain alone. No tongs.”
In Between Time
The Camino through the Pyrenees is an uphill effort we’d never experienced before. Thankfully, the weather was perfect. We never had to put on rain gear, for one. And even when climbing above the tree line we enjoyed a light breeze. Sometimes we gave out-loud thanks for both shade and a breeze in the same stretch.
From whence we came is pictured above. Zoom in and you’ll see a road far below where I was standing to take this picture. Way down yonder is St. Jean terrain.
Bucolic is the word Donna and I used to describe the trek through and over the Pyrenees. At first we thought those beige things were rocks. Nope. Sheep.
Cattle roamed free and did not mind us at all. They wore huge cow bells, but we quickly learned that the free range herd of horses (not pictured on either of our cell phones) also wore bells. And so did the sheep.
This is the perfect setting. Shade. Flat-ish. Canopy of trees. Unfortunately, the same setting turned ugly when we took an “alternate route” that went straight downhill for almost 4K. No pictures to share because it was all we could do to not tumble down the trail.
We had to wait in line to check in to our hotel room, and I was able to chat with the other travelers in Spanish. I asked questions of the receptionist in Spanish and translated the answers to English for Donna. Strangely comforting is the best I can describe the feeling or relief to be in Spain, where I have more words than in France.
We have a third floor room loft room at Hotel Roncevalles. Two full sized beds pushed together is luxurious to us.
View from one of the windows actually doubles as air conditioning. Thankfully it will be a cool, crisp night.
Before the projected rain pours down manana en la manana.
We left LAX at 1:15 p.m. Friday, Aug. 12, arrived Paris at 9:30 a.m. and then connected to a flight to Biarritz. We got to Biarritz hotel around 4 p.m. Saturday and pinkie swore that we would not go to bed until dark.
We found a restaurant around the corner from our hotel that served an “early” dinner at 7:30 p.m. We were tucked in by 10 p.m. and slept until 8:30 a.m. Sunday.
We had time to kill until our 2 p.m. transfer by car to St. Jean Pied de Port, so we took off walking in the other direction from the day before, headed for the lighthouse.
We could have walked to the top of the lighthouse, but a) it was an hour’s wait, and b) the next day we would be climbing 3,000 feet into (and over?) the Pyrenees. Or, for perspective, like climbing that lighthouse 20 times.
We had a cappuccino in a cafe and then waited for our ride to St. Jean. At 1:59 p.m. a driver hops out and yells, “Taxi!”
Right on time! Awesome. He hoists our two suitcases into the trunk, jumps back in and says cheerfully, “To the beach! Yes?”
Two big suitcases and we’re going to the beach, he’s making a joke. “Ha ha. St. Jean Pied de Port,” I corrected.
”The Port?” He clarified as he pulled away.
“NO, no, CaminoWays, St. John Pied de Port!”
“No, we are going to St. Jean Pied de Port. To walk the Camino.”
”OK, St. Jean Pied de Port.” He enters something into his phone and Donna and I realize we have the wrong cab.
I said, “We already paid. CaminoWays paid. Wrong cab. Wrong cab. Go back.”
I don’t speak French, but I could tell that the words he spoke were probably not in the Duolingo curriculum.
As he made an illegal u-turn and double parked outside our hotel lobby, we saw a very confused looking couple talking to man with van. They were obviously packed for a day on the beach.
“Wrong cab, wrong cab!”
Our driver was sweet and friendly. Thankfully, he spoke Spanish, which seemed so familiar to me. It was a one-hour drive to St. Jean, and the scenery was stunning. Winding roads through tall mountains spotted with farms.
St. Jean Pied de Port
We’ll cross this river in the morning and the adventure begins! We walked around all afternoon hunting for the beginning of the Camino.
Found it! And then we reorganized every thing into what goes in our day packs (rain gear, first aid kit, Pilgrim’s Passport and 2 liters of water).
And we had two full-sized beds in this room on which to spread it all out.
The symbol of the Camino is the scallop shell. It is rare to see someone walking without a big one hanging outside the backpack. Donna and I bought ours Day 2 of our first Camino, the Portuguese Coastal Route in Spring of 2017. We carried them again on the 300 miles of the French Way from Burgos in 2019.
Donna framed hers and hung it on her living room wall, because, well, who’d have thought we’d be walking the Camino a third time? Let alone the whole 500 miles. She said she’s “unframing,” bringing it out of retirement one more time.
And here’s the plan for them:
• The “theme” of our Camino is gratitude.
• On the inside of each shell, I will write the name of something or someone I am grateful for. So will Donna, independently, on her shells.
• Every morning we each pull a shell from our respective collections and carry that shell until we find a place to leave it. Sometimes there’s a connection. Like last time, when I left Laurie Guest’s shell in a corn field. (Read her bio, and you’ll get it.) Sometimes there’s no connection; it just looks like a nice place for a shell.
I also plan on leaving a few shells blank…for the Camino angel(s) I’m sure to meet along The Way.
And the yellow one in the middle? That one’s for me. I don’t know where I’ll leave it, but I’ll know it when I get there.
(Which is another way of saying, subscribe up there on the Home page. Whenever I post, you’ll get an email telling you I did.)
I can’t believe it has taken me more than two years to write/post this. But it did. Rather than berate myself for taking so long, I choose to think of it as answering two questions I hear frequently: 1) Tell me about that Camino thing you did, and 2) What did you do during COVID restrictions?
Abecedarian. Straightforward, simplified; in literature, a poem or essay arranged in order according to the alphabet, often written about a single topic. This blog post, for example, re: my lessons learned from walking 300 miles of the Camino de Santiago, Burgos to Santiago de Compostela, September 10-October 3, 2019.
Backpacks. We carried daypacks with our rain gear, first aid kits, snacks, water and a few clothing layers that we figured we might need to don during the day. Each pack weighed maybe eight pounds with the the built-in bladder full of water. The tour operator, www.Caminoways.com, did the heavy lifting when they moved our luggage each day. They allowed 40 pounds each, and we happily complied. However, the transporter leaves the suitcases in the “lobby,” which means we had to heave and hoist our belongs to our room, 90% of which were up a staircase or two, in lodging sans elevators. Note to self: If there’s a next time, fewer shoes.
Chant. A repeated, rhythmic phrase; to recite something in a monotonous, repetitive tone. On the Camino, chanting is to a steep ascent what LaMaze breathing is to childbirth.
Donna started chanting on Day 3. We stopped at what we thought was the top of a steep stretch, only to discover the “optical delusion” that it was a curve. I was panting, and Donna shared that she found it helpful to set a tolerable pace with a silent or whispered God-bless-so-and-so chant. After I’d covered immediate and extended family at least thrice—and I still wasn’t to the top—I changed my chant. “I can do this, if You help me, I can do this, if You help me. . . .” Can you hear the rhythm of my hiking poles tapping out the pace?
Elevation gain. We soon learned that how far we were to walk each day was only one piece of information. The critical piece was elevation gain/loss. Uphill is slow and exhausting. Downhill may be faster, but it really boils down to being out of breath, or having sore knees
FAQ. Let’s do it Jeopardy style. The answer to the most frequently asked question we get is: Usually, in a roadside bar or behind a bush. Ladies, when you gotta go, you get over pee fright fast.
Go with someone you love. (Donna wrote that. Ahhhhhh.)
Hello. Used as a greeting or to begin a phone conversation in English-speaking countries. It is rarely, if ever, said or heard on the Camino. “Buen Camino” is the universal hello, farewell, have-a-nice-day, take care, nice-to-meet-you greeting used on the Camino. I watched the Martin Sheen movie, “The Way” maybe three months after completing the Camino in 2019. When I heard the characters say, “Buen Camino,” I gasped, choked up and almost cried. I remembered it can also be used as a blessing.
In Case of Emergency. Thankfully, we never had to call the 24/7 phone number provided by Camino Ways.
Jesus Calling. One or the other of us read the day’s message aloud before we walked. (It’s a daily devotion book that is written as if Jesus called and left you a voicemail.) I remember getting goosebumps many a morning because the message was perfect for that day’s anticipated adventure. For instance, on the day we walked into Santiago, He left us this message: When the path before you looks easy and straightforward, you may be tempted to go it alone instead of relying on Me. This is when you are in the greatest danger of stumbling. Ask My Spirit to help you as you go each step of the way. Never neglect this glorious Source of strength within you.
Kilometer. A metric unit of measurement equal to 1,000 meters. Everything is measured in Ks in Spain, not to mention the rest of the world. So stop thinking in miles. Long before we left, Donna and I switched our FitBits to Ks. We walked at least 10K a day, every day, to train for the Camino and averaged 20 to 25K a day on the Camino. That’s about 12-15 miles a day, for those of you ignored the third sentence.
Lodging. The Camino Ways people booked our reservations ahead of time, so we never had to wonder where we would lay our heads at night. We always had a room with a bathroom to ourselves, and twin beds. Our favorites were the small “gatehouses” which were family-owned and often in old stone buildings or farm houses.
Manana en la manana. In Spanish, it means “tomorrow morning.” On the Camino, it came to mean, “stay present in this moment, right here, right now.” Someone asked Donna how far we’d be walking the next day, and she replied, “Don’t know. However far it is, we’ll walk it tomorrow. ” Now that we’re home, when we find ourselves getting a little agitated about something—typically something outside our control—one or the other of us will say, “Manana en la manana.” Stay present.
Now and then we questioned our sanity. Who’s idea was this, anyway? Why in the world would anyone do this more than once? Specifically, these whines were muttered the day after O’Cebreiro.
O’Cebreiro. From the Latin meaning “oh, so steep, you think you are going to die.” It was a long day to begin with (31K), with the last 6K essentially being straight up a rocky, craggy forest “trail.” Elevation gain, 3000 feet in just 6K. From my blog post that day:
When we got to the very last hamlet before the top, a hamlet called Laguna, my brain was boiling and I was stumbling and dizzy and doing all I could not to burst into tears. Donna steered me into a cafe/bar and I sat down in a chair and began taking off my clothes. I was that hot and sweaty. I stopped at the base layer of a tank top and my pants. I fanned myself with the menu. I blew cool air into my tank top. I don’t know where I threw my hat, but my hair was dripping sweat and I distributed it with my fingers through my chemo curls thinking it will just perk them up. Donna bought a Kas Limon (like sparkling lemonade) and I downed it, along with a banana. I think I scared the hostess/bartender. She brought bread (which I couldn’t eat because of the whole gluten thing) topped with salami. I told her no thank you, I can’t in Spanish, and Donna commanded in English, “Eat the salami!”
I did. Eventually I calmed. Donna stopped staring at me with worried eyes. We walked into town shortly before dark. Exhausted.
Pilgrim’s meal. Three course meal offered as “el menu del dia” in restaurants, bars and lodging. You get a starter, main and dessert. Sometimes you get a choice in each category, sometimes not. Good thing I like chicken. We ate almost every dinner at our lodging, and our Pilgrim’s Meal included either a bottle of water or bottle of wine. We chose the latter. Duh.
Quiet. Did we ever run out of things to talk about? No. Although we did choose to be silent more often toward the end of our journey.
Rain in Spain fell mainly on whatever plain we happened to be hiking on. We always carried our rain jackets and pants with us in our day packs, and our hiking shoes were waterproof, so we were never caught by surprise. Well, except that time we decided to put on our jackets. Only our jackets. Not our rain pants. After all, it was kinda warm, and our Lululemon leggings were quick drying. Biggest mistake of the trip. The rain fell hard, soaked our pants, then trickled down our legs and into our boots. Waterproof on the outside, not on the inside. New rule: when you don the jacket, you drag on the rain pants. No matter what.
Stress. A state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or very demanding circumstances. Yes, there were days with adverse conditions. Almost every day required we walk a demanding distance. We handled the physical stress with “legs up the wall” yoga pose the minute we got to our room, Salon pas and perhaps ibuprofen on occasion. Otherwise, for me, the biggest surprise on the Camino was how little emotional stress there was. We had one thing and one thing only to do every day: Walk. OK, we also had to make sure we got our Compostela stamped at least twice. Easy peasy.
Teddy Roosevelt said, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” [See “W” below.]
United. Joinedtogether for a common purpose, or by common feelings. It didn’t matter why you were walking the Camino, your age, gender, pronouns, political party, race or religion. It didn’t matter whether you had reservations or carried your life on your back. You sense the unity in your soul, your heart, your head and your gut. When we arrived in Santiago, there was an energy I’d never experienced, let alone shared with so many strangers before. It was elation and exhaustion and a bit of unexplained somberness all rolled into laughing, crying, hugging and happy dancing. Donna and I both voiced the opinion that perhaps world leaders should all walk the Camino.
Vaseline saved our feet from blisters. We slathered it on every morning and then put on our dual layer Wright socks. (That’s the brand, aptly named!) The theory is that the two layers of the sock rub against each other, instead of rubbing your skin raw. Worked perfectly, except for that soggy day of slogging into Sahagun. [See “R” above.]
Walk your own Camino. That’s not a recommendation to book your own trip. It’s my revelation from the trip I took. “Walk your own Camino” means stop comparing yourself, Terri.
So what if Donna is older than you, doesn’t play tennis or do High Intensity Interval Training and seems to be casually strolling up the Oh-So-Steep cascade of rocks, pointing out flora, fauna and a stupid white horse in a pasture while you can barely breathe, let alone speak, turn your head or do anything other put one foot in front of the other? Walk your own Camino!
So what if throngs of people start their Camino in Sarria and walk “only” the last 100K? Of course they’re energized, perky and can pass you in no time wearing 40-pound backpacks. You’re having your luggage shuttled each day, remember? Walk your own Camino!
Her hiking boots are, indeed, very cute. Size 7, maybe? You’re the only one who thinks yours look like clown shoes. Walk your own camino!
Why? Because “Comparison is the thief of joy.” Thank you, Teddy Roosevelt.
X is the symbol for the unknown in algebra. Donna and I learned to look for and leave room for some of it every day. The unknown. Not algebra.
Yes, I want to do it again.
In fact I leave August 12, 2022. This time, the whole 500 miles (800K) from St. Jean Pie de Port, France, to Santiago de Compostela. With Donna, of course.
Zenith. The time at which something is most powerful or successful. For me, our arrival in Cathedral square. Which is where Ken and Rose from Canada—a couple we met night No. 1 and encountered off and on along the way—stayed an extra day in Santiago just to greet us when Donna and I walked in. We burst into tears because we thought we’d never see any of the friends we’d made along the way again. Joy, praise, laughs and love made the journey a powerful success.
At the turn of the century, after a career in public relations, marketing, advertising and branding, I started yet another business as a professional speaker. First challenge was what to name the business. Anything with “Langhans” in the name would be too difficult to remember or pronounce. (Hint: It rhymes with “bang pans.”) And my maiden name is Stoner, so ‘nuf said there.
My presentations were all about helping people make their message stand out, get results and not be boring or blah. Hence the birth of BlahBlahBlah.us and an email address that earned me the nickname of The Blah Blah Blah Lady.
I retired from speaking about six months before Covid made headlines and changed the speaking world forever. I still own the BlahBlahBlah.us url, though, and I still have a lot of anything-but-blah things to say. I mean write. Here in my Blahg. (See what it did there!)
Travels with Terri?
Yes, right now the Blahg is mostly about my three trips to Spain to walk various routes and portions of the Camino de Santiago. But I’ve made space to share other stories, thoughts and musings, too.
So stay tuned. Or better yet, subscribe back there on the Home page.
The host of the gatehouse drove us back to the place at which we had ended our walk the day before. It sports the best name of an alberque/bar for its location: Kilometer 15. (See the sign above Donna’s head.)
We left early, in low clouds and mist, just as the sun was peaking over the trees. Dew and moisture clung to the fields and foliage, as if each drop represented a Pilgrim’s excitement and anticipation of the day’s destination 15K away: Santiago de Compostela.
After that grueling, record-setting trek into Arzua, we looked forward to a “normal” day of about 20K. We were hyperaware that we were just one sleep away from Santiago, and I think that’s why our photos from the day were such a variety of scenery, terrain and people. We wanted to make sure we got a little bit of everything along the way.
One of our favorite pictures from our Portuguese Coastal Route Camino was taken by another pilgrim as we walked down the trail. We tried to re-create it on this next-to-last day, recruiting Alex and his mom “Hey, Hey” Mickie.
We left the rectory relatively early (again, early for us) knowing we had 28K (17 miles) to go, according to the walking notes. Our walking notes had always measured the distance from our lodging to the next destination. Or so we thought. Maybe it was from town/village/city limit sign to the next edge of town. Or maybe it was center of town to center of town. For three full weeks it was always close enough for Camino work.
We knew we were 6K away from Palas de Rei when stepped out the door. We assumed our 28K estimate was based on our lodging to our next lodging, or thereabouts in Arzua. In other words, the 28K included the 6K to get to Palas de Rei.
Here’s how our mental math worked. Anything under 20K (12.5 miles) was a short day. A short day meant we might arrive by 3 pm, which meant more time for the hand washed laundry to dry. And writing time for me. And sangria for both of us.
Anything over 20K could be a long day. On long days (15-20 miles), we hoped to arrive by 5 p.m. We knew we would be more physically tired, so we learned not to anticipate doing much more than shower, change clothes and eat dinner. Anything else would be a gift of time. The real key to mental health on a long day was to avoid “horse-to-barn” mode. That is where you put your head down, don’t look around, don’t talk (unless it is to ask rhetorically, “how much farther?”) and your whole being is focused on one thing. Just. Get. There.
SIG Alert on the Camino Between Sarria and Santiago
Donna and I stayed in a hotel in Sarria, and when we went down to breakfast, it was difficult to find a seat. We saw two banquet-style tables and thought it might be for family style seating, which we have enjoyed as a way of meeting new people.
Nope. They were tables reserved for three different large tour groups of Pilgrims and their guides.
Fine. Donna and I huddled in a corner at a table for two and made a game of guessing which of the people in the buffet lines were veterans who had 110K left to go on their Camino, and who were the people starting their Camino in Sarria with this as Day 1.
“Plebes,” I said, nodding my head in the direction of a dozen bright shiny Pilgrims around the coffee pots.
Donna almost shot her coffee out her nose upon hearing my nickname.
Based on the recommendation of a veteran sitting nearby (she was walking her second solo camino), we decided to hit the trail as soon as possible. She said most of the groups leave around 9 a.m., so we decoded to get a good head start.
The End of the Camino as We Knew It Is the Beginning of the Camino for Thousands
Glory, hallelujah–we woke to warm, dry boots and no rain in the forecast with supporting physical and visual evidence out the window. As I mentioned, part of our routine every morning is to double check the online weather report. We also had what we came to call The Arm or Body Part Test.
To conduct The Arm or Body Part Test, one opens the window (Spain doesn’t believe in screens) or, if we are blessed with a balcony, one opens the door to the outside. Next, stick an arm or other body part out the opening and report to your roommate what you feel and observe. Optional information to share is what the tester herself has decided to wear based on the experience.
For instance, “I’m going to wear my Holy Long Sleeve and pack my Safari Shirt.”
We have a system in place. The night before we read the weather and get our hiking clothes out and ready to throw on in the morning. We usually double check the forecast first thing in the morning to make sure we have enough layers on our bodies and then any extras that need to be packed in the most-likely-to-be-needed on the top of the backpack.
(The above is a lesson learned quickly when it starts to get cold, or misty, or you’re hungry and whatever it is you need is at the very bottom of the pack, which means you have unpack all the stuff at the top and set it most likely on dirt or rocks or ledges that have tiny, biting bugs that will decide to take up residence inside your pack and bite you later.)
The forecast for this day basically said cloudy, cold in the morning (no kidding—we were on top of the world in O’Cebriero— and then high 60s later.
When I say “cold in the morning” I mean the temp started with a 4. As in 47 degrees Fahrenheit. Hence our morning selfie was taken indoors whilst inside the lodging.
This was our longest, my hardest day EVER. We were leaving the wine country and heading up a river to the top of the world as we know it. The first 20K (12 or so miles) was mostly flat and followed the river. Gorgeous. The last 10K (6 miles) were essentially straight up rocky forest paths.
We arrived at the 20K town at 3 p.m. This is normally when we like to get to our final destination. Oh, no, not even close!
Today we head for the hills and valleys. The Bierzo Valley wine making district to be specific. Walking through a city is not our favorite thing, but Donna and I thoroughly enjoyed the vineyards. Until we “hit the wall” and were just ready to be done!