Thanks for the memories!

It is impossible to adequately describe the Camino, this unique mix of contemporary reality and historic legend crossing northern Spain. Walking past extraordinary structures or humble abodes, breathtaking vistas or chaotic sprawl, magnificent sculptures or simple symbols the actual topography and weather often dominate your immediate reactions as a pilgrim. Is the Camino going uphill? Sliding down on scree? Crossing water? How fast is the traffic? How thick is the mud? Is it raining? Will the ice melt? How deep is the snow? Can I see through the storm? What is tomorrow's forecast? When can I sit? Luckily this complex blend of banal and superb is often tempered by the gracious kindnesses of strangers along the way who offer smiles, water, conversation, help and hospitality.

Each page of this Camino Gazetteer recounts a mix of personal memories. All are precious to me. Some of my most vivid recollections of natural events, man-made sites, and, of course, human interaction are highlighted directly below. To read all posts follow my route by clicking on the Home tab and choose any place name in the Blog Archive in the left column. Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port starts my itinerary.

Vistas and landscape

Between Atapuerca and Cardeñuela as far as the distant horizon the rolling greenery was broken only by the giant curve of the trail. It was a perfect image; not an imagined vision, but a memorable vista, ‘my’ Camino.

From Estella to Los Arcos giant cliffs and eventually mountains on the north under a cobalt sky were lit by a glorious golden light. ....The wide, dry path had no mud. It was the type of day one dreams about!

Climbing out of Najera through the red cliffs as dawn broke was both beautiful and tiring; a full moon was setting in the west as the sun rose at 8am. To the south snow capped the distant mountains lit with the early sunlight. However it was very cold; a hat, gloves and muffler were a must.

West of Logrono the camino passes through the wine-rich region of Rioja. Late autumn although most grapes have been harvested some escapees still remain on the vines perfuming the air. Their leaves are colored russet and match the deep orange tones of the soil. In the early morning fog all is damp and chilly. Following the path on such a morning as it crossed these gently rolling fields was a true pleasure; tiny stones crunched beneath my feet as a few small birds (quail?) circled above. All seemed timeless and easy.

After Castrojeriz came the steep ascent up the Mostelares plateau. However, the gravel path is broad and the panorama from the top is superb! Alone with my thoughts I crossed the high pass....It was a steep climb up the next mesa but the view from 'the top of the world' was worth it. One could see widely for many kilometers; the west the path to take... alone along the Via de Vida or Way of Nothing for 10km or so. Apparently only the singular ribbon-like path of the Camino crosses this vast emptiness. For several kilometers nothing built nor anyone else could be seen. During such moments one feels truly alone and minute, nothing more than another blade of grass....

It is always a joy for me to be in the mountains and thus the long stretch between Leon and the Galician border is one of my camino favorites. West from Santa Catalina de Samoza starts the real climb up towards the peaks; nothing will be flat for the immediate future. After crossing the highest point at Monte Irago the path arrives eventually at the mythic and mystic O Cebreiro. From there on a clear day one can truly 'see forever' and even imagine the sea on the far distant horizon!

Fellow pilgrims

S a Brazilian with whom I walked in 2006 said that I reminded him of his mother!! Half my age and trilingual in Portuguese, Spanish and English, he could be very humorous; when he imitated Dixie accents from the American South I shook with laughter as icy tears of amusement rolled down my cheeks. What a surreal situation it was! The oddity of the setting, the disparity in our lives as well as the heady mix of mundane, philosophic and absurd conversation resembled some play by Samuel Beckett! One might call it The Snow Job. ...Also in 2006 Rob, Tony and Cath who all worked for the British YHA walked with me from Sarria to Santiago and on to Finisterre. Our hearty pasta and friendly conversations shared in many albergue kitchens always cheered me up.

Niki from Austria who I met in winter 2007 in Roncesvalles and walked with for a few delightful weeks. An NGO then working in Africa she was on a tight schedule.

Polo, my French walking companion for 55 days during winter 2008 might be described as a contemporary Jean Valjean from Les Miserables. He has done it all including sleeping in his car for 6 months. However, he needed a shepherd so I busily taught him the ropes and history.

Mayte from Spain with whom I walked in winter 2009 from Leon to Sarria. She had never hiked before and together we crossed the mountains and endured the snow.

Ade, a gentle musician from Seville and long haul pilgrim, with whom I walked on and off from O Cebreiro to Santiago in 2010.

Lars and Adam from Belgium with whom I walked casually for more than three weeks in 2011 and shared many delicious cups of hot mint tea!

Boris from ex-Yugoslavia with whom I trudged up O Cebreiro through an incredible snowstorm in late November 2012. He was a most welcome guardian angel!

Somi a Korean photographer who had been hired to film the solitude of long distance camino walkers. I served as her shepherd for a few days in 2013. We stayed in smaller albergues, ate well, walked slowly 20k max per day, took long siestas and laughed a lot.

Near Los Arcos in 2015 appeared an unknown pilgrim walking towards me; tall, tanned, wearing a beret and bearing packs on both his chest and back he strode smoothly along. When I said "Hola" he graciously greeted me in several languages and explained that early in summer he had walked from his home in Germany down to Saint Jean Pied de Port and on to Santiago. Now he was walking back towards southern France, Italy and eventually Rome. What an itinerary! What determination! After a short pause sitting on a rock while sharing a few cookies as well as several camino confidences we shook hands and sincerely wished each other Ultreia and Adieu. Each of us moved towards our different horizons but strangers no more.

Such pleasant chance encounters and instant friendships are part of the Camino's serendipity! We share our journeys, hopes and fears. We often stop at the same bar for a coffee and sleep in the same co-ed dorm but in no sense do we move as a single force! Each of us creates his own pattern as he moves along.

And thus the Camino is composed of all pilgrims' patterns; the multitude of these individual units together form a whole. Our way has nothing to do with sending backpacks ahead, taking taxis or buses during rough patches, staying in heated hotel rooms or complaining. At the moment all of us are relieved and thankful to be out of the incessant rain and mud. We try to take it as it comes enjoying the good and bearing the bad. After all this is life. Thankful at the end of each day for simple shelter, a bed (preferably a bottom bunk for me), working toilet, hot shower, something to eat and if possible good companionship. Carpe diem!

Unavoidable Weather

Out of the rain 2010

In Ferreios during the Middle Ages blacksmiths and ironmongers serviced the pilgrims’ horses. This is a perfect small albergue with only 22 beds amidst a beautiful, but very wet, landscape. Nearby down the hill next to the local church is a very good and very friendly restaurant/bar, Meson Mirabilos. My truly delicious Sunday lunch was fresh clam soup, breaded veal cutlet with cream sauce, cheese tart, thick country bread, water, wine and coffee for 10 euros! What a bargain! I am cozy in my sleeping bag happily writing while outside it is pouring rain. How wonderful to be DRY indoors!

Thinking in the rain 2014

The late autumn weather was dreadful; skies were grey and heavy with rain while the ocher landscape was thoroughly soaked. Puddles were everywhere, but pilgrims were few. Nor were the weekend pelotons out since this was hardly weather for easy biking.

For those who 'want to think things out' this IS the perfect moment. Few distractions impede your thought while the cold drip of rainwater on your face and the puddle-hidden path help keep you focused. You continue walking because you must in order to get warm, to have a meal or eventually to find a bunk for the night.

Dangerous cold 2010

Anita and I continued crossing the cold, bleak forest landscape to Vilaserio where we stayed in an old school which is now a minimal albergue. (The only alternative was to walk 20km further to the next accommodation.) The school had a toilet, shower, floor mattresses and NO heat! Outside it was sleeting; inside on tile floors the constant cold was hardly bearable! Of course I wore my woolly hat plus gloves to try to sleep, but there was no relief. Frankly I am surprised that we even made it through the night! By dawn a thin layer of treacherous ice stretched to the horizon outside.

Bitter winter weather 2006 and 2010

On the Camino the sun shone and sky was cobalt blue, but the temperature was below freezing and bitter cold. Although the path was flat, the wind was fierce. Treeless this immense Castillian plateau known as the Meseta must be hot as hell in summer, but it felt like the Klondike. S and I trudged 20 k across frozen mud and snowdrifts to Hornillos del Camino. Unheated, the municipal albergue was frigid, dismal and empty; at least there were blankets. An old farmer who lived nearby and served as hospitalero brought us cocoa powder and milk. We cooked pasta in the basement kitchen and crawled into our sleeping bags piled with blankets. Never in my life including the Canadian years have I spent the night in a colder interior space! Our breath hung suspended in the air!

It was a long cold slog in 2010 to the unheated municipal albergue at Villadangos del Páramo; the wind was brutal and rain teemed. The other pilgrims were a French couple traveling on bikes plus their two year old son who clad in a snowsuit rode in a enclosed little wagon pulled by his biking Daddy! Having been issued his own Credential, just like a grown-up, the little boy, too, was a bona fide pilgrim. His family had been traveling by bike throughout northern Europe including the wilds of Iceland for over one year and were vaguely headed towards north Africa after Santiago. It was fun to hear of their adventures and share their dreams. Nevertheless we all went to our bunks quite early in order to get warm or at least warmer! Luckily there were plenty of blankets available. By folding one in half and inserting my sleeping bag between the halves all was quite toasty. Wearing my 'evening dress' of socks, fleece pants, technical undershirt, and long-sleeved winter undershirt plus my woolly hat I was snug enough. However, I did dream enviously about that little boy's cozy snowsuit!

First blizzard February 2006

By the time I trekked 10 k to Villafranca Montes de Oca the Camino was covered with 2 or 3 inches of snow. Walking had become dangerous. After lunch in a truck stop, I went to the municipal albergue. No one was about, but the front door and one dormitory were open. No heat in the radiators, but piles of blankets and a hot plate. Considering the alternative it was great! Mid afternoon I snuggled into my sleeping bag; outside the storm steadily intensified. As night fell the radiators started up. How lucky I was! About 9 pm. the front door banged open followed by steps up the stairs. Resembling snow-covered yetis, two pilgrims stood at the foot of my bunk! One guy was French, the other Brazilian. We introduced ourselves and shared many cups of hot tea....Early in the morning the Frenchman left. Outside was a winter wonderland. The snow continued to fall. Bundling up for the storm plastic bags over sox served as makeshift gaiters. Outside the snow reached mid-shin. No trail could be seen; only a few markers affixed to trees were apparent. Walking was treacherous. At a road crossing the Brazilian and I were intercepted by the Guarda Civil in a four-wheel drive. Their photographer took my picture. Firmly stating that our lives were imperiled the police insisted on us returning to the albergue. ...By mid-morning the next day the storm was over.

Second blizzard March 2009

The weather had changed, drastically! Nevertheless we pilgrims set off to cross the mountain. Our path grew more and more slippery. Snow began to fall; pretty at first, then stinging and very cold with an incessant wind. Walking with great difficulty on the snow-covered road after 6 k I arrived at the tiny village of Foncebadon. During my first Camino it had been a ruin. Luckily a private albergue, Monte Irago, has been created and was OPEN. After delicious hot tea and toast Mayte and decided to stay in this warm and cozy spot. ... Now a full day later the snow outside is deep and still falling and the wind still howling. What a storm! We may be here until the spring thaw!...Our third day here has begun. The main room now resembles descriptions of Mt Everest base camp! Several new pilgrims who were stuck at Rabinal have made it here since the storm seems to have broken. Supposedly the road is being plowed so if no change for the worse occurs tomorrow I will try to continue. Outside there are at least 75 centimeters on the ground with much deeper drifts.

Third blizzard November 2012

Last night at the wonderful cozy albergue in Ruitelan we twelve pilgrims were worried regarding the weather forecast of heavy snow for today since all would be climbing up to the mythic village of O Cebreiro. This morning Carlos, the ever gracious hospitalero, told us not to walk the snowy camino but to follow the bike path along a plowed back road. Slowly we all set off. Luckily for me, Boris, a sturdy pilgrim from ex-Yugoslavia now in Germany working as a personal guard for celebrities walked with me. Perhaps Carlos had asked him to do so; perhaps it was just serendipity. Up we slowly climbed on dry road to begin, then a bit of snow, then deep snow and total white out. Huge pines shaggy with snow resembled grotesque phantoms from some fairy tale. After four hours climb there was a low stone wall - civilization at last! We had arrived. ...I shall always remember our walk and how comforting it was to have a guardian angel.

Delights of early spring 2009 in Galicia

The landscape had changed; lush green fields were divided by low stonewalls. Green hellebores bloomed along the route. ...For the past days I have been descending through a picturesque spring landscape mixing narrow paths, melodious brooks, frolicking newborn animals, birdsong, huge trees, tiny wildflowers, cold morning fog and hot mid-day sun. What a brew!

Golden autumn days in 2013

These last few days have been splendid for walking with clear blue skies, no wind and an often lush landscape of shimmering, golden leaved trees crossing the rolling Meseta. However, it IS getting colder; mornings are frosty and I'm glad that I have my usual thermals, plus fleece hat, scarf and gloves. My polyester/silk sleeping bag liner has always been GREAT for being snug at night; it weighs little, but it doubles the warmth of the bag. ....It would be so sad to have to rush along the route or even bus ahead in order to keep to some preset timetable. Part of camino pleasure is savoring each moment; how could you savor such a rush? Then these precious golden days would just be dross.

Restorative early morning sunlight in 2014

The long hard 5 hour slog up the Valcarlos alternate route to Roncesvalles monastery was as always exhausting and seemingly endless. I was so pooped at night that I wondered if I could ever get off the bunk to continue!! Yet after fresh squeezed orange juice ( better than champagne) in the new morning's dramatic light going downhill was easy and my confidence while walking this sunlit trail returned.

Special places and people


The Albergue at 55 rue de la Citadelle run by the Amis du Chemin de Saint-Jacques is a very special place. Whenever one sees the sign and enters the red front door a new adventure begins! ...The newly renovated albergue looks great and is now VERY comfortable

Madame Jeannine, the gracious hospitalero, is always most kind. When I was the only pilgrim she generously made me dinner and breakfast. She always remembered me from past visits which I found extraordinary since thousands of pilgrims pass each year. What a remarkable woman!


Documented from 1127 as a pilgrims’ hospice, Roncesvalles monastery is still in use as such. Earlier in time the picturesque site had been the battle scene for the defeat of Charlemagne’s army, immortalized in the medieval poem the Chanson de Roland.Hiking 20 k up the road to this almost mythic place is always one of my most difficult days on every Camino. In autumn 2004 after hiking about 5 hours I finally staggered over the 1060 meter Ibaneta pass into a picnic area filled with a munching mob; they had arrived by bus and cars! Never will I forget the look that one très correct French woman drinking champagne from a crystal flute, no plastic for her, gave me as I trudged past exhausted! ET would have been better received. A kindly couple from Scotland offered me the best ever cup of tea from their thermos.

In January 2009 I walked up the road in 5 hours through strong wind, heavy rain, sleet and eventually heavy snow! Saw no other pilgrims and few people. Tourists in one car that passed took my picture and the Guardia Civile asked if I needed help or a ride. At Roncesvalles I was the only pilgrim. The monk who stamped my Credential invited me to the evening benediction for pilgrims. It was lovely. The service was held in the ancient Romanesque church (wonderfully heated) in front of the magnificent silver sculpture of the Virgin. Three monks assisted and asked me to stand with them at the altar. ...In retrospect how special it was to be the single pilgrim where crowds have stood throughout time.

...In October 2011 it was a ROUGH five hour slog up the 1060 meter Ibaneta pass. Twice I had to lie flat on the narrow verges to catch my breath. At last at the top exhausted and elated I then "floated" happily down to Roncesvalles. What a wonderful relief!
During earlier Caminos I have always stayed here in simple accommodations which were very minimal in winter. Now however much has changed! An old wing of the vast complex has been handsomely rehabilitated into a splendid albergue sheltering well over 100 pilgrims. Sleek stainless steel kitchen, large dining areas, computer and wifi facilities plus a reading room are all available. A huge coed dorm is divided into cozy four bunk units. In mine were men from Japan, France and Germany. None had walked up but had arrived by taxi!!

Climbing up the Alto del Perdon

Eventually a glorious sunrise exploded on the eastern horizon; a coral orb began to light the now pale blue sky while I ate a breakfast cereal bar, drank a bit of water and hoped for the best. Then the trail began to really rise. Mid morning at last the mountaintop was reached with its wonderful line of sculpted metal pilgrims in silhouette....This stage on the Camino truly shakes out the hardy. Climbing up is no worse than the Ibaneta into Roncevalles, but descending is pure hell across scree for a couple of unforgiving km!

In 2012 all was pathless, churning mud on the infamous Alto de Perdon. Cold white fog hid any view as alone and thoroughly frightened I plodded on balancing with my invaluable walking stick. Almost by instinct precariously and repeatedly I slowly lifted each heavy mud-covered boot. At last on the windy summit I ate a chunk of chocolate and gulped some water. Rain poured down. Next began the even more hellish descent. Scree and multitudes of tennis ball size rocks covered the treacherous downward muddy path for the next few kilometers. Once again the walking stick was invaluable for balance and for probing to find solid footing.

Santa Maria de Eunate.

This is perfection. This small, circular structure is more than 1000 years old and may be based on the plan of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem. Nestled into the rolling countryside it is truly timeless. Protected within the dim interior one senses the deep peace of eternity. ... Here pilgrims have worshiped for one thousand years. For me, as for those multitudes, Eunate is close to paradise on earth. May peace in this timeless place always continue. ...In 2011 four other pilgrims and I shared warm hospitality in the simple albergue. Afterwards we held a simple candlelit prayer service in the mystic church giving thanks for our Caminos, our lives and our loves. Later as we each fell asleep we pilgrims remarked on our luck and pleasure in sharing such precious moments. ...Leaving in the opalescent morning I thought how wonderful it had been to visit this beloved place once again. May peace reign here another thousand years.

....Jean, the French hospitalero, at Eunate was always so very gracious and such a good cook; he prepared the most delicious goodies!

Villamayor de Monjardin.

Tired I stopped at a storefront shelter in Villamayor in 2004 for a welcome drink. Upon discovering that this was an albergue run by the parish church I stayed. It was so tiny that the roadside was the dining ‘room’. The vivacious Spanish housefather hung his wash in the churchyard. As the afternoon passed other pilgrims staggered in. The housefather cooked a simple meal for all; we shared it outside sitting together in the dark. Great human mix and vibes!...In 2011 after an early morning walk through Estella and revisiting the nearby Irache monastery I stopped at Villamayor de Monjardin, another hilltop village. In the past I have enjoyed staying in the extremely basic but humanly warm parish albergue. Unfortunately, since the roof recently collapsed, it was closed. Thus I stayed with a Dutch fundamentalist group who offered hyper clean facilities plus delicious food and a completely different atmosphere. Nevertheless I missed the more relaxed yet authentic parish caritas.


The municipal albergue in Granon, in a tower of the church of San Juan Bautista, is so special. Open all day its sign reads Welcome pilgrim make this your home. The handsome common room has a fireplace and comfortable furnishing. Above on a continuous platform are mats for sleeping bags. Kitchen and toilets were new and well equipped. One can really relax. ... Later the gregarious priest joined us pilgrims upstairs for dinner. Townspeople brought in extra food. Authenticity, honesty and true caritas make Grañón unique....Each time I am here I want to stay forever!...Overwhelming kindness always felt at Granon. Here everything is done to make each pilgrim feel at home. The hospitaleros are always warm and helpful while the communal meals are most pleasant. ... In 2013 it was, as always, most special to for me to enter once again the albergue door and share the welcoming cozy intimate comfort. We seven pilgrims relaxed, rested and reflected together; we also ATE quantities of delicious food lovingly prepared by our gracious host. When dusk fell and outside the wind began to howl inside the lit lamps and candles seemed to shine with the glimmer of true hospitality, grace and caritas....Might it always be so.

Viloria de Rioja

At Viloria de Rioja just east of Belorado Acacio and Orietta have a wonderful refuge for pilgrims. They have created a comfortable oasis from abandoned animal sheds; there are 10 comfy bunks in a dorm heated by a wood burning stove and great showers that water you and not the ceiling, walls or your clothes. Wifi is available as is a multilingual library specializing in books by Paulo Coelho.But best of all are the wonderful conversations with this Brazilian/Italian couple.

San Juan de Ortega

Where a dirt road crossed the Camino in the dense forest of Montes de Oca in 2004 a small white van was parked; a few folding chairs and a small table with wild flowers in a tiny vase placed outside. A tall, slim young bearded man wearing a blue track suit asked in English “would you like to rest and have a tea?” Slightly dubious, but glad to sit, I did. We introduced ourselves and talked about the weather, the Camino, and, more philosophically, purpose in life. His was helping pilgrims.

...After a laugh and another cup of tea I continued to the monastery of San Juan de Ortega. Ortega refers to nettles. This St John was a helper of St Dominic and like him built hospices and roads for pilgrims. Within the handsome Romanesque church is his sumptuous freestanding Gothic mausoleum. The saint is depicted recumbent beneath an ornate baldachino or canopy. Evening mass was beautiful; large bunches of fresh greens and shells decorated the main altar and side aisles. At the close of service the elderly priest invited all into the adjacent refectory where cups of tasty garlic soup were served....Both the tea and soup were precious gestures of heartfelt hospitality....The weather in 2009 was perfect with a clear blue sky, frosted vegetation and generally frozen mud. Walking 16k through pine forest crossing the Montes Oca to Agés was relatively easy. I never saw anyone until San Juan Ortega. However, revisiting the beautiful monastery church was sad. The priest who had been so active there revitalizing the Camino died one year ago. How lucky I had been to sample his famous garlic soup served to pilgrims after evening mass during my first Camino. ...May he be in peace.


As I was walking to Sahagún in 2007 a horn honked several times. One Spanish woman rushed across the parallel road to explain that a Portuguese guy wearing camouflage was walking and thought to be a criminal. For my safety she offered a ride. I said thanks but I would continue to walk. Within 10 minutes I heard someone behind on the gravel path. Bingo! It was a young guy wearing pink and grey camouflage! We look at each other. I say Hola!; he grunts and passes. Arriving at the municipal albergue I try to explain the situation to the hospitalero. She gives me a key to lock myself in. The place is huge and I am alone. Time passes. While in the loo I hear heavy footsteps mounting the stairs. Nervously I investigate. Two big cops and two pilgrims with bikes have arrived! Senora, we brought you some protection! said the cops. We all laughed and shook hands...

Close to Léon

Amidst industrial sprawl a new pedestrian bridge carries pilgrims high above the auto-route. When I arrived in 2010 the wind was so terrific that at first I could NOT MOVE! Seeking help but seeing no other pilgrim I backed down the ramp and calmly walked into a nearby BMW car showroom. After I explained that I needed assistance to cross and that we had a BMW in France the slightly astonished but very elegant manager put on his coat and took my arm. Eventually we both made it across, wind-blown and breathless! With a casual Adios he further added that he had never walked the Camino and if it was all like this crossing he certainly never would!

An accident at Hospital de Órbigo

After crossing the famous bridge at Hospital de Órbigo in 2004 while attempting to photograph the parish church I lost my footing and fell head first onto the irregular pavement! My pack crashed into my right shoulder. I was flat on the ground; my forehead and shoulder hurt like hell! Gently Mirta and a Mexican pilgrim helped me up. An egg was quickly swelling on my forehead (by day’s end I resembled Cyclopes). Out of nowhere a kind Spanish couple appeared and the man said Don’t worry, madam, I am a Chevalier de Santiago and will help. Examined at the regional hospital, I was told to rest, and see a doctor again the following day. The Spanish couple graciously invited the Mexican, Mirta and me to lunch at their house. We met their grown sons and had a trilingual conversation. Our host explained that the Chevaliers de Santiago are a group of Catholic men, who have been nominated to become members and who pledge to foster the Camino and help all pilgrims. In the Spanish custom lunch lasted at least four hours! With my left hand I alternated holding ice to my head and trying to eat since my right shoulder and arm were extremely painful. Nevertheless, how, lucky I was to be able to move and to have found another ‘guardian angel’. That night Mirta and I spent in a pleasant new private albergue. Next morning while I was still on my bunk the Chevalier and the local priest walked into the dorm to see how I was doing! The Chevalier and his wife then took me to the local doctor whose office was adjacent to the church. ... Later Mirta and I ate again with the Chevalier and his family. Never will I forget their kindnesses and spontaneous gracious hospitality. It was heartfelt caritas.

Years later in Hospital de Orbigo during 2012 and 2013 caminos I stayed in the private Albergue Verde. Most recently when I entered their gate the hosts greeted me by name! As before all was SO very comfortable; clinically clean showers were powerful and hot while fresh linens covered the comfy bunks. Vegetables from the surrounding organic garden were prepared by the charming hospitalera for a delicious and copious communal dinner. Here also all was warmly offered us pilgrims in sincerity and true caritas.

the Casa de los Dioses

East of Astorga on the inland path after Santibanez de Valdeiglesias and before the Cruz de Santo Toribo is place of simple perfection, the Casa de los Dioses. Here on a vast plain with sweeping vistas west toward the last camino peaks a man named David has set up a simple pilgrim oasis. Sheltered by a vast adobe barn partly covered with vibrant graffiti David offers a welcome seat and coffee, tea, juices, fruits and cookies to all who pass. All that he so willingly provides he has carried from the nearest village for there is neither water nor garden here. However what is most plentiful at David's is a special spirit and unconditional, selfless love....It is always great fun to stop again at David's Casa de los Dioses; David is SO happy to recall the various pilgrims who stop and speak with him. Furthermore he loves to show the latest changes to his big barn; slowly his long dream of a pilgrim meeting place within a forest locale is coming true as his selfless goodness spreads.

Rabanal del Camino

Our trail in 2004 slowly started to climb. Eventually we stopped at Rabanal del Camino where the refuge Gaucelmo was another special place. Named after a local hermit it had been comfortably renovated by the Confraternity of St James. The fire burning in the library was most welcome. The Confraternity, an English group of pilgrims, had also published the useful, terse guidebook, The Camino Francés, which I used and have a wonderful website and on line forum.
...At sunset I took an evening stroll. A small Benedictine monastery was next door, opposite was the parish church; the colors of the sky were splendid in the crystalline air and I was very happy to just be.

Imagine my surprise in 2011 when entering the small Romanesque sanctuary for Vespers to be greeted by cozy heat as well as the Abbot who smiled as he directly asked Do you speak English?. When I nodded he then handed me a selection on St Elisabeth and love to read aloud during the service. After briefly scanning the passage, smoothing my hair, pulling down my anorak, and worrying that my wooly pants might look too messy, I went "live" in front of the assembled other pilgrims and parish members. After the service we all filed out into the frosty night.

Cruz de Ferro

Walked up the snow-plowed, dry road to the mythic Cruz de Ferro, at altitude 1504 meters, this is a small iron cross atop a tall wooden pole rising from a huge stone cairn. Giving thanks for being able to come this far, I tossed a stone carried from our French garden onto the immense pile at the base of the famous iron cross. Thankful of my own great good luck in just being I further hoped to be able to cope with whatever life might bring. Pilgrims have made this same gesture since the middle ages; today the scene resembled a medieval landscape painting with deep white snow covering the ground and thick white fog swirling above. ...All seemed timeless.

Villafranca del Bierzo

Trudged on to Villafranca del Bierzo. Since the municipal albergue was closed we stayed in an atmospheric private one. Several crowded dorms were grouped about a courtyard....It is composed of an ad hoc series of volumes and levels surrounding an open courtyard. Past midnight the dorm door banged open. A British female voice loudly complained to her silent partner but this is just a shack! ...Over many years this place has slowly evolved as has its reputation. Everyone seems to know NOT to drink the water nor eat here! ...Neither heat nor hot water, but plenty of atmosphere! Nearby was the tiny 12th century Santiago chapel. During the Middle Ages pilgrims too ill to continue were granted absolution at its famous door, the 'Puerta del Pardon'.


At Ruitelan I have always stopped at a tiny private albergue. It is Buddhist yet very ecumenical. On the unpainted wooden walls were hung a Christian cross, pictures of the Dalai Lama and a card hand lettered, Shalom, the Hebrew word for peace. The hospitalero offered a welcoming cup of hot tea. Called Pequeno Potala it is run by two gracious Spanish Buddhist men. A small bell tinkles when you enter. Soothing music is playing in the background. The food is copious and delicious. Massages are available. In 2006 I was the only pilgrim. My solitary dinner, served on a scrubbed wooden table, included soup, rice, fried eggs, cheese, bread, wine and fruit. One fat candle lit the room and next to the clean cloth napkin was a long green iris leaf fresh from the garden. It was, indeed, perfect!

O Cebreiro

Long ago I realized that the usual camino footpath was far too steep for me up to O Cebreiro, so I walk on the old N VI highway. It is longer, but a gentler way. After climbing 4 1/2 hours alone through timeless mists there at last was the tiny stone chapel and the little hamlet almost hidden in the dense fog mixed with sleet; one could easily imagine all the phantoms from the past close-by....After paying my respects at the tomb of Elias Valiña, the local priest who mid twentieth century renovated the idea of the Camino and painted the first yellow arrows, alone inside the church I offered my thanks for coming so far. It is always kept spotless by his relatives who live near-by. This is another mystic and mythic stop on the Camino. During the middle ages due to the strong faith of one simple parishioner the wine and bread of the mass are said to have truly changed into Christ's blood and flesh. The church became famous and royalty sent priceless gifts. Today this small church and the tiny village form a protected historic site. Arrival there is always overwhelming.

Santiago de Compostela

Ten times from 2004 through 2014 I have arrived at Santiago de Compostela after 7 weeks walking the long Camino from Roncevalles. Each arrival has been filled with mixed emotions, of euphoria and exhaustion. After hiking at least 5 hours daily for over 50 days while always carrying my fully loaded backpack, I am sincerely thankful that I made it!! As always I have relearned which qualities are most important - caritas, sincerity, tenacity, endurance and, of course, enjoying serendipity. All of us who walk here whatever our reasons or beliefs must share similar quickened emotions upon arrival. The weight of history is so great with the accumulated layers of centuries, both visible and invisible. One can see much and also feel or imagine even more such as hoards of past pilgrims following the same timeless route towards the cathedral. As always I put my hand on the ancient stone wall, offered silent thanks for all that has been which enabled this and wept....My heart beat faster as I hurried along the narrow pedestrian lanes. And there it was! The cathedral! Here I was at last! Overcome with emotion I put my hand on the stone. Suddenly the giant bells began to ring; the sound was majestic. I did not enter then, but searched for the office of the Dean of the Cathedral. The assistant reviewed my Credencial with all its varied stamps representing each day’s stop on my journey, marked it with one final stamp, and issued the treasured Compostela which stated in Latin that I had devotedly completed the pilgrimage. Again I cried....I entered the cathedral through the great western portal. Slowly I walked down the dim barrel-vaulted nave towards the altar. In the central niche was the famous statue of Santiago dressed as a pilgrim, gilded and inlaid with precious gems. Above this he is depicted as Matamoras, the Moor-slayer. Beneath the altar in the crypt his relics are enshrined in a splendid silver coffer. Turning I saw the congregation assembling for evening mass. Other pilgrims whom I had met along the Camino were present; we nodded, silently smiled and gestured a euphoric thumbs up, not wanting to break the sacred silence. After mass I sat in the cathedral for a long time.

...Next day the great bells tolled for the main pilgrims’ mass at noon. There might be many pilgrims or just a few depending on the season and the year. ...In 2004, 2010 and 2011 the cathedral was densely crowded; the service most impressive. It concluded in a great cloud of fragrant smoke from the botafumeiro, a giant silver censer. Eight churchmen swung it in front of the altar; on a long rope sailing back and forth across the transept it nearly touched the ceiling!...But other years during Lent this was a simple ceremony. Perhaps 15 pilgrims attended; we all sat close to the new altar. In the nave were a few other worshipers. A solitary nun sang the service; her voice rose pure and clear. The places from which we had begun our walks were read. Since this was Lent it was an 'austere' service without any choir or swinging of the famous Botafumeiro censier. All was timeless and perfect. ...Whenever one arrives, whatever one believes, however one sees this world, it is impossible not to be touched and moved in this city and at this place. As the priest said this morning for centuries and centuries the pilgrims have been coming and shall continue to come.

Continuing to Finisterre

One should reach it in four days hiking. Known as Fisterra in Galician, this extreme point on the Atlantic west coast of Spain was considered the end of the world until the time of Christopher Columbus. A pagan pre-Christian route as well as a medieval pilgrim route had led there in the past. It can be a long, sloppy slog across many hills through eucalyptus forests and much mud....I never really appreciated walking on mud until AFTER trying to walk on ice! What a relief! ...Our trail became a wide path, which slowly climbed and crossed the stony hills. Once on top in the far distance we could at last see the coast! Beneath gray clouds the Atlantic resembled silver. ...I can imagine the excitement of medieval pilgrims when they saw the sea for the first time....The air smelled salty. Along the way we had views of the last land, the end of the world! Walkers out for a simple Sunday stroll went past. Sand dunes and beach bordered the final stretch of the trail; fishing boats bobbed in the harbor. At last in Finisterre we stopped by the waterside antique cross and hugged each other! Eureka! I closed my eyes in silent thanks. All afternoon I sat by the sea deep in contemplation....Went out to the lighthouse at 'the edge of the world'. On the great barren rocks by the boot sculpture I sat in the wind watching the sea, silently gave thanks and wept....The rain was cold, the wind was brutal and the surf rough, but it was wonderful to feel alive! Here the land's end was my journey's end.

...By the old stone cross near the marker for kilometer 0 while looking out to sea, I offered heartfelt thanks for life, for strength, and for determination to have successfully walked all these thousand kilometers. ...Weeping I wondered about other journeys yet to be.

...Just after dawn I walked alone the final kilometers along the sea to Finisterre. Rain and tears were pouring down when I finally reached kilometer 0 at the old iron cross by the famous lighthouse. Yet nearby the sky cleared for a bit at the new marker for peace. Since there at land's end my 7th Camino ended after 1000 kilometers and nine weeks walking, silently I gave my heartfelt thanks for all that has been and for all that have helped to make it so. Indeed, thanks for the memories!