***Written yesterday, November 3rd.***
We made it!
After hundreds of miles full of strained calfs, blisters, shin splints and arch pain, we made it to Santiago de Compostela happy, wet, and relatively unscathed. In the end we walked 346 miles, which is about 100 miles short of our original goal, but it’s an accomplishment nonetheless.
We arrived on November 1st, two days earlier than our original date of November 3rd.
It is incredible.
The whole thing still seems a bit surreal. I can’t believe we’ve reached the end. It’s been a whirlwind few days, to say the least.
I barely slept the night before we arrived. My mind was racing, thinking about how tomorrow was the end. The last day! I kept waking up and checking my watch, wondering if it was time to go. It felt like the night before graduation. The excitement was almost tangible.
Our friends Paul and Katy were staying at the same hotel as us, so we started walking together. It was raining softly but we didn’t mind. We had made it this far – a little rain wasn’t going to get us down!
Within an hour, the rain went from a light drizzle to a torrential downpour. Despite our rain gear we were soaked, but still we trudged along, laughing and splashing and having a blast. When we could see the spires of the Santiago cathedral in the distance, we all got a bit quiet. The end was literally in sight.
We had met Paul and Katy just a few days before, but our connection was instant. They are the first (and only) couple we had come across in the past month that was around our age, and within an hour of meeting we felt like we had all been good friends forever, swapping stories and laughing so hard we cried.
They have been about one day behind us the entire camino, and it’s almost eery how similar our experiences have been. We all keep saying that we wish we had met each other sooner, but the fact that we have met at all feels like a gift. A camino reward. They are the friends we didn’t know we were looking for.
As we walked into the city, the wind picked up, and soon the rain was coming down on us sideways. The city was confusing, and strangely enough, the path into Santiago was the least marked that we had encountered along the entire camino. Somewhere along the way we missed a turn, losing the path. When we realized that we would be arriving at the cathedral from behind, and not on the actual camino trail, Katy and I started to get sad. We had both really wanted to walk in on the path, the way that pilgrims had been doing for hundreds of years. To get lost at this stage seemed like a mean joke.
But then we realized that we were being ridiculous. What mattered was that we were here, in Santiago! That we had made it!
As soon as we got to the cathedral, it was clear that it didn’t matter which direction you had come from. There were pilgrims everywhere, laughing and crying and hugging, oblivious to the pouring rain. We stood in the middle of the square and looked up at the cathedral with awe and a little bit of disbelief. We had reached the end of our pilgrimage at last.
We popped inside just in time to see the botafumeiro swing. Because it was All Saints’ Day the church was packed wall to wall with people. We squeezed into a corner and stood silently, watching the botafumeiro swing back and forth as the room filled with incense. We stayed for about 20 minutes, occasionally looking around to sneak waves and smiles and thumbs up at other friends we had met along the way. And then the four of us left to get drinks.
We celebrated until almost 4 am. I woke up yesterday morning with hands down my worst camino hangover of our entire trip, and though I felt absolutely wretched, my sheer delight at the fact that I didn’t have to walk anywhere almost counteracted my hangover. Almost.
The last 48 hours have been a big blur of celebrations and hugs and wine and goodbyes. There have been lots and lots of “congratulations!” and “we did it!“s from people and to people, even if we had never met them until that very moment.
We have reconnected with friends we hadn’t seen for weeks, said goodbye to people that feel like family, and bonded with others we never even crossed paths with while walking. It’s been an incredible and overwhelming few days.
I’m a huge mixed bag of emotions right now. I’m sad it’s over. I’m proud of us for having done it. I’m grateful for the experience. I’m thrilled that we have made so many great friends and connections. And I’m so excited for what is next for us, not only on the rest of this trip, but in life in general. It feels like a new beginning in a way.
It’s going to take us awhile to process this whole experience, but Kevin said earlier that next to getting married, this is the best thing that we have ever done. I agree. We are stronger for it, both individually and as a couple. I believe we are better for it.
I’m already suffering from some post-camino blues, but whenever I start to get really sad that it is over, I try to remind myself that being sad over something ending is a good thing. It means that I was lucky enough to experience something so great that I didn’t want it to end, and for that I am so grateful. Bedbugs and all.
Tomorrow morning we hop on a bus to Portugal, where we stop being pilgrims and start being plain old travelers. Just thinking about it feels strange, as if I am losing a part of myself, like a snake shedding skin. It’s harder than I thought it would be to let go of this pilgrim identity, though I think no matter where I am, I’ll always be a little bit of a peregrina in my heart.
Though I’m sad it’s over, I’m content with how it ended, and I’m looking forward to the new travel adventures that await us. The camino has been such an all-consuming experience that I haven’t even thought about the rest of our trip, but we still have about two weeks left. And I certainly intend to make the most of them.
Thank you for following along so far. It has meant the world to me.
I will never get used to how ridiculous we look in our ponchos.
We made it!
Excitement and awe
Laughing so hard I’m crying with Katy
Compostelas in hand! We did it!
Goodbye dinner, Like I said, we hang out with the retirees. And they are awesome.
The Parador. Major end of camino splurge.
P.S. I’ve gotten quite a few questions about the camino, so when I get back home I’m planning on putting together a sort of FAQ post that answers them all, along with my own personal tips and recommendations and what not. If there’s anything you’d like to know (really, anything, I love this kind of stuff!) please feel free to send me an email or ask it in the comments. There is no such thing as a stupid question
Hello friends! Just a quick update…
We are now a mere two days away from Santiago de Compostela, a fact which I can’t quite wrap my head around. While most of you recover from Halloween festivities, Kevin and I will be walking our final Camino walk, arriving in Santiago on November 1st, which also happens to be All Saints Day.
It doesn’t seem real. I’m not sure when it will.
We had a short day today, walking only about 10 miles. We got a late start, not leaving the hotel in Melide until almost 11. Hotels tend to make us extremely lazy… when you don’t know what your next bed will be like, it is hard to leave such luxury.
Last night we feasted on the region’s specialties, octopus and rebeiro white wine. Both were incredible, yet for some reason, whenever I consume 6+ glasses of wine with dinner, I don’t feel like walking a whole lot the next day! Shocking!
(Why this keeps surprising me I don’t know.)
We had planned to walk more, but by the time we reached Arzua it was almost 4 pm, and the next town was a good three-hour walk away (at my pace, anyway). Knowing that my misery was self-inflicted, I was trying my best to suck it up and walk as far as we had originally planned, but Kevin wasn’t feeling so great either. He had convinced himself he had strep throat, so we decided to just call it a day. I was glad. I was so tired I felt like I was sleepwalking.
It was a good decision, because we were able to see a doctor (we love socialized health care!), confirm that Kevin doesn’t have strep throat, and put our hypochondriac minds at ease (we are both quite skilled at jumping to worst case scenarios).
Now we are sitting in a bar drinking local cider and eating local cheese, and I can guarantee you that I’m a whole lot happier doing this than I would have been if I was still walking.
There are a million more things I would like to write, but I am just too tired to put my thoughts into cohesive sentences. So instead I’m going to share a few photos of the past few days, and call it a night.
The next time you hear from me, I should be in Santiago!
Only 50 KM left!!
View from the deck of Casa Morgade
Casa Rurals make me happy.
Shortly after entering Galacia
Walking into Portomarin
Mile 16 of an 18 mile day. I assure you I am not as happy as I appear..
This is how I generally feel at the end of the day.
“And I walk through fields of gold”
P.S. Due to my lack of internet connectivity, I haven’t had the time to respond to most comments or emails, but please know that I read every single one and that I appreciate them so, so much. Once this crazy adventure is over, I promise to get back to you. But in the meantime, please keep commenting and emailing. Hearing from you makes me so happy. It really does.
I write this to you from the village of Morgade, which according to my guidebook is “rural Galacia at her best; wet and green with the sweet smell and squelch of liquid cow dung underfoot.”
Yesterday while walking I told Kevin that I had no idea that the smell of cow shit would be such an identifying part of our camino, but it is. One of the many surprises of this trip. As a city slicker it can be gagging at times, but the unadulterated beauty makes up for it.
We are staying in the most beautiful Casa Rural which overlooks miles and miles of lush green farmland and rolling hills. It’s a small place in the middle of seemingly nowhere, run by the same family for decades. As of now we are the only guests in the entire place. It’s amazing.
Life has been good this past week. I told Kevin the other day that I think I needed to accept that we might not meet any more cool people, and instead just focus on having a great time with him and him alone, for the universe to send us some new friends. It sounds cheesy but I think it’s true.
Shortly after posting my last blog, Kevin and I met Ken and Carmel, a great Australian couple staying at the same Casa Rural as us. They too were “bad pilgrims,” having also taken a bus from Burgos to Leon. We bonded over multiple bottles of wine and we’ve been hanging out with them ever since. They are about 25 years older than us and absolutely hilarious. Every time we walk through shit (as in actual cow shit), Carmel says its our penance for skipping ahead. I don’t necessarily agree but it cracks me up nonetheless.
We’ve met some other really wonderful people as well, and true to form, almost all of our new friends are 60+. These are the people that only stay in private rooms, walk slowly, don’t think taking a bus or taxi is “cheating” and enjoy good food and wine.
We have met a some great younger people too, like Casonorre, a young Italian kid that started walking from Leon. He is the only person I have met thus far that walks at my speed and is under the age of 70, but I think that’s mostly due to the fact that his backpack is almost larger than he is and his feet are covered in blisters. He is 21 and adorable and looks like he should be dating Taylor Swift.
And then there’s Martin from LA, who recently graduated from college and plans to join the monastery. Because of his young age, the church told him he has to spend three years doing something in the secular world first. If after that time he still feels that is his calling, he can join the brotherhood. He is a good looking kid, super friendly and outgoing. He drinks and smokes. He is not the type of person that I would ever think would be heading down a path to priesthood. But then again, religion is not my forte, and the people of the Camino are full of surprises.
Two days ago we entered Galacia, and the landscape is so different from the other regions that we’ve walked through. It is lush and green, full of farmland and forests. It is reminiscent of Ireland in a way. It is not at all what I expected Northern Spain to look like.
Outside of one thing, everything has been really great!
Just writing this makes me cringe, but…
I have been a victim of the bed bugs.
I’m 99% certain that I picked them up at the religious hippie dump we stayed in at El Acebo. That night we heard rumors that someone had found bedbugs, but at that point it was late at night and we’d already put all of our stuff down and paid. There wasn’t much we could do other than hope it wasn’t true.
Since that experience we’ve been staying in private rooms only, but apparently bed bug bites can take a few days to appear. Sure enough, a couple of days later I found random bites on my arms, back and FOREHEAD! I freaked out, but everyone told me that my bites looked like mosquito bites and not like bed bug bites, and that I was just being paranoid.
I tried to chill out but I couldn’t… I was having dreams that there were bedbugs laying eggs in my hair and ears. I couldn’t sleep. My anxiety was sky-high. I was borderline hysterical.
Last night Kevin helped me go through everything in both of our backpacks. We took out every. single. item. and examined it thoroughly. It took almost two hours. We thought we were in the clear, but then I examined my backpack rain cover, and as luck would have it, there was one blood sucker hanging out in the very bottom.
I think it goes without saying that I freaked the eff out.
Our German friend who had had bedbugs ten days ago (and now only stays in private rooms because of it) confirmed that it was indeed a bedbug, and told us what to do. I was not only freaked out but also embarrassed… “Now we are going to be known as the bedbug people!” I said our friend Mary, horrified at the thought. She assured me that wasn’t the case.
We found the hospitaleros (what you call the owners of the casa rural/pension/albergue/inn, etc.) and told them what was going on, and thankfully they could not have been nicer about it. They gave us bedbug spray and let us use the washer and drier (they wanted our bedbugs dead just as much as we did). We stayed up until almost 2 am, washing every single item of clothing we own at 60 degrees Celsius (140 F) and then sanitizing everything else with chemical spray and vinegar.
In normal life, I am an insanely anti-chemical person. I wear natural deodorant. I make my own face serums. I don’t put anything on my body that contains parabens. I buy all organic and vegan skin and cleaning products. Yet there I was, standing outside and spraying the shit of my backpack with the most toxic chemicals available, yelling “die mother f**kers die!”
My Spanish friend Corry spoke not a word of English but understood what was going on and cheered me on, chanting “Muere! Muere!”
We put our bags in trash bags and let them bask in the chemicals all night long, hopefully doing chemical warfare on anything inside. This morning we took them out, and I feel confident that we have sufficiently killed any and all traces of bedbugs. I can barely stand the smell of my chemically sprayed backpack… I hope all the bugs out there are even more turned off.
In other news, I feel like I have finally found the elusive “Camino zone!” I wouldn’t say it’s gotten any easier, but I’m no longer in agonizing pain with each step I take. Most people say it takes about a week to adjust. It took me over two, but I think it has finally shifted! I don’t want to jinx myself, but I can now walk a good 12 miles before pain starts to set in, and I no longer end my days limping. Two days ago we walked 18 miles (not necessarily by choice), and I was only completely miserable for the last four. Progress!
I might not be where others are at this stage, but for me, that is a big deal!
If all goes as planned, we will reach Santiago in just a few more days, arriving on November 1st, which is ahead of our of originally scheduled date of the 3rd. In some ways it feels like we just started, in others it feels like we have been walking forever. I keep waiting for some big breakthrough to happen, some moment of “this is what I’m supposed to do with my life” transcendence, but I’m not sure if that’s in store for me.
Regardless, I have felt much more at peace with life these days. More content. More secure. And that feeling alone makes all of this worth it.
I have a slew of notes that I’ve written over the past few days, but trying to compile them all into one legible post is proving very difficult. But I’ll try my best!
Oh, what a strange few days it has been!
This whole skipping ahead thing seems to have transported us into a different universe. The vibe is just totally different than it was before. People are so intense! So determined! So focused! It’s like every single day is a personal competition to see how much they can endure, how far they can go. To put their physical and mental limits to the test.
Kevin and I did not embark on this journey for that reason at all, so people look at us like we are aliens. Enjoyment and fun seem to be foreign concepts.
Before we skipped ahead, we met a lot of people that were out here for similar reasons as us… adventure, culture, love of travel. A chance to meet new people and explore places we’ve never been. To travel in a way we never had before, by foot, which would force us to slow down, and hopefully in the process become more balanced, more centered, and grow as a couple.
And also, to have fun!
The people we’ve met since we lskipped to Leon seem to have entirely different reasons for doing the Camino. No one we’ve recently met is doing it for fun. People seem to be having a much harder time of it out here. The energy is different. Almost everyone we have come across seems to be dealing with some serious shit, working out some really deep emotional issues.
People seem to be a lot more judgmental and a lot less friendly than those we were meeting in the beginning.
And also, a lot them are kind of weird!
I don’t want to be rude, but man, there have been some plain out weirdos!
When we first jumped ahead, we lost all the friends we had made, so we were feeling pretty disconnected from other pilgrims. We made a vow to spend the next week in albergues only, hoping that by doing so we would meet more people, get back in the groove, etc.
And it worked! We met a lot of new people, and we felt like we were part of it again. Some of the albergues have been wonderful… in Rabanal we stayed at the most beautiful 12th century church that had been converted to an albergue. It was incredible.
But not all of them have been so great.
Two nights ago we ended up at this random little albergue that was run by a crazy religious Spanish guy. The whole evening seemed like a bad episode of Portlandia. It was donation based, which we hadn’t realized at first. To us, that meant pay what you could, so we paid the usual albergue cost. To others, that meant free. So the crowd it drew was interesting, to say the least.
It felt like we had stepped into some weird religious hippy commune. The communal dinner, which is often our favorite part of the night, turned into this praying cry fest. There was a lot of weird praying, singing, and crying going on, and it was just too much for us to handle. A very smelly Canadian man was playing the ukulele, weird Argentine women were moaning and playing guitars. The whole thing was just fu*king weird. It was so weird we even took a video. We couldn’t have gotten out of there fast enough.
When we got to Ponferrada, a cool city most famous for the Templar Castle, we decided to break our “albergues only for a week” rule, and we checked into a small hotel right by the castle. And it was wonderful.
We had one of our many “why are we doing this” conversations, and got refocused on our reasons for the trip. I had started to lose sense of why I was here, letting other peoples’ judgement get me down. There are so many people out here with such a superiority complex, and it had started to bum me out.
For example, yesterday we were talking to an older Australian woman we had met a few days ago. We hadn’t said anything about taking the bus, but somehow the topic of skipping ahead came up. “You can’t say you’ve done the camino if you didn’t start in St. Jean, or if you’ve taken any taxis or buses,” she said to us, not realizing that we had done both of those things. “It doesn’t really count that way.”
“Well, you know there’s no official starting point,” I replied. “You can start from places all over Europe, like Paris, Germany, Portugal… and as long as you walk the last 100 kilometers, the confraternity of St. James considers it a completed camino.”
She went on to say that it wasn’t the same, and that starting anywhere other than St. John didn’t really count. It was cheating!
As soon as I told her that we had not only started in Pamplona, but also skipped ahead, I could see that she felt bad. She was trying to backtrack what she just said, but her feelings were clear. Our camino wasn’t as “real” as hers.
She is just one of the many people we have met that believe if you haven’t walked every single inch, consecutively, (none of this week here and there business that the Europeans do!) you can’t say you’ve “done the Camino.”
And I had been letting people like that get me down.
Kevin and I haven’t walked every single inch, but we’ve walked well over 200 miles since October 5th. For someone like me, that is a big accomplishment! Today we walked over 13 miles in pouring rain, and my feet got so soaked I had to cover my socks in plastic bags.
That to me counts as “doing the Camino.”
Camino lesson number 10001: Stop caring what people think.
(As I type this, the song “I did it my way” by Frank Sinatra is playing in the background of the bar we are at. Kevin just looked at me and said “this could be our camino theme song.”)
So, I’m trying to stay focused on our reasons for doing this, and to be a bit more forgiving with myself. To care leas about what people think and stop letting their judgement get me down. Just because other people are walking 20+ miles a day doesn’t make my 13 any less significant. And walking that far every single day is tough! I’m not exactly a person that is known for her athletic ability…
Today we walked over 13 miles, entirely in pouring rain. We left late, sang songs, and drank wine along the way. When we got to the huge mountain that people were trying to conquer (which would have been another 5 miles), we simply stopped, found a Casa Rural to check into (which happens to be a converted butter factory!), and then went to the local bar for some wine and food. The mountain will still be there tomorrow.
We did it our way, and we had a blast.
Well, friends, we seem to have time traveled a bit. I write this to you from Villavantes, which isn’t where we thought we would be at this stage.
After a lot of discussion, Kevin and I decided to skip the meseta section of the camino. Kevin thought one more rest day would help him a lot, and I have to admit it helped me as well. Since we were already “behind schedule,” we decided to take a bus to Leon, where we resumed our pilgrimage to Santiago from this morning.
There are a lot of reasons why we decided to do this, bit mostly, it came down to time. When we planned out our trip, we did so by basing our schedule on the popular Brierly guidebooks, which lay out suggested day-by-day stages. Many people follow this book almost religiously, not veering off course at all, and freaking out when they get “off schedule.” Sticking to these stages, it should have taken us 28 walking days at an average of 15 miles a day, with the allowance of 2 rest days. This plan would have gotten us to Santiago on our planned date of November 3rd.
Well, what no one realizes until they start walking (but that everyone on the camino talks about) is that the guidebooks LIE! What is only supposed to be 13 miles is ALWAYS closer to 15, which means that for us to actually complete the whole thing in the time frame we had originally planned, continuing on we would need to be averaging closer to 20 miles a day, every single day, and not allowing ourselves any additional short days or rest days.
And that is just not possible for us. Anything more than 16 miles a day is too much for us, and some days we are maxed out at even less.
We had stopped following the book after our first two days, instead stopping where we wanted to stop and walking for as long as we felt like walking. We have loved doing it this way, and it has made this experience so much more enjoyable.
So for us to do it the way we want to do it, which is walk at our own pace, sometimes have short days, spend an extra day in cool cities, and just go with the flow, we would have needed closer to six weeks. We obviously didn’t know this until we started walking. If we had, we would have planned a bit differently.
We debated skipping our Morocco trip to give us more time, but we already have our tickets booked and paid for, and ultimately we don’t want to do that, as we’ve both been looking forward to Morocco immensely. So, after much discussion, we decided to skip the meseta section of the Camino.
The meseta is rumored to be the most “boring” part. It is miles upon miles of flat unshaded desert-like land, with the path often running parallel to the highway. A lot of people skip this part, and we’ve already met quite a few who decided to skip it as well. This will save us about six days, which should give us plenty of time to walk from Leon to Santiago at our own pace.
I struggled with this decision quite a bit, as there is a part of me that feels like a huge failure for having to skip ahead. I’m disappointed in myself that I’m not physically capable of walking as far as I thought I could each day. And also, as much as I don’t want to admit it, my ego is afraid of being labeled a “camino cheater” by others.
Our friend Auvi from Israel decided to skip ahead too. I asked him if he felt guilty. His response was exactly what I needed to hear: “Why would I feel guilty? I’ve been walking farther than I should trying to keep up with people, and that got me injured! So instead of being miserable, I’m going to skip the part that is ugly, boring, and dangerous. I don’t feel guilty. I feel happy!”
One of our main goals for doing this was to slow down, and not be tied to some arbitrary schedule. We want to make it to Santiago, and for us to do so by November 3rd we would either need to kill ourselves walking, likely getting injured, or skip a part. So skipping it is.
And to give some background/perspective, there is no “official” starting point. It’s all arbitrary. In recent years, St. Jean has become the most popular place to start, but you can really start from anywhere. We’ve met people that have been walking for months already, and others only a few days. Even skipping ahead, we are not even halfway done… we still have more than two weeks of walking days ahead of us.
The hardest part about this decision was having to say goodbye to Evert. He’s become somewhat of a father figure to us, this presence that is always watching out for us. I’ve grown strangely attached to him. When we told him that we were skipping ahead to Leon, he said he thought that was absolutely the best decision for us, but that he would miss us dearly. I was surprised to find that I was trying hard not to cry.
We will miss him too.
We started walking from Leon this morning, which felt strange after three days off. It’s the only day we will truly experience the meseta, and true to its reputation, it wasn’t the most attractive of walks. But soon we will enter into Galacia, a part of the Camino that is said to be the most beautiful but also the most rainy.
In a way it feels like we are starting anew. It’s a bit strange, this skipping ahead. We keep looking for familiar faces, but everyone is a stranger to us. For now, anyway. I’m confident that new people and new adventures await us.
And if we’re lucky, Evert won’t be the last wonderful friendship we maKe.
This was what today’s walk looked like ALL. DAY. LONG. Longest 17 miles of my life.