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.

Camino de Frances, Camino de Santiago, Personal stories

Day 13 to 20 — Ventosa to Carrion de los Condes

[After eight days, we’ve heard from them! Garin writes, 7:33 p.m. Spanish time, July 3rd, 2014:]

Hey, all!

So, as it turned out, we did do that 30-kilometer day we were talking about in the previous email. It was a tough day, walking through rain and squelching for a couple kilometers through mud. By about halfway through our squelch session, we took pictures of the excess mud sticking to our shoes that weighed around 1 or 2 pounds on each foot! We arrived in Santo Domingo [de la Calzada] to find the Cistercian-run albergue and it was really nice (complete facilities including a microwave, but no oven). For dinner, we bought a bunch of microwavable (or in some cases, not-so-microwavable) food for dinner and since we ran into a time crunch with Mass, we ended up eating a bunch of half-cold, semi-microwavable food items including mushrooms, hot (or not-so-hot) cheese pockets, and pizza (still half frozen)… not something we want to repeat.

To Santo Domingo de la Calzada:

To Santo Domingo de la Calzada 01

To Santo Domingo de la Calzada 02

To Santo Domingo de la Calzada 03

To Santo Domingo de la Calzada 04

To Santo Domingo de la Calzada 05

To Santo Domingo de la Calzada 06

To Santo Domingo de la Calzada 07

To Santo Domingo de la Calzada 08

The next day, we walked about a 27-kilometer day to Tosantos where we stayed in a wonderful albergue, and our favorite one thus far, with the close second being Logroño. In this albergue, we went up the hill to a church that was built at an unknown time into the side of a hill in a natural crevasse. It was a rare opportunity to see the inside, since the woman who had the key to the church was not always available. We also cooked a communal meal with everyone in our albergue under the direction of the hospitalero, Jose. We enjoyed that communal meal and the night of prayers in their chapel afterwards. Personally, I also enjoyed sleeping on the mattresses on the ground (I didn’t have far to fall if I rolled off).

To Tosantos:

To Tosantos 01

To Tosantos 02

To Tosantos 03

To Tosantos 04

To Tosantos 05

To Tosantos 06

To Tosantos 07

To Tosantos 08

To Tosantos 09

To Tosantos 10

To Tosantos 11

To Tosantos 12

To Tosantos 13

To Tosantos 14

To Tosantos 15

We stopped in Burgos to see the cathedral and stay the night, and we somehow managed to arrive and stay on the night of the feast of San Pedro y San Pablo [Saints Peter and Paul], which is a HUGE local celebration. We were joking that we felt like we were in Disneyland because of how many people were out on the streets with balloons, bands playing, people dressed up in costumes for performances, etc… The cathedral was GINORMOUS… so many side chapels and other branches off of the main part. We had Mass later that evening in one of these chapels.

We have been keeping up a good enough pace that we are managing to keep up with a lot of the people that we have previously met. We keep seeing them over and over again, and we can just pick up the conversation where we left off. We have met so many Americans, including Steve and Paige from Florida, Erin and Chris from Indiana, Robert from Orange County, [California], etc. We have also met Wendy and Mae from Canada, some really nice Brazilians who semi-adopted Kelsey and Becca when they found out they were at World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro [in 2013]; Tom from Scotland, and tons of really nice Spaniards who always think that Mom speaks Spanish fluently and start talking to her, and then Becca or Kelsey have to translate. We keep seeing a group of Italians who always stand out in a crowd because of their wild dreadlocks, and Lucas, our other Italian friend who doesn’t speak very much English or Spanish, but is very memorable due to his personality and banana-bag hat. Adrien, a man running the Camino [rather than walking, biking or horseback riding], is also an interesting figure, due to the fact that he is always running, but he still wants to talk to pèople and make friends.

Since beginning on the meseta [the high plains of central Spain] in Burgos, we have had rain every single day, even though the meseta is supposed to be the hottest part of the whole Camino. We aren´t complaining, though, since it’s easier to walk in the cold and wind. Sometime during our hike tomorrow we will pass the halfway point in the Camino, having walked about 250 miles out of 500 to Santiago (plus our hike to Finisterre after Santiago). There is no type of walking trail we have not trudged over — dirt, gravel, pavement, sand… the bottoms of our feet have basically become one big callous.

Most of areas of Spain that we have seen are wheat-growing, or grape-growing for wine. We celebrate whenever we see a new plant growing on the side of the Camino (like counting hills in Florida). We have passed goats, sheep, cows, and many other animals for food. But the one animal we have not seen or heard real evidence of is a pig. It is the enigma of the Camino, since the Spaniards basically eat no other meat besides ham. But we are enjoying the silence, solitude, and calm of the meseta. Recently, we have been encountering American music from the 1960s and 70s in the bars. It was a little freaky hearing “Stairway to Heaven”, Simon and Garfunkle songs, “Knights in White Satin”, etc. No Grateful Dead songs yet. We got overrun by a shepherd with his flock. And we have made many dog friends who like to show up at dinner time and disappear soon after, sadly disappointed.

One of our recent highlights was in Castrojeriz, where we explored the ruins of an old castle on the top of a hill that overlooked an old Roman path which later became part of the Camino. We walked over an original Roman road, which Kelsey took lots of pictures of. Many parts of the meseta that lie ahead follow the path of old Roman roads.

Rebecca does not miss much from her old life, but she does miss peanut butter. She requests that her parents have a jar waiting for her at the airport (even better if in a peanut butter and jelly sandwich). We laugh at ourselves when we pull everything out of our backpacks onto our beds, and then comment on how much stuff we have. Becca and Kelsey take an hour in the supermercado because there are so many choices after the little tiendas [stores] and alimentaciones de los pueblos (of the towns).

We are excited by the town we are staying in tonight, Carrion de los Condes, as it seems that there is life here. A lot of us pilgrims have joked that we think a lot of the towns along the Camino were put up just for pilgrims (and so we have been informed by some locals), towns whose population literally plummets from 20 to 0 in the off-season. Here, however, there are people of various ages doing everyday activities. It is quite the sight. We still have no idea how anything gets done in Spain, although we have been told that the economy is doing poorly here. The albergue we are staying in tonight is run by nuns and has a chapel with a tabernacle inside. We feel very at home here … Its great! Other than that, all is well. Kelsey is still champion of the lightest pack (and me with the heaviest). Kelsey and Becca are improving in their cooking. Talk to you all later.

-Los peregrinos

Camino de Frances, Camino de Santiago, Personal stories

Day 9 to 12 — The Six Continue — Villatuerta to Ventosa

[June 25th, 2014, Day 12, from Garin:]

Hey all!

We sent an email to you when we were in Puente la Reina on our rest day. That rest day did us well, and we made good time after to make up for our lost time walking around 20km a day average. We are finally walking enough per day to run into the same people, which is encouraging. We are currently in Ventosa. Today, we passed the 576km to Santiago sign! We have walked over 100 miles now. That makes all our feet and sore muscles feel better.

For Corpus Christi [Feast of the Body and Blood of Christ], we were in the small (pop. 150) town of Villamayor de Monjardìn and they had a Eucharistic procession through the whole town (all like 5 blocks of it). The priest was really passionate with his homily. Becca and Kelsey have been playing the game of “guess the readings/ gospel [because they’re in Spanish]/ discuss the homily”. Some days are better than others, but for the most part, they usually get the general gist. If the priest talks slowly into the mike and the church doesn’t echo too much, they can understand the majority of it. The rest of us non-Spanish speakers are totally lost and have to ask what the readings/ gospel/ homily were after Mass.

(Day 9) Estella, on the way to Villamayor de Monjardìn:
01 Estella on to Villamayor dM

(Day 9) Rose, on the way to Villamayor de Monjardìn:
02 Rose to Villamayor dM

(Day 9) Irache, on the way to Villamayor de Monjardìn:
03 Irache onto Villamayor dM

(Day 9) On the way to Villamayor de Monjardìn:
04 onto Villamayor dM

(Day 9) On the way to Villamayor de Monjardìn:
05 onto Villamayor dM

(Day 9) View of Villamayor de Monjardin from top of the hill:
06 view of Villamayor dM

(Day 9) Entire town of Villamayor de Monjardin from top of the hill:
07 entire town of Villamayor dM

(Day 9) Pilgrim problems — Garin drying socks:
08 Garin drying socks pilgrim problems

(Day 9) First storm on the Camino (Villamayor de Monjardin):
09 First storm

(Day 10) On the way to Torres del Rio
01 To Torres del Rio

(Day 10) On the way to Torres del Rio
02 To Torres del Rio

(Day 10) On the way to Torres del Rio
03 To Torres del Rio

(Day 10) On the way to Torres del Rio — “Buen Camino!”
04 To Torres del Rio

(Day 10) On the way to Torres del Rio
05 To Torres del Rio

(Day 10) On the way to Torres del Rio
06 To Torres del Rio

(Day 10) On the way to Torres del Rio
07 To Torres del Rio

(Day 10) Torres del Rio
08 To Torres del Rio

(Day 10) Church in Torres del Rio
09 Church in Torres del Rio

(Day 10) Pool in Torres del Rio
10 Pool in Torres del Rio

Other opportunities for Spanish practice come during desperate ice cream searches and grocery store runs which sometimes, but not always, include funny-looking shopping carts and… store workers or waitresses [confused by] our Spanish. Last night (Day 11), we stayed in a donativo (for those of you who don’t know means that they run completely on donations; it is technically free) albergue that was a parish albergue in Logroño. We got a lunch, bed (obviously), 3 course dinner, breakfast, and smiles, and a warm, loving welcome from everyone. There were 2 Filipino seminarians that were volunteering at the albergue and helping out with everything. While talking to one of them, I volunteered to read the English [prayer] intention at the Mass, about the pilgrims on the Camino, that they may [have] deepened [, discovered, or rediscovered] faith.

The church was beautiful and after Mass, we came back to our albergue to find dinner waiting for us. We ate with all the other pilgrims, the seminarians, pastor, and the hospitaleros [hosts]. The seminarians and priests would serve us the dishes; [it] was nice to see them literally SERVING the people.

(Day 11) On the way to Logroño
01 To Logrono

(Day 11) On the way to Logroño
02 To Logrono

(Day 11) On the way to Logroño
03 To Logrono

(Day 11) On the way to Logroño
04 To Logrono

(Day 11) On the way to Logroño — “Even the river is cafe con leche colored”
05 Logrono

(Day 11) On the way to Logroño
06 To Logrono

(Day 11) On the way to Logroño
07 To Logrono

(Day 11) On the way to Logroño
08 Logrono

(Day 11) In the Church of Santiago el Real in Logroño
09 In the church of Santiogo el Real in Logrono

(Day 11) In the Church of Santiago el Real in Logroño
10 In the church of Santiogo el Real in Logrono

(Day 11) In the Church of Santiago el Real in Logroño
11 In the church of Santiogo el Real in Logrono

(Day 11) Served by the pastor
12 Served by the pastor

[Day 12, Ventosa:]

(Day 12) On the way to Ventosa
01 To Ventosa

(Day 12) On the way to Ventosa
02 To Ventosa

(Day 12) On the way to Ventosa
03 To Ventosa

(Day 12) On the way to Ventosa
04 To Ventosa

(Day 12) On the way to Ventosa
05 To Ventosa

(Day 12) On the way to Ventosa
06 To Ventosa

(Day 12) On the way to Ventosa
07 To Ventosa

(Day 12) On the way to Ventosa
08 To Ventosa

(Day 12) On the way to Ventosa — Ruins of an old pilgrim hospital
09 To Ventosa

(Day 12) On the way to Ventosa
10 To Ventosa

(Day 12) Dinner in Ventosa
11 Dinner in Ventosa

We are starting to pick up the pace of our days. We get up around 5 a.m. and get walking by 5:30 a.m. at the latest, to get maximum kilometerage done before the day gets hot. We calculated that we need to average 23.1km a day in order to do all that we hope to do (Finnistere and Muxia at the end and Fatima). Tomorrow, we are doing a 30km day to Santo Domingo where we hope to stay at an albergue run by Cistercian nuns. And now, at 8:45 p.m., we sleep… this is late for us to go to bed.

-Los Peregrinos:
Garin, Kelsey, Jill, Becca, Gail, and Rosa

Camino de Frances, Camino de Santiago, Personal stories

Day 9 — Tom Leaves the Group

[Sunday, June 22nd]

We got up at 5:15 and left the albergue about 5:50. The all-night fiesta was still going strong. We hiked quickly and got to Estella about 7 am. Maybe a couple of cafes were open but as we have discovered, Spain does not get started until 9 to 10 am, so it was pretty quiet, except for the Camino hikers, of which there were many.

We arrived at the Irache wine fountain at 7:50, expecting to have to wait until 8 am, but it was already open. In fact another group of pilgrims as just leaving as we came up. All except Garin and Kelsey tasted the wine. You are supposed to use your Camino shell as a tasting cup to get the full benefit. Garin tasted from the water tap.
140622 001 Irache wine fountain 01

140622 002 Irache wine fountain 02
Tom at the fountain
140622 09 Becca at wine fountain
Rebecca at the fountain
140622 08 sign at Irache fountain
“Pilgrim, if you want to arrive at Santiago with strength and vitality, take a swallow of this great wine and pledge your happiness.”
140622 07 Irache monastery
Irache monastery
Rosa’s bunions were hurting badly, in spite of the extra thick moleskin, so she was going to take a taxi the rest of the way to Villamayor. So we decided to go into a taxi together.

Rosa and I were going to visit the Irache wine museum, but it did not open until 10 am, so we continued hiking with the group until Irache village, where we found a hotel. We had the hotel order a taxi. Said goodbye everybody.

140622 01 at Irache wine fountain
Final group shot of “Los siete peregrinos” in Irache
Rosa and I rode to Villamayor, where Rosa got out and paid the tab so far. I continued on in the taxi to my hotel in Logrono.

My taxi tab was 58 euros [about $79], which is a lot more expensive than a bus, but it was a lot quicker, more convenient, and a lot less complicated than trying to follow bus schedules. Plus the taxi driver gave me a running commentary about the regions, the climate, the history, the agriculture, and so on as we drove.

The hotel guarded my backpack while I explored the city. I would be able to check in at noon or 1 pm.
I’m at a cafe in the Plaza del Mercado right by the main church, which has masses going every hour this Corpus Christi Sunday [Feast of the Body and Blood of Christ]. There are a bunch of Corpus Christi murals “painted” on the pedestrian road along side the church. Painted using colored wood chips and white sand. Quite elaborate.

140622 02 Corpus Christi mural

140622 03 Corpus Christi mural detail
Mural detail

There is WiFi in the square here but it took me 15 minutes to connect, because they wanted passport number, full address and birth date, and a mobile telephone number so they could text me my personal access code, which is valid for two hours. Phew.

Anyway, I had a nice cafe con leche and slice of tortilla from the cafe. Guess I’ll wander around some more now.

Love, Tom
It turns out that all of those Corpus Christi street murals were for a procession that started at 12:15 pm. The procession started out by walking right over them. See remains in first picture.

140622 04 procession 01

There was the Blessed Sacrament in procession, followed by a number of priests, followed by a tent, then a couple hundred people including some nuns, and then finally a band. The procession started out right next to the cathedral, and its bells rang continuously for at least the first fifteen minutes. (Meanwhile, noon mass was proceeding inside.) Sometimes the band would play and sometimes the people would sing. The procession went a couple of blocks through the pedestrian part of town, then turned right onto a main street (police protection for the parade), then turned right against after a couple note blocks. I don’t know where it was going to end up.

140622 05 procession 02

140622 06 procession 03

Love, Tom
I have located the bus station two blocks from my hotel, but the ticket window does not reopen until 15:30 this afternoon. Meanwhile I have checked into my hotel room and have been spending the time sending you email.

Love, Tom

Dear group [to the other pilgrims he has left behind],

I am staying in the Hotel Carlton Rioja in Logrono, and it is MAGNIFICENT. If you are ready for a splurge of luxury after eleven days of albergues, this is DEFINITELY the place.

I checked at the front desk and they do have three double rooms available Tuesday, June 24, for 80 (eighty) euros [about $109] per room. Yes, that is four times the price per person of an albergue, but this is a FOUR STAR hotel, and that is a great price for such a place.

Hotel Carlton Rioja
Gran Via del Rey D. Juan Carlos I, 5
Tel: 941.242.100


Camino de Frances, Camino de Santiago, Personal stories

Day 8 — Puenta la Reina to Villatuerta

[Saturday, June 21st, 2014]

140621 01 Cemetery just after Maneru
Cemetery just after Maneru

140621 02 Hiking up to Cirauqui at 8 am
Hiking up to Cirauqui at 8 a.m.

140621 03 resting on bridge about 1km bfr Lorca
Resting on a bridge about 1 km before Lorca

140621 04 statue of S Apostle over doorway
Statue of Santiago Apostol (St. James the Apostle) over a doorway
Arrived and checked into albergue La Casa Magica. (My book has it under a different name. Appears there is only one albergue in Villatuerta.) When we got here the host was at great pains to explain that the youth fiesta going on in the square outside, with amplified music and singing, would continue until 5:00 am in the morning. We all said no problem.

We got here about 1 pm. Becca, Gavin and Kelsey went out to get us pizza for lunch. Next is showers and laundry.

It was much nicer hiking in the morning cool.

We plan to cook dinner in the kitchen here and then leave tomorrow morning again at 5:45.

Love, Tom
Turns out we weren’t supposed to use the kitchen at the albergue (both Jill’s and my guide books said this place had a kitchen you could use, but I guess that is one other thing that has changed since the guide books were printed).

The host was very apologetic (we had already bought food and started to cook). She said if we finished and cleaned up by 4:00 pm when the albergue chef arrived to cook dinner (13 euros; guests could sign up for), it would be okay. So Rosa hurried up the cooking and we had dinner at 3:00 pm. Then the host was so apologetic and over our objections opened a bottle of white wine and a bottle of red wine for us. Rosa’s dinner was amazingly good.

Anyway now it is 4:00 pm and rest time, although Becca and Kelsey still have to shower and do laundry because they were so busy with getting food and getting dinner ready that they have had no time yet.

Love, Tom
The gang here is having a repacking party, going through their entire packs and deciding what they can do without and send home with me. Becca left her towel at the albergue two nights ago so she will take my towel. Jill also wants Becca to take my Camino guidebook (same as the one you have) which is newer than Jill’s and often has different information.

The local church has Mass tonight (Saturday) at 8:00 pm. We plan to get all packed up ready for bed, go to Mass, then go to bed. Then we will get up at 5:15 a.m., leave the albergue at 5:45, and start hiking. The Irache wine fountain is 7+ km away, and we plan to be there at 8 a.m. when it opens (according to our guidebook).

We will probably spend an hour there, and the adjacent monastery might even give us a stamp in our credencial. Then I will say goodbye to the group. I will either take a bus or taxi (or walk, if necessary, 3+ km) back to the main bus station in Estella, where our hostess has assured me that busses will run on Sunday to Logrono.

Today I hiked in shorts for the first time. I zipped off the long pants legs and lathered up good with sun lotion. It worked well and I did not feel as hot. Current temperature here in Villatuerta is 88 degrees F.

There does not seem to be any cell coverage here, but the albergue has good WiFi. E-mail if you want to try Skype.
[We had a Skype conversation about 6 p.m. Spanish time. The picture and sound were pretty sketchy. There had been a thunderstorm last night and it started to rain while Tom and I were talking, and the call dropped. He had gone outside to bring in his laundry, then he called back. He went up to the room where the five women were to spend the night. I think I got a glimpse of Rebecca, and then Tom got Jill into the picture. She put her feet up to the camera (probably showing me blisters or callouses), but the resolution was very poor. But those I saw seemed in good spirits. Jill asked for prayers for everyone’s sore feet.]