Camino by Cam
Daily(ish) journaling while walking 500 miles across Spain
International travel is something that’s changed my life. I’m more open-minded, empathetic, and knowledgeable from my experiences abroad. Regular international travel is something Jamie and I are committed to, and I wrote about that here.
This year, we’re walking the Camino de Santiago, a 500 mile pilgrimage across Spain that people have been doing for over a thousand years. I’m excited for the sights, food, and friends, but I’m especially interested in the reflections that 8 hours of walking per day will afford. I plan to post some of my daily thoughts on this constantly-updating page.
Day 0 — Boise => Reykjavik
After spending the day finalizing the packing and getting the house cleaned up so it's hassle-free when we return, we're off!
Thoughts & Discussions: Anxiety about leaving something important behind… Feeling sad to leave Wookiee behind… We’re so lucky to get so much help from my dad while we’re gone…
Day 1 — Reykjavik => London
Jet lag galore. Now I remembered why I hate red eye flights. But, I do love the Reykjavik airport. It’s like a small, friendly IKEA airport where everything is cute and friendly.
Then we flew to London Heathrow, tubed to Waterloo station, and spent the evening around South Bank, London. We were pretty pooped, so we didn’t do a lot, but our evening adventure involved Black Friar’s Pub and walking along the Thames on the way back to our Airbnb.
Thoughts & Discussions: London’s a pretty cool place… If money was no object, and you were going to travel for a year, where would you go and how would you do it?… Jet lag is like a multi-day hangover… So far, this has gone remarkably smoothly (knock on wood)…
Day 2 — London => Irun
Sleep was pretty tough. Jamie and I were both up half the night, but we managed 5 or 6 hours. (I was adjusting Zapier automations for Idaho Speaks on my phone between 1 and 2:30am. 😬)
Once we checked out of the Airbnb, we walked a couple miles to Liverpool Street Station and caught our train to Stanstead Airport, where we caught or plane to Biarritz.
After we landed, we bussed to Irun, checked into our first albergue (hostel for pilgrims), got our pilgrim passport, and had dinner nearby.
Thoughts & Discussions: How am I going to be able to find satisfying breakfasts on this trip that don’t involve bread and dairy?… Timing your poops with walking and coffee is hard… Doing the Camino without speaking Spanish or being Christian feels especially foreign…
Day 3 — Irun => San Sebastian
2 hours of sleep. We simmered in our own sweat in a hellhole of a human-heated sauna dormitory. And then breakfast was white bread and pastries. Bad start, but when we got walking, everything was great. Until mile 12 or so, when I was dead. But we did it. All 16.5 miles.
When we got to San Sebastian, Jamie and I found a hostel and Jamie helped me avoid a exhaustion-induced meltdown with some coffee and a snack. Once I’d had my medicine, I perked up quickly. Just in time for us to hang out with Jamie’s family friends Pili and Etienne.
We experienced an annual Basque festival dance and customary burning of a live tree, bringing in the summer. Later we went to a street party for locals and ate tortillas espanola and drank Basque cider. And I found my true Spanish love, pintxos (Basque tapas). These small bites are DELICIOUS, and I can try tons of them inexpensively. LOVE IT!
Thoughts & Discussions: The best way to travel is definitely with friends and locals… Other cultures have so many more (and richer) traditions than Americans do… Pintxos are so amazingly awesome. Life before pintxos was so dull…
Day 4 — San Sebastian => Getaria
Jamie slept through the night and I got about 6 hours. That’s a big improvement. Being at a youth hostel, the setting was a little different than an albergue (hostel dedicated to pilgrims) — as we were packing up to leave at 6:30am, I saw 2 young, drunk, naked German dudes standing in the hallway brushing their teeth (SMH).
We took a coffee and pintxos break in a homey little town called Orio, where we met another one of Jamie’s friends, Elizabete. That was a really nice visit. Later in the day, we made our first camino friends: Nicolai from Denmark and Edmund from Australia.
At dinner, we met an interesting Irishman named Mihal. We were eating our Ensalata Mixta and he said “Have you had the salad with cider? It’s better than wine.” We said no, and kept eating. A minute later, he came back with a bottle and poured us two glasses without saying a word. That’s a good way to make friends! Later he told us he’s been coming to this specific town with his family for 10 years, doing informal house sharing. I asked if he had family connections, and he said no, that he shares an affinity for the Basque independence movement, being from North Ireland. Talking to him about that was fascinating. I’m pretty sure he’s big into it, and mentioned at one point that “we used to be much stronger in the past.” I’m reminded of the saying, “one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter.”
Thoughts & Discussions: The American melting pot, versus multicultural societies… Where to spend a week for a relaxing vacation… How Amazon rules the world… Home sharing really makes travel more affordable… America is so much worse than everywhere else in the amount of vacation time we take in a year — two weeks versus six…
Day 5 — Getaria => Deba
I slept the whole night for the first time! Bye bye, jet lag. You took your sweet ass time…
Today was only a 12 mile day, down from our average of 15 or 16, because the coming towns are separated in such a way, and there aren’t many conveniences, that most people are doing a shorter day today and a longer day tomorrow. We didn’t mind going a bit mellower.
We’re making more friends! After breaking the ice the first few days, and seeing the same people several times and nodding, we’re starting to chat. We bonded with Edmund (the Aussie) more today, and walked together for the last 3 miles or so. His family has a farm in rural Queensland, and he just sold his share to his siblings and is travelling the world — 3 months in Europe so far, doing the Camino now, and then will be flying to Vancouver, BC to work with a friend laying floors for 6 months, then down to the US to hike the Pacific Crest Trail, and then maybe some time in Latin America. The dude is travelling like a boss. #Impressed
Our albergue (hostel for pilgrims) tonight is in an old railroad station that’s been half converted. It’s really cool. Since we’re faster hikers than most, we’re usually one of the first to the new town and check into the hostel. That gives us some nice time to get situated before thing get busy later in the afternoon.
Thoughts & Discussions: Tell us about Australian food… Do Australians travel much?… European countries have a lot less open spaces. No wonder they travel so much. I think it’s more for the climate they want (that they don’t have in their country), than it is for the culture. Americans have such a huge country with varied climates, they mostly travel for a cultural experience, not for climate… Someone should make a badass app using modern tech to disrupt travel books and trail guides…
Day 6 — Deba => Bolivar
We started the day intending to stop in Markina-Xemein (15 miles). Then Edmund and a new friend, Arianna (Italian), told us they were planning to go 5 miles further to stay at a cool monestary to get a different experience. It sounded great! The monks cook for you, the price is by donation, and you get a change of pace from the city alburgues. I was sold.
But Jamie wasn’t so sure. Her feet were hurting, she was going slower than usual, conversations were at a minimum, and she was clearly not crushing the day. She wasn’t sure if she could handle going extra. But when we saw the group in Markina-Xemein, and they were still excited about going there, she was into it. We bought some groceries, ate some fruit and chocolate in the shade, filled up on water, and were good to go.
5 miles later, we can see the monestary in the distance, and we’re very excited. We’ve worked our asses off — 20 miles! We get there, and the monk at the desk says they’re full. And the other alburgue next door was closed.
SHIT. That was our backup plan. So we’re fucked. He said we could walk 2 more miles to the next alburgue, but when we researched it, we saw it only has 10 beds, and at 5:45pm, that’s not promising at all. We call ahead. No answer. We check the only other place in town. Online it’s full. We call ahead. No answer. I’m fully intending to camp out on the monestary’s lawn that night, but Edmund says he thought he saw an albergue in Bolivar, 1 mile back. We hadn’t, and our book didn’t mention one there, so it hadn’t crossed our mind. We googled it, called, and they said they had a private room left for 50 euros (normal alburgue bunks cost 10 -15). Well, that beat the grass for Jamie, so that’s what we did.
We hiked down, got checked into our room (it’s super nice!), and all we wanted was a 6-pack for the hammocks outside. But apparently Bolivar’s 4-day summer festival just ended (we saw them taking down the stage), so every (EVERY) store and restaurant was closed. So here we are, at 7:45pm, showered, doing laundry, but very thirsty and not sure how we’re going to eat tonight. 😖
Day 7 —Bolivar => Gernika
Yesterday was frustrating, but it’s a new day. Today’s plan was a light day (13 miles). We went a little slower, and though we expected a really hot one today (100 degrees), it was cool and breezy the whole way to Gernika. We got into town, bought snacks for tomorrow, checked into our hostel, showered, and went downtown for our lunch. Now, it’s late afternoon, and we’re hand-washing some laundry and hanging out.
We’ve figured out our daily schedule, for the most part. Coffee for breakfast (if we can), leave by 7:15, hiking until we get to our destination (between 12–2, usually), shower, a big lunch (available between 1 and 3), then relaxing until 7 or so, when we have a lighter dinner and drinks while people-watching at the city plaza. It’s nice. ☺
Thoughts & Discussions: How do people keep their houses looking this nice?… How many people quit the camino after the first day? They’re like, FUCK THIS, and go spend the rest of their vacation on a beach until their return flight… I can’t figure out how the Spanish schedule works. When we think people should be working, they’re out and about. When we think the should be out and about, there’s no one. 🤔…
Day 8 — Gernika => Bilbao
We’re getting bolder. When I woke up at midnight and it was like 90 degrees in our tiny, crowded hostel room, I didn’t just resort to bunk purgatory like I did the first night. I jumped out of the top bunk, walked over to the closed window (what idiot did that?!) and shoved my blanket in the hinge to hold it open. With that modification, it was a tolerable 80 degrees in there. That’s at least underwear-only sleep-able. #ProblemSolving
Today was a big hike (19 miles). I tweaked my ankle a bit, so now I’ve joined Jamie in the ailments group (she has a gnarly pinky toe blister). We got an early start, and it got hot, but we trudged on. We walked into the outskirts of Bilbao at about 2:40, and found a lunch spot right before they stopped serving (3pm). We stuffed our faces, as usual, got to the hostel, showered, I took a little nappy, we got some groceries, and now we’re hanging out on a park bench in a busy plaza watching everybody out on the town for Friday night.
Thoughts & Discussions: Having a fairly minor injury could really kill the camino walking buzz… Some of the cities we stay in are really big and exciting (like Bilbao), and I need to fight the urge to see all of it in the few hours we’re here before we move on… I wonder if there are more independence movements in Spain besides the Basque Country and Catalonia… What kind of house would you live in if you were a hundred millionaire?…
Day 9 — Bilbao => Pobena
We’ve been making a bunch of friends the last few days. There’s Lifka from Germany, Lee from the UK, Majana from Poland, and Philip and Stain from Belgium (a cool father and son pair that started from Bruge in April!!!). And Edmund and Arianna are in the group as well. We’ve been seeing everyone off and on since we started, mostly, so the familiarity has really started to bond everyone. We’re starting to have the social Camino experience we’ve heard of. It just took a few days of ice breaking to get there. Though some people hike with each other all day, Jamie and I typically prefer to hike alone, and pace and take breaks at will, but we enjoy running into friends on the trail and hanging out at the albergue in the evening.
Today’s walk was 18 miles, and it was almost entirely on pavement. That’s never bothered me much before, but after ~120 miles walked in a week, that sort of thing really starts to take a toll. Your feet start to feel like they’ve been hammered and pulverized by the hard ground. Many hikers try to get around this by walking on the side of the pavement, on a trail, or grass, or gravel, or anything besides concrete, asphalt, pavers, or boulders. Ultimately, I find this more challenging than dramatic elevation grades. Those are hard, and they get your lungs going, but at the end you feel fine. After walking on hard surfaces, the soreness sticks with you.
Day 10 — Pobena => Castro Urdiales
Today was a lighter day. Given that we’d walked 20 or more miles 3 of the last 4 days, we were ready to give ourselves a little break. Also, there are a few places coming up that we don’t want to miss (like staying in a nunnery), and if we went longer today, it’d be a really short hike tomorrow. Also also, Jamie and I sometimes enjoy rolling into our destination around noon and having the whole day to get settled, relax, and explore. So, yeah, it felt like the right thing to do today.
We’ve learned that walking the Camino is like a vacation sampler. We walk through about a half dozen towns each day, and we stay in a different one every night. So, we’re seeing a huge amount of Spain that we probably wouldn’t if we were on a normal vacation, or even lived in Spain. So far, our favorite town for a vacation would be Deba, and our favorite town for an extended stay / living situation would be Gernika.
Thoughts & Discussions: It’s weird how my ankle felt back to normal just one day after tweaking it… It’s great to be back to the seaside. Inland is hotter and generally seems less pretty… There are a lot more dogs around than I would have expected… Maybe I’ll post about my top 10 lessons learned from the Camino on Patreon…
Day 11 — Castro Urdiales => Laredo
Today we went off the normal path. And it was an adventure. On the Camino, yellow arrows point the way from start to finish, so it’s pretty hard to get lost. Unless… you choose to do some alternative route that’s uncommon. That’s what we did today — life outside the arrows.
We met Kate (from Oregon) during a coffee break this morning with Majana. As often happens, we compared routes and plans for the day. Lately, there’s been a few different ways you can go — for instance, the coast or the mountains — and pilgrims often compare notes. Kate told us about a route that she saw in her app, that none of us had heard about in our guidebooks. We figured what the hell, and went for it. We bushwhacked for about a mile, and then popped out in a town at the foot of a mountain. A local stopped us, and kept repeating “Be careful.” We shrugged it off and went for it.
This mountain was STRAIGHT UP, with a narrow, uneven trail and a cliff below. I thought the hike to the top would never end. And finally when it did, we needed to grip a cable to round a corner near another cliff. And then coming down on the other side was pretty perilous. It had rained over night, so everything was really slick. Near the bottom, I fell and got a little scratched up from a thorn bush, but it wasn’t bad. We guessed at which way we needed to go to converge with the main path, and phew... We guessed right, and we saw yellow arrows again. We made it.
Thoughts & Discussions: What should Majana do right now? Her life is at a crossroads… It’s a good thing we didn’t go to the albergue some of our friends did last night! Sounded terrible… (During mass at the nunnery we’re staying at) That a priest comes into the nunnery to run the mass feels like the patriarchy to me…
Day 12 — Laredo => Guemes
We started the day with a community breakfast at the nunnery. It was great for two reasons: 1) we have a lot of friends now, and they were all there hanging out (we needed to take a ferry, and it didn’t start running until 9, so everyone had nowhere else to be), and 2) they had an abundance of coffee. You wouldn’t think a coffee shortage would happen at included breakfasts, but that’s been the rule, not an exception. For the first time this trip, I had two cups of coffee. ☕☕
Today’s 16 miles included two gigantic, beautiful beaches, one small mountain, and several cute idyllic towns. We arrived in an amazing albergue at 3, and now we’re relaxing in the grass and shade with our buddies. Our newest friends include Jonus (Sweden), Shawn and Ron (Connecticut), and Jacqueline (Australia).
Thoughts & Discussions : Where can I get a meal?… How is Lee so goddamn fast?… How do quantum computers work?… People often ask: is this your first camino? I think we’ll do something like this again, but I’m guessing we’ll do walks in other countries before we’d come back for another camino…
Day 13 — Guemes => Santa Cruz de Bezana
I slept like a rock last night, and I didn’t even use ear plugs (just the second night since we’ve been here). The albergue we stayed in was fantastic, and the room was full of our good buddies at this point. Jackie, Lee, and Jonas were all in there with us. Breakfast wasn’t until 7am, so we all slept in a bit (normal wakeup has been 6:30 for us). After another two cups of coffee (YAS), we packed up and hit the road.
It was a beautiful stretch of coastal trail, past cliff after cliff with great sand beaches below and surfers catching waves. It rained last night, so everything had a special freshness to it. By about 11, we’d made it to the end of the coastal route, and we caught our ferry to Santander, probably the second-biggest city we’ll see during the Camino (after Bilbao). Unlike in Bilbao, we cruised on through there, because we’ve found the big cities seem to be more hassle than their worth when you’re backpacking. We did the extra 6k to get to Santa Cruz, and checked into an extremely cute little albergue. We got there 20 minutes before we opened, and I’m glad we did, because I think they filled up about 45 minutes later (only 15 beds).
Thoughts & Discussions: Which of our friends do we need to make sure we get contact information from?… We’ve been extremely lucky, not having rain during the day. Our shoes aren’t waterproof, so our feet might suffer… Damn it, got my first legit blister…
Day 14 — Santa Cruz de Bezana => Santillana Del Mar
I didn’t set an alarm this morning because I didn’t remember what time the group of 20 decided everyone would wake up the next morning (that’s how the albergue manager runs things), and I knew Jamie would wake me up. Breakfast, like dinner last night, was lovely. It was prepared by the very cool albergue owner, in her home, and honestly it was the best one of our trip. And then I made up for my guilt of not helping with dishes during dinner the previous night by doing 90% of them for breakfast. This place, like about half of the places we’ve stayed is “donativo” (by donation), and we left the most generous amount yet (20 euros each).
Today’s walk was short (11 miles), but it was very hot, and the entire route was on pavement. We, like many of our fellow pilgrims, have been really disappointed by how much pavement-walking is part of the route of the Camino del Norte. Between the start (Irun) and Bilbao (about 30% through), it was about 80% trails. Since then, it’s been about 80% pavement. All the pilgrims I know have decided to change course in a few days and get on the “Primativo” — another camino route that is entirely trails and has less towns and infrastructure. It also so happens to be the oldest stretch of the original route taken by the king of Asturia (a region of Spain) in the 800s. We’d been considering it for a few days, but decided today we’d make the shift as well, and Jamie’s already on top of it — she bought a book, downloaded an itinerary, chatted with a few other pilgrims, and figured out which reservations we need to make in advance. Travelling with Jamie is SO EASY. I’m a lucky man. One of my major marriage perks. ☺
Thoughts & Discussions: Spain is SO AFFORDABLE. This whole Camino thing wouldn’t work in another country. Between the 5–15 euro albergues and the 10 euro “menu del dia”s, you get unprecedented value on your money… Cider is a big thing in Asturia (the region we’re about to enter), and I’m excited to drink a bunch of it… It’s really cool to stay in convents and monestaries that are repurposed as albergues. Today’s is SUPER NICE. We have a private room for 32 euros. It’d be >$80 in the States for sure… Sigor (new Basque Spanish friend) is such a character. Also, a man of many talents…
Day 15 — Santillana Del Mar => Comillas
When we started walking today, it was raining. This was a first for us on the trip. Up until today, we’d gotten really lucky and the rain was happening at night, so it didn’t affect our gear setup at all. So we got a chance to break out our backpack rain covers and our raincoats. Thankfully, it didn’t last long, and we were able to dry out our stuff and pack it back up. I was a little worried about getting our shoes wet — since they’re not waterproof, and a lot of miles on wet feet might cause a blister issue — but with only a light rain, our socks stayed dry. After that, the walk was great — cool weather, side roads, cute towns, and good views.
Thoughts & Discussions: Some people seem to travel and live abroad constantly, into their thirties and beyond. I wonder if it starts to feel like ‘same thing, different place’ and lack meaning… Most people we’ve gotten to know have been at some crossroads in their life. Are we at a crossroad?… Having a day where you stay at home and don’t go anywhere sounds great…
Day 16 — Comillas => Buelna
Today was a bigger one — 18 miles. We thought it would be quite a bit more than that actually, but we found a few shortcuts to shave off a few kilometers. We had to go further than we would have otherwise because people have been having a lot of trouble finding beds in the last few cities. So we decided to go a bit further than most people do, and also reserve our beds.
Today was also a first for us — the first time we walked most of the way with others. We met up with Arianna and Edmund about 1/3 of the way in, and we went the rest of the way together. It was great! Since we’ve spent quite a bit of time together prior to this, it didn’t feel like the same old small talk, and we didn’t feel too much pressure to maintain conversation since we’re already comfortable with them. Once we arrived, we all had a big lunch, and because of Sigor, we ended up with quite a bit of wine! 5 drinks later, we’re checked into our albergue, and everybody’s taking showers.
Thoughts & Discussions: Arianna, I’m hungry. Tell me about all the most amazing Italian foods… American and Australian politics… Farm stuff (Edmund is a farmer in Australia)… We snuck into the back of the albergue and put our dirty clothes into the laundry machine without permission. Sigor said we should…
Day 17 — Buelna => Celorio
Short day: 11 miles. We’ve figured out our selection criteria for where we want to sleep the next day, and therefore, how far we plan to walk. First, the goal is to walk somewhere between 14 and 20 miles per day, and we might want to go bigger or smaller based on the previous day, or if we know a big stretch is coming. Then, you look in the guidebook for towns that have both an albergue (hostel for pilgrims) and also have restaurants. Ideally, since there’s been a lot of competition lately for a limited number of beds, you call ahead and make a reservation. So, for example, the rationale for Celorio was: 11 miles was the furthest town with both an albergue and restaurants, that wasn’t far away, since we had a big day yesterday. The next town, Villahormes, was another 5 miles away.
Today we split up with most of our friends 😢. Edmund and Arianna decide to do a mega-day (46km). Sigor’s bussing home to Bilbao, and Lee’s flying back to San Sebastian. There are a few of our other pilgrim friends continuing on our same general itinerary (they’re in Pòo), but all of the friends around our age have moved on. It’s kind of sad, since we’ve spent so much time together and bonded a bunch, but it’s how the Camino goes. And, in some ways, it offers new opportunities. Now, Jamie and I can plan some of our stages maybe differently than we might have if we had a big group we wanted to coordinate with. Also, it’s almost like starting over. We made these great friends in two weeks, and we have another two weeks to make new ones! And with us starting a brand new route in a couple days (the “Primativo”), we may fall into lockstep with a bunch of other cool pilgrims. So, overall, bittersweet.
Thoughts & Discussions: I wonder if there’s any love interest between some of the single pilgrims that meet each other… We’ve really gotten in a groove with the Camino now. Our legs feel good, we have good routines, feelings strong… Where will we stay in Santiago?… There are household gardens everywhere. Should we have a garden and grow the vegis that we eat most often in our salads?…
Day 18 — Celorio => Vega
Today. Amazing. Where to begin?
We left Celorio planning on a big day, 31 kilometers (19 miles). It rained last night and it was misting this morning. We started at 6:40 at a quick pace, hoping to get in a few kilometers without needing to put on raincoats and backpack rain covers. We put in a solid two hours before we started looking for a place for breakfast. After a few towns, we found the best one yet in Nueve. We had a ton of food, took care of some #2 business, and when we left, we felt like a million bucks.
Pro Tip: Albergue breakfasts are shit. Whether they’re "included," or an additional 4-5 euros, they’re terrible. They’re coffee, bread, and maybe cereal. We learned early on to skip them. Now, we only get breakfasts at cafes along the way where we can buy tortilla de patatas (basically, huge quiches), coffee, fresh squeezed orange juice, and small sandwiches. WAY BETTER. And basically the same price. It pays to wait.
We decided to take the more lengthy, coastal route. (There are often different routes we can pick. Usually the more scenic one is longer distance or more difficult, and there’s a shorter, eaasier one along the road.) Unlike most places on the Camino, there were very few signs, but we managed to find some INCREDIBLE views using Google Maps and trial and error. We snapped some great photos (if I do say so myself). And we soaked our shoes walking through water-drenched, overhanging brush along the way. Then we got lost in a jungle obstacle course along a narrow inlet and ended up on the other route, which added extra km to an already long day.
We rolled into Ribadesella about an hour and a half later than planned, and we were exhausted and starving. We found a menu del dia, and a bit later (beer and wine, appetizers, main entrees, dessert, coffee), we were looking to stay there. Jamie made a bunch of calls, and everything was booked. Our original goal was to hike another 6 km (3.5 miles) to a very cool-sounding, but tiny albergue in a small town. We had hoped to get there at 3:30, when they opened, but it was 5 now. We decided to walk that way, and call when we were close, and if they were full, we’d check into our backup option, which was on the way. Lo and behold, there ended up being 3 beds left, and we got into our ideal scenario at 6--far later than anyone can expect to get a bed. WE LUCKED OUT. We had a lovely community dinner, and drank a bottle of wine on the beach with our new Czech friend, Mira. Great day.
Day 19 — Vega => Amandi
Even thought we had 20 miles to go, we slept in a bit and had a slow start to the morning. And when we left, I was a bit over-confident on the route we should take. Unfortunately for us, it was our first big navigational mistake. We went in the wrong direction for a couple miles and had to backtrack to get on the official route. With the late start, and then a wrong turn, it was 9am before we made any real progress — about two hours later than usual. Then, Jamie had more blister issues than usual, and we needed to stop a few times to address those. All told, we were race walking into Villaviciosa at 3:30 to try and find a menu del dia for lunch at the last minute, since that’s when they typically stop serving. (For context, menu del dia is my favorite part of the day. I REALLY, REALLY hate missing menu del dia.) We missed it. But we managed with two big beers each and some stale sandwiches from a bar before hiking the last mile to our albergue.
And we were reunited with Edmund and Arianna! We thought we wouldn’t see them again after they went out ahead of us a few days ago, but with two 20 mile days in a row, we caught back up, and coincidentally we went to the same albergue! It was great to catch up, hang out on the nice shaded lawn, play with the albergue’s two tiny kittens, and drink a bunch of camino vino. It was a great night, and we fell asleep happy. ☺️
Thoughts & Discussions: Is life worth living without a menu del dia?… We cut it too close. There are a bunch of things out of your control that can slow you down, but we need to get started earlier, so we don’t miss menu del dia…
Day 20 — Amandi => Pola de Siero
Breakfast was lovely. Tons of freshly brewed, real coffee (not that instant bullshit) from Colombia. This truly was the best albergue we’ve visited. It had a great vibe, great hosts, and we loved it. Like all our favorites, it was by donation (donativo), and we gave the most we have yet, 45 euros (considered a very generous amount).
Today was the first official day of us taking the “Primativo” route. This is a divergence from the Camino del Norte, the coastal route we started on, and originally intended to walk the entire way to Santiago. The Primativo is a more rugged, more elevation, more trails, less traveled option, and it was actually the original route taken by the first official pilgrim to Santiago in the 800s. Pretty cool. Today we climbed probably 2,500 vertical feet of elevation, about 17 miles total, but we finished early, at about 1:30pm.
Edmund actually has his brother with him now, Mateland, and he’s a fascinating guy. He’s 24, but he’s travelled more than anyone I’ve ever met. I told him we were thinking about our next major international trip, to Colombia, and he said he’s spent over 6 months there. He gave me a bunch of tips about how to best spend 4 weeks there. And then later, he, Edmund, and I had great conversations about national origin stories, Trump, climate change, psychedelics, mindfulness, life extension, and many other things. We have great Camino friends.
Day 21 — Pola de Siero => Oviedo
(Written a day later…) Last night, the host at the municipal albergue asked us if we’d hang around until 8 the following morning so that we could be filmed as pilgrims in a Camino de Santiago promotion. Apparently we’d get some good breakfast out of it. We said sure. Later on, the local president of the Friends of the Camino chapter (Manuel) was over, and Jamie and him hit it off. They chatted for hours about the Camino, it’s history, and the Primativo route we were about to take. Jamie got to use a lot of Spanish, and she was thrilled. I felt like a mute dummy. After that, our group went out for dinner and drinks, and we had a great time.
I woke up at 4am to a somewhat distant sound of a woman’s voice and slamming. At first I thought, “WTF is someone doing using their outdoor voice at 4am?!” When it kept happening, I was very annoyed. I tried to sleep through it. And then I realized the voice kept saying the same thing, on the same cadence. Then I thought it might be an alarm, and it would continue all night. So I got out of the top bunk and investigated. It was the elevator, glitching out. The door was opening and closing repeatedly, shining light, making slamming noises, and saying that annoying sentence. I pushed every button, but it wouldn’t stop. At this point Jamie was up too, and we started troubleshooting together. When nothing worked, we found the phone numbers of the albergue hosts and called. Right as one of them answered, it stopped, but they said to use ‘the box’ to shut it off if it happened again. We went back to bed, and it started 15 minutes later. Jamie went downstairs to the fuse box, turned it off, problem solved.
Knowing we’d be around until 8am, we slept in, and came downstairs with our packs. The Spanish film crew was late (typical), but Manuel brought the food on time, so we just watched that and salivated until it was show time. I thought we’d be in the background, just chatting, but we actually acted! I had to pour Spanish cider on camera, and so did everybody else. We were nervous, but after our 5th bottle, everyone had a good buzz on, and the acting was easier. Afterwards, they told us that it’d be used for Camino de Santiago promotions across Europe. 😳 We got a late, full-tummy, buzzed start to our walk, and it ended up being a hot day into one of the biggest cities yet, full of smog, cars, and noise.
Thoughts & Discussions: Is it weird that we haven’t had major life realizations yet?… Gill (new friend from England, also in the promo video) is really cool… Big cities are overwhelming when you’re backpacking…
Day 22 — Oviedo => Grado
Our walk out of Oviedo was really foggy, and we spent the whole hour looking for a water fountain. In EVERY other city, they’re everywhere you look, but in Oviedo, nowhere. Jamie drinks water like a fish (about 3 times as much as I do), so, of course, she had run out from the previous day. Eventually, I poured her half of the water I had left over from the previous day. But then we found a fountain in a small town after walking about 4 miles. Thanks for nothing, Oviedo… (dicks!)
Today was light, 15 miles. We checked into our albergue at 2:15, got situated, and walked to a menu del dia for lunch. Like all our lunches, it was a 3 course affair, for dirt cheap, and we drank two pints of beer and a bottle of wine. 🥴 (We’re not alcoholics; that’s what comes standard! (But the beers were extra… 🤫)). We got back to the albergue at about 4:30, and that gave me an hour to take a shower and mostly sober up for a job interview at 5:30. 😋 It went well! Now we’re hanging out in the shade and figuring out what to do with our evening.
Thoughts & Discussions: How can we adopt some of the Spanish norms we like into our Boise lifestyle?… Maybe Jamie and I should go out to breakfast together one weekday morning a week… Maybe I should start trail running in the morning… Maybe I should set a new year’s resolution to complete the Idaho Centennial Trail, in segments, by the end of 2020…
Day 23 — Grado => Bodenaya
Today's walk was 18 miles, and a lot of it was uphill. So, we earned our menu del dia in Salas, about 4 miles from our final destination. And it was a first of it's kind! 3 savory courses and dessert, instead of 2. 🤯
Also, this was the second time I've hiked drunk. I'd like to announce that drunk hiking is great. It gives me an extra gear, and with my buzz on, I feel like my legs are disconnected from the rest of my body. They're just churning, like a machine, and I'm just along for the ride, enjoying the sights and sounds. I ran-hiked for about 2 miles, straight up, and didn't slow down a bit. #CheatCodeUnlocked
Day 24 — Bodenaya => Campiello
The albergue we stayed in last night was amazing. It’s in contention for the best one of the trip. We made reservations a few days in advance when we were told it’s a must stay, and when we arrived around 4pm, the host told us “I’m going to smoke a cigarette, but set your packs down, grab a beer from the fridge, and help yourself to fruit or cake on the table. This is your home for tonight.” And they told us to throw our dirty laundry in the hamper, and breakfast, everything would be cleaned and dried, and laying out for us. And so it was. Amazing. These donation hostels (“donativo”) are incredible. Everything is shared, and everyone donates what they can into the box before they leave. There’s not passive aggressive recommendations, or anything. There’s a culture of abundant sharing. I’ve never felt so at home while travelling.
Today’s hike got me really excited about starting the Camino Primitivo. It’s the original pilgrimage route from 840, and it runs through the Spanish mountains, to Santiago. Though the coastal walks of the Camino del Norte were very nice, I’m enjoying more of a traditional hiking challenge with elevation and mountain scenery. Tomorrow we’ll be hiking past the highest point of the route.
Day 25 — Campiello => Berdocedo
We hiked through the highest point of the Camino today, ~1200 meters. It was beautiful, and all our friends thought it was amazing. Don’t get me wrong, it was cool. But, it’s got nothing on Idaho and Nevada.
After lots of elevation and a longish feeling day (28km), we arrived at our menu del dia ready to plow through whatever they put in front of us. They gave us a ton of chicken and beef, 3 bottles of wine, and we were extremely satisfied. That’s when Jamie walked back into the dining room after a phone call and broke the news — the albergue reservation we had for five feel through. Apparently, “no one wrote it down.” Ensue collective freakout.
One hour later, we’ve called on about 8 albergues in the 3 nearest towns, and THEY’RE ALL FULL. A huge tour group booked out an entire place to themselves, and the municipal albergue was closed for improvements. Shitballs. Edmund, Maitland, and Arianna decided to camp out, but Jamie managed to find one private room for us to stay in two towns ahead. I was feeling mopey, but Edmund bought everyone a round of beers while we waited for our bus.
After a windy mountain road version of Crazy Taxi, our bus dropped us off, and we barely managed not to vomit. We checked into our dilapidated hotel room, that had rusty water dripping down the walls, the biggest spider I’ve seen in a long while in the sink, and an exceptionally dirty bathroom. We handled our laundry, prayed that we wouldn’t wake up with bedbugs, and rolled around while noisy locals yelled at each other over beers until 2am. Great night. We woke up early to catch the bus back to where we left our buds, and started the next day. “The camino always gives you what you need. Not always what you want.”
Day 26 — Berdocedo => Castro
Today’s hike was traversing a canyon, crossing a dam, and going back up the other side, mostly on a mountain road. It was pretty, but thankfully, it was a short day.
For the last few days I’ve been thinking about big walks as a great form of vacation, personal development, and cultural education. By walking through cities, towns, and countrysides over the course of weeks, you learn a ton about a country, their language, their sense of humor, mannerisms, food (my favorite part), lifestyles, and religion. I’ve loved doing this in Spain, and I feel like I’ve “caught the bug” to do this more places. I can’t think of a better way to travel.
Day 27 — Castro => O Pineiral
The albergue in Castro that we stayed at last night was great. It was a good facility, with a great selection of healthy foods and drinks, set in a tiny rural town, about 2 miles outside of the bigger town, Grandas. We loved it and found it very relaxing. A few Russian pilgrims that we’d seen off and on for the last few days were also there, and we finally chatted with them. We had a great discussion about Russian and American politics and society. It was one of their birthdays, so we bought and shared a bottle of wine with them. Very nice.
Today’s hike was extremely foggy. Visibility was only about 20 yards or so until about 2pm. Though it was novel, and kind of fun, it was a little bit of a bummer because we were walking through some scenic areas with a fair amount of elevation. Oh well… We stopped in Fonsagrada for menu del dia and some shopping, and then trudged on to our all-inclusive albergue two miles further, in the woods. The facilities are amazing, probably the best, and we have the whole place to ourselves pretty much. It’s really weird, since we’ve been battling with hoards of pilgrims for every bed in the albergues for the last 10 days or so. 🤷♂️
It was actually really good timing for me, because I’m in an interviewing process with CREDO right now, and I just got sent an assessment exercise to complete in the next few days. So I took advantage of the solid wifi and lack of neighbors. I holed up in the kitchen for two hours and wrote SQL code on my phone (wasn’t easy). I think it turned out okay. I’ll find out next week if I’m moving on to the final step. 🤞
Day 28 — O Pineiral => Castroverde
We hit the road a bit after 8am today with the plan of passing the town that most people would be going to and going an extra 8 km to dodge the crowds. As I’ve mentioned a few times, it’s been a “bed race” in the mornings to get to the bunkhouses that don’t take reservations. Of those that do take reservations, they’re booked out for days. One tour bus of retirees is walking short segments, without packs, and then their air conditioned bus takes them to their next section, with refreshments of course. There’s nothing wrong with that on it’s own — ”everyone’s has their own camino” — but they’re booking out entire bunk houses that normal pilgrims would stay in. Some of them aren’t getting beds. Not cool at all. This group is a topic of conversation with virtually all pilgrims, and some are orienting their itineraries to avoid them (like us). It’s a pity. This isn’t how the Camino is supposed to work.
After seeing our buddies on the way this morning, and stopping at 10am for a pitcher of sangria (🥰), tortillas de patatas, and coffee, we split up and powered through another 20 km (12 miles) in 4 hours without stopping. (We’re pretty badass at this point.) We checked into our albergue (it’s really cool), and went downtown for a menu del dia and a short shopping trip. Now we’re all stocked up, showered, and going to do a bit of laundry before hanging out. Later, we’ll probably get a glass of wine or two near the city plaza and chill out.
Day 29 — Castroverde => Lugo
Today’s hike was a short one, at 22 km (~13 miles). For the first hour or so, we reflected on how weird it is that we’re only 4 walking days from finishing. The first week, it was daunting, and our bodies took a beating. The second week, we felt tire and blistered, and it felt like the Camino would last forever. The third week, we healed and got stronger. We figured out our processes, and got in the flow of things. We were more present and enjoyed things more. It went by really fast. Now, in the fourth week, we’re shocked to see that we’re almost done. We feel like we’re in our element now. Fully healthy, strong, great endurance, and things feel easy. It’s bittersweet that it’s ending. We’re already feeling nostalgic about it.
Day 30 — Lugo => As Seixas
Lugo was incredible. It’s a beautiful, walled Roman city with a ton of character. We walked the whole length of the wall in the afternoon, and then we partook in their famous bar scene. After 8pm, anywhere you buy a drink, they bring you two tapas (small bites) for free — one from a platter of 4–6 thinks they carry around, and one that you get to choose from the kitchen. I wasn’t expecting much, considering the tapas we’d had the last couple weeks, but these were AMAZING. Such good food. So, naturally, I wanted to game the system. We each got 5 drinks in about two hours, all at different places, and got to try lots of great little foods. At the end of the night, we’d only spent 25 euros. Incredible.
Day 31 — As Seixas => Arzua
Today was our last normal length day of walking, 28 km (17 miles). We only have 40k left to walk, and we’re going to do it in two leisurely 20k days. Our Camino has practically ended, and we’re feeling reflective. It’s very bittersweet, and feels like a graduation of some sorts — at times feeling ready to be done, at others, not wanting it to end.
We have less than 40k left until we reach Santiago, and it's feeling bittersweet to only have 2…
Day 32 — Arzua => O Pedrouzo
Yesterday we ate some of the most delicious pizza of our lives at a random Italian pizzeria, off the main road. We just got lucky — no recommendation or anything. And two groups were so impressed with the pizza we ordered, they asked what it was. At the end, some Italians sitting next to us told us this is very good pizza, even for Italians. We were pleased. I was tempted to stay in that town an extra day, just to eat there again.
Today’s walk was short (12 miles) and uneventful. Tomorrow, our camino ends. Weird.
Day 33 — O Pedrouzo => Santiago
In Santiago. The final destination. The 31 days and 500 miles, to get here. We did it. It’s surreal.
Standing in the plaza, looking at the cathedral, it was hard to believe it’s over. The walk was so big, and took so long, that for most of the time, we didn’t quite comprehend a finish — it just felt like it would go on forever. But now it’s over.
Jamie’s brother, Daniel, joined us right after we got there, and he’s with us for the rest of our trip — two days in Santiago, then a week in Porto, Portugal. Chilling a few days on the beach, and then four days in the city, is just what the doctor ordered.
And now, my walk has ended.