Sarria to Portomarín

Now that we’ve hit the 100 km mark in Sarria, the number of other pilgrims on the path has skyrocketed… however, they aren’t the only ones on the path. Several times today we have passed through a herd of cows being leisurely guided to pasture. While eating lunch on a low stone wall, greeting the pilgrims who passed us by, we heard footsteps, looked up to say buen camino to whoever it was, and found ourselves eye to eye with a cow (and perhaps a dozen cow friends, and goats, and some farm dogs who found our sandwiches particularly captivating.)

Although I was feeling a little better, my pace still was a bit slow and we didn’t start at 5am like the truly industrious pilgrims… so by the time we got into Portomarín in mid afternoon, every bed was full except for a private room in a three star hotel. The tricky part about this stage of the journey is that – in our case – we have been walking so long that our legs easily have more than 25 kilometers in them (at least, when I’m not sick.) With so many people on the trail, however, if you don’t stop at around 1 or 2pm, there’s a good chance you won’t get a bed unless it’s somewhere swanky and expensive.




Samos to Sarria.

The sunrise and golden morning light along the path – through Galician farmland and green tunnels of trees – made up for the fact that I was sick and struggling to breathe. As a result we stopped fairly early in Sarria, so I could collapse.

Sarria is a popular starting point for those who only want to walk the last 100 km to Santiago. We shared an albergue with a large group of French teenagers traveling with a pastor.


Alto do Poio to Samos.

We took a detour today, to spend the night in the 6th century Monasterio de San Julián de Samos, one of the largest in Europe. A small part of the vast complex is used as a donativo pilgrim’s albergue – very austere (just a bathroom on one end of a long hallway full of beds bunked very closely.)

The once large community of monks is now down to 14, so the ranks were a bit sparse to sing Vespers. We got a tour of the monastery, which is full of impressive murals in the hallways – including lots of female angels in garments that flowed in very serendipitous ways. Our hallway had some more pilgrim-themed art in it, to commemorate their centuries of serving pilgrims – near the window you can see someone with a knife lancing a blister.


León to O Cebreiro. (By bus.)

O Cebreiro to Alto do Poio. (On foot.)

Magical morning light in León.

After a few days of slovenly bus-catching, we resumed our walk again in Galicia. The difference was very noticeable – green fields, lots of farms, copious amounts of cows (and their excrement,) and many more pilgrims. Getting closer to Santiago, the number of pilgrims increases dramatically – including large school, church, or scout troop groups from Spain or surrounding countries.

The change in mood felt disconcerting to me, especially since today we walked during the hottest part of the day, and I am getting sick with something minor but strength (and morale) sapping.


León. (Just León today.)

We are in León for 2 nights: one in a private pensión (Strew our belongings everywhere! Sleep in!) and the next in the municipal albergue – located in an old convent, with separate wings for men and women.

The cathedral in Burgos was overwhelming; the cathedral in León is also huge but is also graceful and quiet and full of stained glass.




Burgos to Leon. (On the bus – not walking!)

Above, a statue of El Cid – the famous campeador whose remains are buried in the Burgos cathedral, and whose legacy is most well known through the epic poem Cantar de Mio Cid.

We spent a quiet morning in Burgos before taking the bus to Leon – our first travel in any kind of motorized vehicle in weeks.



Agés to Burgos.

Today we left Agés and walked through Atapuerta, the site of ongoing archeological excavations investigating the earliest known evidence of humans in Europe. We finished in Burgos – the biggest city on our route. Within the last few kilometers, my last tiny blister on my pinky toe turned into a massive, toe-sized blister, to my dismay.

Waiting in the city, however, was the best meal I’ve ever had. Both of us were almost brought to tears by the thin-cut steak with roquefort sauce, followed by whiskey cake and accompanied by plenty of wine. We staggered out of the restaurant in a happy food coma, and through one of the most enormous and extravagant cathedrals I’ve ever seen – even in this country of enormous and extravagant cathedrals.

Today was also a sad goodbye to the friends we have made along the trail. It’s been nice to walk with people, lose sight of them, meet up with them a few hours or a few days later, and grow a small movable community of international companions. Tomorrow we will take a bus and skip several stages. This means we will arrive to Santiago in time for our flight, which is good, but we will also be leaving behind all the people we met between St. Jean and here.

As an unintentional goodbye gesture at the bar, my boyfriend tried to pay the bill for the two of us and due to language barriers accidentally paid the tab for the entire table. Buen camino, amigos.



Tosantos to Agés

Poppy fields leaving Tosantos. The first hours of walking are always my favorite.

Today was the first steep stretch since our first day climbing up to Roncesvalles, and so we were a little surprised that it felt as easy as it did. Maybe almost two straight weeks of walking does toughen you up… and besides, in contrast with medieval times, when that steep stretch of woods was full of wolves and thieves, we had it easy.


Grañón to Tosantos.

We made good time today, but still stopped somewhat early in Tosantos, at another parochial albergue. Instead of the standard issue passage-to-the-choir-loft-visit, today’s stay included a climb up to a little chapel built into the rock, of uncertain age. Along with a few Spaniards, the group included pilgrims from Germany, Finland, Sicily, France, and beyond. Since I’m fluent in Spanish and English, the caretaker of the church asked me to translate the tour, and so I became the unofficial translator of the evening – cooking instructions in the kitchen, grace at dinner, and a prayer service  afterward. Part of the prayer service included small folders with scraps of paper written by pilgrims who passed through before us, separated by language. Pilgrims write down reflections, requests for prayers, and impressions, and each evening at the prayer service the participants pull out a paper in their language of choice, to read out loud.

This is also where I found out – or, relearned – that in a room of sleeping pilgrims, I am one of the snorers.

Sorry, guys.



Azofra to Grañón.

Today we passed through Santo Domingo de la Calzada – named for the saint who helped develop the infrastructure of the medieval Camino. He also is known for a miracle involving the resurrection of a wrongly hanged young man and a chicken dinner – the latter of which explains the chickens living in the Cathedral.

We didn’t stay in Santo Domingo, however – we continued to the smaller Grañón, to the parochial albergue there. Most parochial albergues have a donativo box for pilgrims to donate what they can, but Grañón takes it one step further and has an open box, reading “take what you need, and give what you can.” This fit with the overall welcoming atmosphere of the albergue – located in the back of the old church, with a large space for communal meals, the most creepily awesome laundry space I’ve seen (pictured above), and sleeping space on floor mats in a chapel below. We had a big dinner and then a candlelit multilingual prayer service in the dark choir loft of the church (again, accessed via a musty passageway from the albergue.)

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