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Walking the Camino de Santiago by Trekcapri

After leaving Santo Domingo, I'ver moved on to Redecillo, Belorado, and I am now in the small town of Villafranca Montes de Oca. The weather is beginning to get colder, especially in the morning. Here's a quick glance of the past couple of days.

The advantage to being a slow walker is I get to say Buen Camino with lots of pilgrims. Sometimes more than once as in thesis group. They would pass me, stop to have a break (with me walking on), then they would pass me again. Today they passed me three times, so I finally had to ask to take their photo and they happily obliged.

The one good thing about the Camino is you are always meeting new people, but there are some people that you naturally develope a deeper bond with. For example I met Sharon and Jerry from Australia who were so nice to always invite me to join them for dinner and it is always filled with great conversation. Like me, they are doing the Camino to reflect on their life and as a way to give thanks for all the opportunities they were so lucky to have in life. I miss them.



Saw my first hay stack up close.


Saw my first Stork's nest (

This is the view walking to the town of Villafranca Montes de Oca.

Just checking in. Since last posting, I bussed ahead to Burgos for two days and then after evaluating my slow progress, physical state and time frame (to avoid winter weather) I decided to skip the stage of the Meseta and took the train from Burgos to Leon. It took me a full day to redo my itinerary, but it's done and I have booked lodgings all the way to Santiago. It's not very spontaneous like I had intended, I need to have my lodgings to send my pack ahead (which takes the weight off my feet) and to be honest I am more comfortable walking knowing I have accommodations (it's less stressful for me). To be honest, the Camino involves allot of adjustments and understanding your capabilities as well as enjoying thee walk, the surroundings, the Camino experience, the people and Spain. It is an internal and external journey. Some things have surprised me and when I get home I will write a summary/report.

I walked from Leon to Vilar de Mazarife and then to the town of Hospital de Orbigo where I am currently in. Tomorrow I walk to Astorga. So far no blisters but my feet is beginning to hurt so much so that Last night I didn't even walk around the town and today I planned on doing the same but heard this parade outside and when I saw the costumes and people marching right by my hotel I took off in my flip flops, shirts and no jacket down the road and followed them into this area where they had a stage set up. It was a town festival complete with music and folk dancing. Suddenly my foot pain disappeared for a bit.

It was a pleasant surprise and a fun experience.

It's getting colder in the mornings and I start out in darkness for about an hour. Only the roosters and us pilgrims are up at the early hour. I giggle. Every time. Here's a few photos. There's so many memorable moments and it's so hard to choose.

Burgos gothic Cathedral

Parador in Leon that was filmed in the movie The Way.

One of the many sunsets I get to enjoy while walking.



Festival in Hospital de Orbigo
Thanks so much Kathy, for these check ins. Such a treat to follow your journey - the outer geographical one and the inner journey of your spirit. Your resilience is inspiring. Love how you go with the flow (even in flipflops!)
Hi Anne, thanks so much. I'll be writing a wrap up report. I finished on Nov 3, 2016 and what a wonderful journey it was.

Beautiful sunrise greets me as I begin my final stage walk from O Pedrouzo to Santiago de Compostela. A 12.43 mile walk. It drizzled for about 20 minutes when I left and then blue skies.


The Cathedral is where the pilgrims go to when they arrive. The feeling was amazing.


Pilgrim statue from Monte Gozo. This is where pilgrims have their first glimpse of Santiago de Compostela and the Cathedral.

Walking The Camino de Santiago Trip Report: Introduction Part I
September 21, 2016 through November 3, 2016
Slow Europe Photo Album (for more photos):

For more than a thousand years, pilgrims from all walks of life and from all over the world set out to walk the Camino de Santiago. It is an important Christian pilgrimage since way back in medieval times and it is considered one of three pilgrimages on which all sins could supposedly be forgiven. There are several routes (Wikipedia) one can take for their journey, all of which lead to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia which is in northwestern part of Spain. It is here in the Cathedral that the remains of Apostle Saint James (one of the Twelve Apostles of Jesus) are buried. Legend has it that St. James’s remains were carried by boat from Jerusalem to Northern Spain where he was buried on the site of what is now the City of Santiago de Compostela. The most popular route to Santiago de Compostela is the Camino Frances route which is 790 km (500 miles) and crosses over the Pyrenees from the French side and into Spain. This route was featured in the popular movie, “The Way”, starring Martin Sheen and his son/director, Emilio Esteves.

On the routes, you will find pilgrims carrying their walking sticks (or trekking poles) and hanging proudly on their backpacks, a scallop shell. This shell is a symbol that has come to represent the Camino de Santiago and they can also be seen on markings along the routes. The shell is seen as a metaphor for the pilgrimage, where the grooves in the shell coming together at a single point represents the various routes pilgrims travel, arriving at a single destination, the tomb of St. James in Santiago de Compostela. It is also a metaphor for the pilgrim where it is said that the waves of the ocean wash scallop shells upon the shores of Galicia and God's hand guides the pilgrims to Santiago.

The Camino is a pilgrimage rooted in religion and traditions, however, for the modern day pilgrim the Camino can offer that and more. People from all over the world and from all walks of life are drawn to the Camino to walk, to contemplate, to discover themselves, to resolve problems in their lives, to have a walking adventure, to experience the beauty of Northern Spain and to ponder and find their way in life. We all have our own individual reason for walking the Camino and so in the end, the Camino is whatever we want it to be. For me, my Camino was to be a Journey of Reflections and Gratitude for the life I have. It ended up being that and lot more.

During our Camino there is an amazing feeling of camaraderie among pilgrims. For us, it is not important what we do for a living, or what our religious or political beliefs are. We are all the same, a pilgrim, making our way to Santiago. There is a big social aspect on the Camino and for an introvert like me, learning to interact with a lot of people daily was a growing experience for me. We become invested in each other’s journey. When someone is in pain, we happily share what we have to help relieve their pain. When we struggle, someone is there to encourage you. If you have a story you want to tell, someone is there to listen. When you are hungry or thirsty, someone is there to share what they have. Meeting such amazing people (both pilgrims and locals) along the way was one of the most favorite part of my Camino experience.

Most of the time my contact with pilgrims was fleeting. We greet and part ways with each other by saying “Buen Camino”, meaning “good way”. In medieval times, pilgrims would say "Ultreia", meaning “further onward”. I loved saying Buen Camino and that’s how I greeted everyone I met before they walked on past me (due to my turtle like pace). Sometimes I am able to have a brief conversation while walking or during a break on a grassy field or while sitting at a small mom and pop café serving café con leche or a bocadillo sandwich. On occasion, some pilgrims can connect more deeply with each other at which time their group becomes a Camino Family. I didn’t have much of that because I mainly stayed in private rooms. But I was lucky enough to have connected more deeply with some pilgrims along the way. Two of my most special camino friends was a very sweet couple from Australia, Jerry and Sharon. I first saw them on the train from Bayonne to SJPDP and our paths kept crossing with each other throughout the Camino. It was a very special treat when they messaged me that they would still be in Santiago de Compostela on the day I arrived. We got together for dinner, great conversation and vino tinto in celebration for completing our Camino. That was so fun.

I started out with a vision of what my Camino would be. I would stick to set stages, walk 12-18 miles, carry my pack and walk every inch of it. And anything short of that would make my experience incomplete and me a failure. After all, isn’t that what a “true” pilgrim has to do? Well, kudos to those who did just that. They certainly earned their bragging rights. But is the Camino about the number of miles we have to walk or the pain we must overcome? That certainly is a part of it. There is a popular saying among the pilgrims, everyone walks their “own” Camino. There is no one or right way of doing it. Like many others, prior to my Camino I watched dozens of Youtube videos, read so many books and blogs from those who have done it. I then wrote my Camino itinerary using the information from everything I have learned and from the guidebooks I purchased about the Camino. I was really challenged on the first 4 stages of the Camino. Upon reaching Pamplona, I came to realize that I was not going to be able to stick to my original itinerary. Once I accepted that reality, I sat down and made some adjustments to my itinerary in order to fit my capabilities, needs and must see interests. It involved a few stage skipping and extra rest days, but I made sure that it still included stops that were very high on my must see list. I was so relieved and felt happier. One of the big lessons I learned on the Camino is to “let go” of things that can hold you back and prevent you from being happy and realizing your dreams. I’m so glad that lesson came early on so I could enjoy my Camino for the long haul.

In short, if you dream of walking the Camino de Santiago but you are concerned about the physical challenges, the time requirements or the expectations of walking it like a “true pilgrim” should, there are more than one way to walk the Camino. I me several pilgrims who were walking the Camino Frances in stages each year because they are not able to take too much time off from work. I think that's awesome too and I'm even thinking that I would like to do that too on one of the longer Camino routes. If you feel like you're not as fit you want to be, know that as you walk, you will become fitter. Go at your own pace, enjoy the journey and follow your dreams. I started in St. Jean Pied de Port on September 21, 2016 and walked into Santiago de Compostela on November 3, 2016. Buen Camino!

Trekcapri’s Camino de Santiago: Part II – The Stages

On the Camino Frances I walked through some of the most beautiful locations in Northern Spain (and on the French side of the Pyrenees). Although I did skip some stages, I managed to walk through each of the regions that the Camino Frances passes through. Each region was beautiful as well as different in food, culture, and scenery and I loved seeing them in the most intimate manner possible, by slowly walking through them. I will summarize my walk through these regions and with highlights of my experiences.

Basque Country & Navarra - SJPDP to Roncesvalles (Napolean Route) to Logroño

In the Basque country there were the spectacular Pyrenees mountains which provided breathtaking views. I decided to take the Napoleon route which was very difficult, but it was worth the effort and struggles. The weather can be quite unpredictable here, but on the day of my Camino, the weather was clear with views as far as the eyes could see. The highest point reached 1429 meters high and I felt every bit of it.

The Basque Country has the highest mountain on the Camino. The mountain is eight miles up and eight miles down the other side, and seems to touch the sky. Climb it and you’ll feel you could push the sky with your hand. ~ Codex Calixtinus

Highlights include the Pyrenees mountains and beautiful views, the cows, horses and sheep that paraded right by you as you walked, the Vierge d’Orisson statue, the communal dinner at refugio Orisson, crossing over into Spain and attending the special Pilgrims Mass in the Iglesia de Santa María in the small medieval hamlet of Roncesvalles.

Leaving Roncesvalles, I walked through more forestry sections which was a pleasant change from the hills on the Pyrenees. I passed through the small town of Burguette, Espinal and Lassarona. Entering Zubiri, I crossed the Romanesque Bridge known as the Puente de la Rabia (Rabies Bridge). On my way to Pamplona from Zubiri the path primarily follow along the Arga river.

The first four days of walking really took a lot out of me and I struggled to get to Pamplona. Once there, I knew that I needed to have more than a couple of rest days here. I ended up staying six days to recover both physically and mentally. Feeling down, I finally worked up enough energy to attend mass at one of the many churches here (I can’t even remember which one) and that is when I met my first Camino Angel. She was an unassuming local who was exiting the church as I was entering. The doorway was too narrow for both of us to go through so I waited for her to go first and held the little drape that was covering the entrance for her. She smiled, touched my forearm and said something to me in Spanish. I’m not sure what she said, but when she touched my arm and looked up at me, it felt so comforting.

Camino angels are those often times unsuspecting people (locals/fellow pilgrims) who says or does something very special for you that either provides aide, comfort, spiritual uplifting, and or shares information with you that makes your Camino experience even more special.

I was feeling better and wanted to keep going. I wanted to catch up with the group whom I had started with from Orisson and try to reach Santiago by the first or second week in November. Based upon my calculations, I decided to bus ahead to Logrono. Regrettably, this is the one stage that I wished I had not skipped. Maybe one day I can return to complete it. It is not uncommon to hear others spending extra rest days due to injuries or skipping ahead by bus/train due to time limitations to complete their Camino. I felt a little guilty, but I have no regrets. It was the right decision for me given the situation that I was in at the time. Would I do it anything differently? Yes, I would have trained better and packed lighter in order to better meet the physical demands of the first few stages. On a good note, I loved Pamplona and had fun exploring the town.

La Rioja & Castilla y Leon – Logroño to Burgos

After leaving Pamplona, I was in better spirits. I had put too much pressure on myself not to fail that I almost did. I was well rested, happy, motivated and ready to continue on my journey. I bussed ahead to the town of Logrono which is the capital of the wine making region of La Rioja with an impressive 13th century church, Iglesia de San Bartolome. I spent a couple of days here because I had heard some positive things about this town. On my second day there was a wonderful flea market, which is always fun and the wine is very delicious here.

The La Rioja and Castilla y Leon region offered beautiful grape vineyards and extensive section of Roman (add photo of wine) road. The climate here is more Mediterranean and the deep red earth is great for the cultivation of wine grapes. While there are some rosé and white wines produced in this region, at least 85% of wine produced here are reds. The climate is also good for growing wheat, olives and vegetables. Walking along this region, you can see wheat stacks and huge storks nests on the church spires.

I was nervous about hitting the road again. Was I going to be able to continue and make it or was my self confidence so shattered that I would fail. Leaving the town of Logrono takes you through a pleasant park used by many of the locals. It was a very easy and flat path which was a good way to regain my self-confidence.

I did really well and arrived in the town of Navarrete feeling pretty good. As soon as I reached the town, I was so happy that I did it (after struggling so much on the first stages), I raised my trekking poles up in the air and clicked them together in celebration. This was to be the a personal tradition that I made up for myself to do when I reached each daily destination, the final click of which took place standing in front of the Cathedral in Santiago. My hotel was perfectly situated right on the Camino path and had a great view of the town below.

With a good night’s sleep, I set out in the dark to the next town of Najera feeling confident.
One of the things I tried to do was to arrive earlier in the day to give me time to explore any interesting historical sights. This is an interesting town with a beautiful river moving through it. I managed to visit Monasterio de Santa Maria la Real before it closed. If you get a chance, I would recommend a visit here.

Next, I made my way to the towns of Azofra and then Santo Domingo de la Calzada. Santo Domingo de la Calzada takes its name from Saint Dominic. Myths and legends about Saint Dominic. The most famous legend associated with Santo Domingo is “the hanged innocent.” A German family (father, mother and son) were on the pilgrimage to Santiago. In Santo Domingo they stayed with a farmer’s family and the farmer’s daughter tried to seduce their son, but as a pilgrim, he refused her. She became so angry that she hid some silver items in his pack and after he left, called the authorities and accused him of theft. Upon finding the items in his pack, the boy was found guilty and hanged. His grief stricken parents continued to Santiago, but on their return home, stopped to see their son’s remains. They were delighted to find that he was still alive, claiming that Santo Domingo had held him up so he didn’t die. The parents told the magistrate and asked that they let his son down as he was innocent. The magistrate, who had just sat down to a hearty chicken dinner, shouted, “Why, he is no more alive than this roasted chicken I’m about to eat.” Just them, the cooked chicken stood up on his plate, miraculously brought back to life and crowed.

In remembrance of this story, live chickens are kept in the Cathedral which is supposedly the descendants of the resurrected fowl in the story. I made it to Santo Domingo in plenty of time to visit the cathedral and see the chickens. I was told by a fellow pilgrim from Brazil that if the chickens crowed while you are there, then it means that you will have a good Camino. For some reason, it was very high on my must see list on the Camino. I mean, everybody loves a miracle, don’t they. While I was there it they talked a little.

Leaving town I cross the bridge that Santo Domingo himself built with his bare hands to help pilgrims cross the river safely. While walking across, I took the time to say thank you. While on my way out of town in Belorado, I slipped in to say a prayer in Iglesia Santa Maria. While there, I heard this pilgrim singing in front of the altar. It was a beautifully sung hymn. There were two other pilgrims in the church with me and we were silently moved by his beautiful voice. Sometimes on the camino you can be treated to some amazing unplanned experiences.

I finally make my way to the town of Burgos where I have planned an extra rest day so I could visit their amazing Gothic Cathedral, a UNESCO World Heritage site. I also took this little train tour around the city where we passed by some other churches and the Pilgrims Albergue. I learned that the City of Burgos was actually build around supporting pilgrims walking the Camino to Santiago. After an early breakfast, I was standing on the street deciding what I would do next when low and behold walking toward I see my Camino buddies, Jerry and Sharon. They invited me to join them to visit the Museum of Human Evolution, which included some important artifacts from the Atapuerca excavations. I was leaving the next morning and they were leaving the day after.

While in Burgos, I made another decision to skip several stages as I knew that I would not meet my self-imposed timeline to reach Santiago if I didn’t. I decided to train ahead to the city of Leon, skipping the much talked about Meseta with its rolling fields of grain, lack of trees and repetitive landscape. Some say that you either love it or hate it. If I had done this stage, I wonder which group I would have fallen in with. Guess I’ll never know, unless I return to walk this stage. Maybe, someday.

Cantabrian Mountains and El Bierzo:

León is an amazing city and a must see while visiting is its Gothic Cathedral. There are these very beautiful 13th-15th century stained glass windows. And how can I be here without paying a visit to the magnificent Parador which was featured on the movie, The Way. The Parador was originally a monastery founded in the 12th century to provide lodging for pilgrims on their way to Santiago. It is one of the most beautiful Renaissance buildings in Spain. Don’t forget to go out and see the cloisters before you leave.

After Leon the path becomes more rolling and green as we get closer to entering the Cantabrian Mountains and make our way to Astorga. One of my favorite towns was Hospital de Órbigo. To enter the town, I walked across this impressive Gothic bridge over the Río órbigo.

This bridge was the site of a legendary medieval jousting competition. Don Suero de Quiñones, a wealthy Leonese knight, was rejected by a woman he loved. In his heartbreak he locked his neck in an iron collar and swore he would not take it off until he had defeated 300 knights in jousting. Quiñones succeeded, freeing him from the torment of love. He then took off the collar and made a pilgrimage to Santiago. The bridge became known as El Paso Honroso “The Honorable Pass.”

After passing the town of Villares, there are more rolling hills and somewhere in the middle pilgrims come across a “donativo” snack shack. There are drinks, fruit and snacks for pilgrims. Here, you give what you can. Their sello is appropriately in the shape of a heart.

On the way down to Astorga I come across the Crucero de Santo Toribio which is named for the 5th century bishop of Astorga who was said to have fallen to his knees in this spot. This was a long stage, so I can certainly relate to that feeling The view of the city below is a tease because it was still quite a ways to go before reaching Astorga. After such a long stage of walking pilgrims have to tackle this difficult walking bridge that zig zagged several times to take you over the train tracks and be prepared for a very steep hill to enter the town center. While in Astorga, I visited such sights as the Roman Mosaics , the 15th century Cathedral with its impressive Baroque façade and Gaudi’s Bishop’s Palace (which was closed at the time so I only saw the exterior). If you need any equipment/walking supplies before heading to O’Cebreiro, there is a great pilgrims shop located off the main square called Deportes Huracán. You can’t miss it, it has a big giant backpack in front. I stopped in to get new rubber tips for my trekking poles and a new and lighter day pack and rain jacket. You have to walk downstairs to find the pilgrim supplies.

Cantabrian Mountains & El Bierzo – Astorga to La Faba

Prior to reaching Galicia, I had the experience of walking through was is referred to as the Cantabrian Mountains in the valley of El Bierzo. The architecture entering this region begins to change. With it’s Celtic influence, there are circular thatched stone buildings, called pallozas. I saw plenty of Hórreos which are rectangular stone corncribs elevated off the ground to pretect the corn from vermin.

Highlights of this stage: Passing through the small hamlet of El Ganso and stopping for a short break at the Cowboy Bar. I stopped for the night in the small village of Rabanal del camino and Foncebodan. The small town was the last town before reaching the famous Cruz de Ferro. I left early in the morning so I could reach the Cruz de Ferro before sunrise and before it got crowded. As it had been for the past several days, leaving early meant I was walking in heavy mist and nearly complete darkness. I thought of Shirley McClaine’s book as I made my way in the darkness all alone. Suddenly four dogs came at me out of nowhere. Three of them seem calm but there was one dog that kept growling and they wouldn’t leave me alone. I decided to stand still and wait for more hikers to reach me before moving on since the dogs wouldn’t leave me alone and one continued to growl. Three pilgrims came and we all hiked together until the dogs calmed down.

The Cruz de Ferro (Iron Cross) consisted of a mound of stones with a tall wooden pole on which there was an iron cross mounted at the top of the pole. Here is where pilgrims from all over the world come to leave a rock or memento that they brought from home to represent their burdens. By leaving their stone, we also leave our burdens here, leaving us lighter (literally and figuratively) for the remainder of our journey. There were only a handful of pilgrims so I was able to leave my memento, say a prayer and have a very special and private moment. I did feel lighter.

On the way down the mountain, I stopped in at Manjarín which is a very rustic albergue run by Tomás, a self proclaimed modern-day Templar. It was cool meeting Tomas and getting a stamp for my credential, but honestly I would not want to stay the night there. There is no electricity, running water and you had to use an “outhouse”. I really loved the little rustic town of El Acebo and the beautiful and quiet town of Molinaseca.

Although the vistas were breathtaking the walk down to Ponferrada was brutal (some steep and rocky sections). I arrived early enough to be able to tour the Castillo Templario de Ponferrada which is a castle fortress built by the Knights of Templar. Show your Pilgrims credential to receive a discount on the entrance fee.

Walking through vineyards and fruit orchards then down the foothills along the Rio Burbia I find myself in the most charming town of Villafranca del Bierzo. Before entering the town’s center, you can see the Puerta del Perdón of Iglesia de Santiago. As I start my walk the next morning, I can see the mountains of Galicia looming ahead but before the climb, I stop in the small town of Las Herrerias where I spend the night at a beautiful hostal next to a grassy field and running stream. From here some pilgrims decide to ride by horse up to O Cebreiro rather than tackle the 700 m incline. To be honest, although muddy most of the way, the climb up wasn’t too bad. The small village of La Faba makes for a good break on the way up.

Galicia – La Faba to Santiago de Compostela

O Cebreiro is the first town that is officially in the region of Galicia. This region is known as o país dos mil ríos (“the country of a thousand rivers” for its free-flowing water to include the Miño. The surroundings is lush and green and you walk through forests with big eucalyptus trees. The views is breathtaking (and very windy). Here is where my favorite church is located, Iglesia de Santa María. Next to the church is a memorial of Father Elías Valiña Sampedro, a local priest who was said to have come up with the yellow arrow symbol and cement markers used in Galicia. Another highlight was seeing the large bronze windswept pilgrim statue at Alto San Roque. The town of Triascastela marked the end of the Galician mountains and the last town before reaching Sarria.

The town of Sarria is a major starting point for pilgrims wishing to do the minimum 100km to receive a Compostela and there are more pilgrims on the path with us. I found them to be energetic and didn’t mind seeing more people on the path. Just after leaving the town of Sarria, I was happy to finally reach the 100 km marker. The walk to Portomorain was filled with pleasant forestry paths but ended with a trechourous short downhill section leading to the roadway. As you cross the Río Miño, you can see the remains of the former city which was destroyed from a flood. To enter the town you have to first climb up this long staircase. I did a quick visit to the Iglesia de San Nicolás with its fortress-like appearance, enjoyed a late lunch of spaghetti con tomato and salad, before I headed back to my hotel to turn in early after a long tough stage.

The walk to Melide was filled with lush forests made up of large eucalyptus trees and passing through small villages such as Ventas Narón where I ended up spending the night at a small albergue. This town is known for being the site of a battle in 820 between Christian and Muslim armies. Along the way, there are several more wooden hórreos and dairy farms. The weather has been beautiful.

Melide was a big city (the biggest one I’ve seen since leaving Pamplona) and it was a bit of a shock after walking through small towns. It is well known for its Pulpo á la Gallega, boiled octopus served with olive oil, paprika and a side of bread. Honestly, I had no desire to even give it a try. Just not a big fan of Octopus. I stayed at a pretty newly refurbished Pension. It was nice to find a fellow pilgrim who I have been crossing paths with for the last few stages spending the night there too and we enjoy a good conversation. I learned one of my camino lessons from her.

I first noticed her several stages back. She walked with this relaxed manner stopping periodically to do yoga on a patch of grass. I once saw her picking mushrooms growing by the side of the path. I was telling her how many miles it was between towns and that I was deciding what stops to make. I asked her what her thoughts were to which she replied, “well, it depends if I have a good walking day or a bad walking day. If it is bad, I’ll stop. If I feel good, I keep going. I do what I feel like doing.” Puzzled by her response. I then realized that while I was being a worry wart, she was enjoying her walk, taking it day to day and moment to moment, not worrying about a thing. I loved her “free spirited” attitude and decided that I needed to get some of that free spirit too and relax. I saw her a couple more times at rest stops (still relaxed) but lost track of her after Arzua. I’m sure she arrived in Santiago in a totally relaxed and happy manner.

I am now only 3 stages (nights) away from Santiago and although I came down with a head cold, I am excited to be so close. Santiago was now within reach and for the first time, I knew that I was going to make it.

As it was the end of October, I noticed that more and more cafes were closed and shut down for the winter season which made the walks between places for a break longer. By now the time changed meant that we gained an hour making it possible for me to leave one hour earlier knowing that the sun would rise shortly after.

Leaving the town of Arzua, the Camino crosses back and forth over the highway several times. Finally, I reach the town of Arca (O Pedrouzo) and I am now on the verge of reaching Santiago. It was raining as I headed out walking through eucalyptus forests and tackling a few more hills. On the final hill up to Monte de Gozo, I catch my first glimpse of Santiago’s cathedral spires. I have to confess that I was a bit teary eyed and overcome with emotions. After so many miles, so many struggles both physically, spiritually and mentally, I am about to walk into Santiago de Compostela to complete my pilgrimage

The walk takes me through the city outskirts first. I can see other pilgrims scattered about all on our way to the Cathedral. We all have a skip in their steps and bits of laughter and chatter fills the air. I enter the big square and look up at the Cathedral. I really thought that the experience would bring me to tears, but all I could do is smile. I was so happy. I raised my trekking poles and did a final click in the air and blurted out a Whoo Hoo, I did it! I did a little happy dance too. A group of young pilgrims were sitting near by and apparently witnessed my celebration and smiled when I glanced back at them. I had no idea anyone was watching me. I asked someone if they could take a photo of me in front of the Cathedral and after soaking it in a bit more, I made my way to the Pilgrims Office to receive my Compostela. The volunteer who issued my Compostela shook my hand and said congratulations. The moment felt surreal.

I rented the most beautiful apartment (Casa de la Inmaculada) in Santiago which had a view of the Cathedral Spires. I spent a very enjoyable ten days in Santiago before heading for Barcelona. Most pilgrims walk on to Finisterre or leave after only a day or two. I actually loved staying the extra days to allow myself some quiet time to process and absorb what the experience of walking the Camino had meant to me. My Camino buddies, Jerry and Sharon, were still in town so we got together a couple of times to celebrate our caminos and to relive some of our best Camino moments.

Lessons Did I Learn:
  • In the end, happiness and success in life is measured not by the amount of wealth or processions that we have accumulated throughout the years, but by the relationships that we have with the people who surround us.
  • Like the weight of our backpacks, the burdens and regrets we carry in life can hold us back and prevent us from being happy and fulfilling our dreams. At the Cruz de Ferro, I decided to unburden myself from the regrets in my life and when I left my memento there at the foot of the cross, I felt lighter and free to keep going on my Camino and in life.
  • Walking through empty fields of wheat, farm lands, grape vineyards, dirt and rocky paths, I learned to appreciate everything around me. I need to learn to cherish and enjoy each moment and each day to the fullest. In life, there can be a lot of noise which can distract us and the camino taught me that I need to make the time to slow down, listen and appreciate what is around me.
  • Step Out of My Comfort Zone: As an introvert, I put up walls and struggle to let people in. But meeting so many kind and generous pilgrims during my Camino made me realize that I need to come out of my comfort zone and take a chance.
  • We Are All Pilgrims – On the Camino, we are not doctors, lawyers, waiters, students, artists, Christian, Buddhists, Democrat, Republican, American, Spanish, Italian, Korean, gay, straight. We are all one and the same, a pilgrim making our way to Santiago de Compostela.
  • Acceptance – We are not perfect nor are we machines that don’t break down. Accept what your capabilities and needs are and learn to find a way to use the gifts that you do have and keep moving forward. On the camino, I realized that even from feelings of helplessness and fear of failure I can dig down deep, pick myself up, have faith and keep on going.
  • I have a deeper spiritual connection with God. There were several instances that occurred on my Camino that made me realize that I was not alone on my Camino journey and in my life and I feel so blessed.

Training: Anyone in reasonable shape can walk the Camino, but I would recommend doing a bit of training prior to your trip. I should have done more training. Include a mix of terrain and elevations. I knew that the Pyrenees was going to be a challenge and it was. However, they were not the only “big” hills on the Camino and there quite a few sections with rocky footing.

Pack Light: I really tried to pack light but it was still not light enough. I ended up mailing excess stuff from SJPDP, Pamplona and Burgos to Santiago de Compostela. And I was still overpacked. My backpack was too heavy and large (Gregory, 60L). I’m planning on walking my second camino (Porto to Santiago de Compostela in 2018) and I plan on taking a new, smaller 40L backpack (Deuter ACT Trail Pro). Make sure that your pack fits you right.

Clothing: Definitely invest in quick drying technical clothing. I had Columbia button shirts (rather than t-shirt style), because I found the front pockets to be useful for keeping my notes for the day and my reading glasses for quick and easy access. I used Columbia Women’s Bahama Short-Sleeve Shirt, Ex officio (Women’s give-n-go) and Champion (Champion Women’s Freedom Seamless Racerback Sport Bra) intimates, Columbia Women’s Saturday Trail II Convertible Pants, Capri and River shorts (Sleep). As soon as I arrived at my night’s lodging, I washed my clothes so they will have the time to dry before morning. This is why you should not bring cotton T-shirts or heavy blue jeans on the Camino. When things weren’t completely dry, I would pin them to my pack. When I got to Galicia (where the weather was cooler) I had the hostal/pension do my laundry for a small fee. Other than if you are going during the winter, I would highly recommend the layer approach. I brought a heavy jacket but it was too hot to wear. I ended up mailing it to Santiago and buying a light fleece jacket (for warmth) and a much lighter rain jacket (and kept my very light poncho in case of heavy rain). I wore both jackets in the morning when it was cold, then layered off as the day got warmer. Quick drying/wicking and sun protection material would be best, but also go with what is most comfortable for you. I would recommend that you go on training walks wearing your clothes and footwear so you can be certain that you will be satisfied with them day after day for a 4-5 week duration.

Footwear: I debated on what shoes to bring for months. Waterproof Gortex hiking boots/shoes or Trail Runners. All of the boots and gortex shoes I tried made my feet hurt. I finally stumbled on the Nike Air Zoom Terra Kiger 3 Womens Trail Running Shoes. They are not waterproof and will get wet, but they were the most comfortable. And if they were to get wet, I know that they will be dry fast. It was the best decision I ever made. I did not have one blister the entire walk. I also used gaiters to help keep my shoes and socks clean from the dirt and rocks on the trails (Outdoor Research Sparkplug Gaiters). I lucked out because the weather was mostly dry) I also brought Keens Whisper sandals (for casual use at the end of the day) and flip flops (bathroom use). I used the recommended two-sock system (outer wool sock and inner Liner Socks). The wool socks are easier than cotton to dry and the inner liner socks helps to reduce the friction which can cause blisters to form.

Trekking Poles: I loved my Black Diamond Distance Z trekking which I purchased from REI. They helped to give me good footing on rocky terrain, they helped propel me on flat terrain, and they were nice to rest on when I was gasping for air on those undulating paths. J

Packing List: I’m working on a detailed list on my travel website and will edit this trip report to add the link HERE so feel free to check back.

Headlamp: If you are traveling at a time when the days are shorter you should bring a good headlamp. I was there in late September to early November and it was dark and very misty in the mornings. A good headlamp will help you to find those yellow Camino arrows and will be powerful enough to see where you are walking in the dark and heavy mist.

Headwear: Head Buff (I used this everyday), Sun Hat, Small Fanny Pack, Security Pouch (Passport, Credit & Debit Cards)

Blister Prevention/Treatment Kit (Trail Toes, HikeGoo Cream, Gel Lining Pads for Toes, Leukotape P Sports Tape, At the last minute I brought the entire roll of my Leuko Tape and was glad that I did because I used this a lot and if I had only brought the amount that is in this photo, I would have run out. I saw a lot of places selling Compeed but not Leuko tape and I wanted to avoid using Compeed (personal preference).

Organization Sacks/Packing Cubes/Baggies: I used various ultra light packing cubes, stuff sacks and dry sacks to organize my contents. The different sizes and colors were used to organize and more easily identify my contents so you’re not wasting time constantly looking for things. Pack your most used daily items in the most accessible part of your pack. I had one sack that contained my toiletries and after shower clothing. That was so helpful because you are so tired, all you want to do is grab your things and hit the shower.

Dry Sacks (I used the Osprey Ultra light Dry Sacks) I kept my clothes in here because I knew it would keep possible bed bugs out and it would keep my clothes dry in case it rained.

Packing Cubes (I used the Eagle Creek Ultra Light and ) I brought several sizes in different colors to separate my clothes, electronics and various kits.

Stuff/Compression Sacks (Sea to Summit Traveling Ultra Light Sack, Sea to Summit Altra –Sil Stuff Sack, Outdoor Ditty Stuff Sacks, Eagle Creek Pack-It Stew-n-Go, Eagle Creek Pack-It Spector Sac, Sea to Summit Ultra-Sil Compression Sack, Sea to Summit Ultra-Sil Compression Dry Sack)

Ziploc Baggies (various sizes, include a few Freezer ones as they are more durable)

Rain Gear: Rain Jacket (light) / Rain Poncho (Atlus Poncho) / Fleece Jacket

Emergency Medical Kit (include prescription and over the counter medication). Specifically, include some Tylenol, ibuprofen, Band-Aids. In additional to my Emergency Medical Kit, I created a daily blister prevention and treatment kit which I used daily and kept it in an accessible compartment in my day pack.

Electronics: Cell Phone, iPad Mini, Nikon AW130 camera with charger, extra battery & SD Cards, USB Multi-Plug charger (I purposely only brought electronics that charge via a USB cable), Garmin ForeRunner (my watch & GPS Tracker). I mailed my gorilla pod and GoPro and accessories to Santiago due to the extra weight. What was I thinking!

  • Small fanny pack (to have easy access to my camera and daily cash)
  • Light cross body bag/day bag to use when exploring the town/cities at night
  • Safety Pins (Multi-use for the: Laundry, Luggage Transport Envelope, secure important items to pack)
  • Small Swiss Army Knife (I mailed my big heavier knife on to Santiago. This was more than sufficient).
  • Security Pouch with RFID Protection: To store Passport, Debit/Credit Cards
Be Flexible With Your Itinerary: Be flexible and open to making adjustments to your itinerary on the fly. It’s good to have a plan, but once I was there I realized that my original itinerary was not going to work for me. The distances were too long, so I completely reworked my itinerary to allow me to have shorter distances to walk. If I had to have a long day, I planned a short walking day the next stage to allow my body enough time to recover. As the days go by, your body will adjust to the miles and you will find yourself getting more and more fitter, allowing yourself the ability to walk longer days. It’s okay to adjust several times during your Camino. I found some pilgrims were so determined to walk the given stages in their guidebooks that they developed serious blisters. For many, time was limited and so they had no choice but to stay on schedule. I was lucky not to have such limitations and so I was able to be flexible to any changes I needed or wanted to make.

Lodging: The Pilgrims Credential will allow you to stay in these Albergues (Muncipal/Pariacho) with costs as low as donativo or 5-10 Euros. The arrangements are typically bunk beds with shared bath and showers. On my first night I stayed at Refugio Orisson (space is very limited here so try to book way in advance to secure yourself a bed) where I shared a private room/bath/shower with a couple and another girl. They were all very nice but I had maybe 10-15 minutes of solid sleep that night which made my walk the next day very tiring. I loved the communal aspect of the experience a lot, but if I was to reach Santiago I needed to allow myself to have good walking days and that required a good night’s sleep. I also liked having my own washroom. So for my Camino I used private albergues (with private rooms), Pensions/Hostals and hotels. I booked ahead (using Booking.com or calling one of the recommended lodgings listed on my guidebook). The cost will be more than if you stayed only in municipal refugios but for me it was worth it. I probably spent anywhere from 25 Euros to 40 Euros on average per night. The most expensive lodging was in the bigger cities. And I think you should treat yourself at least once on the Camino by staying in one of Spain’s Paradors, just like Tom did in the movie. I treated myself once and stayed in the Parador (100 Euros) in the town of Santo Domingo.

My Favorite towns/villages:
  • Santiago de Compostela (Hands down my most favorite town and I hope to return again)
  • Pamplona (Loved my extra rest days here and I hope to return again)
  • St. Jean Pied de Port (lovely little town on the French side of the Pyrenees)
  • Villafranca de Bierzo (Pretty little town)
  • O Cebreiro (A small mountain top village that is worthy of staying the night rather than blowing right by it)
  • Hospital Obriego (for its magnificent bridge and cool festival that I happen to be there for)
  • Rabanal del Camino (A quaint little village worth an overnight stay)
Here are my favorite lodgings that I would highly recommend:

Backpack Transport: I carried only a 22L Gregory day pack and had my big backpack 60L Gregory Backpack transported to my next stop by a local transport company like Jacotrans. I did this all the way to Santiago. There are several options that you can use to transport your luggage and I found them to be very dependable and worth every penny. The prices range from 3 to 7 euros. Towards the end, I saw more and more pilgrims using this service, so I wasn’t the only one. Sometimes my pack arrived before I did. For my next Camino, I want to pack lighter so I can carry it with me allowing me to be more flexible with my stops. There were times when I could’ve walked to the next town but was stuck because of my lodging/backpack pre-arrangements. In this case, it’s always good to select towns (as much as you can) that you find interesting. So if you do arrive early, you can do a bit of exploring. Also, as the days went by, I was able to better estimate the distances I was able to walk and arriving at just the right times.

Pilgrims Credencial – You will need a Pilgrims Passport (“Credencial”), which you can pick up at the Pilgrims Office in SJPDP (some churches may have them) and/or from your locally recognized Confraternity of St. James. I got mine from the American Pilgrims on the Camino (APOC) and a second one from the pilgrims office in SJPDP (just in case I ran out of space). A pilgrim’s passport is needed in order to stay in the municipal and parish Albergues. And it is required in order to receive the Compostela (Certificate) in Santiago. Make sure to get two Stamps on your passport between Sarria and Santiago (the last 100km of the pilgrimage). Although not required by hotels/hostals and private albergues, they will stamp your credencials for you if you ask. And most cafes/bars/restaurants along the way have sellos and will stamp your passports as well. I think it makes a very special souvenir of your journey.

Follow The Yellow Arrows – On the Camino Frances Route the path is clearly marked with Yellow Arrows and Signs directing you to Santiago. When you arrive in Galicia you’ll begin to see these stone markers with the scallop shell and yellow arrows on them and the distance to Santiago. Note that on a couple of occasions, there were yellow arrows pointing in two separate directions. One was correctly pointing to Santiago and the other was pointing to an Albergue. Other than that, I had no problems finding my way and didn’t get lost once. I made sure to read my guidebook the night before for more detailed directions in leaving the bigger cities (where finding the right way was a bit more complicated). And I used GoogleMaps on my phone when trying to find my lodging for the night in the bigger towns and cities.

What I Ate: Most places offered set menus for Pilgrims which typically included three offerings (a salad, entrée, desert and wine). If you wanted a coke, that was extra. Only wine was the included drink. In some albergues, they offer you the option of communal meal in their dining room for a reasonable additional fee. Sadly for me, I found their coffee too strong so I always opted for a glass of Coco Cola with lots of ice (or hot black tea). I chose not to eat a big breakfast or lunch, instead I would snack on either a cupcake, croissant or salad for lunch and then have a late lunch or dinner. In Spain they have a siesta period where they close late afternoon and don’t reopen again until 7:00 or 8:00 pm for dinner. If I manage to arrive early enough I try to eat a late lunch rather than a late dinner. This allows me to go to bed early. I’m not a full time vegetarian (as I do eat seafood and poultry), however, while on the Camino I chose to eat 100% vegetarian because it was just easier. It’s a challenge, but doable. The typical cost for a pilgrim menu was between 7-10 Euros, which is very cheap. Whenever I found a restaurant that served it, I would order pasta, typically spaghetti Con Tomato (also called Spaghetti Napolitan). The most common offered was Spaghetti Bolognese (which had meat), but some places was kind enough to make an effort to prepare one that was tomato-based once I explained to them that I was vegetarian. Plan B is always a nice salad which they always prepared nicely and included some Tuna, egg and other vegetables which made it more hardy to eat. I have to say that along the Camino, a majority of their cafes/bars had freshly squeezed (from this cool machine) orange juice. Always delicious so I ordered them whenever I had the chance.

Getting There: There are several ways to get to St. Jean Pied de Port (SJPDP) and depending on where you are coming from, you can select the most convenient for you. Coming from Los Angeles (LAX), I decided to go with the quickest way with the least amount of plane/train changes to reduce any chances of losing my backpack (which I had to check due to it’s size and my trekking poles). I flew from LAX to Paris (direct flight) where I stayed one night near the train station. Took the train with one stop over and change of trains in Bayonne, then onto SJPDP from there. It worked out very well. I arranged to stay one extra night in SJPDP, to have a rest day and just in case there was any type of delays (plane/train). I loved having the extra day before starting my Camino. The town itself is very charming and picturesque and it was fun exploring it. I strolled through the Rue de la Citadelle and visited the Porte Saint Jacques a 15th century city gated named a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1998. Up the hill from there I walked to the Citadelle, a 17th century French military building. Here there are beautiful views of the small town with its red-tile-roofed houses and story book appeal. The extra day here also gave me time to reexamine my pack so I could use a service to transport excess contents to Santiago de Compostela. The service is called: Express Bourricot and they will transport your bag to Santiago where it will be stored there for as long as your pilgrimage takes. They will also transport your pack on the first two stages of the Camino Frances. I used them to transport my bag to Orisson (where I would be spending the night) and to Roncesvalles.

Guidebook : I used two guidebooks when planning my Camino. I would highly recommend that you learn about the villages, towns and cities along the way. It will help you to develop an itinerary (stops) in places that are most interesting to you. The information can be overwhelming but the effort you put into learning about the regions and towns you’ll be passing through will pay off when you get there.

A Pilgrim’s Guide to the Camino de Santiago-St. Jean – Roncesvalles-Santiago, The Way of St. James – The ancient pilgrim path also known as Camino Francés by John Brierley

A Village To Village Guide To Hiking The Camino de Santiago – Camino Francés: St. Jean – Santiago – Finisterre by Anna Dintaman and David Landis

I preferred the Village to Village Guide to Hiking the Camino de Santiago more and was very pleased when an e-book version came out just prior to leaving for my Camino. I read it each night in preparation for the next day’s stage. The other great thing about the e-book version is you can highlight and write notes on them which makes it easier to refer back to while out walking. Make sure that you review the distances between each town and the elevations for each stage. This will help you to create your itinerary based upon your own capabilities, needs and interests. For example there were stages that were purposely short because I wanted to stop in a particular town versus another town. I had a short day from Azofra to Santo Domingo Calzada because I wanted to visit the Cathedral there. Some towns I was okay with just blowing by as a rest stop only, but then there are some really charming little villages and bigger towns that I read about and I wanted to plan my walk so I could spend more time there by staying the night. I created stages based upon the challenges that I would face. For example, I stayed in Las Herrerias (the closest town) to the start of the climb up to O Cebreiro, so I would be rested for this difficult stage.

Technology/Electronics on the Camino: I know that there are people who scoffs at the idea of bringing technology on the Camino. I, for one, found it invaluable and also necessary. Specifically, I’m referring to my Camera, Cell Phone and iPad Mini. I made sure that all of my electronics could be recharged using a USB cable.
  • Camera – I love photography so I wanted to have a separate device to take photos . My Nikon AW130 had Wi-Fi and GPS functionality which I liked so I could transfer photos to my iPad Mini for updating on Social Media. I brought extra batteries and SD cards.
  • Cell Phone: I bought an unlocked iPhone for my travel from Cellular Abroad, but unfortunately I did not set it up properly before I left so it was useless. I had to purchase an Android phone in Pamplona instead, which I used primarily to call and make room/bed reservations along the way. It was fine, but I had to top it off every now and then and I wasn’t used to the Android Apps except for the Google Maps (which I found to be invaluable in finding my lodging for the day). For my next trip, I’m going to switch over to a new phone plan with T-Mobile just for their International (Unlimited Data plan) as my travels often times involves being in more than one country. And this way I don’t have to hassle with buying a new sim card for each country and topping it off.
  • Multi-USB Plug Adaptor: I bought a multi-plug charger with a built-in European Adaptor. I used this nightly as soon as I arrived at my lodging for the night.
  • External (Emergency Back-up) Battery: I brought an external Battery Charger which I had to use once when my cell phone battery was running low. It’s not really necessary but it doesn’t weigh much and I liked having it in case of an emergency.
  • iPad Mini - One of the reasons I found my iPad mini so invaluable and worth the added weight is the many helpful features it provides. Make sure that you update your iPad Mini and all of your apps before you leave.
  1. Personal Banking – I used my banking / utility apps to pay my bills (About 80% I had on auto payment but used my apps to pay the ones that weren’t. I also used my apps to transfer funds from one account to another and to periodically check on them to make sure there were no problems (I set my accounts on Fraud alert so I received an email whenever an ATM withdrawal is made). Tip: Make sure to contact your banks to let them know of your travel dates while on the Camino.
  2. Guidebook(s)– I have my primary guidebook on my iPad mini and used it to review not only the next day’s stage but any interesting sights to look out for. You can highlight and write notes on it as well. I had a couple of fun reads on there but honestly there was no time to do any other reading besides my guidebook. I would highly recommend the kindle version guidebook, “A Village To Village Guide To Hiking The Camino de Santiago” – Camino Francés: St. Jean – Santiago – Finisterre by Anna Dintaman and David Landi
  3. Entertainment – I had a few movies/music library (Playlists) and Favorite TV shows on here for entertainment. Most of the places I stayed in (except for the higher end hotels) had not TV or radio so it was nice to have something at night to listen to before going to bed and while preparing for my early morning departure. (I had a pair of Jaybird X2 wireless Bluetooth stereo phones so I could move about freely listening to my music with out disturbing my neighbors) . Interestingly, I never listened to my music while walking.
  4. Communications (using Wi-Fi) – I used my iPad mini to call home and for my family to call me. There are a few apps that are wonderful. Skype, Viper and imessenger. I primarily used FaceTime once I connected via Wi-Fi at my lodging. It was pretty good, unless you have a weak wi-fi signal.
  5. Favorite Apps:
  • Google Maps – I think most phones have them, but if you don’t. Get it and make sure you have updated it before you leave. I found this app invaluable in finding my lodging especially in the bigger cities/towns. It also helped to find my must see sights along the way.
  • Wise Pilgrims App (They have several of the Camino Routes such as Camino Frances, Camino Portugese, etc) They have a good list of Hotels and Albergues; Information about each region and the elevation profiles.
  • Booking.Com App – I used this app to book my lodgings. The confirmation is instant and there’s no payment required unless you cancel (after the due date for free cancellation). Most of the lodgings don’t require a deposit and you can make your payment upon arrival.
  • PDF Expert – Edit, annotate and sign PDF Documents by Readdle, Inc. – This was invaluable. I had my Walking Itinerary on my iPad and when I needed to I would edit it to create a revised plan. When I booked my lodging, I added the information to my document. I used this daily.
  • 1Password – A definite must have app. You can safely store your login and passwords for the many places that you need to have a login to access for. And that is practically for everything in life these days. I can’t memorize all of them and this app allows me to store them and keep them secure with a password/touch ID. Just don’t lose your iPhone/iPad mini.
  • Day One Journal App by Bloom Build, Inc. - this is a great app to record your daily journal. You can write, dictate and add photos.
  • Acc Calculator by digital Mind Co., Ltd. – I like how it prints out your numbers (like a printing calculator) so you can see it.
  • Currency Converter HD by Lifelike Apps, Inc - I used this several times to convert the cost from Euro to US Dollars.
  • Converter Touch by HandyPadSoft – I used this quite a bit to convert km to miles.
  • Bowtie Tip Calculator by Carlos Perez (Pipo.us) – This is an app I use at home a lot and it was also helpful while on the Camino to tip appropriately.
  • AudioNote , Note Pad and Voice Recorder by Luminant Software – Great for those quick notes where recording is more convenient than typing. You can also post photos in your note.

Here’s a list of what you should not forget to bring with you on your Camino:
  • Your sense of Adventure
  • Your sense of Humor
  • Flexibility, Openness and willingness to Change
  • Acceptance and Tolerance
  • Patience
  • Appreciation for Mother Nature (trees, earth, all living creatures, rivers/streams, the silence).
  • Respect for the Environment (Please Don’t liter)
  • Respect to the people of Spain whose land we are privileged to walk through (I was annoyed at one pilgrim who took a bunch of grapes from this vineyard. In my opinion, the locals work hard to cultivate their produce and taking something that doesn’t belong to you is stealing in my opinion). I only observed one pilgrim do that. Most pilgrims were respectful.
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