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(Or: A Month in the Life of My Feet)

Walking the Camino ‘04 – A Journal



April 18 - Prologue:


I left Thunder Bay at about 2 pm; due to local thunder storms – first of the year – it was bumpy pulling up through the clouds but we finally broke into sunshine over the Sleeping Giant. We are late – aircraft held up leaving Toronto due to thunder storms, and also for a few minutes in Thunder Bay. Rain started at about 10 am – pouring cats and dogs at 2 pm.


Spent most of the morning on last minute things – invoices to go out (take priority) and then reviewing pack to see if I can get weight down further – appears to be 20lb with one litre of H2O – with a sleeping bag yet to come from Mike. Kind of bare bones – could leave one t-shirt (“Be kind to your kids-they choose your nursing home”) and perhaps saw the roll of duct tape in half (yes! longitudinally) but will go with it as is.


I have a new burgundy pack, perhaps 5 litres too large but it will do – I did not like the yellow color of the 45 litre version and besides this one was on sale at 60% off – obviously I still carry some of my mother’s depression mentality.


I have been working hard on the training part of this venture since New Year’s. Started on the treadmill with half hour sessions and worked up to 1 hour at about a 20% slope – tends to be a hard work and I sweat like a pig. Moved out on the road in March – started at 10K at minus 210 and incrementally went through 14K, 16K, 21K to 26K+; most of the longer distance focused up the Harstone Road to the Stanley and back or across the bridge, down River Road, and back on Hwy 130. Was doing slightly over 5K/hr but that was without pack. Achieved slight stiffness in thighs but it disappeared readily. After one blister on treadmill (sock problem) feet really good….perhaps a good omen? Had my last workout on Thursday - 15k - felt good!


Roadwork brought encounters with one moose, one deer, first geese of the year, first mallards, first turkey vulture eying a dead skunk, one pair of doves, numerous other spring migrants, and a number of dogs, only one of which gave cause for concern – not bad!


Response to this venture from others has been interesting, tinged with incredulity. For the most part the distaff side has been positive and enthusiastic about the trek, with several openly desirous of participating…sometime. On the other hand the guys have been much less enthusiastic about the venture and one detects a covert sense, after they understand what it’s about, of “Why the hell would anyone walk 800km anywhere?” Perhaps the responses reflect the contrast between the female’s sense of romance and the males focus on things utilitarian – a sort of bed-and-breakfast vs. Canadian Tire.  


Believe there have been some unplanned changes to my flight itinerary in respect of seating. We had originally booked Ex Class east and west over “the pond”. Found out today when ticketed that it’s Hospitality all the way. All flights were changed after original booking due to AC rescheduling. Will whine and snivel in Toronto and see if I can’t reverse them (Actually no changes possible – Mike booked economy.).


I’m meeting Mike Barker and John Van Bagel in the new Terminal One in about a half hour. They did the trip together in the fall of 2002 – really old farts at 64 (later this summer) and 69 (in the fall) but Barker at least has long legs. We already have our assigned tasks – Mike is ‘map man’, John is ‘marker man’ (finding the trail) and I’m ‘camera man’. On their previous trip my companions “hotelled it” for most of the way, John having an aversion to hostels. (Speaking of maps, see Appendix 2 for a map of the route in Spain and several possible beginnings in France .) This year Mike wants to do the hostel thing to capture the camaraderie and friendship with the fellow travelers on the road that derives from the hostel stay. Perhaps my real and unstated role is to cast the deciding vote as to where we stay each night, and obviously tick someone off. Stay tuned and see if one of them puts a beating on me before we’re halfway there!



April 18/19 Overnight:


Well it appears I’m safe; John brought a sleeping bag and will give the hostels a go! Wheeeew!


 We were an hour late getting out of Toronto – chute needed repairing. Got some Euros 1E=1.75C. Flight OK – free food and less than adequate red wine, some reading and poor attention to a movie, some snoozing.


Arrived at the Charles De Gaulle airport about 10.30 am ; took a bus to downtown Paris and the Montparnasse train station via the Leon station and the heart of the city. Not particularly spectacular, some interesting sandstone buildings; did go past the famous Paris cemetery which contains the remains of Oscar Wilde, Jim Morrison, etc. Airport signage anglicized and likewise much of the train station. Train announcements in French only and that forced us to keep a close ear to what was going on. Much security and a whole bunch of uniformed 19 year olds with semiautomatic weapons – a bit scary!


The trip from Paris to Bayonne lasted about 4 hours. Country generally much more agriculturally endowed than I expected – mustard (canola?) up and in bloom so must have been sown in the fall; some minor corn; a lot of still fallow fields; a few Jerseys and Holsteins. Further south the country becomes more rolling but maintains its agricultural character. Only wildlife from the train consisted of magpies, one rabbit, crows (?), and an owl. Many commercial pens housing ducks apparently for Petit de Gras – question is what do they do with the rest of the duck? The last third of the trip went through a “forest”, about 1.5MM acres of private land planted back to pine (native?) about 200 years ago by local landowners. It now supports 3 pulp and 2 sawmills. Excellent sandy soil and the pine grow fast. Local companies just now becoming involved in the certification battle and are claiming the environmentalists are being untruthful and exaggerating their positions (Now where have I heard that before??). Most of this information came from a young 30-something who shared our compartment. She works in the communications area for one of the pulp companies and was on her way home from a meeting in Paris .


Bayonne is at the east end of Basque country and it is from this general area that the early Newfoundland fishermen came. We could see the Pyrenees as one came into town. We lined up a taxi for 8 am to drive us to St. Jean Pied de Porte – 75 Euros, essentially, a euro a kilometre. Our route over the mountain is still unsure – do we take the high route through the passes or stick to the lower elevation highways – weather and local advice will help determine.


                        Basque Style Housing in the Foothills of the French Pyrenees


Booked into a Comfort Inn a bit out of town, but next to a McDonalds – such a nice first taste of French culture! Shower was good. Mike and I did a last weight check and we pitched my small roll of duct tape (Mike has some), laundry soap, playing cards and a tube of A535. Tomorrow should be about 25K - Bring on that dang-nab cat! – should be no problem even though we are introducing a 20 lb pack and mountains. But we scoff at hardship!  So stay tuned for tomorrow – Will the pilgrims be able to manage the supreme challenge? Will they get blisters? Can’t wait for the next episode!!



April 20 – Day 1(27k to Roncesvalles – Albergue Ranking: 25/28V):                 


(Albergue rankings provide a Barker-Riley subjective opinion of the quality of the 28 albergues in which we stayed/checked out with 1 being the best and 28 the worst; V=volunteer, M=municipal, C=church, P=private, S=Provincial)


Today we walked some 27km over the Pyrenees; elevation ranged from a low of 181m at St Jean to 1430m+/- at the pass (Col de Lepoeder; the other pass - Col de Bentarte - is closer to 1345m) at the top of the trail. Much of the trail was narrow paved mountain roads, apparently hard surfaced to avoid erosion. Not really much traffic. We set out at 9.30 am after getting a ‘passport’ (5E) which is the document you need to get you into the Albergue. It is also set up for stamps and it is reviewed in Santiago before they give you a certificate. We also bought some bread and cheese and fruit for lunch from a small grocery store.


We decided on the Napoleon route over the top. Yesterday it had snowed quite heavily up there – something in the order of 8 inches – and a number of pilgrims were forced to turn back and return to St. Jean . The route is dangerous in bad weather and in 2000 they lost two individuals to the elements on the top. The Camino office indicated the forecast is for good weather today. They have been sending off about 60 pilgrims a day now, which is average for this time of year even tho this is a Holy Year and the traffic is anticipated to increase substantially to an estimated 5x the normal. The volunteer (Brit) passport manager suggested a number of new private albergues had been set up in anticipation thereof. 


St. Jean was a wonderful little stone town with narrow streets. The quality of a couple stores suggested that it is likely something of a very small Banff-style tourist trap for hikers. Going up the hill the scenery is magnificent. The white stuccoed, red roofed and shuttered, Basque houses are scattered across the hillsides on the edges of the tree lined fields.


                             The Main Street – St Jean Pied de Porte


The day saw some showers in the morning, then some sun, and a whole bunch of cloud. Much of the trek was above the tree line, though the trees were gone a long time ago on the French side; some interesting hardwood in some of the valleys. Lots of sheep and we walked thru one flock apparently without a shepherd. A herd of some 20+ horses appeared to occupy the higher elevation grasslands; a number of local springs appeared to be fenced off to keep the animals out. We later heard that the horses were destined for the meat market in Paris. Saw a number of vultures and one falcon. We noted the presence of a number of mounds of fresh earth apparently pushed up by some kind of ground squirrel – never did see the beastie.


The leaves were out in St. Jean , including lilacs and forsythia, and apple and cherry blossoms. At higher elevations no leaves but a few ground hugging flowers were blooming. There was winter snow still lying in drifts in the higher pass. We took the ill-advised steep trail straight down off the top through a beech forest that began as somewhat stunted trees just a few hundred feet below the top. The route was steep and slippery at first but gorgeous with 200+/- year old beech and no underbrush. At the bottom on the Spanish side the leaves were breaking and some trees were in flower. Also saw some violets, a yellow anemone, and a number of unknown others.


That downhill trek was hard, in fact very hard, on the upper thighs!


We overtook a pair of Brazilian ladies – Dalallia and Giovanna - just out of St. Jean and they stayed with us for an hour before we outdistanced them. We came upon a young Swiss couple at about 2 pm just finishing lunch by a spring. I asked them about a couple flowers we had seen but they did not know. We traded the walking lead several times and left them near the top where he took the longer route down as the girl did not look to be too happy with the whole affair. We later ran into a young girl from Maine – a young 20-something Jennifer – and Garth, a 30ish guy from S. Africa who has spent the past 10 years in England. The girl, whose hat we had found and returned, had turned back twice the previous day due to snow, latterly getting a ride back down with a French family and the driver made all his passengers get out as he progressed down any relatively dangerous switchbacks in the snow. The guy had bad knees – they got in about a half hour after us.


Arrived at Roncesvalles at about 5 pm – probably took an hour and a half on the downside. The community consists of a monastery, a large albergue – effectively a modernized 13 century building which was apparently an old pilgrim hostel (hospital) – and a couple other small hotels/restaurants/bars. We had a beer in one of the bars and ate dinner (soup/trout/fries/bread/wine for 7E) in the other with a full house – had to make reservations. The doors of the albergue were locked at 10pm. It held (till 6 am) more than 120 persons that night, only half of whom probably came over the mountains. The remainder used the location as a starting point for the trip as did John and Mike in 2002. The 120 were all housed in three rows of double bunks in one room – two men’s showers and toilets downstairs, assume same # for women although there were only about 25% women in the facility. Washed clothes but they did not dry well and took them in for the night. The albergue was run by a bunch of volunteers from Holland on a three week stint.


Mike and John went to Mass, and while I washed clothes I talked to a young Yank – he just walked through France from Tours and will walk two more days to Pamplona and then turn back. I then had a beer while finishing up the wait for the guys.


I did not sleep well – perhaps too pumped up after the climb. Made a couple trips to the bathroom and finally fell off in a fitful sleep somewhere around 2 pm amid the music of a 100 snores and the odd fart. Just before turning in I met a guy from Guelph, about 2 sheets to the wind, who had hooked up with our Swiss acquaintances from the afternoon.


The population in the albergue ranged from early mid 20’s to early 70’s; probably 30% retirees, 25% women. All nationalities were represented - singles, doubles, and multi-party to a group of 5 late 60/early 70 Italians.  The location, by the way, was the site of a Basque ambush of Charlemagne on his retreat from Spain in 778; his chief Lieutenant Roland was killed in the action. The Basques had apparently once been allies and turned cheek as his retreat left them vulnerable to the Moors, and at the same time left a gap in their war-supported economy.



            Walking Through the Beech Woods – Spanish Side of the Pyrenees


The lights came on at 6 am; Mike had already awakened me and suggested an early trip to the loo would be advisable to avoid the crowd – a wise move and one we practiced throughout the trek, generally with Mike going first, then John, with me pulling up the rear just about time for lights on (for which we were often responsible to the dismay of some). Daylight at 7 am saw us off down the trail.  



April 21 – Day 2 (22k to Zubiri– Albergue Ranking: 28/28M):


Blue skies with no clouds, probably reached the high teens – in shorts.


No source of local breakfast at 7 am so we trekked 2 km down the road to a little café already half filled with pilgrims getting coffee; bought three cups – strong – and three cheese sandwiches for lunch; fixed packs, Mike put on a blister skin (yes, already!) and away we went. Trail winds through a number of small villages – white stuccoed houses (plus some barns and apartments), red tiled roofs, generally red shuttered windows with the occasional green variety thrown in for good measure – typical Basque with always a rooster crowing. Many calling birds but only recognized the blackbird call; many flowers in woodland including anemones and violets - vultures the only natural wildlife except for sheep!


The trail started as crushed rock, went to cemented sandstone (some cost!) to forest soil, to much mud, slippery and dirty. Most of final downhill (+/- three km) over mixed outcrop (limestone and shale) and mud – needed to stay alert to stay on one’s feet. Six bikers on trail today – Spaniards, late 20s/early 30s with mountain bikes – ran the whole outcrop section – scary! Mud showed two horses ahead of us, probably having passed by yesterday – Mike says you can take a horse all the way and there are tours specifically arranged therefore.


We came across a memorial to a 64 year old Japanese guy who died on the trail in 2002. Also passed a couple busloads of Spanish seniors going against the trend (i.e., going east); mainly men but a few women, most in running shoes so muddy wet feet were the order of the day.


                  Memorial to a Japanese Pilgrim Who Died on the Trail - 2002


The nature of the forest changed during the day from earlier hardwood to later conifer, a yellow barked variety reminiscent of Scotch pine. It turned out that this was one of two days we spent predominantly in woodlands.


We reached Zubiri (526m) at 1 am after 6 hours on the trail. After a look at the local albergue we got a couple rooms on the top floor of a 5 story walk-up – 15E each; bathroom, with shower, down the hall and kitchen for washing clothes. We initially appeared to be the only residents but by 8 pm the other two rooms were occupied.


The routine for that day, generally followed for the rest of the trip, was to get cleaned up, wash clothes, and go out for a beer. A number of other pilgrims arrived at the same bar for dinner at about 2 pm . We then returned for a short nap, Mike went across the street to buy some grub for tomorrow, and John and I watched the action on the street, considerable going and coming of pilgrims, including the young American Jennifer from the day before, and our first encounter with the Majorcan Dane, Jean – his feet were bad and he was showing it. The girl he was with, attractive early 30s redhead, seemed on the contrary to be OK.


After Mike stowed next day’s lunch we walked down the street to a truck stop for dinner (open till 9 pm) and ate in the dining room from a five language menu (the center is sited at junction of the highway going to France). Ran into a young couple – she quite a striking blond – from Los Angles that we’d seen the previous night and they too were sore from day’s initiative. Never saw the couple again.


After dinner we walked down to the Roman-constructed bridge over the River Arga – featured in Hemmingway’s The Sun Also Rises – and watched a local fly fish for salmon and then hit the sack. The proposal was to be up at 6 and off at 7, breakfast to be in Mikey’s room. It had clouded over by 9 pm by which time it was also dark. Tomorrow will bring Pamplona where the bulls are run through the streets in July!



April 22– Day 3 (21k to Pamplona– Albergue Ranking: 9/28C):


Daylight here at 6 am after church chimes next door every half hour from 5 am – something like a snooze alarm. We had breakfast at Barker’s ‘restaurant’. There had been thunder at about 10pm and there was still a bit of a light rain at 7 am when we left; the rain continued until about 4.30 in the afternoon.


The trail today was literally along the Arga (sometimes spelled Irga) River for most of the morning. The water was higher than normal and muddy from the overnight runoff. Generally the trail was steadily downhill with the odd local uphill. Because of the rain there was no appropriate place to stop – in spite of the fact that the guys pointed out quite spiritedly where they had stopped for a break last trip (did same yesterday – John  pointed out the actual log they sat on – his memory is good!) – until we reached a suburb of Pamplona – the hometown of Miguel Indurian, the several time winner of the Tour de France – and found a bar for a coffee at about 11 am . We had by that time passed the largest sawmill of the trip and hills that were being cut (conifer plantations) and in various states of regeneration. Heard our first cuckoo today – ‘he’ appeared to follow us until we hit the plains further east.


We reached the walled city of Pamplona and were through the “French Gate” by 12 pm and then waited an hour for the albergue to open – in this case a convent, run by volunteers on behalf of the Nuns.


                        Entering Pamplona in the Rain via the French Gate


It was quite a large building of three floors with beautiful hardwood floor on first. There were probably 20 rooms with four to a room – just the three of us in ours – have our own sink but common baths down the hall. There were few people on the top floor. Not much hot water and cold showers are the norm – showers co-ed but OK.


Nan, our new 23ish American recruit has a foot problem – blisters – and Mike convinced her to thread the blisters – brave little thing follows instructions! She is the daughter of a NY symphony musician couple and home is a building facing Central Park !! Goes to a “geek” school but took the year off to try and find herself; spent one year in Maine . Good kid and she walked with us for a couple days.


We went out to dinner with Nan, Marie Jose, a late 30-something school teacher from Quebec who was walking more or less with Nan, and Gerta – a petite, grey haired 63 year old Danish grandmother who was biking the trail (never saw her again). We had considerable difficulty with the young waitress who turned us over to her boss, who likewise had language difficulties. Finally we were rescued by fellow pilgrim Juan, (nice guy) from Barcelona , who translated for us. We found out later that his wife is a Brit, but he appears to be using the walk to weigh the future of the marriage.


After dinner I located and checked out the I-net café, and then we went to visit the Cathedral and do a bit of a tour – quite a little museum but too much overall opulence for my Protestant tastes and I went back to the café and sent one to Sonja, and then one to the ‘Group’. Subsequently I had a brewski with Mike/John and then back to the Convent, by 8 pm, to pack and get ready for tomorrow. I then wrote this note, and did the initial edit on the photos. Expect tomorrow to see the sun at about 6.30 am and to do about 25k to Puente la Reina. I will also try and phone home – remember the six hour difference.   



April 23– Day 4 (25k to Puente la Reina– Albergue Ranking: 1/28P):


In leaving Pamplona for Puente la Reina we walked past the University of Navarre on the west side of the city. It took us 45 minutes to get out of the city and then we traversed on paved sidewalks for half an hour. Then the work began – muddy farmer’s tractor trails across winter wheat fields, all up hill, to crest the major ridge west of Pamplona – Mount Sierra del Perdon – which tops out at 750m. There was a series of pilgrim sculptures at the crest mounted by the electrical company operating a huge adjacent windmill farm. The mud covered the trail for 90% of the way up and covered the boots and added weight – a short legged English lady indicated that for her the climb was worse than the Pyrenees . At the top of the ridge the trail went under, and within 50 meters of the base of, one of the modern windmills that was part of a farm numbering some 60, but probably more were obscured by fog. We passed the Italian guys twice, and I caught one guy in a picture about halfway up and he ensured I was aware that he was 72 years of age. He had done another major hike at 68 (John’s age) and scoffed that he was some 9 years older than Mike!


We reached the top of the ridge about 11.30 am with a major wind condition from the Northwest but not all mills working and it appeared that the top of the ridge marked the edge of the weather system as the trail on the other side was partly dried out and we broke into partial sun! Our mystic horse friends were still ahead but we could not tell if its one day or more. The downhill on the other side was warmer, and steep but relatively short, although long enough to let my “canoe-knees” act up. The ridge turned out to be formed of a cobble conglomerate which, although somewhat friable, was available in outcrop! Wow! The downhill trail was covered in released cobbles. There were several other banks of windmills visible – probably 50 units with others likely. The wind was on our backs on the down slope (from the east). The plain below the ridge showed us many peach trees, other fruit trees, and vineyards – a prime wine area of Spain where the Rioja variety is sourced.


We had a café Americano grande in a well appointed restaurant in a small village along with a piece of apple pie or flan (they had used red apple sections). We passed a 50+ stout lady walking the roads, limping slightly and not friendly. Saw the red-headed Castilian and the Majorcan guy with the feet who had been with the guy from Guelph in Roncesvalles . He still appeared to be hurting – with blistered or bruised soles – and certainly not happy.


 Entering Rioja Wine Country


We arrived at Hotel Jakue in Puente (bridge) de Reina where guys stayed 2 years ago. Upscale! Basement albergue has tile floors, sectioned double bunks with drop slat curtains and separate showers for both sexes, a lounge/breakfast room, and a coin operated clothes washer/drier. We took the B & B for 10E each and let the washer/drier at 9E go. Could well be the best accommodation we’ll see.


Changed, showered, washed clothes, cleaned boots and walked downtown for beer in hotel bar. Town pretty well closed down due to siesta time in mid afternoon. Tried twice to call home with my Tbaytel credit card but no luck – finally used Mike’s and got through. Talked to Sonja – excellent! Had dinner and went back for nap (not me-writing!) with intent of going back into town (probably a kilometre) later for a drink. Town was clean, relatively modern, and basically a one-streeter, as are most. Have or are about to have moved from province of Navarre to Rioja. This is the village where the more southerly trail from France , through Jaca, meets the more northerly trail from St. Jean and Roncesvalles .


Saw Nan at the local albergue – 4E, there is a tendency toward cheapness by the pilgrims generally, Mike says some of it is them trying to represent the lack of wealth of the real pilgrims over the centuries. It has co-ed showers and does not provide breakfast although it does have Internet. Her feet were generally OK but she was babying them, and concerned about the co-ed showers. Three Spaniards were also eating in the restaurant, a couple of whom we interacted with yesterday, but communication so difficult we both tend to stick to ourselves. We had pila, chicken, ice cream, and wine for 9E each


Saw a 50ish lady walking today in a grey ankle-length skirt – classy. Her husband was at the albergue so they must be staying there. Two other ladies and a separate couple were looking at our digs when we got back; the couple stayed but ladies moved on. The couple is from New Zealand , friends, he – Peter – a corporate lawyer and she – Natasha – a magazine editor both early 40’s. He, sensitive and a nice guy, intended to walk only a couple more days and then would be exiting to attend a wedding of a friend in Italy and attend to some legal business on the continent – raises horses. She tends to be quite loud and extroverted. We saw them again the next evening, but only heard of her from others after that.


The three of us appear to be doing well together. We tend to have about the same pace – quick – except for the hills where John needs to take an extra breather or two, but he’s getting better. John has also taken on the role of Chancellor of the Exchequer for our party – we feed him euros and he pays the bills. Mike does tend to watch the map and leads in any Spanish communication. I sometime set pace but defer to them as appropriate.


An excerpt from “The Green Planet Guide to Hiking in Spain ”:


The Camino de Santiago has an exceptional infrastructure of accommodation, readily accessible services, and trail marking making the journey feasible for walkers of all ages and backgrounds. In fact, people from around the world now walk the route. For a great philosophical challenge, an emersion in a stirring array of landscapes, a unique perspective on rural and urban Spain, a chance to meet intriguing companions, as well as the opportunity to participate in a 1000 year old tradition through a continuous outdoor museum, this is your walk.


The guide also points out that the scallop shell is a symbol of resurrection. Saint James (Santiago) is said to have rescued the sailors of the ship who were bringing his headless body back to Spain to be buried after being martyred in Jerusalem in 44 AD. If you do not like that rationale others say the shell icon derives from a Venus fertility cult where it represents spiritual rebirth. The trail tends to attract more traffic on Holy Years when Santiago ’s feast day (July 25) falls on a Sunday. This occurs in a pattern of 6 years, 5 years, 5 years, 6 years, and 11 years. The last Holy Year of the 20th century was in 1999 so the next two are scheduled in 2004 (this year) and 2009.



April 24 - Day 5 (22k to Estella– Albergue Ranking: 11/28V):


We left for Estella at a typical early hour and just out of town had to deal with highway construction – big bucks being spent both on roads and new housing construction – the European Union has been good for Spain! Thank heaven it was dry or we would have been in mud up to our knees. It will be interesting to see how the trail is incorporated in this new section of highway but you can be sure it will be.


Through several small villages – always a central old stone church; many flowers and fruit trees and barking dogs behind the walls have a tendency to startle. (It might be noted here we never ran into a difficult dog on the loose – but I would never mess with some obvious guard dogs behind fences or tied in ‘junkyards’!) We walk at a moderately fast pace as we have to keep ahead of the “old” Italians and we pass a goodly number of pilgrims but are again passed as we stop for coffee. The suggested two hour boots-off breaks were discarded the first day. John made contact with the lady in the skirt, Nellie – Dutch – and her husband is Jerry (Jerold).


Most significant section of the trail today was a section of Roman road with hand laid, semi-rectangular stones – one layer of stones in the centre of the road was laid parallel to its direction with several rows abutting this central layer laid perpendicular to its direction; probably 2 meters wide. It’s amazing that it is still in place after 2000 years. The new highway parallels the trail in this location.


                                John on the Old Roman Road


We noted commercial pea fields yesterday with the new plants only a few inches high and no blossoms. Today we also passed commercial white asparagus (a local specialty) created by keeping the emerging stocks under black plastic so the chlorophyll cannot form. Every backyard has some form of garden – all or part – and every balcony has potted plants. Over-wintered geraniums and pansies appear to be the most popular now. We ran across a couple instances of Sonja’s ‘bluebell’ in the wild, at home it’s an alien! The wayside contains many irises, red poppies, and a blue bell not unlike our fall tall-standing version but only a foot or so high in this instance.  Much yellow mustard along the roadside and much yellow gorse (bush) in the wild places. We also saw some small wild grape hyacinths and strawberries coming down the hill. The nearby river is high and muddy from the recent rains, and there even appears to be some algae already.


There appears to be a bunch of Spanish tourists (cameras and just looking around) in town (Estella) – probably because it’s Saturday.


Foot problems are starting to take control of the walkers: i) The Colorado woman yesterday was taking the bus because her legs had given out; ii) Mike has one good blister on the inside of his left heel but he has had it since day 2 and will struggle through; iii) We saw Nan again today and a couple of those blisters she tried to treat in Pamplona have grown, and in fact she has spawned a new one; iv) Marie Jose had to drain the pus out from under one toenail to relieve the pressure; v) The East German Anna has a tensor bandage on one knee; vi) we saw one guy getting doctored on the road today with advice from about five companions; vii) the Majorcan just limped into the bar and when asked how his feet were responded “Shitty”! He’s looking worse tonight than he did two nights ago; balls of both feet are raw but he intends to power through, believes if he can make the first 10 days he’ll be OK. He’ll see a doctor tonight and maybe take tomorrow off.


Believe that today may have been a ‘down day’ for those of us who started Tuesday; quite a number have said “worse day yet” and Tuesday used to be the worst day of a week-long Saturday-starting skiing trip. We are collectively OK but it is certainly good to get through the day early and relax through the afternoon. The 40km days remain worrisome though I believe we should get stronger from here on. The training has paid off!


There seems to be a desire of some individuals to talk/communicate – the German in the shower room, Enrique (Henry) the Spaniard that we’ve seen every day, and the Austrian we met on the trail today. Unfortunately, none of us have the language skills to carry the conversation. To date I’d estimate that some 25% have some fluency in English. Many Germans/French/Americans/Canadian appear to be unilingual though I would have expected more than I’ve seen to this point.     


Today we passed two Canadian women from Calgary . One, Jane, 50+, short, 30+/- lb overweight, appeared to be having difficulty walking, looked like a systemic hip problem, and so our Jonnie asked her – in English – after we passed if everything was OK.  That resulted in an ‘OK’ response and a remark about the flag on Mike’s pack. At first we postulated that they may have been mother out with daughter but after watching them in the Albergue it was obvious they were not related. The other lady, Joanne, 50ish, tended to be more fit in a natural way. Both pleasant and engaging; I suspect the little lady’s positive and determined attitude will help her through the next four weeks. They remarked that they had in the past couple days run into a female former “Professor” from Lakehead U but had forgotten her name.


Estella is about 13,000 in population, a really well-appointed square in front of about three churches containing many restaurants. We had a snack of pickled octopus, a local delicacy at a bar at the edge of the square – resembled squid. Our conservative John actually tried it, an activity he has become much more involved in this trip than last….trying new things! I like these small bars – quite a local quality to them. I have been sitting here writing for some time while waiting for the guys to come back from Mass and no problem. I just used the Internet for 45 minutes for 1.5E – a steal!  There have been a number of peregrinos in here over the last two hours – being close to the albergue and cheap helps. Unfortunately some of the Spaniards did not like the German/Belgian beer and left. They sell local wines (80% red) and one local brandy from the bar; I also can see pickled artichoke hearts, white asparagus, something that looks like beets, chocolates (some in shell format), some form of grain in a bag, cheese, and local sausages in their deli. Many locals appear to come to the door and peer in but do not enter. The Dutch couple and friend arrived and discussed the menu and whether they’ll stay. Management is re-doing the menu as I write and there was a major discussion about it with the Dutch couple. One other couple across street with camera spent 10 minutes examining the relief over door of a 1924 building. The Dutch couple sat down with the Majorcan with the bad feet. I thought at the time that maybe he was Dutch. The young kids in the bar obviously belong to the owners.


I made a trip to the bathroom and on the way out the Dutch lady with the skirt beckoned me over to tell me that my fly was down. Embarrassing, but thanks to her!


I claimed a corner of a bench in the sun by the river at about 6.30 pm . There was a police ‘person’ on a red scooter at the light waiting with lights and sirens blazing. I at first thought she was after someone who had not stopped as she tore up the street after the light change, but she was quickly followed by two groups of bicyclers (30+/-) with police escorts and a retinue (12+/-) of support cars right behind. There appeared to be three heats given the separation, or perhaps simply three packs with a few stragglers bring up the rear. Racing is a big thing here and we have seen evidence in every town and village in which we have overnighted. Several locals often pass us during the day in training mode. The last race stragglers passed at 6.41 pm . There are mallards in the river. Another bunch of bikes passed at 6.46 pm with an ambulance and a “fin” car bringing up the rear.


There are a lot of people/families in the street for paseo, a Spanish (and perhaps other Mediterranean countries) ritual whereby the locals, including whole families, spend the time between 5 pm and 9 pm walking around the community and most apparent to me on Fridays and Saturdays in the larger communities. At 7 pm we were back at the square – Plaza del Mercaido Vaeja – where we had lunch. The restaurants had about the same patronage but the benches in the square were now full with all types including kids. Some honey brown male pigeons working the sidewalk; 18-month olds having a ball trying to catch them. Teenage girls have midriffs showing, similar clothes to the kids in Thunder Bay and generally associated with roller blades, bikes, or non mechanized scooters. Our NZ friends arrived in the square – Natasha the editor and Peter the lawyer – they suggested February would be better than January for our proposed trip ‘down under’. We have only seen a few blacks to date; have seen 4 or 5 obvious South or Central Americans, two as gardeners.


April 25 - Day 6 (20.5k to Los Arcos– Albergue Ranking: 20/28P):


We are off to Los Arcos! The day broke clear with a rooster crowing outside in the courtyard by 6 am, same guy that had sung us to sleep the previous evening at 10 pm. Mike suggested it may have something to do with albergue lights off or on. Best sleep to date – no trips to the bathroom. I woke probably at 5 am with others moving about. John was up at 5.30 to catch the bathroom before the crowd; I wandered in at 5.50, splashed water on my face, did my teeth, got packed and went down for breakfast. The albergue was manned by volunteers and was a little slow. They had things ready by 6.30 but no hot water for coffee/chocolate/tea. Breakfast, which we had paid for the night before, consisted of “biscuits” and pre-packaged dried bread, the hot drinks, and marmalade. We paid too much (probably 3E) – they must make a $ off the breakfast! I got my coffee from a machine as it was faster. The idea is to finish quickly and move away from the table so others can take your place. After a few pleasantries we were outside by 7 am where it was just becoming light with a few already off down the street. Nan and Vickie decided they would try and keep up with us today and we are off. I commenced without pant legs and vest as I expected it would be warm as soon as the sun rose.




                        Nan , Mike, & Victor Where Wine Flows Like Water



We spent the first 45 minutes walking out of the valley via one small village. We arrived at Bodega Irache, a commercial winery literally adjacent to the trail, by about 8.30. It was founded and originally run by monks. It has a set of taps attached to the building in a little alcove courtyard – with a mounted web cam (it is on the Net!) – which dispense water and red wine for the pilgrims. Unfortunately the wine tap only operates from about 9 am to 5 pm so we were out of luck. We did manage to squeeze out a few dribbles just to convince ourselves that the thing was real. A short distance on we came to a juncture where the trail splits with the north branch going down in the valley and through a number of villages, and the south branch up on the southern ridge and through much forest land. We elected the southern route to allow us to walk in the cool shade of the trees. Good choice! At one point we passed what looked to be a substantially constructed shooting stand (empty shotgun cartridges below) which put its observers just above the tree line. The view was quite spectacular in the yellow hazy light of morning with rounded peaks off to the east from whence we had come, and the broad valley bordered on the north by a limestone-capped mesa gleaming white in the morning sun.


At about 9.30 am we reached a small village with a bar – new – and open. We were the first customers of the day and had coffee and a piece of potato and cheese omelet – really good! From the village the trail went down into the valley and across to meet up with the other section. Numerous peregrinos have caught us as the north route is the shorter of the two; we estimated we had lost 30 minutes. The rest of the day appeared as if it will be spent on a gravel road which winds westward off in the distance through the valley. Not a cloud in the sky, a comfortable breeze and perhaps 680 F – ideal for walking.


We met Marie Jose at about 11.30 am sitting at on the ground at a marker having a snack- yogurt if I remember correctly. She looked washed out – the blister under her nail still bothering her and had had diarrhea and had been sick at about 9 the previous evening. My best guess would be that she had had sunstroke from the previous day. Today she was wearing a newly purchased hat and she should recover as long as she does not push too hard. I was surprised to see her this far along this early but she left just behind us to take advantage of the early morning coolness as opposed to getting out late like she had yesterday and suffering through the mid-day heat. She’s learning! She joined the girls whom she knew from previous encounters.


We next met our Swiss couple of Day 1 again, they also having a rest and a bite along the trail by a culvert. Richard has sufficient command of English to foster reasonable communication, Fabianna working on it. Richard was a gardener, and then took a two year stint in the Swiss army, which he did not like. He comes across as being tough as nails physically but with a broad sensitive streak. They slept under the stars last night and will continue to do so as long as the weather allows. He walked (climbed is more descriptive) a couple kilometres up to an abandoned monastery on a peak on the north side of the valley the previous evening to explore the ruin. Once there at sundown he rang the old bell twice – once for he and Fabianna, and once for world peace – how’s that for romantic sensitivity!! He has taken to Mike. You’ll remember he had bad feet in Pamplona; well he worked himself through it. Fabianna, slim and probably 5’9” and blond, still does not look like this walking is her thing, and is now sore in the hips and lower thighs. She has a remarkable tattoo on her left ankle – says she has had it for about 10 years (I suspect she is early 30’s) and that it took 7 hours and much pain to apply! This couple walks fast.


We passed a number of mounds off to the south, probably 150 feet high and perhaps up to a half kilometre long, all in a row; some are treed, some cleared, or partially cleared. They parallel the southern side of the valley but are separated from the south ridge by perhaps a half kilometre. There was some speculation that the may have been man-made; however, that really did not make sense. As we went around the edge of the last one I could see layers of white stone in mud; the white stone turning out to be gypsum, selenite of all things! I’d suggest that what we have is a poorly consolidated, friable interlayered gypsum/mud stone unit which has been differentially but naturally eroded to produce the mounds. I could see the formation better in cross section as we cut through the pine plantation at the foot of the ridge. The pine, resembling red pine, has been thinned once.


We had a quick lunch at the end of the mounds in a grassy picnic area. Our destination was only about a half hour onward. Considerable singing along the way as we strove to amuse ourselves! Mike was into some of his folk songs but Nan asked him to sing something happy – he couldn’t think of a happy song under pressure.


A few kilometres out of Los Arcos we passed a monument to a Canadian girl who died on the trail in 2002.


I’ve seen a few Yuccas and palms in the last three days – appear to have been planted. We passed a couple large variegated yuccas which appeared to be wild. Every balcony has flowers – pansies if they want current blooms, geraniums if looking to the future. Most geraniums appear wintered over and cut back. We passed one new wild white flower of lupine construction but with iris leaves; saw typical asters, mustard, violets, gorse, tiny ground hugging alpine daisies with a red tinge, and a few of Sonja’s bluebells on the hillsides, in the ditch, and on the shoulders. The area is heavily farmed; many vineyards but nothing out; much asparagus, still plastic covered; saw one field of shrubby bushes in rows which we couldn’t figure out – a closer look and it proved to be commercial sage! – obviously mechanically harvested. Lots of grain about a foot high in the fields but I can’t tell if wheat, oats, or barley. It appears to have been planted the previous fall so likely winter wheat.


Looking outside the albergue into the courtyard at the people washing clothes – i) one 65 year old Spaniard sitting in the shade watching his clothes dry, ii) one 35 year old guy, don’t know nationality, iii) one 25 year old Spanish girl, iv) one 45 year old Dutch lady, v) two 60-something ladies part of a traveling foursome. The two Calgarians are staying here; the more fit of the two – Joanne – arrived first and secured the beds; the other lady arrived later and was napping when we got back – maybe she won’t make it! A steady stream out to wash clothes, mainly middle aged with a lot of 40 to 70 year olds.


The guy looking after this albergue obviously a Latino! His male friend has been here all afternoon sitting in the vestibule – he has a dark complexion and wears a pony tail. Not particularly good for business – somewhat sleazy-looking! The girls who walked with us took one look and set out to find the other albergue on the far side of town. The guy apparently in charge may not really be as he appears to have a thing going with the local 18 year old who does appear to be in charge (and was getting breakfast ready the next morning); she was behind the desk in his lap for most of the early evening. So much for these new private sector albergues! The building is two floors and multi-roomed - 36 to 40 beds in 4 sections of about 12 beds each if our section is representative - and quite OK, with a large rec room, some painted stonework, old log rafters, and an enclosed courtyard. Clothes’ washing is done outside in the courtyard. Set this place up with appropriate staff and it would be quite OK.


We saw the two East German girls up town – it looks like Anna the redhead now has both knees in tensor bandages and she indicated they would be driving it tomorrow; we did not ask if it would be home, to medical attention, or to the next town. 


We had lunch/dinner in a restaurant where John and Mike ate on the last trip. It was well done – 15E apiece so somewhat expensive but its Sunday and there is no menu del diao today so it’s a la carte. Mike is doing quite well in ordering. A Dutch girl – Clarissa – who had started walking in France (single mother of 11 and 10 year old boys) joined us. She teaches 18 year olds who are between high school and university. She appears to have quite a spiritual bent – says she sat in a church somewhere on the trek until it started to come alive. Mike most impressed. She’d drive me to drink, but then to each his own! She spent last evening talking to a young German dressed in a cassock and who says he had started walking near Hamburg in February. (After lengthy and serious consideration over a number of days we collectively reached the opinion that he probably had stretched the story – he simply did not look as tho he had been on the road for that length of time. We never saw him again! What a way to pick up girls!)


The town of Los Arcos is so typical – 3000+/- built around the Catholic Church. It was very active just after 12 pm Mass with much visiting and then to the pub (or home for grandmothers). Mike and John will go to 7 pm Mass and I’ll meet them later. There is more brick than stucco this far west. The shutters on houses are still in place but they don’t stand out the way they did in Basque country (or am I getting used to them?). All small town churches constructed of blocky stone (kind?) and about two stories, bell-free, and likely several hundred years old at least. All appear to be still in use.


I have not figured out their water systems – no apparent towers but good pressure. It could be that their storage facilities simply look like another building. 



April 26 - Day 7 (28k to Logrono– Albergue Ranking: 10/28V):


Set out for Logrono today, our second city located on the SW side of the Ebro River. John keeps counting down the days over each afternoon beer with “7 down and 22 to go!”


The Logrono albergue is very nice – two floors with bunks and probably 140 in total, relatively new, showers not co-ed, and outside washing facilities.


We got away today at 6.45 am just at daybreak; really cool but not a cloud in the sky. We were close to the first out of our digs but we couldn’t get the door open…”Pull” the girl said in Spanish – it worked! We stopped for coffee in Torres del Rio and were apparently first in. The Spaniard “Victor” (met on day three) passed us while we were having coffee as he was already in when we reached the albergue in Logrono. We passed a young German guy with sore feet – first saw him the day previous – whose name is Ole and who sticks to the road as it is easier walking. He is slow but steady and we passed him a couple times. We also passed a 60 something Yves who spends his fall/winter teaching in Levi, Quebec and his spring/summers in France. He is a Belgian and had experience fighting in the Congo before the Belgians pulled out. He communicated in Belgian/Dutch with John and in French/English with Mike and I. Ole was the next one to arrive so he must simply just bear down and ‘give ‘er’! He is a marathoner so is not very pleased with the state of his feet. We arrived at about 1 pm and had to wait an hour for the albergue to open – bought a couple cans of beer from the store across the street to pass the time. We also passed a single little middle-aged German lady with reasonable English who was plodding along. She had been on the road two more days than us but said that the mountains nearly did her in.


Today we crossed the Barranca Mataburros or “Donkey Killing Ditch” – a relatively deep ravine (perhaps 225 feet) with steep sides where earlier pilgrims would be ambushed by bandits, and their donkeys killed to slow them down. The sides of the ditch appeared to be generally soil or at least highly friable rock. The bottom of the ditch is today used for small food/recreation gardens by the locals. We later had our lunch in the square in a little town called Viana across from the fountain. No one paid any notice to us. A local guy selling tickets (probably like 6/49) on the street – this appeared to be a widespread practice in eastern Spain .


        Descending into the “Donkey-Killing Ditch”


Slugs are big in eastern Spain, as are snails. They happen to love a variegated, large leaved thistle which grows wild in wild places in eastern Spain . Interestingly neither the snails nor the thistle were noted on the west side of the Spanish plain.


One tall (at least 6 feet) German girl, 30ish, and one 55-60 year old Aussi already in albergue – had been allowed to spend another day as they both needed medical attention because of foot/knee problems. The Aussi was really pleased with how the local hospital took care of them – no charge either. They had to go back later to get a Doctor’s certificate to win the opportunity to stay the second night in the albergue.


Jean the Majorcan was at the albergue soaking his feet when we got back at 4.15 pm . He’s close to six feet and obviously having a hard time. He plans to go to the hospital tonight. Can’t tell from my notes as to whether the redhead was still with him or not.


The East German Anna took the bus today and arrived with flowers in her hat – appears she spent the day in the sun in a park on the east side of town – at about 1.50pm. Her knee is still swollen. Sister Connie the nurse arrived at about 2.20 pm – good time. Vicky arrived at same time so they may have walked together. Vicky confessed that they had not been comfortable with the guys at the registration desk of our albergue the previous day and, as Mike had suspected, moved on to the next one.


We had a peregrino lunch for 9E and John was back in jolly spirits with the lower prices. Red wine came with it but neither the beer nor coffee and the total bill was 37E. John and Mike quite pleased because the cost of accommodation is way down this year due to our hostelling it! Fran had told Mike that John would be able to make the switch because it was cheap and so was he!! They suggest the cost of food might be a bit higher this time. While finishing our coffee we watched a 35 year old lady with a 9 year old daughter get in a new car next to our outdoor table with the intent of pulling out and away from the curb. The problem was she was squeezed in by cars on either side and had no more that 3 inches of freeboard on either end. Our money was on her not making it. But she did with only one slight tap of the front car – it seemed that this was the order of the day and she was quite composed through out the whole incident.


Logrono is a well appointed city with a bit of an upscale shopping district not far from the albergue. Nice squares and bars and other buildings in the area – many plane trees just beginning to bud out – must be really nice in the summer. Mike gave a panhandler some change.


The two Brazilian girls from Day 1 arrived at about 5 pm, totally fagged out. Likely they started too late; 100% sun and little wind made the trail hot today. Best time to walk is until about 11 am – the afternoon gets hot, the pavement gets hot, and then the feet get hot. We had a few cirrus clouds appear in the north about 11.30 am and by 6 pm there was much cloud cover.


The final 4k into Logrono was on red pavement on the trail – trail appeared to consist of a 2” base of regular pavement over which 1” topdressing of red pigmented pavement had been laid. Mike chalked it up to their version of a “red carpet” – romantic! One large sawmill outside of town, and one large cardboard plant as well. The guidebook says that there was a pre-Roman settlement on the flat topped ridge on the east side of town. The city makes quite a thing of the Camino with its red carpet and its stylized logo and its stylized stone monument to the trail at the eastern entrance to the city – someone had added to the display with a pair of worn out hiking boots. Like Logrono, many towns and villages have statuary in honour of the Camino. 


No animals on the trail today – one kite, a couple storks, and many songbirds along the creeks in the am. Cuckoos for four days now and we have seen three.


We saw a number of new flowers today, the most significant being a light purple creeping thyme growing wild along the trail. Mike liked it and worked it into the song he’s composing. I just took of my sneakers and stood in the fountain – feels excellent! Tomorrow to Najera over about 30k and we’ll be moving into the province of Rioja . Intent will be to get away early in the am.


I came to the conclusion today that this is much like a grown-up Boy Scout exercise – we work hard during the first part of the day, then we play, and then we bunk down early so we can do the same thing the next day!


Mike’s feet have settled down to only one blister – a deep but manageable one. John and I still both OK, although I have holes in the ends of each sock cut by toenails. The question is do I discard the socks or not…the answer is still to come. The three of us continue to work well together – John appropriately fussy with our cash.


Some bicyclists are coming in now at 5.15 pm , with probably 75 to 100k behind them. We spent 6 hours and 15 minutes on the trail today.



April 27 - Day 8 (28k to Najera– Albergue Ranking: 16/28V):


We left the albergue at about 6.35 (getting out earlier as the days get longer) and walked out to the city reservoir by 7.30; numerous people fishing for carp, and seemed to be regulars, including women. The water was algae-ridden and not hospitable at all – I trust they have a good purification system. (This was one of only two larger bodies of water passed during the trip).


We arrived at Navarre at 9 am and had coffee – Victor caught up. He appears to be holding back today. We ran into Yves shortly thereafter and left him looking for sunscreen – somehow he beat us to Najera but we do not know how – he continued on to the next village - Azofru  - as did a small number of others. Najera, by the way, is on the Najerilla River – this is the first “clean” river we’ve seen since the Arga at Zubiri.


The weather today was excellent – more breeze and the sun was not so hot as a result. The first 15k was relatively easy but got to my feet – no blisters, simply sore from too much pounding. We saw one rabbit – probably young of the year, and a quail or partridge. Generally the road/track was through farmers’ fields. Not a hard walk and only one uphill above Najera where pilgrims built many mounds of balanced rounded stones (not Inuksuk-shaped) on the side of the trail. We passed many pilgrims today who had started at Navarette.


Spain appears to be in good economic shape – much road construction, many big trucks, and much house and office construction. The country appears to be feeling good. We attracted several blasts from semi’s passing us on or near the highway. The question is whether the drivers did the walk sometime in their past, or do they just feel like kindred spirits.


We arrived at the Najera albergue at 1 pm – we had lunch along the fencerow on a hill where Mike got all choked up about the wind in the grass. A couple older Spaniards (Pacco and Paulo) had been waiting since 10.30 for the doors to open. We dropped our packs and Mike and I went off, leaving John on guard, looking for groceries and beer. We returned 15E lighter with beer and wine and groceries for tomorrow.


         The Red Sandstone Cliffs of Najera – Holes Represent Former Living Quarters


This facility is on two levels, with the washrooms and tables down an open stairway to the first floor; the beds are all on the upper floor, double bunks all, in rows. It makes for a bit of a trip to the loo. Bicycles came in late in the PM and got parked inside near the tables.


We met a couple 20-something guys - 2nd year university – from Washington State; they have been traveling since the 5th of April and joined the Camino at Pamplona because the walk sounded like a good idea. One works for the Park’s Service on Mt. Saint Helens , the other works in his stepfather’s quarry business.


Anna the East German is here; bussed it again getting in at 9.30 in the morning. She went to the Logrono hospital and got some pills. Yves was already in town when we arrived but plans to carry on to the next albergue; Victor arrived shortly after along with another Spaniard – Enrique – balding, glasses, and late 50’s. Marie and Vicky arrived with Juan; Marie, who looked better yesterday, is looking washed out again.


We showered and washed clothes. I lost my towel somewhere so I used my shirt; everything else appears to be in my pack. We then went out for our main meal – food was good and enough available; the wine local and OK. I checked out the first Internet place but can’t get on as Yahoo Canada appears to be down, so I went back to the albergue and began this epistle. A number of storks were perched on high buildings and a couple was loafing on the light standards in the mid afternoon.


My body appears OK except the bottom of my feet are generally sore; they need a break – perhaps tomorrow as we only have 20km to do. This albergue is OK re staffing but needs more bathroom space. Tomorrow we are off to Santo Domingo De Calzada, about 20km, we’ll either get in earlier or make a late decision to walk to the next town.


I only took a few photos today due to too many over the past few days. John is napping on the table at which I’m presently writing; Mike is napping on the bed. We are all tired but appear to be stronger; Mike thinks he’s lost 10+/- pounds; I doubt that I’ve lost any; John? John called home tonight!


There is a festival in town down by the river – typical air-filled jump opportunities for kids, and helium-filled dolphins and horses. The 6 to 14 year olds are parading around in different colored, multicolored overall-style outfits suggesting they were part of a “team”. No idea of what they did/do but whatever it looks as if it was earlier. I saw one of the coaches in the bar on my way back.


John and Mike went to Mass – apparently some “King & Queen” service in the church. I saw the “King” later in uniform (white leggings, slipper shoes, and a wide Kerchief around his shoulders), about 17, an ear ring, and hair parted in the middle. His mother (a red head!) following him around as proud as punch! The local town band (25+/- pieces), in uniform, organized themselves in a subsidiary square and marched to the main square. There were several 70+ (reminded me of Louie Rotundo et al from Cochrane) in the band but also a bunch of older teenagers and 20-somethings. The band played one piece (perhaps two) and then, looking proud, disbanded. There was also a local band of about 10 pieces with flag carriers/cheerleaders, apparently husbands and wives of the musicians. They were doing more “Spanish” music than the Community Band. The leading act for the evening was an imported 8 piece band, with three singers (2 girls and a guy), and two female dancers! They started at 8.30 and will go on until ???. They performed on a stage set up in the local square using their semi-truck as a dressing room. There was obviously a bit of class and professionalism here – likely from Madrid or Barcelona .  There were probably 300 watchers when we left at 9.30 pm, some standing, but many sitting at tables and being served from the bars/cafes around the Square. The kids, about 50, were collectively doing the usual running and wrestling on the adjacent “Green”.


It appears that the Spaniards know how to party even on a Tuesday night – they continued to close the bars until about 4 am and walked home – loudly – past our digs!


April 28 - Day 9 (20k to Santo Domingo– Albergue Ranking: 3/28C):


It was raining in the morning (probably that sent the revellers home more than anything else!), had started about 3 am with thunder at 4.30 am . I was up at 5.30 am and off to the bathroom with its two showers and then lay back down till six when it was time to get moving. The two older Spaniards that were here when we arrived (one was Pacco the champion snorer of the trip – Oh my God!) left at about 5 am, a couple shortly after them, and we, with Victor, left at about 7 am. There appeared to be a reticence to leave the building because of the rain. The cyclists (6 of them) spent at least a half hour getting their plastic organized.


                                    Clothes Drying as We Begin the Morning Walk


It was not a tough walk today – one hill getting out of town, and a second separating the valleys. We stopped for coffee at the first town – Azofra – at 8 am , about 5k out. There was a nice little restaurant with about 8 of us there. A couple passed us as we coffeed, as did Enrique – the bugger appears to walk at a steady pace and without breaks which accounts for his early arrivals. He speaks little English, and it is obvious he would like to communicate more.


Victor broke out ahead of us when we got back on the trail, although he waited for us at the highway junction just past our first (and last) golf course. The question was do we do the 2k track across the fields or 5k on the two lane highway – we opted for the highway to avoid the mud. To date there have been only about 40k of highway, although several sections of the trail have been paved. These sections tend to be rural roads paved to prevent erosion, or the entry and egress of the trail to and from some of the larger centers.


Interestingly the state of farming appeared to change as we went over the second ridge today – we lost the vineyards and appeared to go into grain, it’s well along so I’m assuming its winter wheat. A few fields of commercial peas, and one large section near the highway with many upright heavy large poles from which there appeared to be hanging strings….obviously a climbing plant of some type, although nothing is up yet. Harvest appears to be carried out by cutting the strings!


We just formally met the blond East German – Connie the nurse, and probably the girl who fixed up Nan ’s feet. One of the two young US lads from Washington State has either the “runs” or the “flu” or “food poisoning”. He was worried about going to the hospital as he has no insurance (or it’s questionable as he’s still in school). Juan translated the problem to a lady downstairs and was told that a visit would cost 100E. Interestingly the Aussi received service a few days back at no cost. Connie, after some discussion of throwing up and the runs suggested Imodium first, and if the symptoms persisted then to the hospital.


The Cambridge-educated German lady with the sharp tongue and reasonably good English (to Mike: ‘You speak pretty good American for a Canadian!” after he’d commented on the quality of her English!) that we met going into Najera at the poem site (nicely written on the back side of a building) has arrived here. She likewise speaks passable Spanish. Interestingly, the older gentle-mannered German executive we had met, Albert – spent most of his career (20 yr) in France, semi-retired, second wife, good relations with his kids, first wife more concerned than second for his well-being on the trail – took a quietly apparent instant dislike to the lady, and it was apparent she felt it! The other interesting point was that the Exec told one of the US kids who was asking for advice as to what language he should study in school not to take German, as most Germans have now gone to English, but to go for Spanish.


Santo Domingo is just off the Oja River from which the area of Rioja takes its name. However, we are now in the Province of Logrono, not Rioja. (I think I need to look these provinces up sometime!)


Santo Domingo is the home of a relatively famous Spanish Cathedral of the same name, both named after the religious founder of the town Santo Domingo de la Calzada who constructed the original bridge and pilgrim hospital some time in the mid-11th century. The local Cathedral was first proclaimed in 1232 and is long associated with a peculiar Camino event which has evolved into a longstanding tradition. The story goes something like this:


A pilgrim family consisting of the parents and their 18 year old son on their way to Santiago stopped at the local cathedral to venerate the relics therein. While in the community the girl at the inn where they stayed fell in love with the son but her feelings were rebuffed. Bent on revenge she planted a silver goblet in his luggage and then reported his thievery when the family was back on the road. At that time the punishment for stealing was death, and once captured and judged the young pilgrim was hanged. On their way out of town the parents passed by the hanging body of their son and were surprised to hear his voice telling them that Santo Domingo de la Calzada had saved his life. Elated they went straight to the “mayor” and told their story. The mayor replied scornfully that their son was about as alive as the rooster he was about to eat. Just then the cock and hen leaped from the plate and began to crow. The son was then cut down and returned to his parents. In memory of the event a live cock and hen, always white, are kept in the Cathedral throughout the year. They are donated and changed monthly. Opposite the niche which was built in 1445 to commemorate this event there is a piece of wood supposedly from the gallows on which the son was hanged.


The Cathedral has much history and we spent some time viewing its interior. During our visit we ran into Jean Francois, a former member of the French diplomatic corps, who was really turned on by the history of the building. (The focus of his journey is to visit the vast array of churches along the route). However, given his penchant for much talk and his interest in the structure and the intensity with which he described it, I finally checked myself out leaving Mike to wallow alone in JF’s unbridled enthusiasm.


This albergue was interesting – a convent and we were on the 2.5 floor. In the vestibule there was an ancient wooden two-wheeled cart on display. The beds were singles, with chequered bedspreads, four to a cubicle in two sections off the common area. The washrooms were down the half floor off the common area where we also ate and where Connie was doing her doctoring. Cooking facilities were available and a few pilgrims cooked rice or pasta.  The accommodation was voted some of the better digs we’d seen. Victor was our forth in the cubicle. Also present elsewhere in the facilities was a group of Ukrainian kids on a tour with their priest, who happened to be Spanish and of local origin. 


The small paving stone square in front of the Convent was most interesting – all the stones were oblong, and water-washed and in size to perhaps 6x3x1 inches. They had all been hand placed either standing vertical or laying perpendicular to their flat side and in squares about 1.5 metres to a side. The local very high class hotel – a building of historical significance up graded with government money – also faced the same square. There are a number of these around Spain constructed mainly to catch the high paying tourist; there is also one kitty-corner to the Cathedral in Santiago which we understand has a policy of providing free lodging to three pilgrims a night. We did not try!    



April 29 - Day 10 (21k to Belorado– Albergue Ranking: 7/28P):


We left at 6.45 am and had coffee at Granon at 8 am. We had two snorers last night – not only does Pacco do a wonderful job at it but Enrique likewise has a good volume. Victor told us that Pacco and friend Paulo have a car at Burgos so we may not see them after that.


We arrived at Belorado at about 11.45 am – the town has several albergues including church, municipal and commercial – so we may not see part of the gang we’ve been traveling with for the past few days. It is now 12.40 pm and there are about 10 people here and the place is half full.


One Chinese lad that we also saw in Logrono has been on the road since February.


The trail today, generally along the paved highway, was mostly gravel, with occasional small sections paved on the hills; one section through a farmer’s field was mud as it had not dried since yesterday. No vineyards or olives; a few peas (irrigated) while the rest was all winter wheat. The sun poked through at about 10.30 am . We went to lunch at about 1.30 after a beer. Enrique and a new acquaintance from Brazil came by as we found a restaurant in the square. Inside we saw one guy we’d passed twice today who is also staying at the same place. The other is the Basque couple – he raw-boned and grey, she slightly plump and black-haired – they have very little English but really nice. We have had dinner in the same restaurant with them now for the past three days. I had actually noticed them at Roncesvalles . They poured me a glass of wine when we walked in, and Mike got the rest of the carafe. They were sitting in the park with boots on and no packs (?) when I phoned home. Too bad we can’t communicate – both want to – as I believe they have a good story to tell.


It’s now 3.30 and our digs are filled. Marie Jose was on the I-Net when we came back so she must be staying here. The German girls are in town also as we saw them at dinner – they must be at church now. The albergue appears to be about 2/3 occupied right now with practically all napping or resting. I’m surprised this takes that much out of a person….or has it simply become a habit. Mike can fall asleep in 2 minutes flat! All is well back home but my last e-mail has not arrived so I need to check and see what might have happened. Sonja is going to Jill’s next week and then both on to Red Lake for the weekend. She’ll be gone 8 days.


I see Victor and Juan are here …and why not!! Good stuff! This is a small commercial operation, essentially on the first floor of a house with the family living upstairs, quite well-appointed kitchen/washroom area. The small courtyard outside holds flowers and clotheslines plus a table or two for lounging in good weather.


What we appear to be doing is as follows: Get up – walk from 20 to 40 km as fast as possible (+/- 5k/hr) – have a coffee on the route – eat lunch – arrive at albergue and get registered and a bed – shower and wash clothes – go out for beer and dinner – nap/write – out for a drink – M&J to church me to I-net if can find – brandy – bed – then do it all over the next day! We have obviously become very task oriented. Interestingly Albert, the German executive, commented he always looked ahead and never back, and never thinks about his feet and the pain. He noted he has not planned to necessarily go all the way to Santiago . His penance when he gets home will be a bicycle trip in France , assumingly with wife #2.


Vicky’s sister-in-law Isobel showed up yesterday and is here today. She is Spanish and Vicky had never met her until 2 years ago at a family “reunion” as brother has appeared to have disowned the family for whatever reason. The brother did not show at the reunion but the sister-in-law and the two kids did. Right now all her clothes are in the washer so she went out to dinner with the girls wearing skivvies and a long shirt and a coat! Vicky had apparently informed her of her intention to do the Camino and the lady decided to join her for a few days!  Vicky, by the way is from Shropshire (doesn’t that word have a nice ring to it!) in central England, a mid-50’s housefrau in reasonably good shape, tends to talk quite a bit, pleasant, a couple grown kids.


It is just starting to rain so I brought our clothes in. The socks and shorts are not dry but the rest are OK. It is now 4.30 and time to check the I-Net. Well, Yahoo worked but I could not get into tbaytel.net so don’t know what happened to last night’s message. I had a bunch from the locals which is always nice. Sonja will send me Wali’s address and I’ll add it. Some thought that Chris’s date may be the 27th of May. If so, I’ll pick him up. Doug the worker called Sonja this week to get verbal confirmation that he’ll be living at home.


I just washed dishes for three Brazilian ladies who have only been on the road for 8 days (for us its 10!!!). They did a pasta broccoli dish and they gave us the leavings. “Tidy Fairy” has trouble translating Spanish let alone Portuguese!


                           Mike and John Francois Doing Journals in Belorado


We had been trying to think of a movie name on the road today – It just hit me after several hours that it was Blazing Saddles (not Cat Balou!). Both Mike and John had seen a Joel Gray/Randolph Scott movie on Elowie Yost a month or so ago. They claim that Scott was gay and really effeminate except for his movies. So you can see the tenor of our exciting and stimulating road conversation!


The guys are at Mass at the church in the main square. Much joking about Catholics and booze but Mike takes it all in stride and has a good practical attitude. Will try and do e-mail to all again but will have to wait until Vicky’s off. Two young German lads (20’s) just came in; I suspect it was their mother (she’s here) who was waiting sans pack at the albergue today at 11.30 am . She likely arrived via car, but I suppose she could have arrived via bus.


Again I’ve been impressed by the economic activity in Spain – new housing (remember the row housing and singles going up adjacent to the new golf course we passed yesterday!), much rebuilding including individual units as well as churches, and new highways, and many transports on the east-west route through Northern Spain. Those trucks generally (not all) have three sets of back axels but each holding only two wheels; tires are more ballooned than ours. Saw a couple B-trains as well.


The wooded hills we have past through were initially softwood and later hardwood. We have passed one furniture factory.


Mike says Christine is looking at a new job in eastern Ontario in the personnel/safety area. It looks good but the pay will likely be the determining factor. It is intended that her son Jordan will go to his Dad’s for high school in the fall so she will have some flexibility.


I’ll have to review the concept of an Internet coffee shop for Thunder Bay when I get back. They appear to do a good business here, some of which is obviously their location along the Camino but at the same time they consume a lot of young locals. Would it be viable or are there just too home computers in Thunder Bay ?


Victor/Marie/Vicky/Juan et al having a BBQ or the next best thing. Invited us but the guys not back from Mass so will meet them later. I still want to do the I-Net for my third general broadcast. I just darned one pair of socks (too cheap to discard) where my toe nail had cut the toe. I hope they will not cause blisters given that the hard ridge is on the outside. I’ll have to remember to take them off as soon as I sense any problem developing. One other guy in here is darning as well and it looks like socks.


Mike and John may come back with brandy but I doubt it. We’ll wait until the BBQ table is finished and then appear with our after dinner drinks. The Brazilian ladies were in bed by 8.30 pm but talking. They have apparently got here in 8 days and indicated they had done up to 9k/hr in training (I’m suspicious – that is in reality close to a jogging pace!). Ole is now on the Net; I’ll go on next unless the German lady is waiting.    


April 30 - Day 11 (30k to Atapuerca– Albergue Ranking: 26/28P):


Snow on the trail today! And some of the distant hills were white in the early am. We walked through it and found it to be more of a curiosity than anything. By the time we arrived in the hills it was only remaining in the shadows of the trees/shrubs. It was cool all day. On the outskirts of Belorado we passed an apparently abandoned church built into the side of a red sandstone cliff.


We arrived at Atapuerca at approximately 1pm with a temperature of something in the 3-70C range and a strong wind. A few miles back we had walked through San Juan de Ortega which houses a small albergue associated with a large, light-colored, low-slung church which architecturally I would place in Mexico . I can’t recall if it was done in adobe or stone but my instincts suggest the latter. The church is renowned for its priest who has a large heart for the pilgrims who pass his way. While there is nothing else in the community with the exception of a very small store where one can purchase only very basic provisions, the friendliness and kindness of the priest and his post-Mass garlic soup are legendary on the Camino. Because of the early hour we pushed on.    


The sun was fortunately out by 10 am . We stopped for coffee at a small bar at about 9.00 am . The early morning stroll appeared to be mainly through wheat fields. After Villafranca we climbed a steep hill behind the town and began the trek through an oak-pine forest on what appeared to be some kind of tableland. The forest is obviously managed, and for some reason I believe it is private. A couple really large conifer clear-cuts with 8 to 10 yr. pine (Scotch?) regen doing well. In some of the remaining plantation areas there has been one release cut of every other row, and much has been delimbed, but some not so therefore they would appear to be making a product decision (pulp vs. sawlog) by 30 years.



    There is More Than One Way to Santiago


Considerable mud today – really messy in the farmers’ fields; the worst stuff on the bush roads could be walked around. We walked 30k today with the worst part being the last 5k on the highway. We could see our destination but it seemed to take forever.


There is much beautiful mauve heather growing in the forest in full bloom. Also saw some of Sonja’s bluebells with variegated leaves, some very pretty droopy-headed flowers growing from bulbs. About 1k of the course was through a farmer’s field with his cows. 


Atapuerca is the center for the UNESCO world heritage site for Atapuerca Man – the earliest known Homo Sapiens. There is a large sign at the edge of town advertising the site and three large rocks forming a monument with plaques. There is also a museum at the east edge of the community (closed).  (We are experiencing a snow shower right now at 4.00 pm !)


Vicky, Victor, Juan, Marie Jose, and Isobel have arrived. Mike has been chatting up Claire – an attractive and pleasant 6 foot Aussi ‘Amazon’ physiologist who offered to look at Marie’s neck/back as she indicated that she could tell something was wrong just by the way Marie was carrying herself. Claire is right now working on Marie’s back and neck right at the base of her shoulders; it’s a first rib problem according to our expert


This place is best described as “rustic”, certainly the most rustic of all the albergues we’ve seen. It’s commercial, and operated by the adjacent mid-scale B&B/restaurant.  The roof consists of slats of small trees overlain by tiles. Tiles are everywhere in this country except for the occasional bit of stone. It’s also colder than an ice cave in here, and with people constantly going in and out it keeps the temperature down. The washroom/bathroom section is small and close and likewise fits the term rustic. The heating system is a wood stove which the young lad, with Mike’s assistance of course, started when we arrived. We had to ask for more wood. Mike is back at the fire again but the stove serves more for looks than utility – simply too small. Our clothes were blowing off the line and so we were forced to bring them in – some still wet!


We had lunch next door in the B&B – quite nice – John and Mike took rooms here last time. No choice – pork chops and soup on today, the soup good and perhaps a variety of pea.


Mike wanted a brandy so we went off to a bar on the far corner of the village (probably 800 souls) where we found brandy and – a bullfight on TV!! Apparently they are on every Saturday afternoon and Thursday evening. This one is from Seville . We watched three bulls – two were killed with single thrusts of the sword, ostensibly to the heart; the third, after a miscue with the sword, with a short dagger to either the brain or spinal cord – a more difficult feat! The system appears to be as follows: first the toreros team enters the ring and three or four assistants station themselves at various opposite points of the ring and distract the bull with large capes, essentially to see how he reacts. Then two picadors on specially-trained, padded, and often blindfolded horses move in, the objective being that one of the picadors will lance the bull in his neck with a limited blow. Following this, three banderilleros engage the bull on foot, their objective being to each insert two short, steel pointed, colorfully-ribboned lances into the neck of the bull as he rushes past; these gentlemen are often older matadors. Both of the above exercises are done to tire out and weaken the bull. Then the matador appears with his big cape called a capote. After playing with the bull for a few minutes with the big cape to further sap its energy, the matador moves to a small red cloth attached to a stick – a muleta – with which he continues to play the bull. Finally he approaches the tiring bull with his sword and strives to make an instant kill with a single thrust. Our third guy did his bull in after hitting a bone with a second shot to the head with the dagger. The bull went down instantly. One of the matadors placed the implement over his shoulder and got much applause.


Right now I’m still sitting close to the stove with the rest of the crew. John is having a conversation with a Dutch lady we passed yesterday and her son. New tonight is Taro, either Japanese (I think) or Chinese – he’s been on the road for a couple months, and a blond 40’s Spaniard lady who appears to be doing the trek by herself.


Tomorrow only 20k to Burgos , but the albergue is on the far side of town. Tomorrow will be Saturday and the first of May so it could be interesting. Mike is holding forth telling bear stories right now (Claire’s traveling partner Carole – a six foot Scot, lived in Rosslyn , BC for a time) and they are all sucking it up! Mike also sang his Camino song or at least that part now done and it was a big hit! (See Appendix for full version)


A Spanish lady who was on the phone earlier is here now and may be traveling with the blond.


A sign on the road 6k back said Santiago 518k – don’t know if that’s by road or trail. A quick add up says we to date have done 263k; added to the 512k left it would suggest a trail of 705K. However the distance is given as 775k which says that the road is shorter. It is as clear as mud and we’ll be finished when we are finished!!



May 1 - Day 12 (21.5k to Burgos– Albergue Ranking: 22/28M):


Interesting climb out of a non-interesting small village (ex the Atapuerca Man exhibit) to high pastures on the ridge to the west and then down to a small village where we had small potato omelets, locally called a tortilla, and coffee. Taro the Japanese lad and Claire and Carole caught up and continued on through sun, cloud, and finally light rain over generally flat land to Burgos, a town with a population of 170K. We walked in on an industrial street with car dealers, small factories, and distributors to the center of the city. The high rise central residential area reminded me of Toronto ’s 1960’s apartments, but these stopped at about 9 stories – must be a city by-law. Only a very few were into upgrading. Bars and coffee shops and restaurants and a few retail shops filled their ground floor.


We finally reached the old section of town, which had been walled, and entered through what would have been the east gate, passing the Burgos cathedral on the street on the north side at about its second level – large impressive building and looking a bit newer in architecture than the one in Pamplona. I believe it had just been retrofitted at some millions of dollars. We met a fellow pilgrim, Colin, on the cathedral steps as we passed – a Brit from London , 40ish, a Bobby by profession, who had arrived last night but was intending to spend the day in Burgos, probably taking a hotel for the night. He was doing the trip trying to determine if policing should be his continuing profession. We then crossed the river and found the albergue on the west side in the middle of a city park. Again we were the first in. We had already bought three beers and had lunch in the park next the river. Intermittent light rain as we traversed through the city and it began to become steady as soon as the albergue opened at noon. The albergue consisted of three or four pre-fabbed pine log buildings and the one we are in probably contains 36 beds, two small wash rooms and only one shower in the ‘men’s’. The walls and floors were knotty pine. The buildings are on skids so they can be moved as required, obviously temporary.


We went out for dinner at a hotel/bar where Mike and John had stayed last time at the east end of the park near the University. It was warm, not busy, and contained a TV tuned to a Spanish reality show focused on a bunch of kooks and weirdo’s living together in a house – really quite crude and, we came to find out, intensely popular and playing in most bars in the late afternoon. It makes Survivor look like high drama. Also on was Walker – Texas Ranger dubbed in Spanish. Some of the advertising was good however! Dinner consisted of a chicken leg and some veggies – no beans. They also served ice cream in Dixie cups – perhaps the lowest quality meal yet but still no really big deal. Also had some beer to restore the liquid level and brandy to ward off the cold.


        May Day Celebrations in Burgos


We got back about three and the place appeared to have filled up with locals either i) ‘camping out’ for the weekend, or ii) in from out of town, or iii) simply staying here as a context for walking, or iv) as smart local walkers on a weekend outing. Quite a noisy bunch really!


Mike noted that his feet were generally much better this year and at least in part chalked it up to the duct tape he’s been using. John’s feet still good even though the buggar can move it with the best. He claims his feet are really misshapen from wearing wooden shoes until he was 12 years old.


I’d like to find an internet café while Mike and John do the 8 pm Mass – I’d like to send another general message if I can. I believe I saw a sign just east of the cathedral in the center of the old city.


Tomorrow looks like a 40K trek! I saw my first railway tracks today since leaving Pamplona . We also saw a fox just outside the city; it was being harassed by a magpie. I also saw a large green flicker with a red bar on its head down near the river. Pretty bird!


Unfortunately Internet was not available. It was Saturday night and a holiday to boot. The rain had stopped for the most part and I walked the streets and caught the odd bar while Mike and John were in Mass. There was much activity on the street and many visitors in and around the cathedral which is obviously quite a draw in this area. At one point a group of kids came by dressed in folk costumes, carrying a little girl, perhaps 8, in white satin on a litter and with some adults (also in costume) playing instruments. Occasionally the litter would be placed on the ground and the kids would do a dance and the adults passed the hat. I was not sure what the occasion might have been but no one was bothering them so must have been OK. Perhaps it was in honour of May Day! The city was the home to El Cid and there is a large statue to him downtown in the retail shopping district.    



May 2 - Day 13 (40k to Castrojeriz– Albergue Ranking: 12/28V):


We were out of the albergue at 6.40 am under about 20% cloud and out of the city in a half hour. It was cloudy with intermittent showers for the most part all day. We passed through a few small towns and were up on the meseta (prairie) by 10.30 am .  In the first small village – Villalvilla de Burgos - we were looking for coffee when we chanced across an albergue which was being vacated by some pilgrims – it appeared to be someone’s home but we found out that coffee was available within and so in we strolled. Just inside the door we heard this amazing singing which, it being Sunday, we thought may be coming from a record or even the radio. But walking into the kitchen we were surprised to see two couples holding forth with the most gorgeous songs, with a religious overtone, in the lady’s kitchen. They appeared to be singing in French, four part harmony, and were obviously trained in their craft. It turned out they were two French couples – mid-late 50’s – singing their way along the Camino. They took the opportunity to sing in most accessible church venues. We made instant positive contact with them, or at least half of them, because the son of one of the couples was living in Toronto. Later in the morning they caught up to us in the next little village – Tardajos – where we stopped for a tortilla and they sang in the vestibule of the church immediately across the road. I’m not sure if Snarky (our pet name for the difficult German lady) really appreciated what she heard. In this latter town we also ran into a 40 year old Irishman with a van and trailer who was the road man for a group of eight Spanish cyclists whom he’d somehow lost. He said he thought I had a slight Irish lilt to my speech – I was not sure if he was serious but it could simply be some left over Nova Scotian to which his ears might be a little more attuned.


The local farmers have been picking rocks on the meseta for centuries and the piles are variously scattered – some small and some large. Practically all of the land is cultivated as far as one can see – winter wheat being the predominant crop with some few fields of peas, lentils, and alfalfa. The land ranges from flat to slightly rolling and we could see a couple kilometres in all directions with only rock piles or the odd lone tree. The track today was mud most of the way as we were walking on farmers’ tractor trails – it badly needs a day of sun to dry out and make the walking easier. It is very interesting terrain but it could be so much more appreciated if one did not have to watch ones foot placing with every step.


We got in at about 3.30 pm – not bad for 40k – still averaging about 5k/hr; that included two lunch stops for bread, water, sausage, and peanuts – probably a collection of 10 minutes. By the way the common, inexpensive, local sausage in not very good! We passed four pilgrims singularly walking back from Santiago (assumed) – three guys and a girl - and at least two had that weathered look saying they had been the distance. Most of our regular crew stopped some 8k back – only three guys here we recognize – one


                            Walking into Castrojeriz


Frenchman, one Spaniard, and one new Spaniard we’d first seen in Burgos the previous evening. The skinny blond Spanish lady from Atapuerca was here when we arrived but decided to move on after surveying the albergue – we get the impression she did not like the digs. It appears we have either caught up to some younger people or they have been on the trail for only an intermittent time.  – they simply do not have the weather beaten look of those of us who have put 10 days to 2 weeks walking westward. The sun finally arrived in all its glory at about 4 pm and pushed out the showers so tomorrow may be good.


We did the last 8k today on the highway – a one laner!  I took my boots off at 2k and switched to sneakers – much better on the feet, almost like a rest. However, I noted a blister on my right heel in the shower. It appeared to be OK with the sneakers. I’ll probably need to take some action with it…we’ll see.  Near the beginning of the last stretch we passed the ruins of an old monastery and hospital at San Anton. It was in the Middle Ages known as the place to seek treatment for Saint Anton’s Fire, a malady cause by the ingestion of a fungus – ergot – that grows on rye. The toxins produced by the fungus cause abortions, gangrene of the feet and hands, and severe neurological problems. During a big ergotism epidemic in the Valley of Rhine in the IXth century, monks of the St. Anthony's order were able to preserve some local citizens from the epidemics, probably because they grew rye with a great care and suppressed the ergot before milling. This miracle gave its name to the malady.


Castrojeriz is built on a side hill and the ruins of a castle are located on the top of the hill – probably a vertical distance of 1000 feet – above the community. The castle is a very prominent landmark coming in from the east. I would suspect it must be the source of the village name.


Upon arrival I noted I was missing one shirt (the blue one) and one pair of pants. I assume I left them in the albergue in Burgos. I can’t see anyone stealing them. Checked twice and they are nowhere to be found. It will not be practical to try and make it in on only one walking shirt and one pair of pants – I do have that blue tee shirt for later in the day – thank heaven I brought it. And it is new as well!


Saw some globe-like yellow flowers today – reminded me again it is spring.


We lunched across the street in a country/Celtic bar. It had what looked to be a large rustic press constructed out of wood, including a large log lever, probably for wine. The bar had a large vaulted ceiling to accommodate the press. Colin the Bobby came in while we were there. I finally managed to do Volume 4 on the Internet at 4E an hour. That too was a local bar but not quite as friendly as some others that we’ve been in.


This albergue is operated by a couple – she a Brit (Scot) in her late 50’s and the husband a Spaniard. She speaks four languages. They have apparently done this for a number of years on a volunteer basis and she runs the place like an old mother hen – a good one! She is quite outgoing, he less so. The sleeping quarters are upstairs, and the wash rooms, separate, downstairs; also laundry tubs for clothes and a sink and brushes outside for boots. Our clothes were having difficulty drying with the sun coming out so late but we generally made it. The Mistress of the place says we’ll cross the halfway mark tomorrow – but halfway from where becomes the question.



May 3 - Day 14 (25k to Fromista– Albergue Ranking: 4/28C):


Today was generally a good walking day – cloudy but with no rain and some wind from the SW. In fact the wind picked up by mid-day to 30-40k and was having a slight negative effect on my keeping on the road.


Breakfast in the albergue consisted of an apple, coffee, and biscuits after having been awaken by Gregorian chants and trumpets at 6.30am. People had been leaving for an hour so we were already awake. The first run took us out of town and up one damn long hill (2k at least) and steep! Good vista back but too low and cloudy for a picture. The route is generally rural today. We walked a kilometre or two across the plateau and then back down and across massive wheat fields with a few patches of lentils. There are many fewer piles of rocks than on the other side of Castrojeriz. I managed to confirm my suspicion of wheat as I finally found one field partially headed out! There was no coffee in Cuesta de Mastelares or San Nicholas – both looked deserted.


Sometimes the Road is Long


We met up with the bearded “Belgian Brothers” who had bunked next to us in Burgos – today was their 51st day on the road. They had simply walked out of their homes in Antwerp 51 days ago and never stopped. They look quite raw-boned and weather beaten, both with leather hats; probably in their mid-60’s. One is a retired school teacher and the more outgoing of the two; the other, originally a redhead, less outgoing but later talked to John a bit because of the Benelux connection. He did get livelier when we stopped for coffee and indicated he had grown up in the Congo and had to leave with his family before the locals slit their throats. He has a tough edge about him. They are looking at doing 40k today.


Just past the hamlet of San Nicolas we crossed the Pisuerga River on an 11 arch bridge built by the Romans. Amazing structure – still in good shape!


We had good coffee and an eggs/ham omelet in a new commercial albergue in Boadilla del Camino, advertised by a guy in a little white car passing out flyers – many pilgrims stopped. The server was a male in his mid 20’s with sufficient English to carry on a conversation. He indicated he was headed for London, ON on November 15 for 3 to 6 months. When Mike noted he had a daughter in London the guy asked Mike to introduce them. Mike countered that she comes with two kids and a husband, the young lad countered with “That’s OK, I’m Spanish!” Everyone in the place broke out in belly laughs!


Richard and Fabianna and another pilgrim were already there when we arrived and so we had another nice warm conversation with them. They left first.


Our last 8-10k were along a canal which acts as a source of irrigation – the system appears very well organized. The fields appear to be somewhat lower topographically so this system uses gravity, at least in part because I did see a pump on a tractor. The reddish-leaved hardwood plantations appear to be some form of poplar but the leaves are not fully out. It was obviously this species that we saw in the first few days spotted along the river. They like wet areas and there are many along the canal road.


Fromista is a small (1600+/-) community with good signage, a good pharmacy, an albergue, and restaurants. We were the first in, then Richard and Fabianna, but they made the decision to go onto the next community. Mike believes Fabianna is tired – she is in new boots – and that Richard has lost the spark in his eye. We had lunch in a local café. Mike called Fran. Back at the albergue I discovered a nice pair of blue dress pants – DP pants was my first description of them – and a striped blue and white dress shirt in the lost and found. Since the pants fit all was then well with the world!


I just finished lancing the blister on my right heel and am sitting with the thread through it draining the liquid out. I bought a couple heel “Compeeds” – these drugstores are well stocked! – and will put one on as soon as the blister drains sufficiently. The duct tape I tried today did not help the situation.


Mike now has a shin splint in his right leg; it has been around for a couple days at least. He says he feels an incipient one in his left leg today. As a result we decided to take the two easy days schedule as opposed to one ‘biggie’ to give both of us time to recuperate a bit. That damn John just keeps on going, and going, and….


My new pants are doing just fine – they even have a nice pressed seam. There was also a really good pair of ladies velour (?) style jeans in the lost and found but they would not fit – she was petite! I’ll continue to keep watch along the way! I managed to snag a new towel from an albergue the day after I lost mine – white and blue but a bit smaller than the one I left behind. Works just as well though!


Today we are located on the second floor across the street from the best example of Romanesque architecture in Spain – a stone church - Iglesia San Martin - which was finished in 1066!! Beautiful building in light colored stone – tends to be curvy rather than blocky in its outline; very simple inside but yet effective. Certainly in my taste it has several legs up on some of those opulent Catholic monoliths we’ve seen! John and Mike just happened to be present two years ago when the building was visited by a German choir. They did an impromptu performance inside and I understand the sound was simply fantastic! Today we were not so lucky on our visit and no choir appeared. The church has been desanctified as an active place of worship and is now open to the public as a tourism site.  


          The Beautiful Romanesque Iglesia San Martin circa 1066


The Albergue is filling up. We appear to have outdistanced most of the crowd from Roncesvalles . There appear to be many locals (some got passports as we were checking in) or later starters in this crowd. We saw the London Bobby Colin earlier in the restaurant so he may be housed here.


Tomorrow’s forecast says intermittent cloud with showers; snow in the Pyrenees . This appears to be a cooler time of year than the guys had in 2002 and with more varied weather!


I noted some sediments going up the hillside – they tend to be really unconsolidated, red on the bottom but grey on top. The soil in this area tends to be a different gentle light brown silt. There has been some reclamation with pine on the higher slopped fields coming up out of Castrojeriz. The rest of the area tends to be peaty high sloped areas with good terracing due to the passage of hundreds of years of sheep.


It appears that we have now done something of the order of 368K which is some 20k short of half of our anticipated total distance of 776k.



May 4 - Day 15 (18.5k to Carrion de Los Condes– Albergue Ranking 6/28M):


We arrived at our destination at about 11.30 am. The walk was a bit slower today but may be in reality our shortest and easiest day. We had considerable frost on the grass as we struck out from Fromista. We walked most of the day along a 2-lane highway on what someday could become the other 2 lanes of a 4 lane highway. The footing was excellent – dry fine gravel – and there were no significant hills; apparently more of the same tomorrow. We looked for coffee along the way (had one before we left) but one bar had a broken coffee machine and we missed the second one. We did talk to a Swiss Justice of the Peace who has been on the road for 7 weeks. He is the same guy we saw with Richard and Fabianna in the omelet restaurant a couple days back. He apparently started out with a friend but the friend ran into knee and shin problems and returned home after 3 weeks.


Today the issue was pain…my heel and Mike’s shin(s). I tried my boots for a couple km and then switched to sneakers. After another couple kilometres or so I took two Ibuprofen – my pain went from a 4/10 to a 1/10. Mike has improved somewhat. He went to see a doctor at 1.30 pm and got some heavy duty Ibuprofen and is now feeling OK. The issue tomorrow will be my heel. I may start in sneakers. We have 40k to do tomorrow but it does not appear to have any especially really hard going in it.


We had a couple beers in a local’s favourite pub – we ran into a couple young Aussis, Carole and Andy, Colin the Bobbie, and a number of older, more recent arrivals. The Aussis have been away since April of 2003. They spent the winter working in Edinburgh which was not a bad place to be because it’s relatively inexpensive for the UK . They are now doing the Camino, will follow that with Italy and Greece, and eventually end up in Amsterdam to see her 85 year old grandmother. The story with granny is that she left for a holiday 40 years ago and has never returned! They then intend to go to Sweden to see friends, following that to St. Petersburg, to Moscow (July) to catch the trans-Siberian to Beijing, and then likely back home! Wow! 


Mike ran into a 60ish Brit at the Doctors who had been treated by Connie for blisters (Trevor). He’s taking a day’s rest on the doctor’s orders and needless to say he’s glad!


We saw the Basque couple again today – they would really like to communicate with us more effectively but unfortunately we can’t; they would make good grandparents. We also ran into the E-W Spaniard (walks with toes pointing out like Queen's Dr. Ambrose who we used to call East-West Ambrose!) and Enrique again!


John called home – I’ll try Thursday. We saw 2 grouse (?) in the distance on the road today – they walked off in the grass before we got to them. 


We passed by a church in Villalcazar de Sirga which is said to have a recorded background of the Knights Templar – it is the only facility in Spain in which the presence of the Knights is recorded; many others are suspected but only through indirect evidence.


This albergue is apparently our second convent (by my count it should be three). The lilacs here are at about the same stage they were in St. Jean on the day we left some two weeks ago. Interestingly, John’s and Mike’s memories of where they ate, what they had, and who they met were simply amazing. The sky at 6 pm said rain tomorrow…we’ll see!


We ran into a Dutchman Wim (Bill) in the bar late today – 76 years of age and quite noisy. He says he’s done the Camino 9 times on a bicycle starting in 1990. He left for his 10th trip a couple weeks ago but his arthritis got the better of him in France, so he got his wife to meet him with his car and he’s carrying on via the auto route and staying in the small towns to meet the pilgrims…I think that’s his shtick! He says he has had two heart attacks and is supporting two “steel hips”.


                                  It Ain’t All Sweetness and Light


We will pass the halfway mark from St. Jean to Santiago tomorrow – supposedly 1 km out of town!


Historically, there is a story that bulls were used to chase the Moors from this area even though they apparently signed a treaty with the locals in 826 A.D. In a footnote the Moors forced the Christians to provide them 100 virgins every year. The convent in which we are staying dates from the 13th century. Good accommodation – a room with three single beds tonight!


We have just christened John the “Eveready Rabbit” in honour of his ability to simply keep on going, and going, and going! Initially we wanted to christen him the “Pink Bunny” but he first appealed the term “pink”, and then “bunny”, and he won on both appeals. So Eveready Rabbit it is!



May 5 - Day 16 (40k to Sahagun– Albergue Ranking: 13/28M):


Today we had wind, all day without let up a headwind of 35-40k! It was tough going!!


Sunny but cool and so I had to wear my rain jacket to keep warm. We left at 6.45 am and arrived at 3.45 pm for a nine hour run – it was slower! Mike’s shin splints acting up big time. My feet were painful due to the blister re-blistering, and I apparently now have a bruised left heel due to wearing softer-soled sneakers on the cobble trail yesterday! I began today in sneakers but went back to my boots within the first kilometre. I took two Ibuprofen in the am, and one of Mike’s heavies at noon but the feet still hurt!


I came to the conclusion, driven primarily by pain, during our first 17k that I really do not need to finish this walk….there is no need! It is not nor never was a priority in my life! I decided that I’ll look at my circumstances in Leon and make up my mind whether or not I pull out and return to Canada. Mike caught my drift and, given the fact that he is hurting too, appears to have also reached a conclusion that neither does he need to finish. John, however, has not been picking up the hints and has not responded – the rabbit has his sights set on doing it all! One other option is to lay over a day in Leon – we’ll see! Mike has, in his own inimitable, creative way, come up with an option that perhaps another alternative would be to rent a car in Leon, and spend the next few days touring a few of the larger points of interest, and then heading to Madrid and home perhaps a week early. John concerned about screwing around with plane reservations – he does not like uncertainty – but at least he has purchased tickets and much more immediate flexibility than we. We’ll see!


The only people we saw today we knew were Enrique – he stopped two villages back, and the Dutch couple Jerry and Nellie (for Petrilla-the female version of Peter) of the long skirt. We had not seen them for days so they must have put on a special effort. I believe they stopped one village back. We actually shared a lunch spot with them, in the sun, sitting on bails of straw, at the edge of a small village. While we were there we noted two or three of the local elders watching us and talking among themselves. Finally a little (estimated at 4’5”) old guy with a hump, and very bowed short legs and two canes broke out of the group, and came about half way across the road and shouted to us in Spanish, with a bit of concern bordering on anger in his voice. At first no one knew what the matter was but finally someone, perhaps Jerry, got the message that they were concerned about us smoking and starting a fire in the straw! We convinced them (perhaps!) that none of us smoked and that we would be careful. So they left us alone. About 10 minutes later a flock of about 100 sheep, a shepherd, and three dogs came over the hill and passed right by our station. Really neat!


Tomorrow we have a 35km journey and then 18km or so into Leon . I need to talk to Sonja about possible early termination of this venture. I simply do not intend to carry on hurting – I do not need the pain and the result does not matter!


Highlights of the day:

§         Roman road (our pebbly first 17k to Calzadillade la Cuaza)

§         Coffee at Ledigreis

§         The straw pile and the sheep at Moratinos (last place we saw Enrique)

§         Much more fallowed yet ploughed land

§         A number of round buildings, perhaps 15-20 feet in diameter, constructed to house pigeons from which the locals can snag a few birds for that special ‘squab’ dinner

§         A number of bodegas immediately outside San Nicolas

§         The quaint Virgen del Puente church outside Sahagun awaiting restoration 




 Lunching in Moratinos


The farmland east of Sahagun – say about 1/3 – will be harrowed (already ploughed) later in the summer and planted to winter wheat. The only other crops seen were one field of peas and one of lentils. Obviously this has to be part of the Spanish bread basket!


We saw Wim here again in a store chatting up the youngish (40ish) and attractive confectionary clerk. He avoided my question 3 times as to how his car arrived in the town – I do not believe he road his bike!


This albergue is interesting! The back half appears to be an old church called Trinidad . There is a museum attached. The place is run by the municipality (60 beds on the upstairs level) but there was simply no one around until about 6 pm when two 20-something girls showed up next door where one went to check in and pay the fee. You simply arrived, selected a bed and begin using the services. Lots of hot water when we arrived! This was the first time I’ve seen plywood used in Spain, this time in reconstructing the roof of the albergue – the whole facility is under reconstruction and there are tarps separating us from the church and museum. There are kids with parents staying here as well – it’s hard to believe there are kids on the Camino, unless they are just out doing a section into Leon. Someone has been playing the piano in the church – good job – very talented!


As we were late – after three – we had to hunt to find a restaurant to serve us at that hour.


The town looks like an up scale bedroom and service centre for Leon . Nice town. Railway runs through just behind the albergue. 



May 6 - Day 17 (36k to Mansilla de las Mulas– Albergue Ranking: 21/28P):


Reached our destination after 36 grinding kilometres in a 25km headwind! There was significant frost this am but it was gone quickly.


I’m still hurting! I felt every step due to my bruised left heel and blistered right heel. Mike likewise with the shin splint on his right leg. I limped slightly for most of the day with medication as the two 400mg of Ibuprofen did not seem to make much of a difference. We are tired and need a day off. John, however just goes on and on like that proverbial rabbit!


We discussed the strategy for the future and they said that if I go they too intend to pull out! I believe it’s a little bit of planned blackmail…we’ll see in Leon. John fessed up today that his first priority is to carry on whatever happens so he does not have to get into dealing with plane reservation changes (that would bother our task-driven John).


Nothing really exciting today – a couple hawks and crows on nests in the young plane trees planted along the trail for eventual shade, a few flowers, and a couple fields of wheat that are getting close to being headed out.


Both feet are sore tonight. I need to examine the blister on my heel to see if there is another. That means that the Compeed comes off (probably should, it has been three days) and another applied. I have my own room in the hotel above a bar – mostly pilgrims staying here. The barkeep really looks shady and difficult and has our passports – they need to copy the information but do not need to hold the document. Mike asked for them once but they had not yet taken the information. We chose a hotel tonight because the albergue was full, or almost so, when we arrived and we were not impressed with it in any event!


We again saw Richard and Fabianna and the Swiss JP – they were in a nearby restaurant for lunch when we arrived. They had already decided to press on to the next town. R & F want us to meet them in front of the Leon Cathedral at three pm tomorrow – their intent is to buy us a drink. We’ll take them up on it unless something goes haywire.  


The bar has a couple pay as you go computers. I tried sending e-mail a couple times but lost the message both times due to what appears to be a lack of power in town! I did manage to get a short one out to Sonja. I need to get Chris’ and Jill’s addresses in order to send them a post card. The phone is an outside booth across the street on the corner, and I’m not sure I can stay awake long enough to get her – I’ll need to be on the phone after 10.30 pm to ensure she is home from school at 4.30 pm . It is also cold out there!!


I fell asleep and finally came to at about 1 am. The bar was closed and I couldn’t get the addresses by e-mail. So I went back to the phone – she finally got home just before I called at about 7 pm. – and got the addresses. I had to cut the call short as I suddenly started feeling sick in the phone booth and shivering like mad. I seemed to be OK after I got back to bed and warmed up a bit – perhaps a blood sugar shortfall?? (Doubtful!) While in the booth waiting for a connection the other bar across the street was just closing and as a result much activity on the street, including two half-cut locals pissing on the nearby stone wall!



May 7 - Day 18 (18.5k to Leon– Albergue Ranking: 19/28C):


Awake at 5.30 am and up and down a couple times before getting up at 6.04 am and getting dressed and organizing stuff. Mike was moving by 6.15 and we are in his room for breakfast by about 6.30. I showed them my enlarged blister, squeezed some more liquid, and got Mike to put on a new Compeed. Both feet are sore! Faced the same decision of boots or sneakers and choose the former.


We were away across the bridge and heading out of town by about 6.45 am . We stopped for coffee in a small roadside café at about 8 am and then pressed on – both feet hurting like hell! I walked on my toes for about the first hour but realized I could not keep that up so forced myself to walk appropriately and work through the pain, or at least much of it as they are still sore. Mike set the pace for most of the day which was generally slower and much less intense, but even so we caught up to a few individuals.


We arrived at the albergue in Leon - another convent – at about 11 am . We were in the first group to arrive and they were just starting to process us when I noticed the blond California lady with the grey roots who was waiting for the bus some 10 days ago to catch her daughter. Her daughter was also with her but all the rest were new pilgrims we had not crossed paths with before. We later saw Colin the Bobby in the square in front of the cathedral, and met Richard and Fabianna with a large mustachioed Austrian, Eugene, with whom we’d walked into town. As promised, Richard was waiting for us in the Square and escorted us to a bar where Fabianna and Eugene were waiting. We had a relative quick drink because it was their intent to move onward that afternoon. He showed us his new insoles of soft, supple, clear ‘plastic’, indicated he’d just got them, and it was like ‘walking on air’ – he would have danced had he the skills! He advised me to try them and even escorted us to the shop in which he’d bought them. I splurged – something like 36E. I will try them in my boots tomorrow. Richard and Fabianna have returned to their ball-of-fire mode; they are moving on today as they only have 7 days of their vacation left, including a short extension to Richard’s vacation. Fabianna, we discovered, works in a nursing home and had to take a month’s leave of absence to do the trek and could not get any extension. The added complication is that they have to go back to St. Jean to retrieve their car. They are both 34 and have been a couple for the past 4 years; they met at an annual street fair. He has so much energy. One of the few I would like to meet again in the future – so intense but so honest.


A big-breasted, short-cropped Italian and her girl-friend just arrived, as did our Spanish acquaintance ‘East-West’, he too tends to be hairy! As we were saying our good-byes on the street to R&F when who should arrive but Jean the Majorcan! Today he was wearing sandals and socks and said he had walked in them for 20K. He also told us he had recently seduced a young Mennonite but he did not believe it would lead to aids! (That was, I believe, supposed to be funny). He complained that his feet were still “shitty”. Just can’t believe him, particularly the part about doing 20k in those clean socks!


After our first couple beers we went looking for a quieter bar (with fewer noisy young people). We tried an establishment that appeared to be an Irish pub but the door was locked. While we were standing on the pub steps a local (65+ and dressed rather nattily) spied us and noted our predicament (that bar was no longer operating) and motioned us to follow him. The trusting souls that we are we followed him into the catacombs of the city (will we ever find our way back?) and after about 10 minutes we arrived at some well appointed but out of the way bar – obviously “his bar” as he was known by most of the patrons. The bar was actually part sausage shop (not uncommon in Spain ) with many hanging examples in one corner of the room. We had a round and be damned if the round did not come with some free samplers! Then the locals in the bar bought us another round, and more food arrived. It was obvious they recognized us for who we


                                         Happy Hour in the Catacombs of Leon


were – I suspect they are too far out of the way to see pilgrims in there regularly – and offered us much warm hospitality. We looked at possibly eating upstairs but at 15E it was simply too much for the Chancellor! 


We had dinner upstairs in a small dining room off the Cathedral Square – some sort of mixed plate with two kinds of sausage, tongue, fat, peas/beans mixed, a good spaghetti-based soup, and wine. I unfortunately spilled John’s wine in his lap and some on his shirt. I offered to lick it up but he would have no part of that!


My left foot seemed to go OK today until about 10.30 when it got hit with a sharp pain. However, it appears to be OK now (numb from booze perhaps!?). Mike suggested the relief was from Ibuprofen but I’m not yet a convert, although I did take some today. My blister was likewise not as painful in the late afternoon, either from walking through it or sheer luck. We shall see!


I need to find a mail box to send postcards to Chris and Jill – will keep an eye out!


We’ve somehow today made the decision that we’ll continue on tomorrow. It was not a real defining moment; it rather just snuck up on us. The option of renting a car is off the table, much to John’s delight given his aversion to screwing around with his air reservations. We’ll see how it goes, with an easier pace and shorter distances being the order of the day. It may take a day or two longer but we have time available. I may go back to the Internet café and do another edition while Mike and John go to Mass. My first set (2 pair) of camera batteries gave up the ghost so I left the non-rechargeables in the hotel. I have my last set in now – the rechargeables which I will need to go home. Wish I had a battery meter so I could read the charge!


I tried out those new gum-rubber insoles in my boots. The left seemed to be OK but not the right. Part of the problem may be the bumps that are built-in under the ball of the foot. They seem awkward. The real test will come tomorrow – one option is to go with one old one and one new one!


My right heel blister is back up – I took off the Compeed and will insert two threads tonight and let it drain. Luckily I have two patches – I’ll apply one to it in the morning before we set out.


I did an e-mail to Sonja tonight – all OK at home. I also put together a big one to the “crowd” but lost it all when Marie Jose surprised me by taking the next computer. I was thinking of doing a repeat when Mike and John returned having made the strategic decision that a Guinness was better than Mass – they found an English style pub! Jane from Calgary was also in the I-Net place – both she and Marie had bussed in as they have to take three days off – Doctor’s orders apparently. OK otherwise. Joanne is still on the road somewhere behind us. Nan apparently got her physical act together and is back at it but doing only about 20k a day. She, too, went to the Doctor.  


The wind of the past few days has been a problem for all. Mike likes the line “Limping into Leon ” and it will likely find a home in his still-being-created song of the Camino. The line obviously has much bearing in truth!


I’ve noticed more French here tonight than previously. Maybe this is a starting point for some.



May 8 - Day 19 (24k to San Martin– Albergue Ranking: 14/28M):


San Martin has a new albergue – just opened and we are almost the first to arrive, water is still warm!  We washed all our clothes as the weather is nice – sunny, and about 20C with a light breeze – and they should dry quickly. Today was the first day in more than a week that I walked without my rain jacket for warmth.


This albergue is literally located on the main street which is also Hwy 120 which runs E-W across Northern Spain and into Santiago . It tends to be four lanes in and out of the larger centers and two in the countryside – it misses most small villages. There seems to be a preponderance of silver/grey private vehicles in this general area. The trucks and commercial vans throughout have tended to be white.


It would appear we have done 435k and have some 287k to go.




                                        Stork Hotel – Valverde del Camino


I tried my new insoles this am but no go! I could not take the thickness of the soles. I’ll try again tomorrow. Feet continue to be a topic of discussion, surpassing bowels by a wide margin. The soreness in my left foot came back overnight; obviously the Ibuprofen has had some positive effect. It was sore off and on after about 9 am . Likewise my right foot blister was also hurting even after the overnight thread treatment. I stopped at about 10 am and put two more threads through it, including through the Compeed. By the time I got in at 1.13 pm it appeared to have drained so I pulled the threads after the shower. It feels OK right now.


Getting out of the city this am was a bit of a challenge as the way is not well marked (for some reason they do not like yellow arrows the side of municipal buildings in the cities in Spain!). We had to ask directions a couple times. The city has some great architecture. John and I waited 10 minutes while Mike went back for his water bottles. We watched the last party goers on the way home – looking somewhat bedraggled, while a municipal maintenance man was hosing down the streets making ready for the new day. Such contrast!


We had some up and down today. The first section of the trek had a lot of corn fields (most we’ve seen) but only one had any corn up – about 2 inches. The rest only had harrowed vestiges of corn. We only saw one small wheat field – well along and headed up.


Today we saw five sets of peaks off in the distance – all with snow. The first one was off to the NW, and then they got around to the North. It looks like winter snow for the most part though some at lower elevations may be more recent.


Many storks nest in and around Valverde del Camino. First time we had seen them nesting in the trees. One church had four separate active nests – resembled a stork hotel! We also for the first time saw a number (15+/-) ginkgos (salamanders?) in the south facing ditch east of San Martin. We also saw our first rookery of “crows” (or whatever the local version is) on the outskirts of the last village before San Martin.


One British lady in the next bunk last night said she had done the route last year at the same time – it was shorts and t-shirts all the way with little to no rain. She was recently retired Cathy from England – late 50’s – bit of a cough in her chest, spent most of her working career in Africa in various countries in the south and southwest.


We heard one large explosion last night after we had gone to bed; it reminded me of three I’d heard in Burgos while in the ‘field house’. Don’t know the cause. I speculated at the time that the Burgos three may have been associated with May Day.


We had dinner in a bar just down the street. It is somewhat obvious that having pilgrims in town overnight is somewhat new to the community and its commercial sector – the service suggests they still have not caught on to the potential. An Austrian couple gave us a half bottle of wine. The locals were playing cards in the bar; one guy drove to the bar on his tractor with 6 foot wheels – they are large and one often sees them being used like cars in some of the small villages!


Mike said Fran indicated there appears to be a general liking of my e-mails. No system resources in this town however. Still wish I had not lost last night’s finished draft!!


We’ve figured we only have 13 walking days and 287 km to go. That means we need to do 24k a day if we still want to go to Finisterre on the bus on the day before we leave.  


It does not look like we’ll have a crowd in this albergue. There is probably room for 60 in double bunks and we now have 12 but a few more should arrive later. To date we have seen 9 walkers walking west, presumably back from Santiago – 8 guys and one girl – five in one day and one today!


One definition I need to remember is that a wine cellar in the hillside is a bodega. 


Met a female Brazilian doctor today, Marcia – she was quite stand-offish at first but warmed to our charming personalities when we offered he a glass of pre-bedtime wine. She is a pediatric surgeon from Santo Paulo; has been to Toronto a couple times to visit Sick Kids hospital . Has thought of possibly moving north but thinks it too cold. This is her second walk – did it in 2001; her husband, also a doctor, did it in 2002. He’s kayaking in Mongolia, or will be later in the summer.


There are only 12 in here tonight – primarily as a result of a lack of advertising of the new facility. We were directed here by a sign on the pavement as we walked through town. Mike thinks it’s an old school.


We watched a Spanish couple pay a local card game that we’ve seen being played by locals throughout. They gamble on it as well. The cards are not the usual 52 we are familiar with. Looks difficult but then it’s almost impossible to ask questions. I noted the lady – they look to be mid-60’s – does a full massage of her feet every day after walking using some sort of oil or lotion, containing, one would believe from the odor, eucalyptus. Neither she nor her silver-haired husband (a really gorgeous mop!) appear to have foot problems.


We noted the arrival of Delilah late in the afternoon; she was one of the two Brazilian girls that we started over the Pyrenees with on the first day. Her friend has apparently had some foot problems and held over in Leon for a day and will bus to catch up. We talked to one Dutchman, probably early 50’s, who had unfortunately got his blisters infected and was forced to take three days off at Doctor’s orders to allow his body and some antibiotics combat the infection. He was not sure he was going to be able to carry on but he’s taking it slowly and will play it out as it goes. We had been warned about the danger of infected blisters.


Apparently rain is forecast for tomorrow according to the Spanish couple. We tried to catch the bull fight on TV but it appeared to get cut off due to scrambling. Perhaps scrambling is a regular Saturday occurrence unless one pays for the service.



May 9 - Day 20 (24k to Astorga– Albergue Ranking: 24/28V):


Today we finally made our way off the meseta (Spanish plain) and started back up into the western hills! The last few kilometres of the flatland appeared to be ‘truck’-style farming with small plots and greenhouses – the first we’ve seen. This apparently is/was the start of the home territory of an indigenous race of ‘mule-skinners’ (and their ancestors still may live here) – they were known throughout the land for their ability with and husbanding of mules. In one small village in the hills at about 9.30 am we saw two different men out and about wearing wooden shoes. The interesting thing was that the shoe bottom consisted of two or three carved ‘knobs’ about an inch and a half high designed to keep the true bottom of the shoe off the wet ground.


We saw our first barley today in three small fields in the hills – it tends to be more yellow-green than the wheat. We also saw considerable yellow broom, and another striking white plant/shrub that looked like a white variety of broom. Today just on the outskirts of Astorga we saw a number of those large pole structures with the stings connecting and hanging from. I finally figured out what is grown on them…hops! The fact they have a bit of a beer brewing history in Astorga helped solve the puzzle.


It was raining lightly when we left San Martin and continued to do so throughout the day, although there was a brief respite in the late afternoon. It has started again at 6.30 pm . We had coffee in perhaps the most Americanized and really well appointed bar we’d seen at the west end of a beautiful 23 arched stone bridge in Hospital del Orbiga over the very broad floodplain of the Orbiga river.


My feet were not bad today. I commenced this am with one new rubber insole in the left boot but it became quite apparent very soon that I could not continue to work with it because of the raised ball in the middle of the front of the sole.  So I changed it some 2k out in the rain under a crow (jackdaw?) rookery in some lowland poplars. My left foot is generally OK and it appears that I’m getting over the bruising. My blister is also appearing to get better. I tried tightening my boot as a preventive measure but it did not appear to have any effect so I loosened them. I inserted two thread drains before we left this am and they may have helped. Mike’s right shin is now hurting constantly, even when he is off it, but he too had his best day in five today. I feel guilty about not talking about John’s foot problems but the buggar does not have any…he simply keeps going and going and going!


The most significant thing today was that getting back into the mountains made the trail quite scenic.


Astorga was developed by the Romans as a way station between the ore-bearing mountains to the west and the granaries of the eastern plain. There are still some ruins around which have plaques to describe the situation. One lot just behind the albergue appears to have encountered ruins upon renovating a basement and the project has been stopped and the area fenced. The city appears to have originally been walled and perhaps perched on a cliff because there was one steep climb to get in.


This albergue has both two and three bunk beds – first three posters we’ve seen. They come with a ladder to reach the top bunk. Unfortunately since the place was not full no one took them on. This is one of two albergues in the city and many walked on to the second – this one run by volunteers, and not particularly impressive – small and crowded with limited washroom space. We were too wet and tired to walk to the next one. It’s surprising what one is prepared to accept when one knows that one is simply moving on tomorrow and nothing is forever. This was the first time we’d seen couples trying to spend the night together in a single bunk. The first we witnessed was the Barcelonan guy – mid 20’s – with the Cuban girl – probably the same age but initially looked like 13 – tiny with short buzzed bleached hair – we’d met coming out of Leon. It was their first day and they were obviously excited. We saw they were carrying a tent and wondered about the rest of their kit. We did not see them in San Martin so they may have stayed someplace else. They both had a bit of halting English. The second couple was in our room and I believe they were biking. It was difficult to tell if they were attempting to make up after some spat of the night before or if he simply would not leave her well enough alone. Oh, young love!


On our way into the city we were passed by a number of small, noisy cars being driven fast by their young drivers – they appeared to be traveling as some sort of group although there was a bit of distance between some of the vehicles. After we arrived we discovered that the cars were in town today – Sunday – to participate in a series of races on a track in the lower eastern part of town. The track was windy and set with a number of small hills to make it more challenging – something like bike motocross but with cars.



A Classic Building Now the City Hall in Astorga


It was quite well attended even in the rain with many of the viewers perched under umbrellas on various lookouts from the hillside; others were around the track. There was an announcement van plying forth with participants, times, etc. We got the decided feeling that this was part of some type of circuit and today was Astorga’s day. The rain finally got severe enough in the mid-afternoon that they called the race leading to all the bars filling up with spectators. The drivers all looked to be in their early 20’s and appeared to walk in with a retinue of ‘followers’. Interestingly, they were all watching Formula 1 racing on TV while waiting for the rain to stop.


I found an Internet café but it was full of 14 year olds at 5.30 pm and again at 6.30 – all focused at playing computer games. Will try back in an hour – did, and managed to wrest a seat from the youth brigade!


We finally met Sarah – the daughter of the mom from Colorado who was taking the bus a couple weeks ago and whom we saw in the albergue in Leon. The daughter now lives in northern Idaho and works as a self-taught baker at a ski resort about an hour from the Canadian border. She looks 22 but may be 26. She is thinking of going to school next year. She is now on her own as Mother checked out in Leon and headed back to the US due to ‘time constraints’. Mike indicated that daughter seemed relieved to have her off. Mother, in her mid-late 50’s has long hair died blond but the roots suggest it brunette going to grey. Mike says he’s sure Mother was holding hands with the Italian she met in the albergue in Leon. It may well be that she shipped out with the Italian as we have not seen him on the road since. Mother apparently decided on the spur of the moment to come with daughter and as a result was poorly equipped and had had no training. She has been something of a burden to Sarah ever since.


We saw Calgarians Jane and Joanne going into the museum at the Cathedral up the street. The Austrian couple – he tall and blond and she shorter and redheaded; a good looking couple – who gave us the wine last night was also wandering the town in the rain.


The vineyards we saw today looked small and designed for personal use by the locals.


There are some really interesting old buildings in town, particularly the town hall which is a three story, very ornate building of gray stone, and the inevitable cranes in place signifying reconstruction and refurbishment in a good economic climate. The one older building that was constructed to impress was the “ Bishops Palace ”, a gorgeous building of three stories – and likely a basement - all stone with a slightly reddish cast. It is too bad that the good Bishop (or Bishops as the case may be) did not have more compassion for the people than to squander their hard-earned money on an edifice to his earthly power. One can only wonder what happened to Christian charity to those who really needed it. Someone sure had their objectives mixed up!!



May 10 - Day 21 (21.5k to Rabanal– Albergue Ranking: 8/28P):


Today’s trek was all in the hills. We started in the rain out of the city but it had stopped by 11 am, just after we left the “Cowboy Bar” in El Ganso. This structure has a lot of imported cowboy paraphernalia, including American movie posters and a mounted buffalo head. It is run by a local; accommodation consists of benches along two rows of tables and barely adequate washroom facilities outside. We had a coffee and tortilla – business seemed brisk and he captured most of the pilgrims on the trail, particularly on this wet morning.


This was the town – almost vacated with only a few families remaining – where we first encountered “Margarata” architecture. It looks like dry-stone construction and door frames with a large overlapping beam mounted on two vertical beams to provide the opening. This area is in the country of the mule-skinners which appears to begin at Astorga and goes west.


We passed some neat oaks today and some pine (looked like red?) plantations. There were also a lot of pink shrubs (heather) and white shrubs (hawthorn in part) in bloom. We also saw some really neat crawling purple flowers along the road, some sage as well which looked to be a relative of silver mound, and a cousin of the lupine – short and compact but with lupine-type leaves and flowers.
















            The Cowboy Bar in El Ganso


There are three albergues in Rabanal – one church-associated unit run by English volunteers and two private facilities. Since the church-associated establishment did not open until 2.30 pm we went to one of the private units. It turned out to be an interesting facility – polished granite floors, a bar accessed from the courtyard, a fireplace in a kitchen area with large tables and benches. There was warm water as well but a line-up to get in.


I lost my towel again but have spied a local loose blue and white one – probably left like mine - which will magically disappear as my contribution to recycling. It will need washing!


Our landlady is into red dye and her roots are showing. But one has to admit she is a real go-getter. She even carried my bag in!! Obviously running a private albergue here means work and service. John indicated that in 2004 the population in Rabanal was 24 – it looks to be a couple hundred now – all preparing to take advantage of tourism.


The town derives from at least the 1200’s with the Knights Templar supposedly being responsible for setting up the church.


(I do not know from whence this came!) The Camino as a route was derived for several reasons: i) it fostered connection with the Apostle, ii) it provided a route for trade, iii) it provided access to international markets, iv) it provided for a two-way exchange of culture, v) it provided for the growth and transfer of art, in particularly Romanesque, vi) it was a source of legends/poems/songs. The life of the Camino has reawakened in the last 50 years and particularly in the last 20.  Expectations are that some 160,000 will participate in walking at least the last 100k during this holy year. The first recorded pilgrim was the Bishop from Aquitaine in the year 950. An Archbishop in 1121 commenting on the number of pilgrims on the trail indicated that the multitudes are so great that hardly a stop can be made for breath.


(I later heard that even before the Camino was dominated by its religious aspect that it had been traveled by those seeking the ‘end of the world’ at Finisterre and those following the Milky Way.)


My feet today were not bad. The left one can be taken care of now by Ibuprofen (I guess this makes me a convert!) - it was reasonably OK with one dose at 6.30 am. My right heel is interesting – I changed my boot tightness at least 4 times today. I am now convinced that boot tightness is a key to blisters (this conviction may change tomorrow!). I went from too tight – hurt every step – to too loose – possibly schlossing (?) the blister – and finally found a holding point which is sufficiently but not too tight. When I checked after a shower the blister continues to be draining through the two threads. The Compeed continues to hold well.


Little farming today except near villages. We had dinner this afternoon with the Calgary ladies – good company. Both have Nova Scotia connections – one through the Navy (Shearwater) and the other via summers in the Glace Bay area. We saw the Basque couple again, and again in the restaurant, and East-West who would love to talk to us, and the bearded, relatively handsome, French guy with the raven haired girl, sans the girl. This one has caused some speculation. We’d seen the guy walking alone for a couple days on either side of Burgos . However, in Castrojeriz he appeared to meat this attractive raven-haired young lady, probably 40ish and perhaps 15 years his junior, who appeared to be unattached. We passed them the next am – and she had more English than he – but we simply said hello and carried on. She was quite well outfitted and did not appear to be uncomfortable on the trail. We continued to see them off and on for the next few days and began to speculate on the relationship ranging from chance acquaintance (unlikely, they appeared to be too comfortable with each other); to father-daughter (perhaps possible but it did not feel like that); to planned short term liaison (which we bought into!). What we could not decide was whether it was a clandestine lovers meeting, or simply a couple walking together for a few days, or if they were nothing more than friends. We did not see them again in an albergue after that first night. I’m guessing they probably walked together to Leon. He obviously carried on.


I just put my great new black shorts on the heater to dry and melted them a bit – we’ll see if they still work!     


I went to vespers with the guys tonight – most of the pilgrims were there. The venue was the 1200 year old church (looks its age!) and the shtick is that the vespers are sung (literally) by two Benedictine monks in Gregorian chant fashion. They apparently started this practice a few years back and it has caught on. Parts of the service were read by a collection of pilgrims in various languages. Surprisingly it was our Vicky (staying with the English volunteers as one would expect) who did the English tonight. This has become a poplar and noteworthy event such that it has made the guide books and will likely continue for some time. “Making the guide book” is the key to attention along the Camino, be you a business of the pocketbook or a business of the soul! Some of the good Catholics followed the service and joined in at the appropriate places. Vicky appears to be taking in as much of the Camino experience as possible. She indicated that she has walked the distance to get here and I expect she has!


We had a later glass of wine with Jane and Joanne and the nurse convinced me to pull the threads out. I did so and we’ll watch and learn! 


We just had a young Danish lad talking to us. He started on April 2 in France . He works for a software company. He appears to be a bit of an adventurer as he was in Poland , Romania and Ukraine in the first vanguard of tourists after the fall of communism. Interesting stuff!


In bed tonight at 8.50!! John has become enamored with the 20-something vivacious Italian girl sleeping above him. She has been treating him like a grandfather and he enjoys it.



May 11 - Day 22 (25k to Molinaseca– Albergue Ranking: 15/28M):


We were up in the dark at about 6.10 am – most people tend to be getting a bit slower in the morning. We had a quick breakfast of juice/yogurt/apple outside in the courtyard and left under broken cloud. We’ve had no rain in the last few hours. I left optimistically with my jacket on but in shorts and with no pack cover. Joanne has joined us today leaving Jane to follow along at her own pace.


We immediately started climbing as we left the village toward the top of the mountain range. I took many pictures of the rising sun hitting the snowy peaks to the southwest. Vicky caught us and stayed with us until we reached the peak at the cross, the Crux de Hierro where all the pilgrims are supposed to leave a stone symbolic of leaving their troubles on the trail. Mike had carried one from home. It is also the highest point on the Camino.


Vicky informed us that she had had a bit of a breakdown in an albergue several nights previous which she attributed to a combination of loneliness and homesickness (we had already heard). But after a good night’s sleep she said “OK – I started and I’m going to finish!” and is now going stronger than before! She eventually walked off on us and may have gone all the way to Ponferrada. Good for her! She does have a determined and tough streak about her and I believe she’ll do it.


It was a gorgeous day today. The sun came up to a clear sky as the breeze from the east moved the clouds to the west. It was essentially totally clear for about 3 hours until the day clouds started to build at about 10am . It was simply a beautiful walk today over the mountain range with excellent scenery – deep valleys, pink heather-covered mountain sides, and snow-covered peaks off in the distance. The descent on the west side was steep but could see what looked to be an atomic power plant, and a mine (quarry) and its tailings areas down in the awaiting valley. We ran across a gorgeous new single petal rose-type flower on the hillsides – white with a crimson center. It looked like the shrubs had been initially planted, perhaps for erosion control, but that they were now spreading on their own. There was also much wild lavender in full bloom and much yellow gorse or broom. The valleys here are steep and deeply eroded.


Mountain Terrain West of Rabanal Looking South


We had had coffee in El Acebo in the first open café we saw. El Acebo is a small village nestled snugly in the hills which you comeupon from above. The most striking thing on this side of the mountains is the appearance of slate roofs and they are so apparent walking down to El Acebo; beautiful material and beautiful workmanship and those roofs cover most of the houses/shops. They use pins through the slate to hold the slate slabs – probably about 1cm in thickness – in place.


There were also a couple fountains available in El Acebo. The first I would not have filled up from because it simply did not looked used; the second, in town, was probably OK. Fountains are an interesting piece of Camino infrastructure. For the most part there is little signage indicating whether or not the water is OK. However we did notice a few signs which clearly indicated “do not drink” and a few others that indicated that the water was potable. The signage was better in Galicia in the west due to their longer time catering to the Camino tourism trade. Interestingly, the previous province for the most part just provided a warning that the water had not been tested. To a great degree we used common sense – if it was in the middle of town we assumed it would be OK; if it looked disused we would leave well enough alone. An acquaintance from Thunder Bay who did the Camino a few years back indicated she had stomach problems almost from day one and they did not clear up until she got home and had it looked after. We had no apparent water problems, nor did Mike and John in 2002.


The Slate-Roofed Village of El Acebo



We got into Molinaseca at about 1am . Familiar faces in the albergue are the young Austrian couple, the older Spanish couple (he of the silver hair) who previously dubbed us the Three Amigos and who we discover have allowed themselves some 52 days for the trip but will come in early (they should - they walk well!), John’s Italian 20-something girlfriends (they saw John’s forgotten note book on his bed but did not bring it!), an old Italian couple (late 60’s/early 70’s) who know some Dutch, East-West and his friend are here (believe the friend may have been sitting with the Italians in the restaurant in Roncesvalles). Jane got in at about 4.30, better than we had expected given the climbs and descents today. She said the descent did take something out of her. The trail was tough today with much outcrop to scramble over.


The way down the mountain was steep, initially on the highway but then off road to the trail which was both steep and rocky. We passed young Sarah but she was not interested in companionship, preferring to walk with her thoughts – probably more intelligent than us in any event! We passed the plastic “home” of the legendary foot doctor hermit who was not in today. He lives in a plastic hovel with a fire pit. He professes to cure sore and aching feet and claims much success. Probably lives mainly on the largess of the walkers.


There is a really nice bridge over the River Carracedo just as one comes into town, and we had dinner in a moderately upscale restaurant next door, although not outside as it was still uncomfortably cool.


I called Sonja on the way back to the albergue today. All is OK. Jill is off to Ottawa on points to spend a week with her friend. We are still planning to take in the family reunion in Windermere in July; I told her to make a decision on whether to go via Calgary or Cranbrook and have Karen make the necessary arrangements – her call.


Joanne tells us she is concerned about someone they (‘the girls’) have dubbed the “Camino Killer” – some French guy with piercing blue eyes who apparently slept at my feet last night. He at least has reasonable English and certainly did not look dangerous to me.



May 12 - Day 23 (24k to Cacabelos– Albergue Ranking: 2/28M):


Our first stretch today was across the valley, including the one major low rounded hill in the center. Much agriculture with a concentration on “truck” crops along with grapes and cherries. We passed the atomic power plant and mine several kilometres to the south. We passed through a few small towns, and after coffee in a little bar across the street from the castle (under serious reconstruction), got somewhat lost in Ponferrada after making friends with the cash machines. Joanne’s card would not work so she had to go to a bank.


Joanne elected to join us again today – she is good company. She carries some German as a result of time spent in Germany with her family when she was a teenager - her father was in the military. She has inquired of both the young Austrian couple and East-West of their backgrounds – does not appear to be reticent to partake in such info gathering missions.  As for East-West his name is Jose Louise. It turns out that our “young” Austrian couple consists of Joseph (52) and Renata (50) and they have a 31 year old son and two others younger; Renata must have been married at 18! This is their second trip on the Camino – two years ago they did the St. Jean to Burgos section; this year they intend to finish it as they managed to get their holidays together. They seem younger, very comfortable with each other and close – nice to see. They also intend to do the walk to Finisterre.


This albergue is different – set up in motel style around an old church with two people to a room and washroom facilities (four showers each) at the middle section of the units. There are scrub tubs at the back of the church. The tiled courtyard is effectively semi-private for the travelers as it is gated off from the street. The water is heated with solar power!


It is not hot here due to a good breeze although we had a bit of a run at rain earlier.


I was on the internet earlier for 2 hours – good service and no breakdowns. I answered Jill/Ruth/Jack/Margaret/Lorraine and also sent out new messages to Sonja as well at the collective group.  



Hangin’ Out in the Courtyard before Dinner


I’m bunked in with Eugene, the Austrian guy we first met in Leon with Richard and Fabianna.  We also met a NZ lady here – Penny, a teacher in her mid-forties who will go on to Ireland to meet her husband when finished the trek, and David Spiegelhalter, a British PhD mathematician who does medical statistics research at an Institute affiliated with Cambridge. He had at one time applied to teach at Dalhousie for a one year term but a similar job came up at Berkley and he took it instead. He is divorced with children, probably mid-40’s. He will be in Toronto in August teaching at U of T for about 6 weeks. It turns out he is quite well accomplished in the research area.


The town also had a very intricate sculpture of a farming family in the square – John and Mike ran into the sculptor and he insisted they go with him to see it, which they did. There is also a mounted outdoor display of another one of those presses we saw in the bar in Castrojeriz. They are huge and while they may not have been for grapes I have no idea as to what else it may have been (oilseed? olives?).



May 13 - Day 24 (27k to Vega del Valcarce– Albergue Ranking: 27/28P):


We did the first session from Cacabelos to Villafranca del Bierze by road/trail coming into town from the southeast and above. We had coffee and cake (this appears to be a common breakfast food) and then onward. The rest of the day’s session was on pavement on a secondary highway beside a brand new four-lane, all gradually up hill along the Valcarce River . Occasionally the four-lane would be elevated on massive cement pillars above the narrow river valley when the highway needed to cross, including one section almost in the middle of Valcarce. There were many step peaks on either side of the highway, some undercut and rock bolted with page wire covers to protect the four-lane from rock/soil falls.


The Old and the New – The European Union has been good to Spain


Our Albergue tonight appears to be an old mill of some sort set up over a small brook. It has not been active for some years as a mill, but the lower section has served as a local restaurant/pub. It appears that the albergue context is new to the hosts (there is another further into the community). All the beds are upstairs with access up a metal stairway on the outside of the building a la a fire escape. The washrooms are small, not too clean, and there is some ponded water outside, perhaps from the toilets. There are two eight-foot round cement “table tops” outside. One has actually been made into a table top and is now covered with a black soil-cloth; the other is just lying on its side on the bank of the brook. It is obvious that the young couple/owners do not have the urge to clean up well around their property. There is an old quarry across the river with some sort of straw-roofed hut on the quarry rim, probably some 400 feet above the river. It would be on the south side of the north branch of the four-lane highway.


The weather today was excellent; cloud-free in the early morning with cloud buildup during the day as the land heated up. The cloud buildup was extensive enough that we could have had small showers in the late afternoon.


Given the lack of a bathroom in the sleeping quarters it means that we’ll have to get up and go outside, down the stairs, and around the building into the can to have a pee. Mike has suggested that the top of the stairs will make a good launching platform once it gets dark!


We have two Irish guys with us in the room tonight – Dubliners but no relatives (Michael and ?). The Moon Lady is here (early 60’s, a bit worse for wear, reminds me of a faded flower child, and wears flowery, flowing outfits,  and is not bashful about changing with her back turned). We also just saw the little Cuban girl and her boyfriend arrive.


Joanne traveled with us again today – nurse, golden retrievers, hiker, 51, two boys, married to an engineer, lives in Calgary – originally in Ottawa but also Victoria, husband has had difficulty holding jobs due to consolidations in the business out west. One son is in 2nd year at the University of Winnipeg and has a girlfriend that JA would like to get the background on; the second son went to Queens, I believe. Joanne is a spirited type, has a bit of Spanish and German, is a good traveling companion, and best of all, has no problem with her feet. Note that she wore hiking (expensive) shoes for the full trip with no apparent problem, or at least none she’ll admit to.


I’ve come to the conclusion that our shin splints (mine has appeared – believe it came from the steep and long downhill of two days ago) may be simply boot bruises as their location is in line with the boot tongue. I recall now that I may have had a couple incipient ones in training, for one of which I took a five minute break at a point on the Harstone road just before coming back into Rosslyn. I rethreaded my blister again today – so much for Nurse Joanne’s advice. It is feeling better though; my left foot did not hurt as much toady as I doctored myself with Ibuprofen – I am a sold convert! I got a funny feel on my toes today and discovered a large blister on the left side of the second toe on my right foot, and a second small one (no problem) on the right side. I’ll lance the larger of the two. I imagine it comes from my sneaker and sock combination so I’ll go back to boots tomorrow, even though most of the trail appears to be pavement. I just noticed I do have a good case of athlete’s foot between two toes on my right foot; none on the left.


Joanne just came up with the name Galliano as the prime ingredient for Harvey Wallbangers - we’d been searching for the word for three days. Remember? – OJ/vodka/Galliano! We had another dinner today at about 2.30 in another bar somewhere in Northern Spain . We were accompanied by another table of 7 older (probably our age but we still think we are young!) Spanish guys who arrived by car. We still do not know what they do.


May 14 - Day 25 (34k to Triacastela– Albergue Ranking: 5/28M):


Today it was up for the first half; down for the second! Cow shit all the way!! We even watched three cows take themselves about two kilometres along the trail home to the barn at Los Pastantes after a hard day at the pasture (well, half day). There were at least three horses on the trail from Cebrero and that made for a lot of horseshit as well!


Joanne was with us again today – good companion and about as mixed up as the rest of us! She would not bunk with us tonight so we picked up (she actually volunteered without knowing who was in the room, poor soul! but ‘picked up’ has a better macho ring) a 25 year old Italian girl with tight jeans! This is a municipal-run albergue in two buildings at the foot of a large field on the west side of town. The buildings are two stories and built into the hillside so one enters on the top floor. Each floor has 16 places



                     Joanne with the Young Spaniard who Returned Her Passport


in rooms of four. Bathrooms are down the hall but appropriately appointed. There was hot water, and toilet seats, and a washer and drier and scrub sinks. The rooms are quite spacious with built in closets. I have an idea the buildings may originally been something else! There is a bar immediately across the road at the end of the driveway. 


Joanne left her passport and return ticket in her little purse in a little café where we had coffee at a little place called Ruitelan. At about 10 am we were overtaken by a young Spaniard in his late 20’s just before we reached La Faba. After some initial conversation he asked if anyone had lost their purse. Joanne almost had a heart attack when she realized she did not have hers on her person. The young lad returned it smiling. He obviously knew from the description by the lady running the café that it likely belonged to the blond girl traveling with thee old guys. What’s more, he could have looked at her picture. We suggested she buy him lunch at Cebrero which she did, after much misunderstanding on the part of the restaurant owner as to just what she wanted to do (pay for the young lad’s lunch!). It was finally straightened out by the young lad once he understood what she was trying to do! I can hear John and Joanne outside talking to the two Italians - Mike just joined them.


The trail today was bathed in beautiful weather and led up and over the last significant mountain range before Santiago . We also arrived in the Province of Galicia at a marker depicting 150.5km left to go! The trees on this side of the mountains are much more mixed hardwood with spring further advanced on the hillsides. From here on in the


Morning Light in the Church at Cebriero

villages will be much closer. We chased David and Penny the Buddhist ( Cambridge and NZ) up over the mountain but did not catch them until Cebrero where we shared a Coke with them. They had already been in the stone chapel and advised we take it in if for no other reason than to catch the sunlight pouring through the east-facing windows behind the altar. We did – they were right! Penny is wearing gloves to ward off the sun as it is playing havoc with her hands – swollen and sunburned. On their leaving David threw down a challenge – “Last one to tapas is a sissy!” How British!


We saw two black “fox-eared” squirrels in a mature chestnut grove interspersed with other trees on a hillside. I’m surprised they have not been shot off by the locals. These were the only two squirrels we’ve seen during the whole trip.


Our intent tonight is to have dinner with Penny and David. Joanne checked out the restaurant – lamb is served. While the guys were at Mass I purchased some new Compeeds and some new Ibuprofen (600mg as compared to my 200mg!). These Compeeds are better than anything I saw in Canada , and the Ibuprofen stronger! While I say this Mike has used all my small blister patches on his toes from the supply made available by Nurse Pat.


Joanne bought John a new notebook and he has tried to transfer/dream up some of the info he had in the other one. We’ll see if he fills it. He seemed lost in assisting in the planning as soon as he misplaced the original. He had a good supply of the key data.


The whole crowd except this lone Protestant has gone off to a special pilgrim Mass. I expect them back at about 7.30 pm. When I went back with groceries I picked up my notebook and am now sipping scotch and writing in a bar which appears to be owned by an older lady (and/or her son). The young Austrian couple, Joseph and Renata, is in town as is the Spanish couple of he with the silver hair. Jose (East-West) and Ignatius are also here.


I believe the Kentucky Derby goes tomorrow. Unfortunately it will be 11 pm here and not likely on Spanish TV in any event. We have tried but have not been able to remember what goes into a mint julep!  It is amazing how the simplest question can amuse for hours on the road. The barkeep just brought me a small slice of dessert type bread – slightly sweet – very good. I have not seen the presence of any Internet in town. Paseo in a small town is very exciting – many people in the streets but with no place to go.


It is obvious from the number of carved walking sticks, scallop shells with strings, and hats that this location, or perhaps Cebrero, must be a significant starting point for the short term walkers. We had not seen any of this paraphernalia for sale until the last three days. It’s obvious that local entrepreneurs produce it for the new/anticipated pilgrim market. One can only get a certificate if one has done the last 100k and a lot of them must start back at Cebrero, a little stone village on the height of land. It must be a poplar tourist spot as it has the only upscale North American-style gift shop I’ve seen in Spain. It would appear a lot of walkers start from there to catch the view of the mountains, including day trippers and horses (3-4 today). It is Friday at 7 pm and the TV is showing swimming. There was a bull fight on last night in the heavy rain but we did not watch it. We are looking at about 24k tomorrow to get to an albergue with 18 places. If we do not get in early there could be difficulty finding room – will retreat to a hotel if need be. 


My feet today were interesting. My left now appears to be OK! The bruise is slightly sore but not restrictive. I left my right heel, sans Compeed, out of the sleeping bag last night and it appeared to dry somewhat. This morning it appeared to be partially dried and stretched with no liquid! There was little to none this afternoon when we got in. I left the new blister on my second toe with a thread in it and uncovered all day. Given it was in my boot it appears to have come through quite OK. I banged both toes in my boots on rocks today – hurt a bit and I have a bit of black - not serious – on my right large toe.


But I have finally concluded (accepted!) that my ‘bruised’ right ankle is in reality a shin splint which probably derived from that rapid downhill descent a few days ago. The pain was almost debilitating about three times today – it just bit in and hurt like hell! And then it would pass and be generally just a continuous throb that would go up and down depending upon the state of Ibuprofen in the system. It hurt more on downhills though!


Today was perhaps the most tiring day of all even though it was only 34k – perhaps those distances do not take in the differences in elevation although the Austrian map suggests it does.  Again, I tried to sleep after dinner but was only mildly successful. I tend to always wake up less refreshed as opposed to Mike who can sleep anywhere, including a hillside after a snowstorm, at a moment’s notice. I need to do one more Internet session on people I have met, one on albergues, and one on the rules of the Camino. It will be designed with Lynn and Anne and their future trip in mind (yeah, sure!).  For people I’ll do: the Aussi couple, Pacco and Paulo, Wim, the French couple, Sarah and Mother, Jean the Majorcan, the Belgians, and the Basque couple.


We finally had dinner outdoors with David and Penny; halfway through Marcia, the Brazilian doctor and her friend Francois, a French psychologist, came by and we agreed to meet them for dinner in Santiago at some restaurant with which Mike was tentatively familiar. David indicated that his goal was to reach Santiago in time to allow him time to get back to England to his 13 year old daughter’s first major play in the theatre – at this time she does not anticipate he’ll be there. He also has a 21 year old. He will try to finish up the trek in the next four days – he might make it! During dinner several guys on horses came into town from the east and clip-clopped noisily down the main street and past our table. I’m not sure if this was the troupe we’d seen leave Cebrero at noon .



May 15 - Day 26 (24k to Barbadelo– Albergue Ranking: 17/28S):


Today was up and down; a hill to get out of Triacastela but really nothing spectacular. Went from early sunshine into ground fog; the associated temperature drop forced us the put our jackets back on. We passed one set of cows (four?) on the trail being herded by a local lady in her early 40’s to a new pasture, and two sets of horses. This was where Mike and I started with the song “Cows with Guns” – poor John and Joanne! Joanne became somewhat timid when she realized those big cows were going to get in her personal space. The first group of horses (five) passed us about 45 minutes out and was the group that had ridden into town the previous evening; the second group numbered four, including a couple kids, and we met them as we were both leaving Sarria. The two older guys tried to be heroes and ride the horses down the middle of the paved hill; unfortunately the hill was too steep and the horses had great difficulty maintaining footing. They were lucky that they did not end up with a horse with a broken leg. The kids seemed to have more “horse sense” and stayed to the soft shoulder and made the downhill passage without any difficulty.


Sarria was a large town which we reached at about 10.30 am . The trail took us up the ‘100 penitential steps’ to the Cathedral. The town architecture, at least what we saw, suggested the town to be stuck in the 1950’s. We had lunch on the west side of Sarria at the junction of the paved road and a creek and the spot where the trail began its climb back up hill. We ran into a university professor there from Waterloo on a bike – perhaps early fifties – beard; a bit too talkative and not easy to warm to. We never saw him again.


We passed through a stand of white birch today; again the trees tend to be mixed. Again there were many flowers along the trail with the most spectacular being yellow lupines which made up more than 50% of the available blooms. I took a picture (finally) of Sonja’s bluebells along the road.


Today is Saturday and a lot of locals on the road, including the horses. In addition to the Waterloo professor we also had five mountain bikers pass us on the trail just out of Sarria while we were having lunch.


Joanne had some difficulty today with the showers – co-ed – and came out with some really messy hair (she has a mushroom cut) and her clothes obviously put on while she was still wet. We thought she was in a mess because there were urinals in the washroom but in reality our John, who had advised her he’d guard her door, took the first available shower and so she was left unattended. Not a happy camper. I took their picture later. We told her sometime today that her 25% presence in our Canadian


The View from the Pasture Bar – A Most Relaxing Afternoon


contingent has increased the caliber of the group by at least 14% - she was not amused and it took a few minutes to dance around that one. I finally convinced her (perhaps) that it was an extra 14% on top of our collective 100% that her presence added to the group – that’s what I had meant to say in any event.


We went to dinner up the road at a small restaurant in a house. The woodshed was interesting because it clearly shows how the Spaniards value wood – even the small one inch branches were cut and piled in the shed! East-West and Ignatius were there and the young Spaniard of Joanne’s purse, and another young single Spaniard who coughed a lot the previous night. The food was OK but nothing special; we had lamb again.


The weather continues to be beautiful with not a visible cloud, although there is haze in the valley which we believe may be derived from smoke.


Many locals here today; kids are playing games out in the field. They appear to be waiting for a bus to pick them up. Just before we arrived we saw a mother walking with a 9 year old daughter, the latter with her own little pack. They likely continued on beyond here to the next albergue as it was not much beyond 1 pm. The husband of the lady that runs the albergue – it's municipal and there are several in Galicia that are constructed in the same style – may be the guy running the outside bar tent in the pasture just up the road. That facility should have at least broken even today. He also sells sandwiches and other packaged food. It was interesting having the cows graze up toward us as we continued to move our chairs out into the pasture to stay in the sun. They would not get closer than about 20 feet however. “What a way to spend a Saturday afternoon!” is today’s theme song!


The first fact of the day – my left foot is now back to normal!! My right ankle is, however, another story – I nearly gave up today in the first hour – it really hurt and I would not/could not change my approach. It appeared to be an issue of possibly tearing the repairs of the past few days, somehow, during the night. By 10 am it was doing OK but I instinctively knew that it was going to hurt tomorrow. The two blisters on the toe are not bad. I’d threaded the large one yesterday so I punctured the smaller one today and pulled the thread on the larger. I note today I also have a blister under the big toenail in my right foot. It is obviously the result of stubbing my toe on the rocks yesterday when my legs were tired and a bit lazy. I punctured the blister and drained it and trust it will not get worse. The only real problem is my ankle. The fact that I was taking 600mg Ibuprofen tablets today may have had something to do with helping me through the pain!


The Brazilian doctor and the French psychologist arrived at the albergue at about 4.00 pm but there was simply ‘no room at the inn’. They were feeling good however and carried onward. At 5.40 pm there still appear to be a number of local day trippers around. Mike has set off up the hill to find a store to buy some food for breakfast/lunch tomorrow. We probably still have stuff in our packs that would carry us through, a crust of bread and a hunk of cheese.


East-West (Jose) is outside on the grass with his shoes off and his plaid shirt on. He really sings in the shower, even if the water is cold. His walking partner Ignatius (late 60’s) thinks he’s funny too! I’ve lost track of the markers to Santiago . The last one I saw was 111, but we could now be as close as 108. In any event it is expected to be somewhat greater than my calculated 104.


This 29 bed albergue is in the middle of nowhere (in a pasture at least!). The restaurant we attended is about a half kilometre above our facility, and the pasture bar is located under a really nice old oak about 200 meters up the hill. Eugene the Austrian, first seen with Richard and Fabianna in Leon, managed to get in even though he was two hours behind us. 


I noted one guy’s heel today where the blister had gone right into the first layer of red meat. It was Joanne’s advice that he stop and go home. Ignatius also has a problem with his big toe – it is swollen and covered with mercurochrome or iodine. He indicated he has drilled through the nails of each toe on that foot to release pressure build-up under the nails. I suspect he has, like me, jammed his toes into the odd rock when two tired to lift his foot properly. He is still moving onward however, and appears to be tough as nails (no pun intended) although pushing 70.


This may have been, no was, the most relaxing afternoon of the trip!


May 16 - Day 27 (29k to Hospital de la Cruz– Albergue Ranking: 18/28S):


There was nothing particularly significant about today. We got above the fog lying in the valley (we have been walking on the ridge to the north side of the valley) early and stayed there for most of the morning. At about 11am we finally walked downhill and into the fog but then it quickly dissipated due to the day’s heat build-up. We finally took specific notice of Brussels sprouts plants today, probably some five feet high, and I’m guessing some three years old. The vegetable appears to be a staple and in almost every garden. They appear to be perennials here as they could not have gained their height if just planted. Today was the day we began to run into corn bins – generally elevated, boxy, peaked-roofed structures, the simpler ones out of wooded slats but occasionally out of porous brick, and often elaborately decorated designed to hold the farmers winter supply of feed corn. Unless there are more bins than we see along the trail the cows only get corn as a winter treat, and not a staple diet.


We had coffee in a dark little wayside restaurant in a little village run by a little old lady and her daughter; probably a new venture for them. We also bought some sort of baked tuna in bannock – it was OK but not great. It was the biggest coffee we have been served in Spain but still strong. Their coffee tends to be espresso, strong, and served in little white cups. We generally ask for café Americano and it arrives in larger cups and is effectively an espresso mixed with as much hot water. Occasionally it is served in a straight glass, and occasionally in a stemmed tumbler which adds a touch of class.


Today we hit the 100k marker and took appropriate pictures of the three Amigos and another of the fourth Amigo. Unfortunately the marker has been defaced with spray paint.


They use an interesting system of producing wood in this area. Most of the large hardwoods, including the oaks, appear to be several hundred years old at the butt. The tops however have generally been harvested at least twice and there is evidence that some have been harvested three times. “Harvest” is generally carried out at about 10 to 20 feet above the ground and involves the branches only. The intent is that the remaining trunk will put out new branches which will then be allowed to grow to harvestable size and then be

                         The Three Amigos at the 100km-to-go Marker


harvested as the next crop. In one woodlot we noted an apparent third set of branches at least some of which would have made 10 to 12 inch diameter 8 to 12 foot sawlogs!  Interesting husbandry!


We also passed a small wayside chapel immediately next the trail which consisted of a cement building, probably 14x20 feet and without a door. It was white on the outside and had been partially painted white or whitewashed on the inside although the original color was tan. The inside paint was likely done to cover messages/graffiti on the walls. Inside was what could best be described as a cement table/alter behind which someone had placed a makeshift cross of two short tree branches lopsidedly tied together. On the table were a plethora of messages – some simply left for other pilgrims indicating where and/or when someone could be met; some were messages left in hopes someone might have seen a missing friend/relative; and some were more basic and had a religious or spiritual theme. There were also some rocks, many pictures, and even a two foot trophy left on the table. In all, the chapel was somewhat messy and a slightly decrepit, musty-smelling place. Interestingly, just a kilometre or so on we passed a small stone church with a slate roof and a goodly number of burial crypts in the yard, the backs of some of which made for the churchyard fence against the gravel road. Although we had previously passed a couple graveyards, this was the only instance where burial crypts and the road became so intimate.


Today’s walk also produced:


  • A beautiful new stone house under construction with the stone cladding (over brick) just, or nearly just, finished. It appears that one of the tendencies at least in rural Spain is for the second house (or perhaps even the first) to be constructed over time as $ allow. We saw many partial houses sitting in fields on which the surrounding tall brown grass would suggest there had not been any work for some months.
  • Single strand barbwire fences for which the fence posts were slabs of rock the lower end of which would be buried in the ground; although they might take considerable labor to construct initially, post deterioration would obviously not be a problem.   
  • A number of rural two-level homes which used the lower level to house the family’s cows. While there would be some benefit in the winter from the heat generated by the animals below, the odor in the house must be something else! However, I suspect the residents grow accustomed to it.
  • A number of dry stone walls – beautiful structures probably 2 feet thick composed entirely of stones, mostly flat and up to perhaps 5 inches thick – built entirely without any bonding medium to hold the stones together. Beautiful! 


It was a fantastic day with a slight wind from the east and yet into the 20’s by the early pm. Since there was a lineup when we arrived at Gonzar at 12.45 pm we elected to move on to Hospital de la Cruz. Joanne “took off” to see if she could hold us places just in case, although she might have simply wanted her own space for a while. The pavement in the early afternoon on east facing slopes, out of the breeze, made it the hottest day we had had to date. We eventually got in within 2 minutes of each other. We passed three German girls and an older guy (rawboned, tanned, and slim and who may do much of this walking, or running!) the latter of which John disgustingly accused of walking in his underwear. We went right to the albergue to ensure a spot (probably 6 or 7 waiting for it to open); the Germans looked but carried on. Not all spots were filled by 4.30 so the lady must have some kind of reservation system in place. The cyclists came in just before dark but some had mats on the floor again like the previous evening – could not tell if it was the same crew but it is unlikely as they move too fast. We had lunch in a nearby hotel/restaurant which appeared to be a bit of a local watering hole – OK but not great.


We met Albert and Berta (Dutch) from Alberta (a bit of a play on words there!), Edmonton, actually. They are walking because it has been her dream for the past decade or so. She even did the return trip on air miles. She is a recently retired teacher for kids with learning disabilities – a nice lady. He just retired as a department tech – Engineering I believe – from the University of Alberta . It appeared and he admitted that there were times when he was unsure if he was having fun yet. They had been on the road for over a month and were really taking it easy and not doing more than 15 to 20k a day.


I phoned Sonja just after we got in. She obviously had a good couple days in Hinckley as she doubled her $; Lorraine not so. Chris has a mandatory hearing on Monday and all that can be done has been so we’ll see how it goes. I’ll try and call Thursday or Friday.


A new blister appeared today on my left heel – can you believe after 26 days blister free. I felt a bit of a stinging by about 10 am and by 10.30 when I decided to stop and check it was already well advanced. It is deeper than the other and tends to be narrow and set out diagonally across the heel.  I put on a Compeed to try and hold it. I am of the opinion it generated from a small fold in my sock which I probably walked on simply too long. I could not feel or see the fold when my boot finally came off – it may have simply worked itself out, or disappeared in the process of removing the boot. My right shin is generally OK today, probably because of Ibuprofen because there actually were a couple twinges just before the early pm candy. My big toe is still acting up and will need to be drained again.


The most intense memory of the day is the smell of fresh cow shit and urine and sour milk as we passed a bunch of small dairy barns!  It’s an odor that one will never forget! We saw the season’s first hay bails today. Looks like an excellent crop. It’s a month or so ahead of Thunder Bay which hay generally comes off about the time schools is over circa June 21. Galicia is much more focused on cattle – both dairy and beef – than any of the other farming areas we’ve passed through. The farms in this part of the country are decidedly smaller and likewise the equipment (e.g., tractors) which also appears to be older. That is mainly a matter of the trend to mixed farming as opposed to wheat.


These hills appear to be covered with more gorse (yellow) than heather (purple). I just saw my first columbine in a garden.


We saw and passed over our second ‘lake’ today at Portomarin, the first one since the reservoir at Burgos . It is in reality the flooded Mino River and the head pond for a downstream power development. Apparently there are some flooded houses that can be viewed from one of the bridges if the sun and water levels cooperate.


The “Berts” told us that they had run into the two Belgians a few nights ago and that the latter had had a bit of a squabble. It appears that the older guy finally got a bit stressed out and ill as a result. While he was in his sick bed, his buddy the teacher decided it was more important to see the town than look after his sick companion. This left the older guy some unhappy and there were words when the teacher got back. Albert apparently used his mediation skills the help resolve the situation – how typically Canadian to play peacekeeper on the Camino. They apparently left together in the morning.


Joanne finally cut John’s hair with my little scissors to remove the comb-over that we had suggested he needed to remove at the beginning. He’s actually quite proud of himself!


My right heel does not smell very good tonight so I took the Compeed off, washed the foot, dried it well and will try and let it continue to air dry tonight. I also threaded the blister on my left heel to start the process there.



May 17 - Day 28 (28k to Mellida– Albergue Ranking: 23/28V):


Nothing really spectacular today! We did watch the sun rise and I caught it just as it rose above the hill to the east – we had to be walking north at the time because it was on our right. We had coffee in a relatively new restaurant with another small albergue just across the road where one group of what appeared to be car campers were rolling up a tent – first we’ve seen. The restaurant was a nice place – just finished in time for this year’s crowd. There were quite a few of us in there, including Trevor the Brit whom Mike first saw at his trip to the Doctors and who had been nursed by Connie. It was chilly in the am but in anticipation of it warming up we doffed outside gear at the coffee shop.


MY feet hurt muchly today, and still do, with a focus on my new left heel blister and my shin splint. I had to call a halt around 10.30 to let the ‘candy’ I’d taken at 10.13 am kick in. I am truly a convert to Ibuprofen! It helped significantly and I managed to make it in OK. However, today would not have been a day to ask me for another 5k. Tomorrow is about the same distance and I expect it will be tough.


One of the highlights of today for me was our arrival in ‘eucalyptus country’, seeing our first at about the 68k marker. I knew what they were instinctively – why I don’t know – and it was confirmed by their characteristic odor. We passed through a number of plantations during the day and it became evident that they can reproduce well through succoring. 


The albergue is full now and its only 5.30 pm . Late comers will be relegated to mats on the floor. This one is crowded and the washrooms are co-ed. Joanne had some unintentional difficulty in the shower with a rather assertive middle-aged German – a couple of them around!


We went to a downtown bar – a rather nice town, open and clean with a major fountain in the center square from which we saw one local lady getting water – for a couple beers, having picked up a Brit named Stewart along the way. He is retired and living in France because he thought his British pension would go further, and he had had previous experience in that part of France and liked it there. As it was he has apparently walked in from France and has been on the road for something like six weeks. We only just ran across him in the last couple days. He looks a little soft and rotund and not the type to have just spent that much time on the road. OK type however.


While having our beer Joanne suddenly jumped up from the table and ran out an accosted two ladies who were walking by. She then brought them in and introduced them. It turned out, if you can believe, to be none other than the elusive Thunder Bay lady and her cousin, originally from Dorion, but now from Sooke , BC . The TB lady is one Erleena Tacheri, wife of Wayne – one of the former Con College VP’s; the cousin is Denise – both early-mid 60’s. They told us they had come over the Pyrenees on April 19 and encountered snow up to just below their knees. They indicated they had gone over with a German guy who to his credit stayed with them for the rest of the day; without him they do not believe they would have made it. It appears that Erleena had some real difficulty with the whole trip after that day, and they have been taking it easy along with the odd bus. They do not have to be back until June 6 so they anticipate they will go south to Costa del Sol for a few days and soak up some real sun. Erleena indicated that the sales staff in Gear Up For Outdoors had mentioned that they had another customer who was planning the same trip; she just thought the world was too big to run into him. She used to teach nursing at Con College.


The ‘Girls from Thunder Bay ’ in a Bar in Mellida


Today on the trail we ran into a bunch of high school boys in the 13-16 year old bracket from a private school in Madrid, keen and enjoying every minute of their walk, which was just the last 112k. They are bussed out and back morning and night so travel light, and spend their nights on the floor at various high school gyms in the area. One young lad had 3 years in London with his family, and another 6 months in Wales on an exchange. The latter offered to carry Joanne’s pack for her, in part to be somewhat gallant, in part to see just how much it weighed and what effect it would have on his walking. He probably carried it 3k. They were fun – good kids. We also ran into the Basque couple again today – nice people.


We had dinner in a reasonable restaurant down a side street. Meal was standard fare but the Men’s washroom was a little different – there was in place a tall porcelain structure that on first blush resembled a floor-based urinal except that the exit hole was not covered with a strainer of any type, simply an open straight pipe down. And there was no toilet in the room. It was at that time I realized that purpose of the open straight pipe – it was not only your urinal but your toilet as well. I couldn’t bring myself to try it. It was the only one we saw on the whole trip.


I managed to find an upstairs Internet café and spent an hour or so moving out another e-mail message to my Canadian ‘fans’. This one was focused on “people we have met” and was version #2 in that series. I still have to do one on albergues – perhaps Wednesday.


After a late brandy John and I went back and hit the sack, trying to ignore the noisy Germans. Mike went off down the street to have himself a feast of octopus in a fast food place specializing therein. Apparently somewhat like the east coast lobster truck/kitchens but in this case there was inside seating capacity. Next day he said he enjoyed it, but we noticed he was under the weather somewhat for about the next three days. I’m betting on Octopus!    



May 18 - Day 29 (25.5k to Salceda):


Tomorrow we will have 28k and change to get us into Santiago (again!) I say again because today we made the decision to stop in Salceda and have some refreshments while the local barkeep called us a taxi to deliver us to the heart of Santiago. John was rather reluctant at first, but we convinced him it would give us plenty of time to find a hotel and get ourselves organized for the next couple days. So he bought in.


We finally found ourselves a hotel and got in our rooms at about 3 pm, after an hour wait, and 2 small beers and a coke, for a cab. We had the cabbie deliver us to a real hotel a few blocks from the Cathedral, but there was ‘no room at the inn’. We walked around the corner and up another street and the first place we approached had four rooms scattered up a four story walkup – I lucked out (?) with the top floor. (A neighbor is a German? lady (probably late 50’s and quite nice) who had just come into Santiago via the north route along the coast. She said it was OK but accommodation was a bit of a problem as the route is not as well developed.)  


The same driver will pick us up tomorrow at 8 am at the spot where he dropped us off and take us back out to Salceda so we can appropriately finish the journey, this last bit without a pack. The hotel/bar has a few outside tables along the cobbled street and we have commandeered one which we’ll probably adopt for the rest of our Santiago stay.  Interestingly, immediately across the street from out table are some six or eight temporary outdoor street stalls selling things like hats and jewelry and scarves and t-shirts. They are set up to catch the tourists and to provide another element to summer in Santiago in a Holy Year. Interesting to watch the proprietors – it’s got to be a hard racket and a look at some of the individuals involved would promote that perspective. Interestingly our street becomes almost deserted between about 3 and 5pm .


By the time we all met downstairs at 4pm Joanne had managed to retrieve the extra clothes that she mailed to herself earlier. How she knew where to find them and how to get there is still a mystery to me. It was interesting to note that she was by this time complaining of a sore throat, that she did not need that ‘piece of paper’ that officially confirms her walk, and that she may not go back out tomorrow. She says she is tired, and I believed we walked her, in the heat, harder than she likely would have on her own, in one straight 7 day session including today. She has done really well – a real trooper.


Santiago is very much a tourist town – mostly based on religion. Lot ’s of shops and restaurants – Catholics never let the Church stand between them and their earthly pleasures! There are numerous street musicians in the streets around the cathedral – one big jazzy band in the local square, and another up near the Cathedral – these acts are apparently booked in for the whole season, if not for the whole year. I would suspect the largess is passed around and that many individual acts are probably on one or two week stints. The mission is to do it up big for the pilgrims, but really for the bus and car tourists. This is a Holy Year and it will be better and easier than running bingos for a whole bunch of towns along the route!  


A Trail Bridge Over Calm Waters


I had a hard time finding heel Compeeds here – tried three pharmacies with no success – eventually had to find them in a store further from the main section of downtown. It either suggests that by the time the pilgrims arrive they are beyond needing help, or conversely, they need so much help that they drain the local pharmacies of some types of Compeeds. My feet would suggest the latter to be the more likely version.


Again my foot gave up a considerable odor when I removed the two day old covering Compeed. I’ll leave it out tonight and put one more on tomorrow am and subsequently begin the task of getting it dried out and the skin hardened. Nurse Pat would be proud, although I still can’t quite come to grips with cutting the protective skin off. The left blister appears to have broken out above the Compeed but may not have grown. The two blisters on my right toe are OK, as may be the one under my right big toenail from which I removed the plastic tonight as well.


There is thunder and lightning tonight and it is trying hard to rain but can only manage a few sprinkles. The music is still going hard outside the window and there appears to be a crowd of a couple hundred listening to the band in the little square.


We saw Sarah today. Joanne has come to realize she is a better match for her son David than Nan . At one time we were strategizing for her about how she could invite Nan to meet David. If she was smart she’d use some of those creative strategies on Sarah.


I saw a shop with some really nice bracelets today – need to go back!


This morning just as we arrived out of the trees at the edge of a small village we were passing a cab parked at a small café when who should burst out of the café for the cab but our PhD friend David the Brit. Apparently he had left his credentials there and had to take a cab back to retrieve them. True to form as the cab sped past us down the road he stuck his tongue out at us. Hopefully he’ll make it in today and be able to get back on Wednesday in time for his daughter’s play.


Interestingly, there is not much above that described the day’s walk!



May 19 - Day 30 (29.5k to Santiago ):


After a quick coffee and OJ we – the three Amigos because Joanne, although up, indicated she was not going to do the last section but needed to rest today – headed back by cab this morning to finish of the last stage of the walk. Our cab arrived at 7.45am and we left the store in Salceda at 8.13am . The driver had an apartment somewhat out of town he rented out for 60E/night.


Nothing really spectacular coming back! Most notable was John’s comment – heard about three times at least – that he was feeling so good (relieved) that we had our accommodation already booked in Santiago …and for only 14E each!


We saw several eucalyptus plantations including one guy harvesting what looked to be 8-foot pulp. We speculated he needed some quick cash because his daughter was getting married. We noted in a couple new plantations that there appears to be an introduction of a new species with rounder and bluer leaves. We did see one older tree in a park in the city that would have been six feet across the butt and probably 150 feet high.


We noted the location of some bronzed boots in a little alcove in a stone wall marking a memorial to a German named Guillermo Watt who had died there on the trail less than eight hours from his destination.


We saw the kids arriving at a school by bus and noted that all the school buses in Spain are coaches – none of the uncomfortable yellow monsters for the Spanish kids. I had noted earlier that all the highway buses in Spain tended to be sleek and modern and that there was not an old piece of equipment to be seen. I don’t know if it’s a matter of the hot economy or a matter of regulation.  


We walked with a group of boy/girl scouts today for a few minutes, actually walked past them. They appeared to be enjoying as it was still early and not hot. We actually came into town with Ignatius but did not see his friend Hose.


When we stopped for coffee we were surprised to see Jean the Majorcan suddenly appear with a sweet little 25 year old on his arm. He never gives up.


We passed the park where the first World Youth Day rally had been held in 1996 just a few kilometres east of Santiago . The site is now marked by a statue of Pope Paul and a small canteen – they sold beer! Most of the rest of the way to the edge of the city was downhill. About 2k on from the statue was the main Santiago albergue with accommodation for 800. We intentionally elected not to stay there because of its size and because it was still a 20 minute bus ride into Cathedral Square .



The Guys in Need of Help with a Brazilian Doctor and a French Psychologist



The outskirts of Santiago are modern – both in architecture and signage. The old core of the city – on the hill – still looks old but the shops are most modern inside.


There was a major show on an outdoor stage next to the Cathedral in the evening. Mike and I ran into it by accident by ourselves at about 10pm – about 2000 people in the dark listening to a Spanish rock-focused group. Too loud for both of us so we did not stay. We did end up having another drink in a bar before we made it home and called it a night. We were both a little pie-eyed; Mike did not feel well in the am; I was generally OK. About all I can remember after getting in my room was a lot of noise from other hotel guests sometime much later.




May 20: Getting ‘Authenticated’:


John, I and Mike met for breakfast the next morning and went to a bar several blocks down the street. It looked OK and was being patronized by locals on their way to work. After a good breakfast we wandered around the city for a while, particularly walking down through what looked to be a pleasant park area, but right now housing a traveling Conklin-type show. The show was generally locked up pretty tight as it was only 9.30 am .


Wandering Minstrels Going Past ‘Our Table’ in Santiago


The park had obviously housed a musical act the previous night and the place was a mess with bottles and brown paper bags everywhere – I’ve never seen so much garbage/litter. It appeared that the patrons of the show were either drinking alcohol out of brown paper or white plastic bags, or had already mixed it in plastic Pepsi bottles and were drinking out of them. The location of this park suggests it may have spawned some of the noise I heard the night before. The city street cleaners had already moved in and were systematically cleaning the place up – it certainly needed it. I got the sense that this was a normal part of life in Spain. Certainly we witnessed that littering in bars – everything not eaten or drunk by patrons, except the utensils, goes on the floor. Maybe the park thing is in some way a reflection of Spanish culture.


We wandered around the city for about an hour and then went back and retrieved our passports, got stamped by our bartender, and then went up to a building next to the Cathedral to get our credentials for having done the trek. Apparently about 900 people a day are going through the Cathedral credential shop at this particular time – at that rate the estimation of 160,000 pilgrims for this Holy Year is not an impossible target. Our friends, the Basque couple, were there as well; we congratulated each other! We then waited around for a short time at the Cathedral until the early service was over. With the exodus of patrons we did a bit of a quick tour of the Cathedral and then grabbed seats for the next service – the one at noon which is supposed to be for pilgrims. The Cathedral was full of visitors, many pilgrims but many more tourists – in particular groups of nuns, many from South America (I don’t know whether I assumed that from facial characteristics or whether I picked it up from some form of identification). Since we had grabbed seats at about 11.15 am I found the wait for the service to begin excruciating. When Penny happened by and stopped to say hello I offered her my end seat and exited the church, feeling much relieved.


Security around the Cathedral was present and appeared to be of two types – local police plus national police or military – but it was in no way in your face. Some wore side arms but I cannot say I saw any automatic weapons so typical in the major population centers in the international cities.


After exiting the Cathedral I went around the corner to a bar and had a beer watching the traffic in the square where the concert had been the night before, and then passed the time picking up a few gifts for those back home – jet bracelet for Sonja, earrings for Jill, and a tea shirt and keychain magnifier for Chris. We later pressured John to let Joanne take him out shopping for Bev when we heard him suggest he’d probably buy her a bottle of Scotch at the duty free shop in the airport. He actually appreciated the assistance.


I then settled in outside the Cathedral in the sun for about a half hour watching a group of 8 dancers in gross paper mache heads and associated costumes dancing in the square. Most enjoyable! When Mass was over the Cathedral emptied rather slowly. The only ones I recognized were Tony the Brit and Jean the Majorcan. Finally Mike and John appeared on the scene and the first order of business became finding a washroom.


I called Sonja in the afternoon – only three days to go!!


Joanne met us downstairs at “our table” at six and asked us where the hell we’d been! Apparently she, Vicky (who found the group in the cathedral), Penny, Francois, and Marcia plus some unknown Aussis had waited for us after Mass for a half hour before leaving for the planned dinner. It appears that Joanne and Mike had their wires crossed about what was to happen so we missed it. Joanne and Penny are planning to go to Finisterre on Saturday and then walk the three days back – it should be enjoyable for them. Wandering around during the afternoon we also ran into Taro, who said he’d just got back from Finisterre and did it in two days, Nellie and Jerry, and Clair and her Scottish friend Carole. Vicky is apparently still somewhat wired.


We had dinner on the 20th off the menu from a local restaurant near the Cathedral. Somewhat disappointing in quality, too much served, and John was not happy with the price. Mike was obviously not feeling well as he hardly ate; probably the most expensive meal we had. Mike went to lie down just after 8 pm and John to bed at about 8.30. Intent is to meet downstairs tomorrow at 8am . It rained hard after 7 tonight and I have a feeling that will be standard for the summer. I watched another round of bull fights on TV tonight (Thursday) – it can be brutal; I’m glad it’s not practiced in Canada or the US .


MY feet are generally sore tonight – the left burns, the right heel the same when touched, the shin splint acts up when walking but it’s manageable. Oh, rest will be good!



May 21: Heading to Madrid :      


A lot of noise again last night! Met the crew for breakfast at 8am and we went back to the same restaurant and the guy recognized us from the previous day and brought OJ, toast, and coffee.


After breakfast we said our good-bys to Joanne – it now seems she’ll go to Finisterre but not walk back. Her scratchy throat is worse today. She will then take the bus to Balboa, likely on her own where she’ll wait for Jane. However, she has heard from Jane – how I don’t know! – and my money is on her staying in town, waiting for Jane and they go back to Balboa together from whence they fly home to Calgary via England. Joanne needs people around.


                      From a Doorway – The Cathedral at Santiago


We then walked around town and unexpectedly came upon one of the two markets in the city. Almost any fresh food product one would be looking for was on display in the stalls inside five long buildings and in a few additional stalls outside in lean-to fashion. The fare included meat of all kinds - yellow chicken (corn fed?) with feet on, pigs heads (without the bone), pigs ears (we’d tried them one night), lamb, beef, and pork; fish of many kinds – exotics to simple smelts – generally in the round and on ice, bags of clams/mussels, shrimp, lobsters, several varieties of crabs, eels, octopus, and squid. Fruit was present as would be expected, including fresh local strawberries; vegetables too, again all the usual species but including fresh local lettuce and peas; flowers. About 2/3s of the stalls were open at 10 am on a Friday. It was obvious from the banter exchange that many of the businesses had been there for some time.


We gradually made our way back to the hotel and in so doing ran into the 'Amazons' – Clair and Carole. They asked about Mike’s song so he sang the last three verses – they were touched. They took some pictures and are off to Scotland where Claire will stay for a month before heading back to Australia. Claire mentioned the fact that tomorrow is the day of the royal wedding in Madrid. We are lucky to have the hotel rooms booked.


We then went back to the hotel, packed, had a last brandy at ‘our’ table, and then headed for the train station – early –John likes to get organized and to be ready. On the way we ran into Penny and Mike apologized for the mix-up of yesterday. Penny related that she got locked out of her room this am dressed only in a towel and had to get the manager to let her back in. She indicated she was looking forward to seeing us in New Zealand. I mentioned that we had told Joanne to mention to her to expect an E-mail. The message from Joanne to the girls was that she had really enjoyed walking with us. Penny also informed us that the Dubliners had played the concert the previous evening in the square next the Cathedral – Mike was not happy having missed it.


At the train station we met a guy we had seen before – Jesus – and a German girl. The former had some English and we recalled he was one of the guys in Rabanal teaching Joanne to say “Pain et vino esca el Camino”. We had also run across him once later in the “baseball cap” café where we were having coffee one morning at about 9 am (the local kids were walking to school). Probably early-mid 50’s, graying at the temples, and had done the whole trip in 24 days!! The latter spoke good English, was in the 28 to 30 range, and very engaging. She had started out in southern France and went through much bad weather – and had been somewhat lonely on the trek. She is now off to Barcelona for a month and then back to Berlin . Mike noted she had no hair under her bandana cap – probably a cancer survivor. She had apparently done 340k last year and finished the journey off this year. Perhaps cancer had intervened.


We boarded the train about 10 minutes late and found ourselves in seats next to the bulkhead at the front end of the car; for some unexplained reason the bar car was just two short doors away! The ride proved to be quite uneventful. It rained hard in the mountains a couple times as we seemed to be passing through a band of thunder storms as we motored south. I read most of the book I had bought in Toronto How the Irish Saved Civilization – it was much better in the middle than at the beginning where it seemed that the author was trying to impress with his knowledge of Greek and Roman literature.


At about 6 pm it happened! We had just come out of the mountains – where we had probably hit speeds of 130k – and were slowing down to pass another passenger train waiting for us on a siding when KABOOM! Mike and John, who were sitting looking forward in the direction the train was going, flew out of their seats and into the backrest of the seat in front of them; I had my back to the direction we were going and consequently stayed put. No sooner had they gotten themselves rearranged when there was a second impact, and they were thrown forward again. At the same time someone smashed through the glass doors to my left and landed in the isle in a shower of glass. Then it was quiet. And still.


The young lad on the floor, the steward from the bar car, got up and shook off the glass. He appeared to have a couple scratches but was otherwise OK as the glass was the kind that shatters into gazillions of small rounded pieces. He went forward to see what had happened. There was much dust and some little smoke in the air, and many people in the car were trying to get their bearings amid a tangle of luggage which had fallen from the open racks above. 


Our first objective was to get everyone out of the car in case serious fire broke out. It was obvious the train had stopped. There was an immediate mention of “bombs” as the Madrid train bombings were only about 4 months past. Derailment appeared to be a foregone conclusion. We had everyone out of the car in about five minutes, and once it was determined there was no immediate life threatening danger, the remaining luggage out in another five.


It became quickly apparent that the train we were on had unexpectedly gone on the siding on which the local train stood waiting, and our engine had crashed into its last car. The first impact was likely the trainman throwing the breaks when he saw what was happening; the second was the impact of the two trains. When I got out it was obvious that most of the cars on our train (14 in total, I believe) were off the tracks, although ours (second last) and the last car had managed to stay on the track. Our engine had mounted the last car of the stationary train and fire had broken out producing thick acrid black smoke with six foot flames. People tended to be milling around somewhat so we began the process of herding them, gently, off the right-of-way and on to a road and a bit of a cleared area below. It was obvious that some of the old people were rather shaken up, and a few had suffered facial and head bumps and cuts. It was also interesting to see who took it upon themselves to assist in the ‘rescue’ effort of moving people down the embankment – there were a number of 20 year old females who got in there just like a dirty shirt while a number of 30 year old males stood around not knowing what to do or how to do it. As soon as people got down on the road and away from immediate danger the cell phones came out – cell phones are everywhere in Europe!


Fortunately injuries did not seem too severe. There were a number of people who had cuts from hitting their heads and or faces on the seat backs in front of them. I saw one 35 year old guy with a likely broken collar bone, and another 50 year old with a number of broken ribs (he was eventually taken off in a wheelchair). The only one who appeared not to be ambulatory was a trainman, possibly the engineer, who had been placed on a stretcher on his back, his leg splinted, shivering, and covered with blankets. He went out in a helicopter a short while later. The paper the next day reported some 500 plus were on the two trains but that only 26 were injured and of those only six seriously. We were lucky!


Walking around the site afterward it became obvious that the siding switch had been undergoing maintenance (this assumes that it was not an intentional accident), one would assume that day, and the repair had not been finished when our train arrived, and we simply followed the open switch into the rear of the waiting train. There were several parts of the switch, including a 6 to 8 foot piece of four inch wide “formed” plate metal freshly greased and that looked to be part of the switch, a couple of “fixtures” that probably attached the plate to the switch, and a number of bolts that had not yet been replaced! In addition the track had an apparent new thing bolted to it and it and the adjoining tie were covered with considerable new grease. The siding appeared to be the only track open. Unfortunately by the time I saw this situation the batteries in my camera had run out! No picture! It certainly looked like the cause was trackman incompetence.


Train Wreck on the Way to Madrid


There was little immediate focused leadership as to what happened after the wreck. The passengers generally looked after getting themselves away from the train, and some of the older individuals on the road moved under the nearby trestle to keep out of the light rain that had begun to fall (fortunately, it did not last long!). The first sign of authority was a single grey car carrying two policemen and a couple nurses, if you can believe, which arrived some 20 minutes after the wreck. The nurses immediately began moving through the crowd dispensing first aid, which had a calming effect. The first rescue vehicles – fire engines, ambulances, and initial police – began to arrive about half an hour after the occurrence and the first helicopter just a few minutes later. Eventually we had some 4 helicopters servicing the situation, some 25 side-armed Guardia and civil authorities, a number of fire trucks and ambulances, and eventually some busses to move the passengers. The water they applied to the fire at first did not appear to have much effect, likely because it was diesel oil burning. They eventually switched to foam and that seemed to bring things under control.  


We were finally herded on a bus for Madrid at about 8 pm – thank goodness there was road access to the site, it could have been so much more difficult up in the mountains. The busses had arrived about 20 minutes earlier. There did not appear to be anyone from the train crew in charge – a couple of the young stewards were trying to help but the situation could have used some command and control leadership. At one time the conductor came down and tried to arrange people in numbered groups but by this time the people were getting restless and were heading for the busses parked in the other field.


The trip to Madrid was long! We were dropped off at the train station at about 12.30 am after a 20 minute stop at a service center along the highway. I had had the pleasure (?) of sitting with a fellow pilgrim, a chunky female in her mid 40’s from San Francisco, whose husband is a geotechnical engineer (or a geologist with engineering leanings) who deals with issues of construction/planning along the San Andreas fault zone, and I would assume, others. She was the typical American – grousing about how much better and quicker and organized official reaction would have been had this happened in the US. That attitude permeated almost everything she said. I worked very hard to keep her talking about herself and what she did, etc so I would not have to listen to her grouse in the dark. I think John and Mike, who were sitting together across the isle, were laughing about how I’d drawn the short straw!  She made much noise of not having reservations in Madrid and not knowing what to do when she got there. However, there was no way I was volunteering us to come to her rescue although she gave me the chance a couple times.


At the train station, still light rain, there appeared to be some confusion with the cab drivers not knowing where our hotel was. Eventually one, an older guy, took us on and after several calls on the radio got us to where we were going. Mike believed he probably took us the long way there but at that time of night it really did not matter. We were located right down town in central Madrid , not far from where Mike and John got rooked out of their credit cards two years previous. The front door of the hotel was locked when we arrived and we had to buzz to get in. The desk clerk told us there would be restaurants and bars open just up the street but advised us if we decided to go out to leave our valuables and passports in the hotel. Instead we attacked the mini-bar and called it a night.


Mike called Fran to inform her all was OK and she passed to word to Sonja, who had heard a brief note on the news about a Spanish train wreck (it was overshadowed by one in Holland with some loss of life on the same day!).


The swelling of my feet had gone down to almost normal overnight. My right ankle was still a little swollen because of the shin splint. 


May 22: A Wedding Day in Madrid


We got up a little later the next day and had breakfast in the hotel – quite a well appointed little restaurant, buffet style, with a couple servers to deal with coffee, dishes, etc. The same room, or at least part of it, doubles as a bar later in the day. After breakfast we went down to the Lobby to browse through the newspapers to see if there was anything about the train wreck. Today is the royal wedding so there was not much room for anything else. However, one paper had quite an article with a picture. John claimed the section and, after securing it in his room, we were off to see what was going on with the wedding. The rain had stopped but it was still overcast and a bit gloomy.


The first discovery was that there were two lines of police between us and the route the Royals planned to take after the wedding – to participate as official voyeurs we would have to cross those security lines. At first reluctant, we finally threw caution to the wind and plunged forward. We got frisked (as one would expect) and Mike and I were forced to hand over our Swiss army knife (Mike) and Leatherman’s scissor tool (Ray). Mike was reluctant but the little doe-eyed police person said I could reclaim it from her afterward if I wanted so we took the chance.


So there we were, in the crowd at an important junction of the parade route, TV cameras galore, and security abounding. We found the security situation fascinating. Rooftops were occupied by either TV crews/commentators with cameras (we later watched part of the rerun with the “Spanish Oprah” - very well done) or security people with guns. The most interesting situation was unfolding right in front of us simply by chance. We noted a rather dark-complected guy of around 6 feet, Middle Eastern look, and casually dressed, right in front of us (there were about five rows of people between us and the ropes). Mike was the first to note that standing behind and slightly off to the side of him was a bit of a 25ish ‘hippie’ type, with surprisingly, a wire in his ear. Five minutes later a similarly aged and dress female companion arrived, they exchanged a few words, but for all intents and purposes appeared to be awaiting the royal couple. Occasionally he glanced skyward to the rooftops off the left. After about 20 minutes the young couple suddenly left, but were replaced by an older, nattily dressed individual and his partner. We finally figured out that security had honed in on our Middle Eastern-looking friend and that they were being just clumsy enough at it that, if the guy was up to no-good, he would know he was under surveillance. If not, he probably was none the wiser. 


The Royal Couple came and passed without incident and since none of the three of us had been requested to be interviewed for the foreigners’ perspective, we decided to leave. So we retrieved our weapons and retired to get a midday meal at a bar – Moroccan or Middle Eastern flavor if I remember correctly. Quite well done and timely! Then we took a short stroll through the local botanical gardens (well done!) – I got ordered off the grass!! Then back to the room for a short siesta, a quick review of the wedding on TV – in Spanish but could generally follow – well done. And then back out on the street for a late afternoon beer – old habits die hard.


By this time the sun was out and we found ourselves at a street side café in the city center. After the beer we had to make another tough decision as to whether we’d eat there or at another establishment. We finally agreed that because the prices at the bar were too high for John’s tastes, and because we had not had North American junk food for 30 whole days, we’d hit the A&W at/near the movie entrance near our hotel. It was not as good as we remembered! Next, another brandy in our hotel and then off to bed for a 5am trip to the airport.


May 23: Home:


Made it up and into a cab at the appointed time!  No problem with our flight to Munich on Lufthansa. Much security in the Madrid airport with young military guys (too young!) and police with guns!


Munich is a large airport – also with much security and guys with guns – again both military and police – appeared via uniform to be three different groups. I finally bought new batteries for my camera. Air Canada was some two hours late getting in and we were therefore some two and a half hours late getting out. I believe Mike and I sat together on the way home while John was a few rows back with some friendly lady. The flight was uneventful.


By the time we reached Toronto I had missed my original 5 pm flight to Thunder Bay and got rebooked a 9pm flight. I did have the delightful opportunity to meet John’s friend Bev at the airport. I finally arrived home at midnight after 25 hours on the road from Madrid...including a 2 hour wait at the end of the runway at Pearson while Thor and friends had the pre-Olympic lightning bolt throwing competition, this time staged over the Toronto airport. Did not see who won...the contest had moved out over Lake Ontario as we left the playing field!!


Good to be home!






APPENDIX 1:                            The Santiago Song



I’ve a good strong pack

And a spare set of clothes,

I’ve got water in my bottle for the road.

My two friends they are true,

And I’ve learned a thing or two,

So it’s off to Santiago I must go.

From the village of St Jean

Roland’s pass first led us on

As we panted ever upwards to the crest.

Down to Roncesvalles we go

Sometimes slipping in the snow.

Till it turned out that first day had been our test.


Westward on a Roman road

Hardly noticing my load,

And a horse has left his footprints on the ground

With our shadows out ahead

On the sandstone tinted red

And the fragrance of the gorse is all around.


From Los Arcos in the dawn

The Camino leads us on,

Through the olive groves and vineyards of the land.

Over hard dirt tracks and lanes

Never mind those ache and pains,

There’s a sprig of sage for sniffing in your hand.


Now through Oca’s hills of pine

Those plantations look just fine,

And the red mud it is sticking to our feet.

But Burgos is straight ahead

An albergue and a bed

Hang our packs up, other pilgrims we will meet.


The meseta’s endless scene

Is a sea of rippling green

Cold relentless winds are roaring in your face.

Keep your eyes down on the loam

Chant a mantra, think of home,

And it’s forty clicks a day that makes your pace.


Into Leon we went limping

And we left the same way too

As the asphalt led through the endless fields of grain.

But the mountains are in sight

And we’ll be in them tonight

In Astorga’s smoky bars we’ll ease our pain.


Rabanal is now behind

And the mountain roads are kind

Sunrise bathes the snowy peaks on every hand.

Leave a stone at Fiero’s Cross

Lifelong burdens you can toss

Then drop steeply to El Bierzo’s flowering land.


O Cebriero’s heights were reached

And the Leon Mountains breached

Sweat is streaming all too freely down your face.

As we staggered ever upward

A lost passport was returned.

A young Spaniard left us in a state of grace.


Through the green hills of Galicia

On sun-dappled paths we go

Morning mist still fills the valleys down below

Feeling strong in spite of shin splints

We are closing on our goal

And we pass the ‘hundred marker’ hearts aglow


As we walk into the city

Flowers in profusion bloom

Trails are shady, sunshine raises up the heat.

This Camino is finito

Though our journey never ends

It’ll take about six weeks to heal our feet.


Now a bit about our habits

Each of us has had our role

Ray the cameraman takes photos without fail.

John, our Minister of Finance

Makes quite sure the price is cheap.

Mike the map-man tries his best to find the trail.


So we left that fine old city

Riding first class to Madrid

But we didn’t know a train-wreck was in store.

Twenty souls on board were injured

Thank the Lord no one was killed,

Going on by bus we journeyed home once more.


What about the Holy Spirit?

Did it call us? Heal our souls?

Though we ponder on what happened does it show?

It just feels so good to sit here

Sipping brandy in the shade,

It may be a bit too soon for us to know.


I’ve a good strong pack

And a spare set of clothes

I’ve had water in my bottle for the road.

My two friends they were true

And I’ve learned a thing or two

So it’s home from Santiago I must go.

Mike Barker

May, 2004

APPENDIX 2:                                The Camino De Santiago with Some ‘Beginnings’ in France