June 11 – Epilogue

Some random thoughts and observations as we continue on into the post-Camino, traditional sightseeing part of our trip:

Travelling on foot is a completely different kind of travel and cultural experience. It’s a far more immersive way to learn new things about places, towns, cultures, that you’re unfamiliar with.

Spain is a wonderful country, full of hard working people; wherever we went, you would see people working in the countryside, with either old-fashioned tools and oxen or modern chainsaws and tractors.

Upon first meeting them, some Spaniards come off as super-friendly, while others are seemingly gruff. But all of the people we met have very big hearts, and their passion for their country and region runs very deep.

The economic downturn is painfully obvious – abandoned construction projects and high unemployment, especially among the young. The recent regional elections show the need for change in Spain.  With no clear majority, negotiations are in the daily news.  It is something to watch in the coming months to see how the people and their representatives determine the best courses of action are.

Walking to stores, restaurants etc., especially in some of the smaller places seems to be the norm, which is great. There are great walking and bike paths throughout Spain, and are especially well-used by the locals on weekends.  Spaniards appear to be more active on the whole than Americans, and often times the differences in fitness and physique are quite obvious.

Our own personal learning continues with each passing day. Aaron´s Spanish continues to improve dramatically, and I learn new vocabulary that I’ll likely never use again, such as the Spanish words for lily pads, bellows, moths and dragonflies.

The pilgrims we met are fantastic, interesting people, and we hope to see some of them in Arizona someday.

To top off our trip, we saw a sign for a free concert and decided to go. There was Spanish music and dance with violins, bass, guitars and other string instruments.  The chosen pieces reflected much of Spain, particularly the south.  What a treat!

On another note, I’ve learned how easy it is to post on Facebook.  Finally!

Good things seem to happen when your mind and heart are open to new experiences.  I hope to carry a little bit of this mentality into my life in Tucson.  It feels right and healthy.

I would say my goal for of trying to be less like a mother and more like a pilgrim with Aaron was only moderately successful. Aaron won’t quantify it, but I’d say he treated me more like a mother than I treated him as a son. Even though he will be commissioned as a second lieutenant in the army shortly after our return, I guess the reality is that he will also be my child, irrespective of his age or rank.

We both enjoyed being pilgrims – being tourists is much more difficult because there are so many decisions to make, whereas our daily goals and duties as pilgrims were very clearly defined.

We’ll be home in less than a week. It has been a remarkable experience. So grateful to have had this opportunity for togetherness, but we are both ready for our own space.

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June 5-7: Valladolid, Tordesillas, End of the Road

It was so nice to meet up with Teresa, Cristina and Luis. But alas, the real world beckoned Luis to work and Cristina to wedding preparations, so it was time for us to hit the road. We decided to walk about 16 km, from Valladolid to Tordesillas. We are in the heart of Castille, the meseta, i.e. the flat plains of Spain.  Cristina dropped us off, and in a rushed conversation with the tourist information staff, we got directions to walk along the Rio Duero, a very long river that goes through parts of wine country all the way to Portugal.  We were told it was about 16 km walk, which was a perfect distance because we didn´t start walking until 12:30, and it was a toasty day.

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Somehow we conspired to miss the first turn towards the river, so we walked on a shadeless dirt road for the first 6 km or so.  Finally, we saw the first marker for the Sendero Natural Rio Duero, which meant we were back on the right track.  We stopped for a very meager lunch of leftovers, and the fruit I thought I was carrying was nowhere to be found.  Oh well.

It was a treat to walk with Teresa again; both of us had so much to catch up on.  As usual on these roads less traveled, especially on a weekday, the path is not too well marked and as such, everyone has an opinion on the best way to go.  After stopping in the first bar we saw, we got directions to the next town.  For some reason we ended up on asphalt for 3 km, and on what was an extremely hot day, Teresa and I decided to stand in the middle of some agricultural fields waiting for the sprinklers to cool us down. (Aaron would have nothing to do with this activity, claiming we could get pink eye from reclaimed water).  Once we got to the next town, the restaurant and grocery store were both closed.  At the bar we had our clara limon, and we were given a nice little dish of paella for the three of us to share.  At this point we thought were only 6 km from Tordesillas, our planned destination.

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Because we were enjoying a beautiful walk by the river, Teresa and I decided to take a swim. It was refreshingly cool and fun, and Aaron was forced to patiently wait for us to finish!

The last hours of the walk (which of course was much longer than we were led to believe) were gorgeous, along a shaded path on the river.  We got to Tordesillas at almost 9 p.m, but the albergue was only available to pilgrims coming from the south. We, of course, didn’t meet this criterion, so there would be no albergue for us tonight.  The police we talked to were very helpful and sympathetic; after all, they didn’t make the rules.  Realistically, it seemed like no one was at the albergue, and I think no one wanted to be bothered.  We managed to find a nice hotel with 3 beds, had dinner, and enjoyed half a day of sightseeing the following day.

Teresa returned to her daughter´s home outside of Madrid, and Aaron and I went to Salamanca, a beautiful college town.  We stayed two nights, and have now decided that our walking trip is over.  It is hot and sunny, perfect weather for being lazy.

We are going to the walled city of Avila, home of the mystic Santa Teresa of Avila, from there we´ll continue on to Segovia, Toledo and Madrid.

Thanks for being with us.  We hope you have enjoyed our travels, the people we’ve met, and our trials and tribulations.   My pants were feeling a little loose, but I can tell after two days of not walking that either my eating habits must change, or I’ll be coming home as a little piglet…

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Thursday, June 4: Santiago to Valladolid – A Pilgrim Reunion

Today we enjoyed a nice train ride, with destination Valladolid. We met up my friend Teresa (from last year’s blog) in Leon. This year she is walking the Madrid Camino, which has very little pilgrim traffic.

Anyway, we made arrangements to meet with Luis, a fellow pilgrim with whom we traveled for 5 days last year. Luis was at the train station waiting for us. He took us to his home, in a suburb called Laguna del Duero. There is a nice lake and park near his home, so we walked his boxer puppy Luba, and met his fiancée Cristina. We as also experienced some very welcome rain, while sitting on a patio drinking our clara limón (beer with lemonade). It was nice to see him so happy.

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Luis has a job at a car factory, but he also spends a lot of his spare time working with bulls. As such, after a wonderful eating experience at a mejillonera where we ordered mussels, calamari sandwiches, and pimentos padrón, we went to opening night of a local fiesta for the running of the bulls. It started at midnight. There were only three small bulls, but lots of young men. It was a cultural event – not an actual bullfight, just people sort of playing with the bulls. I still thought it was somewhat sad, because the bulls were obviously confused. Customs die hard, it seems.

The next morning we decided to walk on a path that would take us to Tordesillas. Supposedly it is along the Rio Duero. Cristina agreed to drop us off at a place where we would hope to walk 15 km. More about that tomorrow. The walking is not quite finished; the feet and the mind are not ready to stop.

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Wednesday, June 3: Finisterre and return to Santiago

Aaron and I took a wonderful hike to Monte Facho, the highest point in Finisterre. We left our backpacks and boots at the albergue, so we were climbing in tennis shoes and the views were magnificent, and the skies were blue. This is an area full of legends too. We went to the sacred stones, and sat there for a while. We took the road less taken, through knee high grass and some slippery slopes. It was nice to stay off of the main road.

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We’ve decided not to walk back to Santiago, but instead will take a bus. We had time to share a super plentiful pilgrim lunch at A Cantina, which consisted of delicious fish and salad. Yummy!

We took the bus that went along the coast – a good reminder that for us, it’s time to say goodbye to the sea.

We ran into me Michael (from France and last year’s Camino). He is now travelling with both his girlfriend and his dog. They wouldn’t allow them in the bus with the dog. Too bad!

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Upon our arrival in Santiago, we took a bus to the train station to get the schedule to Valladolid. We will meet up with Teresa, my friend and walking partner from last year, as well as Luis Fidalgo and his fiancée Cristina. We walked with Luis for about 5 days last year and we’re looking forward to a reunion.

We did not go into the historic part of Santiago; instead, we found a place to eat near our hotel, and look forward to sleeping in. Our train for Valladolid is scheduled to leave at 10.

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Tuesday, June 2: Lires to Finisterre

We had breakfast at the casa rural, with homemade local cake, toast, unlimited coffee and milk and fresh squeezed orange juice. With only 15 km to walk today, it feels like we’re on vacation now – we didn’t start walking until 9:30. We took the beach route, which was a little bit longer but only 2 km.  While walking on a beach route, it is impossible for me to feel anything but ecstatic; you make a turn, and see the ocean. The smell and the feel of the air are different too.  With so many beautiful beaches on the Northern route, I think I was able to forget that it too had plenty of asphalt walking.

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The estuary is beautiful, with many birds.  I only recognized the seagulls, or close relations, but it was quite tranquil.

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We started seeing people walking towards Lires and Muxia about 2 hours into our walk. Our decision to cut the 30 km walk into two days turned out to be a terrific decision.  The walk to Finisterre today was some hills, lots of woods and very little asphalt. We caught continuing glimpses of the ocean, which was such a treat.

We arrived in Finisterre before the albergue opened, so we went to the closest bar and started out with tapas.  They were so good that we decided ordered some heartier fare. By the time we got to the albergue, there was a long line of people, mist waiting to get the special compostela for having walked to Finisterre. It was one line for both getting into the albergue and the compostela. We saw Carla from Monte Gozo and Emma from Italy, Ida and Jette from Denmark, plus a few others. Many are staying for several days, and others are catching a bus right away.

There are many private albergues in Finisterre, a town of about 5000 residents. We decided that since we will soon be starting a non-pilgrim vacation, we ought to finish up in the albergue municipal, run by the government. All is good and clean with blankets. This will probably be our last bunkhouse!

We went to a very deserted beach called Praia da Fora.  I closed my eyes and listened to the waves, with the sound changing every few minutes, getting louder and thunderous, then calming into a tranquil rhythm.  It was a cool day, so we did not get into the water, although of the other 6 people on the beach, several of them did. Aaron doesn’t seem to go for the “woo-woo” stuff of rites and traditions, and I had no desire to be wet and cold and walking back to the albergue, so we just enjoyed the peacefulness.

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There´s a lot of new-age feel around here.  People come for many different reasons, and one is to be at the End of the World, where one is to cast off baggage or vestiges from the past.  There is a place near the light house to burn things as a symbol of the new freedom.

Aaron did not want to walk to the lighthouse, so i went alone.  It was a little creepy, because as I started walking, a man offered me a ride to the lighthouse. I said no.  After I got up to the top and took some pictures and did my thing, I headed back down.  There were two young women just behind me, and the same man stopped and asked if they wanted a ride into town.  They got in, so I said I would go too.  He started asking questions about where they were staying and stuff, and it felt weird.  I asked to get out of the car.  I feel bad that I had bad thoughts about the man, because he was probably just being nice and friendly and helpful, but I had to trust my gut and get out.  I hope my feelings were totally misplaced.

These daily treks remind me of the beauty and power of words, and provides me of the reminders of how words can affect thoughts. Descriptions that I gave scanned or scoffed at in the past come to the forefront of my mind.  The past couple of days a pervasive thought was “the soft bed of pine needles”. You really can feel the difference on your feet when they are tired. Yay for pine needles!

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Monday, June 1 – Camino Finesterre, Day 4: Muxia to Lires

I got up early to see the sunrise, and it was worth it!

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Last night a guy in the top bunk was snoring up a storm. Another pilgrim got up and shook the bed, and the snoring immediately stopped. But the giggling began, mostly with the two Danish women, then others followed. Apparently the pilgrim who did the shaking had done it at other albergues – thank goodness someone had the nerve to fix the problem!

We left our backpacks at the albergue, with the understanding that we wouldn’t have access until noon. Because we would only be walking for half the day, we decided to stop at a town called Lires, which was about half of the way to Finisterre. As a result, we had plenty of time for other activities, so we went to the sanctuary and the famous (in these parts) Pedra dos Cadris. The surrounding beach was very pretty, with lots of really large rocks. It was nice to relax.

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We stopped by a bar where the Danes were, and Chris and another German joined for a beer. Chris is staying and will return to Germany tomorrow. We parted company, and I think we all felt it was a fun and memorable journey together.

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We stopped at a bakery and picked up empanadas for our lunch. We only had to walk 16 km, so that plus a couple of pieces of chocolate proved to be just about the perfect amount of sustenance. We’ve made reservations at a casa rural, as there are no albergues in Lires – actually, there isn’t much of anything here, other than the estuary of the Rio Lires meeting up with the ocean.

We have a nice room, and walked to the only bar on the beach and enjoyed our meal and the views. I was very thankful for a short day of walking, the 95% path walking and very little “bushwhacking” notwithstanding.

Initially, Aaron didn’t want to start walking at 12:30 in the afternoon, so I suggested he could take a bus to Finisterre and I’d meet him there in a few days.  He decided to walk with me, probably out of duty, but he did say he enjoyed the walk once we got started.

Tomorrow will be only another 15 km until we reach Finisterre.

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Sunday, May 31 – Camino Finisterre, Day 3: Corzón to Muxia

Today was always going to be a long walk, about 35 km, which is a little less than 22 miles. I don’t recommend this, but since we cheated a bit yesterday, it is the price we pay. We were told there will be a lot of road walking. We are first heading to Muxia before going to Finisterre. The name is derived from Mongia, the land of monks.

This entire coastline is full of legends, religious and otherwise – early Christians trying to convert the pagans, Roman invasions, ship wrecks, etc. By 1106 the monks came to suppress the pagan rituals. The legend is that the Virgin Mary came in a boat made of stone to help St. James in his ministry. He was assured he was successful and that he should return to Jerusalem, which he did. (He was killed upon his return). There are also some big rocks associated with this legend, which we will visit tomorrow.

I walked alone the first five miles, with mist and silence. Aaron likes his coffee right away, but I prefer to wait a bit, so I started without either Aaron or Chris, knowing they would not only pass me, but would have eaten and rested by the time I got to the next meeting point. I love walking alone, so this wasn’t a problem for me.

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After the first 5 miles, I decided to use my iPod for the first time.  George Winston was perfect; it seemed liked the piano notes, the drizzle and the falling leaves were in perfect synchronicity.

I then listened to some 70s music by Roberto Carlos, in Spanish and Portuguese. He was the Latin version of Barry Manilow, Tom Jones, etc. But it was good music for keeping it moving, and I was singing aloud with his songs. I ended the day with James Taylor, and then thought I should walk the last 5km in silence. Mistake!  My mind was prepared for 18 miles, and began to rebel at 19 miles. I cannot complain, after meeting many with physical difficulties. But, I will say, I’ve been spoiled, and haven’t had to walk with sore feet until today.  Every step of that last mile was painful, but I still loved the perfect misty drizzly day and the solitude. Aaron missed a turn, so it was a good thing we agreed to wait for each other at set points.

This part of the Atlantic coast is known as the Coast of Death, based on 11 documented shipwrecks and 148 drowning deaths from 1773-1987. It was fantastic to get a whiff and a glimpse of the ocean, even if it was covered with fog.

We reached the Albergue Delfin, a place with a somewhat new-age vibe operated by a lovely Hungarian hospitalero named Roxa. We had a nice fresh fish dinner with fresh and homemade strawberry mousse for dessert.

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I talked with a nice young man from Slovakia, and a guy more my age from Australia. They have both have been walking the Camino Frances and loved it, except for the rush to the albergues. I enjoy hearing the stories and talking with other pilgrims. It is an interesting part of the Camino. Two of the Danish women from yesterday also stayed there. We didn’t have a chance to talk in the morning, but tonight the first thing they mentioned was the thunderous and powerful snoring of one of our roommates. I told them Aaron and Chris thought they (the Danish women) were the snorers! ¡Chicles!

I keep mentioning all of these nice people; it’s also worth mentioning that all of you, my family and friends, enhance the quality of my life tremendously. Thank you.

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Saturday, May 30: Camino Finisterre Day 2 – Negreira to Corzón

Today’s thoughts:

1) It felt like every time I thought I had had just about enough walking on asphalt, a nice little dirt path would appear. Yay!

2) Today was the first time all of the lodgings were full at our chosen stopping point. We stopped at the last pension, and Yanet, the hospitalera, was kind enough to offer to call the next albergue (7-9 km away) for availability. It had just opened 2 weeks ago and was not in any guidebook. She was so sweet, and part of the appeal of the Camino is experiencing the kindness of people you don’t even know.

3) As it turned out, the albergue down the road did have available beds – but the problem was that at this point I was feeling like the princess and the pea. The very small blisters on my feet were becoming increasingly bothersome, and I couldn’t bear the thought of walking anymore. While Yanet was on the phone with the owner of the other albergue, we had her ask if he might be able to pick us up, and how much it would cost; the answer was of course, and for no charge. He only had one guest at the time. The place turned out to be absolutely lovely – it was his grandparents’ hundred-year-old home that he recently converted to an albergue and operates with his cousin. As I said before, the kindness of strangers can be overwhelming.

We ended up bunking with a group of five Danish women, who had been walking the Camino Portugues. They had nothing but great things to say about that particular route, which begins in Lisbon and travels north all the way up the Portuguese coast to Santiago.

It was another pretty day today, but on the warm side for walking.

Obviously as the days go by, physical and mental fatigue becomes more of a factor. The physical stuff is to be expected, as we are walking quite a long way, but the mind can play tricks on you. It’s imperative to keep control of your thoughts and maintain a positive attitude. We are doing this walk for a reason, even if sometimes it’s hard to clearly define what that reason is.

Buenas noches.

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Friday, May 29: Camino Finisterre, Day 1

A long time ago, people thought that the end of the world was where the ocean met the land.  I heard a funny legend about Y1K (the turn of the first millennium, during the Middle Ages), when people thought the world would come to an end, so they started walking to Finisterre. What did everyone do for Y2K? Does anyone even remember?

I haven’t done any research on this phase of the trip, so I am only recounting what I’ve heard.  While the weather is good and I have time, I might as well round out my pilgrim passport.

Today we left Santiago, the road being quite close to our pension.  We had a big breakfast, and were on the road by 9.  We saw about 12 pilgrims early, and then the numbers started thinning out.  There was a lot of uphill climbing today, so my feet were very thankful for yesterday´s rest.  (My Fitbit calculated that I only logged about 8.5 miles yesterday, which, believe it or not, is pretty low). It was a pretty day, but again the path was mostly dirt roads combined with road walking.  Our first stop is in a town called Negreira, about 23 km. from Santiago.  Aaron and I started alone, and then Chris caught up to us about 5 or 6 kilometers into the walk.   Aaron was walking quite fast today, so we met up at a cafe after a few hours and decided to have various meeting times for food breaks, which worked out quite well.

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We arrived in Negreira around 2, Aaron having scoped out and chosen “Albergue el Carmen” for our lodgings, which was a fun coincidence. It’s is a typical albergue, but with a small terrace this time.  We went for an early lunch at Restaurante Imperial, where I had a delicious bowl of vegetable soup.

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Veggies are quite uncommon on the pilgrim menu. We shared a bottle of wine, and had a very good discussion about the differences between our interactions as mother and son as opposed to adult pilgrim and adult pilgrim. I’ve learned that if I listen carefully enough to what he says, I might actually hear what he’s saying.

I received a message from him that warmed my heart, even though he didn´t come out and say it directly.  As he was discussing how impressed he was with some of the older people walking, I said, “I’m older than some of them, what about me?”  He casually replied “Well, that’s a given.” It made me realize that I probably didn’t tell my mother often enough just how awesome she was.

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I also met a very outgoing German man and Austrian woman on the terrace, where we shared a beer and some travel stories. Most of the others kept very much to themselves. All in all, another a good day – and we’re hoping for another relatively short (22 km) travel today tomorrow.

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