(Three) short days in the Emerald City…


Santiago is a blend of very old and very new. My first stop was to be a tour of the Cathedral. I had intended to sign up for a tour of the interior and one of the towers. Turns out I had (apparently) just signed up for the tower tour. Which involved stairs. Many stairs. And, when we got to the top, we were expected to step out onto THIS:

Yes. Literally the roof. And while most people seemed not to have trouble navigating it, I was more than a little disconcerted.

I don’t mind heights, but the “slantiness” was quite vertigo-inducing. I did manage to get over to the next point and get some pictures. The guide seemed very knowledgeable but she only spoke in Spanish. There was an app that you could download that had the info in English, but I couldn’t read my phone and navigate the roof simultaneously.

When the guide started to lead us around to the other side, I told her I would wait back at the stairs. I literally crawled across to the door and then sat on the (flat) step. When the group came back around, I was informed by some man that “I was wearing the wrong shoes” (I had my Tevas on) and that was my problem. I disagreed, but he insisted. “Thank you, O Man, for Mansplaining to me,” I thought to myself. 🙄

We then climbed higher in the tower, where the surface was, thankfully, flat. Amazing views.

And close-ups of the bells!

And the very top of the tower.

This is a huge rachet. Apparently during Lent, they turn this instead of ringing the bells.

When I climbed back down, I saw this little “train” in the square. It was a tour-train that would take you on a circle tour of the city (with narration) for only €6. I hopped on.

Many sights and sounds of the city

The historic Burger King 😂

On Saturday, I took an all-day bus tour out to Finisterre and Muxia. Many Pilgrims continue their walk out to one of these places. Our guide was amazing, speaking in both Spanish and English and describing points of interest and history along the way.

Bridge from the 1400s
Fishing village of Muros
Fervenza do Ézaro

Finisterre – literally the “End of the Earth”

And Muxia. Much more wild and remote feeling than Finisterre and the site of the last scene from the movie “The Way.”

I never did get the tour of the inside of the Cathedral, but I managed a couple of pictures after the Mass on Thursday. I’ll just have to return!

Today, I slept in (a rare occurrence on this trip!). I took a bunch of things to be shipped ahead to my hotel in Madrid. I had lunch at a very upscale (and delicious) restaurant. And…I got my souvenir!

My Camino Shell. The guy was only doing black ink; I plan to add some color when I get back.

Tomorrow I am off to spend a couple of days in Barcelona. Enough cows and farms…I need some city vibes! I’m taking the train across Spain.

The end…and a beginning


Today, at approximately 11:30am, I reached Santiago and stood in front of the Cathedral.

It was quite crowded on the road; everyone near the end of their journey. Some had walked from St. Jean (or further!) and some had started 100 kms away in Sarria. Some were practically running. Others were visibly limping. Some walked with dogged determination. Some walked slowly, as if they didn’t want it to end.

As I came around the corner towards the front of the Cathedral, I saw a woman in tears and stumbling, as she walked with her husbands arm around her. Every emotion seemed to be expressed.

There was a Pilgrim’s Mass at noon. I went and sat on the steps in the back; every seat was taken. The cathedral is beautiful (I’ve got a full tour booked tomorrow and will post more pictures.)

I was starving, so got a plate of paella and a beer. Then I went to the Pilgrim’s Office to get my certificate. It’s all in Latin. They look closely over your stamps, especially the last ones, to be sure you’ve walked at least 100 kilometers! By my best reckoning, I walked about 350.

Then, after a few wrong turns, I found my albergue. It’s called “Seminario Menor” and is in this very cool old Monastery. It’s also up on a hill. But I have a little private room (that likely used to be some monk’s cell.). Plain, but comfortable.

My heart is full. I expect I’ll be turning over my thoughts for some time. And writing some of them here! But for now, I’m feeling very grateful and very blessed.

One more sleep…


…till Santiago. A pleasant walk today with a few climbs.

I had brought a rock with me on the Way. This is symbolic of your burdens and traditionally, pilgrims lay their rock at the base of the Cruz de Ferro – the iron cross in the Leon Mountains and the highest point on the Camino Frances.

However, I had skipped that part of the path …and so I laid my rock at the base of an older marker for entering Santiago. This was a special rock – a piece of squared-off quartz given to me by a first grader at my last school.

My last stop before Santiago is here in the town of Lavacolla. The name Lavacolla has one of the most debated origins of all the Camino towns. The most mundane theory is that it means “field at the bottom of the hill.” But some say it actually means “scrub your scrotum.” 😁

However, it is widely accepted that pilgrims stopped to bathe and wash their clothes in the stream here before finally entering the city.

For myself, I did not wash at the stream, but in the more modern shower in my pensión! Tomorrow, if all goes well, I will walk into Santiago at last!

“If you want to hear Divine laughter…


…try telling God YOUR plans.”

So goes the old saying. My Camino experience has been nothing like what I anticipated. Actually, I don’t even know what I was expecting. I had a plan, and then another plan, and then no plan…and now I’m just getting up every day and walking 10 – 12 kilometers.

Stopping when I need to stop, eating when I need to eat, letting others pass me on the Way. Drinking in the sights and sounds and smells and hoping my feet hold out for a couple more days.

Coming out of Boente this morning I came to a little church. The caretaker told me that this little church once had the distinction of being the “end” of the Camino. During the time of the Spanish flu, Santiago was closed. This church was believed to have been visited by Saint James, and so for a couple of years, Pilgrims considered it to be the end of their journey.

In addition to the cafes and bars in the little villages, there are sometimes little stands with fruit, water, coffee and other items to help the weary pilgrim. This was one I came upon yesterday. He had cut-up fruit platters, some kind of cheese slices spread with quince and…hard-boiled eggs! And get a load of the bright pink car!

There was also a church which had coffee and cake…and a priest who rang a bell and shouted “Buen Camino!” to passing pilgrims.

I have two more days before I reach Santiago. I have walked about half the kilometers originally planned…but each step has been hard-won and authentic. Walk your own walk, they say. And that is what I intend to do.

Teach your children well…


Today I walked in the mist. It was pleasantly cool and mostly flat, on dirt paths through wooded areas.

As I walked, I was thinking about my father. Donald William Chilton was born on April 3, 1923 in Brooklyn, NY. His mother, Abigail, became a widow when he was only 3 weeks old. She raised him and his older brother Robert alone.

My Dad and his older brother, ca 1925

My father was a brilliant man, who found almost everything interesting. It was from him that I learned that the unknown was not to be feared, but explored. Different cultures, beliefs, lifestyles and ideas were what made life fascinating. And if you didn’t understand something, well…learn more about it.

Naval Aviator.

He loved languages and finding out the etymology of various words. (We buried him with a well-worn dictionary.) He also loved poetry…and making up ribald verses, as evidenced by this “Christmas card” he sent to his brother.

Most of all, he loved us. He was 30 when he married my mother (who was almost 8 years younger) and she was his first and only girl. He never quite got over his good fortune.

And I think he felt constantly blessed to be a father.

At the fireworks. I love his expression as he looks at us.
Easter Sunday, ca 1961
“Family Camp” in Holmes, NY

As we grew into adulthood, he would sometimes get teary-eyed when he was with us. “Oh, Julie,” he’d say. “I remember when you were born.” And he’d get a bit choked up. My 16-year-old self didn’t quite get the emotion. I mean, of course he remembered when I was born – duh. (My much older self understands perfectly…)

When his first grandchild was born (Adam, my oldest) my father was over the moon with joy. Once, watching toddler Adam dance around the room while I played guitar, my father proclaimed that he could die right then and there and be happy.

My father would have enjoyed hearing about my adventures on the Camino. And he would have understood the “Camino magic.” Once, when I was driving a not-quite-reliable car from Long Island back to Massachusetts, he told me not to worry. “The car will make it,” he promised. “And if you have trouble, or something goes wrong, just wait. There is always someone who will help you.”

“There is always someone who will help you.” A lesson worth knowing. Then, now and always.

Next time…


Yes. I’ve caught myself thinking this on more than a few occasions over the past couple of weeks. Which means…I guess at some point I’m coming back, either to do this Camino or one of the other routes.

So. “Next time” I will…

Bring a better travel backpack. I wasn’t aware of how often I’d be using the pack transport service for my big pack! It has truly been a life-saver.

Take people’s advice and get shoes 1/2 size bigger than usual. I’ve been wearing this size and brand forever (New Balance 410s size 7.5) and I just thought they’d be fine. And I’m managing. But my toes are not happy.

Be much more realistic about daily mileage. My pace is very slow (1.5 – 2 mph) and I stop a lot, especially going uphill. So that needs to be factored into a plan.

Bring my Kindle. Because I do shorter days, it’d be nice to have something to read in the late afternoon. And books in English are in short supply here!

Today was the first day I was in shorts and t-shirt. Sunny and breezy. I cannot imagine doing this in the summer!

I saw many more hórreos.

And more “shrines” where Pilgrims had left mementos, intentions and prayers.

There was a beautiful old church near San Xulian. It was open and the caretaker inside would stamp your credential.

I am staying in the little town of Coto tonight and treated myself to a private room. With a soaking tub. In which I soaked. Also my room has a couch. 😁

The restaurant just down the street was serving that Galician soup, which is my new favorite thing to eat. I’ll have to learn how to make it. That and the garlic soup with egg.

Tomorrow I head to Boente.

If all goes well, I’ll be in Santiago on Thursday!

Signs, signs, everywhere signs.


Aside from the scallop shell, the yellow arrow is the most recognizable symbol of the Camino. Unlike the shell, which is centuries old, the yellow arrows are a fairly recent addition. And it is all because of one man, who believed that the Jacobean Path was in danger of being lost. So he decided to do something about it.

Don Elías Valiña (1929-1989) was the parish priest in O Cebreiro in Lugo and studied the history of the St James Way pilgrimage to Santiago in-depth, writing many documents, articles, and even a thesis on the Camino de Santiago.

After years studying the St James Way, he was convinced of the importance of this ancient trail and set himself the challenge of reviving the route we call the Camino Frances. In 1984, he started his mission to rescue, clean, and mark the trails along Camino, starting in Roncesvalles, in the Pyrenees.

He also started painting the iconic yellow arrows to indicate the right way at the various tricky crossroads along the trail.

Legend has it that Don Elías drove across the whole north of Spain on his Citroën GS packed with yellow paint, painting arrows leading to Santiago. To carry out this task, Elías approached a public works company in Pedrafita do Cebreiro to ask them for the leftover paint that was used to mark the roads. And what color was this paint? Yellow! This is the birth of the famous symbol, a simple, unpretentious brand whose sponsor was solidarity and love for the Camino de Santiago.

While marking the Camino in Roncesvalles the priest was surprised by the Guardia Civil, who stopped him thinking that he was marking a path for terrorists. They asked him, “What are you making these arrows for? And he answered, “I’m preparing an invasion!

And his words came true. Today the simple yellow arrows have guided thousands of pilgrims to Santiago de Compostela and the Jacobean Route has established itself as one of the most important pilgrimages in the world.

As I’ve been walking, I’m always relieved and grateful to see a yellow arrow, showing me where to go. Thank you, Don Elias!

Take it easy…


I am really enjoying my slower, lower-mileage days. I find that 4 – 5 hours of walking is plenty, and even though I suppose that I could take a long lunch break at 1:00pm or so and then walk on for a few more hours, I find it more pleasant (and easier on my feet!) not to! I’m in no rush.

I left my lovely albergue at about 8:30am and moseyed the couple of miles on into Portomarin. It was a steep downhill until suddenly it wasn’t.

Portomarin holds the distinction of being the newest oldest town on the Camino. The town was constructed and built next to a Roman bridge over the Minho River and rebuilt in the Middle Ages.

In the 1960s the Miño River was dammed to create the Belesar reservoir, putting the old village of Portomarín under water. The most historic buildings of the town were moved brick by brick and reconstructed in the new town, including its castle-style main church.

I was a bit concerned about the way after Portomarin, as the whole thing looked to be uphill. It was, but it wasn’t steep and there were places where it flattened out for a bit. And it was mostly through a lovely forest. I thought these apple trees were especially lovely.

I had some lunch in Gonzar at an actual restaurant serving real food. Yes, even at the unheard of time of noon! I had a bowl of what they called “Galician broth” which turned out to be a soup with potatoes, kale and white beans and was absolutely delicious.

Less than a mile later, I arrived at my little pensión. A tiny, immaculately clean private room with real sheets and a purple duvet. Bar down the road with beer and serving a tolerable dinner. And a couple of paperbacks in English. (If I ever do this again, I’m bringing my Kindle!)

Tomorrow the temperatures are supposed to be in the 70s and I’ll be heading to Palas de Rey…about 15 km. Slow and steady!

Hòrreos and other things…


When I left Vilei this morning there was a beautiful old church right nearby. It’s called the Igelsia de Santiago.

The current church is originally from the second half of the 12th century and stands on the place where there was a double monastery. It appears in numerous medieval documentation including the Codex Calixtinus. It is still called “mosteiro” due to that ancient history. It was open, so I went in and sat for a little while before starting my walk for the day.

The morning light was beautiful and the air smelled of cows and fresh grass.

As I walked through farm country, I saw many of these odd structures. I was told that they were “hórreos.”

An hórreo is a typical granary from the northwest of the Iberian Peninsula, built in wood or stone, raised from the ground by pillars ending in flat staddle stones to prevent access by rodents. Ventilation is allowed by the slits in its walls.

Some were quite large and elaborate and others were plain. Most had the two little cupolas on the top…not sure if those have a practical purpose or are just decorative.

There were many more pilgrims (and large groups of students) since Sarria. Also much more diversity than I had noticed previously. I heard all kinds of languages. I just stepped aside and let them pass! Much of the path was dirt – easy on the feet!

I passed what seemed like a shrine for pilgrims. Inside, people had written intentions and prayers and placed them on the altar.

In addition to more pilgrims, there was also a lot more Camino swag being sold. Lots of things with the traditional Camino shell and other tourist-type souvenirs. I didn’t buy anything (because then I’d have to carry it) but I did manage to replace my bandanna!

It was a long walk today (10+ miles) and I was happy to see the sign for Valachá and my albergue! I just beat the rain, too…I’d been hearing thunder for the last few miles!

An American couple, Ray and Dominque, opened this albergue (Casa Banderas) last year. They had a lovely charcuterie board waiting for me and some wine! Dinner is almost ready. I think I’ll sleep well tonight!

“Burros y Pollos y Cabras, oh mi”


And also sheep and cows and birds. (Ovejas y vacas y pájaros.). Walking through farm country, the sounds and smells are as vivid as the sights.

This fellow (or gal) gazed placidly at me through the fence.

I have been hearing roosters crowing every morning for the past few days and finally got a picture of one in all his glory.

Came across a whole passel of goats, hanging out with the chickens.

Saw a HUGE stork nest, with a stork proudly guarding it.

Also some sheep just hanging out.

Many more birds big and small. And of course, the cows. I had to be careful when walking on the road, as cows had left their calling cards everywhere. (Sorry, no pictures of the dung. 😁)

Rain was predicted for today starting around noon, so I got started around 8:00am to try to beat it. The sky was gorgeous and there was birdsong (and rooster crows) as I walked along the path.

The path was muddy in places, but fairly pleasant and not difficult (yet.) Much of the time, I was walking along the road and through a couple of tiny villages.

After not too long, I saw Sarria in the distance. Sarria has the distinction of having the largest number of pilgrim accommodations on the Camino. Many pilgrims start their Camino here. It is also (in)famous for the long staircase into the city.

I wasn’t staying in Sarria but in Vilei, about 2 miles (and a climb!) beyond. It was steep, but through a gorgeous wooded area. With more Ents!

(It has come to my attention that some people are not familiar with Ents. So here’s a description: Ents are a race of beings in J. R. R. Tolkien’s fantasy world Middle-earth who closely resemble trees. They are similar to the talking trees in folklore around the world. Their name is derived from the Anglo-Saxon word for giant. The Ents appear in The Lord of the Rings as ancient shepherds of the forest and allies of the free peoples of Middle-earth during the War of the Ring.)

Everything was incredibly lush and green.

I finally rounded the top and the path flattened out and gave onto a large field. I could see the little town of Vilei and my albergue around the bend.

I had had an unfortunate spill earlier in the day, so I had to sacrifice part of my bandanna to make a patch for my pants…

Tomorrow will be a bit longer day just because of how the albergues are spaced out. But slow and steady and I’ll get there! I’m feeling okay, me and my slow self.