June 15 – What a great day when you can explore somewhere different! I have a strange obsession with touring graveyards. Is it strange to think that people who have passed on have a story to tell? Maybe there exists some sort of spirit energy. By taking a short diversion from my usual walk around the Victoria International Airport this morning, I discovered a small graveyard which is a Town of Sidney heritage site: The Brethour Family Cemetery.
At the same time, I passed the 300 mile/480 km mark and am within sight of the San Antonia de Padua Albergue, the first albergue we came to when arriving 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, 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!
Dave and I went on an extra 4.7 km hike through John Dean Provincial Park this afternoon. It rained hard for awhile and then the sun came out making the greenery glisten. What wasn’t green was the Indian pipe that was starting to come up. This fascinating plant is definitely one of nature’s weird wonders. Because it has no chlorophyll and doesn’t depend on photosynthesis, this ghostly white plant is able to grow in the darkest of forests.
Earlier today I was inspired by Dan Mullins’ interview of Karin Kiser. She is the author of several books that are now on my wish list. So much of what she said resonated, especially when she talked how every thought and everything we do matters and about how imagination is the ultimate superpower. Our minds become cluttered with negative people, news, and movies we watch and they make an impact. Walking the camino is a good opportunity to declutter our minds.
June 20 – Dave and I have just been handed a “Get out of jail free” card! Not that home is that bad or anything, but after being home for 1 1/2 years, it was finally time for a change.
We headed to Oliver in the Southern Okanagan Valley, the wine capital of Canada where our daughter, Tania, now lives and works in the tourism industry. It is hard to believe how much fun and frivolity she packed into two days so that we could finally see all the places she had told us about.
At the same time, we miraculously and virtually arrived at “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 the impression it made on our daughter, Tania. We met Suzie there 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!”
June 22 – At the same time Dave and I were walking along the lake shore at Lake Louise and on trails overlooking Moraine Lake in Banff, we magically arrived in El Gonso from Astorga.
In 2015 Dave and I 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.
The next day we arrived at El Gonso, 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 us tonight since Dave and I are done for the day! We were able to save a bed for Janine. 😃
Dave and I were tuckered out after hiking the Eiffel Lake trail from Moraine Lake in Banff this morning. After a short rest back at the Lake Louise Inn, we were raring to go again and discovered the nearby Bow River loop trail. At the same time, we virtually reached Cruz de Ferro!
The climb out of Rabanal del Camino to Cruz de Ferro was easy in 2015. 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. Then we reached the highest part of the entire journey, Cruz de Ferro. This 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.
June 24 – There were no encounters with grizzly bears when Dave and I came down from Cruz de Ferro into El Acebo in 2015. The only risk we faced then was 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 in El Acebo that we met Jamie. He 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.
Back to the topic of grizzly bears… Yesterday morning in Banff we saw our first ever grizzly bear, making us much more vigilant 👀 👀 on our 5.2 km hike along the Bow Lake trail. Dave whistled and I periodically announced loudly that the humans were coming through.
The only wildlife encountered on the 7.5 km walk in the marshes in Creston the following day were three turtles and one duck. There was a bat condo but no bats, thankfully! 🐻 🦇 😃
July 1 – My dashboard shows that I am 77.7% of the way to Santiago for the second time this year. Seven is a lucky number, right? Could three sevens be even luckier? Could this mean that Dave and I will be going to Spain in two months? Let’s hope!
We are back walking our Virtual Camino here at home after our vacation. In the last few days I virtually made it from El Acebo, through Molinaseca and Ponferrada to within sight of Casa Susi at Trabadelo.
In 2015, Dave and I 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!
We stopped for a cafe con leche in Cacabelos and then carried on walking another 8 km to Villafranca del Bierzo. Big mistake! The skies opened up and rain came down in torrents. By the time we dragged ourselves into Villafranca, we were like drowned rats with rain dripping off our hoods and countless aches and pains. We should have stayed in Cacabelos, but hindsight is always 20/20!
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 appease our phenomenal appetites with the menu of the day in a noisy little restaurant/bar. 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 restaurant, 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… 🤔
The following morning it would have been a wasted effort to take one of the two scenic routes out of Villafranca. 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 the truck stop at La Portela de Valcarce before calling it a day.
What a big mistake! How could we have missed the opportunity to stay at Casa Susi instead. I loved hearing Dan Mullins interview of Susi and Fermin on his podcast, so am especially glad Janine and I are staying there tonight, even though it is just virtually. There’s a party going on. 🎉 🎈 🎊 🍷 🍷
July 4 – Dave and I have been walking the same trails since January 15th when we started our first Virtual Camino. It was winter then and days were short here in the Pacific Northwest. Now it is summer and the sun rises just after 5 a.m. On hot days like the ones we’ve been having, I get up with the sun and walk when the air is still cool and all is quiet.
Dan Mullins and Tracy Pawelski kept me company this morning with the February 3, 2020 episode of “My Camino – the Podcast.” Tracy Pawelski’s daughter was about to walk the Camino and Tracy asked if she could tag along. This is about awakening, about learning, about a deeper purpose and about discovery. I was sorry when my walk and the interview ended because I could have listened to those two beautiful voices all morning. I am so glad Tracy wrote a book: “One Woman’s Camino – Each Step the Promise of a New Beginning.” It’s on my “must read” list.
During the last three mornings, I virtually left our truck stop hotel in La Portela de Valcarce, tackled the climb to O’Cebreiro, and down the other side of the hill to O Biduedo. Santiago is just 140.4 km away. Here is how that part of our journey went in October, 2015.
Imagine our gratitude and delight when Dave and I opened the curtains at our truck stop hotel room in La Portela de Valcarce to see sunshine streaming in. It made for a perfect day to tackle one of the most strenuous climbs of the whole journey.
The early morning walk up the Valcarce River valley dotted with little villages was peaceful and picturesque with the only sounds coming from roosters, cowbells, birds, and the rushing river. After the quaint little village of Herrerias the climb became steeper. The temperature was rising and we missed a left turn that would have taken us onto a path through delightful woodland to the pretty village of La Faba and then on to Laguna de Castilla. Instead, we continued on the asphalt road, and found ourselves on the opposite side of the valley to La Faba.
It was a steady uphill grind for about 5 km. Rather than look at the hill ahead, it was easier to keep our heads down and think only about putting one foot in front of the other. Finally we came to a yellow painted sign on the pavement that read “BAR 1000 METERS!” Yahoo! The bar at Laguna de Castilla was populated with all the pilgrims who took the path we missed and was a perfect place to fortify ourselves for the final 2.5 km assault on the mountain leading to O’Cebreiro.
The sweeping views across the green landscape with its small, intimate fields and lush pastures were worth all the effort. O’Cebreiro was the “pièce de résistance” perched on the top of the mountain. It was like being in a time-warp to a time 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. The cheese that we had for dessert is something O’Cebreiro is famous for. It was a delicacy for kings in the 18th century and was a delicacy for us too. It has a peculiar shape in the form of a mushroom or a chef’s hat. It has no rind and the dough is white and grainy, with a texture so soft it melts in the mouth. They serve it drizzled with honey. I think the server got as much enjoyment from us scraping our plates clean as we did.
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.
July 6 – Yesterday I hiked with Dave in Dean Park and this morning met a friend to walk at Patricia Bay.
On my way to meet her, I listened to Dan Mullins’ latest interview with Phil Riggs and am sure I smiled the entire time. Phil’s authentic Newfoundland accent and his unique way of expressing himself was charming. He sounded like someone I would love to meet on the Camino! 🥰 At the same time, I virtually continued the climb down the mountain from O’Cebreiro, zipped straight through Triacastela, and arrived in Furela.
Along that stretch in 2015, Dave and I were pleasantly surprised to come upon a walled yard with a welcoming sign, “Live light, travel light, spread the light, be the light.” Under a shelter in a big courtyard were big, old sofas covered with Indian throws and sequined cushions. A blanket with more pillows were laid out on the patio where several kittens were cavorting around. A young woman who looked like a hippie from decades ago with her long hair and bell-bottom pants made us welcome. We could help ourselves to bananas, plums, cookies, bread, juice, or tea for a small donation.
When Dave and I stayed in Triacastela in 2015, we should have checked our guidebook before leaving 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!” 😊
July 7 – This morning I was up with the sun just after 5 a.m. and went for an 8.9 km walk when it was still cool. The owl at Reay Creek was out and about, too!
At the same time, I magically arrived in Sarria’s attractive old quarter that climbs the main street to a ruined castle at the top. It was while Dave and I were relaxing at an outdoor table there in 2015 where we had a conversation with other Canadian and American pilgrims. We had all been walking for several weeks and had met 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 walk from St. Jean Pied de Port like we did, while others start walking at various places along the way. The bottom line is people walk the Camino in a variety of ways and for different reasons. They are all good.
We ate our pilgrim meal that night at an Italian restaurant where we enjoyed the best tiramisu EVER! We noticed by the hand-writing covering the walls that the delicious dessert hadn’t gone unnoticed! (Reserve room for the tiramisu!)
Because of the magic of this Virtual Camino tonight, I’m going to get Scotty to beam me up and over to Trabadelo so that I can bring Janine Sawyer some of that delicious tiramisu. 😋 👍
July 8 – When Dave and I arrived at the 100 km stone marker in 2015, Dave thought, “Great! We are only 100 km from Santiago! Portugal is next!” I thought, “Oh no! We are only 100 km from Santiago! Time to slow the pace maybe?” Now that my second Virtual Camino is drawing to a close, my reaction is more like Dave’s: “Great!” I can’t wait to start walking the new Finisterre-Muxia route. 🏃♂️ 🏃♀️
On today’s early morning walk, I listened to Dan Mullins’ interview with Victoria Sanderson. She was inspired to walk the San Salvador Camino from Leon to Oviedo (a route less travelled) because of Rebekah Scott’s previous interview by Dan. Rebekah happens to be the Camino Angel 😇 who rescued our daughter, Tania, when her Camino “crashed and burned” (Rebekah’s words).
Tania learned the hard way that you can “never dip your toe into the same river twice”. Tears would stream down her cheeks as she walked and recalled her magical 2013 journey. The magic was no longer there. Tania didn’t want to spoil the memories of her first Camino, so she took the bus from Logrono to Santiago. With no idea of what she should do next, she asked for help on the Camino Forum and Rebekah responded by inviting Tania to come and stay at The Peaceable Kingdom in Moratinos. Rebekah was a Camino Angel. 😇
July 10 – I walked around the airport to Sidney this morning to buy a new hummingbird feeder. The old leaky one was popular with the bees but (sadly) the hummingbirds couldn’t get near it!
When I returned home, I discovered that I had virtually arrived in Palas de Rei. Dave and I were so relieved to arrive there on October 26, 2015. The albergues and pensions in the small villages Dave and I passed through that afternoon, either had no vacancy or were closed for the season. We continued plodding along to Palas de Rei for a grand total of 30.4 km for the day – our longest walking day yet. We were exhausted and a private room and bath in a nice hotel was well earned.
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! 😃 😴
We are in the midst of a dry spell here at home now and the fire hazard is extreme to say the least!
July 14 – Over the last four days we walked locally and I virtually made it to San Paio, stopping in O Pedrouzo just long enough to have lunch before carrying on in the direction of Santiago de Compostela this afternoon. With just 12.2 km to go, I should arrive tomorrow for the second time this year.
A funny thing happened to us at our hostal in O Pedrouzo in 2019. We lost our clothes! 🤣 We showered and washed our clothes which was our daily routine after finding our accommodation. We then hung them 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 a ladder to get over the wall from the neighbour’s yard at the back. I thought of standing on Dave’s shoulders to climb over, but how would I get out? The receptionist hadn’t arrived by the time we left the hostal the following morning, so we left her a note, explaining the unfortunate situation. We said we hoped she would be able to retrieve our clothes and forward them to where we were staying in Santiago. Our clothes never showed up. Boo hoo!
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!) 😄
July 15 – This was a five-star day, beginning with an easy walk while listening to an enjoyable conversation between Dan Mullins and Jane Farmer. Jane’s infectious laugh alone is reason enough to listen to the June 5, 2018 episode of Dan’s podcast. Jane didn’t expect the Camino to be any more than just a long walk. It turned out to be so much more in spite of its challenges – or maybe even because of them. The first challenge occurred at the start when she crossed the Pyrenees during a storm. Just before Roncesvalles she collapsed and was hospitalized in Pamplona for a couple of days. Nothing was seriously wrong other than the fact that her “life force had gone.” Two days later she returned to the place where she had collapsed, spent thirty seconds making her peace, then turned around to continue her Camino.
It was somewhere on the Meseta that the toxicity of her own thinking boiled over in anger. She came to realize how judgmental she was and that it was something she needed to deal with. She did! By the time she reached the final 20% of her journey to Santiago, the weight of that toxic way of thinking was lifted. Jane felt so light that she “could have walked across the Atlantic.” She reached the Praza do Obradoiro, gazed up at the cathedral, and burst into tears. She was in her own world until suddently she realized a small group of Japanese tourists had formed a semicircle around her and were snapping pictures. “Click away,” she thought! 🤣
In the afternoon Dave and I went “forest bathing” in nearby John Dean Provincial Park. The trees in Dean Park became our “Catedral de Santiago” when we virtually walked into Santiago last April and that’s exactly where we were today when we virtually arrived once again.
Our first “moment of arrival” in Santiago in 2015 was most memorable. We got a message from our daughter, Tania, that day 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 respond by saying that “Although the labour was long, the delivery went smoothly. The babies arrived at 10:30 this morning!” 👶 👶
It was actually a happy/sad time. The rainy weather 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 enter the city and finally gaze up at the cathedral from Praza do Obradoiro and realize that we had actually done it! Awesome! We had arrived! 🏃♂️ 🏃♀️