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“Walking the Camino: Six Ways to Santiago”

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Recently, I was able to attend a documentary at the Belcourt Theater in Nashville, TN titled “Walking the Camino: Six Ways to Santiago.”  You can watch the trailer and learn more about screenings near you by going to Caminodocumentary.org.  After the film, the director, Lydia Smith, was gracious enough to spend time doing a Q&A with the audience.  The film itself was an extremely accurate look at life on the Camino.  The film was able to capture the physical and mental aspects that one goes through on the Camino.  This documentary was so well done largely due to the fact that the director, Lydia, walked the Camino Frances herself in 2008.  She was able to experience firsthand the hi’s and lo’s that nearly every pilgrim faces during their own walk.  As I sat there watching six pilgrims travel their own Camino, I got to see some of the same landmarks and albergues I visited and briefly relive the thoughts and emotions I went through a year ago on my own Camino.  Although “The Way” is a great film, which partially peaked my interests in the Camino in the first place, “Walking the Camino…”  really captured what life was like on a daily basis.  For anyone out there interested in the Camino, I encourage you to visit their website and do what you can to support the crew as they travel across country showing this film.

Santiago De Compostella-Nashville: Journey’s End

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After waking up a little hungover from the celebration the night before, I spent a little time with Chris, Tess, and Sally and said my final goodbyes.  They all had planes and trains to catch to continue on their journeys while I still had a full day till my flight on the 4th.  Instead of staying at another hostel, hotel, or albergue that night, I decided to take a night train from Santiago to Madrid where I was to fly out the next day.  I purchased a shared room on a train with a bed so I could sleep and still make my way to Madrid, which turned out to be super convenient.  It was a little pricey, but I didn’t have to pay for another place to sleep for the night, so I figured that it evened out.

So now, I’ve finished the Camino, taken a bus to Finisterre and seen the edge of the world, gone to the pilgrim’s mass, and celebrated the end of the trip with friends.  Now what?  Shop for souvenirs!  I asked my hospitalera if I could leave my bag there and pick it up later and she was totally fine with it as long as I picked it up by a certain time.  There definitely was not a shortage of shops to go to for some cheap souvenirs to.  Since I packed so little for the trip in my pack, I had plenty of space to fill it up with small gifts and still have room to use my bag as a carry on.  I picked up a few nick nack gifts for my family and some close friends and still had a ton of time left.  Pilgrims were always walking into the main courtyard to reach the finish line, so I decided to go hang out in the courtyard and read my book some more (for the 3rd time).  Hanging out for a couple of hours there, I got to see a few friends end their camino.  It was worth it to just lay down in the courtyard and see them finish the way I did a day earlier.

After hanging out in the courtyard for a while, I went and sat in the cathedral and did what I had done several times during the trip, pull out my journal and write.  As I sat there in one of the front pews, it was hard not to feel overwhelmed with emotion over the amazing month I had spent away from my family and my close friends.  At this point, I was very ready to head home and hear people speak english, see familiar faces, and share all my stories.

I left the courtyard and went back to the hostel to pick up my stuff to start making my way to the train station.  While I was there, I ran into an Australian friend that I’d met the other night.  She invited me to hang out with her and some of her friends for a couple of hours till I had to go catch a train. I sat with them at their apartment trading stories back and forth and sipping on cheap wine.  One last new group of friends before I head on back to reality.

Unfortunately, because of the time it took for me to walk to the train station, I was unable to make it to the bookstore to pick something up for the journey home.  Thank God I still had my iPhone and a charger so I could listen to music to pass the time until the late night train arrived.  Finally, the train arrived and I meandered through the halls to find my room.  There were 3 men in there all speaking Spainish to one another, and then I come in.  They greeted me and we tried to talk for a few minutes, but it was apparent that I understood barely anything they were saying and vice versa.  I left my pack in the room and headed a few cars ahead to grab a late night decaf coffee and a quick snack.  As always though, I took a small bag with me which held my passport, phone, wallet, and journal; things that were irreplaceable.  I stayed long enough in the car to finish my coffee and then left because it was filled with young teenagers who were being obnoxious.  I headed back to my room where I found that my roommates were already pretty much in bed asleep.  I climbed into my bunk and stayed up writing and reading for a bit then turned out the light and went to sleep.

I woke up the next morning, packed my things up and began my journey to the airport, which turned out to just be a couple of train rides.  I ran into a British pilgrim on the train and we both kind of helped each other navigate our way to the airport.  Once again, complete strangers helping each other out, the pilgrim way.  From the time I left my room on train, till the time I got on my flight was rather quick and hectic.  There wasn’t really any time to sit and grab a coffee or breakfast as I recall.  I was moving from train to train to check in point, and then to boarding.  I hadn’t really timed it out as well as I though I did, but it all kinda worked out in the end, the way most things on this trip had.  That had become the norm.  I do however remember walking onto the plane repeating “Please let us have our own little t.v.’s, please let us have our own little t.v.’s.”  I had already read through my book I brought with me at least 3 times if not more, listened to all my music, and read through all my mail.  I needed something to keep me occupied on the long flight.  I couldn’t rely on sleeping pills because I’m pretty sure I’d used those up as well.  Success!  Thank you British Airways!  I sat down and completely zoned out.  The guy sitting next to me was not so fortunate and his didn’t work, so the stewardess let him move to another seat.  I had 2 seats to myself for the entire flight.  You can’t ask for much more better luck than that for an overseas flight.  I zoned out and watched movies, and wrote in my journal for the entire flight.

Overall, the only real upset I had for the ride home was the 6-7 hour layover in JFK airport, which was originally supposed to be a 1 hour layover.  I was so happy to be back in the states, but so upset that I was so close to home now and still couldn’t get there.  I remember sitting and watching netflix on my phone and texting back and forth with my friends and calling my parents and other friends to pass the time.

After a horrible layover in JFK, we finally boarded and headed for Nashville BNA.  By the time we had landed, I was so excited to see my friends that I don’t think I sat down while waiting for them.  I’d arranged for my buddy Van to pick me up.  If I had a brother, this guy would be it.  I was so happy to see him.  We threw my gear in the car and he asked if I just wanted to go home.  I’s seen through some texts and Facebook posts that a bunch of my friends were hanging out at one of my favorite Nashville bars, Greenhouse.  I hadn’t seen any of these guys for a month and hadn’t been able to talk to most of them.  So I told him that we were going straight there.  It couldn’t have been timed any better to walk into Greenhouse and see a group of familiar faces and to sit down and have a drink with them.  This was the homecoming I wanted.

Today is April 3, 2014.  On April 3, 2013, I was waking up in Roncesvalles and starting my second day on the Camino.  It has been a great year since I walked my Camino, and I have that trip to thank for it.  I learned many things while on the trail but if I had to pick just one thing I learned, I would say (as cheesy as it sounds) I learned to have more faith in people.  I learned it from the friends that brought me water and food and medicine when I was sick with food poisoning.  I learned it from the woman who carried my shorts for three days in hopes that she would be able to return them to me.  I also learned it from people who bought me a beer or a meal without expecting anything in return.  I consistently observed and heard tales of strangers helping strangers who more times than not had nothing more in common than the same trail they were hiking.  For more lessons I learned, stay tuned.

Destination: Nashville,TN

Distance: A long way

Accommodation: Home

Fisterre-Finisterre Day 31

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I woke up about an hour before the sun rose the next morning for my hike to what was once thought to be the edge of the world.  I packed a small pack with a few items, some water, a lighter, a few clothes I was done wearing for the trip, and my iPhone.  This time, I decided to follow the directions my friends had given me the day before to the letter instead of trying my own shortcuts.

About halfway through the hike, my surroundings started to brighten up because of the approaching sunrise.  It was a relatively easy hike even though it was slightly uphill for the 5km to Finisterre because it was all blacktop; all you do is just follow the road leading away from town.  I think it was better and even a little more fitting to make this hike by myself rather than with a group of friends.  It was better to end this journey by myself. just as I had begun it.

Finally I reached the last monument telling me how far I had to go which read 0.0km!  I sat there and took a few pictures of myself and the monument and then proceeded to the next monument that pretty much depicted that “this is the end.”  Now, once you reach this monument, it is a well known tradition among pilgrims to burn your pilgrim clothes to symbolize the end of your journey.  Instead of burning all my pilgrim clothes and walking back to town naked, I had brought a selection of clothes from which the smells of the camino and myself could not be washed out.  So I brought a pair of underwear, an old base layer bottom, a pair of old worn out socks, and an old beanie.  Luckily when I got there, someone had beaten me to it and had a fire going.  We greeted each other but I think we both understood that the other just kinda wanted to be left alone and enjoy the moment in silence.  After he left, I used his fire and burned my clothes as well.  The sun had been up for about half an hour by now, and my clothes were slowly burning.  I lit a cigarette, turned on my music to Johnny Cash’s “We’ll Meet Again,” and waved and yelled good morning to my friends across the ocean.  The moment was all too perfect.  I hung out there for a solid half an hour watching the sun rise over the bay and listening to some music, and when I was satisfied, I starting the 5km back to the hostel to rejoin my friends.  I left my headphones on while I hiked back to town and listened to some really upbeat music because I was so excited about the journey I had just completed.  I also may or may not have been dancing down the road back to town while unknowingly entertaining a few other early morning pilgrims.

By the time I got back to the hostel, everybody was up and starting to pack their stuff up.  We headed out from the hostel and started our way towards the bus station to grab some tickets back to Santiago.  We stopped and grabbed some breakfast, which I was more than excited for because I’d gotten into town so late last night that most of the cafes and bars were closed so I was really hungry.  We inhaled our breakfast and went to stand in line to get on the bus back to Santiago.

The double decker bus pulled up and we fought to get on the second level in the very front so we could sit in front.  We got settled in and waited for the long bus ride to be over as soon as possible.  Because of the long bus ride, I got the chance to get to know Chris and Tess a little better as well as Sally. Chris and Tess had been hiking together for the majority of the trip and by now were acting like brother and sister smacking each other on the back of the head and pinching each other.  It was pretty reminiscent of how my sister and I used to act  around each other.  Sally and I mostly talked about what we wanted to do once we made our ways back home, change careers, travel a little more, all this was common among pilgrims.  Nearly every pilgrim looked at the Camino as a great break from reality, and a changing point in each person’s life like a career, where they live, their outlook on life, etc..  Eventually, we made it back to Santiago and we all made our ways back to the main large cathedral in the old part of town.  We all settled into a hostel that Sally had stayed at before and gotten to know the hospitalera.  We changed clothes, and dumped our stuff off and went to meet other friends to celebrate with them again that evening.

On the subject of celebrating the end of your camino, let me give you a little advice.  Celebrate carefully.  If you don’t drink, that’s fine and you shouldn’t have a problem.  But, if you do drink, keep an eye on how much you drink.  Don’t do what I did keep trading buying drinks for friends every place you go.  It becomes very easy to forget how many drinks you’ve had and makes it even harder to walk to your hostel at 3:30 in the morning.  Not that that’s what happened or anything…I’m just saying.

Destination: Finisterre & Santiago

Distance: 5km & and a 2 1/2 hour bus ride back to Santiago

Accommodation: Azabache Albergue- Great Hospitalero!  She was really sweet.  The place looked like it had just gone through some renovations.  Great bathrooms and sleeping accommodations and it is less than a 5 minute walk to the cathedral.Only 16 euros a night!  I would definitely stay here again.

 

Santiago De Compostella-Fisterra Day 30

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Before we began the celebrations the day before, I made plans to take a bus to  Fisterra so I could hike to Finesterre, once believed to be the edge of the world.  I was fortunate enough to buy a bus ticket off of another pilgrim.  She didn’t have time to make it there and back in time to start her journey home, plus she gave me a discount since I was a pilgrim myself.

Before I took the bus to Fistera, I decided to attend the famous pilgrim’s mass in Santiago.  I got into the church with just enough time to grab a seat in the back next to, you guessed it, some guy that didn’t speak english.  I was lucky to get a seat beause by the time Mass began, there were at least a couple hundred people standing to see the service.  Of course, the service was in Spanish so I didn’t really understand much, but I would have gone to do the service again in a heartbeat.  Going to the final pilgrim’s mass is another one of those long standing traditions for pilgrims to do.  The biggest draw for most pilgrims to this Mass was the swinging of the incense.  It swings from one ceiling at one end of the church to the other!  I don’t know if it’s true or not, but someone told me that one reason it swings so far throughout the sanctuary is because the masses of pilgrims that used to join there for Mass made the place smell so bad from their journey that the swinging the incense was the only thing that helped to mask the smell.

It was about a miles worth of backtracking on the Camino to get to the bus station, but at least I didn’t have to hike the whole way to Fisterra.  In my mind, the bus ride would have taken about an hour or so.  It actually lasted for about 3 hours.  We made a few stops for a bathroom break for the bus driver, and then we picked up a friend of the bus driver who apparently just along for the ride because he was bored and had nothing else better to do that day.  The driver didn’t really make it a priority to get us there quickly, probably because there were only 4 of us on the bus: me, another pilgrim, the bus driver, and the bus driver’s friend.  On a side note, I’ve never been car sick, but I’m pretty sure I came close to yacking a few times.  There were so many twists and turns and for most of them, the driver wouldn’t slow down too much.

After the long bus ride, I got off and started searching for my hostel I’d made a reservation for earlier that day.  While wandering around searching for it, I ran into Sally and a couple of friends of hers, Chris (Australian) and Tess (Dutch).  After chatting for a bit, they invited me to come stay with them at the hostel just about a mile away.  The hospitalero wasn’t there when we arrived, but Chris and Tess assured me that he’d be cool with it.

The 3 of them had already made the 5 km hike to Finisterre earlier that day.  I wanted to make it there before sunset, so I took down their directions and took off at a jogging speed to make it there by sunset.  I was running short on daylight, so I decided to take what I thought was a shortcut up a dirt trail.  It was not a shortcut, and I was sure that I was probably heading in the opposite direction of the coast at that point.  Again, I was reminded of how horrible my sense of direction was.  As the sun went down, I decided to just backtrack and head back to the hostel and wake up early to catch a sunrise hike.

By the time I got back to the hostel, the hospitalero was back and I payed him for the night.  He was really laid back, and even shared s few drinks with us for no charge.  He also offered us a smoke of something which was not tobacco to which I politely refused.  In my traveling experience, sharing water bottles, food, cigarettes, or even a cigarette “alternative” gets you sick real quick and real easy.  I opted to go to bed early so I could get an early start on my morning hike to the “edge of the world.”

Destination: Fisterra

Distance: 3 hour bus ride (don’t know how many km, but apparently, it usually takes about 2-3 days to hike there).

Accommodation: Can’t remember where I stayed, but there were plenty of places to stay in this quaint little town.

O Pedrouzo-Santiago De Compostella!!!! Day 29

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I woke up this morning ready to reach the end of my journey.    I grabbed a quick breakfast with some friends from the albergue and then we were off to tackle the last 20 km to Santiago.

For the most part, we stuck together the whole way in.  There were several hills to climb and, as usual, several small towns to walk through which made the last hike in to town that much more enjoyable.  I had been so excited to walk into Santiago today that the night before I had pretty much memorized a few of the landmarks along the way so I could know when we were getting close.  First we passed the airport, then the large TV towers, and then we made it to Monte de Gozo.  Here, there’s a large monument on top of the hill where, if it wasn’t raining, pilgrims could get their first glance at Santiago and the top of the cathedral where their journey would end.  A large group of us stopped and had our pictures taken at the large monument overlooking the city as an early celebration before entering the city in a couple of hours.  A quick note, make sure you have a camera that’s easy to show someone how to use.  A seemingly quick stop took nearly a half hour just to take a couple of pictures.

After what seemed to be hours after leaving Monte de Gozo, we finally entered the city of Santiago.  Yet again, we had to navigate our way through the newer part of the city walking through streets on blacktop and concrete (painful for me at this point).  The group of us (about 6-8 at this point) stuck together as we tried to find our way to the old part of town.  The longer we walked through the city, the larger our group got as we were all heading for the same long desired destination.

And then it happened.  After 28 days of hiking, hours skipping ahead 70 km on a bus, food poisoning, meeting and saying goodbye to friends, and a list of other experiences I’d had, I walked into the courtyard where the main cathedral was.  There was a slew of pilgrims laying down in the courtyard resting their heads against their packs, people running up to each other and hugging, and some people just standing in the middle of the courtyard looking up at the cathedral taking in the moment.  I ended up shaking hands with and hugging friends I had hiked with the last few hours and running into a few other characters I had recognized from the journey.  It was a surreal moment in which I realized that I had just hiked almost the entire way across an entire country!  I recommend just standing in the courtyard and just basking in that fact silently for 60 seconds.  I dare you to not have a tear come to your eye.

After the moment of realization had passed, we found our way to the right of the main entrance to the cathedral about 100 yards away where we stood in line to get our passports stamped for the final time.  At 1:00, April 30, 2013, I had my passport stamped in Santiago de Compostela.  We left the pilgrim’s office and all agreed to meet back in front of the cathedral that evening to grab drinks for the celebration of our accomplishment.

After getting our passports stamped, the search for a place to stay began.  Nick told me about a really nice hotel nearby that had good rates and was right outside the cathedral.  I booked my room online at Hospederia right outside of the cathedral. It was about $70 a night, but I deserved it and it was well worth it.  This place had wi-fi, nice beds, great showers, and a great breakfast spread in the morning.

Before I got the chance to check in to my hotel, I ran into my friend Sally.  We congratulated each other on the success of our journeys and agreed to meet up with a group of several pilgrims later on after we’d all had some time to take a siesta and relax. When I showed up to meet everyone we decided to just go bar hopping around old town, which is very easy to do.  There’s a plethora of bars, restaurants, and cafes to stop in and have a bite to eat or a drink.  We decided to try as many as possible, and stayed out later than I had in over a month celebrating the entire experience we had all just had over the past several weeks.  After we’d had enough to eat and waaaaaay too much to drink, we stumbled back to our hotels to take real showers that required no use of sandals to avoid nasty floors and to sleep in real beds with no snoring pilgrim above our heads and with real sheets and pillows.  Oh how quickly the simple things in life can transform into something so luxurious when it has been taken away for only a few short weeks.

Destination: Santiago de Compostela!

Distance: 20.1 km

Accommodation: Hospederia- This place was convenient as it was located right outside the side entrance of the large cathedral.  Wi-fi, comfy beds, great breakfast, clean bathrooms.  It’s a little pricy at $70.00 a night, but it was a one time deal and it was so nice.

Arzua-O Pedrouzo Day 28

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Apparently, I didn’t think much about this day either (much like the day before), because I didn’t write much about this day, lol.  Nick and I decided we’d meet up at O Pedrouzo at the end of the day, so we left the albergue at different times.  After hiking for a bit that morning, I stopped at a roadside cafe, which was a little odd.  There was no waiter or waitress.  Just a large cart filled with breakfast foods, hot coffee, and hot teas to choose from with a sign that read “Pilgrim’s breakfast, donations much appreciated.” I had seen these periodically throughout the trail but it was always just a really cool concept to me that someone would just put out a bunch of food and drinks for strangers and only receive donations for their service.  After sitting for a while and talking to some pilgrims I honed in on one girl that looked really familiar. Come to find out that we’d actually continually run into each other and stayed at several of the same places throughout the trail and never once had either of us said a word to each other!  Funny stuff.

Our whole group sitting there for breakfast pretty much stuck together for the rest of the hike for the day, which wasn’t very far since we’d hiked a little further for the past 2 days.  We ran into Nick near the entrance to O Pedrouzo and proceeded to hunt for an albergue for the evening.  We settled on Porta de Santiago, a private hostel on the main strip.  Once inside, there was actually a small tree growing in the middle of the hostel which was encased in glass and open all the way to the rooftop.  I got a bunk right next to it so I could be there for the sunrise.  This place was great!  It was only 10 euros and you got washing machines on the top floor which opens up to a rooftop courtyard, and wi-fi was available throughout the albergue.  The albergue had a very modern look and feel to it.  Unfortunately, the clean modern look did not stop some larger gentlemen from strutting around in their underwear.

That evening, I joined some of my new friends for some dinner and celebratory drinks to the end of our journey.  There were plenty of places to choose from, but it didn’t matter how good or bad the food was, the following day, we were all going to complete a journey that had taken it’s toll on all of us; spiritually, physically and mentally.  But, it was all worth it.

Destination: O Pedrouzo

Distance: 19.1 km

Accommodation: Porta de Santiago- Like I said above, good beds, laundry, wi-fi, and good bathrooms.  What more could you ask for on this kind of journey?  There were also plenty of places to eat nearby with pilgrim menus.  Cool little town.

Sorry, no pictures again, but…http://www.portadesantiago.com

I highly recommend watching the video.

Mato Casanova-Arzua Day 27

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The hike to Arzua showed me more miserable weather.  I don’t recall a lot from this day, and by that I mean I didn’t write much about the hike this day.  The main thing I do remember is having a problem checking into an albergue once Nick and I got to Arzua.  Again, we decided to go just a little farther than the guidebook recommended because we were anxious to get to Santiago.  The first albergue we tried to check into, the host was nowhere to be found, and there were about 10 of us standing around waiting to get a bed.  Nick and I got tired of standing around, so we went to a nearby pub and grabbed a beer and some tapas while we were waiting.

I do remember one detail about this day.  When Nick and I went to the bar to wait for someone to show up at the albergue, Nick asked me a question, “Are you okay?”  When I asked him why he would ask that he said, “because you look like someone just shot your dog.”  I guess leaving my friends I’d known for the last 3 weeks had taken its toll on me.  I tend to be the kind of person that doesn’t like hanging out by myself, so starting over and meeting new people had been hard for me.  That’s actually one of the reasons why I take trips like this, to force myself into situations that help me grow and make myself a better person.

After about an hour of waiting, we eventually gave up, as did everyone else, and we all went to another nearby albergue, the Via Lactea Private albergue.  It was still a bunk bed style setting, but there were only 10 beds to a room.  They also had a laundry service, full kitchen and outdoor patio where you could relax or do your laundry by hand. We did the usual once you check into an albergue: laundry, eat a  snack, meet other pilgrims hang out, and take a nap.  Nick took his nap to an extreme and went to sleep at around 7 that night and didn’t get up till late the next morning!  The hospitalero recommended a nearby place to grab a quick dinner and that was it for my evening.  I was so exhausted from hiking through cold damp weather for the day.

2 days till I walk into Santiago…

Destination: Arzua

Distance:  22 km

Accommodation: Via Lactea Private Albergue- Relatively  cheap for a private albergue, but not as private as I had encountered either.  About 10 bunk beds per room, kitchen, laundry service, and a good back patio.  I’d definitely stay here again.

(Long day, no pics)