To London and Home, July 1 and 2, 2018

For as jammed as the streets are from afternoon to late night in Santiago, here’s what things look like at 08:30 a.m. Some of the signs are in Gallego, the language of Galicia.


Here’s an odd installation at Lavacolla/SCQ/Santiago’s airport called palabra, or “word”. It looks like it expects to have a stern word with everyone who passes.


It took just under 2 hours to get through the non-EU line at Passport Control at Stansted, so I was glad not to have scheduled a connecting flight later in the day.  Someone said it was because Wimbledon was starting the next day, but the agent said it’s like this all summer long.  The last time I went through Stansted was late last September and it was nothing like this.  There was a woman in line who had just been on Camino, so talking to her helped pass the time, and our backpacks were still mindlessly circling the baggage carousel 2 hours later when it was possible to collect them.

It costs 41 GBP ($54 USD) to get from London Stansted on the Stansted Express to the Underground for the Victoria Line to get to Victoria Station, and then onward on the Gatwick Express to London Gatwick. There were many kinds encountered on the Tube, good for a slice-of-life look at London as it is in 2018….. that is to say, nothing at all like it was when I first visited London in 1985.  The Bloc Hotel at Gatwick is a cool little setup, and good for a few hours’ sleep before checking in for Norwegian’s 05:30 flight to JFK.


At JFK, things quickly deteriorated when Customs refused to let us de-bord for an hour and a half and wouldn’t answer the phone when Norwegian officials tried to call them…….. not unlike the two times before during which those coming in on international flights waited in line in a tunnel listening to political-bashing on TV for over an hour before being processed through the self-service kiosks. Each time I say I’ll never fly through there again and each time I opt for convenience hoping that it won’t be as big a pain as the last time.  But it’s always as big a pain as the last time.

The Jamaica Station staff were just plain rude this time. Welcome back.

Travel.  It doesn’t come from the French “travailler” (to work) for nuthin’.

Despite it all, I got the Long Island Railroad to Penn Station more quickly than expected, made a mad dash for a ticket, and was on board the Pennsylvanian with under 3 minutes to spare.  The ticketing staff at Penn Station told me to go to Track 12 instead of Track 14…….. and in a rush and trusting that the ticket agent knew what she was talking about, I ran past the Track Board and boarded a train on Track 12 that was NOT going to Pittsburgh.  Fortunately, the other passengers quickly set me straight (I did not want to go to Poughkeepsie….).  I had been expecting to have to stay overnight in New York or Philly even without the tarmac delay, so was happy to be able to get the train home.

Tom was waiting at the station in Latrobe.  We went out to eat, and it was a relief to not have to check Google translate to order anything out of the ordinary in Spain, and it was good NOT to find cheval on the menu like in France.


I’ve traveled overseas alone for many years now, and although always found it uncomfortable, discomfort didn’t seem like a good enough reason to miss out on all the things I’ve seen.  I tolerated the discomfort in exchange for the experiences. This time, however, something is different. I’ve been able to move through things fairly easily,  have found myself among many good people and have not felt significantly stressed or adrift for any appreciable length of time.  I didn’t have to use Tom’s Adventure Gone Wrong Hotline. And there were overall far fewer problems, possibly owing to being more on the Le Puy in France instead of the more popular and culturally different routes in Spain and Portugal.  If you’d asked me years ago if I ever thought I’d feel entirely at ease stopping in a tapas bar or cafes in France or Spain alone, or hiking 500 – 800 km mostly alone, I couldn’t have imagined it. But I feel little discomfort at all now, and less and less each time.   It feels like being free.

I’m ambivalent on re-entry this time – somewhere between knowing there’s no place on earth I’d rather live than in this beautiful little town and wanting to catch the next flight back across the pond.  The plan is to slowly feel my way back into life here.  How fortunate to have a time in life to be able to do this.  Thanks for coming along.


Radar and, once again, More Than Hoped For

This sculpture is on Praza do Quintana, and at around 5′ tall isn’t an exaggeration of the importance of feet in all of this.

What seemed like it might be an unrewarding day of killing time was in fact very rewarding. Full of little discoveries and good things.

It seems there is always more given here than expected. If you buy a cafe con leche, they’ll give you something extra – A little sweet or tiny croissant on the side. If you buy a salad for dinner, they want to give you extra things like a shot of their homemade house liqueur. If you buy an agua con gaz, they want to give you a little tapas plate also. Most often with an attitude of generosity and friendliness.

I’m not sure what goes on in this shop, and am not sure I want to find out, but it makes me smile every time.

Nicole and I have uncanny radar for each other, it seems. We’d said our goodbyes yesterday, but completely randomly on her way to the bus stop on Praza do Galicia to meet her group going to Finisterre and Muxia today, she thought she had extra time and stopped into a cafe. I’d decided ten minutes earlier to look for a Peluqueria and when randomly saw a pleasant cafe, it seemed a good time for a morning cafe con leche. I stepped inside and immediately heard “Beth???” from a corner of the cafe. In a city with hundreds of eateries and tens of thousands of locals, tourists and hikers/pilgrims. She’s staying at Roots and Boots, where when everything else was sold out, she found a bed. It’s a well-rated albergue more on the outskirts by Alameda Park, and she says it’s a good place that offers a communal evening meal also.  Just in case you’re here via the tag and are heading to Santiago.

The peluquera that was abierto on a Saturday morning within the old town (tourists…..) wanted 37 Euro, which seemed unreasonable to pay for a haircut ($43 USD). I kept on walking out the other end of the old town onto Rua San Roque and within a block was a friendly place filled with locals who took me in, sat me down to wait my turn, kept calling me La Peregrina even though I didn’t have my big backpack and had EVEN taken a BATH. I don’t know what distinguishes one as a pilgrim/hiker without carrying a large backpack as opposed to one of the thousands of regular tourists – other than after 30 or 40 days of walking, foreigners who are hikers/pilgrims are probably much more likely to be asking for haircuts. Two men came in with their heavy packs seemingly having just rolled in off the Rua de San Pedro wanting beard trims and a haircut. They were treated with kindness as well. The haircut was 23 Euro +tip and was exactly what I asked for with an initial Google-translate and later some gestures. And I felt “fussed over” and included in this Saturday morning beauty salon scene to boot, which was pleasant and for which I was grateful.  For anyone here via the tag for Santiago de Compostela in need of some grooming at the end of their Camino, the place is called Peluqueria Ermitas, meaning hermitages or “hermits'” hair salon. Probably near a hermitage, because there were definitely no hermits inside this lively, friendly place.

I stopped in Cafe Cervantes for old times’ sake (well, more accurately, for a second cafe con leche). It’s near the Plaza de Cervantes (where they usually have a bouquinistes/bookseller’s market going on). I really like the banner – such an odd and interesting depiction of Cervantes.

Below is an image of an enameled bronze door at Gaudí’s Sagrada Familia in Barcelona.  Which probably seems like a complete non sequitur, but kindly read on…….

When I wandered past the Praza do Inmaculada this morning, there was a sign at the Museo San Martin Pinario for a Gaudí Exhibit inside about the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona. I like Gaudí, and the exhibit had just opened today. I’ve only blown through Barcelona in transit before, and although have seen some earlier Gaudí buildings, have not seen the Sagrada Familia and the others in Barcelona. Although there wasn’t much to the exhibit, it gave a brief history and some details about the cathedral. 2026 will make 100 years since Gaudí’s death and the construction is planned to be finished in that year.

The street vendors selling jewelry by the Cathedral – whose wares look to be of good quality – display no prices, and I’d assumed that since they are artisan-made, that it was a “if you have to ask, you can’t afford it” situation. But more kisses were in store….. the two items I chose were 10 Euro each.  Sold.  I’ll remember this day of little pleasures every time I wear them.

One of the Cathedral’s two earliest towers, considered Romanesque, and built in the 1200’s and 1400’s.  And a typical twisty-street scene of locals and tourists and backpackers.

After the Gaudí exhibit, I went back through Iglesia San Martin Pinario for a third-time visit because it was part of the Gaudi ticket anyway. I pretty much had the church and the museum to myself.

Cherubs with tradesman’s tools

In the monk’s choir – a double-decker one allowing those of higher rank to sit literally higher – in the Iglesia San Martin Pinario. I’ve read that establishing a route through Galicia was also advantageous to Spain for gold- mining purposes. Everything is overwhelmingly gilded in many of these cathedrals. It makes an impression and metaphorically shows the “riches of the church”, and art and sculpture covers almost every inch.  Give me an austere Cistercian abbey instead most days. It’s easier to feel peace in them, but these baroque ones are eye-popping to see.

Plenty of rather gruesome art in Spain, but this small, exquisitely carved sculpture, possible marble with paint, is also beautiful.

And since we’re on the subject of gruesome statuary, if anyone knows the significance of the rake-like/saw-like tool, I’d like to hear what it’s about. The first statue below is over the entrance to San Pelayo de Antealtares near the Cathedral. San Pelayo was martyred in the early 900s at age 13 as a result of refusing to convert to Islam. The second is on the left at the top of the facade of the Cathedral itself.

I’m slowly moving into re-entry mode and am glad not to have to get out to Lavacolla for an early flight, and glad to have planned an overnight in London between flights. It’s been a long road and although I’ll be dragging my feet a little, it’s time to head home.

For the remainder of the evening, I’ll be watching Morgan Freeman and Brad Pitt badly dubbed into Spanish on TV:0)).


Yep, that’s me, a Streetwalker.  It’s what I do when here in Santiago. But I’m in good company because everyone else here is a Streetwalker too.

Mercado de Abastos

At 09:00 the merchants were setting up at the Abastos market and by 09:30 they were in full swing. I bought a few handfuls of the largest, fattest cherries I’ve ever seen and wandered the twisty streets, eventually landing back at the Museo de la Peregrinacion for another visit.  It’s a small, well-put-together museum about the world history of pilgrimage. Here’s a succinct explanation:

The man at the desk asked my nationality – often places like to know the nationality of visitors – and if I spoke Spanish. I told him Los Estados Unidos and that I speak muy poquito Espagnol, but that I spoke more French. I do this because many believe that Americans only speak English. There is a nasty saying: “If you speak three languages, you are trilingual. If you speak two languages you are bilingual. If you speak one language you are American”.

The man at the desk informed me that in 50 years everyone in the US would be speaking Spanish.  I’m inclined to agree, and think it worthwhile to have some secondary or more language skills, but am not sure why one would say this to an American national.

At the Praza Obradoiro, workers were dismantling the scaffolding. The upper work on the face is done. Other workers were lowering large pieces of stone with numbers on them, presumably to fix and return back up where they belong later.

There were more newly-arrived youth groups celebrating having reached the Cathedral  with exuberant dance routines and group singing.  High schools and universities in Spain send groups of kids on Camino, usually only for the last 100K, to bond the group and as a way of providing what they see as an important experience for all.  There are criminal justice programs in Europe that send low-level offenders on Camino with guides as a way of offering a transformative experience.  There are U.S. military groups sponsoring veterans with PTSD on Camino for the experience of trust and the peace of just walking onward every day, tending to simple tasks among mostly-kind strangers.

On the Plaza,  a very fit woman arrived, laid out her mat and promptly did a yoga headstand. A guy was doing push-ups in the arcades – I guess because walking a few hundred kilometers isn’t enough exercise, or because hiking doesn’t work the upper body that much.

Had lunch at a tapas place. People wander in, select a few tapas, down a beer and move on. Somehow the waiters keep up with it all. And everyone talks nonstop and often emphatically and loudly. As is the way of the culture, there’s an occasional heated shouting match that is quickly forgotten, but even so, this always seems to be the happiest city on the planet, and it’s sometimes discouraging to go back to places that are less so.

Walked the Alameda Park, met up with new Superhiker friend Nicole, who it turns out was raised in Czechoslovakia and Zurich. She’s leaving on Sunday also to visit her brother in Zurich for a few weeks and then she’ll fly home to Seattle….. after walking the final 100K at a reduced km/day rate in order to get her Compostela – on a stress fracture.

In Alameda Park


Ramon del Valle-Inclan, notable Galician writer.  But he’s kind of rigid and cold.

I would not have been sad to fly out tomorrow, but I suppose I’ll live having to endure the happiness, liveliness, great food, street musicians, museums and everything that could be wanted close at hand.

Roasted Padrón pimentos (Padron is a town just south of Santiago and on the Portuguese Route)

I explained to Maggie the Australian that while others were out traveling in their youths, I’d been working full time to put myself through two degrees part-time, so now is my time to do these things.  The discovery of hiking in general and the pilgrimage routes to Santiago came just in time, and have been rewarding in ways I can’t begin to tell.   Although there is a great deal of information that it’s good to have researched beforehand, I’d recommend both hiking and pilgrimage to anyone so inclined or in need of a meaningful experience.  Next on my list are the West Highland Way in Scotland, the Kumano Kodo in Japan, the Mozarabe from Granada or the Via de la Plata from Seville and perhaps the Madrid and the St. Jaume route from Barcelona.  I think I have a few more hikes left in me before it’s time to stop and just enjoy the memories.

View from Park Alameda

I looked at my hair in bright light yesterday and the gray hairs seem to have doubled in a month’s traveling. It will be good to get home. I’ll say to Tom “I think I’m done traveling for awhile”. He’ll smile just like he always does and wait, knowing that it’s never long until the next plan is hatched.

I got cleaned up and went out in search of dinner, but didn’t feel very sociable so hoped to find something para llevar, to go. It started to rain while the sun was shining. Big sloppy drops of rain. And another kiss was in store:  There at hand was an all-natural bakery (Colmado on Rua Acibecheria) that sold bread stuffed with ham and olives and also some low-sugar carrot cake,  both exactly what I was in the mood for. In fact, acibecheria means “bakery” in Gallego (Galician). A very nice lady took great care in cutting the amount I wanted from the loaves and wrapping them in pretty bakery paper.

Big sloppy drops.  I’m not sure how, but Santiago always seems to be even more beautiful in the rain.

The day is done. The steady din of the crowds on the streets isn’t hard to fall asleep to. I’ll do more Streetwalking tomorrow, and maybe will sit and watch those newly-arriving pilgrims make their way to the Cathedral. A long journey’s end.

Pilgrim Mass

So I decided to try again to stay through an entire Mass despite the 3 years before either leaving because things were so overwhelmingly mobbed or leaving halfway through, tired of standing in a dense crowd.


Between the two large angels at the top left and right, look a little down and center for both of the botafumeiros against the retablo.  It’s another “where’s Waldo” hunt among all of that baroque and gilding.

They’re doing something different now, and it’s working. No one gets in after Mass starts. The people there as tourists who aren’t staying for Mass are asked, about 15 minutes ahead, to wrap up their visits and leave. The front/ceremonial doors seem to still be undergoing work and aren’t being used, so the Praza de Praterias entrance is being used instead, like last year.

The Mass was significantly calmer and I found a seat 30 minutes before starting, which has been impossible in years past. They mentioned all the nationalities represented by those who completed today, but that’s the extent of the pilgrim part of the Mass, or at least that I could understand with very limited Spanish.  They’ve added some kind of pilgrim acknowledgement after the Mass in a side chapel, but only a few stayed to attend and since I didn’t really understand what it was meant to be, I didn’t stay.  The pilgrimage aspect of this has possibly taken a back seat to the tourist buses, but whatever promotes this extraordinary place is good to me.  Sometimes tourists in groups gawk at those of us arriving grubby and loaded down with gear as if we must be a different breed and out of our minds.  It’s possible that they’re right, but if so, it’s a beautiful madness.

At the main 7:30 pm Mass, they did have a large front section reserved that was filled at the last moment. Judging from the looks of those who were brought in to occupy those reserved seats, I would speculate that they are not pilgrims. Groups pay to see the botafumeiro swing, and although I suspected that the front seats were saved for paying guests and hoped they might swing the botafumiero, it was really a surprise when they rapidly assembled and swung it (the smaller silver one). I’d heard that videotaping wasn’t allowed, and had completely turned off my iPhone, but when they abruptly started swinging it, EVERYONE was holding up their phones and recording. So I decided to be a lemming, turned on my phone, and caught about 2 minutes of it. With the organ music and with it happening abruptly and unexpectedly, you could feel the excitement.

In case anyone is scratching his or her head and saying “what’s a botofumeiro and why are they swinging one in a cathedral???”, it’s a leftover from the Middle Ages when a smoking incense burner was important to obscure the odor of hoards of people who hadn’t bathed in a very long time.  I suppose an alternative narrative might be that the smoke symbolizes something or other, but although I like ritual and symbolism, I usually appreciate the practical versions of things more so than the magicalized ones.

Botafumeiro #1, the Swinger

So, I made it through my first whole Mass at the Cathedral and was richly rewarded for it. It was good to see so many youth groups there too.

Botafumeiro #2

Side chapel with Knights Templar cross and shells. Being restored slowly over years.

Pension Libredon, 5 Plaza de Fonseca

The PR Libredon (Pension) is a no-hassle, pleasant place to stay. It’s a block or two from the cathedral, ON Fonseca Square, and is renovated to be fresh and trendy. The staff is helpful and friendly, the rooms comfortable, and the price very reasonable for an individual (twin bed) room in this city. I was very lucky to get reservations 2.5 months in advance.


Souvenir-choosing is done. Bierzo Enxebre gazpacho is done (the same staff is there year after year and the one waitress seems to remember that I Google translate her in Galician every year that they have the best gazpacho on the planet.  Or at least she always laughs and pats my shoulder).  A few end-of-Camino clothes have been bought. I found a quieter little tapas place for dinner and heard from Nicole, so we’ll spend some time together tomorrow.


In case you haven’t heard the bell at the Cathedral, it’s very dirge-like. Bong. Bong. All day and much of the night. The bell has rung 2 a.m., and all really is well.

Breakfast at the Hippie place, Gazpacho heaven, and The Happiest Place on Earth

Evidently, the rooms over the router at the Albergue had WiFi because everyone on that end of the albergue was hanging out in their bunks on their iPhones this morning. I walked the port around to the central square and found a crush of backpackers waiting for the 08:20 bus to Santiago in front of the Municipal where the bus parada is. I was going to get on, but when the bus arrived and the throng pressed to load backpacks into the cargo hold (huge cargo holds that were bursting with packs), it seemed like the whole thing was going to be completely miserable. It wasn’t a double-decker bus this time, and there was no way all those people were going to fit without being sardines for 2+ hours. I grabbed my pack back out and headed for the Hippie place on the square. I’d planned to have their vegetable curry the evening before, but they were closed and I had to scrape by with fresh seafood at a lively place on a port-side plaza. Tough life, ey? Finisterre’s marina área reminded me of Porto in Portugal where my sister and I started out on the Portuguese route last September.

The 09:45 autobus to Santiago turned out to be much less crowded. The Municipals kick people out before 08:00, which probably explains the crowds for the 08:20. Waiting turned out to be a very good idea.

Praza Obradoiro (“workshop plaza”) in front of the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, Galicia, Spain. Imagine the sculptors and stone masons working there for hundreds of years.

My goals for the day were to buy some souvenirs for others and be filled up by this joyous place. I think I’ve seen all the museums at least once, but there may be a gallery or two that I’ve missed. Will hope to have some of the best gazpacho on the planet at Bierzo Enxebre, and get to the Pilgrim Welcome House to possibly donate my hiking poles, to possibly drop off laundry, and to meet Faith, a very nice woman who helps moderate the main online forum and who also works there at the Pilgrim Welcome House. The airport in Santiago won’t let hiking poles through as carry-ons, so I might check my pack, although I’ll then be screwed in London and New York if they lose my pack. Like they have before.

They’ve finished slowly sandblasting after several years of work. It used to be a mottled dark brown and amber color that I was fond of, and which showed up the baroque features perhaps a little better, but this is good too. It’s all good.

I was going to say that the best part is walking the twisty streets, having endless and varied food options, watching the newly-completed hikers arrive, the street musicians, the city and church officials about, and just being a part of the unique, joyous, proud, 800-year old place. The cathedral and other monuments are spectacular. But so far the best part of many great parts is actually running into NICOLE from the ride to Oviedo on the way to the Pilgrim’s Office to try to get a stamp. She was talking to two other Americans on a seminary trip walking the Norte. It was a happy reunion, and we’ll spend some time together later.

Praza das Praterias, “Silversmith’s square”, or possibly Praza do Quintana adjoining.   I felt honored that an ?Italian? woman who was obviously excited to be in Santiago asked me to take a picture of her with the “fountain of the 4 horses”. She then offered to return the favor (I’m embarrassed to say that for a second I worried that it was an iPhone-stealing scam because evidently I’m just that cynical!). It really was fun to have such a  trusting exchange with a total stranger. But that happens all over the Caminos and in fact, doing these does seem to make better Humans out of us all. Maybe someday this will again be a rite of passage as pilgrimage has likely been in the past. Pilgrimage has been a part of most of the world’s major religions for thousands of years, likely for its transformative effects.

At the Pilgrim Office where Pilgrims/hikers line up with their Credencials in hand to apply for their Compostelas (the certificate in Latin that you get for completing), the security guy (they don’t get nicer than these guys) for some reason thought they would give me a Compostela for walking different segments of 4 Caminos because I’d hiked over 500 km total.  I told him that there was a rule about doing the last 100 km continuously and that since I have several Compostelas, I was only seeking a stamp to finish off this time’s Credencial. His first language wasn’t English, and my Spanish is rudimentary at best.  He went and got an official who came out and explained the “last 100k continuous” rule, so again I explained that I wasn’t seeking another Compostela (nor did I want to wait in a 2 hour line even if they had changed the rules), and that I was just hoping for a stamp. He smiled and said he could take care of that, and in 60 seconds I’d “closed out” my journey and had my last stamp. On the way out, I smiled and said thanks and blew a little kiss to the security guard who had made life a lot easier by helping…..and seem to have embarrassed him. Like I said…..committing inter-cultural faux pas regularly, like a good American traveler.

View from room at Pension Libredon right on the Praza Fonseca, a block from the Cathedral. The French door-windows are open and I can hear the street music and the steady din of lunchtime. The music and the din will likely go on until the wee hours, but I also have thick shutters that block it all out at will.  Luxury.

I waited in line at the side entrance to the cathedral to ask when next mass times are. I thought they’d said 2pm and 7pm. But the man tasked with managing the hoards evidently said “doce”, which is 12 in Galician and sounds like “dos”, in Spanish, or “two”. So I misinformed some other people in line and feel bad about that. They aren’t letting people mill about during mass anymore, which is a very good idea.

They no longer do the individual pilgrim acknowledgements because we are now far too many (sometimes in peak season there have been over 2,000 registering their Caminos at the Pilgrim’s office in a day), and many of us who already have a collection of Compostela’s don’t bother to wait in line for another one. So the actual number completing is likely considerably higher. It is now difficult to get a room even 2 months ahead in high season, including the pilgrim rooms at San Martín Pinario (on the 4th floor, very Spartan old monks’ cells, and you don’t even have to share the room with the old monks).

I should probably mention that I’m not a Catholic. Or religious. But I have great respect for what religions can give we miserable Humans, and am glad some of them exist to deepen and elevate our lives with their history, stories, art, rituals, teaching, inspiration and beauty.

More about this wonderful place later.

Sea Gulls, Salt Air and a walk to the Faro: Finisterre

Here’s a good one told by nephew Brennan: “Why do Sea Gulls fly over the Sea? (Silence). Because if they flew over the Bay, they’d be Bagels”

The Empresa Freire autobús was right on time this morning, and I was the only rider from Sobrado dos Monxes until Arzua.

This has been a journey filled with happy people. We are all fortunate indeed to be able to roam the earth and experience the things that are best in life. Nature, novelty, beauty, kindness. And as travel goes: both much cheaper and more meaningful than the usual tourist tracks.

The bus got to Santiago with just enough time to run upstairs to find that Monbus doesn’t have a taquilla at which to buy a ticket. I’m assuming that there is a machine somewhere, but I couldn’t find it on the fly. The driver let me buy a ticket from him, so I made the 09:00 to Finisterre. The decision between Finisterre and Muxia was made by the convenience of the bus schedule, the abundance of places to stay in Finisterre, and by the fact that although I would usually opt for the more remote/less touristy option, I may have had my fill of remote for awhile.

I’m glad to have decided to come to Finisterre, and it’s all more than I’d thought it would be. I’ve been to the Finisterre in coastal Brittany in France…..same deal. Finis Terre = End of the Earth to people at a time when there was no information that there was anything more beyond.

Glad to have had dinner at one of the open-air port-side places…….Bacalao Gallego. Glad to have walked the truly beautiful coastal walk out the 3.5 km to the lighthouse and then back. That alone was worth coming here for. There are several Backpacker Central places in Galicia and the Faro (lighthouse) is one of them, although there are busloads of tourists at the lighthouse as well.

Bacalao Gallego (Galician-style cod – capers, olives, in a thin tomato broth).

This is the extension to the sea after finishing the pilgrimage to visit the bones of Sant Iago (interesting albeit rather fanciful history).  It was probably a route to the sea used by the Pagans/Celts long before Christianity, and Romans followed the Milky Way (Via Lactea) westward on this route to the sea.  Eventually, the route became known as “Campos Stella” or “field of stars”.  Pilgrims would pick up a seashell to take home as proof of having made the journey……and then walk back home from as far away as Northern Europe. The Knights Templar provided escorts. It helped in some way reinforce the Christian heritage of the country at a time when Spain had been invaded by Muslims, and the entire history of pilgrimage is interesting. Santiago do Compostela has a simple, well done museum of the world history of religious pilgrimage. Of course, there were other draws: adventure, a righteous reason to leave your village for a very long time, food, drink and prostitutes the whole way. Just like now, there were all sorts of motivations for doing this.

I’m at the Albergue de la Paz, charmed by the smile of the guy soliciting visitors carrying backpacks fresh off the Monbus. He said a habitacion was possible, but it’s really a 4-bed bunk room above an alley that they’re renting me for individual use (a “privado”). It’s true that there’s WiFi, but only in the small common room, and since that’s also the dining room table, and a large group wanted to have dinner there, that ended internet access for awhile. But I’ve enjoyed hearing the kids play in the alley watched over by their abuelo. Even though it’s objectively cold, there are kids out jumping off the stone piers to splash around in the bay. It was probably better not to agonize about a pension stay vs an albergue because I was checked in, set up, had a little space to myself, and was out exploring Finisterre before noon. I knocked on the communal bathroom door to see if it was occupied and a young Asian kid opened the door in only a towel and a smile. Most everyone is friendly. Or friendly enough. And my laundry got dry hanging in the sun on the clothesline provided right outside my window. All that is needed except maybe that WiFi part, and although the mattress is hard and lumpy, I’ve laid the extra beds’ quilts under the sheet to soften things and will likely sleep in layered clothes yet again because …. it’s blasted cold. On June 27.

Here’s a picture for you in case you thought you wanted to rush off and try albergue living:

There is no curfew at this albergue and everyone has front door keys, so I’m hoping things don’t get noisy later. Someone already tried the door handle for some unknown reason. There’s no sense in trying to turn in early…….it doesn’t get dark until after 10:45 pm. Spain time.

Painted ceiling at the Albergue

I’m looking forward to Santiago tomorrow and am booked into a pension very close to the Cathedral that promises to be very noisy. Which will be just fine because Santiago de Compostela is one of my favorite places on the planet to be.

Praza Obradoiro (“workshop plaza”), in front if the newly sandblasted cathedral, is on Webcam 24/7. There’s also a stork’s nest cam nearby. Just in case you were bored.

Sobrado dos Monxes from Friol……but NOT on the “Camino Verde”.

After shoving the dresser back to it’s rightful place this morning, I went back out to the stairwell to hover about trying to snag some WiFi (pronounced WeeFee in France and Spain) and then stopped in the restaurant (the main business of Casa Benigno) for a cafe con leche. If it seems like I keep mentioning cafe con leches, it’s because they’re a hiker staple in Spain. They get us up and out the door.  Bars in Spain are not exactly bars as we think of them in the States.  They’re restaurants that happen to serve alcohol as well, maybe more what we would think of as a locally owned cafe.   These people who work in the restaurants/bars work at a speed that would kill a racehorse, and often one person is doing everything.   All day and all evening.

The Wikiloc tracks said 26.7 km by the “Camino Verde”, but I didn’t make it past 3 circuitous kilometers.  I’d scouted out the exit the night before to at least get a smooth start the next day.  In the morning, I walked the pretty park by the river to the first turn, found the next arrow and then quickly missed the following faded green arrow about 12′ off path on a low rock.  A navigation trick that Nicole taught me showed that I was off-track, and after backtracking about 0.5 km, I found the obscure marking and headed down the correct path……..but ten minutes later found myself dropped onto a small blacktop road with no indication for which way to go. Per, I was getting farther away from my reference of the LU 934, so I decided that if less than 3 km were this ambiguous, 26.7 km would probably be a real mess. I walked the small blacktop road back to connect with the LU 934 and decided it would be better to stick to that instead of spending the day lost and wasting time.  The road walking wasn’t any better than the prior days with 18″ shoulders, intermittent fast cars, and it became increasingly remote/isolated and mountainous.  And because this isn’t an official part of any Camino yet until the Norte joins farther on, the locals and the dogs seemed unaccustomed to visitors in their midst.

Some tech-loaded people with the Wikiloc files superimposed on an offline map who don’t mind following on their phones as they walk probably would do fine, but I just wanted a well-marked, less-worry walk.

For those here via the tag, one good thing about the LU and AC 934 (the letters in front change because the Province they’re passing through changes from Lugo to A Coruña) is that there are signposts for kilometers starting in Friol. It’s a fairly direct 23 km, so roadwalking saves 3.7 km, which can amount to an hour for a tired person.  You can get an Empresa Freire from Lugo to Arzua and then wait for the evening Monday – Friday bus from there to Sobrado dos Monxes, but then you’d miss the monks’ Vespers.  Get there for Vespers if you can – you are a witness rather than a participant, and to me, even as a rank heathen, it was a unique and powerful experience.  It’s possible that you must be staying overnight to attend.  Or, at least, I saw none of the many day tourists attending.

There was absolutely nothing (unless you count a ton of barking dogs, a few of them loose) excepting a few residences, until O Meson about 5 km from Sobrado (the cafe in O Meson is run by a kind, accommodating woman and her family).  This was on a Tuesday in late June.

At about 8 km the next of the seemingly deliberately intimidating men showed up. He slowed down in the oncoming lane on this deserted road, crossed over the other lane to park at the only place near me on the side of the road where it was possible to stop a car, and quickly got out with a huge/4′ branch pruning tool. As if there were some branch that just had to be pruned immediately on this featureless, remote stretch of road with no other humans for several km in either direction. I nodded and said a firm “hola”, to which he just stared. I’m getting tired of these guys who…..if you read the forums ……seem to be very deliberately trying to “teach a lesson” to those women who do this alone. And some of them have been bizarre, such as the man who cruised alongside a woman slowly, glaring at her, so she would notice that he had plastic-wrapped the seating and the dash of his vehicle. That’ll teach us.  They can’t be charged for glaring and menacing, and you will not know whether there is going to be violence or not. And once again, none of this behavior is directed at males or those walking in groups, so those people will continue to insist that none of this is happening. Must make these men feel big.

Then suddenly, at around 11.5 km from Friol, there was the first Camino sign, so that’s probably where the Norte joins. It made me very happy, as if from then on I was back to Camino civilization. At one point when the most recent in a number of fast-moving concrete mixers passed far too close, I looked back to see a string of dispersed walkers behind.  I could have hugged them all. Most were English-speakers with a guided tour, and they were fun to talk with. All the women had thought about going alone, and they had questions about what it was like to do it alone and female, but all had decided it was better to go with their husbands and a group. I tried to reinforce the wisdom of their decision, and was grateful that they turned up.  Connection really helps and a little will go a long way toward feeling better.


It wasn’t a walking day I’d want to repeat, but the goal was to get to Sobrado dos Monxes. Mission accomplished.

The monastery lodging doesn’t accept people until 16:30, so along with a few others we lined up our backpacks at the designated entrance for the Albergue traditionally indicating the order in which you are taken in to register. I’d sent an email from one of the restaurants in Sobrado where I stopped to eat in hopes of getting a private habitacion in the hospederia, but had not yet received a response.


So, at the designated time I went back to get registered to find the hall filled with other pilgrims, mostly kids, standing in line……. and the age-old backpack place-saver tradition ignored. A man at the front of the line evidently knew about the practice and invited me to go ahead of them at the designated door, but then a rather obnoxious man came out and started commandeering those waiting through a totally different door and locking the door behind (?) us.   I didn’t know whether I would have a room in the hospedería yet, and the guy couldn’t be bothered with details because he was busy cattle-herding. Once again, I was literally the last in line after being one of the first to arrive and having followed the standard Albergue practice.  Tired and getting frustrated, and as the albergue would be full of kids by the looks of it, I decided that if I had to, I’d go to the badly rated hotel in town. When what was indicated as the Hospederia door opened, they were only taking tourist entrance fees for visiting the monastery rather than processing those staying overnight. Once again I was asked to move to the side. I waited and waited until a large number of day-visitors and tour groups were processed to go in and see the monastery, and then the monk staffing the desk called the monk who evidently takes care of the hospederia rooms. Eventually, not getting overtly frustrated and being persistent paid off again, and for 35 Euro the very kind monk walked me to the very private, separated hospedería, gave my instructions in French (French to the rescue again), and I have a simple, comfortable room in this renovated, very private area.   I had an unexpected teary-eyed moment at his kindness and to have some peace and comfort on this long and grueling road.

Those staying here have free run of the cavernous compound all night. At first, it looked much like many other monastery and cathedral compounds I’ve seen, although the face of this one is wildly baroque and unique (see image).  Eventually I stumbled unexpectedly into a side-door (the main entrance is no longer used) for the massive church part after passing through the cloisters and some other chapels. It was overwhelming for its sheer size – cavernous and empty and freezing cold, like a vast and secret place in a dream.  There were side rooms with gisantes and a back room with some newer murals that a young man from Valencia wanted to show me (I would have missed them had he not). It has to be seen rather than  told about, and to call the place atmospheric would be an understatement. I am glad to have put the extra effort into being here, and would not have wanted to miss this. I’ll not soon forget it.

There was the latest comedy of inter-cultural misunderstanding. When I arrived around 3pm, a guy around age 35 was at the entrance to the monastery compound in baggy shorts, baggy T-shirt, barefooted and limping badly on the cobblestones. I got out my foot care bag and offered to help with his feet basically by holding out the plastic bag as if offering. He said (what was that accent?) “after duche” – as if he wanted to shower first, which made sense.  It’s the order of things on Camino, and why cleanse and treat and dress a foot before a shower? About an hour later, as I sat in the ticket office waiting to see if the monastery would let me have a hospederia room, he inexplicably came into the room and stood in front of me looking at me as if he’d showered and was ready for some foot care. I told him I was “trying to get a room”, to which he seemed to take offense and walked off. Concerned that I’d seemed dismissive, I went looking for him after I got showered and took my foot care ziplock bag. No one seemed to know who he was. The very funny British abbot and I had a good laugh about looking for a younger man with foot problems because, obviously, there was a whole Albergue full of males fitting that description. Later I saw the limping guy in front of the entrance and offered the contents of my bag, but he just looked annoyed and said something about doing it in the morning and that he had many things for his feet. There was something extremely serious and intense about him.  Ok.  So maybe the problem was that I just wanted too much to help and had misunderstood.

The next morning, he was starting his hiking day as I was waiting for the bus and I realized that although the night before he looked like a limping, baggy-shorts novice, today he looked like a hard-core trekker with bandana skull cap, really tattered backpack, worn cargo shorts and beaten-up hiking shoes. I’d missed the super-hiker calves the night before, although I’m not sure how because they were impressive. This was a guy who could probably have amputated his own foot and not winced. He was probably the last guy on any Camino to want some old nurse fussing over his feet.


Like I said. Committing international faux pas – its kind of a chronic issue.

Vespers was at 7 pm – the monks’ evening ritual of responsive singing and reading with each other (we were as witnesses).  There were what could be described as powerful periods of silence and darkness. The periods of absolute stillness gave a sense of being at once completely alone but completely whole, and at the same time also a sense of being at one with every other totally still, upright human present. It was an honor to be there as their guest.