April 2015

Albergue Espiritu Santu

I’d sipped my daypack ahead to Albergue Espiritu Santu in Carrion, so after “second Breakfast,” I went off to find it. I was thinking of treating myself to a night at the 4 star hotel San Zoillo, in a former monastery at the edge of town. But when I found the Albergue, I decided to stay. 


It’s in a former parochial school, and run by nuns. They’re a different order than the singing nuns that run Albergue Santa Maria. 

I rang the buzzer and Sr. Maria Antonia let me in. She was dressed in street clothes, and like many Spanish people over 65 she was less than 5 ft tall. She had a warm, authoritative way.  “Yes, they had my mochilla pequena. Did I want to stay?”  I was a little skittish about Albergue life after my Fromista experience, but Sr. put me at ease and the price was right: 5€!

She took my passport and credential as usual, but asked first if I was de Alemania, or German, like everyone does. I asked her about the convent and if there were many sisters in residence. She said there were just s few, in their 80’s and 90’s. There was not a shared vesper service as far as I could tell. Then she gave me a thorough tour of the campus and was very clear that the door was Cerrado! at 10:00. Yes! Comprendo! She showed me all the statues of Mary and then the Pilgrims’ meditation room/chapel and sleeping rooms upstairs.  


Camas, not bunk beds! Best of all, there was excellent wi-fi everywhere! I thanked her and settled in. It turned out that Tsmmi had already checked in and had the bed next to me.

Pilgrims were sunning themselves while their laundry dried in the warm corner of the former playground. There was a nicely equipped kitchen, and I decided to go buy some groceries and have salad for dinner. When I came back a young guy from Ashland, Oregon was organizing a dinner party so I added my salad to the mix. 

There were many cooks in the kitchen: French, Swiss, German, and a young woman from Seattle. They were all the age of my kids. Vino Tinto was poured as we cooked, and multiple languages ricocheted around the tight kitchen. 

Sr. Maria-Antonia came in and reminded everyone that they needed to be quiet and in bed at 10:00. Everyone nodded politely and thanked her. These young pilgrims were walking 30k a day, and they were tired by 10:00. The Oregon State student was walking the Camino in flip-flops. I guess you can do that when you’re 18!



I had arranged to walk around Carrion at 7:00 with Tammi, so I broke bread with the young-uns and then let them continue, which was fine because I felt slightly old.

Later, at 10:00, we were getting ready for lights out and Sr. Maria-Antonia came in with another Sister and said “Buenas Noches” to each one of us. I got a hug.


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Memories old and new in Carrion de Los Condes

Carrion was the other place I’d stayed on my “bus tour” through the Meseta in 2013, and like Fromista, I looked forward to seeing it again now, from a new perspective.

When I was in Carrion in 2013, I could barely walk from my ankle tendinitis. I arrived at the Pilgrim Statue

at the entrance to town via taxi.  I made it one block to the plaza Santa Maria by the Albergue Santa Maria, run by the nuns, and waited for it to open at noon. I didn’t see much more of Carrion than that little area. When Gina and Kai arrived, I had dinner with them, and hobbled back to the church for the pilgrim concert, Mass, and blessing. That was one of my most treasured memories of Camino 1.0. Gina and I went to the Mass and Pilgrims blessing in Roncevalles at the very beginning of the Camino, and also shared the experience in Carrion. The nuns made little paper stars for the pilgrims, and the priest laid hands on each of us individually. There were tears, sweet tears.

The next day I hobbled to the bar/bus station and bussed to Leon. There were lots of other injured pilgrims, so I felt ok about going on. But I was beginning to realize that my injury was not going to disappear anytime soon.

Fast forward to 2015. I set out on the short 6k leg to Carrion after the cafe at the Albergue opened at 8:00. I met up with Tami on the road, and we visited as we approached town.


We arrived in no time, and stopped at the Cafe Espana, which doubles as the bus station. It brought back memories from 2013. The same nice guy was behind the bar selling bus tickets, beer, and making espresso. The same eclectic mix of Pilgrims, old men playing cards, and policemen were there, drinking coffee, and fresh-squeezed orange juice.


As Tami and I sat down for “second breakfast,” one of her Camino friends came in. She was Australian, about my age, and she was very friendly. She told us her amazing Camino experience from the night before.

She was the only one staying at an Albergue out in the country, and she and the Dutch man who worked there had a long, soulful conversation. He told her that he had been asked to be a sperm donor for a lesbian couple in Holland who were friends with his grown daughter, and now the boy is 4 and calls him father, and the Dutch man’s life has been opened up to a whole new phase by becoming a member of this unexpected extended family.


She was teary because back in Australia her 27 year old son had just come out as gay, and she despaired that he would never be a father. But her evening with the guy at the Albergue opened her heart and mind to new possibilities, and that gay couples could have kids, and that her son could be a father.

She marveled that it felt like she was supposed to be there, and that no one else was staying there, so she had the time to talk all evening with the Dutch guy.  That’s the magic of the Camino sometimes. It seems like there are many synchronicity, or maybe as tired Pilgrims, we are more open, and God has an easier time reaching us.

Then I started crying, too, after sharing that our daughter is the same age, gay, and that I’d had similar feelings, but now had faith that all would work out. We laughed and hugged as Moms and Pilgrims, and that was a Camino moment, too.

Categories: April 2015, Santiago de Compostela | Tags: , , , , , | 3 Comments

Fromista to Villacazar de Sirga

Dawn finally came at the Albergue and I packed up. The poor woman who had snored so badly looked terrible. I felt bad having been upset with her during the night. It sounded like she was going home. I felt for her, knowing what it is like to have to cut short your Camino.

Nancy from New Brunswick and I walked down to the plaza by San Martin where we found the best cafe/bar. It turns out that she is a French teacher and is Acadian. She did a year’s exchange as a teacher in Louisiana! She lived in Brobridge and taught in Cecilia. Of course she knew Alexandria! She was going to taxi from Fromista to Villacazar de Sirga to meet her husband and friends. I took off and thought I might stop there, too, or go onto Carrion.

The way out of Frimista took me over the Autovia, and then next to the two lane highway on what’s called the senda, a specially constructed gravelly pathway.

It was warming up fast. There was a beautiful Ermita off the road all by itself that caught my eye. Of course, it was locked. But there was a hole in the door so I could see inside. Once there was a village there. So many layers of history. I laid my pack on a long, moss-covered stone. Was it a tomb? I enjoyed the solitude for a few minutes while I shed some layers.   I took the alternative route that was supposed to be more scenic, but it was more desolate than inspiring. Maybe I was just sleep-deprived. I felt slow, and heavy, and there was nowhere to stop after about 10k. But a tiny village called Villovieco was just ahead and I walked into it looking for a cafe. No luck. It was noon, and hot. But…The door to the church was open! What a rarity! I walked in and found several artists restoring the figures on the retalbo of the altar! (I wish I’d taken more photos.)

 I asked if there was a cafe in town and they said no. A vivacious young woman came in with some snacks for the artists and she offered me some. We talked a little more, and I must have looked quite tired and hungry because she said in rapid-fire Spanish, “I’m taking you home for lunch!” She took me by the arm and we walked about a block to a small square where she opened the door to a large home and took me into the kitchen, pulled out the table and sat me down with two of the most adorable little girls, who were painting Easter Eggs. Of course, their eyes got very big when they saw this complete stranger in hiking gear plop down next to them!

We chatted in very broken English and Spanish for about an hour.  She has a sister who lives in Atlanta. I pinched myself to make myself realize it was real. It was so wonderful.

Macha, the young Mom, was visiting her parents with three children. Her husband and son came in, and her mother was also there. She was sweeping rubbish into a trap door, through which I could see a fire?! I asked about it and Macha said it was a radiant heating system invented by “los romeros!”

The house was over 300 years old, she said, and the family crest was carved into the stone on the front of the house.


I wish I could remember their last name.  I asked if we could take some photos and here’s what happened:


She gave me a quick tour of the downstairs, pointing out the taxidermies of a fox on the landing and a wild boar with its hooves also mounted, that her grandfather had shot. It was a glimpse into another way of life, and at the same time, the large staircase reminded me of home.

Macha, Julia and Isabel walked me back to the Camino and Macha kissed me on both cheeks as we said good-bye, as Manuel, my seat mate on the flight to Madrid had done when we reached the baggage claim.

After my run-in with Mr. Albergue, my time with them was such a gift and a blessing!

I walked onto the next village and filled up my water bottles (the visit had been so exciting, I’d forgotten to ask) and met Tammy, a fellow Pilgrim from Texas. We walked and talked for 10k and decided to stop in Villacazar.

When we walked into town, there was Nancy and her group, and we checked into the same Albergue! They were so nice. We toured the large church together and ate dinner together at the Albergue. And I had a good eight hours’ sleep.


Categories: April 2015, Santiago de Compostela | Tags: , , , , | 8 Comments



Categories: April 2015, Santiago de Compostela | Tags: , , , , | 3 Comments

Dark night of the Snore

After my pleasant dinner by myself in Fromista, I walked across the street at 10:00 to the Albergue and pulled open the heavy wooden door to the courtyard. Or I tried to. Locked! What? I’d seen a sign that said “quiet hours” after 9:30, but didn’t realize it meant the door was locked. Albergues usually  close at 10:00. And usually, I’ve had dinner there and hung out, then gone to bed. This night was different because the Fiesta was on and the communal dinner was cancelled. I could hear and see the Techno concert going on at the other end of town. No doubt my Albergue guy, whom I’d met when I checked in, was down there.

I ran back across the street to the restaurant for help. The guy at the desk told me to talk to the hotel connected to the Albergue. I did that and there was no answer. I rang the doorbell over and over and an elderly woman opened the door. I explained my predicament and she was not amused. But after a few minutes her husband, who was standing in the background, said he would open the door. I walked back around the corner to wait for him, and no one showed up or opened the door. I wondered if I could scale the wall? I began to feel very foolish for even thinking that and for being in that position at all. It was like a flashback to my travels in college.

Just then, Mr Albergue walks up the street, smoking furiously. “Why are you out here? You should be asleep! You are Pilgrim!”

Thus ensued a huge argument between us in my bad, but loud Spanish and his bad, but loud English. Finally, he let me into the pitch dark Albergue and I found my bunk.

Unfortunately the woman sleeping next to me had what sounded like pneumonia and snored loudly and coughed throughout the night.  My white noise app was only of partial assistance.

Fromista had a few more things to teach me.


Categories: April 2015, Return to Camino, Santiago de Compostela | Tags: , , , , , | 4 Comments

Walking into Fromista

Itero to Fromista was 15k. I looked forward to walking into Fromista because it was one of the places I stayed on my “bus tour” of the Meseta after I hurt my ankle in 2013. I had an expectation that it would be meaningful to walk into town as opposed to getting off the bus, and perhaps it might even offer some insights.

From Itero, the Camino took me out into a long stretch of farmland. I met another French guy, Jean-Louis, on that stretch and we had a nice conversation, which made the time on the flat, straight path go faster.  He was walking faster, and en route to Santiago, so we said Buen Camino after a stop for coffee. I saw a Rollo or monument there, and a remarkable door to the closed (!) church.  


Then I walked along the Canal de Castilla, which was a short lived transportation breakthrough like the C&O Canal on the East Coast. Now I think it’s used for agriculture. I felt a beautiful sense of solitude. 

         Fromista was hosting their annual Fiesta of San Telmo, who was born there in 1184 and became the patron saint of sailors. There were carnival rides in the plazas and anticipation in the air, when I arrived on Saturday afternoon.  I checked into a private Albergue, Estrella del Camino, did some laundry, and went out to explore the town. 

I saw the places I remembered from my stay in 2013: the plaza where Gina, my Camino friend from the beginning in St. Jean, jumped up and down and yelled when she saw me. The hotel where I holed up, the restaurant where we ate dinner.  The town looked so different now that I could walk. Little did I know that there was a health clinic on the same block as the hotel.

This time I stayed in a traditional Albergue  with bunk beds and a nice sunny patio where pilgrims enjoyed the sun as their laundry dried. 

The pride of Fromista is the Church of San Martin, constructed in 1066. It is considered to be one of the worlds’ best examples of Romanesque architecture! 

Seeing it again was like visiting an old friend. The interior is clean and spare. It’s no longer a church, which is too bad. The carvings are pure Romanesque, and reminded me this time of the carvings at the Templar Church in  the City of London. 


The Crucifix, from the 11thC is exquisite. I sat for awhile savoring the experience of being there again, and said thanks for the blessing of healing, and for my life.

Back at the Albergue, I met Nancy, from New Brunswick, who was in the same position I was in 2013. She has plantar fasciatis, and a sore knee. She’s traveling with her husband and two friends from home, and she was taxiing from place to place. It felt good to give her the novel I’ve been carting around. The hours are long when you can’t move, and you’re staying in a foreign country. And it’s very frustrating. 

I went out again and saw this parade go by, kind of like New Orleans. 


The Mass and Novena to San Telmo was at 8:00 in another beautiful Romanesque church, San Pedro. The large statue of the Saint was standing in the sanctuary in a position of honor 


The church was almost full of Fromistans for the service. After the Mass the priest led a litany for San Telmo and from the back of the church a great mass of baritone voices sang the song to San Telmo, and everyone joined in the chorus. It felt like a gathering of the clans. Afterwards everyone greeted each other with hugs and kisses. 


It was 9:00 so sat down for a pilgrim dinner, and enjoyed people watching. It was a good day in Fromista. I did feel a sense of completion by seeing it again, on foot.

Categories: April 2015, Santiago de Compostela | Tags: , , , | 4 Comments

Hontanas to Itero de Vega

I didn’t intend to walk very far today. I left Hontanas and thought I’d walk 10k to Castrojerez and stay there for the night. The ruins of the 12th century Monastery of San Anton  

 were along the way, and I looked forward to spending some time exploring them. But when I got there, the ruins were all locked up. During the summer, volunteers run a primitive Albergue  with no electricity , and I wanted to see it. Oh well. It began to lightly rain. So on to Castrojerez.  

 When I got there I had a cafe con leche in the first establishment in town to get out of the rain, and regroup. The 13th C Church of Maria de la Manzana was across from it.  

 But like the ruins, it was also locked up until the summer Pilgrim season. So disappointing. Met several American guys my age who are walking together, and, attempted some conversation with the proprietor and his wife, and then the rain let up. When I walked through the rest of town it was rather deserted and I didn’t feel like staying there. All the other churches were locked up, too, which was sad, because there were so many of them, one after another along the length of the town.

So I kept going. Little did I realize how far or how demanding the route would be!  There are not many places to stop along the Meseta.

Just outside Castrojerez is this 900 meter butte. For some reason, I didn’t study the map. Wow!!  


All I could think was, “let’s do this thing!,” It had to be less steep than the Pyrennes out of St. Jean, right?” Hmmm. I was thankful for my training the last few weeks with Janet. And a little chocolate also helped.

Here’s the view from the top: 


The Meseta!

Then the sky opened and it rained for the next hour to Itero de Vega. Thank God for Gore-tex! It was a really long 5k stretch towards the end, and I broke out the iPhone and headphones, singing along to “Sound of Music.”  


Right before Itero de Vega the Camino crosses an ancient bridge into Palencia. Turns out that Itero means boundary marker.

I checked into the first place in town, and splurged on a private room. I wanted a radiator to dry out my pack. The bar was a real gathering place for the village. 

There was a funeral and I caught a glimpse of the priest walking by in his chausable. 


The proprietor was very patient with my Spanish. There was a 12c Church in the center of town, which I wanted to see, naturally, but he told me it was closed permanently because of termites. Thwarted again. 


They served a community dinner, and I ate with a group of older guys who had met each other while walking. The proprietors wife came by with their adorable six month old son. It was a fun evening.

In the morning, I came down at 7:30 looking for coffee and found the proprietor in his bathrobe behind the bar. He told me there’s no breakfast until 8 and, “go back to your room.” OK. He said the whole town was closed until 8.  I’m normally a night owl, but walking the Camino puts me in bed early. In my next life I’d like to live in night owl heaven: Spain.

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I had a lazy afternoon in Hontanas at Albergue Santa Birgida. I hand washed clothes and hung them up to dry, but transferred to the radiators as it was abou 55degrees and drizzling. The hostel was a sensitively restored stone building with three dormitory rooms. 8€ for my bunk bed, 10€ for dinner & wine, 2€ for breakfast.  Beautiful up to the minute tiled private showers, in two shared shower rooms, but just two, also very new, beautiful toilets downstairs. It’s interesting to see how there’s flexibility in the building code that wouldn’t  happen in CA. For one thing, shared baths aren’t done culturally, except at camp sites or gyms.  But in a place that sleeps 30 would there be just two toilets?

The two brothers that own the place are there from April to Zoctober and then they go to Cuba in the off season.  Not clear on what they do there, but I found it interesting.

I was the only one there until 5 when Alan took another bunk. He was about 50, from Rouen, and spoke no English. But he had one those little brick shaped French/English dictionaries and we passed it back and forth over dinner and had a very fun time talking about the Camino and different types of wine, Californian and French, and how he thought French wine was vastly superior to Spanish wine.

It occurred to me that at home it would not be done to share accommodations with a strange man and would be perceived as dangerous, and for many reasons, rightly so. But it wasn’t awkward. It’s nice to know that a certain innocence, respect, and safety still prevails, on the Camino.

Categories: April 2015, Santiago de Compostela | Tags: , , , | 4 Comments

Burgos to Hornillos

Yesterday I walked 20k, from Burgos to Hornillos. I considered taking a taxi out to the outskirts of Burgos like I did when I left Leon in October, but the purist in me won out. After settling up my hotel bill, I crossed the plaza to touch the Cathedral and say a prayer, and then stepped onto the Camino.

The way out of Burgos took awhile, through city streets, past the University, and through a gate and a alley of trees that looked familiar.  I think it was one of the locations used in The Way.  When Martin Sheen leaves Burgos, the Dad of the young thief makes him carry Martin Sheen’s pack down a long alley of trees until they get to a gate at the edge of town. This looked like the place.

Then the Camino passed the penitentiary, and what’s known at home as the “corporation yard,” alongside the highway, the railway, and the autopista. As I was trying to find my way through several unmarked intersections, I ran into my first pilgrim. Gabby had just taken a 25 hour bus ride from Germany. We walked together the rest of the day.

By kilometer 10 we reached the village of Tarjadas and had lunch at the neighborhood bar aka pub. The energetic woman behind the bar was cook and bartender, and the place was filled with locals. My Ensalada Mixta was freshly made, and they had interesting tapas made with quail eggs.

After taking off my boots and letting my feet breath, I was relieved to find that there were no hot spots.  (I’ve become very protective of my feet.) Onward! Another 10k took us out into the countryside and up onto the Meseta. Looking back, towards the East, we saw a mountain range fringed with snow.


Everything was green and bursting with new life. Gabby shared with me the names of the birds in German.

Finally, we made it to Hornillos, and checked into Albergue Alzar. I like all sorts of accommodations on the Camino, but I have a fondness for the private Albergues. They’re usually run by a family or couple, and offer a communal meal.

After a restorative shower, the six pilgrims in residence gathered for dinner. Our hosts served paella, salad, wine, and dessert. There were two women from Valencia, a couple from Belgium who started their Camino at home and continue to walk several weeks a year, Gabby, and me.

One of the many things that I love about the Camino is this: it brings people together from many countries to share a communal experience. And last night the owners of the albergue were very involved in the dinner conversation, and it was fun to wade in in Spanish. Between us there were four languages spoken, but we had a lovely dinner party talking about our travels and sharing photos we’d taken as we walked.

I’m finding myself more interested this time in Spanish culture, and what it’s like to live along the Camino.

With jet lag and 20k under my belt, curling up in my sleeping bag on the lower bunk was wonderful. And my new white noise app and headphones, made even the more challenging aspects of communal sleeping easier this time.

Categories: April 2015, Santiago de Compostela | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

Burgos For the second time

It’s 1 am and I’m jet-lagged and I can’t sleep, so I’m writing a blog post while I have strong wi-fi at my hotel. 

My flights were easy, and I sat next to a nice Spanish lawyer from Extramadura on the Atlanta to Madrid flight. It was fun to visit with a combination of his English and my (very) minimal Spanish. It seems unusual to talk with your seat mates these days. I was thankful for that and also that he helped me find the shuttle to Terminal 4, where I caught the bus to Burgos. Then we said good-bye, and I was off on my own.



After the scenic two and a half hour Bus ride from the Madrid airport,we pulled into Burgos and I knew exactly where I was. Just a five minute walk across the river to the area where the Camino comes through. The weeping willows are leafing out, and the fly fishermen are there, again, so charmingly, in the middle of town. The familiarity brought back fond memories of my days here in 2013, with my friends. Again, I was thankful.

I had really good pinchos at a recommended restaurant at 4:00, and then a really (!) bad pilgrim meal at 7:00. My mealtimes are all off because of jet lag and the late Spanish dinner hours. 

The light on the Cathedral was warm on the newly-cleaned stone as it shifted through the hours today. The art inside was as remarkable as I remembered it, and I felt the same spiritual distance.



And there was the hunky portrait of Burgos’ hero, El Cid.  

I’ve seen fewer Peregrinos than I expected today. It’s early in the season. The weather is cool and crisp, just right for walking.  I look forward to the journey to Hornillos tomorrow and entering the stream of Pilgrims.

Categories: April 2015, Santiago de Compostela | Tags: , , | 11 Comments

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