Virtual Camino Part 3: Leon to Santiago de Compostela

Virtual Camino Part 3: Leon to Santiago de Compostela

St. Jean Pied de Port to Santiago de Compostela – 779.9 km (January 15 to April 11, 2021)

As strange as this may sound, Dave and I arrived in Santiago de Compostela today. Virtually, of course! Since January 15, 2021 when the “Camino For Good Virtual Camino” kicked off, we have walked 779.9 km here on Vancouver Island. At the same time, we have logged our distances onto the map of the Camino Francés, enjoyed stunning scenery, visited lovely villages and breathtaking cities, collected stamps for our pilgrim passports, received our Compostelas and made new friends – just like the real thing!

Dave and I are grateful to the developers  of “Camino For Good Virtual Camino” for what they have created as well as for the financial help they have given to albergues during the pandemic. Because of the “Camino For Good,” we know that we don’t have to leave home to be on a pilgrimage every day.

This virtual journey has been far more meaningful than we could have imagined. Pilgrims have shared not only photos of their actual and virtual Caminos but personal journeys as well. We realize through sharing, we are all pilgrims on a meaningful journey through life. We explore our inner selves and contemplate the meaning of such things as hope, gratitude, and honesty. We try to grow with every experience, to accept that nothing in life is certain, and to embrace fully whatever comes our way on our journey through life. It is a work in progress. The journey doesn’t stop in Santiago but will, we hope, flow seamlessly into the rest of our lives.

Here is Part 1 and Part 2 in case you missed them. Now here is Part 3 from Leon to Santiago de Compostela.

March 8 – Leon to Fresno del Camino
This morning Dave and I walked 8.7 km to Patricia Bay here in North Saanich and, at the same time, virtually headed away from the beautiful city of Leon. On the way out of the city, we passed the luxurious Hostal San Marcos (a Parador Hotel) but not without first having a quick peek inside. It is certainly worth a splurge!

This hostal is well known as the one where Tom and his three fellow pilgrims stayed in the movie, “The Way.” It was built in the 16th century as a convent, but it also has a dark history. During Spain’s 1936-39 civil war, thousands of opponents of the future dictator Francisco Franco were imprisoned here and many were killed.

On the Plaza San Marcos in front of the hostal, we met Garry, an Australian author who was just starting his Camino. His flight arrived in the wee hours that morning and, because there were no vacancies in the city, he had no choice but to sleep on the street in the safest place he could find. It wasn’t an ideal start to his journey, but he seemed to be in good spirits anyway. Garry is very knowledgeable about historical facts pertaining to such things as the Knights Templar, so our morning walk out of Leon turned out to be most interesting.

The route from Leon to Vilar de Mazarife was relatively isolated and part of it was muddy since it had rained. It might have been because of the mud that many pilgrims chose to take the alternative route along the highway. The mud didn’t stop us, though, even if it did mean we had to do a load of wash later!

March 9th – Fresno del Camino To Villar de Mazarife
Not only did Dave and I find more signs of spring today on our 12 km walk, but we passed the 300 mile/480 km mark. At the same time, we virtually arrived in Villar de Mazarife. What a great day!

We were so fortunate to stay at the San Antonia de Padua Albergue in Villar de Mazarife in 2015. That’s where we met Pepe, our host who is dedicated to the pilgrim way. Thanks to him, we were able to check something off the top of our Camino bucket list: a queimada ritual.

This ritual is a Galician tradition transmitted along generations. It is made of Orujo Gallego, a spirit distilled from wine and flavoured with special herbs or coffee, plus sugar, lemon peel, coffee beans and cinnamon. Traditionally it is prepared in a hollow pumpkin.

After a delicious communal dinner of salad, gazpacho, vegetarian paella, crepes with whipping cream and strawberries, we all gathered around Pepe as he recited an incantation so that special powers would be conferred to the Queimada. The goal is to distance the bad spirits that lie in wait for men and women to try to curse them.

Pepe set the Queimada alight. The Queimada slowly burned as more Orujo Gallego was added. Pepe lifted the burning liquid in a ladle and allowed it to slowly pour back into the bowl. The blue flames must have almost touched the ceiling!

All occasions are good for Queimada and this happened to be our Canadian Thanksgiving – as good a night as any!

March 10 – Villar de Mazarife to Puente de Orbigo
Dave and I walked 11 km this morning to deliver a strawberry/rhubarb pie to good friends in Sidney. That is usually far enough for us to walk in a day while not on an actual Camino; however, when we realized how close we were (virtually) to Puente de Órbigo, we headed out again this afternoon.

Thanks to “Camino For Good” we are getting more than our normal amount of exercise and we can enjoy the best view in town from our room in Hospital de Orbigo once again.

Puente de Orbigo is one of the longest and best preserved medieval bridges in Spain dating from the 13th century. A famous jousting tournament took place here in 1434 – one that might have been an inspiration for Cervantes’ “Don Quixote.”

As the story goes, “A noble knight from Leon, Don Suero de Quinones, scorned by a beautiful lady, threw down the gauntlet to any knight who dared to pass as he undertook to defend the bridge (and presumably his honour). Knights from all over Europe took up the challenge. Don Suero successfully defended the bridge for a month until the required 300 lances had been broken. He then proceeded to Santiago to offer thanks for his freedom from the bonds of love and for his honour, now restored!”

March 11th – Puente de Orbigo to “The House of the Gods”
The mixing, folding, stretching, and baking of sourdough bread takes a day, but I was still able to fit in a 12 km walk around YYJ. Happily, it is possible to make bread when the Camino is a virtual one!

Today we reached “The House of the Gods,” a little oasis between Santibanez de Valdeiglesias and San Justo de Vega (before Astorga). Here you may help yourself to fresh fruit, tea, juice, biscuits, etc. You can leave a donation, but it isn’t necessary.

The “House of the Gods” was on our Camino bucket list after hearing about it from our daughter, Tania. This is where we met Suzie in 2015. Suzie got as far as “The House of the Gods” and felt this is where she belonged. She had no desire to continue her pilgrimage. Every day is a blank slate and she never knows what will be written on it. She lives completely in the moment with no expectations. Time has slowed down.

She and David, have no technology, just two cats, three chickens and this little place – an abandoned farm building. They keep busy doing such things as getting their water 1.5 km away, cleaning up the Camino, and working on their project of expanding their chicken pen to accommodate more chickens. If the key to happiness is simplicity, it is here at “The House of the Gods!”

P.S. I love Dan Mullins’ definition of a pilgrim: “a walker, a talker, a thinker, a sharer, a carer.” ❤️

March 12th – “The House of the Gods” to Astorga
This morning Dave and I went “forest bathing” in Dean Park and miraculously made it to Astorga. It was beautiful but chilly here, just like it was in Astorga in mid-October, 2015.

As we trudged up the hill into Astorga, a woman came rushing out of her doorway, chattering in Spanish. She was holding out a big tray of cherry tomatoes. As we were politely taking a small handful each, she disappeared in a flash and returned with a plastic bag and filled it with generous handfuls of freshly picked, delicious tomatoes. Gracias! She was yet another Camino Angel!

We loved exploring Astorga with its many historic buildings, tightly packed within medieval walls. We visited the cathedral, the attached Museo de los Caminos (the museum of the Ways), and the sensational Bishop’s Palace designed by Gaudi.

There are many representations of St. James in the Bishop’s Palace, usually depicted as a pilgrim but sometimes he is shown as the Moor-slayer – a knight in shining armour astride a white charger decapitating Moors with his sword. Yikes! We wouldn’t want to get on his bad side! 😬

March 13th – Astorga to El Gonso
Dave and I walked to Sidney this morning and hadn’t quite reached El Gonso by the time we got home. A short walk around the block was all it took to reach our destination – a total of 13.3 km for the day.

It wasn’t long after we left Astorga in 2015 before we reached the cheerful looking El Caminante restaurant and albergue in Santa Catalina. We couldn’t pass that place by without going in for a cafe con leche. What a lovely place to stay! Someone with a green thumb obviously takes good care of it. Window boxes were overflowing with colourful flowers and the plant pots around the perimeter of the central courtyard and on balconies were brilliant.

El Gonso is a crumbling village which boasted a monastery and a pilgrim hospital in the 12th century and now boasts a Cowboy Bar! It’s a great place to stop for a cerveza; now we’re hoping they can accommodate three of us tonight since we are done for the day! Janine, we will save you a bed!

When we left Astorga on October 15, 2015 on the way to Rabanal del Camino, the weather was clear, the stars were twinkling, and fields were white with frost. It was so scenic and peaceful, that it was hard to believe something terrible took place here recently. I had written “DANGER” on the map for this stage in my guidebook and, for all we knew, it was still dangerous. When we reached our destination we learned that the body of a pilgrim, Denise Thiem, had been found and that her suspected killer was in jail awaiting trial. So tragic!

March 14th – Rabanal del Camino to Cruz de Ferro
The 11.8 km walk around the airport was flat as you would expect, but it didn’t stop Dave and I from miraculously climbing to the highest point on the Camino, Cruz de Ferro, at the same time.

The climb out of Rabanal del Camino and through the pass of Irago to Cruz de Ferro, was easy. The sun was shining, the temperature was just right, and the mountain views were spectacular. Red heather and purple crocuses were blooming and little blackberries were delicious.

Traditionally Cruz de Ferro is where people pause to reconnect with the purpose of their journey before adding a stone or other token of love and blessing to the great pile below the iron cross. It doesn’t always work out the way you envision it. I thought our experience at Cruz de Ferro in 2015 would be as meaningful and emotional as Tania’s was in 2013 when she wrote: “The wind was blowing so strong we had to lean into it quite hard. The drizzly rain was pelting against our faces. I thought it quite fitting for what we were about to experience actually. The forces of nature pushing against me as I slowly moved forward was like my fear trying to hold me back from reaching this point.”

March 15th – Cruz de Ferro to El Acebo
Walking the Elk/Beaver Lake loop on our “Virtual Camino” this morning was a welcome change of pace from our usual routes. It was sunny and cool, like it was on the day we reached El Acebo in 2015. The 10.6 km we walked around the lakes wasn’t quite far enough to reach El Acebo, so an additional 0.9 km around the block this afternoon was in order.

The descent into El Acebo was a challenge, especially the last four kilometres. It was steep and rugged, with the added risk of skidding on loose rocks. It became one of those afternoons when we kept asking ourselves “Are we there yet?”

What a welcome sight it was, finally, to reach El Acebo – a typical mountain village with one main street running down the middle. We wandered down a short side street and discovered La Trucha Casa Rural. “Trucha” means trout and “casa rural” is the Spanish version of a B&B.

It was here that we met Jamie. He came from Barcelona to walk the Camino de Santiago many years ago and was so impressed with the quiet little mountain village, that he moved here in 1990 and rents out two upstairs bedrooms. Our private room with bath here had a beautiful mountain view.

Jamie loves the Camino and says it makes us realize how much we can do without, that we can be perfectly contented with much less. His home is simple, warm, and comfortable, and we are grateful that he shared it with us in 2015. We are glad to be back here again on our “Virtual Camino!”

March 16/17 – El Acebo to Compostilla
There is a beautiful, bright light at the end of a dark tunnel now that Dave and I have appointments for our COVID vaccinations on March 24th. If all goes well, in September we might not be going to the airport just to walk around it. Instead, we’ll walk straight into the terminal with backpacks strapped on, clutching flight tickets to Spain. That’s the dream and, as we all know, “dreams are reality in waiting!”

Dave and I went for four walks on our “Virtual Camino” during the last two days for a total of 19.7 km. At the same time, we virtually made it from El Acebo, through Molinaseca and Ponferrada to Compostilla.

Of course, we couldn’t pass by the formidable castle on our way through Ponferrada without paying our respects to Ivanhoe and Sir Lancelot. The castle was built in 1178 to serve as the base of operations for the Knights Templar who protected pilgrims en route to Santiago. While visiting the castle, we contemplated the meaning of the Templars´ Latin motto: “Unless the LORD watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain.”

Then off we went, continuing our “Virtual Camino,” across the iron bridge that gave Ponferrada its name, alongside the river towards the outskirts, and even through an unused building! There were plenty of places to stop for meals or cafe con leche which were often an excuse to take off our backpacks and gather enough energy to carry on …or maybe not!

March 18/19th – Compostilla to Cacabelos
During the last couple of days, Dave and I have enjoyed more signs of spring at Dominion Brook Park and the forested trails of John Dean Provincial Park in North Saanich. We walked a total of 12.2 km and virtually reached Cacabelos, about 75 per cent of the way to Santiago.

It has taken almost six years to return to Cacabelos and be given a chance to get things right. In 2015 we stopped for a cafe con leche in Cacabelos and then carried on walking another 8 km to Villafranca del Bierzo. The skies opened up and rain came down in torrents. By the time we dragged ourselves into Villafranca, we were like drowned rats with countless aches and pains. Why we couldn’t have just taken a pause in Cacabelos, we’ll never know.

So instead of having regrets about “what we could have done, should have done, and shouldn’t have done” on that day in 2015, we are going to do things right and stay. We picked up a couple bottles of wonderful Bierzo vino tinto to share with Janine and Susan when they show up. 🍷 🍷

March 20th – Cacabelos to Villafranca del Bierzo
This is the first day of spring in the Northern Hemisphere and the birds seemed to know it! Amongst all the chirping, an owl was hooting, and a woodpecker was hard at work doing what they do. It’s a wonder they don’t get headaches …or maybe they do!?

We walked our usual routes close to home today and virtually arrived in Villafranca del Bierzo, feeling a whole lot better than we did in 2015 when we got there. The only thoughts we had then were about our aching bodies and the rain dripping off our hoods. The beautiful El Bierzo landscape with its rolling hills covered with vineyards could have been easily missed.

We came into the lovely town of Villafranca del Bierzo past the 12th century Romanesque Church of Santiago with its “Door of Forgiveness.” Medieval pilgrims who were unable to continue to Santiago received absolution here, the same as they would in Santiago. Because of that, Villafranca was sometimes referred to as the “other” or “little” Santiago.

What a relief it was to finally get settled, shower, rest, and then appease our phenomenal appetites with the menu of the day in a noisy little restaurant. It seemed to be one of the town’s gathering places for families and “futbol” (soccer) fans watching a game on the big screen.

By the time we left, the rain was coming down with a vengeance again! What fun it was walking back to our hostal in our sandals and socks in the downpour. It was a perfect opportunity to see how well these steep streets with their fist-sized boulders cemented together channel the rain. The rain had miraculously become a source of entertainment. Could it be the famous wine from the Bierzo region had something to do with our mood swing? Hmmmm… 🤔 🍷 🍷

March 21/22 – Villafranca del Bierzo to Las Herrerias
What a difference a day makes! Yesterday it was threatening to rain and today it was perfectly glorious here in North Saanich. At the same time, Dave and I virtually made it to Las Herrerias from Villafranca del Bierzo.

The weather we experienced between Villafranca del Bierzo and Las Herrerias on our actual Camino in 2015 was even more changeable. Because of the rain and mist in the mountains, taking one of the two scenic routes out of Villafranca would have been a wasted effort. Instead, we followed the highway, doing our best to avoid sheets of water pouring off overpasses and splashing from passing vehicles. We got only as far as La Portela de Valcarce before calling it a day.

Whether we would enjoy the upcoming spectacular scenery as we climbed to O’Cebreiro depended completely on the weather. Imagine our gratitude and delight when we opened our curtains the following morning to see sunshine streaming in. It made for a perfect day to hike up the beautiful, green valley, dotted with little villages. It was peaceful and picturesque with the only sounds coming from roosters, cowbells, birds, and the rushing Valcarce River. It really never gets much better than this!

The little village of Las Herrerias is a perfect place to put our feet up and gather energy for tomorrow’s climb to the quaint little hilltop town O Cebreiro.

P.S. Yesterday’s favourite quote shared by Dan Mullins: “Try to be a rainbow in someone’s cloud.” (Inspiration from Dr. Maya Angelou)😍

March 23rd – Las Herrerias to O’Cebreiro
People walk the Camino Frances over and over again and never tire of it. That’s how we feel about our repetitious walk (8.4 km) to Patricia Bay. While walking there today, I had plenty of food for thought while listening to Dan Mullins’ interview of Nancy Frey. Along with historical stories, she told about how technology can effect our experience, and how too much planning doesn’t allow the Camino to “flow.” Will disconnecting from our devices allow for more mental openness? Can we plan NOT to plan? There is so much to contemplate!

Today we virtually reached O’Cebreiro, the quaint “hobbit hamlet” perched on a high mountain ridge. The climb was one of the most strenuous of the whole journey, but the sweeping views across the green landscape with its small, intimate fields and lush pastures made it worth all the effort.

Being here in O’Cebreiro is like being in a time-warp to an uncomplicated past, when people lived in stone houses with thatched roofs. After wandering around and settling into our room with a view, we scouted out the best place to eat dinner. We found it at “Venta Celta”with its stone walls, stacks of old books, funky art, and garlic and dried flowers hanging from the ceiling.

On our journey we visited magnificent churches but O’Cebreiro Iglesia was a favourite because of its tranquility. It is one of the earliest surviving churches on the Camino dating back, in part, from the 9th century. It was here where I came across this beautiful “Pilgrim’s Prayer.”

Although i may have traveled all the roads, crossed mountains and valleys from East to West, if i have not discovered the freedom to be my self, i have arrived nowhere.

Although i may have shared all of my possessions with people of other languages and cultures; made friends with Pilgrims of a thousand paths, if i am not capable of forgiving my neighbor tomorrow, i have arrived nowhere.

Although i may have had food and water each day, or may have had my injuries well attended, if i have not discovered the Divine in others, i have arrived nowhere.

If from today i do not continue walking on the path, searching and living according to what i have learned; my journey has been in vain because, i have arrived nowhere.”

March 24/25/26th – O’Cebreiro to A Balsa
Santiago is almost in sight! During the last three days I walked 24.2 km and crossed the 400 mile (640 km) mark. Dave stopped for ice cream a few towns back, decided to stay and rest his sore knee, and will catch up later.

In 2015 Dave and I could have happily stayed at the fairy tale town of O’Cebreiro perched on the top of the hill. Instead, we caught a fantastic view of the sunrise and headed down. The trail wound around the forested hill to Alto de San Roque where an imposing statue of a medieval pilgrim looks out over the vast expanse of Galicia and its deep valleys. This beautiful day ended in Triacastela, named for three castles, none of which still exist.

We should have checked our guidebook before leaving Tracastela in the dark the following morning. When we came to the intersection outside of town we didn’t know whether to turn right or left. We relied on the two people ahead of us who said their GPS had never failed them. They went right and so did we.

Later we learned that both directions end up in Sarria, but that the slightly longer route to the left goes to Sarria via the Benedictine monastery of Samos, one of the oldest and largest in Spain. It is well worth the visit as we later found out. We added Samos to the list of things to see, if and when we walk the Camino again! We had no idea then that the next time would be a “Virtual Camino.” Samos is still on our list for “next time!” 😊

March 27th – A Balsa to Furela
Believe it or not, this morning’s 9.5 km walk took me back to elementary school many moons ago. I found myself trying to recall the words of a William Wordsworth’s poem my class had to memorize. No doubt I didn’t appreciate the poem or the job of having to memorize it as much as I do today.

I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o’er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze…”

The host of daffodils wasn’t beside a lake or beneath the trees but at Longview Farms, a pleasant walk from home here in Saanich. They are advertising for daffodil pickers now: workers who are “outstanding in their field.” 😄

Wordsworth also wrote: “Let nature be your teacher” – something we are all doing these days as we walk our “Virtual Camino.” By the way, I virtually arrived at Furela and am now just 121.2 km from Santiago. Dave is out on a short walk this afternoon and will catch up soon. Janine, have you seen him? 🚶 🚶‍♂️

March 29th – Furela to Barbadelo
Today’s 9.9 km walk on my “Virtual Camino” couldn’t have been more perfect! I was worried that yesterday’s brief but fierce windstorm might have flattened the daffodils, but they were still standing and looking as perky as ever.

At the same time that I went to admire the fields of daffodils, I virtually arrived in Barbadelo without even stopping in Sarria as we did in 2015.

Our scenic walk from Triacastela ended in Sarria’s attractive old quarter that climbs the main street to a ruined castle at the top. It was while we were relaxing at an outdoor table in Sarria where we had a conversation with other pilgrims. We had all been walking for several weeks and had met many others who had tailor-made their Camino to suit their individual wants and needs. We all came to the conclusion that there is no one “right way” to do it. 

One couple at our table always had one of their backpacks transferred by vehicle to their next destination and they carried one. A purist might say that carrying your own backpack is the only “right” way. What would a purist think about the non-traditional, high-tech equipment we now use that weren’t available to pilgrims throughout the ages such as collapsible walking sticks, Osprey backpacks, and Gortex hiking boots?

We can’t judge people for the different ways they get to Santiago. There are slow and fast walkers, runners, and cyclists. Some are even on horseback. Some carry their own backpacks and others have them transported. Some walk from St. Jean Pied de Port like we did, while others start walking at various places along the way. Some are on tours, doing short walks along sections of the Camino. Everyone has a different reason for doing this walk. The bottom line is people walk the Camino in a variety of ways and they are all good.

March 30th – Barbadelo to Mercadoiro
It was beautiful in 2015 on the day we walked to Mercadoiro along peaceful tree-lined country roads and natural pathways lined with stone walls. We passed through many small villages that blended seamlessly one into the next.

We arrived at the 100 km stone marker and had two reactions: “Great! We are only 100 km from Santiago!” and “Oh no! We are only 100 km from Santiago!” Time to slow the pace maybe?

We reached quiet little Mercadoiro with an official population of one and decided to check into the albergue. It had an adjoining cafe-restaurant, a big yard and patio with tables, umbrellas, and trees. What a perfect place to relax and enjoy our cerveza con limon (beer with lemon). How we wished we had discovered that refreshing drink sooner on our journey! It might have been the combination of the meditative Indian flute music, the warm sun, the soft breeze blowing autumn leaves off a nearby tree, and a second cerveza con limon that brought about Dave’s Camino moment. Life was pretty darn good!

A communal meal was served to nine of us human pilgrims plus a fur pilgrim that a young Italian girl had adopted on her journey. At my end of the table I especially enjoyed chatting and laughing with Vesna from Toronto. She bubbled with enthusiasm about her Camino and said, “If my daughter could see me now, she would be horrified by how unfashionable her mom is: no makeup and wearing layers of droopy shirts that have been washed and wrung out too many times.” I offered to trade my layers of droopy clothing for hers, but she must have thought mine were uglier, since she wouldn’t take me up on the offer.

The next day when Vesna heaved her backpack on and was ready to go, someone commented about how fit she is looking. “Really? I look fit?” She flipped her hair back, stood a wee bit taller, and proudly announced, “Well then, I’m going to Santiago TODAY!” She also said she would put in a word to the greater powers for sunshine and, oddly enough, she got it within minutes! The early morning drizzle stopped and we got a glimpse of blue sky. Droopy clothes and all, Vesna was our Camino Angel! 😊 😇

March 31st – Mercadoiro to Portomarin
There were what seemed like thousands of steps to climb before breakfast in Portomarin in 2015. This was my destination today on my “Virtual Camino.” At the same time, Dave is in Sarria tending to his problematic knee.

It was another glorious five-star day. We set off early this morning down to the “Flight Path” trail that encircles YYJ (Victoria International Airport). Because Dave is doing two shorter hikes every day, he turned around after 3 km while I continued another 9 km. I discovered a labyrinth in the church parking lot and then continued along the north side of the airport to the memorial to the “Lost Airmen of the Empire” at Hospital Hill. This is where the medical facilities for the Royal Canadian Airforce once were. The dais in the middle of the memorial contains a capsule filled with letters written to veterans.

For the rest of my walk I tuned into Dan Mullins’ “My Camino – the podcast” and heard Susi and Fermin’s fascinating story about life and love at their 12-bed Casa Susi Albergue in Trabadello. They took a risk and are doing what many other pilgrims would like to do but aren’t brave enough: They operate an albergue on the Camino. Susi feels so blessed that her own personal journey to welcome, help, and nurture pilgrims on their journey has come true. She and Fermin miss welcoming pilgrims and look forward to post-COVID when pilgrims start walking through their door once again. They say, “There’s going to be a big party!”

Most winters Susi travels back to her home country, Australia, but this winter was an exception because of the pandemic. It turned out to be a good thing they stayed because, if the leak in the roof had gone unnoticed, considerable more damage would have been done. At the same time, they didn’t know what they were going to do about it. They didn’t have money to replace the roof and thought they might have to close. Then the magic of the Camino happened. Thanks to Camino For Good they have been given money for their roof and hope for the future.

April 1/2/3 – Portomarin to San Xulian do Camino
I arrived in San Xulian do Camino this afternoon on my “Virtual Camino,” not far from Palas de Rei where Dave and I stayed in late October, 2015. The albergues and pensions in the small villages we passed through that afternoon on our actual Camino either had no vacancy or were closed for the season, so we plodded along to Palas de Rei for a grand total of 30.4 km for the day.

It was when we went in search of dinner that evening that we met Margaret. She caught our eye through the restaurant window when we stopped to read the menu board. She gave us the “thumbs up” sign meaning “this place has great food” so in we went.

Margaret was right! While enjoying a delicious meal of vino tinto, butternut squash soup, bread, salmon with rice, and torta de Santiago, the three of us philosophized. We chatted about how everyone is on a path, whether it is religious, spiritual, something else, or none of those things. People grow, gather information, and are always evolving. We become a product of what we choose to believe and what we learn along the way.

Then we went from philosophizing to the physical. Margaret is a nurse so, when I described to her my puffy legs above the line of my socks, she said it was a sign that I was dehydrated. She said to drink more water, put extra salt on my food, soak my feet in Epsom salts in warm water followed by cold water, and then lay on the bed with my feet up on the wall. Thank you, Margaret! If only I wasn’t so tired. We were off to bed soon after with our feet in the bed, not on the wall! 😃 😴

Meanwhile at home on our “Virtual Camino” there were more signs of spring and Easter.

April 4 – San Xulian do Camino to Boente
Today I was determined to walk far enough on my “Virtual Camino” so that I wouldn’t have to spend tonight in Melide. Dave and I were there twice, and both times were overwhelmed by how busy it was. Cities and towns at the end of the stages in John Brierley’s guidebook can be that way. Melide was no different. We have an unwritten rule to try to stay in towns that are in the middle of Brierley’s stages, but it doesn’t always work out that way.

It was in Melide in 2015 where Dave and I might have discovered one of the reasons why Spain has so many fields of sunflowers. It appears that Spaniards love sunflower seeds! We went into a bar for their “menu del dia” and noticed a group of men involved in an exciting card game. At the same time, the men were busy opening and eating sunflower seeds at a shocking speed and tossing the empty shells on the floor around them. The floor was covered! When one bowl of sunflower seeds was empty, it was replenished; meanwhile the shells continued to pile up. Who knew that a floor covered in sunflower seeds in a bar in Spain is perfectly acceptable.

Anyway, as a result of walking 17.1 km today, I was able to pass right through Melide to Boente. I just might hang around here, waiting for Dave and Janine to catch up so we can all walk into Santiago together, just 47.2 km further. I can see it from here …nearly. 👀 🚶‍♂️ 🚶 🚶 😊

Here is a little postscript to our 2019 stay in Melide. We had a bad night at our albergue with bunk beds that swayed whenever the person on top moved and a metal staircase outside our room that clattered all night long. Our 18 roommates started noisily getting ready before 5:30 so we did too. By the time I came out of the bathroom, Dave was packed, ready to go, and laying on top of his bed, stiff as a mummy, and fully dressed, including his sun hat …and it was still dark out! As crabby as I felt, it made me laugh. That was our last dormitory! Thank heavens all albergues are not this bad. 😃 👍

April 6/7 – Boente to O Pedrouzo
I went out for a second walk this afternoon just to listen to Dan Mullins’ interview with Vivek Bhasin on “My Camino – the podcast.” One of our fellow pilgrims, Melanie Schädlich, mentioned that she introduced Vivek to Dan. I was eager to hear his story.

Vivek’s joy and enthusiasm was contagious! If the word “eclectic” can be used to describe a person, it would describe Vivek. He is not just a pilgrim, but a sea captain, actor, writer, poet, philosopher, and radio broadcaster. While I was being entertained and inspired, I virtually arrived at the outskirts of O Pedrouzo.

A funny thing happened in O Pedrouzo in 2019. We lost our clothes! We checked in the hostal, got cleaned up, washed and hung our clothes on the clothesline conveniently located outside our second floor window overlooking a walled courtyard. We had no clothes pegs but there was no breeze and little chance of them blowing off …or so we thought!

When we returned to our room later and went to bring in our dry clothes, we were surprised to find everything with the exception of two odd socks in a puddle down on the courtyard floor. The part-time receptionist at our hostal was gone for the day, so it was up to us to solve the problem. Strangely enough, there was no access to the courtyard from our building. We needed two ladders: one to get over the wall from the neighbour’s yard at the back and another ladder to get back out of the courtyard with our clothes. I thought of standing on Dave’s shoulders to climb over, but how would I get out? All we could think of doing (short of calling the police or the fire department) was to leave a note for the receptionist before we left the next day. We explained the unfortunate situation and gave her our forwarding address, but our clothes never did show up in Santiago.

They say there are lessons to be learned on the Camino about letting go and how we don’t need all the things we think we need to be happy. No doubt we would have been happier if we had packed clothes pegs! (Note to self: Add clothes pegs to packing list!) 😄

My actual journey over the last two days totalled 26.7 km. Santiago is really close now – 20.5 km away! Oh no…

April 8 – O Pedrouzo
What a great five-star day this was! Our “Virtual Camino” started with a cheery “Buen Camino!” from Susanne Voetmann  from across the parking lot. It was lovely to finally meet in person, but it really didn’t feel like the first time after all the chatting we have already done at the Camino For Good Cafe. She surprised us with two dozen brown eggs from her own chickens and then the three of us spent a delightful three hours on a 6.7 km loop around Thetis Lake. All that was missing were yellow arrows which would have set the other park visitors walking in the right (our) direction. By the way, Susanne and I will soon be busy painting yellow arrows on rocks. They could use them here at Thetis Lake…

April 8/9/10 – O Pedrouzo to Vilamaior
My pace has definitely slowed down during these last three days and for good reason. I don’t look forward to this virtual journey coming to an end. At least I made it to Casa de Amancio in Vilamaior, the place where Dave and I stayed in 2015. Dave will catch up with me later today so that tomorrow we can walk the final 8 km together into Santiago de Compostela.

I am sad that our journey is coming to an end, but will try to think of our arrival in Santiago as the first day of the rest of our lives – a new beginning or a continuation of the journey. Hopefully we can carry on doing in everyday life what the Camino teaches us: to let the heavy things go and let the lighter things fill in.

Anyway, here is some of what we saw on this leg of the journey in 2015. There was no sunshine, periodic rain, and muddy paths. The walk took us through a dense eucalyptus forest, the village of San Anton, into a river valley, and around the airport. It wasn’t long before we arrived at Lavacolla where medieval pilgrims came to wash and purify themselves before entering the city. Vilamaior was just a little further.

In Galicia we noticed many distinctive man-made structures and learned that they are “horreos,” used to protectively hold and ripen all forms of grain and farm produce such as corn. Horreos are not constructed for farming use anymore, but they remain as popular as ever and are highly desirable. Many property owners will also pay to have an old horreos “made good” or a new one constructed, purely for show.

We’re going to pick up a bottle of our favourite vino tinto and some tapas when we get into Santiago tomorrow and celebrate with Janine before continuing on to Finisterre. At the same time I would like to start all over again in St. Jean Pied de Port and try to catch up with Susan. Miracles happen on the Camino, so why not walk two paths at the same time? 😃🍷 🍷 🍷

April 11th – Vilamaior to Santiago de Compostela
It seems strange to say this, but Janine, Dave and I arrived in Santiago de Compostela today! The bagpiper was playing when we came through the archway, the sun was shining, and the Catedral was looking beautiful inside and out after the restoration work that has taken place in preparation for Holy Year. 

This is our third “moment of arrival” into Praza do Obradoiro and every time has brought goosebumps, even on our virtual arrival today. We had to walk 8.1 km to reach our final destination and I watched my All Trails app for that exact moment of arrival and took a photo. The towering trees in Dean Park was our “cathedral” and YYJ in the distance was our “Praza do Obradoiro.” 

On the day of our arrival in Santiago in 2015, we got a message from our daughter, Tania, that made us laugh. She said waiting for us to reach Santiago was “like waiting for a couple of babies to be born!” We were happy to email her saying that “Although the labour was long, the delivery went smoothly. The babies arrived at 10:30 this morning!” 👶 👶 

Our approach into Santiago was actually a happy/sad time. The rainy weather we got was consistent with my feelings of sadness that this amazing experience was coming to an end. How often do we get to be in a crowd of people all walking in the same direction and along the same path. Even though we don’t all speak the same language, there is an unseen bond between us all. How wonderful it would be if all the world got together like this with one goal, one path.

There were also feelings of excitement and happiness to see the big red letters “SANTIAGO DE COMPOSTELA” as we entered the city. What a powerful physical effect an emotion can have; it literally gave me goosebumps. Then there was the first glimpse of the cathedral down a narrow little street and finally looking up at it from Praza do Obradoiro when we realized that after walking for seven weeks we had actually done it! Awesome! We had arrived!

Restoration work was underway to the exterior of the Catedral de Santiago on our first visit in 2015. In 2019 restoration to the exterior was finished and work on the interior was underway. Now it is April 11, 2021 and the Catedral is gorgeous! Once again it is a thrill, especially because we are arriving with Janine.

Now that we’ve settled into our accommodation, we’re off to El Gato Nero to celebrate with vino tinto and tapas with Janine. We do have an agreement with wine, though. Our favourite wine is red and we drank it for the last 87 days since leaving St. Jean Pied de Port. It makes us smart, witty and great singers but, from some of the videos we’ve seen, we think its time we had a chat as wine is not living up to its part of the contract! 🍷 🍷 🍷 

After a couple of rest days, we will all be off to Finisterre before returning to St. Jean Pied de Port to begin the journey again. Can’t stop walking… 🚶‍♂️ 🚶 🚶‍♂️

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