Monthly Archives: April 2022

As I walk on, my thoughts keep a-tumblin’…


Todays walk was 10 miles of flat, mostly paved road with very little to break up the view. Farms and fields, with the occasional tractor rumbling by.

So, as I walked, I mused about various topics. One of them was the human need for ritual, and how we express that both through religious customs/beliefs and in our daily lives.

The entire Holy Week experience is based on ritualized reenactment of what we imagine Jesus’ last days to have been. In both Protestant and Catholic traditions, certain very specific words are said and certain very specific actions are performed. It’s always the same, and there is comfort in that sameness. The entire Catholic Mass itself is a ritual, it’s format set and exact, no matter where in the world you are. So, theoretically, a practicing Catholic would feel at home attending Mass in Spain, or in Boston, or in Zambia. The ritual would remain the same.

Those of us brought up in the Protestant branch may find this peculiar, although all Protestant sects have some of the same liturgy and sacraments. For Protestants, church is more interactive and fluid. (And we sing hymns.)

(Quakers, of course, dispensed with all of it and spend an hour “waiting upon the Lord.” In silence, unless someone is moved to speak. But even then, there is the ritual of the closing of Meeting for Worship and the fellowship that comes after.)

I imagine all religions have their own rituals. There are more than 10,000 distinct religions in the world and each one has specific practices that adherents follow and cling to. And those who follow no religion? They create their own rituals and customs, whether or not they identify as a member of any organized group.

(If you doubt this, think about “making a wish and blowing out the birthday candles.”)

We all desire some kind of order and certainty in a chaotic and disorganized world. And we all find it in different ways and different places. We tend to hold tightly to our beliefs and often push back, sometimes quite hard, against anything that questions or challenges us. And yet…I believe it is that by questioning we may come to a new understanding of ourselves, of others and of this crazy world.

As I got closer to my destination, some cows greeted me.

I also saw these huge birds (cranes? storks?) and a nest a pair had built high in the electrical tower.

After about 6 miles, I came to a town and a albergue that had a cafe…and they made me eggs and toast! Eggs!

Finally, after the Camino took me behind some factories and along an industrial section, I arrived at Hospital de Òbrigo and my albergue. It’s lovely, with a garden and a “painting station” for Pilgrims to create artwork that is the hung on the walls.

And now…time to find some food! Tomorrow it’s on to Astorga (and a hilly section, so I’ll be using the pack transport service!)

City sidewalks…

Little shrines along the Way

I left Leon around 9:30am on Saturday. I was hoping to attend a 9:00am mass so I could see the inside of the cathedral, but the place was shut tight. However, I did see them packing up the statues from the processions. They are really elaborate works of art. They must have an entire warehouse in which to store them during the year.

I had a short day planned; only 5 miles and a stop at La Virgen del Camino, a town right outside of Leon. It was just as well, as I was feeling a bit under the weather. The path out of the city took me through the Plaza San Marcos and across the Bernesga River.

The walk was not difficult, but it was decidedly unlovely. Still, the signs for the Camino were evident.

I came across some hobbit-holes. I’m not sure what they actually were!

And, even in the midst of what was basically a suburban town, there were remnants of older times.

Shortly outside of La Virgen del Camino was a most welcome stop.

It was donation only and he had a map for pilgrims to pinpoint their place of origin.

I arrived at my pensión soon after. After getting settled, I had a beer and a (complimentary) dish of the most delicious olives I have ever tasted.

I visited the basilica just down the street. Very modern and different than the cathedrals I’d been seeing.

By now I was hungry for some real food. But it was 5:30pm! What a silly time to want food! I went to a little place near the basilica and the guy said he’d try to find me something…and he did. A left-over portion of ham & cheese omelet with (of course) some bread. And wine. And that was supper.

By now I was sure I was developing a classic head cold. I dosed myself with various aids I had bought at the pharmacy, arranged for my bag to be picked up in morning and crashed.

Easter Sunday, I had hoped there might be a sunrise service. But that doesn’t seem to be a thing here. So I set out towards my next stop, Villar de Mazarife.

This is on the “Camino Alternitivio” which is a little longer, but doesn’t run bang up next to the highway. A much more pleasant walk.

Nothing was open when I left. When I got to the first little town the one cafe was closed. In the second, there was one cafe open and it advertised “desayuno especial.” I was so excited…but apparently that is only during the week. “What DO you have?” I asked. “Tostada,” he responded. So I had toast for breakfast. They love toast in Spain, it seems.

Arriving in Chozos de Abazo, there were many hand-painted signs advertising a bar (which in Spain, is more like a cafe.). This guy had even gone to the trouble of painting Camino-like arrows pointing towards his establishment. The rest of the town seemed absolutely deserted. But I was optimistic. Sure enough, it was open and there was food. Sort of. I had chicken wings, fried potatoes and bread. The chicken was dry, the potatoes were oily and the bread was stale. But – when you’re the only game in town, who cares. It was nourishment. And the orange juice was fresh squeezed at least.

For the last 3 miles, I was walking on the road. Very few cars and only a couple of other pilgrims.

I was happy to see the sign for Villar de Mazarife. My Albergue was right off the Camino and my bag had arrived yay.

They have a bar with beer on tap and a Pilgrims meal later. It’s not crowded and I’m sitting in the garden and thinking about having a second beer. Tomorrow I’ll press on to Hospital de Órbigo.

Lunacy in Leon


When I booked two nights in Leon, I didn’t quite realize that 1) Holy Thursday is kind of like a bacchanal here and 2) the hostel I booked was NOT a typical pilgrims hostel.

I had a nice train ride into the city and walked the mile to my hostel. The streets were full and there was already evidence of a party atmosphere.

I had to backtrack several times, as Google was getting confused with all the narrow streets and alleys. People were everywhere, most holding a glass of wine or beer.

I made my way through the crowd and finally found my place. It seemed nice and the girl at the desk showed me the dorm where I’d be staying. “Just choose any empty bed,” she told me. So I took one in the corner, got my stuff organized and went out to get something to eat and see what was happening. The streets seemed twice as crowded as they had been a hour before.

I found what seemed like a decent restaurant and asked the waitress what she recommended off the menu. “Well,” she said, “if you really want to try something different and from the region, have the manos de cerdo.

I checked the translation; looked like pork with shrimp. Decided to try it. Big mistake. It looked like a stew. Sort of. The flavor was good but it was slimy and slurpy and oily in texture. (I’m still not quite sure what it was…). However, the bread was fresh, the wine was local and the dessert recommended was excellent. (Most expensive meal I’ve had so far. Go figure.)

There was a procession just starting and people were lining the narrow way. Everyone had wine or beer and tapas were being passed around. Soon the drums and brass music began. The floats were pretty impressive. They were physically carried by at least 100 people, all dressed in the traditional costume of the penitent.

Now it was almost 11pm and I made my way back to the hostel. I knew most of the people in my dorm would likely be out very late, but I had my bunk all ready and hung a sheet in front for an illusion of privacy. I was set for the night. Not.

Suffice it to say that the “choose any empty bed” lady was talking out her…ear. I had to move once, two other people had to move as well, I was awakened twice because someone thought I was their friend in that bed, a very drunk and very confused Dutch guy had to be talked into taking a different bed and everyone got annoyed and frustrated.

By 5:00am, I had had enough. I decided “a la mierda esta mierda” (fuck this shit!) grabbed my phone and booked a proper hotel for the next night. I was up and out of the room by 7:00am. I had a word with the guy at the front desk, who profusely apologized and refunded me for a night.

I knew I couldn’t check in so early but I wanted to get out of there, so I figured I’d start walking towards the hotel. And there was an incredible morning procession happening in the main plaza. With 12 different floats, all depicting a scene from the Good Friday story. I didn’t capture them all, and my vantage point wasn’t the best, but they were fantastic.

Behold the man!
Carrying the cross to Cavalry
Jesus taking “the cup” in the Garden of Gethsemane

I made my way to the Cathedral where I sat in view of the procession and had a coffee and croissant. In order to get to my hotel, I had to basically follow Jesus down a narrow street until I got to the door!

And now…finally! I’m in my REAL hotel room with no confused drunk Dutchman looking for his bed. There’s a terrace and real towels. I’ll nap, shower and then have a stroll around the city.

Bus to Burgos…


The next portion of the Camino was going to be the “meseta”. The meseta is the name given to the large and expansive flat plains of central Spain. Beginning just after Burgos, and ending in Astorga, the Camino Frances travels through the northern point of the meseta for approximately 220km. It is renowned for it’s long stages, empty landscapes, and big skies, while often being very hot and dry in the summer and freezing cold in the winter.

I decided to skip it and bump ahead, first by bus to Burgos and then a train to Leon. This would give me time to explore two really interesting cities, and perhaps allow me to reach Santiago by mid-May.

The bus from Belorado got me there by 10:00am. Since my albergue didn’t open until 1:00, I used the time to get some breakfast and sit in the square. My poor shoes were absolutely caked with dried mud and I took the opportunity to clean them. I have a little credit-card sized tool I used to dig out the crevices. The shoe on the left is done, the one on the right is not! And so, I left some of the Camino in the main square.

The sun had come out and the square was bustling. I was in the Plaza Santa Maria, where the extraordinary 800-year old Cathedral stood.

After I got into my albergue, I got a proper lunch (wine included of course) and then a nap. There was only one other person in my dorm room – a girl from Belgium who was just finishing up 2 weeks on the Camino.

I wandered around the city for a while.

Statue of El Cid
Weird trees I saw all over the area
Carousel in Plaza Mayor

My feet were really tired, so I stepped inside the cathedral. The main part was closed but there was a little chapel off to the side that said (in Spanish) “No tours. For worship and prayer only.” I walked in and was astonished to see the most ornately decorated chapel. Cherubs popping out everywhere and symbolic depictions of various saints. And at the very top of the altarpiece was Jesus on a horse, wearing a turban, wielding a sword and crushing some unfortunate Moors.

It turned out they were just starting a Pilgrim’s Mass. So I stayed…and spent much of the time just taking in the intricate detail of the place.

Later that night two processions were scheduled. I saw one…a very solemn affair with brass bands, people dressed in the traditional costumes of the penitent (which look disturbingly like KKK robes but predate them by hundreds of years) and a depiction of the crucified Christ.

It was now 10:00pm, the latest I’d been up since I arrived in Spain! The Plaza was all lit up and the place was still bustling with activity.

I really wanted to see inside the main part of the Cathedral, so the next morning I attended an “Oficio de Lecturas y Laudes” – a service of lessons and songs. This time there was a booklet so I could follow along. It was very ritualized, as are most Catholic services. There were 10 officiants and none looked a day under 60 years old. A greying clergy. The inside of the main cathedral was stunning. (Note: I took these pictures after the service had concluded.)

I was determined to see the famous medieval castle, so after a little breakfast, I schlepped myself up the steep pathway. The origin of the castle dates to the Visigoths, and its oldest parts, to the Romans. Apparently it was last used by Napoleon. Some history here.

Amazing views from the top. The whole thing was very Lord of the Rings.

There was a little cafe there and I stopped for an Amstel with lemon. Weirdly, there was an old caboose. I asked the bartender ¿Por qué hay un vagón de ferrocarril aquí? (Why is there a railroad car here?). He shrugged. Best I could tell, his answer was something like “Nobody was using it anymore, so they put it here.”

I made my way down the hill and found a place serving lunch…the biggest hamburger I have ever encountered. Seriously, the thing was on a piece of focaccia about 6 inches square. I saved half for later haha.

And now, I go to find my train to Leon!

The sky is gray and white and cloudy…


The forecast was for rain, so I had my poncho at the ready and put my pack cover on. It was misty and overcast when I took back to the road at about 8:30am.

It’s hard to describe the morning light here and the pictures don’t do it justice. There’s a soft glow over everything.

It was windy, but it never rained. I had planned a fairly short stage today – about 6 miles to Belorado. The first little town soon appeared.

The one and only cafe was just opening and there were Katrina and Amy! They had walked from Redecilla del Camino and were continuing on to Belorado where they planned to take a bus to Burgos.

I had coffee, fresh-squeezed orange juice and a scrumptious omelette sandwich. No set price…donation only.

Apparently the village had recently celebrated its 1000th birthday!

The road now bordered the highway. The Camino was actually once the main road, so it kind of makes sense. I imagined pilgrims from 100s of years ago, making their way along this same path.

The next village, Villamayor del Rio, appeared. Katrina and Amy were here, and cavorting on the swing set in the square! I sat and had some peanuts and chocolate. There was supposed to be a cafe, but I didn’t see one.

About 3 more miles and I came to the edge of Belorado…and my albergue! I had reserved a room with twin beds, rather than bunks. (Many albergues don’t have this option…and this place even had sheets and blankets!)

I had a beer and snack. Wine would come later. And the “Pilgrim’s meal.”

Then…surprise! There was a swimming pool. Filled with clear, cold water. Too cold to actually swim, but my feet were very happy.

My Pilgrims credential is filling up. This being Holy Week, I’d like to see some of the festivities! I plan to take the bus to Burgos tomorrow and then the train to Leon the next day. I’ll celebrate Easter Sunday in a tiny little town called La Virgen del Camino. After that…I’ll see what the Camino says.

Slow down, you move too fast…


After a delicious dinner (pasta with homemade sauce! Ice cream for dessert!) and a breakfast of egg omelette and juice, I started out for Castiledelgado. It was 11 miles but not too hilly and for some stupid reason, I thought I could just carry my pack. Even though another pilgrim going to the same albergue was having hers transported and it would have been a simple matter to add mine.

The morning was brisk and a bit cloudy, but I felt pretty good as I started out.

The walking was pretty smooth on a dirt road and in a couple of hours, I could see Santo Domingo de la Calzada up ahead.

I passed this sculpture on the way into the town. The sign said that it “Represents the figure of Santo Dominic inside the pillar of a bridge. In the 11th century St. Dominic built a bridge over the river Oja so pilgrims could cross it more easily.”

I passed through a plaza with a pilgrim-themed sculpture/water spigot and a cathedral.

I came across a little cafe and went into to get a second breakfast. There were Katrina and Amy from last night’s albergue! We chatted a bit and discussed plans for finding accommodation for the coming week. Holy Week is a Very Big Deal here and many places were filling up fast.

After food and a brief phone charge, I carried on. The road was not too steep but the surface had changed from dirt to rough gravel and my feet were feeling it. After one particularly gnarly stretch, I was glad to find a resting place.

I took off my socks to see how my toes were doing. They were not happy. I was glad to see the next town, Grañon, in the distance.

Like a mirage in the desert, the towns always appear closer than they actually were. And the path stayed stony. But I finally made my way into the town.

I found an open pharmacy and finally got a pair of proper, heavy-duty toenail clippers. I did some maintenance (no, still no toenail pictures) and switched into my sandals. But my feet were killing me. If I’d only had my light day pack, I would’ve been up for continuing the last 3 miles. But alas…my toes and feet were taking umbrage at the extra weight. I decided to call it a day and call a taxi.

This meant I had time to explore the old church in the square.

I spoke to a woman I had seen on the Way who was actually staying at the church – they have an albergue “donativo” which consists of mattresses on the floor, a hot meal, and is paid by donations. (She was from Australia and had RUN 20Ks of the Camino before picking up her pack and hiking another 10K. I was just…🤪)

I finally got to my beautiful albergue in Castiledelgado. Owned by an older couple, it’s in a beautifully restored antique house.

Hot shower, cup of cafè con leche and the promise of a delicious home-cooked meal (with wine) tonight. All is right with the Camino.

Walk on, walk on…


I felt a bit lighter when I left Nájera this morning. I’d had almost 11 hours of sleep and was no longer burdened by an unrealistic itinerary. Rather, I had a one-day goal of about 10 miles and a beautiful day.

The path was gentle and there were some lovely views.

I arrived at Azofra, the first little town, in less than 2 hours. Lots of other pilgrims were stopping here for breakfast. I met Peter and Helen, an Irish couple and Clare, their grown daughter who were doing the Camino in week-long chunks.

I had almuerzo…sort of like a second breakfast. I’d already had coffee, bread and jam at the hostel and needed something more substantial. Bacon, eggs, juice and bread were consumed in short order. I continued on…coming across this interesting (and obviously old) structure.

The woman at my alburgue informed me that it was a horca – a gallows! And used for executions to “make an example of people.” Some cursory research says that there is a history of these structures along the Way.

The weather continued to be glorious and I passed bright yellow fields of rapeseed and other crops.

The road began to climb steadily. Not steep, but taxing. I stopped frequently to catch my breath and see how far I’d come.

After several bends in the road where I was SURE I was coming to the top, I rounded one last corner and saw this very welcome sight.

A rest stop with concrete “recliners.” And a man selling fruits and juice was just packing up, so I snagged a banana and OJ. “How much?” He shrugged. “Take what you want; it’s all donation!”

Now it was flat and the town of Cirueña was coming into view. Unfortunately, somebody had the brilliant idea to build a giant golf club right outside the old village and install “modern” blocks of housing. It was pretty hideous.

It didn’t even feel like I was on the Camino anymore. But I was encouraged by a sign pointing me toward my albergue.

I was happy to arrive and be shown into a beautiful living/dining room. The proprietor took my order for dinner and breakfast (yes, there was a choice!) and showed me a room with bunks, but also two single beds! And I got one!

I recognized one of the women already there – Katrina from Denmark, whom I had met while walking into Navarette. We shared stories and had a beer. The place has a beer vending machine!

Tomorrow I may walk as far as Redecilla del Camino (about 10 miles) or maybe go just a little bit further to Castiledelgado (a little over 11 miles.). Depends how I feel and if there’s room at the albergue. Right now, I’m looking forward to a spaghetti dinner with bread and fresh salad. And wine!

Take a zero…


In the parlance of through-hikers on the Appalachian Trail, “taking a zero” means a rest day. I realized that I had stupidly neglected to plan ANY rest days on this journey. And I’d now been walking for 7 days straight! Time for a break.

I decided to take the bus from Navarette to Najera, where I had booked a single room in a little pensión. After a small breakfast and coffee, and double checking the time, I found the bus stop. And waited.

And waited. And waited some more. Finally, I hiked myself back to my previous hostel where I asked the owner (in Spanish! So proud of myself!) to call me a taxi. Never did find out what was up with the bus, but in short order I was in Nájera.

The pensión was down a tiny street and my room was ready. I realized I was exhausted and this rest day was a good decision.

I was able to get some tapas, take a nap and do a laundry. Later, I toured the ancient monastery of Santa Maria la Real. Construction on the site dates back more than a thousand years, starting with a cave dug directly into the cliff above.

I realize once again how difficult it is for me to just…not plan. Already today I found myself thinking weeks ahead. Trying to figure out transportation to Leon or getting to Sarria so I could walk the last 100 kilometers and get my Compestela in Santiago. But I resisted.

My plan now (such as it is) is to book one day ahead, if possible. Tomorrow I will walk to Cirueña, a little less than 10 miles. Once I’m there, I’ll determine the next day’s goal. And so on, one day at a time. And I’ll “take a zero” every 6 or 7 days.

That’s my plan.

Lost along the way…


My lightweight gloves (left them in Zariquiegui when I got into the taxi.)

My purple bandanna (probably fell out of my pocket on the way into Longroño)

Most of two toenails (clipped them down to almost nothing and slathered them with Betadine)

Some weight. Not sure how much, but I’m having to cinch my belt tighter.

Any sense that I am in control of this trip.

This morning I started out of Longroño about 8:30am. I walked through the old city, which was much more picturesque than where I had been staying. But I was still basically walking on city streets. Some interesting statues.

After a while, the way ran through a park and past a lake that was quite pretty.

And I saw several of these cheeky chaps. Black squirrels? Very friendly.

As I got closer to Navarette, the path became increasingly ugly. Lots of construction and roadwork. In fact, right before the path into the village, they were constructing a huge new over-pass with little thought to the ancient Way. It was so hideous that I didn’t even take a picture. I was happy to see the signs that let me know I was on the right track!

Finally I was past the mess and Navarette rose up ahead.

I found my pension and had a much-desired shower. For the first time at the end of the walking, I didn’t feel completely shattered. I got myself some tapas and wine and had a look inside the 500 year old church.

Tomorrow I head to Najera…about 10.5 miles. And after that – who knows? I’ve canceled all my reservations and will let the Camino be my guide. This is what one of my friends said – and I think he’s right!

It’s your Camino. Whatever you choose is right. I would encourage you to stay on the path and enjoy the people. The Camino is a challenging journey, and it’s humbling. I layed up for a couple days more than once. It enriched my experience. You may “finish” now or sometime in the future. It doesn’t matter. It’s all about the journey. Buen Camino!



After a fairly restful night in Viana, I headed out towards Logroño, the first real city on the journey. I stopped to grab a “café solo” and a sandwich and juice for later. Ham and cheese…which seems to be the only sandwiches the panaderías are familiar with.

Longroño was less than 7 miles and I was glad to have a “short” day. This time I was carrying my pack. I was back in my Tevas (and socks) again to give my toenails a break. It was another beautiful day…chilly and sunny; great walking weather.

The path was flat and paved for much of the way. I came to a little rest stop, had my “breakfast” and took off my down vest.

Longroño is a common stopping place on the Camino and I was surprised to see very few other Pilgrims…however, many people walk all the way from Los Arcos so they would likely be along later.

This was not a particularly pretty walk; the area had many industrial buildings and much of the path was right next to the main highway.

I came across a number of these pairs of standing stones…a tall and a short one. I assume they are some kind of markers for the Camino but I haven’t been able to find out more.

The wind had really started to pick up and I was walking straight into it. As I rounded the crest of a hill, a German woman I had seen before passed me. “Such wind,” she said forcefully. “It was such a nice day and then this WIND!” She seemed personally affronted by the weather. I smiled, nodded, and carried on. I could tell I was getting close to the city when I saw a sign advertising my alburgue.

Right before the city proper there was a quaint, old-fashioned lane and a girl selling Camino swag and offering to stamp our Pilgrim’s credential. I bought a cute little change purse.

I took a wrong turn finding my alburgue and ended up circling the block. But I persevered and arrived. It’s a modern building in a kind of plaza. There are only a few other pilgrims here, so we can all spread out and have some privacy. I was famished and found a fantastic Turkish restaurant where I had “tantuni cordero” a delectable dish of lamb cooked in yogurt.

I’m not loving Logroño. It’s a city lacking in any real charm and it doesn’t have that Camino “vibe.” I went out and bought some snacks for tomorrow and some stuff at the pharmacy. Now I’m having a “Cerveza Alhambra Rojo” in the evening sun.

So far, I have met pilgrims from Korea, Norway, Germany, France, Italy, The Netherlands, Finland, Australia…and of course the USA. Everyone is on their own journey. Tomorrow I head to Navarette; another 7+ miles. And then I have to figure out my “plan.”