Bastille Day on the French Route


Thursday, July 14, 2016
Palas de Rei to Melide
Day 44

Bastille Day. I’ll have to remember to congratulate any French pilgrims I encounter.

Walking, walking, walking, but with frequent stops for cold soft drinks and then for lunch. Very slow going, overall.

Earlier along the Camino we sometimes went a full day hardly seeing anyone. Now, the streams of pilgrims from various routes, plus all the new pilgrims who started at Sarria, are joining together for the final push into Santiago. The trickle of people has become a river.

With so many more people along the Camino than was true previously, we had more occasions to talk to others. We met a group of six American Episcopalians from New Jersey. Two had already walked from Sarria to Santiago once before. We also chatted with a couple of other groups.

A wonderful experience occurred along the route. There are many high school groups walking this stage of the Camino. They are all faster walkers than I am, so I hear them approaching from behind, chatting and giggling. Eventually they catch up with me, pass me, then speed ahead.

Once, I heard a group far back singing, though I couldn’t distinguish the tunes. As they got closer, I realized they were singing Beatles tunes. As they passed me, I saw a number of them holding their telephones in their hands, the song lyrics displayed on their screens. How great to hear a group of Spanish high school girls on a religious route singing in accented English “Help,” “Let It Be,” and “Hey, Jude.”

We stopped at a church along the way, following my rule never to pass up an open church. It was called San Xulian (St. Julian). There I had an interesting conversation with the man staffing the church. He was a lay missionary in an organization that was founded by an Italian. Mostly the group does its missionary work in Africa, but they also go to Latin America. Now they are trying to get the churches along the Camino open (Hurray!) by offering to staff them.

It sounded like a very interesting group, and I heartily support getting more churches open for pilgrims. I put a slightly larger-than- usual donation in the box.

29,112 steps today

See additional photographs at

Stalked by a Familiar



Wednesday, July 13, 2016
Portomarin to Palas de Rei
Day 43

Today is July 13. My brother, named but never called James, will be celebrating his birthday back home.

This was another hard day of walking—twenty-three kilometers! The day was quite cool, and there was shade along the way. Still, the path was up and down, up and down, which is hard for a flatlander like me.

I finally arrived at Palas de Rei around 6:00 pm, totally knackered, my feet hurting. I wasn’t sure I could even walk another step in order to go to dinner, but at 9:40 pm I finally levered myself up off the bed and we walked several blocks from the hotel to the restaurant. Outside, besides being cool there was a strong wind. We are still at a high elevation. I broke out my jacket for the first time in many days and was glad to have it.

We just made it to the restaurant before closing time. We had to rush in to place an order before the place’s announced 10:00 pm closing time. We had a very nice waiter who obviously saw that we were all done in. He gave us a couple of free soft drinks after he saw how thirsty we were, and then hot chocolate after the meal.

On the way back to the hotel, a Siamese cat followed us for blocks. James, as he had many times on the Camino, again wished we had a pet waiting for us back home. (Our last cat had died and not been replaced.)

49,723 steps today

Check out more pictures at

Stubbed Toes and Skidding!


Tuesday, July 12, 2016
Sarria to  Portomarin
Day 42

We are now on the final days of our pilgrimage. From Sarria to Santiago is 100 kilometers, the minimum required distance to walk in order to qualify for a Compostela. As a result, many pilgrims start their pilgrimage at Sarria, and the Camino will be full of pilgrims.

This was going to be a long walk. Despite his foot, James was determined to do it so as to qualify for his Compostela. We were up at 6:00 am, downstairs for breakfast by 7:00 am, and out the hotel door by 8:00 am.

It was a fairly good surface, but uphill, uphill, uphill, which I abhor. We stopped for drinks, and then stopped again for lunch. Boots off, sweaty feet recovering from the slog. After lunch, off again for another ten kilometers. In total, we had to walk twenty-three kilo‐ meters. And once we made it to Portomarin, we still had to go an other 0.8 kilometers from the center of the town to our hotel, not counting the steps we wasted because we couldn’t find the hotel and wandered in circles for a while.

While the road was basically OK, there were a lot of buried rocks, with just their tops peeking out. Since I tend to shuffle along, I stubbed my toes at least six times. (Thanks, Keens, for protecting my toes.) And I skidded once. (Thanks, walking poles, for stabilizing me.) The final descent into Portomarin was horrible, as bad as or worse than the descent into Zubiri.

July 12, 2016: Sarria to Portomarin

42,678 steps today

Last Rest Stop

Monday, July 11, 2016
Day 41

This is our last rest day before our final push to Santiago de Compostela. We spent the bulk of the day doing chores, with me writing in my journal and reading about this part of the Camino while our clothes dried. We lunched in the hotel cafeteria, having salad and octopus. Yummy. Just the sort of light lunch we wanted.

James wished to see the two churches I had visited the night be‐ fore. We walked up to St. Marina, where a pilgrims’ mass was almost over. I went to communion even though I felt guilty for missing most of the service. A guitarist and a group of singers filled the church with music.

I found a shop that was still open and purchased my Sarria pin, which was in the shape of a tiny pilgrim.

Wanting a change from the usual Spanish menu, we went to an Italian restaurant for dinner. There was a very boisterous table of pilgrims from a variety of countries—Koreans, Americans, and so forth. They were celebrating someone’s birthday. James began playing his guitar, which he had brought along. The Koreans snapped a photo of us and immediately printed it on some sort of new technology they had. Cool. Sort of like an updated Polaroid camera, dispensing photos immediately, but very small ones.

4,814 steps today

A King’s Lodging


Sunday, July 10, 2016
Tricastela to Sarria
Day 40

Another taxi, this time from Tricastela to Sarria.

We are staying in the only high-end hotel of this trip, the four- star Hotel Alfonso IX. Once checked in, we enjoyed the hotel’s fluffy towels and commodious bathroom, a huge step up from the modest arrangements of our previous lodgings.

I headed out for a 7:30 pm pilgrims’ mass, which was held at a very small church. There were more pilgrims here than I had seen in days. I stopped in at a larger church, Santa Marina, on the way to the pilgrims’ mass in order to ask for my Sarria sello (stamp) for my Camino passport.

James met me for dinner. We had a lovely tapas meal, accompanied by sangria. Nothing better, to my way of thinking.

On the way back to the hotel, we came across a youth group that was singing in a plaza. We had seen the same group in Tricastela, but hadn’t realized they were a choral group. We listened to them for a while, with James offering musical commentary, before heading back to our hotel.

7,162 steps today

July 10: Tricastela to Sarria

Additional photos from this day can be viewed at

The Shepherd’s Miracle


Saturday, July 9, 2016
O’Cebreiro to Tricastela
Day 39

James had no interest, given his bad foot, in walking around O’Cebreiro, with its rough paving stones, so I set off alone to explore. I went back to the church, this time to see again the chalice and paten that are at the heart of the famous miracle. I won’t go into the details. (Michener tells it much better than I could, having heard the tale from a local shepherd on a dark and stormy night.)

The basic story is that a priest based in this town during the Middle Ages resented during the long snowed-in winters having to leave his warm hearth in order to say mass each day in this very cold church for a single parishioner, a humble shepherd. You can probably guess what happens and how the priest gets his just deserts. It’s a lovely tale. As I have throughout this journey whenever I have been in a church, I dropped to my knees and said an Our Father, a Hail Mary, a thank you to my mother and father, and a special plea to my sister, my own Saint Muffet, for her intercession. If anyone in heaven can help me and the rest of my family, it is she.

I also requested the help of Saint James. Besides being the patron saint of Spain and the reason for the existence of this pilgrimage route, St James is the namesake and hence patron saint of my uncle, my brother, my ex-husband, my ex-father-in-law, my son, and my nephew. “James” has special meaning on both sides of my family. I purchased a prayer card with a prayer to Saint James, and I silently re‐ cited it before leaving the church.

I went to the Palloza Museum next. O’Cebreiro is an ancient hill town, and the museum was filled with artifacts from bygone eras. It was interesting to learn how these hill people lived in their low slung pallozas (cottages) that look to me like brown mushrooms with thatch caps.

This town has really changed since Michener was here in the late 1960s, when it was practically a ghost town. Pilgrims have revived it. It now has several hostels and at least two gift shops catering to the visitors. As usual, I ducked into the tourist shops to see what treasures I could find. I purchased an O’Cebreiro pin to add to the collection of pins I have been amassing, one for each town in which we stop.

James and I set out for Tricastela in a taxi. We are booked into an amazing complex for pilgrims. Most of the rooms are dormitory style, but we have a private room with bath. Best of all, the complex boasts a laundry and WiFi. While washing clothes, I caught up on email and news from home. There is bad news out of Dallas. Three policemen have been killed in what might be the start of some sort of revenge killings for the murders of black men by policemen.

6,684 steps today

More photos are at July 9: O’Cebreiro to Tricastela

The Man with the Yellow Arrow


Friday, July 8, 2016
Las Herrerias to O’Cebreiro
Day 38

After breakfast, I settled down to work on catching up on my blog posts. The WiFi wasn’t very good, and I found it very frustrating. I couldn’t get anything to upload. I gave up after a while. I have my travel journal, and so long as I keep that up to date I can always catch up on the blog when I arrive somewhere with good WiFi.

After lunch, we took a taxi to our next stop on the Camino, O’Cebreiro. This is a very old, tiny, quite famous village, thanks to a miracle that supposedly took place here. Michener wrote about it; he had a wonderful, mysterious, and somewhat scary experience here.

O’Cebreiro is also the highest point along the Camino. I’m glad I didn’t have to climb the hill to get up here but instead was able to ride on four wheels in comfort. Not a very pilgrim-like thing to say, but the truth. The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.

At the hotel, I was very disappointed to find out that there was no WiFi whatsoever. What a bummer! To assuage my resulting bad temper, I went out to visit the local church, Santa Maria la Real.

Santa Maria is supposed to be the oldest church on the Camino, dating all the way back to the ninth century, when pilgrims first starting trekking to Santiago. The church is very simple and plain, but beautiful. I bought a postcard of its huge twelfth century baptismal font. By the looks of it, new Christians got a full immersion in the baptismal water rather than just a sprinkling of water on the forehead.

I wandered into the side garden where busts and plaques honoring Father Elias Valiña, the Spanish priest who re-popularized the Camino in the 1970s, have been placed by Camino associations from around the world. (See Chapter 21, “Father Elias Valiña,” on page 108.)

I searched for a plaque, or memorial stone, or other monument from APOC, but could not find one. Back at the church, I asked the clerk on duty at the small shop selling religious items whether there was something from America in the garden.

“No, there isn’t,” she said.

“Why not?” I asked. “Americans make up the largest national contingent walking the Camino. We should be represented.”

“I don’t know,” she replied.

“If APOC offered a plaque for hanging on the wall, would it be welcome?”

“Of course. As you can see, we have items from all over the world.”

It made me sad that we Americans had failed to offer homage to this remarkable man. I’m going to ask my Houston chapter leaders why not, and maybe post a query on the APOC website.

James says we are eating too much. He’s right. On days when we walk a lot, eating big meals is fine, but on days like this one when we are mostly physically inactive, we need to cut back. We decided to skip dinner.

3,793 steps today

See more photos at July 8: Las Herrerias to O’Cebreiro


A Reading Break

20160707_102202Thursday, July 7, 2016
Villafranca to Las Herrerias
Day 37

Once again, we faced transportation difficulties: there is no bus from Villafranca to Las Herrerias. James would have to take a taxi. I went back and forth in my mind about whether to walk or go in the taxi with James. Wednesday had been a hard day of walking, and James had spent the day alone. I decided to give myself a break and go in the taxi.

We arrived in Las Herrerias far in advance of the time we would have if we had walked. This is still chocolate country, so James and I drank hot chocolate on the hotel patio, his with a dash of liquor, mine without.

I found a left-behind copy of a James Patterson book, Sail, and decided to take a break from reading about Spain and the Camino. The book, about a family summer sailing trip that goes terribly awry, has at its center a dysfunctional family. In a weird way, the book made me feel better. My extended family has issues, that is for sure, but we aren’t trying to kill each other to get our hands on the family fortune. Maybe not being wealthy has some silver linings.

James and I set off for the village to find a café for lunch. (Our hotel is outside of town.) We started walking, only to realize that we would have to walk up and down a hill to get there, under the hot midday sun. We turned around and headed back to the hotel to try its food.

Even though Las Herrerias is inland, like most restaurants in Spain the hotel restaurant served various seafood dishes. James and I had frequently ordered fried calamares (squid), but for the first time I asked for pulpo (octopus). It was delicious. The Spanish know to cook those two dishes.

After lunch, a nap and more reading. The fictional family is really in deep kimchi. It was hard to put the book down, but at 9:15 pm hunger got the best of me and I went downstairs to eat. It’s a good thing the Spanish keep late dining hours. James wasn’t hungry, so he stayed upstairs.

After dinner, I sat in the hotel’s lounge and continued reading. Against all odds the fictional family started pulling together, and all but one of the family members survived. I finished the book before going up to bed. All in all, it was a very quiet day,

2,623 steps today

Solo Traveler


Wednesday, July 6, 2016
Ponferrada to Villafranca
Day 36

Author’s Note: From this point forward, the entries come from my travel journal rather than my blog. I was getting too frustrated with trying to post daily updates and upload photos when the WiFi wouldn’t cooperate. I thought perhaps I would catch up on posts when I got to a town with good connectivity, but, in the end, I didn’t want to spend the time.

Today I arranged to split up from James for the day. I wanted to walk, but he couldn’t. I booked a taxi to take James to the bus station. From there, he could take a bus to Villafranca, while I walked the Camino.

The path was so-so, with lots of rocks and gravel and some hills, but overall not too bad. The morning was very hot, then after lunch it began threatening rain with lots of thunder and lightning. Sprinkles of rain began, sometimes quite heavy sprinkles. Before it started pouring, I thought it prudent to make the necessary adjustments. I pulled out my waterproof Ziplock pouch and stored my phone and tablet in it.

Then I put on my rain poncho. Since I was by myself, it didn’t go so well. My poncho kept snagging on my backpack, and I couldn’t tug it free. Nor could I figure out what the poncho was catching on. I took off my poncho several times and put it back on, trying to fluff it out over my backpack, but each time I had the same problem.

This was the first time I had had to get my rain gear out of my backpack, and of course it was the day James wasn’t with me. He could have fixed the problem in ten seconds, but I spent several minutes in the drizzle before giving up. If my backpack and the things in it got wet, so be it. My phone and tablet were safe, and that’s all that really mattered.

I started off again with a still-snagged poncho. Eventually the wind freed the poncho. Despite all the menacing signs, the light rain never developed into a pouring deluge, as I had feared. My backpack and I survived quite nicely.

Along the way I saw some interesting folk art and stopped to look at it. A husband and wife offered me beer or water. Yet more kindness offered by strangers.

I ducked into an open church I saw for a quick peek and finally staggered into Villafranca at 6:45 pm. I had left Ponferrada at 9:00 am, so that was about nine hours of walking to reach my destination.

I met James at the hotel. I quickly showered, then rushed down, famished, to dinner at 7:15 pm. Over dinner we talked with a Scottish couple who were bicycling the Camino with their seven-year-old son. He was managing quite well, they said, and keeping up with them. We spoke about Brexit, Harry Potter, my visit to Scotland way back when, and many other topics.

The WiFi is very poor here. I struggled with it for a while, then turned in by 10:00 pm. I didn’t sleep well, and was awake by 3:00 am. As usual when I can’t sleep, I read until I could nod off.

43,176 steps today

Please go to this site for some more photos: July 6: Ponferrada to Villafranca

The Castle

Tuesday, July 5, 2016
Day 35

Since the castle was built over many years, there are old parts, and even older parts. For example, there is the “Old Keep” and the “New Keep.” The whole castle area is quite large, and there are still areas not rebuilt and/or excavated by archeologists.

In the centuries after the castle stopped being  used, a lot of its stones were “recycled” into neighboring churches and homes. The narrative film in the castle explains how the castle began to be preserved and then restored in the 1920s and afterwards, after first appearing as an emblematic photo on advertising, such as on chocolate bars.

The castle grounds also include a gallery devoted to facsimiles of Medieval books, everything from books from around 800 AD to the start of printing. Facsimile Books of Hours belonging to lots of famous people are there, such as one belonging to Isabella of Castile.  And there is a tournament book of Rene of Anjou, showing how knights fought and what tournaments looked like.

A separate area is given over to books about and research on the Knights Templar. For me, a book and history lover, this was all fabulous.

We made a long visit to the castle. Workmen were disassembling fireworks stands, removing glasses and food and drink, and taking down flags. Evidently we had just missed the annual city celebration of the Knights Templar, which occurred over the previous weekend. I am sorry we missed it.  It would have been a great substitute for our missed 4th of July celebration, given the fireworks, parade, etc.

We stopped in a church we had seen from the castle, and visited a shop with souvenirs and medieval gear like swords and gauntlets. (I though of my brother Douglas, who used to participate in medieval reenactments. He would have loved the shop.) Then, after lunch, we headed for the laundromat.

We finished off the day with dinner at a really nice Italian restaurant. The lasagna was fabulous, and we ordered a bottle of chianti, the most expensive wine on the wine list, I think, at 14€. This was James’s first Chianti, and he wanted to take the bottle with him, but of course we can’t haul that bottle around for the rest of our trip.  And so to bed, after a long day.

Steps: 13,999

For more photos, see our page for July 5: July 5:  The Castle and Ponferrada.