Camino de Frances, Camino de Santiago, Personal stories

Near the End

[Monday, July 28, 2014 — Garin writes]

We last sent an email when we were in Finisterre and we did end up walking to Muxia that next day. The scenery was beautiful and the trail was not crowded which was refreshing after the crowds that occupied the Camino after Sarria. We saw a total of about 20 other pilgrims that whole day, and enjoyed saying “Buen Camino” once again. It was strange, though, to have pilgrims walking in the opposite direction, since people can walk from Muxia to Finisterre. We spent just that afternoon in Muxia, enjoying being on the rocks with the waves crashing below us; it really was the powerful and spiritual place people told us it would be (we agreed it was a more fitting end to the Camino than Finisterre). After Muxia, we bussed back to Santiago on the 25th, the feast day of St. James. Almost everything was closed, but we didn´t see any big crowds because we didn’t go near the cathedral. While in a cafe eating breakfast, we saw on T.V. the Mass in the Cathedral of Santiago with the king and queen of Spain in attendance.

We endured the 8-hour bus ride (with stops) to Fatima, where we met a Québécois man [man from Quebec] who told us where he was staying; we went with him to a nice hostel run by a man and his wife in their home. We got a private room and breakfast every morning, as well as lots of friendly help from the owners who found us places to stay in Santarem and Lisbon, made recommendations for what to do in Portugal, and insisted on driving us to the bus station when we left. They also enlightened us about the mistake we had made when tipping our waiter at dinner – since the tip was not included in the bill and we had received good service, we tipped like we do in the US. Turns out we left about 6 times what would be the norm! Whoops.

The hostel was about a 10-minute walk from the Sanctuary but was just around the corner from the Stations of the Cross and old town Fatima where the houses of Lucia, Francisco and Jacinta are. We spent a total of four nights [?] in Fatima (the first one the evening when we got in, 2 full days, and this morning) during which time we went to 3 Masses, confession, adoration, looked through their museum, did two candlelit processions, a Eucharistic procession, visited the houses of the children, did the Stations of the Cross, and prayed lots of rosaries. We were struck by the way that Fatima is both similar and different from Lourdes – they have similar layouts, and both honor apparitions of Our Lady, but Fatima is about penitence and is more somber. It´s a blessing that we had the opportunity to see both holy places in the same trip.

We are currently in Santarem, Portugal, where the greatest Eucharistic Miracle after Lanciano occurred. You should look up the story, but in a nutshell, a woman stole a consecrated host in the mid-1200s and it began to bleed profusely. The relic of this miracle is kept in the local parish church; the host along with dried blood is preserved in crystal (the appearance of the crystal casing was the second miracle) which is held in a monstrance. It is accompanied by crystallized blood mixed with wax (from the original casing for the miracle) in a second case that was in a tabernacle locked behind the altar. When we entered the church, an elderly man asked us if we wanted to see the relic (of course!) and led us behind the altar and up some steps, unlocking doors as we went. It was truly amazing to see the host and the blood, and we´re all grateful that we made the trip out to Santarem and that the church was open. Almost all of the other ten churches in town are closed (we´re reminded of a taxi driver in Spain who, when we asked if there were 2 churches in town, replied, “Two? No, four!”).

Since we judge countries by their churches and their food, we’ve noticed some culinary difference between Spain and Portugal. To quote Kelsey, “Wow, I forgot how much I enjoy flavor in my food.” Also, while French fries are still popular, they are not the solitary side dishes to every plate imaginable; our food is now sometimes accompanied by other kinds of potatoes and these strange green substances we believe are commonly known as vegetables. Portugal also has the unique tradition of placing tapas on the table without them being ordered. Thinking they were complimentary on our first night, we unknowingly added several charges to our bill. We’ve since learned that the trick is to leave the tapas on the table, and the server will eventually take them back to the kitchen (this applies to bread and butter as well). Other than this trickery, the Portuguese are extraordinarily nice people. Today we asked a man for directions, and he proceeded to flag down multiple cars and even offered to drive us to our destination. We still insisted on walking, even after we had been told by the the lady at the bus station to take a cab because it was a 20 minute walk to our hostel. Having just walked the Camino de Santiago, we weren’t sure we could make it, but we decided to tough it out and walked the couple of blocks anyway.

While walking around Santarem, we noticed yellow arrows on some posts, and immediately recognized the symbols that had guided us all the way to Santiago. Turns out we were walking on the Camino Portugues, another route to Santiago de Compostela. We noted that you can take the pilgrims out of the Camino, but you can´t take the Camino out of the pilgrims. Also, in our hostel are two pilgrims from Santa Cruz, California, who are walking the Camino Portugues.

A few other changes since leaving Spain have been the occurrence of sunset at a reasonable hour, an increase in the afternoon heat (although there’s often fog in the morning in Fatima), and the existence of more American grocery stores selling toiletries and other non-food necessities. After experiencing how hot it is here, and knowing that Madrid is much hotter, we decided to spend more of our extra time in Lisbon rather than Madrid (although for all we know Lisbon will be just as bad). We´ll be taking a bus there tomorrow, after attending Mass in the church where the miracle relic is held. If we get bored with Lisbon, we’ll move on to Madrid, but no one is complaining about having free time to spend in Europe (darn).

With only about a week left until we return home, we are increasingly excited about coming back to the things we’ve missed most about America. Among them are non-smoking areas in restaurants, free water in restaurants, familiar and varied food in restaurants (Mexican!!), and peanut butter (not necessarily in a restaurant). It will also be nice to have really clean clothes out of a washer/drier (warm!), Mass in English, and have grocery stores with meat sections that sell beef and not octopus.

That just about sums it all up.

See you all soon,

Los Peregrinos (we have decided that we are pilgrims until we land in California)

Camino de Frances, Camino de Santiago, Personal stories

Garin Writes

[Wednesday, July 23, 2014]

Hey all!

We sent an email to you when we were in Portomarin. We arrived in Santiago on July 20, right on our desired date. We managed to plan our hikes so that our last day was only about 10 kilometers, allowing us a relaxed walk into Santiago in the morning. We walked in with our good friends Billy, Simone, and Matt, whom we had hiked with the last few days.

Coming up to the cathedral evoked a lot of emotions, from relief to excitement to sadness. Many pilgrims spend lots of time sitting in the plaza, Becca and Kelsey included. We went to the pilgrims’ Mass … We happily got our compostelas [certificates of completion], and special compostelas from the Franciscan church about a block from the cathedral, because this year marks the 800th anniversary of St. Francis walking the Camino. It was quite impressive during the pilgrims’ Mass to see the botafumeiro [incense pot] swinging and to see the mini bonfire inside it.

So, in Santiago, we saw so many of our friends that we met along the Camino and we were all talking and comparing stories of various sections of the Camino. It was great to see basically everyone we had met [along the way] all in one day. Kelsey and Becca went out at night to enjoy a Tuna group [see ] playing traditional Spanish music until midnight.

During our time in the cathedral, we hugged the statue of St. James that is overlooking the altar and saw the relics of St. James. We just chilled out in the adoration chapel there.

We were talking about walking to Finisterre but Matt, Billy and Simone were taking the bus and Jill’s feet protested another 86 kilometers, so we decided to bus in to Finisterre with them. We are currently in Finisterre and plan to walk 28 kilometers to Muxia tomorrow.

When we saw the ocean in Finisterre, it was so refreshing and we all loved it. We stepped off the bus and we were waylaid by people recruiting us to stay in their albergue. We followed one of them who led us to this really nice hostel.

Seafood is so popular here in Finisterre. Our second day in Finisterre (July 22), we had dinner with Matt, as Billy and Simone had left earlier that day. We went swimming in the ocean ad walked out to the actual end of the world [Finisterre means “end of the world”]. The town of Finisterre is not actually [at the end]. On our way back to the town, we stopped at the ruins of an old hermitage that overlooked the whole landscape of the isthmus that Finisterre is built on.

We had originally planned to be in Muxia today but last night, we all decided that we didn’t want to leave Matt, so we stayed in Finisterre an extra day (which is today). We are very relaxed but are getting restless and are excited for the walk tomorrow. Our bodies are protesting the lack of exercise of these last few days and we miss
the Camino.

It was a bittersweet end and we already see some differences in our lives beginning with our friendships with Billy, Simone, and Matt. Muxia has been highly reccommended to us by several people as a quaint, non-touristy, and religious location. Afterwards we will return to Santiago and catch an 8-hour bus to Fatima. Post-Camino life has made us homesick, as our life for the past month has ended.


Camino de Frances, Camino de Santiago, Personal stories

Day 32 — Portomarin

[from Garin, July 16, 2014]

We are in Portomarin in the last 100 kilometers!!! Ever since Rabanal del Camino, we have started to travel with a motley group of Irish, Scottish, Danish, and American people. We enjoy their company a lot.

Today, a lot of new people were on the trail because to get a compostela [certificate indicating that you completed the pilgrimage], one needs to walk the last 100 kilometers, therefore many [people] start in Sarria, which is the closest big city to the last 100 kilometers. The trail was SO crowded today! We all felt claustrophobic. Becca wanted alone time, so she walked ahead of us in the morning only to find hordes of new pilgrims everywhere she looked and ended up joining back up with us and appreciating our company. We can’t believe that we are only 4 days away from Santiago! After the mostly rainy meseta, Galicia has been SO hot and humid! It is supposed to be the reverse, with the meseta hot and Galicia raining. However, Galicia has so far provided some of the best scenery along the Camino, with the fog rolling over the lush green hills and beautiful tall trees providing much appreciated shade! The cuisine has also changed and now we can get a torta de Santiago as a sort of almond cake since entering Galicia.

Rabanal del Camino was so far our favorite town, being so serene and quaint. The albergue there provided tea at 4:30 (made by English women) and cakes, and a herb garden available for pilgrim use. Also available for our use was a kitchen, which we utilized to make a communal meal with our adopted family. We made the most delicious salad … with SO MANY FRESH VEGETABLES!! Our albergue was right next to the church and we went to a vespers with Gregorian chanting in original Latin, and evening prayer with a pilgrims’ blessing. One of the hospitaleras described the sound of the priest´s voices as a hug, due to its beauty. There Kelsey and Becca made friends with an 11-year-old Spaniard whom they enjoyed talking to due to her simplicity of vocabulary and her patience with their broken Spanish. The day after Rabanal del Camino, we passed Cruz de Ferro, best known for its heaped pile of rocks, some ground-down into sand. The rocks symbolize people´s burdens that they carried with them on the pilgrimage. They can lay their burdens at the foot of the cross and let go of them, literally and spiritually. Personally, I carried about 10 pounds of rocks and everyone was joking about how big my burdens were! The rest of them were extremely happy to get rid of that extra small burden in their packs which they had brought with them from home.

Los Peregrinos plus Simone (Danish), Billy (Irish), Matt (Texan), and Tom (Scottish)

Camino de Frances, Camino de Santiago, Personal stories

Postcard from Astorga

[About July 10th, 2014]


Astorga has a chocolate museum! It’s well worth the price of 2.50 euros because it has the chocolate samples at the end.

I wish I could bring you back a bar — I got one with almonds that’s both rich and sweet and has an interesting kind of rough texture because it was ground on a rock or something (I didn’t understand all of the Spanish explanation).

Anyway, now I know a lot about the traditional method of making chocolate bars.


Camino de Frances, Camino de Santiago, Personal stories

Postcard from León

[About July 9, 2014]

Hi everyone,

Today we are in León, which is a little over halfway to Santiago. We visited the cathedral with amazing stained-glass windows, but personally I liked the quiet, non-touristy basilica better, where the Blessed Sacrament was in exposition. We had an amazing lunch which included fried calamari and fillet of sole (trust me, it’s not like this all the time).

Kelsey and I have been cooking in the albergues [that have] kitchens — fried rice, rice with veggies, rice with chorizo, cheesy rice, etc. I am getting very good with rice. I was serious about [you bringing a peanut butter & jelly sandwich to the airport when you pick me up], by the way. Also, strawberries would be great. Every tienda in [this part of] Spain has the same selection of canned vegetables and sad-looking fruits. I’m excited to leave the meseta and hike some hills again.

Love you all,

Camino de Frances, Camino de Santiago, Personal stories

Day 21 — Rebecca Writes

[July 4th, 2014]

Hi Dad!

It’s Becca. I miss you guys. Yesterday I finally met some Hungarians [of interest because her maternal grandparents are from Hungary], two women, and I ran into the room when I heard “I’m from Hungary.” Then today someone greeted me with “Jó napot!” [Good day!]” and I was pleased with myself for recognizing it and saying “Hungaria!” [?], although of course I should have said “Magyarország” [Hungary].

We miss the history lessons [from Tom]. I have been officially adopted into the [organizer’s] family (we have crossed too many personal boundaries for me not to be). I wish mom were here to identify the interesting plants for us, especially when it’s a crop that’s not wheat and is a change from the monotony. We saw an interesting plant yesterday that Jill says is opium [opium poppy? — Papaver somniferum]. I feel like I have something else to tell you, but of course I forgot. Oh, wait! I finally got a blister. How strange, now that [the territory is] flat. Ok, dinner time!

Love you all.