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Trip Report My Camino de Santiago

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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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