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¡Buen Camino!

  • Santiago de Compostela, Mile 486

    The GPS track for this short, final, 7-mile day of our Camino can be found at:

    Our luck with the weather over the past 2 weeks finally ran out this morning. Here you see Helen suiting up with her backpack to hold the umbrella she knows she will be using today.

    Some scenes as we move through a wet and chilly Sunday morning.

    This was our first real view of the center of Santiago de Compostela. Slightly off-center to the right you can see 3 spires of the cathedral where the relics of St. James are found. That is also the official end of El Camino.

    Entering the city itself.

    We had to walk about 2 miles through really urban streets to get to the cathedral plaza, where we were greeted by endless (15 minutes non-stop) pealing of the church bells. It was quite thrilling.

    Getting closer to the cathedral.

    On our final descent down to the cathedral we were greeted once again by the sound of bagpipes, as shown in this video:

    We first reached the cathedral at its side.

    These are the bells that greeted us when we arrived at the plaza in front of the Santiago Cathedral:

    Helen and Dawn, Camino finishers.

    Paul and Dawn, Camino finishers.

    Helen and Paulum, Camino finishers.

    We then had to hunt for the place where pilgrim get their Compostelas. After asking a number of people, we finally found it. As you can see here, it usually has a line of people outside. Those people are taking pictures of a QR-code visible on the street which brings up a web page which you fill out with the details of your walk and your personal information. When this is complete, you receive a QR code on your smartphone (mine is shown below). At this point you enter the white building on the left and are given a number indicating your place in line. You form a queue and watch a computer display that shows your number and which desk you should go to when it is your turn. At that point you sit down at your assigned desk and have a friendly little interview with an official and you get your Compostela and optionally a separate distance certificate which certifies the exact number of kilometers that you did. This is useful as people can get the same Compostela having walked wildly varying distances.

    Paul’s Compostela:

    Helen’s distance certificate.

    It was, truly, a ¡Buen Camino!

  • Lavacolla, Mile 479

    The GPS track for today’s 18 mile hike can be found at:

    As we get so very close to Santiago itself, the Camino has become downright congested at certain times. Strangely, at other times, we three are the only pilgrims in sight. Everyone has a “Buen Camino” to offer passers-by. We run into old acquaintances from the trail and lots of new ones. It seems there are companies that will bring van-loads of people to walk portions of the trail and then pick them up a few miles later. On weekends, the local mountain-bikers also make the trail a bit more congested and we always have to keep our wits about us when we suspect a bunch of those bikers are approaching.

    A few days ago a couple of Dutch ladies were lamenting that they were just beginning their hike and one already had pains in her legs. Today we passed by them and I was happy to see that they were moving along, although the suffering one said that now she was nursing a bunch of painful blisters.

    We passed this one “beer garden” on the trail that was decorated with empty beer bottles all over the place. The bottles hung from nails on the “trees” they constructed for them. Quite a unique display.

    Galicia has lovely Camino trails with generally good surfaces and passing through lovely countryside as much as possible. We also enjoy the frequency of their distance markers that keep us on the trail and show how quickly the distance is getting closer to the end. Each has a brass plate with the current numbers of meters remaining, e.g. 35,234 meters (35.234 kilometers, for example). These are welcome sights.

    The closer we get to the end, the more opportunities there are to get your Camino passport stamped, such as at this table at a church in a small town. They also inform you of where and when the next mass will be.

    There has been so much talk about Helen’s afternoon singing in this blog that I thought it important to include a short video of what this actually looks like:

    This sight, of the Camino being a deeply depressed trench between surrounding farm fields or forest has become remarkably common. I can only think that this is the result of the erosion caused by 900 years of pilgrims’ feet.

    We try to walk where the path is smoothest, which is usually along the edges. Dawn is on her edge and Helen is on the corresponding edge on the other side of the path. Rocks in the middle put more pressure on the bottoms of your feet. Helen noticed today that after all the miles in her boots, some of the grooves in the soles of her boots are down to about 1/8 inch in the centers of her soles.

    This is just as we crested the hills heading into the Santiago region, passing by the end of the runway to the Santiago airport. A sculpture with the word “Santiago” in large letters and lots of mementos at its base where people left important keepsakes was quite touching to see.

    Leslie requested photos of Helen and my feet at the end of our Camino to see how much wear and tear there was. Since we only have 7 miles to go I thought tonight would be a good night to publish the foot photos; we hope that these four photos will make up for the lack of a door photo today.

    Believe it or not, Helen’s feet have always looked like this and she has no blisters or hot spots, although it doesn’t look that way to someone who hasn’t seen Helen’s feet before. Her feet are pain-free.

    Paul’s feet have been perfect. He is very experienced with keeping them in good shape after all the long trails he has hiked in his life.

    The instructions provided by Follow the Camino for tonight’s lodgings were terrible and caused us many arguments as they were ambiguous and inaccurate. That is why instead of hiking 10 miles today and 12 miles tomorrow we ended up hiking over 18 today and will have only about 7 miles tomorrow to reach Santiago. We are all so used to the distances now that we were able to still complete our hike by 4:30 today and we ate up the hills and downhills like mountain goats. Just as well, since tomorrow will be a rainy day for our arrival at the finish and rain is forecast for most of next week, so we have been very lucky to have had these glorious sunny and dry days ever since Dawn’s arrival. Thank you, Dawn, for bringing us the great weather this week!

  • Arzua, Mile 462

    The GPS track for today’s 19 mile hike can be found at:

    It was foggy and chilly when we met in the hoop barn/mess tent for breakfast. We were hiking by 8:45 and the fog burned off by 10am. The intensity of stamping our pilgrim’s passports is on the increase. First, there are more places to get stamps as we get closer to Santiago and Helen and I are less worried about filling our passports prematurely. We are now comfortable that we will have room for at least a stamp or two in Santiago, which was a must. Perhaps really a must to get our Compostelas (completion diplomas) – not sure about that. We do know that Dawn has been collecting stamps much more rapidly than we because we did read that for people only doing the last 100 or so miles, they have to have at least 2 stamps per day in order to get the Compostela. We believe that the rule is that you have to hike at least the last 100 miles….or 100k….we are not sure.

    Here are some shots of our morning hours today.

    Here we are entering the comparatively big city of Melide at midday over this old bridge.

    We had lunch in Melide.

    Leaving the city after lunch.

    Here are some shots as we hiked our way through this hot sunny afternoon.

    We have described before in this blog the Celtic influences here in this province of Galicia. Today was the first day we actually saw and heard bagpipes as you can see in the following video.

    We have also talked about the prevalence of place names with an “O ” prefix. we have sometimes seen it spelled with an apostrophe as is common in Irish. In any event, here is a road sign showing examples of this.

    We decided to attend the 7 o’clock mass here tonight in Arzua at the church depicted in the following photo. The service was almost entirely in Spanish though the priest did say a few things in English at the beginning and during the sermon as he knew that many of the congregants were foreign pilgrims. At the end of the service the many pilgrims lined up to get their church-sponsored stamp. We are trying to get more stamps from churches now that we are getting closer to Santiago.

    And then we had this nice dinner afterwards before heading off to bed. One thing different about tonight is that Dawn was in a different hotel then Helen and me which made with just us getting together for supper and meeting tomorrow morning for resuming our hike a bit more complicated.

    Here is the door of the day.

  • Palas del Rei, Mile 443

    The GPS track from today’s walk can be found at:

    Our day today began much like all our groundhog-days begin: We start walking, slightly chilled and are soon quiet in our thoughts, walking in a line, often trudging uphill as we climb out of some river valley where last night’s town was located. After a few miles something very special, something that I had been hoping to see near the Camino while in Galicia finally appeared….well, a plaque explaining it ‘appeared’, but Helen and Dawn just kept walking. But I knew that I dearly wanted to see one of the ‘Castros’ – the BC-era, Celtic-origined forts that populate northwestern Spain. These are hilltop forts built by Celtic people in the period a few hundred years BC. There are numerous ones in Galicia, some bigger and better preserved than others. Being on foot this time around, I needed one not more than a couple hundred meters from the Camino and I hit the jackpot today here with the Castro de Castromajor. If you are interested, you can read more about these sole physical remainders of the pre-Roman, Celtic civilization in Galicia in Castros. Note that I am still investigating why so many towns’ names in this area are prefixed with “O “. It seems so very Irish like O’Malley, O’Shaughnessey, etc., except the word after the “O” seems Portuguese. I have learned that Galician is considered a language in the Portuguese family, not Spanish, which I found interesting. It is also interesting that Galician was admitted into the league of Celtic nations about 40 years ago only to be booted out a year later. Apparently modern Galician has only a few Celtic words left in it and the Celtic police want there to still be a living population keeping ancient Gaelic alive into order to be a member of this select group.

    They do still play bagpipes here, though – that is undeniable.

    In any event, while Helen and Dawn thought that I had left the trail to go on a very long pee break, I shot these photos of this particular Castro. I believe that Leslie and Kennedy will find these particularly interesting!

    We have been playing hopscotch with the 2 girls from Columbia and the one girl from Brazil that all received frequent commentary during the part of our Camino that Kjell-Ake (and Len, Nancy, Jim and Rebecca) were with us. Well, we have re-aligned with them and pass and get passed by them multiple times every day. Since we now have only 3 more days before Santiago, we wanted to make sure we got a photo of this long-lived Camino-bubble before it was too late. These are all all sweet young women and Kjell-Ake wants me to remind them that they are all invited to Torrevieja after their Camino is complete 🙂

    From left to right in the photo below you see Natalya, Sandra, Helen, Malu and Paul.

    There are countless crosses like this one lining the sides of the Camino as we get ever-closer to the bones of St. James. This is a shot of Dawn stopping to admire this one.

    Well, well. Door of the day or first view of this night’s lodging….which is it?…The answer is…BOTH. We are about 1 km before Palas del Rei and when we reached the location where our hotel was supposed to be we saw a burned-out building, including this doorway.

    We looked further and we saw that this temporary tent had been set up. It turns out that the main office and restaurant of our hotel burned down on April 14, 2022. The lodging rooms are in separate buildings but they quickly constructed this tent (in which I am now drinking a great bottle of white wine, eating peanuts, and composing this blog entry).

    Our room is fine. Since there is no restaurant here now, the hotel is offering free shuttle rides down to the town and back so that we can get supper. I feel very fortunate to be here, to be in good health, to have brought so many of my loved ones on parts of this Camino, God-willing, to complete the entire Camino Frances with Helen on Sunday. We will breathe a great sigh of thankfulness, ….. and then plunge back into our busy lives at home…but never forgetting that we had this, El Camino de Santiago, as a piece of our time on this earth. I am thankful.

  • Portomarin, Mile 429

    The GPS track from today’s walk can be found at:

    Our hotel last night was perhaps 1km off of the Camino so finding our way back to the closest point on the Camino this morning required some navigation skills. We rejoined the official Camino near this bridge which was the point that the Camino left the city of Sarria. We climbed steadily for about 30 minutes after that.

    Here are some morning scenes from our hike today.

    We paused for this shot and before we knew it this dog had befriended Dawn!

    This is Paul being artistic with his IPhone camera.

    This was the location of our lovely lunch break today. Dawn and I had ‘Radlers’ (a 50-50 mix of lemonade and beer) and Helen had agua con gaz. Helen and I had omlettes and Dawn had a chocoate flan. All par for the course. What was NOT par for the course is that late in our break my phone rang with a call from Ireland. It was the ‘Follow the Camino’ office – the folks that we had booked our lodging and baggage transport with. They asked why we had not checked into our hotel Roma in Sarria the night before. Duh….we certainly had checked in and had spent the night there. So, they were all flustered about the miscommunication that had occurred from the hotel and were then worried that our luggage would not get transported as it should to Portomarin (it did). I spent about 15 minutes on the phone with the Follow the Camino lady in Dublin before she said, OK, I will call the hotel in Sarria and will make sure everything works ok. It did.

    The following shots are from our afternoon’s walk.

    When Helen and I started in France the signs said 780 KM to go to Santiago. This shot is of the two of us with the mile marker indicating 100 KM to go to Santiago. 680 KM was a a long way to walk. We are pretty confident about making the last 100 k by Sunday afternoon. But you never know….

    The farms in this area of Galicia we have been walking in for 3 days have been full of these strange storage buildings. They have holes in the side for air to blow through, the have a ledge that prevents rodents from accessing it from the ground. They remind me of much more primitive corn cob drying/storage bins I have seen in Quebec. They also appear to not be used any more. I have learned that they are indeed typical of Galicia and are called Horreos. You can read more about them at Horreos.

    Helen has actually gotten much better about route finding during this trip. I have often seen her in the lead, reaching a crossroads, carefully looking for some sign of where the Camino goes, and choosing the right path on her own and proceeding without waiting for my guidance (that in itself is a very new thing for our hiking career together). Well, I was walking about 100 feet behind Helen when she reached this intersection. I saw her head glance to the arrow indicating the Euro-bike route #3 is straight ahead and then decide to continue on. I had seen the Camino monument further to the right and I knew that our trail forked to the right. Trouble was, Helen was in the middle of singing ‘We are the dinosaurs, marching, marching…’ and she was so into that song and the accompanying choreography that I could not help myself but just let her march on for another 100 yards. I did call her back eventually…. (I believe you can see some of those dance moves in her posture in the photo below).

    This was the first view of our destination town for tonight, Portomarin.

    There was formerly an old Portomarin, which was submerged when they built a dam in 1963. The relocated town is visible in front of us as we cross this very high bridge crossing the lake formed by having dammed the river.

    This is Paul climbing the steep set of stairs at the end of the previous bridge to lead up to the new town itself and our hotel for the night.

    This is the door for today!

  • Sarria, Mile 415

    The GPS track for today’s walk can be found at:

    As has typically been the case, Helen studies our Camino guidebook the night before every day to know as much about the upcoming day as possible. Kjell-Ake did the same. Dawn now does it as well. Paul has never read the guidebook except when forced to by Helen. This usually works out OK as Paul studies the upcoming day as well as the path being hiked via his Farout (formerly Guthook) GPS-based app on his IPhone. These nicely aligned universes collided today when we found that the Camino alternate that Helen wanted to hike was NOT covered by Farout! Helen preferred the hillier, more scenic version, totally unlike her position on Sunday. You may recall Helen’s blog entry last Sunday describing this debate. Well, last night, Helen was pushing for the hillier one specifically because it was shorter than the primary route – and the only one shown on Farout. Paul was totally OK with the more scenic alternative, but concerned that we would be hiking without the route-finding aid of Farout. (There have been countless occasions since starting in France where we only knew where to go based on the app due to the total absence of trail signs). After lengthy discussion we decided to take Helen and Dawn’s proposal. That decision was made as we exited Triacastela this morning at the signposts seen below.

    Note that this was a great decision as the route was gorgeous and clearly was the original Camino route from centuries ago.

    This was our first view of Sarria, a fairly large city on the Camino, and our destination for tonight.

    All three of us are feeling strong and injury-free. We have 5 more days of hiking to reach Santiago de Compostela. Today is Dawn’s birthday so we hope to celebrate that in style this evening.

    …and we did!

    Here is the door of the day:

  • Triacastela, Mile 400

    The GPS track of today’s hike can be found at:

    It was sunny and cool with a brisk breeze when we departed our mountaintop lodging this morning. We had endless views in every direction.

    We remained up high for the first couple of hours today with many ups and downs. Some of the climbs were quite steep as the next video and photo show.

    A lovely late morning brunch in the sun.

    There was a long descent through countless cow pastures and small dairies all the way down to Triacastela.

    And here is the door of the day today – apologies for the missing door-photo yesterday!

  • O Cebreiro, Mile 387

    The GPS track for today’s hike can be found at:

    In his inimitable way Paul made this challenging day just a tad more challenging, Prior to going to bed we realized that we had 3 choices for hiking the Camino: the so-called “easier route” which would follow the old main road and take us to our destination about 17 miles away and up the top of mountain at the end, the more scenic route that did not follow the road and instead went up a couple of good tall hills early in the morning as well and add a couple more miles to the day, and the super-challenging route that would never go through any towns and go up and down 3 major hills and mountains that would add about 8 more miles to the hike. Paul was convinced that taking the scenic route would be well worth it even though it would be harder and longer. Helen was convinced that when Paul said the scenic route he meant the super-challenging one, but she was wrong. In any event, the day turned out what it promised to be: a 19+ mile extremely hilly day!

    When I awoke in the morning I had just had an awful dream that Paul was given a boat to use and he decided we would go water-skiing and he had me running around looking for all our old water-skiing stuff and I suddenly realized in the dream that he had us planning to do this when it was early May and I knew the water would be so cold that we would die from hypothermia when we got in the water to waterski, so I was furious with him. So I guess my concerns about the trail choice we were making somehow spilled into my dream! Anyway, I could just picture us mistakenly taking the wrong path and ending up having a miserable day.

    Well, that scenic route (which no one else in our hiking bubble seemed to be taking) was actually quite delightful. It did keep us off the highway for a good long way and our fresh legs managed the hills and downhills OK. We all 3 felt quite good. The Dutch girl, Lea, we had met a few days ago who was a very strong hiker was coming DOWN that trail as we started up! She had knee braces on both her knees and told us that it was just going to be too hard on her knees so she changed her mind and decided to take the other route. This did worry me a bit, I must admit.

    As you can see, it was pretty nice hiking. This shot was about 2 miles up from our start so we had already climbed a lot by this point.

    Every time we came across a horse, Dawn would head right over and meet it.

    Dawn came across this singing seller of rosaries and purchased one that she liked to add to the one from her grandmother that she wears when she hikes.

    The countryside was changing and we were seeing sheep and cows and horses and smelling more manure along the rolling hills.

    Cow bells!!

    Unfortunately, the last 10 miles or so were quite grueling, which a relentless uphill at a steep grade that led to our overnight lodging.

    Our final steps in Castilla y Leon.

    After what seemed like forever in Castilla y Leon, the province in which we have been hiking for weeks, we finally arrived in a new province today: Galicia. They tell us that the Scots and other Celts influenced this part of Spain. Someone warned us we might hear bagpipes here. So far, no bagpipes.

    We were pretty spent by this point and our legs felt like rubber.

    Enjoying a nice supper and beverages at the top of the mountains in this place where we are sleeping tonight. It feels like we are in the middle of nowhere, though, on top of a mountain, in a fairytale village.

  • Villafranca del Bierzo, Mile 368

    The GPS track from today’s hike can be found at:

    Today was Dawn’s first day of hiking with us. It seemed to take forever to escape the concrete sidewalks and pavement of the surprisingly large city of Ponferrada. After a couple of hours we broken into some farming country.

    Dawn was delighted to be in the presence of so much future wine.

    At about 12:30 we stopped for a pleasant lunch.

    We came to a bifurcation in the Camino where there was an easier, flatter, shorter but noisier route that stay along the car road we had been following or a longer, hillier, more quiet route that brought us through several miles of scenic and sometimes historic vineyards.

    There were endless ups and downs in these later miles of today.

    We finally descended into our destination town for tonight, Villafranca del Bierzo at about 4pm.

    it’s a beautiful little town, in a sharply cut valley bisected by a clear and fast running river. We need to climb out of this deep hole first thing tomorrow!

    This is my door of the day!!

    Tomorrow is going to be one of the tougher days of the entire Camino. Very hilly and about 18.5 miles. And hot. After all the freezing wet we had in the first couple weeks of our Camino I am not going to complain about being too hot!!

  • Ponferrada, Mile 353

    The GPS track for today’s hike can be found at:

    We were hiking by 8:15am today as we knew we had a 20+ mile day in store with a climb and very long and steep descent. it was good we got the early start as we only made it into Ponferrada by 4:40pm, after over 8 hours of hiking.

    The early ascent in the fresh morning air seemed like a cake walk.

    If only the trail stayed this nice all day…

    Our approach to the iron cross that everyone talks about where you leave a trinket or rock and that marks the highest point of the Camino.

    This video shows Helen putting one of the seashells we brought from York beach at the Cruz de Ferro, the highest point along the entire Camino Frances. We brought one snail shell that Ella picked up from York Beach and one snail shell that Emily picked up on another occasion. It was nice leaving something that our granddaughters held in their hands. People traditionally bring a rock or other memento from home to leave here. Pilgrims have been doing this for ages and the pile is pretty huge by now!

    This scene is fairly early in the long descent when the large city of Ponferrada first comes visible in the distance.

    This is the very first town encountered on the descent. We took our first break of the day -20 minutes -here at our 11 mile mark at a little cafe. That was our only break in the 21 mile day.

    The downhill footing on the trail was pretty treacherous.

    A lot of the descent was on this steep, slippery rock. At one point Helen slipped and landed in a bunch of bushes. No harm – landed on her butt and managed to not get thorns stuck into her.

    Here we are about to cross the Pilgrims’ Bridge into the lovely town of Molinaseca.

    This is the Templar’s Castle along the Camino inside Ponferrada.

    The door of the day!

    We have finally met up with Dawn Hernandez who will be hiking the rest of the way to Santiago with us – 9 days of hiking. We had a lovely supper in an outdoor cafe within view of the Templar castle. The sun was still warming our table when we left our meal and said goodnight at 9:30.

    While in the plaza we caught sight of members of our most recent Camino “bubble.” We decided that we have been following a certain protocol when meeting people, probably because we are reserved Mainers. When we pass another hiker on the trail, we say “Buen Camino” and people from the towns we pass through say “Buen Camino” to us all the time. I calculate that by the time the hike is over we will have said Buen Camino at least 1500 times. If we happen to pass someone we have seen at least once before we add them to our mental list, based on some observation about them, such as the girl we couldn’t tell was a girl or a guy from Germany, the big American guy who walks with a little Spanish woman, the old decrepit French couple, the guy who was too helpful in the laundramat, etc. If we later see them at a rest stop or along the trail going our pace, we may strike up a conversation that can last moments or even minutes, during which time we learn about each other. Finally, when we realize we will likely see them again, we ask each other’s first name and where they are from. That’s how we roll here. This evening, we ran into a number of them at the cafe while having supper and had some nice conversations as if we were good friends. But we usually conclude that we will never see each other again as our schedules and daily destinations will not be lining up, so, “Hasta la vista, Baby!”

    We are quite sore and exhausted tonight and tomorrow we have another 15+ mile day. We will see how Dawn manages and hope it works out well for her.

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