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My Camino de Santiago

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Jul 10th, 2012, 01:45 PM
  #1
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My Camino de Santiago

I have been planning/ dreaming to do part of the Camino for at least 8 yrs now. For the longest time I thought I would do it as part of an organized tour as offered by companies such as Spanish Steps or Fresco Tours. And if I had gone by myself I would have probably done it that way.But once my husband and my grown up kids (18 and 23) joined in the adventure I knew that would be too costly. Plus, Spanish is my native language, so I wouldn't have a language barrier to deal with in the booking and execution of the trip, so I decided to plan it myself. Along the way I had help and benefitted from the experiences of Fodor's posters such as Lincasanova , lreynolds(Laurie) and Marigross, and other people I "met" on other boards, for which I'm extremely grateful.

I’m in awe of the “real” pilgrims whom I saw lugging heavy backpacks and staying at the pilgrims’ albergues, but I knew that at this point in my life that would not fly with me (frankly, maybe at any time in my life). So I booked private lodgings, some right on the Camino, others a little way off . During the day we carried backpacks with what we would need for the day, cameras, water, etc and our suitcases were moved each day by Jacotrans.

We started at the picturesque village of O’Cebreiro , which is the first point of the Camino in Galicia. We got there via Alsa bus after spending two days in León (about 2hrs30 mins) at the Parador. We did the walk in 8 days (could have been done in 7 but we decided to split the Palas de Rei to Arzúa stage which is about 30 kms in two days of about 15 kms each). The longest days were the 2nd day , from Triacastela to Sarria , since we decided to do the alternative route through Samos, and the 4th day from Portomarin to Palas de Rei (about 25 kms each). Not surprisingly these were IMO the most difficult days as well. In total we walked about 160 kms.

Things that surprised me or were different from what I envisioned:

-We were the only people on the trails for about 60-70% of the time. There were times that for 2-3 hrs we wouldn't see anybody else. Maybe we started later in the morning than most.
-Many portions of the camino were extremely rocky ( I was very happy that I had a hiking pole!)
-Bathrooms even in the most rustic bars were for the most part very clean and modern
-The dreaded climb on the first day to Alto de Poio was not as daunting as I feared
-However, there were many more than expected climbs and descents (once again, very happy to have a hiking pole)
-The variety in the vegetation, including the beautiful forests of eucalyptus trees and some that looked like a rain forest, with ferns and other tropical looking vegetation.
- There is indeed a sense of camaraderie between the pilgrims you come in contact with; however, for the most part the locals don't act overtly enthusiastic at our presence. I don't mean this is a criticism just as an observation. For some reason I had visions of people shouting "Buen Camino" at pilgrims as we passed their homes. Not a peep.I always said "Buenos Dias", sometimes I got a response, many others I didn't.
- My son thought there was more walking parallel to roads than he expected; my daughter didn't mind those portions , she said she thought they were exciting as she felt like a "hitchhiker"!

I meant to keep a journal or at least take notes but I never got around to it. So my impressions here are going to be based on memory.

Arrival to O’Cebreiro-
Arrived to Piedrafita de Cebreiro around 1 PM, took taxi up to O’Cebreiro. We had prepaid rooms at the old Monastery San Giraldo de Aurillac (dating from the IX century), located right next to the church of Santa Maria la Real. “Check-in” was at the bar of the O’Cebreiro hotel. The rooms had been renovated recently and are simple but comfortable and have private bathrooms.
O”Cebreiro has a lot of character, with the “pallozas” structures which look like huts with thatched roofs.
After having lunch at the O’Cebreiro hotel ( and having one of many the “Pilgrims’ Menu” we would have for the following 8 days) we walked a bit of the Camino going up to O’Cebreiro, taking in the views in the beautiful sunny and clear afternoon. That evening we attended mass and then had dinner at the restaurant in the O’Cebreiro hotel. Later at the packed bar of the hotel we watched the semi-final Euro cup game between Spain and Portugal, which went into overtime and was won in penalty kicks (the owner of the bar promptly turned off the TV once Spain secured the win). That night I could barely sleep, a combination of excitement for starting the walk the next day and also a disturbance between a couple of drunken revelers right under the window of our room kept me awake.

To be continued...
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Jul 10th, 2012, 02:03 PM
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Going to read this right now! Will comment later!
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Jul 10th, 2012, 02:04 PM
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I am looking forward to reading your recollections! When did you walk?
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Jul 10th, 2012, 02:09 PM
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Thank you for posting this so quickly! It will be fun to follow you on this journey! I don't recall the locals saying "buen camino" but other walkers did.

It is lovely when you have the trail to yourself for some time. I didn't like the parts following the road, either, nor that industrial part which I don't remember where it was. Luckily those parts don't last for days on end!
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Jul 10th, 2012, 02:13 PM
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Thanks for writing. I'm eagerly awaiting more.
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Jul 10th, 2012, 02:21 PM
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Barbara, we arrived O'Cebreiro on 6/27, started walking on 6/28.
Lin, yes , for the most part other walkers (or bikers of which there were many!) would say Buen Camino or Hola when they passed you by.
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Jul 10th, 2012, 02:37 PM
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Look forward to more.
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Jul 10th, 2012, 02:57 PM
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I've been looking forward to your report and I'm really enjoying it so far. Can you tell us how you prepared for the Camino, both physically and mentally and what type of "gear" you took with you. Also, could you include the cost of your lodgings and other costs along the Way.
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Jul 10th, 2012, 04:09 PM
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Barb,

My physical "training" was to walk as much as I could. Luckily we had a mild winter in NJ so starting in January/ Feb I would take long walks whenever I could. Frankly I never walked 25 kms in any one given day prior to the trip, the most I did was about 10-12 kms. I should have done more walking on uneven terrain and steep climbing. I should have also done some walking with a backpack.

In terms of gear, the most important is the walking shoes/ boots. I finally settled on a pair of Merrells mid "boots" which gave very good ankle support: http://www.zappos.com/merrell-moab-mid-waterproof~2
Its important that you use the shoes a lot before the trip.
Even though the shoes were comfortable there were a couple of "hot spots" on the side of my big toes so I would cover those areas with Moleskin to avoid friction.

The next most important thing IMO is a hiking pole. My husband and kids did not use one but for me some of the terrain would have been very difficult, even dangerous without the pole. The one I bought is a pair but I found it very awkward to use both, so I just used one on my right hand. My son used the other at times.

The hotel in O'Cebreiro was 60 Euros per room, I believe its much cheaper off season. The meals for the most part were very reasonable. The lunch (or dinner) Peregrino menu was around 8-9 euros per person, including a starter, main course, drink (water, beer or wine), bread and dessert. We had some dinners at some of the lodgings which were a bit more "elaborate" and expensive. I'll check to see what those were to give an idea.

The transport with Jacotrans was about 7 euros per suitcase per stage. I saw ads for another service called Xacotrans which seemed cheaper but you needed to call every day and arrange for the transport. With Jacotrans I paid in advance, gave them the itinerary ,and they took care of the rest. Without fail, our luggage was waiting for us every afternoon when we got to our lodgings.
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Jul 10th, 2012, 04:52 PM
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Forgot to say, I suggest getting the "A Pilgrim's Guide to the Camino de Santiago" by John Brierley. It has very good info on itinerary, highlights, distances and description of terrain.
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Jul 10th, 2012, 06:17 PM
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Day 1- O’Cebreiro to Triacastela- About 21 kms

The bar at the O’Cebreiro hotel didn't open until 8 AM , so we decided to go for a quick breakfast around 7 AM at another bar/café, the Venta Celta. The lady behind the counter wasn't in a chipper mood. She chastised the customer in front of me because she said “Buenos Días“ twice (she said it was more than enough to say it once!). When I thought it was my turn to place my order she chastised me with “¡Paciencia, el día acaba de comenzar!” (Patience, the day is just beginning! ) When I asked if she had any tortilla española she looked at me as if I had two heads. I knew from then on not to expect tortilla before 10 or 11 in the morning.

We started walking out about 8 AM. When we walked by the refugio we noticed that all the shoes we had seen the day before on the window sill were gone, which meant the pilgrims staying there were already on their way.

We were very lucky that this was a clear day which afforded us the beautiful views of the landscape for which this area is known. From what I understand this area many times is fogged in the early morning but not that day. The views we saw were magnificent, what you think of when you hear “Green Spain”.

We climbed the dreaded (only be me) Alto do Poio, the highest spot on the camino in Galicia. Once I got there I thought the worse was over, failing to understand that eventually we would need to go down (and then up, and then down….).

Lunch time found us at Biduedo, a sleepy little town where we followed signs to a casa rural, Casa Xato, for lunch. I think we woke up the owner, but she rose up to the occasion and prepared a Menu de Peregrino for us.

We continued our walk to Triacastela , arriving there around 4 PM. Visited the Iglesia de Santiago and then ,as previously suggested by our hostess at Casa Pacios(our lodging for the night in nearby Vilavella) we went to Restaurante Esther which is owned by Esther, a niece of the owner of Casa Pacios. Once there they called Silvia (another family member) who drove us to Casa Pacios, an old, lovely stone rural house ( 38 euros per room, with private bath) about 5 mins away. http://www.casapacios.es/

Later that evening Silvia drove us back to Restaurante Esther where we had dinner (not included but about 9-10 euros per person, with wine and water)and watched the Italy vs Germany soccer game with a group of Italians which were also staying at Casa Pacios. Esther drove us back to Casa Pacios when we were done.

To be continued...
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Jul 10th, 2012, 07:02 PM
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My best friend's daughter and my daughter's college roommate just hiked the camino trail with Virginia Tech! She loved her experience and the people she met along the way. I am interested to read your report. I followed her blog as her group made their way or should I say found their way.
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Jul 10th, 2012, 07:02 PM
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Loving this...thank you!
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Jul 10th, 2012, 09:14 PM
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Enjoying your posts immensely.Your description of El Camino brings back fond memories.
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Jul 10th, 2012, 11:43 PM
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It is actually relaxing and invigorating to read this report. Makes me want to go back again.
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Jul 11th, 2012, 04:51 AM
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Oh Cruise!!! I'm so happy for you. Thanks for sharing.
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Jul 11th, 2012, 05:43 AM
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Thank you for sharing this .
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Jul 11th, 2012, 09:11 AM
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Thanks for posting. We are going to walk the camino in a couple years for my 40th birthday, so I am soaking up all the info that I can in anticipation.
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Jul 11th, 2012, 10:08 AM
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Thanks for the info! Can't wait to read more. I've been reading everything I can get my hands on about the Camino, so your report is very timely and inspirational. Did you have much interaction with other pilgrims? How were those pilgrim meals? I'm wondering, if you have your luggage delivered to your next hotel, what would happen if for whatever reason you could not make it that far?
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Jul 11th, 2012, 11:01 AM
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If you don't make it to your next reservation you catch a taxi to the reserved hotel and next day decide if you backtrack in another taxi or forfeit that small trek.
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