Ray's Corner

HOME Bear River, NS Canoeing the Thelon "Down Under" Our Cookbooks Some Famly History The Hunt Camp The Geological Years The Grampy Tapes Walking the Camino



Progressing with the Pilgrims

(A light-hearted look at the Camino via a series of on-the-road e-mails)


Dispatches From The 2004 March Across Northern Spain

-         April 18 to May 23, 2004  –

(Slightly edited for spelling and clarity from the original)


Thursday – Apr. 22 


Progressing (?) with the Pilgrims (??) 


Hi y’all:


Well day three of the trek across Northern Spain has just been completed!!  - about 71km to date. Began the walk in spring conditions on the French side of the Pyrenees at 9.30am on Tues. Walked steadily up-hill until 3.30 - not bad, mixed rain and sun, snow on the top at 1450m, spectacular scenery, above the tree line, sheep and horses everywhere in the distance. Previous day had been so bad with wind and snow that a number of pilgrims abandoned their trek. At the top of the last pass the guidebook said take the road down, not the trail thru the trees (a massive beech forest on the Spanish side!) and you can imagine how I protested when my traveling companions forced me to go down thru the trees. It took about an hr and a half but a wonderful walk except it did more damage to the thighs than the five hours up. That trek well could be my trip highlight (sorry Hon, can’t come home....my ticket is not good until mid-May!!). Stayed the night in a 12th century stone building now adapted to housing travelers - some 120 of us all lined up in double bunks side by side ....the snoring was interesting!! Locked us in at 10 pm when the lights went out. Let us out at 6 and we were on the road by 7. Tonight we are in a convent (me, in a convent...!!!) and same rules apply…..in by ten or not in at all!!


Day 2 was spent in getting out of the highest foothills of the Spanish side of the Pyrenees... much up and down and much mud. Probably could not have redone Day 1 again given soreness of upper thighs from the severe downhill. Today we walked in the rain west along the Arga/Irga River (featured in Hemmingway’s “The Sun Also Rises”) with a slight downhill all the way. Should be over most of the pain in the legs and hardened up by Sunday. Feet have been good and no need for Nurse Pat’s blister skins. Can’t say the same for Mike, he has two going. Ran into a young Swiss lad this pm who we’ve seen both the past two days and his feet are in tatters. He’ll probably try walking in sandals tomorrow.


By the way, I’m in Pamplona but no bulls running (except for us!??) until July.


We have a real eclectic X-section of walkers with us. Would say half are in their 40´s plus, and many 60 yr olds, including even a few 60-plus grandmothers. Mike said they saw many more young types in October two years ago. Probably about 25% women. Many more individuals than I had expected, sometimes they team up; sometimes they do it on their own. Biggest party is a group of 60-plus Italian men - appear to be having a good time. Nationalities abound - though to date appears to be all Caucasian - Danes, Brazilians, Canadians, Swiss, Spaniards, Italian, Yanks (not as many as I’d expected!), French, Germans (practically always two walking sticks!), South Africans, and Brits to date.


I do not regret the decision to not bring a walking stick - and I see a large contingent without. Also rain ponchos appear to be a favorite piece of garb for the Europeans.   


But I ramble. Next update when we hit the next city in a few days time.


Got to catch the guys at the pub next door!


Take care all,


Ray “Sore-thighs” Riley



Saturday – Apr. 24 


Progress(?) of the Pilgrims (??) – Installment 2 


Question 1: Why are there more "W’s" in my contact list than any other reasonable letter????


Anyway, here is Installment 2 (whether you wanted it or not!!)


Since our last encounter we have done another 50-plus (damn European keyboards) km. Most of it has been over relatively reasonable terrain. After leaving Pamplona at 7am we climbed until 12.30 up a mud-strewn set of farmer’s fields...Mike uses the word "slogged" and it fits....until we reached the top of the "hill" southwest of the city.....about 12.30 ……so it was some slog! Down took about an hour over a real cobble field (the geologist is coming out here) of detritus from the local outcrop which was conglomerate - hard going but better than still climbing. My knees got a bit sore, particularly the left as a result of an encounter with a rock ridge on a canoe trip with Mr. Chevalier et al (see above address if you want to send Chevy a "shame" note). TODAY HOWEVER, THEY WERE BACK IN ORDER (DAMN eUROPEN kEYBOARD) and no real pain.


Rest has been hill and dale stuff, thru small villages with a church (Catholic) and a fountain and from 10 to 200 houses. Estella, the town we are now in, has a population of 13,000 (Kenora size in the summer, Anne) and like most villages partly on (or on) a hill.


It’s Saturday night and everyone is out for paseo - the pm stroll before the 9pm meal. Only shops open are those that sell clothes (mainly women’s) and bars (where I am but cheap I-net).


Today’s run was about 22km generally down hill with the river, we got in at 12.45...our short term objective has become beating the 72yr Italian we have met....bugger is in excellent shape!!, and so are his late 60´s friends! Makes it tough! If it had not dried up today we would have been in mud up to our knees but thank goodness for sunshine!!


We set a good pace, and only have been outpaced by one Spaniard (in the rain) and a young Swiss couple.... and he has really bad feet!! We get lapped when we stop for Cafe Americano/Grande; makes our 68yr old granddad John really pick up the pace!!


Big focus today is that the guys and the guys are being separated by pain....Mike has suggested that this whole experience is really a symphony of pain....not bad but I’ve argued it more of a jazz combo than a symphony because it is not well ordered!


Blisters are the big things...one guy stopped along the trail today with five wanna-be doctors trying to tell him what to do!! One young lady with a major pussy blister under a toenail, another 21 year old from NYC with five blisters on both feet; a Dutch guy with blisters all over the balls of his feet...he has had them for three days but is soldiering on!!! One lady from Colorado we met when we arrived who has given in to sore knees and was taking today’s bus to meet her daughter down the road three days out, and a German lady with her left knee up in a tensor bandage. And those are only the ones we recognize.


One Dutch lady walks in a long beige (or whatever!) skirt...told her it was some classy. She later repaid the compliment when she told me my fly was unzipped when I came out of the wash room early this evening!! Good people here!!


Tomorrow will be another easy day, only about 22 km. That should get us in shortly after 1 and back out on the street by 2.30 for the afternoon meal and the associated beer!


My theory is that we are just about at the point where we have hardened up to the challenge and will be growing stronger every day. The 37/40 km to come should be passed off reasonably easily, though it will be long days.


John and I still blister free... Mike nursing his expected though unwanted foot problems.


Nancy’s shell and Ann’s scarf doing fine, even though I’ve sunburned my forehead.


Best to all,


Ray "Hanging-in" Riley



Monday – Apr. 26 


The Progressing (?) of the Pilgrims (??)  -  Vol. 3


Good folks all!


It is the end of day 7 (as John reminds us every day with the appropriate number). Did some 28km today, most of which was reasonable - not too much (my broken Spanish coming out??) hills. Now we have put behind us some 175 km....the big days re: distance and still some mountains yet to come. Have worked out most of the kinks and the bodies, as old as they may be, starting to come into their own. We old Canadian Farts were the first to arrive with the exception of Spaniard Victor (whoops, 'Bictor', I’m corrected) he’s the guy who passed us in the rain several days ago singing "Val del re, etc".  We even beat the 72 yr old Italian!


Actually we do a good pace and try to whack off as much as possible before the sun gets high. Yesterday was perhaps the best walking day we’ll have...not a cloud, temp not over 210 with a good breeze! First hour and a half on the south facing side of a good slope and in the trees and no sun...wonderful. Rest quite good as well.


Today hotter, we finished at about 1 pm with about a half hr for lunch and a coffee (Americano...big (not really - a small Tim’s but strong like bull!) and no milk....sort of gets the mojo working). Had to wait for an hour for the Albergue to open. Again good digs, probably 80 beds, run by volunteers, 3E ($5.25) each, crowd beginning to look familiar though ran into a couple from Victoria today, older (our age) and long pony tail (him, Jack...!) Luckily there was a hole-in-the-wall grocery/confectionary store across the street (next to the police station...what does that say??) where we bought a libation to allow us to get our body temperature down (any old excuse in a storm!).


We are in a town called Logrono (I think that’s how it’s spelled) about the same size as TB...120K. Actually the main square and shopping district is quite nice...obviously a lot of $ in town. But still a down side as one would expect. Walking down the main plaza at about 5.30pm as the locals started coming out for their nightly paseo I came to realize why young Jessica was so enthralled with the country...


However, I just got kicked off so will finish this up at a paying cafe sometime in the future!


Take care all,





Sunday – May 02 


The Progressing (?) of the Pilgrims (??)  -  Vol. 4


G’day all:


It’s Sunday night, it is now sunny, and all is reasonably well with the world.


Severe hail last night which we walked thru this am, snow in the high hills which we walked thru on the am of the 30th. It has been chilly and wet........and muddy, muddy, muddy!


Did our first 40km run today. Got in at about 2.30 after leaving at 6.40am. We are at a place called Casatrojeriz...three big stone Catholic churches for perhaps 5,000 souls.


Now have some 13 days and 285 km behind us. Lady said we’d be halfway in two days. Praise the Lord!!....see how my spiritual side is improving!!


Generally the three of us are in good shape. Mike’s blister is no longer causing him any pain...the wonders of duct tape! John has a problem with his right big toe (gonna loose the nail) as he whacked it on a step bringing his two young charges beer...damn fine man that one! I developed my first blister today (heel) but its OK in my sneakers so we’ll see what tomorrow brings. Pat Lauer could make a mint consulting on the trail with a bunch of blister skins, etc!!


Modus operandi getting reasonably well set...Up at six and away certainly before 7am. Pass most of the people who got away at 5.30 in the dark. Yesterday caught up to three Brazilian ladies who left an hour before us, one of them looking fashionable in sandals but stupid in three inches of mud!


We tend to be rather task oriented in this venture (our lives????)...goal is to get where we are intending to get in the least time possible. Stop to smell the odd flower (many and beautiful, particularly the heather yesterday) and a bunch of stuff from our garden growing wild here!! Look at the odd bird in passing ...harriers today...but trying to chase them down and key them in would simply divert us from our appointed rounds so for us even having a bird book for N. Spain would mean it probably would not get used. Our digs vary, some better than others, but we have been sticking to Albergues (cheap!!) and they tend to plug as many as possible in a room in double bunks (a couple didn’t have doubles...they are judged better). We have seen a couple of individuals decide to move on another 8-10 km when they see a previously previewed champion snorer in the crowd.


Have learned a few "truths" on this venture.......


1: No matter what the sales clerk tells you there is no breathable waterproof rain jacket in the world that will not sweat up under 20 lb on a 15%, 2km grade!


2: On a walk such as this there will be at least one conversation on the biology of bowl movements before 10am every day. 


3: The amount of hot water in an Albergue is indirectly proportional to your need for a shower.


4: Germans can generally be distinguished by their use of two walking sticks.


5: I am still of the opinion (after 15 days) that the argument for a walking stick still has to be made....believe its a yuppie fashion statement.


6. Our gas prices are still OK even at 80 cents....its $1.40 C here so stop complaining.


7. There may be more winter wheat planted in north central Spain than in the whole of Canada.


8. Spanish wine of the red variety is unpretentious and most palatable (so I have been led to believe by my libatious friends...I would have no personal experience!)


9. This walk thing could be a bigger take for the Catholic Church (generally) in Spain than Bingo (have only seen one such parlor!). 


and finally....


10. Leaving your pants and shirt 40 km in the rear makes for a complicated few days until you can get to a city to replace.......Trust me on this!!


Generally, great vistas, much agriculture, friendly people, truckers who toot, (trucks tend to be 12 wheelers here....but none of you really care!!), old stone city blocks contrasting with much new building (stone or brick) almost everywhere....joining the European Union has not hurt this country!!!!


And we all have a tendency to blather on in our natural language even when we know the other person does not understand. I did not know I could recall so much high school French vocabulary!


Until Vol. 5 take care all....


Ray "Footsore" Riley



Monday – May 03 


The Progress (??) of the Pilgrims (??)  -  Vol. 5


This edition is called "How to attend to a blister".... Pay attention!


First you get a blister... harder for some than others. Then you walk 25 km on it, trying to keep up to the Belgians who are today on their 51st day on the road ....all the way from Antwerp, one a retired school teacher, the other grew up in the Congo until they had to get out. Kinda feel wimpy beside them.....but you can keep up and then you start to think “But what about tomorrow??”


Then you finally decide that it may be better to do something about the blister than continue to walk with the pain. Yesterday it was OK in sneakers, today not so.


Then you whine and snivel to your friends about not really wanting to work the thing out, but you know you have to do something.


So then you take the plunge!! You dig to the bottom of your pack and take out the plastic bag. That bag holds the vitals of your survival kit.


You then take out the box of needles and thread, a gift from some casino in Minnesota....nothing but the best! Then you pull out your deer hunting lighter, carried just in case you have to make a fire to keep the cougars away when you are lost in Spain overnight.


Then you pull out the needle with the white thread...not black, the die could be bad. Then you burn the tip of the needle with the lighter. There is really something wrong here because you know you are going to run that whole needle thru the blister but you are not prepared to burn the whole needle because i) it will burn your fingers, and ii) it will burn your nice white thread.


So after the needle cools off you put your leg in what would be a rather compromising position for anyone watching so you can get at the blister, and you drive that blackened needle thru the blister and carry thru with the unheated portion so that the thread is hanging out both sides!!!


Are we having fun yet....of course not! But we are whining and sniveling and getting the attention of some of the others in the room....all of whom have their own opinion of how to treat a blister, and none of them siding with what is going on!


So now what to do?? Well we follow instinct and feel the thread which is now protruding thru both sides of the blister...its wet. We think this must be good! So we squeeze the blister a couple times to really get the thread wet. Then we lay back and let the wetness of the thread evaporate while we sum up the happenings of the day in our journal. The watchers get bored and leave as there will apparently be no writhing death today.


We then pull the thread out, apply a nifty second skin patch, put on our sneaker, and limp downstairs (trying to elicit sympathy from any bystanders) to the bar for a small libation to honor the stoicism with which we persevered over the Pilgrims worst nightmare (next to separated hips, broken legs, and shin splints).


Until next time, it’s a sign off from


Ray "the doctor" Riley


Sunday – May 09 


The Progressing (??) of the Pilgrims (??)  -  Vol. ???


Hi all:


The saga continues...


Took me 2 hours to get this machine...its Sunday and every 15 yr old in Astorga is in here playing games!! Should be at church!! Good Catholic country obviously going to H...!


Now this is my third try at this message. First got caught by a town with poor power and that night I lost the message twice due to power failures so gave up. The second was in Leon the night before last when I had a classic already to send and was distracted by a Canadian who set down beside me and I accidentally hit the wrong button and Poof!! all gone!! Then my two friends came in and announced they were not going to mass as they has found a bar that served Guinness....and well, the choice was  difficult but the Irish in me made me do it....besides I was somewhat aggravated given it was about 8pm. So I followed my depraved colleagues. I will pay in the future.....


By now you are familiar with my blister! Trying to baby it I wore sneakers the next day. Did well for the blister but the soft soles in my runners allowed the bruising of my left foot on the rounded cobbles (that is a real geological term!!) on the trail. Mike got a shin splint on his right shin. The way was muddy all day. Got in that night and found my blister had re-blistered (and the following night too!). Next day we did 40km in a 40 km/hour headwind (I know ...sounds like a canoeing story!!) and the following a 36km trek in a 25km/hr headwind. During the first day I came to the obvious conclusion ...with both feet hurting muchly...that I did not need to finish this rather dubious undertaking! Mike was having second thoughts as well. Both obviously hurting.....! John, our 68 yr old Eveready rabbit....just goes on and on and on.... (he appealed the name "pink bunny" and somehow we conceded both appeals ....he was most concerned about the color!). Anyway we looked at options in the good old MNR way...the city of Leon appeared to be the decision point as it left us several options...i) pack it up and go home (concern about AC and our points situations), ii) rent a car and see some more of Spain (not bad...cost more though), iii) rent a donkey to carry packs...( this was the first of many impracticals I won’t go into), iv) carry on limping, v) etc. Agreed we’d wait till Leon and see how things were.


Limped into Leon (good title for a country song!) at about 11.30am Friday. Easy day, only 20km. Albergue open and we go in immediately...there was real hot water....there was a bar (in fact, many bars) in the cathedral square.... (a bar here usually serves meals and we frequent them to have our daily repast before five...any beer or wine is accidental.) In any event we were not feeling badly, in fact reasonably well, so agreed to continue on, slowing our pace, and doing shorter distances. It appears to be working. Mike’s shin splint is not getting any worse (or better), in part because we spent a couple days walking pavement...it is easier! and my blister now has two permanent drains in it...pieces of thread passed thru on a needle...and that today appeared to keep it in check. My bruised foot appears either to be getting better or can at least be managed with ibuprofen. I trust Pat the Nurse will approve!!


Today we left in the rain and it is still raining (7.40pm)...though not hard...good for the crops. We finally came off the agricultural plains today and headed back up into the mountains on the west end of this journey. Feels good to get a bit of elevation and trails again.


Have had frost every morning for a week and yesterday was the first day I was able to remove may rain jacket (it would be really good at a ball game) due to cool winds. Snow on the mountains to the north. Spoke to a British lady night before last who said she was here last year same time and it was warm and shorts and t-shirts all the way.


Stats wise we have about 260km out of 776 to go...that means I have something over 500 muddy Spanish kilometers on my boots. There still is in the back of my mind a lack of rationale for this whole venture on my part....and I thought there would be some great insight unfold!! So far the only real insight I´ve received is advice from Mike Barker..."Always have a pee before going into a strange town because you never know where your next opportunity will arise!!" 


Nuff said!


Your freelance servant...





Sunday – May 09 


The Progressing (??) of the Pilgrims (??)  -  Vol. Next


Me again:


You need to know about some of the people we have met. The following comes from direct "interviews", from indirect observation and here say, and from speculation. This is probably one of two:


Richard and Fabianna: Met first day near the peak of the Pyrenees, Swiss, he 34, she about the same age, she looked like she did not really want to be there (it was raining and her hair was showing it), He works in a factory, she in a nursing home. He spent a couple years in the Swiss army (yep, he had a knife) and is one of the most enthusiastic “livers of life” we've seen here. Have run across them now four times, in fact he made a point to meet us in Leon so he could buy us a drink. His feet were in tatters after about 4 days; she has bought and broken in new boots. They sleep out under the stars if the weather allows. They travel faster than us, even when our feet were in better shape. In one instance he walked 2km up hill to an abandoned monastery to ring the bell at dusk...once for he and Fabianna, and once for world peace. How romantic can you get!!


The “Snark”: A German lady, perhaps late 40´s, attractive, we walked up on her one day on the trail. After a few words of greeting we moved into English and she followed suit....(three years at Cambridge)...Mike complimented her on he ability with English being German...she nailed the poor boy with a comeback that his American was really good for a Canadian!! We have run across her a few times since and she appears to carry a rather heavy chip on her shoulder...She approached Albert, a really nice German executive we’ve met, and tried to make a bit of time with him and he made an instant decision on her personality and left her flat in the crowd. She, by the way claims she is not German, but "European!"


Nan: American from NYC; perhaps 23, two years university in a "Geek" school in New England. Out trying to find herself. She lives on NYC’s Central Park if you can believe. Her parents are both musicians. Mike got her interested in our 60´s folk music buy singing a number of songs on the trail....then she asked him to sing something happy! He was stumped! Did you realize most folk songs relate to sad or tragic events?? Anyway we adopted her for a couple days, even had her taking "Eh!" lessons...we have found 4 separate uses of the expression "Eh!". However, as usually happens on the trail tragedy took over and she developed blisters...she lanced them herself...and finally knee problems....have not seen her since day 5 or 6 but have heard she has been to the Dr. and is carrying on at a slower pace.


Victor: A Spaniard, apparently single, perhaps early forties, quite fit and one of the few that could out distance us. Unfortunately he has no English and Mike’s Spanish is wanting in terms of a reasonable conversation. But he is vigorous, and funny, and one of those guys you’d want to hang out with if we could understand each other. Had a translator - Juan - for a while and Victor hooked up with him....and a couple girls. We think the girls are the reason he slowed down!


Juan: Another Spaniard, probably late 30´s with a good command of English. Took on the task of translating for us and others in restaurants as the need arose and when he was present. Hooked up with Victor and a couple girls. When Mike asked him where he learned English he said he was married to a Brit. Mike replied, ¨Hey, that’s great". He responded, “We’ll see when this trip is over!” To each his own!!


The Belgians: No names here; ran across them on the trail. Mid-late 60´s, rawboned, browned, and bearded. One a retired school teacher, only info on the other is that he spent time in the Belgian Congo as a kid and family had to leave with the Belgian army...Belgians still have a thing about the Congo...! In any event these two guys are somewhat unique in that on the first day we met them they had been on the road for 50...yes,50… days, and had done more than 2000km. Simply walked out of their front doors one morning and kept on going!!


Just for the record, we have to date passed 9 individuals who have been to Santiago and who are now walking home...8 guys and a girl!! Interestingly they all appear to avoid talking to those of us still struggling to get there...How would you like to say Hola! to a couple hundred positive pilgrims every day!Can’t say I blame them!


Stay tuned for version 2!


You man from People Magazine,





Wednesday – May 12 


The Progress (??) of the Pilgrims (?)…One more time


Hi y’all:


Broke the 200km-to-go barrier today! Mike developed another blister...toe this time, left foot; and Ray now has a mild shin splint from yesterday’s downhill. If it gets no worse can walk with it!! Our damn 68 yr old Eveready rabbit just keeps doing his thing....including purposely greeting most of the pilgrims we pass in English just to watch, and hear their reaction! Do we get more mischievous as we get older??


Just for the record Spanish TV has the lowest of the low reality show on every pm from about 4 to 6...really sleazy characters in a group home type situation...for here it is prime time TV. Survivor is classic in comparison. From 4 to 6pm every bar (I've told you before that bars in Spain serve meals!!!!) has their TV tuned into this show. Bull fighting, which is on Sat pm, is much better!


A note on nationalities and languages...


Spaniards make up about 40% of the people on the trail. Perhaps 50% of them have some English and we can communicate. We have met some four or five individuals whom we see frequently and have difficulty communicating with but wish we could do a better job because their stories would be interesting.


The Spanish people we meet along the road are all friendly and are always ready to lend a helping hand to get us back on the trail...even yelling from their 2nd story window if necessary. And the little old ladies in the street always give us a "Bonne (or is it Bon) Camino" and perhaps even a blessing!


Next largest group started out to be German but by Leon the French had surpassed them. (I am not going to go into any more % because Therriault will add them up and tell me they don’t add up to 100!!!). Now the French are interesting...they have less ability (or are unwilling to demonstrate the ability) to speak English than any other nationality.


There is an interesting phenomenon that the first thing many Europeans ask when they find out we are Canadians is whether we are from the French part of Canada!! The French/English split has made an impression in Europe!! 


Germans are probably the third largest of the national groups with the Italians running a close race for that position...generally they all have enough English to carry on the basics of a conversation with us and have no compulsion in doing so. As I may have mentioned previously, Albert, our German executive, even advised one of the US kids to take Spanish and not German as most Germans were going to English.


As much as Mike and I hate to admit it the Dutch appear to be the fifth largest group....John gets right in his element! Lots of Dutch, traveling singularly and in pairs. They too generally have enough English to allow us to carry on a conversation and are quite willing to help us. Of course, when needed John will converse with them in his boyhood language and is pleased to have the opportunity!


Next come a smattering of Danes, Swiss, Austrians ("Austrians and Canadians are not afraid of snow!") and Belgians. Again, generally enough English to generally communicate.


We have not seen a lot of Brits...perhaps 4, and about the same number of Aussi’s and NZ’ers.


No Greeks (bearing gifts!)....all must be getting ready for the Olympics perhaps!


No Eastern Europeans or Russians except for two thirty-something German sisters who grew up near the Polish border, and would not have been able to do this 20 years ago.


With one exception, Sara’s mother (later), all the Americans have been under 30....perhaps 8. So far the Canadian count is 9 with the three of us, a FC girl, a couple from Victoria (with a grey pony tail I took him as a retired professor....since disappeared), a couple of 40-somethings from Calgary, and a guy from Guelph who may be in Europe because his parents wanted him out of the country....haywire, but not sleazy!.


The only other group from the “new world” is the Brazilians, and we have probably run into 6 to 8, for some reason all women! (No...! that is not us being selective in who we approach!!). I even washed dishes for a group of three one night in exchange for some of their freshly cooked pasta!!!


As for Asians, only one Japanese lad...long gone on ahead of us, and one Chinese lad has done the same...both walking from somewhere for 50 days or so! Whoops did see one other oriental girl but no idea of background.


Some other observations:


Favorite local female hair color from a bottle...red (teenagers) to burgundy and ranging from teenager to grandmothers!


Average age on the trail.....perhaps early to mid 50´s with the 20´something Yanks skewing the number downward! However, youth will arrive in great numbers as soon as school is out!


Have only run into one guy we’d class as sleazy....a Dane from Majorca in his early 40´s. Worst trait is that he breaks rule 8 of the Camino...never lie to your friends about your distance. We believe the little bugger takes the bus!! How low can you go!





Monday – May 17 


The Progressing (??) of the Pilgrims (?)…one more time


Hi all:


Just 50km left to go. Got my first blister on my left foot yesterday...why??? A sock fold maybe? Compensation for the other foot? Boot too loose? Boot too tight? Other...take your pick or add your own. On Saturday the first hour was a struggle because of the shin splint but finally worked thru it with the help of some ibuprofen "candy". Yesterday, in spite of the blister, not bad. Today booth feet hurt and limping was the order of the day.


But enough of my feet...what about the other pilgrims on the trail? Herewith another first edition from your people mag correspondent.


1. The elusive Thunder Bay lady:  Finally met the elusive Thunder Bay lady and her cousin, originally from Dorion and now from Sooke, BC. She had heard that some other nut (my term) from TB was going to Spain from the guys in the sport shop. Anyhow, the lady is Erleena(?) Tocheri, who used to teach nursing at Con College. The two of them came over the Pyrenees the day before we did and said they were walking in snow some 8 inches deep. They believe the fact that some German guy walked with them probably was the reason they made it, and in record time...7 hrs. They took another look at the situation the next day and thought of abandoning but did not...have been taking it easy and the odd bus ride since then. Not going back to Canada until June 3.


2. Remember the two Belgians from last volume???....heard they had a bit of a falling out for a day when one got "stress sickness" and the other abandoned him in favor of going out to see the town.  The first was not a happy camper and they almost came to blows until a Canadian "peacekeeper" from Edmonton stepped in and got them back together. He said they at least left in the am together. The Camino can do strange things.


3. Sara and her mother: Saw mother...a mid-50´s hippie according to Mike...in an Albergue about day 5....long hair down her back going from blond to salt and pepper. Anyway she spoke English and I asked her how it was going. Bad question... as it was not going good and she was waiting for a bus to go meet her daughter who had gone on ahead. Well, we met them last week. Daughter about 24, very self confident, is a baker in a ski resort in Northern Idaho (about an hour from the Canadian Border....most of the Americans will try and relate to anything Canadian they can use when talking to us). Anyway, daughter is here trying to look at the next phase of her life...and mother decided to come along, without any preparation. She has apparently had almost every injury known to man (or woman) on the trail, including passing out from heat exhaustion. The day we last ran into them Mother had decided to go home because she had some "important things on her calendar". Daughter was some happy (that’s one of my remaining Maritime expressions!) that she no longer had to look after Mom! 


5) The Basque couple: We should all have grandparents like these two!! Late 60´s, no English, but full of vitality and a real going concern! She has black hair, he the tan of a good farmer. We first saw them on about day 4 or 5, in a restaurant; then again the next day; then two days later. But they never stayed with us overnight and we thought they might be staying in hotels. Eventually we were having mid afternoon dinner together in so many bars that we began to attempt to communicate with one another, thru gestures and the odd common word. Then one day they gave us their remaining wine and that cemented our relationship! They come from the far eastern end of the Camino in Spain. They are doing the trek in our opinion in a way most appropriate for Seniors...they do stay in hotels, but their shtick is that they drive to the end of today’s walk, and then walk halfway back toward where they stayed the night before and then return to their car! No heavy packs!


We ran into them this am on the trail and it was like old home week....all of us babbling at the same time; they glad to see us (I know, its hard to believe!!) and we them, drawing pictures in the dirt, and shouting at each other to try and get the message across!


6) Jo Anne: The three Amigos have picked up a fourth...a 50ísh lady from Calgary who has split from her friend...just can’t travel at the same speed. She joined us about five days ago. Best of it is she is a nurse and boy do we need the advice. However, since her only advice for shin splints and blisters is “Stay off them, dummies!”, we don’t pay her advice much attention (what else is new, eh Nurse Pat!!!) And she and Dr. Mike have running disagreements about the blister treatment we reviewed earlier. But she travels well, has no afflictions, and we seem to get better treatment in bars and restaurants from male bartenders and waiters!!


7) John Francois: French, good command of English, and a real talker! However, he has the communication skills of a diplomat, which is what he was...has met the Pope 4 times and the Queen once; now consulting for the French govt. His thing is visiting all the historical edifices along the route....he got off on the interior of one cathedral to the point I had to abandon Mike! Really a nice guy, in spite of his occasional enthusiastic moment!!


8) Brendan and Ryan: Two young 24 yr olds from Wash. state...off to see the world! Enthusiastic and full of wonder. One in tree planting and the other in quarrying...(do we have something in common?). In any event, Ryan was down with the flu the night we met, and was looking for home remedies as was worried that he had no health insurance. Nurse Connie (repeat after me...Nurses are our friends!!) got him back in about 24 hours, and then a day later Brendan was down with an infected blister which Nurse Connie doctored. Good kids both!


9) Nurse Connie and sister Anna: East Germans...(could not have done this 15 years ago). Walk together but sister Anna has had some knee problems and has had to bus it a few times. Connie is a nurse and has enough English to communicate; Anna the older is a housewife/ mother and our curiosity as to why she is here is not quite satisfied yet...could be that her little sister simply blackmailed her into coming? Anyhow, Connie has been pulling magic out of her little black bags for more peregrinos than one can count.



And that’s it from here...


Weather by the way changed about four days ago and it has been refreshingly warm and sunny. Now we are of course complaining about heat!!...is there no satisfying us??


Yours from People Mag,





Tuesday – May 18 


The Progressing (??) of the Pilgrims (?)…still another time


Hi all:


Not to worry...these rather deranged messages will end soon! Only 25 Km to go...yep, made it thru another day with the help of Tylenol 3 and ibuprofen!


However, we took a taxi into Santiago this pm as it made more sense to stay here than out in some little frontier hotel. Good idea, wot? (Say yes!).  The taxi is coming to take us back out tomorrow so we can finish it up...my friends have too many scruples! It would be so easy just to say forget it and then I would be my feet’s best friend!!!


Tonight the lesson is on Albergues, sometimes referred to as Refugio's.


These are the places where the pious pilgrims...like us, and most other riff-raff on the trail… stay. They are specifically designed to make the life of the pilgrim easier (?) and to make the life of the local farmer easier too as he does not have to kick us out of his barn!


Strategically, they are located all along the trail in Spain, with a few in France. Generally they are set 25 to 30 km apart, but there is a buck to be made and Mike and John note that the numbers are going up since their trip two years ago with new ones springing up throughout. The new ones are generally privately owned.


They may be run by the local Catholic parish, the municipality, the province, or the private sector. Traditionally the parish ones (in the minority) ask for donations...and three euros seems standard for a bed and a washroom and a shower. The municipal ones are often four euros but you may have to wait for the mayor to get off work to come open the place up...in one instance this year they got little gift bags from the mayor just like at a convention! The municipal ones in Western Spain appear to be better appointed and run, because Galicia, the home of Santiago and its cathedral, has long ago seen the tourist potential of the Camino. The private sector ones are generally the best...and the prices we have paid range up to 10 euros for the basement of a new hotel...excellent on all accounts.


Accommodation is always shared. Best we had was a situation with two to a room around an old church; motel style....perhaps the worst was 140 in the same room on bunks organized POW style. There is one just a half hour out of Santiago that will house 800 but we elected to avoid it!


The beds are usually double bunk style, but in a few they are stacked three high...makes it really tough if you traditionally have to make 4 trips to the loo during the night...Just ask Mikey! The bathrooms are another challenge...the best are well cared for with all the amenities you’d expect except soap and shampoo...bring your own! The poorer ones may be lacking hot water, a sufficient number of showers, a sufficient number of toilets to handle the 6am crowd, non-existent toilet paper after the first infusion of the day, and many have been noted to have the toilet seats removed to induce users not to enter therein with the New Yorker under their arm. Co-ed showers are not uncommon in the municipal ones, and, if you can believe it, even in a couple run by the Nuns! (Tisk, tisk!!). Showers may have privacy curtains but as last night they did not and a couple half naked Germans (males! sorry guys!) were absently minded (or was it purposely) strutting around showing off their bods which they at least thought to be in the realm of good old Chucky Atlas!  The better private ones will avoid most of the shortfalls. Some serve breakfast...or a facsimile thereof which may consist of little cakes and juice and perhaps coffee and charge another 3 euros for it. Many, but not all, have kitchen facilities and you can make your own grub up to your own liking....provided you buy it first! 


Generally there is a time for locking the door, and a time for lights out. Most common door locking time was 10 pm, with lights out shortly after. Interestingly, we were often in bed by 9.30 anticipating a 6am rise. We happened to usually be the SOB´s who actually turned the lights on in the am, much to the disgust of some of the later risers. Inevitably all had to be out by 8.30 am, and most would not let new guests in before 12, and perhaps as late as 2pm.


Biggest issue....snoring!!! It cuts across all nationalities and once the guys are past 40 it seems that no one nationality holds the record. Our worst was a Spaniard named Pacco....some women would not stay in any facility in which he was housed...and he’d render a chorus both in the afternoon during his 3 hr nap, and then again, several times an hour from lights out until 5 am when he and his friend left. Ear plugs can certainly be of benefit!!


2nd biggest issue...hot water for showers...generally always some around but often the first 10 people come, the first and only to get hot water for the day.


So for all you budding Camino walkers out there take note....this trip is not always as much sweetness and light as I’ve made it out to be in my earlier bulletins from the Front. There are a couple things that need to be given some preplanning consideration!!


Until another time...


Your roving sore-footed correspondent





Wednesday – May 19 


The Progressing (??) of the Pilgrims (?)…for the penultimate time!


Hi all:


For those of you who actually opened this message I am certain you are saying thank the Lord!!!...he (me!) is going away on his own!


The message for today is as follows....


Completo!       C’est tout fini!        Done!!


Gonna pack my boots in the bottom of my pack and start looking after my feet! Went out today and started the last 25km at 8.15 and got in (as derived by time of first beer!) at 2.28 pm. Weather warm to hot as we came into the city and had to deal with the pm heat on the city streets.


Not much exciting today. Went thru many plantations of eucalyptus....smells just like the steamer in my room when I was congested as a kid! It is obvious that the first trees were planted but infilling is now rampant, and they are now planting a different sub-species with different, though still wonderfully smelly, leaves! No K-bears though! Also saw our first fir plantation today. There has to be a pulp mill handy!


Went past a group of scouts...probably 30...today. Obviously just started and full of P and V and just going at it as if walking was the best thing since sliced bread! As many have said before, too bad that youth is wasted on the young!!


Also saw the guy we have defined as the only sleezeball on the trip....with another doe-eyed 20-something in tow! Never thought he’d make it this far. We still believe he rides the bus! Have run into some dozen or so in the past 24 hours that we have made contact with over the past month.....all appear to be glad to be here. Those who saw John and I without our packs today took about 5 minutes to recognize the anomaly and ask us where they were! We just smiled and said in Santiago. Mike carried his, almost empty, to, we believe, ward off such questions.


Tomorrow we’ll take in noon mass…..yes, I’ll even go as I want to see the oversized incense ball swung the whole length of the cathedral to overcome the smell of the long-time unwashed peregrinos!!! We have decided not to go to Finisterre...Mike and John have been there, and believe it or not, I have seen the odd rocky point in my lifetime where sea and land meet!!


We’ll be off on the train on Friday to Madrid, and the good Lord willing and AC still flying, out of Munich for points west early Sunday.


My agenda for the next couple weeks is the Camp at Shebandowan and my garden(s). Understand that spring is late...40 cm of snow in Dryden last weekend would support my interpretation...so the garden thing will not be much out of sync. Have taken about 400 pictures.....those in TB can expect to be overwhelmed with the viewing thereof....may even substitute viewing and a lecture for the annual car rally (NOT!!!).


Four last perspectives on life from this escapade...


1) Albergue life tends to inhibit ones inhibitions (think about it...damn it is good!)


2) Pan y vino esca el Camino (Translates something like bread and wine make the Camino!!)


3) The pack makes all the difference (inserted at the insistence of Mike Barker...the jury is still out!)


4) Treat your feet like your grandparents...they can carry you a long way without being obvious, but when they get all snarked up, lookout!!


There will probably be one more....on something....sometime....perhaps Mike’s song!


Until then,





Monday – May 24 


The Progressing (??) of the Pilgrims (?)…The Final Hooker


Hi all:


This is just to finalize the adventure....


Lastly, arrived home last night at midnight after 25 hours on the road from Madrid...a two and a half hour wait in Munich for AC to arrive, causing the missing of the original flight to TB in Toronto, and then 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...contest had moved out over Lake Ontario as we left the playing field!!


Second-lastly, In Madrid on Saturday everything was locked up tighter than a drum because of the royal wedding. With a bit of time on our hands we suddenly realized we had the opportunity to represent Canada at the event. It early became obvious after a little checking that our invitations to the formal functions had apparently been lost in the mail. Wanting not to disappoint the young couple we decided that in the alternative we would put in our appearance at the main square during the post-marriage drive past.


To assume our rightful places we had to cross three lines of blue-robed police persons, had to have our own persons frisked (Wheee!) by same police persons, and had the weapons that we usually carry when in walking regalia (we were not prepared to go other than to the Cathedral in the long tails that we had acquired expressly for the ceremony) confiscated...Mike his small Swiss army knife and me my 2" Leatherman's scissors. We were so put out by not being allowed on the nearby reviewing stand that we only stayed for one pass of the procession and then left, being able to again gain control of our walking weapons after passing thru security! However, if you look closely, or perhaps you did look closely, you will see us in the middle of the crowd waving to our fans back in Canada. Look for the Canada Post rain cape that John continues to press into service!  


And third lastly, it appears that Saint James was not content with us going home with no more than sore feet and had one remaining test for us....On the way from Santiago to Madrid on Friday pm we were having a jaunty little train trip enjoying the scenery of the mountains of NW Spain and a small libation from the bar car. At approximately 6.15 pm, about 1/3 of the way to Madrid and just as the train came out of the mountains, we were just in the process of approaching the first siding on the plain when there was a tremendous crash and bodies flew (some poetic licence here!) about the car. Moments later there was a second crash and bodies were tossed about again, and one of the train stewards came into our car thru the glass door and landed on the floor at our feet as the train's forward motion was abruptly curtailed. 


It was not immediately clear what had happened but it certainly felt like a derailment, and because of the happenings three months ago in the Madrid train station the word ‘bomb’ was on the lips of a few.


In any event we piled off the cars to see what had happened. A quick look around indicated that many of the cars were off the track, a couple were badly damaged, and a fire had started in one car that was piggy-backing a car in front of it about half way up the line. It turned out that our train, traveling at about 80km at the siding (we had probably been doing 130km coming down grade not 10 minutes before!), had gone on to the same siding as a local passenger train that was waiting for us to pass. The result was that our train hit the standing unit and it was our engine that had climbed the last coach of the other train and had begun burning.


As people got away from the wreckage and began to get a little personal control the cell phones came out----they are everywhere in Europe! The first "authorities" (a couple police and a couple nurses) arrived about a half hr later by car, and within the next half hour the place was crawling with armed police and ambulances and fire trucks and helicopters. In spite of poor on-the-ground coordination by the train authorities, we were on buses and bound for Madrid by 8pm, not bad! Got to our hotel at 1 am.


The paper reported the next day that there were something over 500 people involved in the two trains; as it were only 20 were injured and only six seriously, one of whom was a trainman, perhaps the engineer, who was taken off in a stretcher. Most of the injuries I saw were facial cuts from heads and faces being banged into seats in front. One chap appeared to have broken ribs and consequent shock, and another perhaps a broken collar bone.


We were lucky! The train was going reasonably slowly at that point, the heavy rains of the mountains of the previous half hour did not materialize, and we were fortunately at a crossroads that allowed easy vehicular access. It could have been so much worse.    


So there's the end to Jonny's and Mikey's and Ray's excellent adventure.

Trust you found it interesting. If anyone is contemplating following in our footsteps we have some valuable insight we can lend to make your excursion more enjoyable!


Take care all,