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Walked the Camino de Santiago from June 17 to 24th, 2014
Written by Roxanne (with help from Len) on July 6-9, 2014

Warning long post.  Grab a coffee and power up your computer, reading this post will take some time.   Hope you enjoy it and feel like you were there with us.  Believe me we took thousands of pictures over the 10 days,  we tried to pick out ones you would enjoy seeing and the ones that hold a special memory for us.

Walking the Camino de Santiago was one of the first items on round the world wish list four years ago. The closer our trip came the more we thought about how to make that happen. We knew we couldn’t possibly walk all 800 kms, nor did we want to take 4-6 weeks to do so. We considered biking it, but Aurora was still new to riding a bike and we were worried about the traffic on some of the roads, so we quickly ruled out biking and decided to walk it. But, where to start? Everyone has an opinion on the perfect starting point. We decided to start at Sarria, or kilometer 111.5, because in order to get your credentials (certificate) you must have walked the last 100 km.

On June 16th we packed three small backpacks and one bigger backpack (guess who had the big backpack?). The three small packs had only the essentials and Len’s back pack had essentials and a little extra, despite the advice he had received about packing light. We left the remaining 2/3rds of our luggage in storage at our hotel, before embarking on a 6 ½ hour train ride from Madrid to Sarria. The trip was wonderful in comparison to recent train rides we’ve experienced and the scenery was beautiful. We passed castles, old churches, farms, forests, rivers, lakes and rolling hills. At times the landscape reminded us of home.

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We arrived at the Sarria train station at approximately 6:45 pm and made our way to our first Albergue (hostel). We checked into a small 4 person room (with two bunk beds) at Albergue O Durmiñento. We purchased our pilgrim’s passports for 1.5 € each. We were very excited to start our pilgrimage the next morning, even though we had not yet found an English map/guidebook. We would be putting our trust and faith in the yellow arrows that mark the trail.

We went out to explore the city of Sarria and to see some shops. Aurora, in her own special way, got us all off to a good start. Out of her own spending money she bought each of us a Camino de Santiago scallop seashell to attach to each of our backpacks. One of the traditions of pilgrims is to have such a seashell on their backpack to represent walking the Camino. The kilometer markers on the Camino have a 3-D image of the seashell on them, and the seashell has come to be a recognized symbol of the Camino.   So a public Thank You, to Aurora for her sharing character and helping us to get our first steps on the trail off to a good start.

After seeing part of the town, we needed to have some supper, so our Albergue host gave us directions to a good pizzeria. We thought we understood his directions and then quickly realized we did not. We decided to eat at the first family restaurant that we could find, instead of trying to find the pizzeria. Luck was on our side, because as we turned to go towards what appeared to be a hotel restaurant, we found the pizzeria. It was in a beautiful spot along a promenade with shops and restaurants and it was right next to the Rio Sarria, running with crystal clear water and fish and some waterfowl.  It was a perfect place to have supper. We all ordered individual pizzas, that turned out be delicious all around. To make it even better for Noah and Aurora, they were offered free ice cream for dessert by the restaurant owner. They were beaming with joy as they ate their treats as we walked back to our Albergue.

 

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June 17 – Day One on the Camino (Sarria to Ferreiros – 13.5km in 5 ¾ hours)

We quickly found out just how early people get up to hit the trail. By the time we were up everyone was gone. We are not early birds, so getting out the door by 8:45 was a great start for our family. We were grateful to have found an Albergue at the top of the hill; those stairs would have been a killer first thing in the morning. We started our walk at marker 111.5km (a short distance from our Albergue). It was foggy and cool as we closed the door of the Albergue and started to follow other late rising pilgrims and ones that had already travelled kilometers from previous towns and stops.

Our walk began down the cobblestone and narrow streets of Sarria which led us out of town where we walked along a train track, alongside and over streams, as we wound further down the trail through farmer’s fields and forests. Some of the fields had wild poppies and roses, and others had farmers working the land by hand, or herds of cattle and sheep. We tried to capture the beauty of the forested sections with photos, but the photos could not take it all in. The moist forest air, the greenness, the moss, the size of the trees, the vines, the trail itself, it was all absolutely amazing. We, at least Len and I, had a euphoric feeling of walking the trail, seeing the same scenery that people have witnessed for hundreds upon hundreds of years.

It was nearly 11 am before we stopped for a bit to eat. Aurora continued to take the lead and we continued on slowly climbing higher and higher. We took frequent stops to rest and admire stray dogs, slugs, snails or wild flowers growing alongside the path. There were also small unmanned tables set up alongside the path offering water, juice, coffee, fruit and/or cookies to pilgrims. For a small donation you could grab an apple and keep walking. We loved these little stops. They seemed to be at the perfect spot for us to stop and rest.

We were so excited to make it to kilometer marker 100 at 2:30 in the afternoon which is the official marker for those walking that last 100kms. By 3pm we made it to Ferreiros and decided we could not go any further, especially after we put our backpacks down and realized how heavy they really felt. Len went in search for an Albergue and quickly discovered the only one with room was a public Albergue. By this time we were all just happy to have a place to lie down that we quickly paid the 6€ for each bed, and picked our 4 bunk bed spots in the dormitory style room. The Albergue de Ferreiros had one big room with 11 bunk beds (22 spots) that were all taken by end of day. There was no Wi-Fi, one toilet for each men and women with two showers each. After cleaning up we went in search of supper and turned in early.

 

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June 18 – Day Two on the Camino (Ferreiros to Gonzar – 16.2km in 5 ¾ hours)

There is no sleeping in when you are sleeping in a room with 18 early bird pilgrims. Today we were up and on the trail by 7:30am. Not a bad start for these lazy birds. We started the day following the “way” and not knowing where we would sleep at night. We figured when we got tired we would stop. The day found us passing through small hamlets and villages, pine groves, bridges and memorials as we slowly were making our way to Santiago de Compostela. We crossed the looong bridge over the river Miño and into the city of Portomarin. Once finally across the bridge, we tiredly and hungrily stood at the bottom of a set of long and steep stairs which led to the chapel of Las Nieves. But before taking on those stairs we all sat on the bottom steps and a rest and snack. A much welcomed rest.

By this time we had been walking for about three hours and were getting hungry. After getting our stamp at the church we stopped for lunch. Across from the church was a row of outdoor restaurants, we picked one, took off our packs and sat down. The kids had spaghetti, which seems like a staple for them. I ordered an omelet, but only ate about half of it. Who ever heard of putting potatoes in an omelet? I was looking forward to a veggie omelet, you know the kind that has cheese, tomatoes and peppers. I just couldn’t eat the potato omelet.

By noon our tummies were full and our feet had rested and we were ready to hit the road again. Unfortunately, the road we took got us lost. We had to backtrack, and after about 40 minutes we had found our “way” again and began following the yellow arrows once again.

The next two hours of our walk were painful to say the least. The burning sun was beating down on us, our backpacks felt like they were filled with lead and our shoes like concrete.  Aurora was calling it quits, she couldn’t walk any further. With only an empty path and a clear sky with the sun beating down on us, we did what most parents would do. We started to bribe her.   Encouraging words were no longer working, so out came the iPod shuffle. We thought if she was listening to music she should temporarily forget how tired and hot she was. It didn’t work. The whining continued.

To us the last 100 km were starting to seem unachievable, if this was what it was like after only two days. We began worrying that the Albergues would be filled at this time of day, so Len and Noah went ahead to secure beds for us. Aurora was completely done walking; I feared I would have to wave a car down to drive us into Gonzar. It was so hot out and our packs were killing us. Bribe number two: I promised her that if she made it we would get our bags transported the next day. She kept walking, whining and fighting the tears, until she saw Noah in the distance waving. She was so excited to see him and knew we were close.   I couldn’t see Len in sight and immediately a pit formed in my stomach thinking there were no rooms left and we would have to keep walking. I knew there was no way we could take another step; I began forming our next plan of action. We would take a cab to the next town spend the night and in the morning cab back to where we were picked up.

Finally, Len came walking, he looked exhausted and frustrated. I was on the verge of tears and Aurora just wanted to sit down and take her shoes and backpack off. Len informed us the private Albergue was full but was told there may be room at another. We left the kids sitting on a bench with the backpacks, while we went looking for the other Albergue. Winding through the buildings of the little town we finally found it; and they had room for the four of us.  It was the best 40€ we spent (10€/person). The Albergue Casa Garcia turned out to be one of our favorite that we stayed at and the host gladly helped us arrange for transport of our bags (3€/bag x 3 bags again, again best 9€ we spent). Aurora climbed up onto her bunk and fell asleep almost instantly. We showered and did a load of laundry (3€). It was so warm out that our laundry was completely dry with less than an hour hanging on the line. Aurora woke up 4 hours later and was ready for supper. We all turned in early, but couldn’t sleep until after the futbol game was over (too much cheering going on). We determined Spain lost the game because everyone came in very somber.

 

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June 19 – Day Three on the Camino (Gonzar to Palas de Rei – 14.7km in 6 ½ hours)

Under the cover of fog we left our Albergue at 7:35am. We started at kilometer marker 82. Aurora had completely recovered from yesterday and led the way once again. Our first stop was at 9:30 and had access to Wi-Fi; thank you Casa Molar for the free Wi-Fi and bathrooms; we had many stops along the way to rest and enjoyed our walk until the fog lifted at around 10:30 and the sun started to peak out.

One would think that without our backpacks we could cover a lot of ground. Just the opposite happened. Guess we were just too tired from the previous day. We checked to Albergue Buen Camino at around 2pm. We were lucky to have a room to ourselves again. I love the Albergues that give us our own room. We went in search of food.

 

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 June 20 – Day Four on the Camino (Palas de Rei to Melide – 12km – 5 ¾ hours)

The bad thing about having our own room is that we are less motivated to get moving in the morning.  Today, we got an especially late start, leaving our Albergue at around 8:45am. Besides getting a late start, there was something different about this morning.  The were a lot more people on the trail and the sun was already out.  No cool fog to start our day.  We missed to fog.  Len was moving especially slow today. He was still in pain from carrying the big pack the previous days. When the kids wanted to stop and rest or look at something, Len just kept trudging along because he was scared that if he stopped he would not get moving again. Slowing we found ourselves coming up to Palas de Rei and step by step we made our way down the concrete sidewalks to Albergue O Cruceiro.  Once there, Len took his shoes off, flopped onto the bed and slept while I did a load of laundry and searched for tomorrow’s Albergue in order to have our bags transported again. By five o’clock we were all showered and ready to grab a bit to eat.   We found a grocery store and bought water and fruit for tomorrow and did a little shopping.  We bought the kids each a small backpack and a Camino de Santiago Buff. It was such a treat to have our own room again (and Wi-Fi, even if we were too tried to use it). We could have a conversation without everyone listening, or being woken by snoring from the old man in the bed next to us. We had a relaxing evening before turning in.

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June 21 – Day Five on the Camino (Melide to Arzua – 13.5m – can’t remember how long it took us)

It’s good to see familiar faces on the Camino. Over the past five days were have found our comfortable walking pace and a group of people with the same pace. There were times throughout the day that we enjoyed walking with our new Camino friends. This always made the time fly by.

Today’s walk led us through meadows, small orchards and passing through forests of eucalyptus and pine trees.   For most of the day the trail to Arzua was right beside a major roadway. The only good thing about that is that a bathroom was easier to find. In the early afternoon we had to pull out our rain gear, but after half an hour or so the sun was shining again. Tonight we stayed at the Albergue Via Lactea. A hostel that says it has 60 beds, but we think it’s more like 120. The room we were in had 9 bunk beds, and no one spoke to each other. This was one sad group of people.

We seem to always have the same problem…wanting to eat when the restaurants are closed.   (Restaurants close in the afternoon and re-open at 7 or 8 in the evening.) So again, we went in circles trying to find someplace that was open. Finally, after an hour, we returned to the same place we first went into and had an early supper. With tummies full we returned to our Albergue and got ourselves ready for tomorrows walk before turning in.

 

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June 22 – Day Six on the Camino (Arzua to O Pedrouzo – 19km in 7 ¾ hours)

Again, up early and out the door at 7:15. It was a cool, damp, foggy start. Noah’s favorite part of the day is the early mornings, especially when its foggy out.  Today was especially foggy and Noah enjoyed walking alone, ahead of us for the first hour or so.

We have noticed that the closer we are getting to Santiago, the more crowded the trail was getting. This was the messiest, most gross day we had. We walked through more roads covered in cow poo than we could possibly handle. Aurora declared she never wants to visit a cow farm for the rest of her life. Many farmers and villagers tried the combat the smell by planting beautiful flowers along the path. I have to say, it did make us forget about the cow smell, at least for a few minutes at a time.

It was a long walk today, probably one of the longest. I am just glad the rain stayed away until we were able to check into our Albergue. Tonight we stayed at Albergue Edriera. It looked like a newer Albergue. It was bright, clean and spacious, even though we had to share a room with 10 other people.  Feeling like we smelled like cow poo, we all showered  and changed before heading out to explore the town.

Not thinking or realizing that it was Sunday and almost everything would be closed, we had a very hard time finding something to eat. I feared we would have to return to our Albergue and eat the sandwiches from the vending machine. Finally, we found a great outdoor place. We sat down and ordered our meal before we noticed a souvenir/junk store across the street. While waiting for our food, Aurora and I ran over to check it out. She bought a shell good luck charm and I bought cherries and bananas. We were having a well-deserved supper until the rain came pouring down. We quickly moved inside and waited for it to stop. After waiting about 20 minutes for a break in the rain we decided to make a run for it. Running and ducking under any cover, up and down the windy streets we finally made it back, completely drenched.   We had a good laugh and dried off. The kids played on their tablets while we did laundry before turning in for the evening.

 

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June 23 – Day Seven on the Camino (O Pedrouzo – Monte do Gozo – 15.5km)

Today was our last long walk on the Camino. We all knew it. We were a bit sad that our journey was coming to an end. We were the last to leave our Albergue this morning. By the time we got out, the place was completely empty. We got up, dressed and took our backpacks downstairs so they could be transported to tonight’s Albergue. We walked out, closing the door behind us and made our way up the steep road and back onto the trail.

I have noticed that the closer we get to Santiago, the more stops we are having. Maybe we aren’t ready to get there, maybe, we all are enjoying this time so much that we don’t want it to end. Maybe we are just tired. I think each of us had our own reasons.

I walked with a man from Belgium for about an hour or so.   He shared stories about other Caminos he had walked, his life and Belgium and why he was walking the Camino.  I invited him to join us to breakfast later in the morning.  We had a nice visit together and when we weren’t ready, he wished us a Buen Camino left.  We last him again as we walked into Santiago.  He was having breakfast with someone.  I hope he was able to get the answers he was looking for during his Camino.

By the time we got to Monte do Gozo we were tired and a little freaked out to see the Albergue. It looked like a compound. It sleeps over 400 people!!! There must have been at least 20 individual buildings, each with about 10 rooms (don’t know how many beds per room). I have never seen anything like it. The complex was huge.  In the centre there was restaurants, gift shops, vending machines, etc. We stayed at the private Albergue, within the public one. (Not really sure what the difference was other than the higher cost).

We had to walk to the other end of the complex to check in, and then were told to walk back up the hill, to our room. My sore feet and tired legs were not impressed. By this time the kids were very grouchy and hungry, they wouldn’t even walk down, and they waited for us on a bench. Once in our room we each found our respective beds and plopped down. The hunger pains got everyone moving. Again, hunger strikes when all restaurants are closed. Len went to the hotel office to ask for recommendations, he was told there were two just down the street and around the corner. Thinking that would not be so bad, we ventured out and then struck out. We found ourselves crossing busy highways, only to find the recommended restaurants closed until evening or only having octopus.   By this time there was steam coming out of my ear. I had the man at the restaurant call a taxi to take us back to our Albergue (there was no way the kids and I could walk any further). The taxi driver must have thought we were crazy when we told him where we wanted to go. But it was the best $4.20€ we spent. Definitely, no regrets. Once back at the Albergue, we gave the kids all our change so they could hit the vending machines. They came back with an armload of junk food. This held us over until the cafeteria opened up again at 6. At 6:30pm the rain was coming down so hard that we contemplated just staying in. Noah and Len vetoed that decision, so we got our rain coats on and out we went. We hung out at the cafeteria for a couple of hours eating, enjoying a beer and watching futbol on TV.

Notice that we did not take pictures today.  Not sure why.

Vending machine supper

Vending machine supper

First glimpse of the Cathedral de Santiago

First glimpse of the Cathedral de Santiago

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This is a huge Albergue!

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June 24 – Day Eight on the Camino (Monte do Gozo to Santiago de Compostela – 4.5km in 1 ½ hours)

Today would be our last day on the Camino. We were a bit sad when we got up and ready. We left Monte de Gozo for Santiago de Compostela at approximately 8:30. We decided to sleep in a bit today as we only had to walk 5 km. Our last 5 kms found us weaving through the streets of Santiago, before we finally arrived at the Cathedral, thus ending our pilgrimage. It was a vast change from the path we have followed for the past 7 days. We stopped to talk with friends we made along the way, making our walk more enjoyable. It was so great seeing our fellow pilgrims in Santiago.

We made it to the Cathedral, stood there in awe for a few minutes just admiring it as we reflected on the past week. As we wanted to make it to the pilgrims mass at noon we quickly got in line to get our credentials. Slowly the line inched closer and closer to the office doors. Then we were next. This is the moment that proved we did it. We had walked the last 111.5 km of the Camino. The man took our pilgrims passport, scanned it, and asked if we walked it. Then he looked up, smiled and gave us our last stamp.   He handed us our credentials and said congratulations. In all the excitement we forgot to get a picture of us with our credentials.

By this time it was nearly 11am and we were told we couldn’t take any backpacks into the cathedral so we went in search of our hotel. When we got there the doors were locked. Then we noticed a doorbell on the side of the building, we rang it and waited. Shortly the hotel clerk emerged from the back and opened the door. He told us the hotel does not up until noon; we explained that we just wanted to leave our bags. He nodded and took our bags from us. We quickly ran back to the cathedral only to find all 1,200 seats to be taken.   All the pews were full and people were standing. We finally noticed a spot on the entry stairs and quickly took the spots. Many other pilgrims also took whatever free room there was to sit on the original stone steps in the cathedral. The crowd just kept getting larger and larger.

We saw a few familiar faces in the congregation that we recognized. We didn’t know them personally, but simply recognized them from having shared the same Albergue and/or from having seen them on or along the trail over the past week. Every pilgrim who walked the Camino had their own reason for it, and we had no idea what they were, however we found it a little inspirational that so many people of different walks of life (get the pun, walks of life….) were gathered as one at the end of everyone’s individual pilgrimages. It was a wonderful sense of celebration for us, because it was a gathering of people literally from all over the world, of different denominations, beliefs and practices, but they all had gathered together in the Cathedral for that short time, to celebrate together. The best way we can describe the feeling is to compare it to when we were at the Olympics in 2010.  There was a sense of togetherness for the same event/cause, despite all the differences that existed between all those people, literally from all over the world.

The mass was in Spanish, Latin and we think possibly a little German/Dutch, so we did not understand 99% of what was said. However, we were all wondering if today might be the day that the Botafumerio might be used during the mass. We had heard that it was not used often, so we were left wondering if we might be lucky enough to see it used today. We kept our fingers crossed that we would. We had no idea, until later in the mass, when we saw some celebrants come out in maroon coloured robes and then approach the ropes to which the Botafumiero was attached. It was announced before mass, that pictures and video were not allowed. Buuutt… we never saw so many cameras, IPhones and video cameras surface so quickly once everyone in the church realized that they would be lighting and swinging the Botafumiero. We were included in that mass of people who took photos and video. I think the security personal knew this would happen and did not try to stop photos because they knew that so many people wanted to catch those moments on camera and for many it was a highlight of the mass. It was for us as well. It was so beautiful to watch. They raised to Botafumiero into the air, and slowly it began to swing back and forth, getting higher and higher with each pass. At one point I thought it was going to hit the ceiling. We all stood there with huge grins on our faces as we watched it swing back and other. No words can describe just how beautiful those moments were to us. I am so glad we got to experience it together.

As has become normal procedure at most public events/celebrations, there was security personal in bright neon yellow vests. It seemed normal on one hand, yet a little unusual on the other, to see security in a church. However, security and monitoring has become the world’s way of life over this past decade or so.

We were staying in Santiago for a few days, so following the mass we did not feel pressure to tour the Cathedral right away, as we knew we would be coming back later to see it. A couple days later we did that. Noah, Aurora and Len returned on June 26th to attend the noon mass, while I toured around the plaza for some individual time. As Len and the kids made it to mass on time this time, they were able to get pew seats and had a much better view this time. Len took the opportunity to go to Confession before mass. It was long overdue for him. He saw Father John, and it was time well spent. The three of them were left wondering if they would use the Botafumeiro again, but suspected they would not. They were surprised when they used it again. We got much better photos and video this time around. While wondering the streets and realized I was missing a second opportunity to attend the pilgrims mass and decided to go, sneak in the back and find a spot. However, all the winding streets got me lost. I tried to find my way by looking for the steeples, but the buildings were too tall. By the time I figured out where I was I had missed the mass. I met Len and the kids back in the square. The kids came running towards shouting that they lit the Botafumeiro again and that they videoed it so I could see. They were disappointed that I missed a 2nd chance to have seen it; as was I. I had a feeling that they would light it again.

After mass we went inside for a tour. We stood in line for a while and went to see St. James’s tomb and monument statue on the alter. We toured around and took many photos. We were all a little sad today, because later in the afternoon we were catching the train back to Madrid.

 

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We spent two extra days in Santiago (in a hotel) before we caught the train back to Madrid.  We never tired of walking the small narrow streets, popping into shops or eating the “Santiago cake or cookies”.  We even found a few daily favorite shops in Santiago (the fruit stand and the bakery).  We especially enjoyed bumping into our Camino friends and sharing a few stories.  We will miss this time we shared together.

Our thoughts on the Camino: overwhelmed, relieved, disappointed and proud. Arriving at the Cathedral de Santiago filled us with so many emotions. The Cathedral was huge, bigger than I imagined. Standing there in the square just looking at it, and seeing all the people who had just completed their own journey was overwhelming. There were people crying, hugging each other and, others snapping pictures to document their achievement. We were one of those people that had walked the Camino (at least part of it), but forgot to take pictures at that moment when we arrived. We were just too caught up in what we as a family had accomplished and with all the other people around us.

I am relieved that it is over and sad that it is over. Strange how that works. We enjoyed walking together over the past 8 days, but our feet were too sore and our legs tired, and we looked forward to the rest.

I think we all were disappointed when we walked into the square to find about half of the Cathedral was covered and under restoration. After walking 111.5 km, we felt like we deserved to see the whole Cathedral. On the flip side we are happy that they are restoring it. Maybe if we come back to walk again the restoration will be completed and we can see just how beautiful it is. And from our experience of having done the Camino there is a possibility that one or more of us may return at some point to redo the Camino or another portion of it.  We were also disappointed that the kilometer markers ended twenty kilometer out of Santiago.  These maker were so important to us, they encouraged us as we counted them down, one by one, along the trail.  And then they were gone, without notice.  No more markers.  No more encouragement.  No place to leave our stone(s) (representing one’s burdens) that we were carrying.  We were disappointed.  Aurora had carried her stone for miles waiting until the last marker to lovingly place it on top of it.  But we didn’t know that marker 22km would be the last marker.  If we did we would have taken a few moment to place our stones at that marker.  In the end, Aurora quietly placed it along the wall of the Cathedral de Santiago.

Another Camino memory we have is the sense of comradry and friendliness that exists on the Camino.  In normal circumstances, outside of the Camino, when you have complete strangers passing by or encountering each other most people keep tend to keep to themselves much as you would on a busy city street.  It seems to be part of our “big city” culture that people just accept this and fall into that pattern of non interaction.  However on the Camino there is a tradition of wishing other pilgrims as you meet or pass them, a  “Buen Camino”  or “Good Camino”.  We heard this phrase and said this phrase many times while on the Camino.  Everyone on the Camino is there for their own reasons, but everyone is reaching their goal by the common experience of walking the Camino.  That common experience brings people together in a friendly and welcoming way.  When we said or heard, “Beun Camino” it felt truly sincere and heartwarming.  By the time we finished the Camino we had conversed with and met many people and shared good conversation and friendship.  That simple phrase “Buen Camino”, created a “Good Camino”, and a special and memorable experience for us.  That will be one of our forever memories of the Camino.

I am so happy we walked the last 111.5 km of the Camino de Santiago as a family. We saw so many people on the trail, and few were children. Walking this has been very special to our family. It seemed to be very special to other people as well, as we had numerous people tell us how special they thought it was that we were walking as a family with our children. Some even asked to take a picture of us for their own memory books. We are so proud of what we accomplished and look forward to more family challenges. We literally laughed and cried while on this journey. I am most proud of the kids. Not once on this journey did we hear fighting, they walked miles together, ahead of us, just talking, laughing and enjoying their time together. I hope the Camino will hold a special place in their hearts, I know it will for Len and I.

I (Len) am also proud of all of us for having walked the distance we did during our time on the Camino.   I for one originally thought that walking that distance would not really be hard.  Boy was I wrong.  It was more physically challenging than I thought it would be.  So I am proud that we did it.  What adds to the pride is that in reality we actually walked more than just the official 111.5 kilometers of the Camino.  Roxanne was wearing a Fit Bit bracelet, that tracked the distance we walked each day.  Each day we walked the specified distance noted in the daily notes, but you can add some additional kilometers to that total, because according to the Fit Bit, we walked anywhere from 3 to 5 additional kilometers each day.  So you can add on an extra 24 to 40 extra kilometers of walking that we did in addition to the official 111.5 kilometers.  I am proud of us for that and am happy that we got to have that accomplishment together.

Another common memory of the Camino is the many memorials we saw along the way.  There were home made memorials and official memorials with plaques, monuments and so on.  The memorials were for many reasons some of which were obvious, but some of which were only understood by the person who created the memorial.  Some of the most touching memorials were for people who had passed away.  Memorials had cruxifixs, photos, personal affects, handwritten notes, pieces of clothing and many other items.  The items meant something to the person the memorial was for, or meant something to the person who left it.  They were all heartwarming, even though we did not understand what all the memorials and items represented.  The memorials were a sign of the many people who have walked the Camino for not only themselves but others as well.  Roxanne and I both took the opportunity to have a candle lit in one of the churches we passed on the Camino.  That was another way many people partake in memorializing someone or something along the Camino.  Towards the end of the trail, when there were no longer any kilometer markers on the trail, many people had made cruxifixes out of twigs and put them up along the trail in chain link fencing.  The kids, Roxanne and I also took a few moments to put up our own cruxifixes in memory of someone.  Overall, all four of us, will take away our own personal meanings and memorials from the Camino.

Thanks for coming along on our journey.  I hope you enjoyed it as much as we did.

Reflections

We have absolutely no regrets about having our backpacks transported each day. The 54€ we spent to have our backpacks picked up each morning then dropped off at our next Albergue was worth every cent. It felt like we were home when ever walked in and saw our bags sitting there, just waiting for us. Without having to carry our backpacks it allowed us to enjoy the walk and sights more fully. It let our thoughts run free and not be focused how heavy our bags were or how much our back hurt. No regrets!

For more than a thousand years, pilgrims have walked the Camino de Santiago (Way of St. James), seeking penance, enlightenment, and adventure. Their destination was Santiago de Compostela, Spain, where it is believed the remains of St. James, Apostle and patron saint of the country, are encased in an ornate casket/tomb in the basement of the Cathedral. On the altar, there is a statue of St. James, which can be viewed from behind. Take a look at this photo of the stairs leading from the exit of the spot where you leave after viewing St. James Statue. Those stairs are tile stone, and some of those worn down spots were worn out at least an inch to an inch and a half in depth. We were amazed to think how many people have walked down those stairs, to have worn the stairs out like that. The number of people is quite likely anybody’s best guess. Well you can add 4 more to that total as of June 24, 2014.

The scallop shell, commonly found on the shores of Galicia, has become the symbol of the Camino de Santiago. The shell is frequently seen on the trail as markers to guide pilgrims. Pilgrims often attach the shell to their backpack to denote that they are pilgrims on the trail. The shells Aurora bought for each us, made wearing them even more special.  Again, thank you Aurora for giving us such a special and loving start to our journey.

One of my (Len’s) memories of the Camino is specifically the scallop shell’s Aurora got for all of us.  One of the most distinctive sounds I’ll always remember from our Camino is the quiet sound made by the scallop seashells bouncing on our backpacks and other pilgrims’ packs.  If you were walking without talking or there was no other distracting sounds (like traffic) it was so calming to hear the sound of the beat of the shell bouncing on your own pack, or someone elses’ pack. Sometimes you could hear another pilgrim walking behind you and getting closer to you as you could hear the beat of their shell slowly getting louder and louder (or at least as loud as that sound can get).  It was even better if you listened to that along with the regular beat of crunching boots in the sand/rocks, along with the beat of your or others’ walking poles or sticks hitting the ground, as walkers approached and passed you.  Sometimes you would be lucky enough to hear those sounds along with the trail sounds of birds, frogs, the wind in the trees or water rushing in a stream or river.  Those sounds accompanied by the constanltly beautiful scenery of the trail, at least for me, created a very calm, contemplative “happy place” to which I constantly went in and out of, during our time on the Camino.  That is one of the most distinctive memories I will have of our experience.

The official document used by pilgrims to record their journey to Santiago de Compostela is called a pilgrims passport. For pilgrims walking the last 100km, they must get at least two stamps per day. This was never difficult for us. We loved getting our stamps, it was a way to mark and remember our stops along the way. Only worry was that we would run out of spaces on our passport.   In 2013 over 215,000 pilgrims received their Compostela (certificate for completing). We will be part of the 2014 statistics.