Day 21 (Part 1): Fromista to Villarmentero de Campos

In October and November of 2015, I walked the Camino Francés, one of the traditional pilgrimage routes to the Spanish city of Santiago de Compostela. It was a deeply emotional journey, with far-reaching implications for my life, and I’m slowly but surely capturing the memories and musings here on my blog. Read the entire series at Anna’s Camino.

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Moon and stars carved into the bathroom door at Albergue Amanecer.

The day started out damp and gloomy. A fine mist was falling, and the sky was gray, as we struggled back out of the door of the inhospitable albergue and trudged back out to the Camino. I don’t know how Jakob slept, but I slept like a rock. That was great, because as it would turn out, I’d need all the energy I could get for the day ahead. Still, I was dragging as the day started. My mood was as dumpy as the weather.

The town still seemed to be asleep, but just up the road was a little cafe/bar that catered to the all night crowd. Most of the patrons were a little rough around the edges, guys who seemed to have just gotten off of the night shift, peppered with a few who had probably been drinking for hours. A pinball machine in the corner had a crowd of guys around it, bantering back and forth, cheering now and then. Several older men were perched at the bar, beers in hand. I mentally pegged them as off-duty truck drivers, and for some reason that cheered me up a little.

There were a few peregrinos already seated, eating the customary breakfast of toast, zumo, and cafe con leche. I took one look at their plates and decided I just couldn’t handle another morning of carb loading. I asked the bartender if she had tortilla, and she shook her head no. Eggs? No. OK, what about chorizo? Si! So I did have toast for breakfast, bolstered with a chewy hunk of sausage for protein, and a hot cocoa, just to get my endorphins going and pull me out of the funk. We sat near the other peregrinos, and ever-friendly Jakob made conversation while I ate and nodded along now and then. They were British women, in their late 50’s or early 60’s. In what I would learn was a pretty usual occurrence, they found my companion to be exceedingly charming, and one giggled like a schoolgirl while they talked.

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Eventually, there was a break in the rain, and the trio of women struggled away with packs and ponchos. I hadn’t quite finished my breakfast, so we sat a few minutes longer, and while we sat, it started to rain harder. Neither of us had the energy to budge until it cleared, so it was about 30 minutes later that we finally got our day started and got out of Fromista. Despite my breakfast and my new friend, I felt grayer than the day.

Before the Camino, walking was a means to get from one place to another. Walking just WAS. There was no emotion associated with it. There was no specific benefit to be gleaned from it. I put one foot in front of the other, repeatedly, until I reached a destination. That was that. I didn’t know before the Camino, and to be honest, I didn’t really realize while on the Camino, just what joy there was to be had through walking. I couldn’t see how drastically it could impact me, to my very core. This day stands as one of the first days that I got just a glimmer of an idea that putting one foot in front of the next could change EVERYTHING for me, starting with my mood.

As Jakob and I walked, I loosened up just a bit. I still felt emotionally low, but talking with my new friend gave me some mental space. The real turning point in the day was just up the road, about 9km away, at a place called Albergue Amanecer.

In my primary research for the Camino, I’d read that at some point around the Meseta, there was an albergue that had a friendly donkey and a tipi. I’m not sure when it became absolutely necessary for me to visit the albergue with the donkey and the tipi, but at some point, I’d decided that it was one of my Camino “musts.” I was hoping to stay the night in the tipi, should the opportunity present itself. The night before, while drinking wine and eating our grocery store dinner at the albergue, we’d researched the next day’s walk a little, and discovered that we were an hour and a half’s walk from Albergue Amanacer, home of tipi and donkey. I was disappointed to not be able to stay the night, but figured we could at least stop and take a look.

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Geese and a tipi! I never did get to chat with the donkey, though.

By the time we reached the tiny municipality of Villarmentero de Campos, it was already late morning. We were very behind schedule for the day, and the Albergue Amanecer’s front gate was closed. But beyond the gate was visible a large, verdant lawn, outdoor tables, and in the distance, the tipi and several old fashioned wooden structures that reminded me of Romani vardos that had been taken off of their wheels. The entire picture was so wholesome and pleasant that it increased my resolve to get in and explore. Jakob tried the gate, and it opened easily. Once in the front yard, it was obvious that it had been closed to prevent the yard’s various fowl – chickens, ducks, and geese – from wandering out. The birds wandered around and past us as we made our way to the little cafe on the side of the building. Inside, one of the owners made cafe con leches and invited us to hang out while we rested our feet.

As soon as we’d taken a seat outside in the garden, a couple of locals showed up. With them came their dogs, who scampered around, played with each other, chased chickens, and generally just amused the hell out of all of us. At one point, one of the chickens flew up to the roof to escape a dog, and we all clapped in amazement as the chunky bird clumsily cleared the roof’s edge by what seemed like millimeters. As we enjoyed the scene, a young hospitalera told us about how she had recently moved to Spain, soon after walking the Camino for the first time. On her first walk, she’d rescued Camina, one of the young dogs now playing out in the yard in front of us. She felt so at peace on her journey that soon after returning to her own country, she called up the albergue’s owners, asked if they’d hire her on, then packed up her belongings and moved to Spain.

I was aware that it was getting late, but was really enjoying the moment, and didn’t feel like leaving yet. Part of me felt anxious – was I inconveniencing my new friend? Would he need to walk on to meet his schedule? Was it pissing him off that I was wasting time here in this beautiful garden? But when I surreptitiously glanced over and took stock of his attitude, I saw that he was relaxed, just taking in the moment with a zen-like demeanor that made me a little jealous, but mostly just made me relieved. I knew that I was being given a big gift, whether or not Jakob realized it. To be able to move at my own pace without judgement was still a very foreign concept. I decided to sit back and soak in this taste of freedom that had presented itself, here in this perfect little slice of nature.

Anna’s Camino: Day 17 – Burgos

In October and November of 2015, I walked the Camino Francés, one of the traditional pilgrimage routes to the Spanish city of Santiago de Compostela. It was a deeply emotional journey, with far-reaching implications for my life, and I’m slowly but surely capturing the memories and musings here on my blog. Read the entire series at Anna’s Camino.

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One of my favorite interior details from The Cathedral of St. Mary of Burgos.

It was still dark the next morning when Natalie, Ruth, and I left the albergue to begin the day’s trek. We started the day with the routine pitiful breakfast that was the norm across the length of the Camino – toast, juice, coffee – and between the vague irritation from not enough protein, the biting cold morning, and being generally exhausted, starting the day’s walk was quite difficult. There was also the not-so-little issue that this would be my last day with Natalie for some time. I greedily soaked up every second of our walk together, endeavoring to regulate my pace so I could cling to her side for the few hours it took to walk from tiny hamlet of Cardenuela Riopico to the big city of Burgos.

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Breakfast. The ham and cheese in the background are from Natalie’s pack – bringing your own protein is absolutely essential if you want to fuel your body properly first thing.

No matter which way one enters any large city, you’ll still find yourself humping it through the ‘burbs for quite some time before reaching city center. In Burgos, it’s no different. The “industrial area” – office parks, some scrapyard areas, a place that felt like the disused back lot of a small airport – that you’d drive through in less than five minutes takes more than an hour to conquer on foot. It’s not pretty, it gets monotonous, but if pilgrimage is life in a microcosm, I don’t think I need to spell out for you why it might be helpful to endure the boring, ugly bits. That’s up to the individual, though – every pilgrim walks her own road. My lessons are not yours. I found a strange joy, even in the not-so-great stretches, something I think has its roots in a childhood spent playing on the railroad tracks and in abandoned houses. I’ve always loved the overgrown and forgotten, the underdog places. They suit my soul.

Two days before, at dinner with Natalie and Terry in Villafranca Montes de Oca, we had spent some time discussing the pros and cons of the route into Burgos. Terry had very strong views on the subject, having done it before. She’d found the route spiritually deflating on her last trip, and advised against walking there. That’s part of why she’d taken the bus from Villafranca. Natalie, who’d also walked this portion of the route before, had heard that there was an alternate way to get into Burgos that was much prettier, and had resolved to find it. I was happy to tag along on the search. As it turns out, the way was quite interesting, in turns ugly and beautiful. There were still industrial areas to slog through, but then the route took us through a beautiful natural area that turned into a city park, first with nature trails, then bike trails and foot paths.

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The park route into Burgos.

All morning long, we saw Ruth, then lost her, then saw her again. Finally, about 30 minutes before reaching city center, Natalie and I plopped down on a park bench to eat a snack, and Ruth came along just as we were finishing up. It was nice to join up and walk the final stretch together; I took the opportunity to ask Ruth about the many hiking badges on her backpack. She had at least 10 patches, maybe more, denoting the various places she’d hiked. I loved the idea, and still do.

Our path through the park followed a small river, and as we got further into town, there were more and more foot bridges crossing the river. We could have crossed a bridge and left the park at any time, but kept moving along, scanning the sky for the spires of Burgos Cathedral. Twice we stopped to ask directions, but both locals told us to keep walking, not to cross any bridges yet. The last gentleman we talked to was so emphatic that we HAD to stay in the park for awhile, so we were careful not to stray. At first it seemed like he’d been afraid we’d get lost, but once we got into town proper, we realized that he’d had a different purpose in mind. Though we could have followed the river on either side of the city, entering city center from the path we were currently on gave us an absolutely breathtaking view of the gates of the old town, the spires of the cathedral just beyond. We’d lucked into asking a proud local for directions, and he pointed us in the precise direction required to fall in love with the city the way he had. It was the first time, but not the last, that I’d find myself close to tears over the sheer beauty of a place. I don’t think that I could have had quite the same experience had I not walked so far to get there. It was a triumph unlike anything I’d yet felt on the Camino, thus in my life.

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Me and my banana, about to storm the front gate of Burgos. I’m not sure why I look so serious. The banana certainly looks to be having a lovely time of things.

We arrived early enough in the day for the other two ladies to get to tour the cathedral and grab food before leaving town. Since I was checking into a hotel, I offered my room for baggage storage, so everyone could change shoes and walk around Burgos without packs. The Meson del Cid is a fine, old hotel that fit my needs. It wasn’t the most modern or cushy, but I had my own room with a giant bed, no snoring neighbors, and a fabulous bathroom all to myself. Even better, the hotel is directly beside the cathedral, which is situated in the city’s main square, so I was right in the middle of all the action. When your feet and legs are screaming with every step, not having to walk too far is worth its weight in comfortable walking shoes. We all took a second to admire the generous accommodations, then headed out to take a peek at the town.

First stop was a walk around the cathedral and surrounding neighborhood, where we happened across the most adorable little cafe any of us had yet seen. It was a tea/cocktail shop that was decorated in a very feminine motif, pastels and floral patterns, with beautifully appointed china. Even the barista had a sweet smile and very welcoming demeanor, fitting the overall spirit of the place; the entire experience was enchanting. They also had one of the best slices of tortilla of my entire Camino, with a thin layer of ham baked in between a thick layer of egg/potato, and a thinner layer of egg/cheese.

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After a cafe con leche and a little snack, it was time to tackle the cathedral. There are no words to properly explain the awe I experienced, so I’ll just give you photos…

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I quickly lost the other two peregrinas, as I soaked in every tiny detail and read every available scrap of info that I could find. By the time I finished the self-guided tour through the church, Natalie and Ruth were long-finished and sitting, waiting for me near the exit. I could tell they were a little impatient to get back on the road again, but they were also both so forgiving and kind in their manner that I felt guilty and forgave myself in almost the same moment. We went in search of kebabs, as one of the two ladies had heard there was a really good kebab shop right around the cathedral. The one that we found was OK, but nothing to write home about. After lunch, it was time for them to walk on. It was already mid-afternoon, and they had a long walk to get out of the city. We went back to my room to get their bags and have an emotional goodbye. I promised to catch back up with Natalie in a day or two. Maybe I believed at the time that that was a possibility; I don’t know.

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That night after dark, I walked around the city center, exploring on my own for the first time. One thing that struck me about Burgos, and many of the smaller towns I walked through that had even a smidgen of night life at town center, was how families were out together en masse. In a U.S. city at night, you’ll see couples out together, or maybe groups of people if they’re headed out to eat or to a club. You might even see a family or two, or a single mom/dad with kid or kids. And the same was true here, of course – except that there were many children present, and kids were normally accompanied by both parents, or two grandparents, or parents AND grandparents. The kids were always dressed so nicely, and it was rare to see any little ones acting up (at least in public). The whole scene was completely alien to me, but heartwarming, too.

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The fountain in the square outside of the Meson del Cid.

I went looking for a place to eat dinner, but felt so out of my element without a friend. I wandered down a bustling strip and through a couple of squares, admiring various menus and shyly standing around, getting a feel for how fancy the establishments might be. Several restaurants had ads for chocolate and churros, which I craved to try. In the end, though, I was just too out of my element to force myself into dining alone in a foreign language. I walked around until I found a little grocery store that was still open, and bought a selection of junk food to eat in my hotel room. I took a long, luxurious bath, then curled up in bed and ate chips and a chocolate bar, letting the crumbs fall as they pleased with no one there to judge me.

It felt strange to be so solitary. For the first time in a long time, being alone, something that I enjoyed in my “real life” back at home, filled me with an acute sense of loneliness. Looking back on that memory brings to mind the old spiritual, “Sometimes I Feel Like A Motherless Child.” I was hurting on the inside that night. I never did get to try chocolate and churros. I also didn’t sleep at a hotel again on my Camino, and even now, I tend to stay in hostels, where I can meet new people. Seventeen days in, and my way of encountering the world was changing.

Anna’s Camino: Day 16 (Part 2) – Villafranca Montes de Oca to San Juan de Ortega

In October and November of 2015, I walked the Camino Francés, one of the traditional pilgrimage routes to the Spanish city of Santiago de Compostela. It was a deeply emotional journey, with far-reaching implications for my life, and I’m slowly but surely capturing the memories and musings here on my blog. Read the entire series at Anna’s Camino.

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Though I believed I’d seen my fair share of the Spanish countryside by the time we got to Villafranca Montes de Oca, this day’s walk was to be a lesson in avoiding assumption. Shortly after leaving town that morning, we entered a large swath of beautiful, undeveloped forest land, and it seemed like there was a new surprise around every curve. I walked down a long, quiet stretch of fern forest, saw the prettiest little flowers, and happily analyzed every new type of rock I stumbled across (sometimes literally). My college geology professor would have been amused at how a girl who’d often slept through class (you can’t blame me – it was at 8am, and you already know I’m not a morning person) would one day grow up to geek out over pebbles.

One of the biggest regrets of my morning was coming to a huge dip in the road and realizing that no photos I took were going to capture its stupefying dimensions. I’d walked up and down mountains before, but this was something else. It looked like a freefall I’d absolutely hate to take via rollercoaster. I was in awe, but still remembered an important lesson I’d found on my first steep downhill climb, going into Roncesvalles on Day 3. I unpacked my sandals and switched shoes, just in case, to make sure there was no way of hurting my toes on the downhill climb. I might have been masochist enough to go on this stupidly long walk, but no way was I going to lose toenails in the process. (Click here to learn about how I took care of my feet on the Camino Frances.)

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It’s difficult to make out in this photo, but the dark spot in the trail ahead is where the trail drops completely out of sight. The little speck far in the distance on the trail is Natalie.

By the time I got to the big hill, Natalie was already far ahead on the trail. In fact, if you look very carefully in the picture above, you can just make out a tiny hiker wearing orange pants on the uphill portion of the next hill. I spent most of the morning alone, only meeting one other person, a woman pilgrim who was nearly done walking her intended portion of the Camino. She and her husband were vacationing through Spain together via RV, and she had split up from him a few days before to walk to Burgos, where they would meet up again and drive on. I thought it was such a pleasant idea for sharing an experience with your partner without forcing them into a specific travel style that didn’t suit.

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Before getting to San Juan de Ortega, where I hoped to regroup with Natalie, I ran across two things I hadn’t expected. The first thing was situated just before coming to the big hill – an archaeological site and memorial plaque, at the site of a mass grave. I couldn’t understand much of the signage, but was able to understand that this site was the unfortunate location of an execution during the Spanish Civil War (here’s an article about the dig, as well as the possible victims). I took a moment to reflect and offer up a prayer, feeling sadly inadequate – it was striking me how woefully unprepared I’d been to be a traveler here. It felt like the ultimate disrespect, to spend so little time getting to know the ins and outs of the country that was to shelter me.

I did my best on the Camino to divorce myself from expectation, and to be present and aware that it was my job to listen, follow the locals’ leads, and most of all, to be courteous in all dealings. I’m not sure if I succeeded, but I take some solace in knowing that I tried. There was so much history under my feet, and I had so little prior knowledge of any of it. I walked on, sober in the realization that I was completely incapable of showing proper respect to the dead here. As much as I have tried to be open to being a child of the world, much of history is alien to me, evanescent, ultimately untouchable. Of course, this is obvious – none of us are time travelers (if you are, call me!) – but it doesn’t keep me from deep regret. The best I could do was to interpret the scene through a human lens, and understand the tragedy that accompanies any theft of life.

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This “Buen Camino” helped dispel a little of the unease felt on this part of the trail.

The second site I encountered was almost the exact opposite scene – an unexpected art installation, in the middle of nowhere. There were no explanatory plaques, so I still have no clue who made the art, or why, but it was a refreshing find. The path had become flat and very wide, and though the mud was drying, it was obvious that had we walked that way a day before, it would have been the same shoe-sucking muck that we’d encountered leading into Villafranca Montes de Oca. It appeared that there had been some deforestation along the trail in recent history. Where before, the trees had come right up to the trail, here there was a wide stretch of fern growth bordering the path on each side. At some point in this stretch, I began to feel uneasy. The quiet was overbearing. Something about the road just felt wrong. It wasn’t the first time on the Camino that I’d thought back to how medieval travelers hadn’t liked to travel through the woods, on account of the threat of brigands. At times, I felt time overlapping. It’s hard to explain properly, but I was afraid of the past of the woods, not the present. Present me felt no threat – in fact, felt no human presence lurking. But another part of me felt tapped into a primordial fear, like I was stepping into someone else’s feeling-shoes, and experiencing their emotional reaction to being watched from the woods of another time.

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Dat banana tongue, tho…

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Dear artist – if you’re reading this, your beautiful sun/moon/heart/rainbow composition was one of the prettiest things I saw on the whole trip. Thank you! ❤

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Either way, as soon as I got to the magical little clearing where the art installation lived, this eerie feeling passed. Perhaps it was the little burst of happy energy from all of the colors, or maybe I was just instinctively relieved to see signs of other humans nearby. I wish I knew who’d taken the time to leave this lovely little art collection behind, and I hope that it grows along the path, in the way that so many areas of Camino offerings seem to grow and accumulate more cairns and milagros. Soon after, I passed a really nice little km marker that gave me the burst of energy I needed to pick up the pace.

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As I’d hoped, Natalie’s pack and hiking pole were waiting in front of a little cafe in San Juan de Ortega when I arrived. I happily dropped my pack and went in to find her, only to realize that she had been waiting for awhile, and was impatient to leave again. Before I’d arrived, she’d taken a short tour of the monastery, checked emails, and had a leisurely cup of coffee. Though we were both relieved to meet up again, I knew that our speeds were no longer aligning, and got the feeling that she had something new on her mind. It felt like the distance was more than physical, and I began the emotional practice of reconciling myself to what was to come, another Camino “break up.” But it wasn’t to be today. She waited with me for a little while, so I could grab an Aquarius and a slice of tortilla, and we took a look at the maps to confirm our plan to march on to Cardeñuela Riopico that afternoon. After my short break, we strapped on packs and headed off towards Ages, chatting happily about the things we’d seen so far this morning.

Click here to read about Day 16 (Part 3). 

Shallow Roots

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I was born and raised in a small town on the eastern shore of North Carolina. My family has lived in the same 100-mile radius since the 1700’s, and we’ve always been water folk – sailors and fishermen. Though I’m not from the beach, exactly, I am from – and of – the water. My town is situated on the banks of one of the many small waterways that snake in off of the Pamlico Sound, the largish body of water that separates mainland North Carolina from the fabled Outer Banks, the barrier islands that are our connection to the Atlantic Ocean. I am also a Scorpio, a water sign (though you’d think we’d be fire, or maybe earth). While that is more of a commentary on my emotional state and my potentially deadly passions, I also feel a certain kinship with water. The spirit of it reaches out to comfort me. I am home on the waves, even though I can’t swim.

I grew up surrounded by water of all kinds – the wide drainage ditches that separated my father’s property from that of our neighbors, where I fished for minnows as a child; the pond in the back yard that housed my prized catfish, Claude, and a bevy of trained geese; the swamp beyond our yard that occasionally filled the air with its own particular earthy smell; and of course Pantego Creek and the Pungo River, wider here than parts of the mighty Mississippi, home to jellyfish and crabs, sailboats and yachts, tubing and wake boarding, and in my case, several rounds of failed swimming lessons. The smell of salt water will always mean “home,” and I am filled with acute, gut-clenching nostalgia when I imagine a quiet night, only the sound of river waves lapping to keep me company. I try not to think of the ocean. It hurts too much. But maybe it’s all that water that keeps my roots so shallow, makes it so easy for me to get up and move when the mood hits.

It seems to me that I feel about the ocean the way many people talk about feeling for their families. I often hear people talk about how bereft they would feel if separated by a great distance from their family, meaning the parents who gave them life, the brothers and sisters who tormented them as children, but later became the most trusted and loyal of companions. This is not my experience. My loved ones are not my roots. Mental and emotional distance can far outpace physical separation. There are many things that I miss about my childhood in Eastern NC, but not even one thing that I can think of to make me want to move back, save for a few precious evenings spent staring out over the Atlantic.

I wonder if it’s because I love the ocean so much that I cannot bear to think of moving closer to it. Isn’t that a strange thought? But it’s true that I daydream in equal parts about moving to Maine and moving to Arizona. I want great expanses of sky and land, and not too many people. Also, it strikes me that in places with too much water, and in places with just enough, a certain power dwells. It is the great equaling out, personified. And in both places my roots would be shallow, but happy.

Along with being a water sign, Scorpio is only the only sign of the zodiac that has three symbols, showing our possible maturation (not everyone progresses beyond the scorpion, our base sign). If we work hard at it, we tiny scorpions can eventually become eagles. After that, we are reborn again as the phoenix. Perhaps I have trouble taking root because I know it is my destiny to take wing. But still, I imagine I’ll sleep tonight with the sound of the ocean crashing in my heart.

Exploring the Kaibab

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Happy hikers! All five of our backpacking group (I’m on the far left) after successfully climbing up to the South Rim on Day 4. 

I know I’m still only 1/3 of the way into telling you guys about my 2015 Camino experience, but I’m still working on it, I promise. In the mean time, I wanted to tell you guys a little about my 2016 birthday trip: going on a rim-to-rim hike of the Grand Canyon. Last November, I took a four-day backpacking tour starting on the North Rim, walking down the North Kaibab Trail to Phantom Ranch, then up the Bright Angel Trail to the South Rim. The tour was through Wildland Trekking, and I enthusiastically recommend it. Here’s a link to the exact tour I took, in case you’re interested.

I loved the experience. Coming off of the Camino, I was looking for a somewhat similar experience, but this time I wanted to camp, carry more weight, and have less amenities at my disposal. I was also really interested in getting to be somewhere secluded, where I’d be able to get away from the Internet and too many people, and hopefully somewhere that I’d get to see the stars at night. All of my wishes came true. The hike was challenging, but doable. My fellow hikers were very respectful of my need to have quiet alone time, but were also friendly and accepting. I was paired up with a family of four, plus our guide, so I was the adopted family member, and we had a great time together. I loved our guide, Dakota – he was extremely knowledgeable about the history, geology, and flora/fauna of the area, as well as a great cook. I was especially appreciative of his patience with me as I asked a billion and one questions about the plants we passed. I normally don’t care too much about plants, but I found myself falling in love with all of the different cactus varieties we passed, and I grew to love others, like the agave, Mormon tea, and yucca plants.

I’m trying to think of my top memories from the trip. My time spent in Flagstaff before and after going into the Canyon were awesome – I really dug the vibe there. I’d like to spend more time in Flagstaff, and I’d be lying if I said that I haven’t strongly considered making it my next port of call. I also met new friends from around the world at the hostel there, and that’s always a plus 🙂

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Having a beer at Phantom Ranch to celebrate turning 35!

As far as the hike, itself, I had a lot of fun exploring just a tiny piece of the Grand Canyon, but it only gave me a taste for a much larger exploration in the future. I’d have to say that having an icy cold birthday beer at Phantom Ranch at the end of the second day’s hike was lovely – maybe even more so because the mess hall reminded me of summer camp when I was a kid, so it gave the entire trip a kind of summer vacation vibe. I also really liked a little side trip we took earlier that morning to visit Ribbon Falls, which took us over one of the scariest sections of hiking (for me, anyway). The path narrowed down so much that you had to lean against the rock and put one foot straight in front of the other. I fell into an agave plant and punctured my arm, which was not fun. After that, three of us ended up dropping our packs before the detour, so we would be a little more steady on our feet to crawl around the rock that we needed to get past to see the falls. I stopped bleeding eventually, and the falls were gorgeous, so it was all worth it.

 

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Mule deer eating.

 

Another great memory is seeing mule deer on our next to last evening, at Indian Gardens. Then of course, there was the hike to and from Plateau Point. Weirdly, though the view out there was by far the most beautiful that we’d seen, the mile and a half walk through flat desert to get out to the point was my most favorite scenery of the entire trip. For that little bit of the hike, we were on Plateau Point Trail, which intersects the Tonto Trail, and I got it into my head that I’d like to hike the Tonto one day. Instead of running from one of the rims, it runs side-to-side for about 70 miles through the Canyon. We walked back from the Plateau after dark, and I felt at home there, walking down that moonlit path, past the cacti. I didn’t want to go home. I didn’t want more lights and phones and talking. I just wanted to keep walking like that forever, nice and quiet, letting the stars do all the talking.

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The view from Plateau Point.

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Walking home down Plateau Point Trail.

Most impactful, but hardest to explain, was the darkness. I really liked that Flagstaff was a Dark Sky Community, meaning they have taken pains to keep their light pollution down. Then, once you’re down in the Canyon, there really are no lights, and the sky is absolutely breathtaking. I was happy to have my sleep mask with me, because the moon would have made it too bright to sleep otherwise! Once I got back into Flagstaff, I went to the Lowell Observatory, which is one of the oldest observatories in the United States, dating back to 1894. Pluto was discovered there in 1930, and when I went, I had the extreme pleasure of getting to look at the moon through one of their giant telescopes. It sounds pretty lame, since we’ve all seen the moon, right? But to see it so clearly made me literally gasp with delight. I wouldn’t mind getting to see it like that a few more times.

I’ve got a ton more photos that I’ll post after I’ve had a chance to go through and choose the best ones, and I’ll break down the trip a little better then. But for now, thought you’d at least like to hear a little bit about the trip!

Anna’s Camino: Day 11 – Reshuffling, World Class Tapas, and Navarrete

In October and November of 2015, I walked the Camino Francés, one of the traditional pilgrimage routes to the Spanish city of Santiago de Compostela. It was a deeply emotional journey, with far-reaching implications for my life, and I’m slowly but surely capturing the memories and musings here on my blog. Read the entire series at Anna’s Camino.

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Logroño had some amazing street art.

It’s weird going back through this Camino by way of photographs. I remember the walk to Navarrete pretty well, but if I skip forward and look at where I was walking the next day, I remember things ahead of time, giving me a weird sense of foresight, even though it’s actually in hindsight. For instance, I know that I was feeling sick for a while (mildly, anyway) since a day or two after leaving Pamplona. And I remember walking to Navarrete, and feeling OK. Not great, but not terrible. However, by Day 12, I know that I was in really bad shape; I ended up taking a taxi after the first hour of walking, because I just didn’t think I could make it to Santo Domingo de la Calzada in one piece.

So how was I feeling great on Day 11, and near death on Day 12? Maybe I was feeling terrible for a while, but was able to keep powering through it for a while before my body got through to my brain that now was a good time to take a break. I’m really not sure. I do know, from reading others accounts in blogs, books, and even in FB posts, that every now and then you’ll just get to a breaking point, but a good day’s rest will cure most of what ails you. That’s a very important lesson to keep in mind whether or not you plan on walking the Camino – when you feel like you can’t possibly go on, don’t lose hope – just take a break and reassess the situation before you start making drastic decisions. It really does help, I promise.

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Other graffiti on the way into Logroño.

I can’t remember if Natalie and I left Viana before or after Claire, but I do have a memory of watching Claire walk away from the front door of the albergue, off to hunt for the bus that she would take to get a few days ahead of us. It’s strange to think of distance and time in this manner. We were still all in Spain, but a short bus ride would literally fast-forward Claire to an entirely new group of pilgrims, a new stage of the road, new adventures. Meanwhile, though we were left behind, we would be on the road for longer. Did this mean that we had more opportunities, or just different ones? Did Claire miss out from busing ahead, or did we miss out more for not having her with us? I think that the answer, in not being that clearcut, is very obvious.

I’ve spent enough time on various pilgrim message boards and advice sites to realize that some of the old school peregrinos stick to this silly rule that taking any form of transportation other than your own two feet (and possibly a bicycle, or a horse) is somehow “cheating.” But who’s to say that? What if the lesson you need to learn on the Camino is to not be so rigid in your concept of right and wrong? Who’s to say that the one person you really needed to meet on your pilgrimage wasn’t the bus driver, a pilgrim who’s currently up ahead, or even just a local who’s riding the train? The lesson here is that you can be sad that your friend left you behind, or you can be disappointed in your own lack of fitness, or even annoyed that your job didn’t give you enough vacation days to walk the entire thing, but you should never, EVER judge anyone (including yourself) for the way the road is to be traveled. We all need different things, we all have different weaknesses (and strengths), and we all get something different out of our life’s caminos. Celebrate the variety, and celebrate that your friend makes it onto the right bus. Then keep walking your walk.

One of the weirder things that happened on this day was passing a literal “Game of Goose” game board, laid out in marble alongside the Camino in Logroño. For most of the Camino, I kept hearing references to this mysterious game, said to have Templar ties. It was mentioned a few times in my guidebook, and now and then I’d see a version for sale in shop windows. Every time I mentioned it to other pilgrims, though, they’d either heard of it once or twice in passing, or had never heard of it and kind of laughed it off that I was so keen on finding out more. About two weeks from this day, I met another Anna who explained the game a bit more to me, but I’ll leave that memory for later. The bottom line for Logroño is that the artwork was lovely, and I was still no closer to finding out what it was all about, other than that it had a weird name and seemed to feature all of the landmarks of the Camino.

Logroño is a big, busy town. It’s the capital city of the autonomous region of La Rioja, and as such, is just as much of a bustling metropolis as you’d expect. Both Natalie and I were a little put off by it, me probably more, since she’d already walked through the city on her last pilgrimage. It’s not that I didn’t like the place, or want to explore further, it’s just that we hadn’t been somewhere with tall buildings and that many traffic lights and people since Pamplona, and I’d gotten used to things being a little quieter. It didn’t help that, as we were walking through one of the many small town squares (more like a neighborhood green), we walked right through a loud public dispute. This enraged, seemingly inebriated guy was screaming at the top of his lungs outside of an apartment building. We lost sight of him for a minute, then the next thing we knew, he was racing after a car, banging on the side of it, then throwing things at it as it got away, yelling the entire time. We looked at each other and picked up the pace a little, as there weren’t many people about, and it didn’t seem like a good time to get noticed by this dude, no matter what he was angry about. Nothing happened, and we both brushed it off as we made our way to a nearby café to grab coffees and something to snack on before walking out of town.

The café we picked had a different feel than most of the ones I encountered along the Camino Frances. It was close to city center, and had the feel of a chain restaurant – not as corporate as Starbucks, but definitely not a mom and pop place. We grabbed a tortilla to share, and some cafés con leche, and I seem to remember a chocolate croissant, as well. She read over her guidebook and checked out the map, and I did some people watching. One of the things I noticed was that I spotted a gay couple enjoying breakfast together; I remember this specifically because it warmed my heart, and also helped me realize that I was finally getting a read on Spanish body language a little better. Outside, I watched a father walk by, wheeling his toddler daughter (decked out in a pink, impossibly sparkly and ruffled outfit) in a stroller. An elderly lady, hunch backed, in compression hose and head scarf, hobbled by, leading a little terrier on a leash. Several teenage boys in grass-stained football uniforms walked by, clearly exhausted. It was a busy morning.

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A pond we passed on the way out of town. I stood here to watch the swans, and to watch a little girl and her mother throw little veggie scraps (not bread – yay!) to the birds.

The walk out of Logroño seemed to take FOREVER. It was another one of those days where you have a map that shows you where you’re going, you know the mileage, you think you have all of the information you need to get to your destination, yet for some reason no matter how long or how far you walk, you’re still no closer to the stopping point. It’s a very particular feeling for those who are walking long distances, and maybe it’s a very particular feeling for those who are coming down with a cold, I’m not sure. Either way, it felt like Logroño would never end. Even once we got to the beautiful Grajera Reservoir, with its surrounding park land, and knew that we were only a little over 5k away from our destination, it still felt like forever and a day to Navarrete.

The greenway that leads from Logroño to the park surrounding the Grajera Reservoir is very popular with locals, and we passed several kids’ birthday parties on our way through. We also got to walk over some nature trails that had wooden bridges. One bridge made me stop and stare for a while – there were HUGE carp in the water, at least as big as some of the ducks that swam above them. I tried to get some photos, but nothing great turned out.

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One of the less traveled paths in the park (this is from after the reservoir, on the way out).

At times it was a little scary to be a pilgrim on this park trail shared with enthusiastic weekend bikers. Wherever possible, we got off of the paved trail and walked on the natural ones, but there were bikes everywhere, and from time to time I was unnerved to hear them approaching from around the bend at breakneck speeds. We managed not to get run over or cause any accidents, and once we got to the reservoir, we decided to have a short lunch and take a rest. While we sat there, several people went by on horseback, and I was a little wistful, both because it would have been heavenly to get off my feet, and because I genuinely love horses, and because I was thinking I’d love to have the option to go horseback riding on the weekends in my normal life back in the states. Lunch was bread, cheese, sausages, and little tomatoes. While we ate, I wondered where Claire had eaten her lunch today.

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A sign on the way to Navarrete: “Without pain there is no satisfaction.”

Leaving the park, we passed through a section of the park that reminded me of some state parks back home, complete with little cabins for campers less inclined to tent living. It reminded me strongly of my days as a girl scout, and I spent most of the rest of the afternoon in some kind of nostalgic reverie, paying close attention to all of the birds and plants that we passed. Sometimes it felt like I needed to take in every detail, like I’d be getting quizzed on it after my trip. I’m glad that’s not the case, because I have no memories of walking into Navarrete, until we were firmly in the little town, walking around in search of the albergue.

It was afternoon, around 3pm, by the time we reached Navarrete, and I was beat. My feet were throbbing, and I was in desperate need of water. We walked into town by a high street; I think we were in search of a particular address, but I can’t remember, exactly. What I do remember is feeling lost and exhausted, and that the entire town seemed to be taking siesta. It was SO quiet, and there was an air of abandonment. I was running out of hope and energy, and just plodding along after Natalie, feeling incapable of independent thought. She saw a little public fountain under a couple of trees, with a bench nearby, and we headed that way. Just as I’d taken a seat and resolved to sleep there for the rest of my life, a lady leaned out of a nearby second story window to flap out a dusty throw rug, and spotted us by the fountain. She smiled, leaned over the window ledge, and yelled down directions to the municipal albergue, which was only a block or two away. Saved again by the kindness of strangers. This was to become a trend of my Camino.

The municipal albergue was being staffed by a very nice elderly gentleman who showed us where to put our boots and walking sticks, and led us to our bunks. We showered, washed our clothes, and hung everything out to dry on the little rotating circular metal clothes lines that were anchored outside of our bedroom window. I really wish I had one of those for my apartment; it’s an excellent idea – except for when you forget to put clothespins on your clothes, and they fall into the street, as my towel did that evening. Luckily, another pilgrim saw my towel and brought it inside to the hospitalero, so I got it back with little trouble.

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Pacharán

Just next door to the albergue, we’d spotted a little bar, so we headed over there to catch some wi-fi and grab a drink. It was there that I experienced my first glass of pacharán, a lovely Spanish liquor that I’ve really been missing since coming back to the states. It was Natalie’s drink of choice, and though I didn’t drink it always, a sip was always welcome. My drink of choice in Spain, when not sipping red wine, was Ballantine’s Finest, a sweet and inviting Scotch whiskey. I went looking for a glass of Jameson’s, my go-to, when I got to Roncesvalles on Day 2, but the closest they had to Irish whiskey was Scotch, and I stuck with it for the rest of my trip, when I wasn’t drinking red wine, pacharán, or on one occasion, hierbas. The other major beverage of my time in Spain was a major favorite of the peregrino crowd: Aquarius, which is a (non-alcoholic) canned sports drink that’s a little like Gatorade, except it actually tastes good.

Anyway, we sat down to have a drink, and that turned into an afternoon at the café, just hanging out and recovering from the day’s walk. It turned out that I was starving, so I ordered both a tortilla and a bocadillo (sandwich, in this case ham and cheese), plus I had a pacharán and a couple of glasses of scotch over the course of the afternoon. Soon after we sat down, Tom poked his head in the bar. He’d just arrived in town, and stopped to say hi before dropping his things off at the albergue. Eventually he wandered back in and ordered a glass of wine. We talked for a while, and he said that he’d left Mark behind much earlier in the day, and we probably wouldn’t be seeing him in Navarrete tonight, at the pace he was currently walking (his feet were really banged up). Maybe 45 minutes to an hour later, we were all surprised (and overjoyed, as we were all a couple of drinks in by this point) to see Mark poke his head in the bar, too! The gang was all here! He went to get cleaned up, then came back and ordered his trademark “large” beer, cheerfully demanding the biggest mug in the house.

We all sat around for another hour or so, until it started to get close to time for dinner. The guys went back to the albergue, and Natalie and I decided to start checking out our dining options for the evening. When I asked the bartender for my check to settle up, I was blown away by the fact that I only owed 12 euros for everything – three or four drinks, a slice of tortilla, and a sandwich. When I reacted with shock, the bartender thought I was freaking out because it was too expensive, and Natalie had to translate that it was just the opposite. I asked the bartender to check again, because I really didn’t want them to lose out on me if she’d forgotten to include anything, but she double checked, and it was correct.

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Just me and a couple of my new pilgrim friends!

We did a turn about town, walking down a couple of streets, checking out the church, looking at menus on every restaurant we spotted, but one restaurant really caught our attention. Bar Deportivo (also known as Casa de Comidas de Begoña y Antonio) is tiny, and doesn’t look like much from the outside. Inside is simply decorated, while managing to still feel warm and inviting. The family that run the place are warm and attentive, and though they speak limited English (not their fault – mine for not knowing the language), they did their best to make us feel like we were at home. The little restaurant has full seating in the back, but we were peckish, so instead of ordering off-menu, we chose to grab a seat at the bar and eat a selection of tapas. Mark came to join us a little later, and he was pleased with the size of the beers, lol.

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Bar Deportivo has ruined me in regards to tapas. Here in the states, I’ve yet to come across any places that do tapas like Spain, where they’re available to see at the bar, and in great quantities. Here, you normally order your tapas like you would any appetizer, sight unseen, off the menu, one at a time. It’s not done in the same sense of community, and really takes away from the intended experience, in my opinion. There, all through Spain, you see all sorts of options right there at the bar when you get your drink, and you can just point out a selection of the tastes you’d like, and the barkeep will put them on a plate and hand them to you then and there. In many places, you get a free tapa when you order your drink. It might be the bar’s choice, but it’s still free food, and typically delicious. Anyway, this place had some of the most beautiful little tapas I saw over the course of my entire Camino. They were delicious, too. Add to that the wife/owner, Begoña, took a shine to Natalie, and gave us free food just because, and we were in heaven. I’m sad that I only got to experience one meal there, actually. If I lived in the area, it would be my favorite spot.

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The owner, Begoña, gave us this amazing goat cheese stuffed pepper in a squid ink sauce.

After dinner, it was time to hit the hay. We got back to the albergue well before the doors were locked for the night, and I was asleep by the time my head hit the pillow. We woke before dawn the next morning, and it was still dark out when we left the albergue. It was misting heavily enough that I needed my pack cover and raincoat, and though we’d intended to wait until the next town to grab breakfast, we stopped just after the church to grab a coffee at a tiny hole-in-the-wall café. I remember this place because it was either the first or second time that I ordered a freshly squeezed orange juice (zumo de naranja), and I felt guilty when I saw that she was doing it all by hand with the tiniest of juicers. I also got a delicious chocolate bar there, and never saw that exact brand again. Ah, mornings on the Camino, when you can eat a chocolate bar without shame. I distinctly remember that my face felt clogged up and on fire, and even the chocolate bar didn’t really cheer me up. I got a second café con leche before we left, but it didn’t do much to improve my mood. It was going to be a long morning.

Click here to read about Day 12.