My Life as a Traveler

Camino 2012

Oh, hello!

(Yawns, stretches, opens eyes)

Oh, hello! How are you doing? I have had the most wonderful nap and feel very rested and restored. Gee, we haven't spoken for a while, have we? Well, let me fill you in on what's new with this Pilgrim.

First, no, I actually haven't been napping. After a bit of post-Camino doldrums, I have launched myself right back into “reality.” As Morgan's mom, I have supervised his driving solo (and am not as worried as I expected to be when he drives away without me) and his entry at the tender age of 16 into the local community college, his first ever classroom experience. He's doing great, by the way, and I'm really proud of him. I had hoped to be supervising his entry into the job market as well, but all in good time.

Second, I have been a bit more aggressive about promoting my own business. Many of you might not know this, but I am founder and president (and sole employee) of Julie Greene Personal Safety Solutions. I teach women's self-defense seminars and have written a book, DEFY the Bad Guy, Powerful, Practical Self-Defense Strategies for Every Woman (shameless plug – visit my website at and sign up to receive the newsletter that I haven't been writing, go to Facebook and LIKE DEFY the Bad Guy, and if you want a really comprehensive manual on how to live a safer life, order my book on – a great gift for any woman you care about. Also, email me at if you would like me to come to your town and do a self-defense seminar for your group). In the last few months, I have taught my 16-hour self-defense bootcamp at the local fitness center, spoken for a group of sorority ladies at the College of William and Mary, and at this very moment, I am on my way to Phoenix with a suitcase full of books to sell as a vendor at the ICHF Combat Hapkido 20 Year Anniversary conference.

Third, I have been functioning as General Contractor for a major remodel of our master bath, master bedroom, and Morgan's bedroom. When I started this, I didn't really think that it would take up that much time, I mean, it's not like I'm laying the tile myself. But between making decisions about tile, granite, paint, floors, glass, fixtures, and who will do the best job has been quite time-consuming. That doesn't even take into account the fetching of materials, the rescheduling when things don't go as planned, and the general stress of having people banging around in my house (even though they are extremely nice and highly professional).

Also, since this is a travel blog and I have not been traveling, being basically grounded by Morgan's needing to be in school every week (a new thing for all of us), I really haven't had anything to report on the travel front since July.

However, it seems that the Camino posts of this blog have really resonated with people from all over the world. I have received emails regarding some of my posts and have answered them privately, but people still have lots of questions about my experience on the Camino. So, I'm thinking that maybe, between this trip and my next trip in December, I'll create some posts that address these questions. I also want to let you know how I am incorporating my Camino lessons and have been sharing my experience with anybody who asks (and even some who don't!) I think of my Camino every day – most days I wear my scallop shell bracelet and earrings to remind me of the valuable lessons I have learned and to employ those lessons in every decision and interaction.

So, hello again! If there is anything you are particularly interested in, make a comment on the blog or email me at I'd love to carry on this conversation! Talk to you soon.


Why? A Long Walk for a Small Piece of Paper

July 14, 2013

I first heard about the Camino as a travel agent in the 80's. Not too many people were walking it back then; it had just been declared the first European Cultural Route in 1987. The idea of a 500 mile walk across Spain was fascinating. Although it didn't fit into my life at that time, I could see myself doing something like that in the future. Walking the Camino has been floating around in my head ever since then.

In the last 25 years, I've been divorced, remarried, and am in the last stages of raising my teenage son. Life's been busy! However, a year and a half ago, I was at a party and talk of walking the Appalachian Trail came up. Even though I love the idea of walking in nature, those of you who know me know that my idea of camping is a Motel 6 with a black and white tv. The idea of packing in food and shelter to walk in the wilderness just wasn't my cup of tea. Taking a long walk though, was appealing, and the thought of the Camino that had been floating around in my head all these years came to mind. This was a walk where you sleep in a bed and don't have to cook over a fire. My kind of walk!

I'm not a stranger to lots of walking, at least while traveling. In fact, Susie and various members of my family anticipate the “Julie Death March” at least once every trip. Susie, remember walking up to the snow at Gimmelwald? How about stalking the wild elk on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington, in the pouring rain? Mom and Morgan, remember walking 12km to find the lost labor camp in Germany? I can stay on my feet all day in any city of the world (and do!) as well as walk a good nature trail.

So, the stars seemed to be aligned. My son was old enough to either leave at home with George or join me (so glad he decided to join me), I had no job or work commitment for the summer, and had two good friends who could join me. But it was more than opportunity. There were four components of my life that drew me to this adventure…

Physical – Could a month of walking make me physically stronger and help me lose weight? I love the idea of pushing my physical limits. As a martial artist, I'm used to keeping going even though it's not comfortable and possibly painful. The six plus hours each day of walking the Camino was like taking a black belt test every day. Walking felt good, even though there were aches and pains and blisters. Walking felt even better when I could lay my sleeping bag on my bed and feel so clean after showering. On most days, I felt like I was getting stronger. Plus, the physical activity meant that I could eat and drink whatever I wanted (which sometimes was everything edible in sight, sometimes not) without gaining, in fact, while losing weight. What's not to love about that?

Social – Will I be closer to my friends and maybe my son after this trip? Well, the answer to this was a complete surprise. Yes, I believe I became closer to my friends and learned all kinds of stuff about them that I never knew before. And even though I never walked with Morgan more than one day, I do feel that our bond is stronger as well, just through the shared experience. However, I was blown away by all of the new people I met, and especially awestruck that such close relationships could be forged in such a short time. There was speculation that in maybe the act of walking, since you're looking forward instead of at the person you're talking to, it was easier to share really personal stuff. Who knows? It was an amazing gift to meet so many people and to discover that each interaction fed my latent extrovert.

Mental – Could a month of walking create better mental health? My head was clearest when I was walking alone and I spent a lot of time walking alone. However, it didn't start out that way. In the beginning I resisted walking alone. Heck, I brought four potential walking companions with me, didn't I? Even when those didn't work out, the universe threw me some more, which was really great – no complaints here. But once I started walking solo, I really began to savor just spending some time with myself. It became a walking meditation. I had no desire to listen to music or podcasts; I just wanted to hear the birds, the traffic, the sound of my footsteps on the road, and just think about stuff without interruption. It was easy to be totally in the moment, taking it all in using all of my senses: tasting, hearing, smelling, feeling, seeing – not missing anything. I'm hoping to maintain forever the mental clarity this experience has produced, if that's possible.

Spiritual – Will walking to Santiago bring me closer to God, the Universe, my Higher Power? When pilgrims arrive in Santiago, the staff at the Pilgrim Office which issues the Compostelas, asks whether the pilgrim walked for a) spiritual b) spiritual/cultural c) cultural reason. I believe that most pilgrims check “b”. At least, I did. I really don't know how an experience like this could not be spiritual, even for the unbelieving. For me, I believe that the combination of physical exertion, mental clarity, and gifts of friendship from other pilgrims is the perfect recipe for being more connected to something bigger than myself. I feel that there are layers of some of my previous personal stuff that have been stripped away, allowing for a more clear access to determine what my purpose here is, how to live better, and how to love better. Did I find this in an ancient church? At the top of a mountain? Staring at the slats of the top bunk? I don't know. But I do feel richer spiritually.

I'm sure each person who undertakes this journey has their own reasons for why they do it. Some folks have an idea before they go; some folks figure it out on the way. It's a very personal journey that can only be done by you. It's a long way to walk for a small piece of paper, but I highly recommend it!

And with that, I'm going to close this Camino chapter of PracticingTravel. I'm so glad to have been able to share this adventure with all of you – and I'll still monitor any comments on any posts. I'll be going dark for a bit, until the next trip, whenever and wherever that will be.

If you want to continue a conversation about the Camino, or really, anything, please email me at My new extrovert self will be happy to chat with you!

Buen Camino, all!


My Six Lessons from the Camino

July 13, 2012

So, what have I learned on the Camino and what will be different now that I am back?

Lesson #1 – Do One Important Thing Every Day

In order to get to Santiago in the time allotted, I needed to walk an average of 26km (about 16 miles) each day. The guidebook breaks down the entire Camino in segments from 1km to 17km, at the end of each you can sleep, eat, or sightsee. Sometimes, after a long day, walking one more segment to the next town just seemed impossible. But, you know what? I made it to Santiago actually one day sooner than the original plan. However, there were times when I needed to remind myself to take one step, then another, then another. The Most Important Thing of each day was to walk those 16 miles to attain the bigger goal of 500 miles. If I didn’t walk enough one day, I would make it up in the next day or next few days. Once I made it to the albergue and the goal was accomplished, I was free to do all of the secondary tasks like showering, laundry, eating, and writing.

So my plan for doing things now is to decide what is currently the One Most Important Thing and get it done. Now that I’m home, my One Important Thing is not as big as Walk Sixteen Miles, but it will be a task of sorts that will help me accomplish my bigger goals. After my One Important Thing is done, then there’s no pressure to get a list of secondary things done, although somehow without the pressure, those tasks are getting done anyway. Plus, I don’t feel guilty if I play Legend of Zelda with Coach Morgan, because I’ve gotten my One Important Thing done. At the end of the week, I’ll have Seven Important Things done. Since I’ve returned to a fairly empty calendar, my One Important Thing has been to post this blog every day. I haven’t yet, but once this blog is done (at least for now, this is my second-to-last post) my next One Important Thing will be to sit myself down with my goal list, break the goals into tasks, then do the One Most Important Thing every day. Maybe once I get that down, I can work on Two Most Important Things, or even Three. Hey, a girl can dream!

Lesson #2 – I Really Don’t Need All That Extra Stuff

For the last five weeks, my “home” has been the space between my mattress and the upper bunk. The total sum of my possessions weighed less than twenty pounds and fit in my red backpack. My home decorating consisted of picking wildflowers and arranging them in my side backpack pocket. The albergues and bars provided space for eating and hanging out.

So my first impression on returning to my house in Virginia was “Yikes! It’s huge!” Then, “I have way too much stuff!” The bookshelves are overflowing, my bedroom closet has too many pieces of clothing I don’t wear, my kitchen has too many gadgets. Let’s not even talk about the attic. (A side note – I was waking up in the middle of the night feeling that my bed was too soft! I would move to the chaise sofa, read for a bit, and finish the night sleeping there.) The next Important Thing after the blog is done and goals are set will be to seriously declutter my space.

Lesson #3 – I Need to Feed My Extrovert

One thing I learned on Camino was that I’m really an extrovert! In my current life, I spend a lot of time alone at home or travelling with George and Morgan. When you travel with someone, there’s a tendency to focus just on them and not get out and meet other people. On Camino, especially since I started walking alone, my previously hidden extrovert came out to play. For me, meeting people and getting to know them has been one of the most interesting and exciting parts of the Camino.

I don’t know how I’m going to do it yet, but I am committed to getting out more in my own ‘hood. Maybe I’ll join a book club, the Ladies Who Dine (call me, Bonnie!), attend more outdoor concerts with Susie, or start volunteering somewhere. Now that Morgan will need less of me, I should have the time to get out and be social.

Lesson #3 – I Don’t Need To Eat As Much As I Thought

Dear readers, remember when I was complaining that I didn’t seem to be losing weight? Well, I gotta send a big shout out to Saint James for hearing me – when I got on the scale at home, I was 10 Pounds lighter! And, I look pretty good, if I say so myself! Most of my pants/shorts are too baggy now – another reason to declutter – I’ve got to go through all of my clothes and see what is too big. I’ll be taking those too-big things and donating them to Goodwill. Not keeping them around!

On Camino, even though I ate what I wanted, I rarely was starving when it came to mealtime. I was happiest sharing a meal with another pilgrim or just having a few tapas. I really got used to smaller portions. In order to continue this habit at home, first, I am no longer eating in front of the tv (dinner, and breakfast, too, is outside on the pier). Second, my plate is not piled high any more and there’s more veggies on the plate than meat. If I find the scale creeping up, a night or two of just a satisfying salad for dinner gets those scale numbers back where I want them.

Lesson #4 – Keep the Body Moving

I loved getting up to walk every day. My body loved it. The first hill in the morning was always a killer, but it felt good to keep moving. I really hated stopping for very long because it was taking away from the walker’s high (is there such a thing?) I felt moving along the trail. Besides my initial knee swelling, which subsided after I kept it wrapped and cortisoned, and other leg pains that would pass, I really had no problems.

However, my legs hurt for the first week after coming home. Mary’s friend, a marathon coach, told her that the walking we did on Camino was like doing a marathon every day. My schedule did not allow rest days, although there were some shorter days, and it eventually took a toll on my legs and knees. When I got to Santiago, I went to squat down to talk to some folks in the square and I couldn’t do it. Still can’t bend my knees like that for long.

The running coach told Mary that the best recuperative action was no action at all. I’ve been taking that to heart, and for the last two weeks, I’ve not done any exercise whatsoever. A couple of days ago, I started my yoga practice again (with no pain) and walked a morning 5km with George (no pain). I was in pretty good shape in May before Camino; I just weighed more than I wanted. Now I’ve got the weight down, and I just need to keep moving to keep my stamina and strength up.

Lesson #5 – Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff/It’s All Small Stuff

Maintaining the inner peace and harmony honed on the Camino is more of a challenge now that I’m home. Yet, as I encounter problems, I remember that some things, like the pain in my legs came and then went, need to be watched and not dealt with just now. Some things that can’t be changed must be acknowleged and made peace with. Some things that can be changed will be addressed one step at a time. Nothing is the end of the world, and a chocolate cookie can cure a lot of ills.

Lesson #6 – I’ve Gotta Find A Way to Give Back

OK, Santiago, you were really there for me in Spain. I saw you in the smiles of the people I met, the meals shared, and the healing of the blisters. I cannot begin to describe the blessings I’ve received from you through every fellow pilgrim, hospitalero, barkeep, nurse and doctor, tourist office, or store employee. Thank you for the random Spanish person who, when they saw I was taking the wrong path, set me on the right one. Thank you for the truck drivers who honked their “Buen Camino” as they drove by. Thank you for making it possible to make this pilgrimage in good health, with good friends, in great weather.

For my next request, Santiago, help me find the best way to give back. I’ll have my ears and eyes and heart open, ok? Can’t wait to hear again from you!

You can be sure that there are many more lessons that I’ve learned on the Camino and I’m personally excited to see how they will play out in my life in the months ahead. If any of you fellow pilgrims are still with me, please post a comment on your Camino Lessons. I’d love to hear from you.

I’ve got one more post on Camino before I continue on to my Next One Important Thing, and that’s the WHY that I promised you at the beginning of this trip. See you tomorrow.

Unpacking: The Good, The Bad, and the Useful

June 29, 2012

Warning! This is an exceptionally long post, detailing the usefulness of everything I brought on Camino. I have endeavored, dear readers, to make this not only invaluable for any future Pilgrim, but tried to make it somewhat entertaining for the non-future pilgrim as well. I do, however, use the phrase “lady bits” and if this is offensive to you, better stop here…

We were too busy running errands yesterday to unpack, so our backpacks just sat in the middle of the living room floor getting in the way. As I'm unpacking Morgan's and my packs, I thought I'd do a play-by-play on the stuff we brought and what was useful and what was not.

First, we each loved our backpacks and would take them anywhere with us again. Morgan's was an Osprey Atmos 50 Liter and mine was a Deuter 40 +10 Liter (There was a flap of fabric that could be raised from the main compartment of the bag to make an extra 10 Liters of space. Never used it.) Red was not my color of choice when I bought it, but it was the best one at R.E.I. that felt balanced for me. The color never really mattered while walking.

I cannot recommend more highly the Platypus water bag/hose system that was stored in the back of our packs. Morgan's ended up leaking toward the end, but having this filled and handy meant we were never thirsty. In fact, I expect I have never drank so much water – it was so handy.

We each had a super-light polyester backpack. Morgan would have liked one more manly-looking.

Sleeping: Loved my R.E.I. 1lb super light women's sleeping bag. Cost $100 and worth every penny. There are no sheets on the beds in the albergues; you're lucky if you get this sort of gauzy thin liner to put over the mattress. Most alberges also had blankets available, though, and on some cold nights, a blanket and my sleeping bag kept me warm. On hot nights, I just slept on top of the bag. The sleeping bag is also used to claim your space when you first arrive in the albergue and are assigned to or find your bed. It's the first thing taken out of your back and spread out on the bed, since it's bad form to put your backpack there. Morgan had a super-light fleece sleeping sack that he said he only used a few times because he slept in his clothes and thought the gauzy mattress lining was good enough. Probably, it was; I did not meet one person who ran into bedbugs.

The albergues do provide pillows, often covered with a gauzy pillowcase. I brought a pillowcase from home and felt better using it. Surprisingly, many of the pillows were the extra-long kind that my standard pillowcase would not completely cover. I'll bring a long pillowcase next time. Morgan snorted at my offer of a pillowcase for him, and he didn't seem to miss it.

Sleeping clothes: Morgan slept in the clothes he was going to wear when he got up and I mostly slept in my black and white paisley shirt (you've seen it!) and my skirt (wearing underwear!), unless it was cold, then long sleeved top and leggings. In the 5am mornings, it was dark enough for me to sit up in bed, take off my sleeping clothes and put on the pants and shirt that I was going to wear that day, which I kept folded and ready at my feet. Would not do this differently.

Shirts: I had two short sleeved, quick dry shirts, one long sleeved shirt, and my evening ruffled black and white polyester paisley shirt. Perfect! Would definitely recommend a non-technical shirt for after walking, ladies, so you can feel pretty (well, as pretty as you can wearing the same shirt every night!) Actually, on cooler nights, I would wear the long-sleeved shirt. Morgan used his two short-sleeved shirts, but not his long-sleeved one. He always did run hot.

Pants: For walking, I had one pair quick-dry capris and one pair quick-dry long pants with legs that zipped off at the knees to make shorts. I also brought leggings and a skirt for after walking. Used them all and was thankful for them. Morgan had a pair of zip-off pants and a pair of shorts. He wished he had two pairs zip-off pants, because he only wore the shorts when he was washing the long pants.

Underwear: 3 pairs of panties for me – which meant on some days I didn't have to do laundry, just washed more the next day. Two sports bras. Morgan had 2 pairs of underwear and no sports bras, which seemed to work for him.

Socks: oooh, the socks. Started out with two pairs of liners and two pairs of SmartWool hiking socks. The combo of liner+hikers was supposed to eliminate the friction that causes blisters. It probably did, until it started getting hot. All you need is the slightest bit of moisture which could create friction anywhere on your feet to begin a blister. Sweaty feet or socks that didn't dry all the way or socks that got sweaty and weren't washed or switched out with clean ones were all causes of blisters. For me, the liner/sock combo was too much, smashing my toes together. In the hot, even the socks without liners were too thick. When I bought new socks in Leon, one thickness more than the liners, my blisters started to heal and no new ones started. I don't know how anyone can replicate the Camino conditions unless you take six-hour long walks regularly. Morgan just wore one pair of socks and liners.

Walking shoes – we loved our shoes. Mine were Merrell and Morgan's were Lowe. I had inserts and liners in mine, Morgan's were au naturel. After 500+ miles, they are far from worn out.

For non-walking shoes, I had my Teva ballet-slipper-type shoes, which were great. For the shower, I brought a pair of the thin rubber flip flops you get after your pedicure. I didn't really expect them to last, but, after I reinforced them with needle and thread, they never fell apart and kept the heebeejeebees off my feet in the shower. Morgan had flip flops which now look like they've been well used.

We each had a lightweight fleece jacket, which was invaluable.

I had a big blue lightweight scarf that was pretty and, for some days, just the right amount of warm.

Hat: I'm not really a hat person, but I used my sun hat for a few days when it was really hot. I really prefer sunglasses. Morgan brought a beanie but did not use it.

Rain Gear: We were very very lucky weather-wise and had very little rain. What rain we did have was a light sprinkle; there were a few downpours but they usually happened late in the afternoon. We each had a breatheable raincoat, which we used, and rain pants, which we didn't use (well, I put them on one day, but didn't really need to). We each had a waterproof backpack cover, which I used but Morgan did not. He just ended up putting his things in the many zip-lock bags I made him take. I put electronics in zip-locks as well on rainy days.

Towels – we each had a towel that was 17″x34″ and in my opinion, not large enough to dry my body before my dripping hair got it all wet again. I eventually just wore my skirt and a loose top getting out of the shower after the towel did it's best to dry me and avoided putting underwear on until my lady bits could air out. (TMI? Hey, if this sentence could save one woman pilgrim from the discomfort of putting dry underwear on a wet body, it's worth it!) Let's just say it would have been better to have a bigger/more absorbent towel or maybe, even better, another smaller towel to use with my existing towel. The smaller one could be used for the first body swipe, then for my hair, following up with the bigger towel to dry everything else more thoroughly. Most showers have a little space outside of the shower curtain where you can change, but it's still steamy and you don't have a lot of room here. Morgan lost two towels and came home with one. The mesh bag that the towels came in, though, was great – if we had wet things, we could stick them in there and hang them off the back of our packs as we were walking and they could get a little dryer.

We each had a bar of Dr. Bronner's soap, which we used as soap for body and laundry. Morgan used his as shampoo, but it was a little harsh for me, so I used some men's shampoo/conditioner and it was great. I brought a little mesh scrubby that worked, too. Of course we each had a toothbrush and toothpaste. Morgan learned not to store his toothbrush in the soap bag. Not sure if Morgan brought floss, but I did, and used it. We each brought razors and used them, although Morgan did not use the extra disposables I got for him. We also used sunblock and deodorant, but did not use the laundry cord we brought – there was always space on the line somewhere.

I used earplugs, my spork, duct tape, and safety pins for keeping wet laundry on the line. Morgan used none of these. I had an airline sleeping mask that I only really needed to use the night they left the light on all night, but it was buried at the bottom of my pack on the floor when I was on the top bunk. We each preferred Compeed over bandaids, and even though we brought ibuprofen, immodium, and rehydration salts, fortunately we did not have to use them. I used needle and thread and antiseptic spray on my blisters.

Brought a headlamp and used it for early morning departures on the dark trail – reading the guidebook to make sure I was going the right way. Also good for taping toes in a room where there's not good light. Never used it in the sleeping rooms – too bright. Morgan did not use his at all.

I used a fair amount of the toilet paper I brought; Morgan used none. I have some left because I got into the habit of stuffing some tp from the morning bathroom in my right pants pocket. Toilet paper in your backpack left by the trail does not help you in mid-pee behind a tree. 'Nuff said.

Travel wallet: I had a lightweight fabric wallet that could hang under my clothes. Did not hang it under my clothes but kept my money and some credit cards in it. Got Morgan a waist belt to keep his valuables in, but he didn't use it.

My iPad was essential to keep up the blog and the lightweight keyboards made it easy to use them. It was good for books and music, too. Chargers were a pain, but still worth it – although the cords are way too short! Morgan had a Shuffle for listening to music and two pairs of headphones (he's really hard on headphones) and loved it. I kept my music on my iPad and only a couple of times used my headphones to listen.

I lived by A Pilgrim's Guide to the Camino de Santiago by John Brierly. This book listed each and every town on the Camino and had maps including distances between towns and other stopping places, elevation, albergues and other places to stay, even some especially pilgrim-friendly bars. It also provided historical and information of local interest, plus some spiritual insights. Don't go on Camino without it. Having said that, Morgan, Mary, and Susie used just two sheets of paper they received in St. Jean – one with recommended stages and kilometers and the other listing albergues with distances between them, and they made it just fine.

Camera was great. Morgan ended up with Dominic's camera and took over 600 pics – a first for him to be taking pictures. Chargers were, again, relatively heavy, but welcome and worth it.

Our phones were also essential to keep in touch with each other. Since we did not travel together, I asked Morgan to text me the name of the town where he was spending the night, which he did, without fail. I also used my phone for a watch (gave Morgan mine to wear – glad I did) and a nightlight.


I received a Pilgrim Passport in St Jean Pied de Port, which I needed to show at each albergue upon check in. The hospitalero would stamp it with the albergue's unique stamp (sello) and date it. I could also get stamps from churches, town halls, bars, and restaurants. I was not a “Sello Tart”, crazy over collecting massive amouts of stamps, but I did know one person who had filled three entire Pilgrim Passports with stamps from everywhere he went (you know who you are!)

Often, I had to show my US Passport along with my Pilgrim Passport. I also had one Visa card for the cash machine (no ATM fee) which never failed me, as well as my other Visa (no int'l transaction fee) for merchants. I brought my driver's license for ID that was easier to reach than passport, and was glad I had it for the car rental. Thank goodness I never had to use my health insurance card or backup credit cards.

Phew! As I'm sitting here staring at my stuff on the floor, I can't think of anything else that I would have brought (except for another small towel and a larger sized pillowcase) or have left behind.

I guess that means I'm ready for the next Camino!


Flying Home

June 27,2012




One Hot Night in Madrid (No, Not That Kind of Hot)

June 26, 2012

There are four of us together again: me, Mary, Susie, and Morgan. We say goodbye to the cathedral as we walk through the park to the train station. The 8am train to downtown A Coruna is on time. After a bit of asking around, we find the bus to the airport and arrive to find a huge line for check-in. We guess the computers are down because nobody is moving. The flight status monitor says our flight is an hour late anyway, so we just chill in line. Morgan hasn't emptied his Platypus yet and it's somehow leaking all over the airport floor.

Eventually, another counter opens up and we shuffle forward to get our boarding passes. After a trip to the candy store, we go through security (Susie got a lecture for wrapping her poles, but didn't have to surrender them), board our flight, and fall asleep before the plane leaves the runway.

We decide to stop in at the Lufthansa counter in Terminal 2 to get our boarding passes for our 7am flight tomorrow. I've rented an apartment through and I text the woman who's supposed to meet us there that we are running late. By the time we buy our Metro tickets and get lost finding the apartment, the woman who is supposed to meet us is gone and won't be back for about an hour. No worries.

Somehow, on the way to the apartment, Mary finds two 50euro bills on the sidewalk. She asks people around if it's their money, but nobody claims it. The Camino provides.

It's 3pm. Susie and Morgan are tired and hungry and do not plan to leave the apartment tonight, so they go across the street and grab lunch/dinner. Mary and I wait in the lobby and share candy, sunflower seeds, and cookies to tide us over until we can go out and find some real food.

Tatyana finally comes, lets us in, and shows us around the 3 bedroom apartment her grandmother left her and her sister. Gorgeous hardwood floors, a nice bathtub, and plenty of room for everyone to sleep. Mary and I unilaterally decide to give snoring Susie (love you!) the biggest, darkest bedroom, Morgan gets the closet bedroom, and Mary and I get the hot one in the back. All the drapes are pulled because there is no central air, just one of those weird Euro a/c units with a hose vent to the outside that really don't work that well. It's a record 40C or 104 degrees fahrenheit outside and barely passable inside.

Even though we're pretty much running on fumes, Mary and I feel the need to go out to explore the neighborhood. Tatyana recommends the restaurant at the Real Madrid stadium which overlooks the soccer field. We're too late for lunch (here's the link for a pic of what we missed:, but the bar is open and the attractive female bartender brings us two jumbo-size Tinto de Veranos and a big bowl of potato chips (Lyn! Wish you were here!) paid for by the Camino sidewalk money. We chat in the coolness.

It seems like too much trouble to go all the way downtown to see the Madrid of the guidebooks. Besides, across the boulevard from our apartment is El Corte Ingles, the iconic Spanish department store. Mary wants a Spain Vogue magazine (comes with free gifts) and I always think it's fun to shop where the women of Madrid shop.

El Corte Ingles is a combination of Nordstrom's, Macy's, Target, Home Depot, Barnes & Noble, and the best grocery store selling wine that you've ever been to. This must be the flagship store, because it is an entire city block with 5 floors of merchandise. They have an entire floor just for spa services and medical practitioners. It's Tuesday afternoon and the place is packed. Mary considers a Longchamp bag, we admire the olive bar and the huge hams in the grocery, and finally find the magazines. The Camino buys her the Vogue and a Telva for me, which comes with free huaraches. I wish I had more pictures of this place, but I was just too, too tired, and frankly overwhelmed by the crowds after my solitary days on the trail, to aim a camera at anything.

Now I'm hungry and we walk back to see if we can have dinner at the stadium, but it seems a little too fancy for our sweaty selves, so we settle on a tapas bar just a few doors from the apartment. There's more tinto de verano, fried artichokes, and other delicious treats, courtesy of the Camino. Somehow, there is still more to talk about!

When we get back from the apartment, Susie is sleeping, Morgan is on the internet in his underwear, and the hot bedroom in the back is even more hot. Not even a cool shower makes it worth sleeping there, so I flop on the futon in the hall and in a minute, I'm out.

The alarm is set for 5am – we have a 7:40am departure back to the US tomorrow.


The End of the Earth

June 25, 2012

For many, Santiago is not the end of the Camino de Santiago de Compostela. No, it is possible for a pilgrim to walk from the Pyrenees (as we mostly did) all the way to the Atlantic Ocean. When I made our air reservations, I didn’t really take this stage of the journey into consideration – in fact, we had planned to just walk to Santiago on Monday and then head out the next day.

However, a couple of weeks ago, in Acebo (Reunion II) we decided that, although we didn’t have the extra four days to walk that far, we could get to Santiago a day earlier, that is, on Sunday. A good idea on several levels, it gave us a better chance to see the botafumiero, which only swings on certain Holy days (remember Sunday was the feast of St. John the Baptist?) It also gave us time to take the bus out to Finisterre – the westernmost point in Spain and the place where many pilgrims feel is the true end of the Camino – on Monday, therefore completing the entire Camino one way or another. Yesterday, thanks to the Parador concierge, we don’t have to take the three hour bus ride. We are renting a car this morning, I’m behind the wheel driving to the coast, and as a bonus, we also can visit Muxia on the way back.

Or at least we thought we were driving to the coast. Faulty directions led us north out of town, so we just changed our circle trip to go from Muxia to Finisterre instead of vice versa. It took us getting a little lost to figure it out, but eventually, after driving through some perfectly charming towns that for sure no other pilgrim has visited, we arrived in Muxia.

It was foggy here at the coast and quite cool. This is where the movie The Way ended their journey. There’s a cute seaside town, but the attraction is down the road a few kilometers at the Sanctuary of the Virgin of the Boat, a Christian church located on the site of a Celtic sacred site. It’s rather extraordinary to look west and see the ocean instead of more Camino.

We find a restaurant for lunch and share all of the local specialties. During lunch, a young man who looked familar came to stare at us as we were eating. Turns out, it was Morgan, who finished his walking here last night and getting ready to take the bus back to Santiago. He grudgingly let me hug him (haven’t seen him for weeks!) and turned down our offer to haul his backpack in our trunk so he could take the bus without encumbrance. He sees the bus come and runs to join his friends for the ride to Santiago.

Back in our car – a Spanish SEAT (not the whole car, ha ha) – we head down the Costa da Morte, literally, “Coast of Death,” ostensibly named for the many shipwrecks along the rocky shore. However, now that I’ve gotten a feel of the car and have no trouble passing the slower drivers, some of the ladies in the back seat (you know who you are!) are wondering if the name applies to more than shipwrecks.

As we get closer to Finisterre we see yellow arrows and Way markers along the road, along with a few pilgrims. The beaches we pass approaching the town are long and wide and beautiful. There must have been an awesome party there Saturday night. We do a drive-by of the town, passing by several albergues and a small fishing port, but our final destination is the lighthouse at the end of the peninsula, another few kilometers out. As we drive past pilgrims walking, we are all thankful that we’re all on our SEAT (ha ha).

Finisterre – the end of the earth, land’s end. Muxia is a stop at the ocean, but Finisterre is the westernmost point in Spain and the popular, spectacular finish of the Camino. Once you get past the Camino souvenir stands, there’s the lighthouse, and beyond the lighthouse, the point. This is the spot where, as a final gesture of letting go of your old self, you burn your clothes (and hopefully put new ones on afterward that you bought in Santiago). I brought my sock liners to burn; they helped me, they hurt me, then I didn’t need them.

Unfortunately, and I can only guess the reason, we are not allowed to burn anything out there anymore. However, there is a cross where people have left various articles of clothing, and that will have to suffice. I tie my liners on the cross and say a prayer – for the woman who bought them is not the same woman who is leaving them. Mary leaves her dad’s hat that she’s been wearing all Camino. We have a bit of time to sit and reflect, but soon it’s time to head back to Santiago.

It’s a beautiful drive along the rocky coast and up the river valley to the freeway. Our goal was to be back to the Parador at 6pm, and we’re just about to make it. Had to do a quick detour to get gas for the car (didn’t think the car could u-turn so tight in traffic, did you, ladies?) and were back just a little late. Before we called it a day, I requested the gang get their packs and we take pics of us at the cathedral, since I wasn’t in a picture-taking mood upon arrival (thanks, guys!), and we went back to pack for our departure tomorrow.

Morgan’s stuff was in the room and he was out spending his last evening with friends. We are dog-tired from travel, walking, staying up late, getting up early, and I really just want to go to bed. However, Mary wanted to have one final night in Santiago (“like a hooker, walking the streets”) and I had to agree that this was the best idea. She took us to a tapas bar where we said goodbye to some folks we knew, met some new ones, and had way too many chupitos (ooops, that was just me). Not sure exactly what time we all got back and was glad I set the alarm ahead of time for 6am.