Why the Camino?

There are many definitions of a Camino pilgrim and the first question we typically get is why are we doing the Camino de Santiago (The Way of St. James).  For spiritual, self-reflecting, or other reasons?  The simple fact is we discovered this amazing trip several years ago during a previous Spain vacation and we thought this was a tremendous opportunity to disconnect from the daily grind and more importantly to be with each other.   

We plan to do the Camino (the French Way) in 32 days – this is nearly 800 km/500 mi hike and it isn’t something you just show up for, e.g. we are hiking 15 miles per day on average.  While we have been training and preparing, we plan to go at our own pace and enjoy this journey.  We believe we are combining the best of the pilgrim experience and combining it with some extra add-ons throughout the journey.  

The intent of this blog is to cover all aspects of the trip including the travel portions to and from Europe (Austin TX to our starting point in St. Jean Pied de Port,  France), the pilgrimage itself from St. Jean to Santiago de Compestela (the bulk of this blog content), and our rest and relaxation time during our hike and afterwards in Santiago Compostela and Barcelona. Thus the title of this blog 42 Days and 42 Nights.

Hope you all enjoy – please post comments during our travels.

Buen Camino! 

Tom and Alnita

Day 1! Austin-Dallas-London-Biarritz

The long travel began at Austin Airport where we watched the Derby from the Club and hoped for the #18 horse to win – no such luck today. We spent a couple of hours at DFW Admirals Club and off to London on 747 upper deck thanks to all of those travel miles. Alnita was a happy camper to say the least.

Ready for take off!
Business class out of Dallas on British airways is saweet!

Arrived in London and spent a few hours seeing some of the sights and having a beer or two. Made our way back to Heathrow and killed a few more hours at Heathrow British Airways exec lounge (thanks again miles) and had a few more pints and good food. Trust me, exec lounges in Europe or much better than the ones in the States. We were finally on our way to Biarritz.

Day 2! Biarritz and St. Jean Pied du Port

After arriving to the great beach town of Biarritz we unwound and saw an awesome sunset from our suite, saw the local sights and had an amazing French dinner at Chez Albert. We forgot how good authentic French food can be! Woke up to a beautiful sunrise, Tom grabbed a quick croissant and coffee, while Alnita got some much needed sleep. Quick taxi ride to Bayonne to catch the train to SJPDP.

Train ride to St. Jean Pied du Port was packed with fellow Camino pilgrims. Half had to be off-loaded to catch a bus – we were the fortunate ones to see the south of France country side.

Day 3! St. Jean Pied du Port to Roncesvalles (24 km)

We got some time in SJPDP to sight see and of course eat another fantastic French meal.  This was our last night in France before we started the pilgrimage into Spain.

 

Bright and early start to the 1st of 30 stages to do the Camino – finally!  We posted a bunch of pictures below that really do not do the day’s hike justice. First of all it was more beautiful than we ever expected. Secondly it was extremely tough!!!

15 miles and 1100 meter climb. All the training in the world and it was still difficult. Took us 9.5 hours with stops and enjoying the scenery. Needless to say we were wiped out when we arrived in Roncesvalles.

       

Fortunately Tom reserved a hotel versus an albergue (hostel) knowing we would need it after the most difficult stage of the pilgrimage.  This is the hotel – loaded with history.

 

Day 4! Roncesvalles to Zubiri (22 km)

The beginning of this leg started with rain – fortunately we had our rain gear and everything stayed dry and the rain only lasted an hour.  Wait what did that sign say?  Only 790 km to go.  

  

 

This hike was also 15 miles but this time downhill. Now the knees started to hurt on Alnita and Tom started to feel sharp pain in the lower back – hopefully not the sciatic nerve.

Made it to Zubiri but back pain getting worse.  And tonight was our first albergue – bunk beds nonetheless.

One of the many benefits of the Camino is making new friends. Maria and Maria from Brazil pictured below with some dancing going on.

Day 5! Zubiri to Pamplona (22 km)

Today was an early start to get to Pamplona – Tom is struggling with the lower back issue – searing pain.  Plan was to get to Pamplona ASAP since we had a nice hotel booked and we could rest. Not many travel pictures to share but the Pamplona was amazing and first stop was a cafe for a quick bite – the food is amazing everywhere we go.

Hotel La Perla is 5 star  – recommend to anyone going to Pamplona.


After doing laundry and having a beer or two while waiting, next stop was the church of Pamplona. Sightseeing and we figured what the heck – a prayer or two for Tom’s sciatic issue wouldn’t hurt

And then Alnita had the idea that saved the trip.  Let’s get a massage and see see if it would help Tom (she really wanted one anyway) and through google found a place charging two 45 minute massages for 50 euros (yep 2 for 50).

Paco pictured below saved the day.  He confirmed my sciatic nerve was pinched and he knew exactly what to do.  Plus he worked the shoulders from the back back and gave Alnita a full massage.  Thank you Paco we are forever in your debt.

Back to the hotel to dress up a bit – yes we have two pieces of luggage that are being transferred through our trip. Every fourth or fifth day our luggage is waiting for us at a pre-arranged hotel.  Top five pre-trip planning ideas Tom came up with. Check out hiketech.com for more info.

We went to a close restaurant to the hotel since it was raining and we had our first pilgrim dinner. Three courses plus wine for €12 each if you have a Camino credential.  Food was great and you can’t beat the deal.

We met another Pilgrim, Johan from Holland who joined us for dinner and many drinks. This Camino thing is pretty cool – had a great time Johan! Back to hotel to get some sleep – another adventurous day lays ahead and Tom and Alnita are feeling great.

Day 6! Pamplona to Puente de la Reina (24.2 km)

After our recovery day in Pomplona we are off to Puente de la Reina – a mere 24 km and 500 m climb – piece of cake – right ….

The climb actually wasn’t bad – very beautiful and at the top was the famous pilgrim statutes at Cizur Menor.

Now  the trek back down and to eat a late lunch before the final push to Puente de la Reina.  Checked into another albergue – this time two person rooms only but the snoring from next door is still loud.  They call it snorking out here – its loud no matter what you call, even with ear plugs.  Miss the Pamplona La Perla!

Out for dinner, drinks, live music in the streets and a little horsing around. Spain is a very fun country!

Day 7! Puente de la Reina to Estella (21.7 km)

Morning breakfast and we are on our way to Estella!

Great hike today – feeling well but blisters are now becoming our enemy.  All part of the Camino experience.  We arrive to today’s albergue and got a private room with own shower  –  woo-hoo!   The place is new and has a great outdoor area.

Now its it’s time to explore Estella, eat and of course have a few drinks.  They pour the scotch very generous over here and the red wines are spectacular.  Estella is a very pretty town!

Shout out to all my NASA friends  – getting lots of questions when I proudly wear the NASA shirt.

 

Day 8! Estella to Los Arcos (22.7 km)

Up bright and early, packed and got a great breakfast at the albergue – we are off to Los Arcos and the first stop along the way is the famous wine fountain. Yep a wine fountain …..

Ok each of us has taken a little wine for later in the day and we meet a new friend, Martin from Argentina, who decides to walk with us throughout the day.  More to follow on Martin.

We have a choice to make, through the forest with some elevation or flat and through the countryside.  We take the Forrest route – excellent choice.

After the forest, the Camino rejoins and we are back on the countryside path.  We stop at at a spot along the route and have a drink and realize it’s Mother’s Day.  Happy Mother’s Day Alnita and to our mom’s and all of the mothers out there.

Back to Martin from Argentina.  Great guy who tells us all about Argentina.  Alnita loved the opportunity to speak Spanish all the time during the hike and Tom loved the alone time.  Martin’s pace was about the same as Alnita’s so Tom took the opportunity to put on the headset and catch up on fantasy football podcasts and start pushing ahead – getting stronger every day. In reality it was just a reason to get another beer while waiting for Alnita and Martin.

Not much night life in Los Arcos but we could use the sleep so after dinner and a quick beer we are off to bed.

Day 9! Los Arcos to Logrono (28 km)

Today is the longest leg of our journey so far – 28 km (17.4 miles) – while we have many miles to go, it gave Tom some time to recognize how important the Ruiz family is to him!  We love you guys! 

Alnita and I want to give a big thanks and our LOVE to Tio Mario, Tio Ray, Carmen (mom), Cynthia, Mario, Noe, and Peter, the Marshalls, and the whole Ruiz family (there are too many to mention but you know who you are)!

Tia Diana we walk for you!!

And to the Calaveras MC! We are happy to display the patches!

PETE RUIZ, I wish we could have met but your daughter is in good hands – Rest In Peace my friend!

Thomas!

Logrono was a great city and we stayed at NH Logrono – yeah hotel for the night and our bags were there – fresh clothes for the night!

The bartender Adrian, pictured below, looked a lot like little Ray.

Day 10! Logrono to Najira (29.9 km)

Off to Najera – long hike (29.9 km) but we discover lots of cool things and new friends along the way.

On the way a little wine for the tired pilgrims.  Yes you saw that correctly, 70 cents for a pretty dam good wine.

 

On the road again ….. Willie Nelson’s song is our new daily song.  Wait did that sign say 592 km to go?

On the way we meet Ben from Holland – great guy.  He was a salvage diver on the NAT GEO show Salvage Code Red. We took a break (thanks for the sofa) and shared some fruit and afterwards we both were thinking the same thing – do you mind if I smoke?  Hope to see you again my friend.

Based on a tip from a fellow pilgrim we started using AirB&B versus totally relying on albergue – great tip Kirk!  We secured a private bedroom and bath in a beautiful apartment (with outdoor patio for us smokers) owned by Victor and Irene.

Thank you guys it was nice to meet you and thanks for the great dinner recommendation at La Mercecia!

Najera was a fun little town and we had a great time exploring.  The name Najera means between two rocks – see below. Not sure of the older gentleman name but he was helpful with directions.  Also see the biggest Great Dane ever – only one year old – good luck with that food bill .

Day 11! Najera to Santo Domingo de la Calzada (21.3 km)

Today is an easy day, only 21 km to Santo Domingo!  We had a great night sleep, slept in a bit at Irene’s house and found a local cafe for breakfast and we are on the road again. Note the shell on the road – that is one of the various markers to guide us along the Camino.

Country side is now changing to vineyards and olive trees and is a little flatter today – no climbing!

Walking, talking, reflecting, walking …. then we find an unusual lunch spot – a golf course that permits peregrinos (pilgrims).  We dine at the 18th hole and the paella is to do die for.

 

Back on the road and making the final stretch to Santo Domingo.  We do the airb&b again and secure an apartment for the night.  Not as nice as Irene’s place but we have the place to ourselves.

 

Day 12! Santo Domingo to Belorado (24.1 km)

Today’s plan was to do the 24 km to Belorado but the weather turned real bad.  We were ok with the rain but thunder and lightning was a different story.  After 13 km into Granon we and most other pilgrims did the smart thing – take a taxi into Belorado!

Once we got there we secured a private room in an albergue, dried off and prayed to God our shoes would be dry by morning. We had a great day and had dinner with the couple (Claudio and Kay) we shared the taxi with.   Lunch came with a local that sang beautiful opera while we dined.

Later in the day the sun came back out and we were back on track.

Day 13! Belorado to San Juan de Ortega and Burgos (24.1 km)

The plan for today was to hike the 24 km to Ortega and from there to take a taxi to Burgos so we could have our rest day in Burgos – great plan!!!!

The hike to San Juan Ortega was beautiful though a little chilly in the morning due to the prior day rainstorm.  Oh well cold, hot, rain, sun – who cares?  You definitely have a different mindset on the Camino.

As in the case of all our daily hikes, you always pass through a village or town along the way – typically every 4-8 km.  It works out very well to stop for lunch or a snack and to rest the feet and shoulders.

Today’s hike finished up with a climb of 350 meters to 1160 meters.  Not sure if we mentioned the fact that we are never below 800 meters. The hike was very cool because it took us through a forest before descending back into Ortega.

Alright time to catch that taxi and head to Burgos.  It only took 30 minutes to arrive so we had time to relax for a bit because we were very excited that we were going to stay two nights in Burgos.  Scored again on the hotel – a suite at the NH Palacias Burgos – it was going to be a great weekend in Burgos!  A real bed, bathtub, time to get dressed up, sleep in …..

Day 14! Burgos (0 km)

Zero kilometers!  It’s our rest day in Burgos!  We had a great meal the night before, slept in, had a great breakfast and got a massage. Not as good as Paco’s but it still worked.  Last thing to do today before seeing the amazing Burgos Cathedral was laundry – man did we need it. 

Off to the Cathedral – it was incredible – probably one of the best in the world. We took hundreds of pictures but only going to post a few. The pictures don’t do it justice. And yes those are handsets we are carrying to learn a little history.

Off to dinner – it’s Saturday night and the streets are jammed.  Tonight it is sampling tapas and pinchos – true local delicacies and some playing around. But first a stop is at the pharmacia – can’t get enough mole skin and compeed for those damn blisters.

Continue reading Day 14! Burgos (0 km)

Day 15! Burgos to Hontanas (30.5 km)

Enough of partying in Burgos, off to Hontanas – 30.5 km equates to 19 miles – big day of hiking ahead of us.   Of course we had to hit a local cafe since we were leaving the hotel at the crack of dawn.  Funny the people you meet at 7:00 am on a Sunday but this lady was very helpful – she pointed us to the right direction (can’t remember her name for the life of me).

Ok time to start the hike – wait a minute another 300 meter climb?

We make it up the hill and out of no where is a band of gypsies selling their wares and offering “refreshments” for the tired.  Best 45 minutes of the day!  The daughter was very musically talented and attached is a small video.

The coolest thing was the exchange of gifts – they gave us the ‘Good Eye’ trinket for good luck during our journey and I gave them a NASA patch from my back pack.  The father at first thought I had been to the moon after many broken conversations but he was still excited when he learned I was just an engineer helping us get back to space.  All in all a very satisfying experience!

Not sure I know what was in that tea he gave us but we both felt pretty damn good for the last leg of the day.

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Along the way we meet a young Italian couple who are doing the Camino for their honeymoon.  Not my idea of a honeymoon but if they make it through this they will be married for life.  Congratulations Leonardo and Annotella!

Also pictured below is another couple we met from Moscow.  One of the many great things on the Camino is the people you meet along the way.

Pictured below is our destination point for the day – Hontana!  Long day – time to get some rest.

Day 16! Hontanas to Fromista (34.9 km)

Tom’s birthday today!  55 and going to do 34.9 km.   Bright and early start – that is a lot to cover in one day and a steep climb lays ahead.

You see all forms of transport on the Camino – this guy just did that climb on a unicycle.

Ok on to the next town and new sights to see.  The terrain changes every turn and we hike to the next village.  Alnita even finds a place to soak her aching feet in a cold water irrigation system.

The boards pictured below are at a local way station (code for bar) and were drawn by horse to crush the wheat many years ago.  The bartender proceeded to tell us that a young boy would follow the horse and pick up the crap so as not to contaminate the wheat – and you think your job is tough.

                

We meet up with the Maria’s from Brazil along the way and they remember it’s my birthday.  They proceed to sing the English and Portuguese version of happy birthday – brought a tear to my eye but we were too slow to get a video.

Speaking of tired feet and Tom using the birthday angle, we take a taxi for the last 5 km into Fromista. We arrive at 6 at night – it was a very long day and the accommodations are not great.

However we have a great meal and do laundry the old fashioned way and head out to the only open bar in town and have a birthday drink or two – never had J&B Reserve before so we splurge – a whole 4 euros. Also splurged on a slice of birthday cake – awesome way to spend your birthday.  I love you Alnita!

Day 17! Fromista to Carrion de los Condes (19 km)

Off to Carrion and it’s only 19 km and we have a hotel reserved and our bags are waiting for us (hopefully).

The day begins as usual – good breakfast at a local cafe and we are on our way.  3-4 hours of hiking and we arrive at Villalcazar de Sirga for lunch.

Unfortunately a reminder that the Camino is not easy occurred.  During our journey we have seen several folks hit with heatstroke and other severe ailments.  Today was the worse.  A fellow pilgrim suffered a heart attack and passed away.   Alnita being a nurse volunteered to help but the police and paramedics were on the scene but could not revive him.    No pictures for obvious reasons but I wanted to mention this so all that are reading this blog can say a prayer for the victims family.  It was a sobering day for the rest of the day but a friend who we met (William – more to follow on him) added a positive perspective: he passed in front of a church, suffered no pain and he had no family present to see his death.  Thoughts and prayers to the pilgrim and his family!

As in life we need to keep pressing forward, so this blog will as well.

We make it to Carrion at 3 since it was only 19 km and we scored again at the hotel we had reserved and our bags were there. The Monastery of San Zolio is a national museum and a great great hotel.  They have preserved the history and opened it up to us common folks – of course we took the opportunity to upgrade to a suite.

 

Day 18! Carrion de Los Condes to Ledigos (24 km)

We met a mother (Nicole) and her son (William) at the San Zolio bar and we really hit it off. We decided to have dinner together but Alnita wasn’t feeling well so she went to bed and Tom joined Nicole and William for a great dinner and many bottles of wine.  Of course Tom brought some delicious tuna back to Alnita so she could eat in the room.  We all decided to stay in touch throughout the rest of the Camino. Pictures and more blog comments to follow I’m sure.

Slept in a bit because the hotel offered a great breakfast and the bed was mucho comfortable. Off to Ledigos!

             

As we get started a horse and carriage passes us by with an offer to transport us – we decline even though there is not another village for 17 km.  We are feeling good today!

Along the way we meet Estephan – pictured below.  He was in a previous picture from over a week ago but this time he decided to hang with us for a bit.  This guy is a stud on the trail and is well known.  He runs with a pack and did 72 km one day – that takes Alnita and I 3 days.  Thanks for that chocolate Estephan – it really made our day AND night.

After a long day we arrive at the Lidigos albergue where we find Nicole, William and Estephan are also staying. Looks like a good dinner and drinks with new friends lay ahead.

Day 19! Ledigos to Bercianos (26 km)

After a great night and ok sleep – the bed was not comfortable – we are on our way to to Barcianos.

 

Along the way we find these functioning bodegas built into the hills – see above. We also find a great cafe called Bar2.  The owner posted a sign quoting Socrates “The only good is knowledge and the only evil is ignorance” and added 2nd Bar was the best. I was all in and we took her advice and had the most amazing lunch.

Pictured above is the best pasta salad I ever had – Alnita got the recipe from the owner.  Pictured below is some bathroom humor from the 2nd Bar. 

We pass through Sahagun – the halfway point between St Jean and Santiago de Compostela.  That means we have completed 420 of the 800 km (give or take a few for the cab rides and the fact that I’m writing this input from a lunch time cafe).

We make it to our Albergue for the night and start our evening routine.  Unpack, shower, treat our blisters, do laundry if needed, have a cocktail and search for dinner.  By this time we are booking private rooms with private baths in all albergues.  It didn’t take us long to figure out to book ahead in the morning and spend a few extra euros for a much better experience.  The Camino gets more and more crowded as we approach Santiago.

Off to bed – the forecast for tomorrow is heavy rain.

Day 20! Bercianos to Mansilla de Las Mulas (26 km)

Original goal today was to go to Religious (20 Km) but we decided to go for Mansilla so we could have an easier day going into Leon the following day. We are finding 26 km a good daily pace for ourselves and we have a planned day off scheduled in Leon.

We also wanted to get an early start because the weather called for lots of rain.  The forecast didn’t lie – it was cold and it rained a lot. Fortunately alnita thought this through a couple of days ago and we bought rain proof pants – best 30 euros I ever spent.  We kept dry (for the most part) but the lightning was pretty scary.

We make it to the next village just as the rain is letting up and we find a very inviting cafe to warm up and eat lunch.  The gentleman pictured below was very friendly and very informative.  Alnita learns that since her grandparents are from Espinosa de Los Monteros she can become a citizen  of Spain. We are going to think that one through.

The rain let’s up and me make our final push to Mansilla and get to our private albergue where we meet up with Erica from Italy – another friend we see throughout the Camino.

 

After we are done with our daily routine we head out to the Farmicia for more blister stuff and to eat.  Along the way we find a barbershop and since Tom has been looking really scruffy he gets a haircut and a much needed shave.  I’ve been letting the beard grow out but it needs a trim.  The lady barber did an excellent job and Alnita can now kiss me again.  We finish the night with paella and head to bed.  Still light out at 10:00 pm.

Day 21! Mansilla to Leon (18 km)

On our way to Leon – we are so excited because we have a rest day scheduled for Leon with what we hope is another nice hotel for two nights!  Yep Great hotel overlooking Leon Plaza Mayor.

So after our daily chores are done and reservations in place for dinner with our new friends (Estephan, Nicole and William), Alnita got us set up for massages.  This guy, David, was awesome.  Just as good as Paco in Pamplona.   Thank you David!!!


Off to to dinner with the friends at Clandestines in Leon – Michelin rated and worth every star  I can’t believe I didn’t take pictures of the group but Estephan nailed this one!

Half the group went home to bed at midnight and half stayed out to party in Leon.  Guess which half Tom went with?  Damn stayed out to 4 in the morning – glad we had 0 km to do that day.  My head still hurts ……

You all know the drill- no incriminating pictures will be posted to protect the semi-innocent!

Day 22! Leon (0 km)

Oh yeah – no mileage today!  Time to catch up on a few things and enjoy the beautiful city of Leon. That also means a long blog today.

First things first – a real breakfast and then off to the Cathedral of Leon.  As in Burgos, the Cathedral pictures below don’t do the Gothic architecture justice.  The largest stained glass window in the world is part of the Leon Cathedral.  Mom and Dad, Carmen, Grandma Nico, Tia Diana and Alnita’s patient CB we lit a candle for you guys.  We think of YOU GUYS a lot during our pilgrimage and we love you!

             

Next stop – laundry.  This is how Tom and Alnita do laundry while in Spain.

Next stop – the farmicia.  If we underestimated anything during this trip it was foot repair and taking care of the aches and pains.  We must have been to 10 pharmacies during the Camino and we are 60% done.

We gave a big shout out last week to Alnita’s family and we want to do the same to the Gormley side. First of all, mom and dad, we love you so very much and hope you are doing well.   We have so much time to reflect on how lucky we are and proud to be your children.

To my brother Jay and his wife Robin – we love you guys and can’t wait to see our nephews.  Tell Daniel I’m bringing him a replacement Barcelona soccer hat that we lost on the lake.

To my sister Jennifer, THANK YOU for taking care of mom and dad while we are gone.  We could not have done this amazing trip without your help – we love you very much!

And to our kids Nicole, Michael, Alexsa (Allie) and Eryk we love you guys so much and are so very proud of all of you!   Your pictures that you texted on my birthday (ugh 55) were amazing and I show them off to all of our friends along the Camino.

Pictured below is Nicole in Alaska (working – what a freakin job you have), Eryk hard at work and learning a new skill and Allie caravaning in the west coast with her boyfriend Ryan and Michael (missing picture????).  Truly amazing guys – we love you all!

  

Ok back to the Camino and our last night in Leon.  Meet up with Camino friends, an Italian dinner to mix it up and some dessert.  Do you think Alnita loves that ice cream?  Off to bed – I’m finally caught up on this blog but another day awaits!  Buen Camino!

Day 23! Leon to Astorga (20 km)

We are off to Astorga after an awesome 2 days in Leon. The distance is actually 46 km to Astorgo but to get the extra day in Leon we were going to take a bus to Villavente but alas the bus was full (with other pilgrims). Ok no problem we take a taxi. Glad we did the outbound route out of Leon was very industrial and the road very dangerous.

The first town we hit is Hospital de Orbiga which has a famous story behind it for jousting in 1434 – google it – its a pretty cool story.   The town does an annual jousting festival and was preparing for it – we missed it by one week.

The next two towns are 2 km apart and we are hoofing it – looks like rain is on its  way. The weather god is on our side today – it starts pouring about 5 minutes before we hit the 2nd village where we wait it out at a cafe and have some lunch and beer with limon (Cana con limon).  Don’t knock it until you tried it – very refreshing!

After the rain stops we are back on the road again to Astorga.  Interesting Camino monument pictured below.

 

Along the way there is rest stop managed and lived in by David.  Apparently he has been there for years with a minor stop off in Barcelona.  He offers healthy refreshments for donations.  At the stop we also meet Torsin from Germany who we end up walking with for the next 4 days.

Finally see Astorga and sit at a bar and figure out where we are going to stay.  Alnita points out a hotel is sitting right in front of us so we say what the heck.  Turned out to be a wise choice – very nice place.  We get settled in and go out for some sight seeing and do dinner with Torsten and call it a night.

Day 24! Astorga to Foncebadon (24 km)

After a great hotel breakfast in Astorga and taking a few early morning sunrise pictures we are off to Foncebadon.  Torsten wants to join us for the day’s journey but he is hurting (feet issues).  We urge him to join us and not give up – he elects to continue his Camino.

Torsten started his Camino several years ago in La Puy France and does 2 weeks every year until completed.  He will finish his Camino next year – he had already completed ~1100 km.   We are quickly becoming good friends with Torstin.

Shortly after we leave Astorga we find a small church on the way and we light candles for Torsten and our family and friends that need help.

 

The day continues and we come across this Japanese family that we met several weeks back.  We are amazed they are still at it with the young children in tow.  The scenery keeps  hanging at every turn and of course Alnita needs to get her pilgrim picture.

The day continues with a hard climb up to Foncebadon at 1500 meters.  We will be approaching the highest point of the Camino tomorrow.  We book a private room at an albergue but it’s slim pickings. We don’t care at this point – it’s a room with a bed – sort of – But the view is awesome.

Alnita doesn’t feel well during our communal dinner and goes to bed to relax.

  

After I make sure Alnita is alright, I decide to go out on the town and explore – two albergues and one cafe.   I meet another German named Wilhelm and we talk for a few minutes. More to follow on Wilhelm in future posts – another great guy that we end up walking with.

So I’m in the middle of nowhere in an albergue whose accommodations are so-so and low and behold I end up hanging out with a group of pilgrims and workers at the albergue who are playing amazing music with mandolins and guitars.  I only took video and wish I had some pictures to share. It was an amazing time, drinks were flowing, Alnita was feeling better and I went to bed happy.

Day 25! Foncebadon to Ponferrada (29 km)

Today is a long hike and we are joined by our 2 new German friends, Torsten and Wilhelm.  It’s also the day we reach Cruz de Fierro – more to follow below.

The view from Foncebadon is spectacular in the morning and we are climbing higher later in the day.   Every turn we take we get another spectacular view!

 

Along the way we find this small albergue, curio shop and cafe all focused on the Knights Templar.   Unfortunately for Alnita and Tom we have to use the facilities – old school latrine.

Now that business is taken care of we make our way to Cruz de Ferro.  This is the spot on the Camino where pilgrims  unburden themselves and leave something behind – traditionally something that was brought from home.  Could be as simple as a rock or as in our case Alnita left behind her bandana with words written to help all of our family that needs help.  In Tom’s case, he left behind a lighter with a commitment to quit smoking.  Also pictured below is Torsten at the cross.

We continue on our way and continue to climb.  We reach 1552 meters – the highest point on the Camino.  We are as high as the windmills and the views are stunning.

We start our descent to Ponferrada and meet some old friends and a new one George.  He looks a lot like our friend Thomas from Austin and wears a kilt while walking – he is not Scottish and is from the States.  We find a great place to relax before making the final push to Ponferrada.

Tonight was our luggage hook-up and staying at Temple Ponferrada and the boys decide to stay at the same place.  Turns out we booked two rooms connected and offered the 2nd room to Wilhelm – in return he is going to buy us dinner.  This turned out to be a win-win, we go Italian (after some sight seeing and horsing around) and it turns out to be great.  The guide book didn’t steer us wrong.  Thanks Wilhelm for a fantastic dinner.

What a great day!  New friends who like to do the Camino Gormley style.  Off to bed.

Day 26! Ponferrada to Villafranca de Bierzo (23 km)

Time to move on to Villfranca. Alnita and I are feeling good and blisters are under control.  We have stopped using Compeed and gone back to the basics – needle and thread with gauze and tape.

Ok now for today’s summary.  Weather looks good and going to be warm.  It takes a while to get out of Preferrada because it is a big city but we finally find the trail.   We hit the first village and see we are 200 km from Santiago – getting closer.

More trails but we are all feeling good with exception of Torsten – his hidden blister is slowing him down.  Alnita even tried to fix it but no avail.  Torsten is a trooper and presses onward.  Tom’s hat is starting to look wilted but that was because it was inadvertently put in the dryer last night (Alnita).

Decisions, decicisions, which way do we go?

We press on and find a great place to eat and we learned that if we ask in Spanish for wine for “tired and hungry” pilgrims we would get a free tapa and a glass and wine.  Pretty funny watching Tom and two Germans practicing their Spanish with Alnita.  Tom said the magic words and got the group a few freebies  and then we proceeded to eat a great meal.  The name of the place was Moncloa – highly recommended.  The region is known for pulpo (octopus).

We arrive at Villafranca late in the day and are very tired. The old stone lined streets hurt our feet and our albergue is at the other end of town. The 4 of us stay at the same place, do our end of day routine and go out for dinner. It’s amazing what a shower can do – Tom is feeling refreshed and ready to go.  We get some sightseeing in, eat dinner and off to bed.   Since it’s Torsten’s last night on this years Camino he buys dinner – thank you Torsten!   We will miss you for the remainder but we truly value our time spent on the Camino.   

Day 27! Villa del Bierzo to Laguna de Castillo (28 km)

So morning breakfast has us parting ways with Torsten and Wilhelm. Torsten’s last day was yesterday and he plans to return to Germany and complete his 5 year Camino next year. Wilhelm received bad news on the family front last night and needs to accelerate his Camino and return home early. Alnita and I will miss both of you guys and we will always have a special place in our hearts for both of you. Buen Camino our friends!

Alnita and I are planning our days better.  Our original goal was to reach O Cebreiro today but we divide the 900 meter climb over two days versus one.  This was a good idea – 700 meter climb versus 900 made a big difference.  Getting to Laguna was a challenge as it was – 28 km – mostly uphill for the last 10.

As always we find 2-3 rest stops along the way.  Burning lots of carbs means we need to refuel along the way and we are always looking for a pharmacy to restock on supplies.  As the sign says “yes we can”.  Tom is looking a little ragged before today’s last stage.

We make it to Lauguna after seeing a taxi sign no less, do our laundry, eat quickly and it’s off to bed. Long day for 20 km.

Day 28! Laguna de Castillo to Triacastela (23 km)

Well the good news is only 23 km today with the 1st two finishing the climb to O Cebrerio and the rest downhill to Triacastela. The bad news – overcast and rain. Time to put the rain gear on.

We make it to O Cebrerio in record time but we can only imagine the views are great because the weather isn’t.  We don’t care – we are having fun and asking the tourists from the buses to take pictures of us.  We are also finding we are part of the attraction – wow real peregrinos who are actually doing this crazy thing.

 

We find a souvenir shop and buy a few things, have a quick bite and we are on our way down to Triacastela and have some fun with a pretty cool pilgrim statue.  Note Alnita has pulled out her rain poncho – we look funny but keep dry.

Ok here is a first for us – we are literally walking with cows into town.  Call it the poor mans version of running with the bulls.  Alnita took a tumble and fell in cow dung – her backside was covered with crap and the jokes were flowing – she was first to take a shower tonight.  We also run into Martin from Argentina again – we probably have ~20 Camino family friends that we run into frequently.

We make it to Triacastela, find a good albergue and Alnita washes the crap off of her. We meet our friends and have a good dinner and watch the Champions League Final – Real Madrid against Juvitcus. We are surrounded by Spaniards and Italians – perfect place to watch the final – sorry Erica – viva la Spain.

Day 29! Triacastela to Sarria (25 km)

Off to Sarria which is the starting point for a lot of peregrinos because it is the last 100 km to Santiago and you qualify for the Compostela.  We have a quick breakfast and hit the road.  The weather is good and we are fresh.  2 km out we find a small albergue that had a good feel to hit and we stop for coffee.  Pictured below is the owner with Tom.

     

We continue along another 8 km and we are getting hungry.  We come across a donotivo that has a really cool vibe to it and stop by for a quick bite and meet Simon the owner – pictured below with Tom.  Turns out he is from Australia and made this place home several years ago.

Simon, realizing we are pretty cool people, suggests we take a slight detour off the Camino and visit an art studio specializing in minerals and crystals.  Turns out to be a great recommendation.

Pictured below are is the studio, workshop, meditation room and examples of the art.  Apparently Antonio, the artist, is world known and his art is truly amazing.  He and his son travel the world to find one of a kind crystals – note none of the art contains added color – they are all minerals of different colors.  Some of the pieces are translucent and change color depending on the light behind the artwork.

We like his work so much that we buy a piece for our house – pictured last.  Antonio makes a special crate and will be shipped late June.  Our version of shopping along the Camino.  I also buy Alnita a small crystal necklace.  This was a great stop!

Shopping done for the day we press on to Sarria and our reserved hotel King Alfonzo IV and our luggage.  The hotel is another gem and we upgrade to a suite – good call – beautiful suite with two bathrooms – one with a jacuzzi tub.     

We take advantage of the tub, freshen up and hit the bar. Meet a local, do laundry, and head back to the hotel for dinner.   The steak Tom ordered was the best of the Camino.  After much delight, postre, drinks, and coffee we hit the bed.  Today was another great day.

 

Day 30! Sarria to Vendas de Naron (35 km)

Sarria is crowded with lots of new pilgrims who start their Camino here.  Fresh legs, day packs, and lots of chatter. We affectionately call them touregrinos.

We say our goodbye to Hotel Alfonzo and start the long 35 km day.  We have 4 days to get to Santiago and cover 116 km.  We decide to do the long days first and keep the last day into Santiago as short as possible.

Along the way we catch up to Wilhelm who decides to join us for the day.  We must be walking real fast because he was at least a town or two ahead of us when we last texted.

We enter Portamarin across a great bridge and the city has a good vibe so we make this our long lunch rest stop.  Ugh more steps first but Wilhelm has the Rocky theme song playing when we get to the top – got to love that German humor.

 

We continue our afternoon and make the final push into Vendas de Naron. We make it rather quickly considering this was a 35 k day. We get to our albergue and say goodbye to Wilhelm once again.  He had another 8-10 km to do to make his early departure from Santiago on Thursday. We send him off with a shot or two or three – I forgot.

 

Day 32! Melide to O Pedrouzo (33 km)

We take on 33 km today so that we only have 20 km tomorrow for our final push in Santiago.  Lots of beauty around us today – hiking through forests and open fields – not too many hills so we are making tracks.

     

Tom takes some time to update the blog as we ponder taking advantage of using the hammocks at a rest stop.  We know better – if we lay down it may be a long siesta.

     

Throughout the late afternoon, Alnita is the angel of the Camino.  She helps one older couple from Australia that were lost and really out of it  – she calls a taxi to take the to their albergue.  We find an Irish lady (Paula) that was way behind her group and stranded at a bar.  Her phone was dead and couldn’t reach her group.  Alnita to the rescue – not only does she have chargers for our iPhones, she has android chargers as well.  Paula gets her phone charge and walks with us into O Pedrouza, after she bought a few beers with lemon for us of course.

We arrive at our final albergue (private pension tonight) at 7:30 because of the long hike and helping stranded pilgrims, freshen up and have a great cook your own steak dinner.  Now you see it now you don’t.  Another great day on the Camino!

Day 33! O Pedrouza to Santiago de Compostela (20 km)

We are so excited this morning. We only have 20k today to reach Santiago. We are happy but also sad that our long journey is almost over.

We have our typical starter breakfast, tostadas with jam and coffee and hit the trail.  Along the way we run into our Russian friends from way back (Nicoli and Julie) and walk a few kilometers with them.  Alnita plays our daily ritual, On the Road Again by Willie Nelson – turns out the Russians love Willie – small world.

  

Just on the outskirts of Santiago and we take a slight detour (What’s another 1 km) to see the tribute to the papal visit, some large trees? AND the 2 pilgrims pointing to the Cathedral – we have some fun posing.

    

Another 4 km (45 minutes) and we make it to Santiago de Compostela – Alnita sheds a tear or two – we are so happy – we hiked officially hiked 799 km and are safely at our destination. We are proud of both of us and of each other!

 

Now time to get our Compostelas – what a two hour wait?  Who cares?  We see the Maria’s from Brazil one last time – lots of hugs and kisses.

   

 

Day 34! Santiago de Compostela (Rest Day)

First things first in Santiago – another great suite at Eurostar Araguaney!

Now off to the Cathedral of St. James for pilgrims mass and to see the Borofumeria – the swinging of francesense after communion – very impressive. Alnita posted the video to her Facebook page.

Off to lunch with our gang and some sightseeing. Alnita and I also get a photograph – old school – turned out great!  We also run into Marta who we have hung out with over the last 4 weeks.  Buen Camino Marta.

Back to the hotel – taxis allowed now.  Time for some pampering – Tom gets a trim if the beard and Alnita gets her makeup done and feet massage.  Speaking of feet – we now have kankles from all of the walking.

Freshened up and ready for dinner.  We went to one place but no tables open so we make plan b and go back to the hotel  for dinner – it’s 10:30 and places are full or closing.  Good call – dinner was fantastic!  Pictured below is Erika, Eva, Alnita, Tom and Martin.  We’ve been with these guys since the beginning – we will miss you guys very much – thanks for all of the fun times!  Buen Camino!

Finish dinner at midnight and time to hit the bars – heck we don’t have to walk in the morning.

Day 35! Santiago/Muxia/Finisterre

Today is our opportunity to see the most western part of Europe (used to be called the end of the world) Finisterre and Muxia.  We could have made this part of our Camino but it would have added 4-5 days in our already packed schedule. Instead we opt for a bus tour – we are done with long hikes (for the time being) and are in tourist mode. Wait a minute, does NASA have a satellite office out here?  I’m all in!

First stop is a small village on the way to Muxia.  Cool area with nice scenery – it never stops out here.

                                                 

Next stop is one of the original grain storage bins in Galicia. These are storage areas for the farmers personal crop after sale – lots of technical stuff about controlling humidity, protecting from rodents and the added crucifix to protect the locals food for the year.   We’ve been seeing these things for the last week and finally found out what they were for.

Ok time for a bathroom break at Cafe Paris and off to Muxia. Great to see the ocean and Alnita takes the opportunity to pick up some souvenirs.

For those that saw the movie The Way – this is the final scene where he parts with his son’s ashes.

Next stop – lunch at a restored villa from the 1300s.  Great opportunity to meet others and we come to find out we have hiked the longest – Alnita whips out our pilgrim passport to show all of the places we have been. I’m so proud of my wife!  The Australian pictured below loves her Australian football – a little too much.

Off to Finisterre and time for a quick nap on the bus.    The weather is overcast but the “end of the world” views are still impressive.

One more stop before going back to the city – the waterfalls in Cee.  Very beautiful and not well known so not very crowded and the beaches are nice!

Back to Santiago to relax, change and meet up for dinner and last night partying with Camino friends.

Day 36! Santiago to Barcelona

Today we move on to Barcelona – Tom is a little hung over – thanks Martin.   Our room at the Hilton isn’t ready since we arrive early but we have stayed here before and hit the Honors club for a drink and the view and off to do our final load of laundry  – Gormley style again!  Tom carries the laundry bag, we get the wash started and look for the closest cafe. Along the way we watch a car commercial being made on the streets of Barcelona.

Chores are completed and we head back to the hotel. Our suite is available and scored again – thank you Hilton Clearlake for all of those Honor points – free suite for the week.

This afternoon’s plan: poolside!  The weather is gorgeous – 80s for the week.   The pool is a lot like Vegas pools – reserved seating and cabanas and vegas prices but it is fantastic.  In addition to the DJ playing music we are treated by a girl playing an electric violin – she was good – very good!

After several hours of soaking in the rays and relaxing and several chi-chis (daiquiri with vodka) we hit the Honors club for evening appetizers and more drinks.  You see a trend here throughout this blog?

We make our tour plans for the week and select our dinner target for tonight. Target being the key word. We went to the room to change and made the fatal but much needed mistake – laid on the bed.  Next thing we know it’s morning – so much for dinner but 10 hours of solid sleep was greatly needed.   Alnita is still sleeping as I’m writing this summary.

Day 37! Barcelona – Touring the City

As stated in yesterday’s post we slept in and got to breakfast around 9.  Off to the pool for several hours – it’s Monday so we don’t have the weekend crowd and soak up the rays.   It’s Bloody Mary Monday for Tom.

               

Off to Gaudi’s La Sacradia Familia – been there last time in Spain but it’s worth a repeat visit!  You be the judge.

Ok round 2 of Basilica pictures from Alnita’s iPhone 7+, it really does take better pictures than the iPhone 7 AND she remembers to take pictures with us in them!

We take the tower tour and the views are amazing at the top and all the way down of Barcelona.   There is a lift to the top and a reminder there are 400 steps back down.  That is where the fun begins.  If you have a fear of heights or claustrophobic it can be a little intense.  Not as bad as Pad B or the VAB but not far from it.

Back to the hotel to freshen up and of course happy hour before going out for dinner.  We are going out to dinner tonight!

Day 39! Barcelona Fishing

Up bright and early to go deep sea fishing and see more of the city. Unfortunately we missed the blue tuna by 2 weeks and the extremely warm weather prevented us from catching anything but a few small fish. All we caught was a good buzz and more sun but that is why they call it fishing and not catching fish.  Fortunately our lunch afterwards had all the fish we could want!

After lunch Tom hit the casino to play some blackjack while Alnita took a nap. Held my own playing cards but didn’t pay for the trip. Time for more shopping and a makeup session for Alnita before hitting the bar scene and finding another great restaurant.