This 3rd Camino will begin in Irun, Spain on the northern coast. The length will be 825km (516 miles) along the northern coastline of Spain. It’s reputed to have lovely coast views, and we do expect ups and downs as we will get to sandy beaches and seaside towns/villages.
Wednesday Oct 26. Villapedre to La Caridad. 5 hours, 19.6km.
We left El Pinar at 8.21am (sunrise was 8.54am), a nice facility that had a kitchen area with a microwave, coffee & beverage vending machines. We were able to heat up some meat pastries as our breakfast.
The street lamps were still on as we left El Pinar, walked about 100m of the main town center before exiting onto country roads. There is enough light reflected from the sky that it was not pitch dark on the country roads. The odds of pre-sunrise walks when we return to our usual routine might be very low. I should ask myself, “Why?”, if it’s so enjoyable and allows one to break the daily routine and taste a different slice of life.
Camino routes are designed to lead one past various churches/iglesias, ermitas/capillas, etc. Today was no exception. When they are open, we will stop in. The vast majority are centuries old, though we came across a fairly modern parish in La Caridad.
On the Camino, one has to be open to ‘signs’. That’s either a primary or secondary reason that people walk the Camino, and not some outdoor trail with great scenic views. The simplicity of the villages and towns that one passes through, the natural beauty around and adjusting one’s walking pace and internal rhythms, does open up one’s receptivity.
I had various signs during the earlier stages, and I will share one that seemed to ‘shout out’ at me today. As you read, my post yesterday was themed, “Listening to Others’, and ended with a penultimate sentence about the ‘wise one’.
Lo and behold, during today’s walk, I sighted on THREE occasions, statues of ‘Owls’. I did some Internet research on why owls supposedly represent wisdom.
The owl was a symbol for Athena, goddess of wisdom and strategy, before the Greeks gave their pantheon human forms. According to myth, an owl sat on Athena’s blind side, so that she could see the whole truth. In Ancient Greece, the owl was a symbol of a higher wisdom, and it was also a guardian of the Acropolis.
Our walk today took us past many farms, open countryside and parallel residential pathways next to a major road, N-634.
During our lunch, prior to checking in, Joon double checked and realized the 38.8 km of the last stage would be too large to handle comfortably. So, we decided to change our stay the night before this last stage and walk more the second last stage. On checking in, I explored three possible options. The first two options did not work out and I was on the last option. Lo and behold, there was ONE room left on Booking.com! Net, we were short to split the 61km of the last two stages from 22km/39km to 33km/28km. We would arrive in Santiago earlier in the afternoon on our final leg. A much better proposition.
It’s difficult, no, it’s impossible to explain the how’s of the Camino. It just is.
Thursday Oct 27. La Caridad to Ribadeo. 6hrs 20mins, 24.1km.
One may think that lodgings are merely a footnote to Caminos. That one merely needs a bed to rest one’s head. But just as one admires the local culture of the villages and towns that one passes through, one should also appreciate some of the unique lodgings that one comes across. Hotel Casa Xusto in La Caridad is one of those lodgings that has a unique character and ambience. Even the entrance door to the hotel could have been mistaken for one of those old castle doors, it was solid heavy wood and many inches thick. The furnishings were old world, and there was ample sitting areas, both upstairs and downstairs. The decor attracted one’s attention and curiosity.
We had an early start this morning, departing Hotel Rural Xusto at 8.10am. Sunrise was 8.56am. We decided to have our breakfast provisions that were bought the previous day in the enclosed area outside the hotel lobby. The owner-proprietor had furnished it with a sofa/coffee table and coffee vending machine. We had checked out already, handed in the key, and the door into the hotel lobby was secured. After the vending machine had dispensed the two cups, and as we were eating our breakfast, the hotel door open and the owner-proprietor came out with a plate with some cookies, to our surprise and delight! He had probably heard/observed that we had operated the vending machine. He didn’t realize we had breakfast provisions. Nevertheless, what he did was beyond professional courtesy. We were the (grateful) recipients of a generous and compassionate heart. This was not totally out of character, because the previous day on checking in, he offered me a can of beer and a plate of jamon. And he carried one of our bags to the first level for us. Even though we couldn’t communicate in a common language, his language of the heart was very discernible.
As we walked out, it was still dark. Using the App, we walked out onto the main road that was running through La Caridad. I didn’t pay attention until we were about 30m when I realized we had over-shot a turn off. We backtracked, and quickly came onto a path through the forest. No more street lamps. Fortunately, our blinking personal beacons could be used as mini-flashlights. It was powerful enough to light the immediate area in front of our footsteps but not much else! And so, we walked about 700-800m, for about 12 mins in the forest, before we came out onto a road. After many days on the Camino, any anxiety over the unknown becomes one of anticipated curiosity. What is this experience? How does it change me?
Today’s walk was generally flat with minor climbs of 150 feet and less. It passed the countryside and many farms that raised cattle. There were farm land that had been harvested and were furrowed. There was minimal traffic on any country roads that were walked on. Near a beach area, we were on boardwalk. In short, a very relaxing walk in great overcast weather (that we were able to even see a rainbow in the distance).
There were occasions when we came upon the coastline. This would be the last coastline stage as after Ribadeo, the Camino route swings inland. At one such site, we could see several camper vans. One such family of surfers had a little child with them. A different lifestyle indeed.
We finally came to the bridge that will take us into Ribadeo. This bridge separates Asturias from Galicia. Our hotel manager gave us some examples of the difference in pronunciation for the same word.
I pondered on this term, “language of the heart”. Kindness is one of its dialects. So is compassion. But as I walked today, I focused on the language of the heart with God. How could I learn and express that? And that was the beauty of today for me.
As one delves into this language of the heart, one gets a heightened awareness to hold back words of the tongue when such words will cause an emotional disturbance, out of love for the Other.
Saturday Oct 29. Lourenza to Abadin. 30 mins, 24.3km.
There’s a well known saying amongst Camino pilgrims, which is “The Camino provides.” Almost every pilgrim will either have a personal experience, or heard from another pilgrim or read about an experience wherein based on a personal need or situation, something unexpectedly turned up and ‘provided’ for said person. Camino forums have many such stories and sharing.
But I am beginning to perceive a different way that the Camino can influence our pilgrimage and walk. I use the verb ‘conspire’ in place of ‘provide’. What do I mean by that?
Firstly, I definitely do not mean to imply any negative or adverse outcomes that typically are implied by this verb, ‘conspire’. Secondly, I do mean that unplanned circumstances/events arise to influence a particular course of action. Thirdly, I do mean that the course of action would not normally have resulted because there was no triggering need/circumstance.
What happened? Well, we had planned to take a bus to an intermediate stage Mondonedo, and then walked the rest of the way to the end stage, Abadin. This was knowing there was a forecast of rain in the 40-60% range from 8am-12pm in the region. We figured we could cope with the rain from Mondonedo to Abadin.
As we waited at the bus stop, another two pilgrims turned up. One was a Spanish (Pedro), the other a Japanese Canadian (Hiro). Pedro was taking the bus to Abadín. He planned to wait out the rain in Abadin before walking further. Pedro was quite adamant that attempting to walk the mountain trails before Abadin was not a wise move. Pedro was in his late 20’s.
There was no arm twisting by anyone but we were persuaded by Pedro’s travel plan. At the end of the bus journey, while having coffee with a Pedro at a cafe in Abadín, we learnt that Pedro was about to start his new job at the Spanish Meteorology Department after his Camino. He had an App that was showing how the rain clouds were being blown across the region! At this point, one could say that the “Camino Provides” as in arranging for Pedro to come to our bus stop and influencing our travel plans.
Where is the “conspire”? It has to do with ‘what is next?’ We now have a consecutive free day. And we only have FIVE days left before arriving in Santiago de Compostela!
Clearly we will spent the time in meditation and contemplation. But a tiny spark in my mind suggested that I should complete reading the spiritual book that I had partially read yesterday. And so I did. And I am now convinced that the Camino conspired to ensure that I read this book and reflected upon it, as part of this Camino experience.
Postscript – it’s a book that I have read multiple times, and I had brought this copy to gift to my sister who I will be meeting in Rome after the Camino! It was as impactful as previously but definitely much needed and at a different point in my spiritual journey.
Sunday Oct 30. Abadin to Vilalba. 4 hrs 50 mins, 20.7km.
After two days of rain, it was a dry cold day. After a good breakfast at Casa Goas, we started out at 8.35am (the clock was adjusted back one hour at 3am). The temperature was 48F. This was the fall temperature that we had been expecting and it finally arrived. We opted for light pullovers as we figured that we will eventually warm up through the walking. That was indeed the case, though we may need our down jackets if it gets windy.
We quickly progressed to a quiet country road within a couple of minutes. And then into the countryside, via forested paths adjacent to farms and open meadows.
The cool air, damp dirt paths, low hanging clouds and rays of sunshine created a tapestry of colors.
Today’s countryside walk in cool weather was greatly enhanced by the fact that we were 99.999% of the time by ourselves. The few people we came across were working the land, three walking pilgrims, four cycling pilgrims, a lady walking her dog, one crafts seller. As the tag line goes, this was ‘priceless’. To be able to soak all these in, with one’s loved one by the side.
Joon found out that about 1,000 pilgrims had arrived at Santiago on the 29th. I am expecting that as we get closer to Santiago, as more routes converge, we will start coming across more pilgrims as we walk.
We arrived in Vilalba at about 1.30pm. We found there was a pulperia opened. Yummy!
We discussed our experiences to date, and there was commonality on the core themes. But this story still has four days to be written.
Monday Oct 31. Vilalba to Miraz. 9 hours 20 mins, 35.8km (30 mins lunch stop).
The weather forecast was for rain in the morning till 12pm. The forecast was spot on, though the rain came and went multiple times.
The rain was mainly a light drizzle, not a downpour. We found that umbrellas are more effective than raincoats as they keep our backpacks out of the rain too. Unless it’s too windy.
It’s an experience to walk 3.5-4.0 hours through intermittent rain and drizzle. Fortunately there weren’t many muddy stretches nor significant puddles. Soaked shoes, socks and feet can force one’s attention ‘downward’, which may counter the uplifting of spirit that the Camino brings about.
The route took us through the countryside and small villages. A small village could be a cluster of 6-8 homes with the road passing right through the middle. There were forested paths, open countryside paths and country roads. Traffic on latter was non existent in the early and middle stages.
At about the half way mark of 18km, we reached Baamonde at about 1pm. We saw and greeted a pilgrim who was sitting on a step and applying some tape on his leg; he was likely experiencing shin splints. Joon had twinges off this too, but it was tolerable for her. We took the opportunity for a pizza lunch stop and bought some provisions as the next day was a public holiday (which Hiro had informed us several days ago).
As we started the second leg at 1.30pm after lunch, we knew we had another 18km to go. Based on terrain (i.e. ascents/descents similar to the morning’s, I mentally estimated we would reach our destination between 5.30pm – 6.00 pm). Bearing in mind we had already expended energy in the morning.
On the Camino, this stage was the longest in terms of distance. That is not necessarily the hardest as the terrain was not so mountainous as other stages. But the distance still makes it a challenge especially when one has issues like shin splints or corns on one’s foot.
This is really when one needs to draw upon one’s inner reservoir. As Joon aptly put it, we can only draw out what we had previously stored in it.
There’s a mental, physical and emotional drawing that one has to pull out during the Camino. Unlike a fuel gauge that can tell how far more the car can travel based on the remaining fuel, our inner reservoir has no such gauge. And we generally always surprise ourselves! Clearly, there’s a spiritual drawing upon for some of us too.
In Life, there are many elements competing to be stored in one’s ‘external’ reservoir. Money has become too common the major make up of many reservoirs. Perhaps in subscribing to the philosophy that ‘Money solves many problems’, we may become susceptible to the cousin-philosophy that ‘Everyone has a Price.’ Goodwill with fellowmen is a very neglected reservoir element.
We reached our accommodation at 5.38pm. The lodging proprietor was expecting us. We gratefully checked in, had a good wholesome dinner (found in such rural settings), and slept for 9 plus hours.
Postscript – I need to consciously reflect what and how I am filling up my reservoir.
Tuesday November 1. Miraz to Sobrado dos Monxes. 6 hours 33 mins. 25.5km.
A typical Galician breakfast consists of espresso and tostada (toasted bread) with olive oil and (fresh) tomato paste. We had latter fresh before but on this occasion, our lodging provided this in single serving Jan containers.
Today’s walk was shorter than yesterday, and in better weather. But what was more important for us was whether we had recovered sufficiently from yesterday’s effort. We passed that test. Co-incidentally, the sum total of yesterday’s and today’s mileage is the same as the last two stages, namely 61km! This increases our confidence about our walking ability for the last two stages.
While this stage takes us to the highest point in the Del Norte at about 2,300 feet, we were already starting at about 1,600 feet!
The first 4km were reported in the guidebook as ‘some of the last scenic off-pavement walking on the Norte.’ Yes, it was. And we took a leisurely pace at that.
The purported tallest height of the Norte was given to us in mostly gentle gradients along pathways. There were some steep inclines along forested paths but this was really insignificant relative to everything we had experienced in earlier stages. Thus, today’s walk was relaxing.
The relaxing walk today allowed for some pondering. Refinement is a process of removing impurities or unwanted elements from a substance. My thoughts gravitated not to the impurities, but the pure essence that results from this process.
There is a term used for benchmarking, namely the ‘gold standard.’ IMO, the experiences walking the Camino helps refine us and our ‘standards.’ What gets refined is unique for each of us.
I toyed in my mind various gold standards that I possess and (intuitively, sub-consciously) apply in my life. For example, what is my gold standard for compassion? For humbleness? For generosity? For forgiveness?
It’s not only the absolute measure in a standard that’s important. But its integrity too. For example, when we profess certain humanitarian values or compassion standard but balk at homeless shelters in our neighborhood, we lack integrity.
Christians have a universal gold standard. It is Christ’s life, teachings and commands.
Lastly, the Camino experience can sometimes continue during one’s sleep. Two days ago, part of my contemplation and prayer during my walk was on that self-purifying [refinement]. That night I had a dream that was specific to that afternoon’s self purification prayer! It was as though the dream was either affirming the correctness of what needed to be purified or was part of the purification process! I am hoping it’s the latter! Furthermore, I dreamt of my wife’s deceased parents. I have never dreamt of either of them before, let alone the two of them together in the same dream. I will find out when we next meet the meaning of this dream!
We ended our evening by attending Vespers at the monastery. A lovely way to end a relaxing and contemplative day.
Wednesday November 2. Sobrado des Monxes to Salceda. 9.5hrs 33.3km (included 1hr lunch).
The sign says it all. Temperatures were below 50F when we left our hotel just before 8am. Even though we are tired out from each day’s walk, somehow we seem to have no problems waking up early!
Walking out of Sobrado was along the main road before transitioning to quiet countryside roads and forested trails. An early incline gets the heart pumping and increases our core temperatures. All is good.
We walked a bit with two other pilgrims we met earlier, Pedro (Lourenza bus stop) and Claire (Albergue O’Abrigo at Miraz). It’s great to chat a bit before we parted ways.
Claire raised a hot topic about the adjustment to daily Life after the Camino. The common thread seems to be the inability to retain the Camino serenity, calm and peace. Which may be why many return for multiple Caminos! This is not our case but that’s a different story.
It’s easier to discern the factors when one compares one’s routine on the Camino and back to daily Life. I posit that one of the biggest factor is that on the Camino, we do not pay much attention to the news, gossip, television, etc. To put it another way, what’s going inside us is what is around us on the Camino. As computer programmers say, ‘garbage in, garbage out.’
A second factor is likely our appreciation and gratitude for everything that we come across on the Camino. In daily Life, entitled attitudes likely robs us of that our enjoyment and gratitude for what is.
Lastly, going through a Camino that is very dependent on the externalities and the surroundings, is likely the most ephemeral of experience. Unless there is an internalization of the experience, one cannot carry it wherever one goes.
We decided to have lunch in Arzúa because it’s a bigger town. And we found a very nice restaurant where the service was impeccable and the food delicious. We wanted some local cuisine and we found it at Casa Nese.
We have had good fortune, in the dry weather, with good company for a bit, and long stretches when we were the only pilgrims! Tomorrow, we walk into Santiago de Compostela!
Thursday November 3. Salceda to Santiago de Compostela. 7hrs 40mins, 29km.
There were hand made signs along the way suggesting that one should relish the remaining miles. It’s like letting a tasty morsel linger in one’s mouth and on the taste buds!
Our adrenalin kicked in, I woke up at 4am, Joon woke up at 5am. We tried our best to go back to sleep. Eventually, we got out of bed about 6.30am, prepared, packed, had our breakfast and walked out at 7.50am. We were not the earliest because when I looked out our bathroom window at 6.47am to check whether the rain forecast was accurate, I saw a Camino pilgrim already walking on the road, heading away from our hotel! The forecast was correct, with intermittent drizzle till 9am.
After A Lsvacolla, as we were climbing a fairly steep incline, we noticed a home owner had built something into the side bank of his property. We slowed down and paused to take a look given there were bars and a lock.
Because we had started the walk from Salceda, which is 11.3km nearer to Santiago than Arzúa (latter is the recommended stop in most guidebooks), we didn’t experienced the crowd of pilgrims that we had expected. This made for a more quieter and contemplative walk!
I took this time to walk ahead of Joon and “rest” and “ponder”. It takes effort to coral the mind from wandering, the so-called ‘monkey mind.’ And the Camino built upon my earlier insights to peel back another layer for purification and cleansing. Here are my code words for my own recollection – The Foolishness of Expectations, Precision, of Being Right; and Recognizing the Inner Child, Preferring Heavenly Rewards.
One of the areas to pause, which is very difficult for most pilgrims, is Monte de Gozo. This is because this is within 5km of the Santiago Cathedral, which draws all pilgrims.
Monte de Gozo, a.k.a. Hill of Joy, provides one a first view of Santiago and the spires of the Cathedral. There used to be a monument that was torn down. But there are still significant in ground and structures that makes it worthwhile to ‘pause’ here.
Reaching the Praza do Obradoiro, which is the square in front of the Cathedral is a poignant moment. Pilgrims are spread out throughout, many sitting, some lying down. All reflecting on their journey, struggles and joys.
We arrived during the siesta hour, which turned out to be a grace for us. The majority of the shops were closed and thus, we were not exposed to all the consumerism and shoppers. It was like night and day compared to our previous Camino arrivals.
At the Pilgrim’s Chapel, there was a running slide show with contemplative music. Here are some of the “Beatitude of the Pilgrim” that I found particularly meaningful (there were 8).
Blessed are you Pilgrim, if you discover that the ‘Camino’ opens your eyes to what is not seen.
Blessed are you Pilgrim, when you don’t have the words to give thanks for everything that surprises you at every twist and turn off the way.
Blessed are you Pilgrim, if on the way you meet yourself and gift yourself with time, without rushing, so as not to disregard the image in your heart.
Blessed are you Pilgrim, when you contemplate the Camino and you discover it is full of names, [stories] and dawns. [my addition]
Here are several stories. We met Eun Kyung, a Korean lady on the trail on this last day. She was walking slowly as she had a bad knee. She’s on a several months vacation in Europe as well as plans to travel to New York. She had absolutely no plans to do the Camino when she left Korea. But in her travels, she kept bumping into pilgrims who had completed the Camino and encouraged to do it, despair her apprehension. She accepted the promptings, and she’s relishing the experience.
We met Benoit, a Belgian at dinner. He did not have a reservation and was advised by Shanta (cook, waitress, owner all-in-one) to return in 15 mins or so, when space would open up. We invited him to join our table as there was ‘one’ extra chair (in a table for four!).
Benoit had wanted to do the Camino in March 2020 due to stress (work, Life, etc.) He was in the verge of just resigning but Covid struck. So, he continued working. And when travel restrictions lifted sand vaccines became widely available, he was granted a three month no-pay leave (as his Company correctly deduced that he would resign otherwise. Engineers like him are hard to find!)
Benoit was able to slowly and contemplatively work through his ‘stuff’ through the long walks. As he himself said, if he wasn’t on the Camino, these concerns would surface at random times during his normal day and he wouldn’t be able to work through them, and they would fester.
We also met an Austrian on the trail. He shared that his Camino started 15 years ago for a small stretch. He started resuming the stages left uncompleted, especially after a recent heart condition was rectified.
Finally, this story is about Shanta, the owner-cook of the Green House restaurant in Santiago. Her mother is Malaysian, and she herself was born in Wales. She now lives in Santiago, and was hankering for Asian food. She decided to set up a restaurant, and hearing from pilgrims hope difficult it was to find vegan food, she set up Green House. By the way, she does eat meat! What a noble aim – filling a need for Others!
On the Camino, New Stories are being written every step, every moment, every day. We are the Authors, both perceptible and what lies deep within and unseen. Learning to listen within creates that New Story, as creation is on-going. Blessings abound, we just have to open our hands and hearts to receive. God Bless you.