Halfway There and a Long Way to Go
“Believe you can and you’re halfway there.” – Theodore Roosevelt
It’s taken me a lot longer to write about the Camino de Santiago than it did to walk it.
Trying to regularly blog on my cell phone while doing the pilgrimage proved impossible. We were walking around 13 miles each morning and afternoon, and during the evenings we would either connect with our friends or meet new ones. Thankfully, just about every day, I did manage to carve out time to write in my journal.
J’Nell and I finished walking the Camino on October 31st, and stayed four nights in the beautiful Spanish beach town of Finisterre (or Fisterra in the local Galician language). We then spent almost all of November exploring Portugal. Part of that time was with our new great friend Jeremy, and we were kept busy eating, drinking, and soaking up all the sights we could in Porto, Coimbra, Lisbon, Sintra, and Lagos.
So much fun, but other than some sporadic journaling, I didn’t write much.
At the end of November in Lisbon we boarded a sailboat, part of the Windstar line, and crossed the Atlantic ocean. It was almost thirteen days at sea before reaching the Caribbean, and I had plenty of time to write. But other than one blog post, I only made notes about being on the boat (which I hope to someday turn into a travel article), and transcribed part my Camino journal.
The transatlantic crossing became mostly a time for mentally digesting the last three months in Europe . . . and taking advantage of our all-inclusive beverage package.
But now I’m back home in Hawaii, and I’m committed to finishing what has become a retro blog of walking 550 miles on the Camino de Santiago. I feel I need to do this. If only for the people who have been kind enough to follow along, and also to help make sense of, as well as relive, what was the greatest journey I’ve ever taken.
We resume my Camino journal on October 4th, leaving the town of the singing nuns . . .
October 4th: Carrion de Los Condes to Ledgios
J’Nell and I slept in and enjoyed our luxurious hotel room, knowing we had already booked a place for the end of our walk today. And with a long stretch ahead with no services, we had coffee and a light breakfast at the San Zoilo cafe. It was 9:40 am by the time we got on the road, the latest start since Pamplona.
After leaving we snapped some photos of the backside of the monastery, which was the church entrance when it was an active place of worship. It was probably the most interesting thing we would see on our walk.
The Camino isn’t supposed to always be about beauty, interesting sights, or finding what you want. On this day we walked utterly straight for over ten miles; first alongside the road where cars sporadically sped by, and then on a gravel path. Ninety-nine percent of the hike was flat, and flies and bugs were almost always hovering around your face.
On the gravel path we actually did encounter one car, and it was a guy who pulled alongside and stopped. J’Nell and I weren’t sure what to make of him when he thrust a map out of his window (was he lost or did he think we were?), but in Spanish and broken English he proceeded to let us know that a few miles down the road there was an oasis bar. This was truly old-school social media advertising.
We would stop at the oasis bar and eat a delicious sausage sandwich, the first one we had seen in Spain and more like something you would find outside of Fenway Park. We also got some much needed rest, and played with the friendly, elderly dog.
The road continued straight and featureless, and we had it mostly to ourselves save for a few other pilgrims and a tractor. It was over an hour since we left the oasis bar, and there was supposed to be a town somewhere in the distance. But there was nothing but dirt. Weird thoughts start going through your mind after being out in this barren landscape for so long, and you wonder if somehow you missed a turn to the town.
But thankfully Calzadilla de la Cueza was right where it was supposed to be, appearing like a mirage when the road sloped downward for the first time all day. A woman from the café greeted us and took our order before we even reached it, and there was no doubt we needed a cold beer. So wonderful to take our shoes off and relax after the long walk in the heat with no shade and an overabundance of bugs. At the cafe we saw our friend Hannah from New Zealand, who we had last seen weeks ago. Great to see a familiar face and to catch up.
Leaving town we would then follow the freeway all the way to Ledigos, but luckily the path was natural and set a good distance from the cars; there were also trees and shrubs to our right acting as a barrier. However, the ground would eventually turn exceptionally rocky, and the last three miles were tough on our feet.
As we kept walking and walking, we had another moment where the town was supposed to be close, but we could not see it. Thankfully when we rounded a bend we spied the path, across the highway on the right, leading into Ledgios. It had been hidden behind a hill, and by the time we staggered into La Morena albergue it was almost 4 pm.
Our group of friends were all staying at the same place, and we would have another terrific evening with them.
October 5th: Ledigos to Sahagun
We had a private room at La Morena, and we were able to sleep in to help recuperate from the night of wine and laughter with the group (those in the bunk bed part of the albergue had to be out by 8:00 am). Leaving at 9:15 am we saw Hannah and British Peter having coffee at the café. They had each stayed in the town before us (where we had a beer before continuing onward), and playfully chided us on our late start to the day.
It was very foggy, and for the next several hours we had a cool, eerie vibe to the morning. First we followed a dirt path along the freeway, then made a stop at Albergue Jacques de Molay in Terradillos de los Templarios. In the town named after the Templar Knights, we enjoyed a coffee at the official halfway mark (per the guidebook if you start in St. Jean) of the Camino. We clinked cups to toast the accomplishment, and planned on celebrating with something more potent when we stopped walking for the day.
It was more fog through fields of recently harvested farmland until we reached the town of Las Bodegas de Moratines. We saw what looked like small houses built into a hill, and J’Nell made a joke we would find some hobbits. Others must have thought the same thing as there was actually a sign out front that read “no, hobbits don’t live here”. Instead, they were actually old bodegas used (still to this day) for storage of food and wine. We hadn’t seen many people all morning, but at the café where we stopped at in town our friend Lindsay (from England) was at a table. We chatted with her a bit over coffee and a snack, and afterwards we continued our conversation by walking together for a while.
Brown fields to our right and left for the next couple hours, and only a few other pilgrims visible on the way. We crested a hill around 1 pm, and the town of Sahagun was visible straight ahead in the distance. But soon we were veering to the right, and the Camino took a wide detour. Eventually we reached a small puente (bridge) that led to the Ermita de la Virgen del Puente Hermitage, once a pilgrim hospital in the Middle Ages that, according to the book, is sometimes open.
For us the doors were tightly shut, but there were several park benches close by and we rested before the last push into town. There were also two tall statues, set about 10 feet apart from each other, looking like temple guardians; they are supposed to mark the threshold of the halfway point of the Camino, though officially it’s at the Templar town where we had coffee in the morning.
The last bit into Sahagun is through an industrial area by the railroad tracks, and eventually we saw the bullring and the road leading into the center of town. We had read Monastery Santa Cruz, the albergue run by the church and very different from the private one we were at last night, was clean and comfortable. Thankfully they had a private room available for 20 euros, and the place is as good as advertised.
We’re now sitting at a sidewalk table at Café-Bar La Ruta in the main square, with mostly locals and few peregrinos. It’s nice being in a lively town with kids playing in the middle of the square, the older folks with canes sitting on the benches enjoying the sun, and people of all ages enjoying a beverage at one of the several cafes that surround the plaza. This is a much more intimate plaza mayor compared to Estrella or any of the similar, medium-sized Camino towns. But there is that same community spirit, and I love it.
Earlier in the day, after checking into our albergue and showering, we visited Santuario de la Peregrina, the 13th Century Franciscan Monastery that has been recently restored to show the original mixed gothic and Mudjar (Moorish/Islamic) architecture that was covered up through the years. It’s a museum as well as a church, and we got to see the namesake of the place, La Perigrina, the statue of Mary dressed as a pilgrim that dates to the 1600s. We walked there with Sarah, the very nice writer from DC we met about a week ago and saw at a café in town, and also ran into British Peter after arriving.
It was at Santuario de La Perigrina we got our Halfway Certificate!
Hard to believe we have traveled nearly 250 miles all on our feet, all the while carrying a 20 lb backpack! I have hardly thought of my pack recently, or mochila as its called in Spanish. Wearing it has become something you just do, like putting on your shoes every morning. It’s kind of like the commitment to walk day after day, mile after mile. It is our world now, this constant westward movement on our feet.
I’m proud of both J’Nell and I for getting this far, and for doing it together. Who knows what will happen on the second half of the Camino, but thus far this experience has been one of the best of my life!
I’ve had several conversations with other pilgrims about the Camino, and people always ask whether or not it has met expectations. For me, I truly went into this with hardly any expectations. I made the decision to have an open mind and try to enjoy it all. While I did do some reading before I left, it was minimal research.
I thought of the Camino in the same fashion of how I approach films … I’ll never read a review before going to the movie, and I won’t want to hear anybody’s opinion on it until after I’ve seen it. I want to experience it and form my own, and afterwards I’ll enjoy reading reviews and having discussion with people to get their takes.
…later on, back at the monastery
The gentleman who checked us in earlier today was very clear about their policy- the door shuts and locks at 10 pm sharp. After wandering around town and watching the end of a bullfight at a bar, we walked back to the main square for dinner. We had lost track of time, and we didn’t sit down until after 9 pm. Dinners in Spain are meant to be relaxing and drawn out, but thankfully our waiter is understanding and does his best to speed the courses up. We scarf down our desserts, finish off the bottle of wine, and at 9:52 pm we’re hustling back to the monastery.
We make it back with one minute to spare. Our room is right above the main door, and suddenly we hear British Peter outside screaming “Hannah!” over and over. We peer out the window, and he’s got his foot in the door and there’s a man, clearly upset, speaking to him in Spanish. Another minute later Hannah arrives; the door thumps shut and the metal bolt clangs. I smile and head off to sleep.