MEDICINE FOR THE MID-LIFE JOURNALS WRITTEN BY: NEIL FIELAND Day 1 – July 2, 2002 Arose early this morning to download the last bit of music for the Clie. Running around the house looking for last-minute items to pack. Work had kept me busy, and, of course, waited to the last minute to make sure I had everything. Feeling the combination of excitement and fear as the journey begins. Went to breakfast with Esty and Eric. Went to Sav-On and the bank to pick up last minute necessities. The ride to the airport was typical of anywhere we go. I drive, Esty whines, “It’s taking too long,” and “We never went this way before.” Eric sleeps. Check-in went smoothly, although the woman took an extended period of time with my passport. Good-byes are tough. Estalyn was understandably emotional and now it is off to Chicago. So, you arrive in Chicago and transfer to the next plane to Paris, right? WRONG! Plane that came in from Frankfurt had a bad generator that delayed the flight. I am sitting next to a gentleman of Lebanese decent. He is a mathematics professor at the University of Kentucky. He said he would help me find a train down to Bayonne. He says the food is quite good down there, especially pork products. He is on his way back to see his family in Lebanon. He grew up in Paris as a youth, and is fluent in French. Day 2 – July 3, 2002 Well, the best laid plans are just that. The plane late out of Chicago forces me to catch a 4:00 p.m. train out of Gare Montparnasse. This should get me to Bayonne by 8:30 p.m. I will have to find a place to stay and catch a train to St. Jean in the morning. The weather in Paris is rainy and chilly, like an L.A. winter. I had to pay to go to the bathroom – 40 curos. The train station is quite busy with summer tourists and local vacationers. Hope there is a place to stay in Bayonne. I would hate to sleep on the street this early in the trip. I bought the train ticket at the SNCF booth at the airport. I got the E- mail address of the gentleman from Lebanon. I will write a little thank you note when I get home. He did not have to do very much, but the feeling of security goes a long way. I met a nice couple, Americans, on the bus ride from the airport to the train station. He had seen the running of the bulls – maybe being a day behind is not so bad. So I bought a security piece for the backpack and I don’t know how to use it. I see a guy in the train station with the same one, and he was kind enough to show me how to put it on. I may see him again in Pamplona. The train ride to Bayonne is quite pleasant. The French countryside is beautiful with varying shades of vegetation. The villages appear quaint and peaceful. I arrive in Bayonne at about 8:00 p.m. I see two men with backpacks and I approach them. They, like me, are going to St. Jean to start the walk. We decide to share a room together in a hotel across the street from the train station. We went out to dinner. The restaurant was small by American standards – sitting 20 to 25 people. I had paella. We got to know one another over the course of the meal. We spoke with some locals who were sitting at a table next to us. It was an enjoyable evening. We returned to the hotel and went to sleep around 1:00 AM. Day 3 – July 4, 2002 I awoke around 7:00 a.m. ready for the trip to St. Jean. The hotel staff awakened the hotel guests by knocking on the doors. There were no phones in the room. The showers are no bigger than a shoebox. I had a café con leche in the coffee shop under the hotel. Geert and Rafael, my new companions, and I, are off to St. Jean. We caught a 9 AM train and the ride took about an hour. We got to the credential office around 10:30 to receive our documents. In the credential office are a group of multi-lingual men prepared to get you through the necessary paperwork. It is necessary to do this because without the credential, you are unable to stay in the refugios along the Camino. We took some pictures and it was time to leave. We shopped for food, but in the excitement I failed to get water. About one hour into the walk, feeling quite tired from the vertical climb, Raf and I stop and find a place to rest. There’s a small home that doubles as a restaurant serving drinks and food. I am able to fill my water bottle from a spicket and down two Diet Cokes. I’m starting to perspire profusely from the vertical ascent and there seems to be no end insight. I can’t wait until it starts to go downhill. We rest a bit and move on. Sometime later we stop at a lookout point and try to find out where we are in the climb to the top. The map tells us nothing. Moving on, we decide to stop for lunch, bread and water for me. The half-hour stop rejuvenates me and I am feeling good. The next stop is at the cross toward the top of the mountain. A sign says “10 kilometers to Roncesvalle, one kilometer to the next fountain”. The grade is quite steep. It just seems the top is nowhere in sight. We reach the fountain and meet up with a Spanish man and Swedish woman and later an Irish family joins us. We enjoy good company, good conversation and wish each other well. We move on with the Spaniard and Swede. At about 5:00 p.m., the town of Roncesvalle appears below us. There are two paths to choose. They recommend not going through the forest due to the steep grade down the hill. We took the asphalt road down. I had the group, now including two Geman women, stand and take a picture with Roncesvalle in the background. At 7:00 p.m., we finally reach the refugio. After presenting our documents, we received earlier in the day, we were escorted to a room that housed both men and women. Geert went to the pilgrim’s mass and Raf and I waited. There was pilgrim’s dinner for six euros at a restaurant next to the refugio but we didn’t have the proper tickets so we went to a hotel restaurant down the street. We finished after 10 PM which happened to be the time the refugio locked its doors. This was unbeknown to us until we were told by the waitress that the refugio was locked. We managed to find an open room with some mattresses and slept there for the night. The night air had a chill and the only cover I had was the jacket I brought with me to dinner. The room had a bunch of people who snored quite loudly. My groin area was screaming at me from the climb through the Pyrenees. I didn’t know if I could walk the next day. It was a long night to say the least. Day 4 – July 5, 2002 I arose around 4:30 a.m., and waited for the refugio to open so I could get in the room I was assigned and get my belongings. At around 6:00 p.m., the doors to the refugio opened. I went upstairs to get the clothes I had washed the day before. They were still wet. None of the things left in the room were disturbed. I packed my stuff and with Geert and Raf and headed for the road. On the way out of the refugio we ran into Helena (a Swedish girl) who had been meditating. She asked if she could walk with us and we obliged her. We came across a breakfast place one km into the walk. Helena and I decided to eat there while Geert and Raf moved on. After a breakfast of potato and eggs on French bread and juice, I took an additional tomato juice and banana for the road. My water bottle was filled, and I was on my way. The road took us through the small town of Bergute and Erro. Much of the trail went through the forest. Helena and I met up with Geert and Raf at a gate in the woods just outside of Erro. Geert was able to move quite fast and left Raf, Helena, and myself behind. At a crystal clear brook, we saw Geert taking a break and drinking orange concentrate. Prior to that, we added Jennifer, a 20-year-old Swiss girl. She had no problem with the hills of Spain after training in the Swiss Alps. We reached Erro by 11:00 AM. I bought some drinks to stay hydrated. The others stopped at a market to buy some food items. We continued on varying widths of dirt paths. In addition, we started to ascend some of the hills around Erro. Near the top, we stopped for lunch. While eating, the Irish boys who we would have roomed with came by and stopped. I hope to have a beer with them in the evening. After lunch, we began the descent and by 2:30 p.m., we reached Zubiri. This destination would have been fine for me, but the others wanted to move on so I had a quick yogurt, filled my water bottle and moved on. Larrasagna was 5 km. away. It had its fair share of ascents and descents – mostly through manufacturing businesses. When we arrived at Larrasanga there were no beds to be had. Helena and Jennifer were offered a bed that had suddenly become available. They declined in an effort to stay together for the night and asked the refugio manager to give it to me. The manager explained that beds were on a first come, first serve basis. Somehow, after much banter in Spanish, the manager points to me and offers me the bed. This was my first experience where I actually felt that someone was watching over for me. I was exhausted between the walk and a sleepless night. I was totally drained. I was told that I looked like hell that night. I believe them. I felt like it. And now, I am offered a bed as late as I arrived at the refugio? I was ready to find a hotel. For dinner, Helena made some pasta, courtesy of the refugio. It was quite good. Meanwhile, Geert and Raf moved on in hopes of getting a bed. We exchanged e-mail addresses and hoped we would meet later on the road. There was no way I could keep up with their pace. We bid each other a fond farewell. Day 5 – July 6, 2002 During all the excitement and confusion of last night, I forgot to get my credential from the refugio administrator. I had got up at approximately 5:45 and waited for him. He came from a residence across the way. He gave me my credential and I left a donation. After a good breakfast and some extra food, I took off for the first time solo. I passed a number of walkers along the way and was walking at a quick pace. The soreness of the previous day had dissipated to nearly zero. I was feeling like myself again. I ran into the Irish gentlemen at a truck stand. The truck owner would sell food items to pilgrims and would give them a lift if needed. It appeared Peter, one of the Irishmen, had hurt his knee in Paris and would require two days rest. I joined the other two and we walked to Pamplona together. Upon arriving in Pamplona, the town was gearing up for the San Fermin festival, which lasts a week. As we approached the town square, the crowd was roaring and champagne bottles were popping. The town turned into a Mardi gras atmosphere. We worked our way through the town until we reached a refugio that was also a first aid station for those hurt during the running of the bulls. We checked in and set about to survey the goings on. Street after street people were dancing and drinking. An occasional brawl would break out among a rowdy bunch of drunks. We also checked out the path of the run because Niall, one of the Irishmen, was seriously considering doing the run. Bars, teaming with people extending out into the street, filled the air with music. The locals danced through the night. A group of us, which now included a U.K. brother and sister, as well as a pair of Belgium kids, had dinner at one of the “peregrino friendly” establishments. It appeared, at each of the stops, some of the local restaurants have a deal for the pilgrims. The cost is usually six to seven euros. The conversation was great, much of it consisting of U.S. television exports. Niall and I had an interesting conversation regarding recycling efforts in Ireland, or the lack thereof. He is holding out on the purchase of a car due to its prohibitive cost. Day 6 – July 7, 2002 I awoke around 5:45 AM and got ready quite quickly. The UK couple was also ready to go. The Belgian group was a little slow getting off. The Irish group left in a hurry to get down to the bullring where we decided to meet to watch the running of the bulls. By the time we got down to the ring, the crowds were enormous. It was wall-to-wall people. With the backpacks on our backs, it was impossible to negotiate the remainder of the distance to the bullring even though it was in sight. We decided it would be best to go back to a park where we could watch the event on a big screen TV that ran the length of a tractor-trailer. The event was really magnificent with an abundance of runners in their red and white outfits. The bulls also performed quite well getting to at least one of the runners, a woman. She looked like she was in some pain. At the conclusion of the run, we headed quickly out of town toward the next destination. We stopped to pick up some supplies for the day’s walk. The walk took us through some beautiful mountain scenery and by 2PM we were at Puente de la Reina. I called home only to find out the family dog was not doing very well. That meant the wife wasn’t doing well either. The remainder of the day was spent washing clothes and preparing for the next day’s walk. The Belgian teens, UK brother and sister, and myself went out to dinner and enjoyed each other’s company. Day 7 – July 8, 2002 I arose at 6AM, gathered my belongings, and was set to go. Yesterday, I gave the woman collecting money for the refugio 10 Euros, but she did not have any change at the time. I forgot to get back to her, so it looks like I made a sizeable donation to the refugio. If it’s not one thing, it’s another. I could have waited but I would rather leave early and beat the heat. The walk to Estella was hilly to say the least. With about 3.5km to go, a spectacular thunder and lightning shower ensued and before I knew it, I was drenched. I had not seen anything like it since my youth in N.Y. I was staring at the asphalt surface as I trudged through the rain when out of nowhere a bolt of lightning appeared to have come oh so close. At that point I looked up to the heavens and asked, “What’s next?” A group of walkers had gathered underneath an overpass to stay dry. The UK couple along with a guy from Venice, California found a friendly restaurant willing to feed hungry pilgrims. The refugio opened at 1PM and we signed in, showered and attended to our wounds. I was forced to deal with a blister on the back of my left foot. Helen had given me a sterile pad to place over the wound. At around 5PM, I was feeling kind of hungry so I found a store selling meats, cheeses, and sundries. I bought some items to make a sandwich. I returned to the refugio and sat down at a long table set up in the kitchen. Earlier that afternoon, there was a contingent of people sitting down feasting on things they cooked. I wondered how I could get in on that deal. Later on, I would find out. I sat down next to a gentleman with whom I had absolutely no previous contact. He offered me a tomato for my sandwich and some chips. It was par for the course. The Camino just brings this out in you. There is some incredible bonding going on here. Language is no barrier. Day 8 – July 9, 2002 This day I began as prepared as ever. No change to collect, no credential to recover. We started out just past 6 AM. I felt a chill in the morning air so I decided to wear my jacket. As soon as we made it out of town I needed to put my jacket in my backpack. I had misjudged the outside temperature and began to perspire. I told my UK friends to continue on and I would catch up later on. After getting myself together, I put the backpack on and set out on the trail. I missed an arrow and had to backtrack a ways. I finally found my way and carried on with a brisk pace. By the time I reached the next town, I had caught my UK friends. I also ran into the Swiss and Swedish women I had walked with on day two. I decided to keep my own pace today to see what I could accomplish. I found I could move quicker by myself than with a group. I arrived in Los Arcos at around 10:30 AM. I sat to rest with a gentleman who had slept in the bunk bed underneath me in La Rossagna. We sat and chatted for about a half-hour. The day was starting to get warm. It was still a fair distance to San Sol. The town was perched on a hill and could be seen through the afternoon haze. Fortunately, the path was flat with some winding turns between Los Arcos and San Sol. It was almost noon by the time I reached San Sol. I was starting to get quite weary between the warmth of the day and the distance covered. An amazing thing happened in San Sol. I had somehow missed an arrow and trekked up the steep ascent into the middle of town. Many of the towns in the medieval ages were built on hilltops so they could protect themselves from potential enemies. I found a bench in this open court area to rest for a while. I looked around to find a vendor selling fruits and vegetables. I know it wasn’t there when I went to sit on the bench. I found this to be one of those occurrences where someone was watching over me. I purchased a couple of fruits and rested for a while. It was a short hop from San Sol to Torres del Rio. Day 9 – July 10, 2002 We were one of the first groups out this morning. A beautiful sunrise came over the hills. For some reason I had lost the spring in my step from the day before. We still made Viana by 8 AM. My feet were not quite the same today. We labored into Logrono at 10:30 AM and decided to call it a day. Logrono is a good-sized town, bigger than most along the Camino. The refugio was located across the street from the police station. We spent the remainder of the day walking about Logrono with its beautiful parks and plazas. I’m feeling some anxiety with regards to tomorrow’s journey. I’m not sure if it had anything to do with the way I had performed yesterday. For dinner we went to one of the big plazas and found a restaurant for pilgrims. A fellow American from Tennessee was sitting nearby and told us his story regarding how he came upon the Camino. He was on hiatus from a job he had in Sweden. He figured this would keep him busy for about a month. He appeared to be a well-traveled young man. He attended school in Colorado and had been trained as an Outward Bound leader. So, backpacking was nothing new for him. Day 10 – July 11, 2003 We actually got out before 6AM this morning. It took forever to leave Logrono. There would be two long hauls before the end of the day, Logrono to Navarette and Navarette to Najera. We made Navarette by 8 AM. After a quick shot of OJ, I was off to Najera. I left my UK walking partners behind in Navarette and moved on to Najera solo. The weather looked ominous as clouds hovered over the mountains. My pace started to increase as my fear of rain escalated. (Fear, an interesting word) The wind started to whip up and I remembered when I was a kid when the wind would come, the rain wasn’t far behind. It was still a pretty good hike from Navarette to Najera. The clouds seem to be moving past me as the threat of rain subsided. I arrived in Najera around noon. The UK folks went off to find something to eat while I watched their bags. A gentleman from France whom I had spoken to briefly offered me some hard-boiled eggs. Fortunately, I had something to offer back, a nectarine. He shared eggs, cookies, tomatoes, cheese, and anything else he had. But the thing that impressed me most of all was his wisdom. He told me he had been to India and Nepal and studied religion. He spoke of the ego as bullshit and the need to look at people on the inside. He talked of how he had all his family and friends with him on the journey, even those who were no longer with us. For some reason I could relate to that. We shook hands and bid each other farewell. I hoped to meet him in Santiago. The girl who ran the refugio had spent some time in the States, Long Island to be exact. She went for a year to learn English. I asked her what she was doing here and her response was she wanted to give back to the Camino for all the Camino had given her. Conversations seemed to be the order of the day. I was moved by both of these individuals. And the fear from yesterday? How ridiculous! How unnecessary! To find the truth, go to your heart, not your head. Day 11 – July 12, 2002 We began the day a little after 6AM this morning. My feet were feeling OK. It was a shirt hop to Azorfa, only 6 km away, but I had broken a sacred rule. I was carrying no food when I left town that morning. I had two full containers of water, but no food. It would still be early, maybe too early, for any place to be open to buy food. I needed another miracle from my angels. As I walked through the town, I noticed a sign over an establishment where food might be sold. As I approached the store, I noticed the lights were on inside. I actually stood there a while to make sure it wasn’t a mirage. I went inside and found some fruit juices and a loaf of bread to take along. That wouldn’t add too much weight to carry. Once again, I was saved. Feeling relieved, I carried on for 10 km before stopping to feed myself. I replenished my body enough to get me the rest of the way to Santo Domingo de la Calzada. Oscar, my Spanish friend, helped me check out the Internet for trains leaving Santiago to Porto, but we were unable to find a single one. It wouldn’t be until I arrived in Santiago that I would realize why this was not possible. We decided that maybe a travel agent in Burgos would be able to give me some insight on how to get to Porto. That afternoon, I went to purchase some items to carry with me for the next day’s journey. While checking out, I had to put my billfold down for some reason to complete the transaction. I picked up my groceries and went back to the refugio. Later that afternoon, while I was taking inventory to make sure I had everything, I realized that my billfold was missing. It held all my important documents, US passport, as well as money and credit card. Needless to say my heart started to pound out of my chest and I made a bee-line back to the supermarket. When I got there, the billfold was on the register where I had left it. I was not surprised to find the billfold untouched. I don’t think it really mattered if I was a pilgrim or not. It was really just the way things were on the Camino. Day 12 – July 13, 2002 I awoke at around 2 AM to the pitter-patter of rain on the roof of the refugio. I felt the grip of fear take hold once again. I would need a plan to keep both myself and my gear dry. I did have a cover for the backpack but I never opened it up and wasn’t sure how to put it on. I thought I could put the hood of my jacket on my head and hang the rest of my coat over the backpack. This way, I would still remain dry and warm. Lucky for me, the rain had dissipated by the time we were ready to walk. With that problem resolved, I was able to cover the first half of the day’s journey, 12 km, by 8AM. After a 10-minute rest and a container of orange juice and wafers, I set out to finish the day’s walk. This portion of the journey was a gradual uphill climb to Bolerado. The UK pair had distanced themselves from me. About an hour later, they decided to stop and rest. I was feeling fine and decided to push on. I wanted to go to the next to last town before Belorado, and then make the last 5km push. I arrived there around 9:30 AM and sat for ten minutes or so. The UK couple had passed me by. I set out on the last 5 km with the UK couple in my sight. They stopped again to rest while I pushed on. As I approached Belorado, I saw the town on the opposite side of the highway. I crossed the highway and the arrows led me to a refugio. I was greeted by a wonderful woman I could understand pretty well. I was the first pilgrim to sign in that day. I was expecting the others at any moment. I showered and went to find a market to buy food. There I saw my friends from the UK. It appeared that by crossing the highway, I missed some other arrows that would lead to a different refugio. The UK couple didn’t sound too happy about their refugio. I heard later the refugio I was in was recently opened and relatively new. It was quite nice. It was clean with amenities. Could this be another instance of someone watching over me? I went back to the refugio to eat lunch combining food from yesterday with my recent purchases. I washed some clothes and went back to the plaza to sit in the sun and enjoy the day. I ran into the UK folks and we agreed to meet at the same spot for dinner around 7PM. Dinner was good for a mere six Euros. I had a plate of paella, steak and fries, and arroz con leche (rice pudding). This was one of the best pilgrim offerings since the start of the trip. Day 13 – July 14, 2002 I was awakened by the shuffling of people moving about the room. The window to the refugio gave the appearance as if the light of day had come. I hurried to get dressed and put on my vest. I looked at my watch and noticed it was only 5:30 AM. I finished the remainder of the orange juice and set out on my own for the first time since day three. I was especially alert looking for any trail markers that would lead me out of town in the dark of night. They could be missed quite easily. I reached Villafranca Montes de Oca by 8 AM. I rested a while, had some cookies and orange juice, and continued on the path that took me straight up into the hills. Now, I could only wonder why we are going back up into the hills. Upon reaching the top, the path ran across the hilltops. The distance would cover most of the 13 km until San Juan de Ortega. At the point where the trail starts its descent, I decided to rest. It was here that I finally understood why we needed to be back up in the hills. Totally alone and nothing but a breeze rustling through the branches of the trees, I felt totally liberated and free to contemplate the good things going on in my life and grateful for those things presented to me. I embraced the solitude. I was alone but far from lonely. I got up to continue on. The road appeared to be descending. Out of nowhere a small town appeared no bigger than a city block. It was composed of a church, the refugio and a small eatery. The afternoon saw me engaging in conversation with some new friends. Alvaro, a young man from Madrid, is the comedian among the group of Spaniards who have seemed to come together. We talked of many things and will exchange e-mail addresses. It is late afternoon and I have yet to see the UK couple. I’m not sure if they have moved on down the path or if Mark’s foot problem has prevented him from moving on. The rest of the afternoon was spent with my new friends. We played this card game where you either hold or pass a card dealt to you depending on how low or high the card. About ten of us were playing. We had lots of laughs. Before turning in, I decided to get a bite to eat. The girl next to me at the bar was eating an interesting dish. She said it was murcilla. I didn’t know what was in it but she said it was very good. So, I decided to try it. It was delicious. I could see it had rice in it and appeared to be surrounded by something similar to kishka. I enjoyed it very much. One of the Spanish youths approached me and asked if I wanted to chip in two Euros for a feast they were putting together. I had seen and smelled some of the food they prepared at some of the other refugios we stayed at. Without hesitation, I agreed. I am really looking forward to this. Day 14 – July 15, 2002 I was not sure what time it was when I left this morning. It wasn’t long before the sky was light. I needed my jacket to keep warm. With my jacket on, I didn’t have easy access to my watch. The 13.4 km trip got me to Orbaneja by 8:50 AM. This left me 11km to Burgos. After knocking off the box of cookies and some orange juice, I went to the bar for some café con leche to warm up. I continued on to Villafria and saw a sign Albergue 9 km. Unknown to me at this time was that Villafria and Burgos back up to one another. Villafria was a big town by comparison to others on the Camino. I continued to walk along the streets of Villafria, however, I was unable to escape the feeling of being lost. I knew that the albergue was on the far side of town and was located in a park. The arrows kept appearing but still feeling uneasy, I decided to stop in a hotel diner to confirm I was heading in the right direction. Further down the road I ran into two people from the Spanish group. They had done some shopping for the evening meal. Now, at least I was feeling better about where I was going and I could also help carry some food. The trek took us through the city, past a huge, ornate church, far beyond anything I had ever seen before. They were in the process of refurbishing the structure. The refugio was an old military hospital located in a park. It appeared far better than what was conveyed to me back in San Juan de Ortega. The church was far too enticing to let it go by without paying another visit. So, later that afternoon, I went back to take pictures and looked inside. It was quite magnificent inside and out. I stopped to pick up some sunscreen on the way back to the refugio. The dinner that night was spectacular with everyone helping wherever they could. The sandwiches were delicious. The “three amigos” were not going to continue on so the group sang a good-bye song to wish them well. I never really got to know them but each would acknowledge me in their own way. Alvaro and one of the women in the group did a dance called the “Sevillanas” which is a native dance of Spain. It was a special evening. Day 15 – July 16, 2002 The day began at six in the morning. I walked with a gentleman and his nephew. We left Burgos and walked toward the outskirts of the city, not noticing any arrows. Signs for the Camino did appear but the arrows were non-existent. We walked around 6 km and did that “unmanly” thing… asked for directions. We approached a construction worker but he was no help. We stopped a man in a car who looked like he was a courier of some sort and he was able to get us on the right track. After a 1km walk, we started to see the arrows again and that warm, fuzzy feeling had returned. On the way, we encountered a walker coming in the opposite direction. He had started from Santiago and wanted to know where he would be picking up the Camino. We gave him directions and he was on his way. Amazing how the Camino will let you pay back favors so quickly. We carried on to Rebe de las Calzadas and arrived there by 8:15 AM. I had my OJ and pan con leche. It was enough to fill me up but I really wanted a café con leche. Just around the corner was the bar in town run by a woman who also ran the albergue. I asked for a café con leche and she had toast with butter on the table. I made a piece of toast to have with the café and stood and ate with a couple of other pilgrims. After I finished, I said thank you and left a donation on the table. She then gave me a kiss and wished me a “Buen Camino”. It was a special moment as if my mother was sending me off. I stopped in Hornillos after an 8 km walk to grab a snack before taking on the last 11 km to Hontanas. I met a group of pilgrims I already knew and a few more came by later on. I was ready for the final push. The walk took us through wheat fields that now appeared to be the main crop instead of grapes in the vineyards of Navarra. The wind in the hills created waves through the wheat fields. The walk seemed to go on forever because this has been the longest stretch to date. It was warm but not hot. Hontanas seemed to come out of nowhere. In fact, that’s what it felt like, being in the middle of nowhere. This town was so small, the pilgrims outnumbered the residents. Food is a problem. It looks like they are going to have to take a ride to a town 10 km away to bring food back for the evening meal and breakfast tomorrow. We contributed 2.5 Euros for this. Dinner that night was unbelievable. The group performed like a well-oiled machine. Some prepared the food by cutting, chopping for the Spanish rice. Others cooked the pork. Since the kitchen was small, we ate in groups of eight. One group would be eating, another cleaning dishes and utensils, and still another would be serving. The groups would shift until every one was fed. It was beautiful and wonderful to be a part of. Day 16 – July 17, 2002 I awoke early and was out by 5:35 AM. It was still dark and the trail out of town was not well lit. I started down the street I thought the trail followed but turned around and headed back to the refugio and asked an American friend, Ross, to confirm my belief. I then retraced my steps and found the sign for the Camino. I felt comfortable and started to focus on the road. It was still dark and assumed we were going to go back up in to the hills. When I reached the top of the hill, I was hoping to see a sign as to what direction to take but none was forthcoming. So, I decided to follow the path. I walked for some time never seeing a sign for the Camino. I decided to back track to the top of the hill to see other walkers beginning their day. I waited for them to come up the hill. None came. I went further down the hill but no one came up. Finally, I could see they were continuing on another path. At the base of the hill I saw the sign I missed. I felt quite relieved to be where I should be but was not happy about my progress for the day. I tried to forgive myself for the error of the morning but it came to mind frequently. At some point, I was going to have to let it go. I reached Castrojeriz by 8:20 AM. I drank some OJ and ate some muffins I purchased the day before. I had a café con leche and was on my way. It was a 10 km stretch to Puente Fitero and another 1.5 km to Itero de La Vega. It was there I was going to rest and eat before attacking the last 9 km. As I walked through town I ran into the group I was hanging with and continued on without stopping. We reached Boadilla at 12 Noon. A group had stopped at a fountain for water and rest. I thought we were going to stay here for the night but the group decided to push on because Fromista had more to offer. So, I found myself doing another 5.5 km to Fromista. We stopped at a supermarket and headed to the refugio. My feet were screaming at me. I think what I learned today was that if you don’t see arrows or a sign, turn around. The other is the Camino teaches you to offer others what you have before you use it yourself. You will never lack for anything on the Camino. This afternoon Alvaro rounded a group of high school students at the refugio and we engaged in a conversation on world politics. It was interesting to hear the frustration of the students regarding politics in Spain. This was similar to the American student population’s frustration in the 60’s. Many had a negative impression of foreign diplomacy. The evening was full of much talk and laughter outside in the refugio front yard. One of the kids was passing around some watermelon. I developed a new blister on the heel of my right foot. It required a pin to drain the fluid out. I applied a band-aid to prevent infection. In the morning I placed a sterile bandage to cushion it against the shoe. We all walk with a given rhythm and constantly seek the part of the path that is in harmony with that rhythm. Maybe it is in those times when we are not harmonizing that these blisters occur. Day 17 – July 18, 2002 I was in no hurry to get out this morning. My body must have needed the extra rest from yesterday’s marathon session. The medical attention from the night before appeared to be working well and the walk went with limited discomfort. It was only a 21 km stretch which was fine by me. It’s getting close to the time that I’ll have to bus forward. The plan is to catch a bus in Leon and move on to Ponferrada. I’ll continue the walk from there. It is about 200 km to Santiago from Ponferrada. It will be a sad day because I’m going to miss those people. Day 18 – July 19, 2002 I managed to get up at around 5:15 AM. I was actually able to find my way out of town in the dark. This was a great accomplishment for me. Once, out of town I was a little unsure which way to go. I got some help from Caillo, a Brazillian coming up behind me out of the shadows. Once on the Camino, it was a straight shot to the next town. This was the longest stretch between towns (17 km). I managed to do it in 3.5 hours which included a short meal break at the 15 km mark. I felt quite strong during the next 7 km but by the time I reached Ledigos, I found a shady spot and sat down for a while. On the other side of the street a large group of teen cyclists had gathered. While resting, I noticed two girls approach me with dried fruits and raisins. I was totally blown away. I was able to find out that they had started from Burgos and were riding to Santiago. It was an amazing moment. I strolled into Teradillos de los Templarios, before the heat became unbearable, by 11 AM. From the outside, the refugio looked like a run down tenement. The inside was a different story. The bed was very comfortable and the bathroom was on par with a five-star hotel. It had a toilet, sink, bathtub and shower. The floors were made from a marble-type tile. This was very impressive for the Camino. I napped the better part of the afternoon. Dinner was one of those special evenings. I purchased a loaf of bread from a man who came around in a truck. The others had purchased some sweet bread and fish from some other vendors. In addition, we bought some salad from the kitchen in the refugio. There was a park across the road that had barbecues set up. We cooked the sardines that were bought earlier. I’m not a big fan of sardines, but whatever they did to them, they were magnificent. Needless to say, the company and the food made for a wonderful evening. Happy Birthday, Corey! Day 19 – July 20, 2002 Happy Anniversary! I left the refugio around 5:15 AM. I was actually able to get out of town and on to the Camino by myself. I must be getting better at this. I made Sahagun by 8 AM. There, I caught my Canadian friend, Terry, and we walked for a while together. We separated outside Sahagun and he caught me before Bercianos del Camino. When we got into town, we stopped for a rest before the final push to El Burgo Ranero. Ross with the Austrian couple and their German girl friend came into a bar to pick up some refreshments. I was ready to move on but Terry decided to stay and have ice cream. The air was slightly cool but humid. I finally reached the refugio at noon. The refugio didn’t open until 1:30 so I decided to do some shopping for the remainder of the day and for the next morning. Ross, very kindly, invited me to share some dinner with him and his friends. I cordially accepted his invitation. We sat down around 6 PM to a delicious meal that looked like a mixture of dumpling and stew. Bernard called it K-noodle. After dinner, a few of us were sitting outside the refugio. The son of the administrator of the refugio brought out his guitar. Without hesitation, I asked for it and started to play. The other night, Mario, who is traveling with his father, had given me some Roy Orbison to listen to. Some of the group knew some Beach Boys tunes (Barbara Ann) and old Stones (Satisfaction). It was fun. There were some other musicians in the group as well and the guitar was passed around. A couple of nights ago a question came up regarding the transition going from the Camino to “real life”. The consensus was that you take what you have learned from the Camino back with you. It is the Camino that puts you in transition. Your role, now, is to be a messenger and teach what you have been given. Bring those gifts back to your community. Day 20 – July 21, 2002 There was no real urgency to get out early this morning. It would be only 19 km to Mansilla de las Mulas. I left around 6 AM in the dark before the dawn. I made the initial 12.5 km stretch by 8:30 AM and finished the day by 9:50. I am finding the days after a long day (30 km) are quite difficult, no matter how short they appear. The group hung out outside the refugio until it opened at 12 noon. After it opened, I set the clothes from yesterday to dry on the line. It would not take too long to dry in the hot sun. In the meanwhile, I started to wash today’s dirty clothes. By the time I was done, yesterday’s clothes had dried. I showered and then enjoyed an incredible lunch. There was rice with fried egg. A tomato sauce was poured over it. There was a salad and for desert, watermelon. All of this for only two euros. You couldn’t beat the company or the food. I needed a siesta. I’m learning to love those siestas. The early part of the evening was marked by a friendly game of poker. We played for pennies. The highlight of the game was when I was sitting with four 6’s and I was continually raising and being raised. It started to take on the scene of the old Western movies. A couple of the Spanish guys, on cue, broke into that whistling tune from The Good, The Bad and The Ugly. I nearly fell off my chair hysterical with laughter. In fact, I hit the table and the money flew all over the place. My counterpart had three Kings. It was a great way to end my time with these folks. I will miss them terribly. Day 21 – July 22, 2002 I left rather early this morning believing it was going to be a hectic day. I was out by 5:35 AM and all I could think about was the list of things which needed to be taken care of today. I needed more cash before I got on the bus. I was able to reach Leon by 9:40 AM. The refugio was a monastery. I knocked on the door there was no answer. I really wanted my credential stamped here to show I had made it at least this far. Alvaro had taken me to another door but there was a note saying there was a spiritual exercise going on and they would not be receiving visitors. With that, I was ready to move on. A few more people had arrived so I was able to give a proper good-bye to Ross, Bernard and Alvaro. A young man, who slept above me last night, got directions from one of the locals and wished me well. I was able to find the terminal with little difficulty. I arrived at the terminal at 10 AM and the bus to Ponferrada was scheduled to leave at 10:30. I went out to where the bus was parked and was approached by a woman who asked if I was doing the Camino. I told her I was and she immediately introduced me to a couple of her friends. The guy it turns out was originally from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and had been living in Madrid for the past 25 years. The women were both anesthesiologists and he was a sociologist. He had been out of work for the last four years. He said he was close to making a deal for a new job. It was less than a two-hour ride to Ponferrada. I slept part of the time. It was very strange riding in a vehicle as opposed to walking. I had seen many of my fellow pilgrims walking along the way. When I arrived in Ponferrada, I had absolutely no idea where I was going. I thought I would go to the refugio just to see what it looked like and maybe get my credential stamped. I had no intention of staying there. If I didn’t walk there I didn’t feel right taking a bed from someone that did. I asked for directions many times. On the way, I saw a sign for a hostel and decided to secure a room. I showered and continued my search for the refugio. I found the refugio and upon getting closer, there was a large group of pilgrims waiting outside. The refugio didn’t open until 3 PM. Fortunately, there was a stamp outside that I could use to place in my credential. With that wish granted, I felt it would be a good idea to see how to get out of town on the Camino in the light of day. With the help of a woman selling ice cream, she pointed out the street to take that would lead me to the Camino. I shopped for some items to pack for the next day’s walk and took a siesta. The threat of rain loomed during the afternoon and it was quite humid. I decided to buy a poncho to keep both myself and the backpack dry. Feeling fine with that, I was ready to make the final push to Santiago. I know it’s not going to be easy but my quest would not be complete without that certificate. Day 22 – July 23, 2002 The day starts at 5:15AM. The need for an early start coincides with the feeling that I really don’t know where I’m going. The exit out of the hostel was through a separate door as opposed to the door out of the restaurant that sat below the rooms of the hostel on the street. I am hoping once again that I am able to find the Camino in the dark. A hotel or private room in a hostel is not such a bad thing at some point in the journey. I could finally feel comfortable about sleeping with no clothes on. A bath with a shower is a real luxury. The dirt path of he Camino appears to be difficult to find. So, this trip is going to be totally asphalt. I was happy to see I found Quatro Vientos as quickly as I did. I must have bypassed Columbrianos . It may have been on the dirt path. I did go through Camponayara and Cacabelos. In Cacabelos, I had a café con leche and sat down to plan out where to stop before Santiago. I reached Villafranca de Bierzo by 10:20 AM. I was very happy to have made it. I was back on the path and into the walking/refugio mode. After checking in, I decided to go into town and pick up some pasta. This would be my first experience cooking for myself. While writing this piece, I saw Jennifer and another guy from Venice, California, whom I had not seen since Torres del Rio. We plan to have dinner together tonight. I thought I might run into them when I pushed ahead. Helena, who was walking with them, had bussed ahead and planned to reach Santiago today. Well, dinner plans did not materialize so I went ahead and cooked the pasta I purchased at the market. I sat with a woman from Holland who began the walk in Le Puy. We discussed the route to O Cebreiro. She appeared to be a very spiritual individual not fond of those using the Camino for anything but spiritual enlightenment. There was a real buzz about this part of the Camino. For those not going through St. Jean Pie du Port, this would be the most difficult part of the journey. You could really feel the tension in the refugio. A service was offered where they would take your backpack up the mountain while you walked. This did nothing to quell the fear. The woman, who slept in the bunk next to me, had no intention of making the trip on foot. She was surprised I had come from the US to do the Camino. The fear can be quite contagious if you buy into it. Carbo-loading was very helpful and necessary in preparing for this leg of the journey. After dinner, I went to stand on the balcony outside of my room. The town was nestled in a valley while the sun, still high in the sky showed off the beautiful Spanish countryside. It was a stunning view to take to bed. Day 23 – July 24, 2002 I left the refugio at 5:35 AM. As usual, it was dark and it would take a few lucky turns to get me out of town. I had seen some maps from the other pilgrims that reassured me that I was heading in the right direction. I remembered seeing a river that meandered on either side of the path. One thing about walking in the dark, I may not have been able to see the river, but I could definitely hear it. The Camino for the first 20 km was asphalt. There were actually two paths, asphalt and dirt, one could take that would join together further down the road. As I mentioned before, I took the asphalt. It was a chilly morning as my hands and legs were cold. This could have been due to the fact the Camino ran along the river. It wasn’t until 9 AM that the sun would find its way over the mountains to warm my body. I stopped at a “truck stop” diner for a café con leche to help warm me up. I was the only pilgrim in the house and I could feel the whole place looking at me. I picked up a juice and a muffin in Vega de Valcarcel to make sure I would have enough energy for the final 10km. In Herreras, the Camino took a turn off the main highway. The path went down (we had been steadily climbing for quite some time) a hill into a valley which didn’t make me happy because I knew we would only be going up again. The path went through a small village and began to ascend up in to the hills. The path split for bikers and walkers. Again the path went down and again I was not happy about it. The path would then cross a gorge and then up in to the hills. The ascent rushed back memories to St Jean. I did not realize until now what a gift St. Jean really was. I knew this ascent would not be painful. As long as I could keep my legs moving, I knew I was getting closer to O Cebreiro. The fear, which for the most part, I was able to suppress, was replaced by exhilaration when I reached O Cebreiro at 12 noon. Upon arriving in town, I ran into a guy from Minnesota who was traveling with his 15 year-old sister. She was having knee problems and had to limit her distance. They were planning to stop at a place to hear the Benedictine monks, who perform the Gregorian chants. As I moved on toward the albergue, I ran into the woman who slept in the bunk next to me in Villafranca de Bierzo. She looked as fresh as a chicken. What a surprise! One thing I learned is when attacking the hills, it is so important to keep your head down and not look so far ahead of you. It seems to coincide with the New Age theorist view of “living in the now”. Don’t worry about the future. It will take care of itself. After checking in at the refugio, I decided to check out the village. It reminded me of a medieval place with its castle-like architecture. I ran into Jennifer and the American. They were there to take a break and move on to the next town with a refugio. We took some pictures and said our good-byes. I may see them in Santiago next week. He said I should check the message boards along the way. I purchased some food for dinner to eat in the kitchen at the refugio. A group of guys had Staind playing on a cassette. I’m not sure everyone appreciated it as much as I did. I went back to my bed and struck up a conversation with a woman in the bunk next to me. She was from Australia working in Scotland. She sounded Irish to me. We talked about the usual stuff, where are you from, how did you hear about the Camino. She told me she was going to spend a month in Spain to improve her Spanish and do some selling. Her next destination was Sarria. I was planning to go only to Tricastela. Day 24 – July 25, 2002 The day started late by my standards, 6AM. A new weather element was introduced, fog. At this elevation, the winds had died down but the clouds were rolling in. Visibility was fifty feet at best and much of the walk was along the highway. This made for a treacherous journey. Unbeknownst to me, we were not finished with the ascent up the mountain. The Camino took us up some steep grades. At Viduedo, you had the option of taking the Camino or the asphalt. At that time, I thought if I stuck with the asphalt highway, it would be easier to progress than if I took the dirt path in lieu of how the Camino ended at Alto de Pio (the top of the pass). By name alone I should have realized that the top had been reached and the descent would begin toward Tricastela. I had walked, what I believed, to be for a long period of time. I thought I should have reached Filoval by now. I had approached an elderly local who told me I still had 4 km to Filoval. Fortunately, he was incorrect but I still felt I had taken the long way there. When I reached Filoval, I immediately found the Camino and took it directly to Tricastela. The meaning I found in all of this is there are no shortcuts to Santiago. The Camino gives you everything you need, asphalt will give you nothing. When I arrived in Tricastela, I asked for directions to the refugio. I actually passed it on the way into town and had to backtrack a bit. The refugio was set about 300 feet off the road. Waiting by the road leading to the refugio was a group that looked like they may be affiliated with a religious organization. Following them was a truck that held food and supplies. They were kind enough to share a piece of watermelon with me. It was 11 AM and I started to rethink today’s plan and the plan, in general, to Santiago. I was flirting with the idea of moving on to Sarria. This would make the approach to Santiago less rushed. So, I picked up my things and moved on. As I was leaving Tricastela, I ran into the same guy who led me to the refugio. We ascended a huge steep hill out of town and guided me away from Somos toward Montan. If I were alone, I would have ended up in Somos. Somos is where the Gregorian monks chant. In Montan, my guide decided to stop to eat while I moved on. I thanked him for his guidance and we bid each other farewell. Little did I know, I would see him frequently between here and even at the end, in Santiago. Outside of Montan, was a stand selling food and drink. I ran into Jacque, a Swiss man I met in the refugio the night before. A few moments later, the Aussie girl, Leslie, showed up. I ate and moved on to Sarria. It was a long, long day and we trekked over 40 km. So, I was quite anxious when I reached the refugio. At the check-in point, we were told the refugio was full. No beds, no floor space. I almost died. I knew I couldn’t go on any further. We were offered a sport facility about 1 km away. I accepted, along with Jacque and Leslie. When we got to the sport facility, it was locked. Jack went to the Civil Guard (police) and asked them to call the refugio. These people were quite a helpful group. The refugio said they would send someone over to unlock the facility. There were no sleeping arrangements but there was a shower with hot water. I set up my sleeping bag on a bench. My first catastrophe – I lost my sandals. They must have fallen out of the hood of the backpack. I’ll have to buy a new pair in Portomarin. Today, there is a big anniversary celebration for Santiago. The stores are closed this afternoon and it may be difficult to find a restaurant. I need more sterile bandages for my blisters. Tonight, we went out to one of the local restaurants for a pilgrim dinner. I had not done this in some time, since the time I walked with the UK couple. There was a gentleman from Madrid with his family who offered to help translate the menu for us. He had noticed Leslie, who is a vegetarian, trying to figure out what she could eat from the menu. With his help, she managed to stay on her diet. After dinner, the long day had finally hit me. I had a feeling that sleeping on that bench might not be so difficult. Day 25 – July 26, 2002 The day began at 6 AM which was fine by me. I was only planning on covering 20 km, far less than the 40+ km covered yesterday. I had revised my approach to Santiago with a short Friday, a long Saturday, a short Sunday, short Monday and Tuesday. The walk had plenty of ups and downs. The countryside was magnificent despite the gloomy weather which would last for most of the morning. I was beginning to get lethargic and was hoping to find a town with an open bar to get something to eat. It wasn’t until 9 AM that I finally found one located just under 100km from Santiago. The place was incredibly busy mainly from a group of teen pilgrims. The café con leche was large and the toast was delicious with peach jam. It was enough to carry me to Portomarin. When I got to the refugio, the group that inhabited the bar was firmly planted in front of the refugio doors. A couple of guys were carrying guitars and serenaded the crowd. I was able to recognize Guantanamera and La Bamba into Twist and Shout. While waiting, I had someone watch my things and I went to buy sterile bandages for my feet. I literally wiped out the supply at the pharmacy. After checking in at the refugio, I picked up some toothpaste at the market and replaced the sandals I lost the day before (six Euros). While recharging my phone, a woman came in trying to reserve a space for her and her husband. The refugio woman said she was unable to do that. So she waited in the plaza until her husband arrived. I had sat down in the plaza at a table next to hers. I planned to make phone calls to work and home. We started to talk. I asked her what she did and she told me she provided alternative therapy using past-life regression. She also said she could see a person’s aura. I asked if she would tell me what she saw in terms of my aura. She reluctantly agreed. I had a lot of red that translates into independence. I also had some yellow and green that meant I was ready to allow someone (something) into my life. She asked if I had lost someone recently. I told her my father had passed away last January. She said he was here with me helping me from the other side. His soul was not trapped. She said he was helping me with a relationship. She mentioned that she was frustrated with the refugios especially by the number of youths. She slept outside frequently and when facing the Milky Way she claimed to have seen alien spacecraft. She was Australian, living in Slovenia, which was once part of the Czech Republic. She emigrated there about a year ago. After some time, her husband had finally arrived. He was quite a bit younger than she was. We went our separate ways. I decided to stroll through town and ran into the gentleman who helped us at the restaurant. He invited me to have dinner with his family. There was a dance troupe performing in the plaza that evening. It wasn’t set to start until 10:30 PM. Far too late for me. I did get to see them rehearse and do the sound check. Day 26 – July 27, 2002 I left the refugio around 5:50 AM. I was hoping for a 5:30 start. There were a lot of hills and valleys, terrain-wise. The morning was very humid as a mist hung in the air. I reached Gonzar by 7:15 AM and Ventas de Naron by 8 or so. I refueled with OJ and pan con leche and carried on. While walking, I ran into my friend Gusto who was checking out a monument of Christ that was alongside the path. He offered to carry my stuff to the refugio and I could pick it up when I got there. Little did I know this would be an important decision that would, later, have some impact. I declined the offer believing I would be something less if I didn’t carry my gear all the way. I also felt naked walking without it. It was Gusto’s turn to drive the car while the rest of the family did the Camino that included 9-yearold Rosa, 12-year old Theresa, and Daniel, their nephew. Oh, don’t let me forget Willy, the family dog. I needed to rest once more before I reached Palas de Rey. So, I stopped in front of a house. A German shepherd came out to greet me. Hearing much about the dogs of the Camino I decided to move on to more comfortable surroundings. I found another house without any pets and rested a while before moving on and reaching the refugio at around 11:10 AM. I set my backpack at the end of the line to keep my place to check in. I had gone far enough today and took a seat on some steps across the street from the refugio. I met up with Gusto again and he asked me if I ever had Pupu. I didn’t even know what it was, nevermind eaten it. I told him I was willing to try anything. He said he had some shopping to do and that he’d be right back. When he returned, we went to a pupuria that was close to the refugio. We ordered some cider. He asked the woman if they were serving yet and managed to convince her I had never eaten these things and wanted to try them. We sat down and what this was, was octopus, tentacles and all. I didn’t know what they did to it but it was incredibly delicious. It appeared that this part of Spain was well-known for their pupus. I thanked him for giving me this experience and went back to the refugio to get in line. When I picked up my backpack I noticed my jacket was missing. Catastrophe number 2. I checked into the refugio and backtracked to the church. I ran into Gusto there. His family was still 5 km from Palas de Rey maybe they might see the jacket. He called them on the cell phone and I gave him a description of the jacket. No such luck, the jacket was gone. I really didn’t use it that much but it still hurt to lose. Hopefully, I will not need one the rest of the way. I had lunch with Gusto and the family. These people are really starting to grow on me. I returned to the refugio to shower. Much of the rest of the afternoon was spent watching the parade of motorcycles that had invaded the town. These were mostly racing motorcycles, Kawasaki’s, Suzuki’s, Hondas. I didn’t see any Harley’s. Biker guys with their leather garb dressed to the hill to impress the biker chicks. There was also a rock concert on the outskirts of town that attracted the teen to mid-twenties crowd. So, this town was really buzzing with all kinds of people. The thing that stuck out the most for me was the lack of police presence. In the States, there would have been all kinds of security present and obvious. I met Gusto and the family at a local church. They had purchased a variety of meat, cheese, yogurt, and fruit for a light dinner. His camera was having a problem so I took a few pictures of the family with mine. I can send these via e-mail when I get home. They were planning to go to Arzua, I wasn’t going that far so I bid them farewell and hoped to see them in Santiago on Tuesday. Day 27 – July 28, 2002 The day began quite early at around 5:15 AM. There were still some motorcyclists and concert goers lingering in the streets, some quite rowdy. I left the refugio and made a beeline for the Camino. I was lucky to find the arrows in the dark. Some parts of the path were covered by overhanging trees which made it difficult to stay on the path. Only the sound of my boots meeting the dirt let me know I was where I was supposed to be. The plan was to refuel when I arrived in Melide. It was Sunday so I was hoping there would be something open. I ran into a couple of Brazilian gentlemen, father and son, I think, who started from Casanova. I told them of the Brazilians I worked with from the same city. We also discussed Coelho and his books. I arrived in Melide at 8:20 AM and noticed a bar serving café con leche. What a break!, on a Sunday, no less. While in the bar, I had to use the restroom that was located down a flight of stairs. While I’m in there, the lights go out. The lights were on a timer. I’m sitting there and it’s pitch black! I finally found the switch. The 30-minute stop really recharged me and I reached Ribadiso de Baixo by 11:10. I looked around and saw nothing there. I would go crazy if I stopped there. So, after ten minutes, I packed up my stuff and moved on to Arzua. I made it in time to get a bed and there were restaurants serving so I would get a meal. While on line, I saw the couple from Villafranca de Bierzo. They were enjoying a drink together outside a bar. She gave me a big kiss and showed off her new blisters like a proud warrior. It was like a medallion of honor to her. I checked into the refugio and put my damp clothes that I washed from the day before on the line to dry. Meanwhile, I went to see if there was a place open to buy food. I was afraid I was too late. I met a fellow pilgrim who was out looking for a newspaper. We sat down at a bar and had lunch together in the plaza. We both ordered the spaghetti lunch. He was doing the Camino for the second time. He was also looking forward to reuniting with his family in the south of Spain. After lunch, the clothes had dried. I went down to the bathroom area where the showers were located. For the first time I realized what is was like to have the feeling that you really don’t care if any one sees you with your clothes off. It was like the ego had totally evaporated. There was no need to be ashamed or embarrassed. The Europeans have no hang-ups regarding the human body. Obviously, this moment made a significant impression on me. In the afternoon, I went into town to take some pictures. I entered a park by the refugio and ran into Gusto’s kids. They appeared to be comfortable with me at this point. I found Gusto and his wife with his sister-in-law who came with her husband to join the walk to Santiago. We decided to go out for pupas and some famous Arzua cheese. Both were very tasty. We then went back to the park where there was a restaurant and had pork and eggs. After dinner, I went back to the refugio to gather my things and prepare for the next day’s walk. Day 28 – July 29, 2002 It was another early start and I wanted to give myself the option of either staying in Arca or moving on to Monte de Gozo. Without fail, I guided myself on to the street and off from the Camino. I followed the signs to Santiago along the asphalt for a short time until I came upon a sign for Cordoba. Cordoba was one of the towns on the map that was on the Camino. I followed the path into the town and instinctively picked up the Camino. Was someone guiding me? Once on the Camino, it was still dark so picking up the markers (yellow arrows), to guide you along the path, was a real blessing. It even got to the point where I took my flashlight out of the backpack to see! The one thing I hated to do was stop for any reason unless it was an emergency. The plan was to stop in Alto. The map said it had a tienda (store) to buy food. But, Alto came and went. So after a while I found a bar that was close off the main highway. I sat down and finished the remaining OJ I had plus some fruit I bought the other day. A young pilgrim stopped to make sure I was OK and as I was getting ready to move on Tomas, the gentleman I had lunch with the day before, came by and we walked together. While walking with Tomas for a while, there was a white car sitting on the side of the road. Inside were Gusto and Rosa, his youngest daughter. We exchanged greetings and I said I hope to see him later in Santiago. He saw me resting by the side of the road. Tomas had a yearning for bacon and eggs. We stopped at a bar at the top of a hill we just ascended. He inquired if the cocina was open but the lady said no. So we each settled for a café con leche. We continue to walk and when we reached Rua Tomas he couldn’t wait any longer. So he found a restaurant that looked like they served bacon and eggs. We said good-bye and I continued on. I managed to reach Arca at about 10 AM. The refugio was quite a distance off the Camino. I walked toward the town in search of the refugio. At the refugio, I found a few guys I met back in Arzua waiting to get in. The refugio wasn’t due to open until 1 PM. Some of the guys in the group were going to move on to Monte de Gozo. I knew Gusto and his family was planning to go that far. So, I checked my feet and decided to walk with them. Most of the way, I walked with this kid from Granada, Spain. He wanted to practice speaking English with me. So, I obliged him and we talked about many things. The additional 12.5 km were starting to take a toll on my feet. By the time I reached the refugio at Monte de Gozo, I could feel my feet screaming at me. The refugio was a college dormitory when classes were in session. There were stores and restaurants at the base of the complex. As I approached the refugio, Tomas was waiting there with an ice cold can of ice tea. He must have been paying attention at lunch yesterday. It was incredible. I thanked him and we walked the last 100m to the refugio. The check-in station was located at the top a long set of stairs. After lunch we took a bus into Santiago. He needed to get a train ticket to Madrid and I needed a train ticket to Porto, Portugal. While in Santiago, Tomas had had enough of refugios so he got a room (pension) for the night. Santiago was a big city by Camino standards. It was a bustling town. I bought some pins for my hat. Since I had my pilgrims credential with me, Tomas took me to the office where I could get my certificate. A store downstairs had cardboard cylinders so the certificate would be protected when I traveled home. In my hand I held all the sweat and pain of the walk through Spain. I was quite emotional and did all I could to keep from breaking down. By some strange coincidence, (synchronicity?), I met the UK couple as I was leaving the credential office. They told me that they too had to bus ahead at some point because they were going back to Madrid and then home. This explains why I never saw them until now. We walked down to the train station to purchase the tickets and then decided to get something to eat. He said Santiago was a great place for seafood. We checked out the offerings at a few of the restaurants and finally settled on one. He and I shared this huge fish platter with mussels, clams, and shrimp to name a few. People would stare at us with the pile of shells each of us had on our plate. I gladly picked up the tab. The night air became chilly so Tomas thought it would be best to take a cab back to the refugio. I agreed and the whole ride cost 5 euros. I bought some soap tablets in the hope that the refugio would have laundry machines. If not, maybe I could find one in Santiago. This was Tomas’s second time doing the Camino. He could not explain why he came back. I thought I knew. Maybe, he was brought back to guide people like me who had never done this before. He was just another example of an individual who I would describe as “an angel of the Camino”. Day 29 – July 30, 2002 I slept quite well and awoke later than usual as it was already light outside. I had not written in the journal yesterday and needed to catch up. I left the room so I wouldn’t disturb anyone and sat down in the reception area to take care of this matter. Tomas, noticing I was gone came out and greeted me. We decided to see if we could grab some breakfast and walk the final 5km into Santiago. The self-service style meal in the cafeteria was nothing special so we gathered up our belongings and headed into the city. As we approached the city, it took everything I had to contain my emotions. As we passed the sign marking the Santiago city limit it felt like a dam had busted. The trials and tribulations of everything that went on to reach this point raced through my head. The pain and the suffering and the events that transpired had my head shaking in disbelief. It all came together in an emotional rush that brought me to my knees. On the way, I saw Gusto’s sister-in-law taking care of Willy outside a restaurant where they were having breakfast. I went to see them inside. I told them we would meet at the Mass. There was really no rush to get to the cathedral. Gusto and Teresa, the older daughter, caught up to us and we all walked together. I thought the refugio was next to the cathedral but I was mistaken. I now had to go find the refugio. Tomas went to his pension that he acquired yesterday and Gusto, with family in tow, went on to the cathedral. The refugio was back a ways and took some time to find. When I arrived there, they said the room would be ready at 11 AM and would leave us enough time to get back to the church. I put a few things on the bed to make sure it looked like it was taken. I returned to the cathedral in plenty of time. I ran into Jack and recognized some of my fellow pilgrims. Jack was kind enough to take a picture of me in front of the entrance to the church. I went inside and saw Tomas sitting in the pew. He took some pictures of me in front of where the priest would hold Mass. The ceremony began just passed noon. Being all in Spanish, I didn’t understand what was being said. They passed around a velour pouch for donations. At one point in the service, you would shake the hand or kiss the person next to you. After the service, Tomas and I met Gusto and his family and we decided that we should all have lunch together. Gusto ordered a huge fish platter like the one we had last night. Then, we had the regular meal. We were seated next to a group of nuns from the States. They were kind enough to take a picture of the table. After lunch, Tomas returned to his pension while I stayed with Gusto and the family to walk around the city. Gusto recommended buying some jewelry with this special black stone that jewelers close to the church were known to work with. I found a pair of earrings for my wife. The time had finally come to say good-bye to Gusto and the family. It was the second time in a week I had to do this. It just doesn’t get any easier. Bonds are created quite easily on the Camino. They are incredibly strong as well. The power of the Camino breaks the ego and leaves you with nothing but what is left in your heart. I gave everyone a big hug and kiss and went on my way. Again, I had to fight back the tears. I managed to get lost on the way back to the refugio. I turned a 20-minute walk into an hour. I remember talking with my wife and son, while I was walking, and telling them how emotional the day had been. When I returned to the refugio, I asked an elderly German gentleman, who shared a room with us in Monte de Gozo, if he wanted to join Tomas and myself for dinner. He agreed, and I wrote the time we planned to meet Tomas on a piece of paper. I had to awaken him from his nap about five minutes before we planned to leave to meet Tomas. I walked ahead of him but kept him in sight. Unfortunately, I got lost but managed to find my way. When I did, I saw he was still on the right path. I came up to him from behind. I moved ahead to the plaza where we would meet Tomas. I stood in the center of the square and Tomas found me. The German finally arrived as well. We decided to go back inside the church to see if the three rights were open. We could have seen them before but it was very crowded. There was a mass in progress in the church so we would have to wait until it was over. Unfortunately, it was closed. Tomas was slightly queasy and, like me, resolved not to eat heavy. So we went back to his pension and were served what was basically a home-cooked meal of tasty chicken broth and noodles with a salad that contained tuna fish. It was more than enough for me. It really hit the spot. After dinner the German took a taxi back to the refugio while I went to town to do some more shopping. I was able to find a store open past 10 PM. I ran into some other people from the refugio who were shopping. I wanted to make sure there was no curfew. I picked out some T- shirts and tiles for the family. I actually made it back to the refugio in the dark without getting lost. Day 30 – July 31, 2002 I awoke very early this morning. It was still dark outside. I was anxious about finding my way to the train station from the refugio. I left the refugio around 8 AM and almost immediately encountered a gentleman who pointed me in the right direction. I was able to find the train station with no problem. Once I got my bearings straight, I set out to buy some last-minute gifts. It was still quiet early and my train wasn’t due to leave until 11 AM so I went into the center of Santiago and had a café con leche with toast. I was able to find a store that opened at 9 AM and bought more T-shirts and a sweatshirt. I returned to the station to wait for the train to Vigo where I would then transfer to a train to Porto. The ride to Vigo took two hours with an hour and twenty-minute layover in Vigo. On the train from Vigo to Porto, I met a gentleman from the UK, Tony Hunter, who walked the coast route from Porto to Santiago. We compared notes on each of our journeys and he expressed an interest in doing the route I just completed. After the last stop, we changed trains to get to the center of town. He had stayed in a hostel before he started on his walk. We decided to see if there were rooms available there. From there, buses were accessible to get to the airport. We went inside and were able to secure two single rooms for 25 euros each. Unfortunately, the bus service to the airport didn’t start until 7 AM. I would need to take a taxi. I needed some clothes washed. I was hoping there would be a laundry nearby. I scoured the area around the hostel but there was none to be found. The person, who checked us in at the hostel, gave me directions to a place that would wash your clothes while you wait. But I could not find that place either. I’m not sure they would have been able to do it as it was late in the afternoon and I was leaving very early the next morning. I brought the dirty laundry back to the room and then went to get a bite to eat. A few doors down, I found a store that was selling horsd' hourves type foods to eat. Tony came by a little while later. We chatted for about an hour. I thanked him for recommending the hostel and for getting me to Porto. He wanted to walk around the city. I still had packing to do for the trip home. So we bid each other farewell. Day 31 – Aug 1, 2002 Needless to say, falling asleep was next to impossible. The anticipation of going home was intense. It was easy to get up way before the 5AM wake-up call that I left at the desk. Thinking I would be more comfortable waiting at the airport than in the room, I gathered my belongings and went downstairs to the front desk. I had them get me a taxi and I was headed for the airport. During the walk, a fair amount of time was spent in view of the highway. I was impressed at the speed of the vehicles on the road. Now, I’m inside one and this guy is flying! I’d be curious about the statistics on traffic fatalities. I still found myself going through an emotional roller coaster caused by what I believe to be both sadness of leaving Europe and the excitement of going home. I spent a good part of the time talking with a woman from Canada whose parents had moved to Portugal. She had spent the summer traveling through Portugal. We were both heading to Frankfurt where we would go our separate ways. Throughout the trip, I was able to keep my backpack as carry-on luggage. However, for the final leg of the journey, Lufthansa forced me to check the backpack as luggage. I knew this was going to be a problem when we arrived home. It took a long time to retrieve my backpack before going through customs. This only made the end that more neurotic because of my anticipation of seeing the family. The ride home from Germany is long, twelve hours. Twelve hours is a long time by itself. Add on the fact that I haven’t seen my family in about a month, and the ride seemed like eternity. The reunion was sweet. My wife and son were there to greet me among the hundreds of others who were awaiting their loved-ones return. I could not wait to share the many stories that I accumulated on the Camino de Santiago.