My Life as a Traveler

Fifty First Dates

June 19, 2012

Sarria. From here it is 100km to Santiago – this is the closest place you can begin a Camino and receive a compostela, or certificate. The town is crowded with albergues full of pilgrims and the road this morning is busy with new arrivals to the trail. After a relatively light day yesterday, I'm planning to walk 30km through the green hills of Galicia to reach Portomarin. The mountain range we just crossed creates a barrier for the ocean weather, so the Europeans compare the climate and landscape to Ireland, but for me it resembles the Oregon coast or maybe western Virginia. The predominant smell is cow poo, which is splattered all over the road and spread everywhere by the tractors that rumble by. Morgan is in Santiago today and will be heading to Finisterre tomorrow. I have a few more days to go.

Today I'm reflecting on the people I've met these last few weeks. This has been the most surprising and unexpected aspect of the Camino for me. I don't know if a borderline introvert/extrovert like myself could have prepared for the number of fascinating people I have had the pleasure to meet. Sometimes it seems that I'm not even in Spain, but in a long, long tour bus full of pilgrims interacting with each other while looking out the window at the countryside. Unless you're doing a silent Camino, you will meet many people and have relationships lasting anywhere from five minutes to the length of your walk. It's delightful and I want to tell you about some (well, 50) people that I or Mary or Susie have met, either over coffee or a meal, walking on the trail, or sleeping in the bunk on top of me. What kind of people walk the Camino? Meet my 50 First Dates: (oh, and if you just want to skip the prose, there are more pics at the bottom)

  1. Dr. Jeon from South Korea, age 78, walking the Camino with the blessing of his wife, but not his children which include his daughter, who graduated from Harvard Medical School and her brother, who works for her in S. Korea. Dr. Jeon ran a ceramics company that made ceramics for colliders and we believe he is an accomplished artist, according to the paintings he showed us on his iPhone. (He passed us on Day 2.)
  2. John from South Africa, one of the most inquisitive and provacative people I've ever met, used to run a hotel and travelling with his girlfriend, strolling along no hurry (the only people who Mary, Susie, and I passed while walking on Day 2.)
  3. Michael (not John) and Kathryn (also not John) from the OC, (hi guys!) walked to Pamplona in 4 days from St Jean Pied de Port. Kathryn is a teacher and I was impressed that they had cards printed especially for the Camino with their contact information. (Why didn't I think of that?)
  4. Michel from Switzerland – we crossed paths quite a few times the first week. I'll never forget his grin as he was sitting in the bar at Lorca with shoes off – a perfect picture of relaxation. He walked on ahead, but not before he admonished me to wear my hat on those hot days.
  5. Simon from Italy, a lecturer who lives near Venice. Great smile! I love that he tried to impress the importance to Morgan and Dominic of drinking one glass of water for every glass of wine that first night at Orisson when the boys were getting a little too happy.
  6. Margaret from Canada was carrying her husband's ashes in a tiny keychain vial and dropping them where she would like to have him visit with her while her new partner is at home taking care of her 17 year old cat.
  7. Jonathan from Australia, traveling for 10 months, has spent the last 5 months working in some of the best hotels in Britain before going on Camino.
  8. Renate from Holland, who walked across the Pyrenees in the freezing, pouring rain that occurred just days before we began our walk. She knew that she was supposed to be there, though, when at the top of the hill, she met an 80 year old woman from her home country near collapse and half-carried her to the nearest road because she couldn't have made it on her own and spoke only Dutch.
  9. Ray and Tina from Portland, who live in the Belmont area, just a few blocks from Mary's house. They saved up a year's worth of vacation time to walk their Camino. We first saw them in Uterga, just out of Pamplona, then again in Santiago, where they turned Mary on to one of the best tapas bars in town.
  10. Steve from Richmond, fit and blonde, got his Master's degree and then went into the army as an officer, was stationed in Italy for four years and then served one year in Afghanistan. He was on terminal leave walking the Camino as part of a one year trip around the world couch surfing. Saw him just outside of Najera needing to go back 20km to retreive a lost passport. Saw him again in Santiago, so he must have found it.
  11. The Eileens – Mom Eileen is 71, walking the entire Camino on a two month schedule (instead of our 33 days). She had walked it 15 years earlier with her husband, who has passed, and for this trip is accompanied week to week by different family members who are concerned about her traveling by herself. They needn't have worried, however; she was tough and knew her way around just fine.
  12. Young Eileen, Eileen's daughter walking with her Mom. One morning as they were leaving the albergue, she came down to get her shoes (in most albergues, shoes are left near the entrance and are not allowed in the sleeping rooms) to find them missing. In their place were a pair of more expensive shoes, however, they were a half size too small. She had to walk all day to the next town in them, where she bought a snazzy new pair.
  13. Eileen's niece Luann and her daughter Christine from New Jersey were walking with Eileen after daughter Eileen left. We saw them in Carrion as they were trying to persuade Eileen not to walk the 17km “wilderness” by herself, since the next shift wasn't due for a couple of days.
  14. Jessica and Brian are moving from Connecticut to Oregon (who wouldn't?) This Camino was their honeymoon, and they were having a hard time walking. Their feet were all torn up, they were buying new shoes in Pamplona, had lots of allergy problems. Mary gave them a pep talk and persuaded them to take the bus. They were quite dejected to see people pushing ahead of them.
  15. Meg and her twin sister traveled from Canada to walk the Camino on their 30th birthday. One sister got infectious cellulitis (infected blisters on her heels) and had to take antibiotics and stay off her feet for four days.
  16. Mike from Vancouver, WA, an EMT walking the Camino for his 40th and loving his iPhone as a tool to keep in touch with family and friends back home. First saw him at Carrion, then just before Sahagun, where he was headed for the train to Leon to buy new shoes that would not aggravate the blister he had on the bottom of his foot. Saw him again the night before reaching Santiago with new shoes and blister healed.
  17. Roxanne, age 50 from Vancouver, Canada, has a daughter getting married in September and some health issues. She is taking little vacation breaks from the Camino to go to places like the beach at San Sebastian.
  18. Susie's friend Rolande from Virginia, walking the Camino to celebrate her 60th birthday. Since the kids were out of the house, she felt free to do something unusual. In October, she saw the movie The Way, wrote to Martin Sheen and got a response back within a week with a story of how his family was from Galicia and that he wished her well on her Camino.
  19. Leif the heart surgeon from Stockholm crossed paths with us for a few days. We were aghast to see him smoking, but he did help us with some health issues – I got a wrap for my swollen knee and some cortisone the next day thanks to his advice.

  20. Fabricio, the young, cute Italian juggler from Sicily who had very sexy black underwear, which we saw when he shared a communal bathroom with us in Navarette. Too bad Mary wasn't wearing any underwear when Fabricio saw her coming out of the shower!
  21. Modesto, a professional photographer from Italy was traveling with his huge camera and took some pics of me blogging on my iPad and coming down the trail after a long day. Wish I could get copies of those.
  22. Vittorio, from Italy, traveling with Modesto. Always had a friendly wave when I passed them in the dark in the morning.
  23. David from North Carolina, who has spent his junior year of college in Madrid. His girlfriend, who is still taking classes in Madrid, is planning a trip for them in Galicia after he finishes. He will then go back to Madrid and stay with host family until August, when he will return to UNC in Raleigh. I was jealous of his native-sounding Spanish and his ability to play guitar.
  24. Ingrid and her three Swedish companions who were always seen parked at the bar in the morning for coffee and then in the afternoon for beer. They were doing one part of the Camino at a time, and were found very upset one morning when they arrived at one of the albergues and there was no coffee.
  25. Mary and Susie met John and Janet, an English couple who were retired schoolteachers, traveling the Camino in their Caravan (trailer). Dedicated Francophiles who fed my friends the best cheese and wine, they are traveling the Camino this year instead of their usual France trip. They admitted to driving 35 minutes each way to find good produce.
  26. Kim and Kim (both guys) from South Korea, walking the Camino celebrating their retirement from Xerox, so happy not to have to wear a tie. Learned that 30% of all Koreans are named Kim.
  27. Brenda and Paul from Banff, Canada, used to walking the Rockies, but found different conditions here in Spain.
  28. Steve from England, taking a year off from his electricity company job to recharge his batteries (no pun intended) before he goes home to deal with his father, who is in the early stages of dementia.
  29. Two women from Germany, who trailered their horses from Germany and were riding them along the Camino with their beautiful Afghan hound walking with them. I don't remember the name of the women, but the dog was named Annabelle, and she wears a rhinestone collar and gets her feet oiled every night to prepare for the next day's walk. I don't know the age of the women, but the horses were 14 and 21 years old.

  30. I never got the name of the Danish woman I saw walking with her 7 year old. She walked the Camino ten years ago and wanted to do it again, but waited for her daughter to get old enough to walk with her. She wears her adult pack on her back and her daughter's small pack on her chest. Looks like they were having fun.
  31. I also did not get the name of the woman walking with the black lab wearing red booties and his own doggie panniers. We first saw her on the train. She sets up a tent near town and meets fellow pilgrims in albergues.
  32. Franco, born in Argentina, but moved to Spain looking for a better job. He hopes to go to New York, though, so if any of you New Yorkers out there want to do a house exchange with a guy from Valencia, look him up.
  33. Tonya from Denver. Short, cute, a great sense of humor, but a potty mouth. Surely it's to shock people, and it works. Last seen taking a taxi out of Navarette.
  34. Sika from Iceland, called to the Way many years ago but only recently decided to go. After she made the decision to go, she was bombarded with signs – an article in a magazine, a documentary on TV, the movie, The Way… Like the woman in that movie, she was trying to quit smoking, but each day I saw her, she was always lighting up.
  35. Sebastian from France, running the Camino in just over two weeks, because he's getting married at the end of the month to an American girl and they're moving to Berkeley where he has a job. His backpack was the size of a kid's school backpack, no extra shoes, no sleeping bag, only one other change of clothes… the bare minimum.
  36. Bernhard who walked from Germany, on his third month. One leg was quite swollen about 10 days from Santiago, but it wasn't stopping him.
  37. The 13 year old German boy who was traveling with the social worker his parents sent to supervise him in a tough love type of trip after he was expelled from school.
  38. Silvana, a German preschool teacher working in Switzerland, deciding if she wanted to stay there or go to Pakistan, Dubai, New York, or elsewhere. She had a Google Translate relationship with a Spanish guy which lasted quite a few days. What fun!
  39. John from St. Louis, a teacher who is meeting his family for vacation in Barcelona at the end of the Camino. He had some serious blisters that slowed him down a bit.
  40. Jim the Spanish teacher from Atlanta. It's his third or fourth Camino. Helped Susie immensely with trip planning and deciding when to bus and when to walk. Introduced Uli and I to our first chupitos, the after-dinner digestive liquer made from herbs. Later we found that this yummy drink comes in coffee flavor, Bailey's flavor, berry flavor (tastes too much like cough syrup), and some flavor you can light on fire (somehow never had this one!)
  41. Anka from Netherlands, looking for work and applying for over 100 social work jobs. Striking with long black hair, big blue eyes, she has no ticket to go home and will walk until she figures out what to do.
  42. Angelo from Venezuela who came to Madrid to look for a job in the tech field, had one, but was let go, taking some time to walk the Camino while he is between jobs.
  43. Jeffrey from Arkansas who's been teaching in a Christian School in St. Petersburg Russia. He was always on the lookout for Doritos and Oreos, 'cause you can't get them in Russia.
  44. Mark from Ireland, super-friendly. He woke us up in Itera in the muddle of the night when he started laughing out loud and slapping his knee in his sleep. That's him at the top, by the way.
  45. Gerd and Guadaloupe, walking the Camino for their 25 year anniversary, she's from Valencia, he's from Germany, you can see they really love each other by the way they look at each other.
  46. Judith, the German woman who just graduated from Medical school and is taking some time off before she starts her first job as Dr. Judith. When we met her in Viana, she was tired, really tired. When I met her a couple days before Santiago, she had color in her cheeks and was feeling great.
  47. Christiana from Germany, a natural health practitioner specializing in alkaline diets and yoga, questioning her spirituality after a talk with Father Augustine. When the French person at our table said that the first part of her name was Christ, she was taken aback.
  48. Father Augustine, a 32 year old Franciscan Priest walking the Camino between jobs – in a couple of months he'll be in Nicaragua. The nicest priest you'll ever meet, he was always surrounded by a bevy of young people, mostly girls.
  49. Ricky from Italy, going to school in London and looking forward to meeting his girlfriend in Santiago. I told him he reminded me of a revolutionary, always wearing an army hat, rolling his own smokes, and never without an irreverent comment. He always made me laugh.
  50. All of the other people whose names I never got or have forgotten – I could go on and on. All ages, all types of professions, yet united in the sense of adventure and seeking to know themselves better during this walk.

I do make it to Portomarin in record time and stay in a huge modern albergue with 150 beds in one room and a great view of the river below. Half of those beds filled with two busloads of pre-teens on a Camino tour. I don't know if this is good or bad. Lyn and Kathy are in the albergue next door and we enjoy salad, mussels, pulpo (octopus) and peppers for dinner. Hopefully, I'll catch up with Mary soon. Seems a couple of days ago she and Susie split up, so not sure where Susie is, since she has no phone. We're almost there!



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