Day 13: Ligonde a Melide

We wake up early. It is drizzly. We dawn ponchos and pack covers and keep on trucking. 

A local cafe worker tells us she has worked and lived there for 17 years. 

“It’s beautiful,” I say. “You have so many beautiful plants.”

She shrugs. “Me acostumbré.” I’ve gotten used to it. (Though she smiles as she says it)

We pass through Palais do Rei, which feels beautiful and cosmopolitan after a few days of rainy country hiking. We see a range of stores, bars, albergues and signs of normal Spanish life. It is a city I could see myself living in (um, based on 15 minutes walking through it at 9am in the rain).

We arrive at out destination, Melide, early, around noon. 

“What do you think?” asks one of my travel companions. 

We’re here early. “Let’s keep going,” I suggest. 

“Maybe we stop here,” he answers weakly (ojo: this is foreshadowing)

We walk through the rather deserted centro hístorico (historic center) to find our albergue. 

It is still raining. We find lunch and then stamps and food for the next day. 

Also, for those of you wondering what middle school dorkage looks like, here’s me (dry, to be fair) in my Grandpa’s poncho:

Day 12: Gonzar a Ligonde

We take a rest day. Sort of. 

We start hiking. It is drizzling. The staff at the albergue recommend another albergue up the road. We hike in the drizzlyness. 

When we arrive at our designated stop, we have a coffee. And decide to keep hiking. We hike another 5 kilometers, then take a break at a bar (restaurant). A steady stream of poncho-clad pilgrims walks by, drenched in the rain. 

One thing I am learning is that public albergues open at 1pm and you have to be present to get a spot. At 12:45, we move across the street to wait in line at the albergue which quickly fills up (there are 18 beds and it is a small town)

Right place at the right time, I guess. 

Day 11: Barbadelo a Gonzar

We have officially passed Sarría, which means we are (almost) less than 100 kilometers to Santiago. The roads get more crowded as many people are walking the last 100 km to officially make the pilgrimage. (I hope this doesn’t come across as judgmental) (Side note: walking and kilometers throws off my sense of distance – 100 km sounds much further than it is)

It is drizzly. Then it is sunny. It is mostly green. 

We reach Portomarín around lunch. It feels busy with pilgrims, so we keep walking. 

Afternoons on the Camino make me a little nervous. It’s hotter. It feels like there are fewer places to stop. 

This afternoon hike is pleasant. We are able to walk mostly in the shade. There are still pilgrims, but it is not a crazy stream. 

So I guess afternoon hikes are not so bad after all. Maybe we are just more used to it. 

Day 6: Cacabelos a Trabadelo

I’ve been told (and am observing) that one of the many things that makes El Camino so special is the people that you meet. 

2 of the people we are hiking with have to catch a bus to make it to their goal before their flight home. We have café con leche and bocadillos (sandwiches) with them in the shadow of a giant castle and then drop them at their bus (well, we find a bus and then that bus driver tells us where to go). I am sad to see them go, but also know that this is part of their journey. I don’t know that me from 5 or 10 years ago would have understood that in the same way. 

We are mostly walking along the highway and most of our stops in the shade are under other freeways. 

We stop a little earlier than expected in Trabadelo. A nice woman sitting in the shade points us towards El Albergue Parroquial, giving us a detailed history of the building and its owners who basically renovated it from scratch. 

They are a lovely couple. We talk about the albergue and its renovations and El Camino. We sit and rest and do laundry. I do some translating for people who don’t speak Spanish. 

As the evening winds down, we ask for a Coca Cola, which they happily bring to us. I ask them how much and they wave their hands. No charge. In Ecuador, la yapa (freebies?) are common if you can earn the respect of people. The other hikers are surprised and touched by this gesture and their generosity. Such is the way of El Camino, I suppose. 

Day 5: Molinaseca a Cacabelos

We’re still in the process of deciding what makes a “hard” day. Elevation changes? Distance? Weather? To be decided. 

We realize that El Camino leads us through mountains and villages, but also through increasingly fancy suburbs. Towns get closer together. (This makes peeing harder and I am just getting used to being a rural pee-er rather than an urban pee-er. In space, no one can hear you scream; on El Camino, everyone can see you pee)

We meet the funniest bartender yet on this route; she actually sweeps some of the regulars out with a broom. 

Rest stop oases tend to know when you need them the most. Javi sells cherries by the side of the road just as we enter the town. He tells me to wet the cherries before eating them and tells stories about his family and their various connections to other countries. I pester him with questions: What building is that? (Regional wine council) Where are you from? (Cacabelos) What does Cacabelos mean? (He confirms our suspicions by asking if we know what “caca” is. I fake a “no” and he makes the corresponding gesture which is unfit to print. Also, Cacabelos may have something to do with a river god)

*Wordpress autocorrected “pee-er” 3 different times to 3 different words. #DYAC

Day 4: Rabanal de Camino a Molinaseca

We start out under a cloudy sky. Shortly thereafter, as we continue uphill, I feel a drop. Then another. 

2 minutes later, we have pack covers out and ponchos on. Mine is a huge, blue, plastic one. I’m fairly certain it’s one of those things I’d saved “because I might need it some day.”


It looks (and feels) middle school embarrassing. 

It also stops raining 5 minutes later (though rain gear was the right answer).

We stop in at the warmest albergue and catch up with a few travel companions, including one who decides to take a rest day. 

Most of the rest of the day is downhill and there are fierce debates as to whether uphill or downhill is more difficult. The jury is still out. 

The views are spectacular, though. 

Day 2: Villa Mazarife a San Justo de la Vega

The morning hike from Villa Mazarife is calm and cool. We listen to birds and watch storks (? We are uncertain how to combine knowledge and bird names in different languages). We observe flowers and irrigation systems. 

Our first stop in Hospital de Orbigo is across a river and into a full-on Renaissance Faire. Hostels have been booked 4 months in advance. A sign at a local albergue reads: “Keep calm. We are full.” The meme is alive and well (and we were not planning to stay).

In an effort to secure a sello (a stamp indicating that you are actually hiking the Camino), we stop at a bar (which is more of a pub/restaurant) where the bartender breaks down the demographics of the Camino (80% European, 20% United States, he says) and tries to tell us about a sequel to “The Way” (East? West? Martin Sheen? The actor from West Wing is making a 2nd movie about the Camino!)

Another long walk through nature leaves us hot and tired. The ups and downs are not intense (but are intense). We stop at a rest stop run by a Spaniard and Australian who rarely go into town and tend to avoid civilization altogether. They give us a stamp and say the rest of the walk is breezy. 

Day 1: León a Villa Mazarife

As we walk from León, a friendly local stops us. “English or Spanish?”, he asks us eagerly. I panic and don’t answer. My traveling companion says “English”.

The man stands excitedly before us. “Nature!”, he gestures to the left. “Road!”, he gestures to the right. 

We take the nature and it’s pretty spectacular. 

The albergue, or inn, that we pick is lovely. The food is good and there’s a big porch where people hang out after dinner. We hear stories from people who have been on the Camino since Saint Jean and who have elaborate travel plans to arrive in Santiago (it is my first day; I follow the yellow arrows that are painted everywhere). I read about 100 pages of the Swedish vampire novel that Amusing Mathias lent me and try to read about Smarter Balanced Assessment claims before falling asleep. 

Someone else snores loudly during the night. Apparently, there is at least one snorer in every albergue. If you can’t find them, it’s probably you. 

Madrid a Leon

I’m cheap, so I take the bus from Madrid to León. My main prior experience with buses is in Ecuador, so it’s interesting to see how the 2 countries are similar and different. 

The terminals in both countries have places to get food – some stands, some cafe-type places. 

Both buses offer movies. My friends used to joke that Ecuadorian bus movies almost always started Jean Claude Van Damm. I watch “Trash” on the bus to León. We are also served a breakfast, a lunch and 2 coffees (thereby rendering the sandwich I bought at the terminal ineffective, though I eat it anyway).

2 buses are leaving from the same part of the terminal at the same time. I can’t quite make out which line is for which bus or where to stand (and admittedly, am too lazy to ask). I stand around, hoping some of the other passengers will give some indication. As it turns out, they don’t know either (though we all make it onto our busses).

I get into León around 1pm. I see very few people. Are they all at home on siesta? (I don’t ask, so maybe I’ll never know). 

I also have trouble finding the hostel and the office where I need to pick up the Pilgrim’s credential. My memory versus actual map reality is a continuing theme of this trip. The nice man at the credential office suggests I do a practice run, trying to find the yellow arrows that mark El Camino. This proves to be sound advice.