Camino de Frances, Camino de Santiago, Personal stories

From Madrid

[Saturday, August 2, 2014 — Garin writes]

We sent an email in Santarem and we are now in Madrid. We spent around four days in Lisbon, riding on sightseeing tours to see the maximum amount of the city in minimal time, and we looked in on all the chu​rches. ​Lisbon is our favorite large city by far. We stayed in the old part of the city which is beautiful and lively, but also visited the modern part of the city that was built for the 1998 Lisbon World Exposition [ ] that looks like a futuristic science fiction movie set. We enjoyed amazing gelato, sitting by the beautiful [Tagus] River with a scenic background, and a historical market turned modern food court with cuisine from all over the world. To quote Becca, “These aren’t cooks in the kitchens. These are chefs!” Lisbon even comes with hills, tram cars (like cable cars in San Francisco), the 25th of April Bridge (like the Golden Gate Bridge) [ ], and a statue of Christ the King (like the Cristo Redentor in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil) [ ]. Jill has a few postcards that could fool people into thinking we visited San Francisco. We enjoyed ourselves nonetheless.

Lisbon has a vast number of museums for a wide-ranging audience, such as the Marionette Museum and the National Tile Museum. One day we decided to split up and see the museums that interested each of us the most. Mom visited the Coaches Museum, one of the best in the world because a queen predicted the permanence of the car and preserved the royal collection. One of the favorite stories was of the king who wanted to gain favor with Pope Clement the 11th and [had his ambassador in Rome have] three huge decorative coaches made at different times, with statues and carvings inside to show Portugal’s growing importance. The king received so many letters and compliments about the grandeur of these coaches that he wanted to see what they looked like, and so he ordered the coaches to be returned to Portugal so he himself could see them. Garin wanted to see the Oceanarium (aquarium), and Becca went to keep him company. Ironically, they spent over an hour watching the sea otters in an exhibit that was modeled after Monterey Bay. Kelsey visited the Ancient Art Museum for four hours, enjoying the variety of religious art and objects acquired by the Portuguese in their various explorations. The exhibits were set up so that people could see Indian, Chinese, and Japanese pottery over time and watch the influence of each of these cultures on Portuguese art and vice versa.

Last night we traveled on a painful eight-hour bus ride into Madrid, arriving at 6 a.m. to a sleeping Spanish city. Fortunately, the bus was not full, so we could spread out and try to catch a few hours of sleep.

We are increasingly excited to get home after all the traveling of the past few weeks.

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

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

The Six Arrive in Europe (Barcelona, Spain)

Jill, the organizer of the six, wrote this on June 9th or 10th [I don’t know what TUNA means]:


Hi everyone,

The six of us arrived safe and sound, found our pension and got a local cell phone. […] I will not have the phone on most of the day while we are walking but will have it on in the evenings. Spain is 9 hours ahead of San Francisco time so this should work out fine. [So far (June 15th) Jill is able to receive calls but is unable to call out.]

So far, the food is great. We got our first ¨Buen Camino!¨ today right when we got off the Metro. We asked a police officer for directions to our hostel, and he recognized us as pilgrims and told us in broken English that he´d walked the Camino four times, using different routes. We´ve been serenaded 3 times by musicians, the best of which was a TUNA group at dinner (paella & tapas!)

More later. Love you all,

Jill, Rosa, Gail, Rebecca, Kelsey, Garin (el seis peregrinos)