A place at the table

A midafternoon break somewhere on the Camino: a tomato and cheese bocadillo, cerveza, my credencial, and my trusty walking stick. This photo actually has relatively little to do with this post, but I have almost no photos of actual albergues and I really like this one.

One reason I want to go back and do the Camino again is the albergues.

Albergues, or refugios, are an integral part of the Camino’s infrastructure. They’re roughly equivalent to hostels all over Europe — usually they provide a bed in a dorm, or possibly beds in a private room for a little extra, a shared bathroom, and a place to wash your clothes. Along most of the Camino, a stay at an albergue costs under €10 per night per person; about €8 is pretty typical.

There are a few oddities about the albergues, though, compared to the hostels you may have stayed in elsewhere in Europe. First is the fact that most of them lock their doors at 10 p.m. The logic seems to be that peregrinos need their sleep and by God, they are going to get it whether they want to or not. Locking the doors at 10 discourages peregrinos from over-indulging in the local nightlife (if there is any) and encourages an early bed time. You can, of course, leave the albergue any time you want, which is important because a lot of peregrinos want to start off before sunrise in order to get most of their walking down before the heat of the day around 1 p.m. And you will have to leave the albergue by 8 a.m. the next morning; stays of multiple nights are highly discouraged, unless you have a doctor’s note saying that you need to stay longer. The hospitaler@s have a lot of cleaning to do, and they’ll have a fresh pack of pilgrims at their doorstep in the afternoon, so you need to move on.

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Camino memories, and a brief hiatus

Carvings on (I think) the cathedral in Burgos.

Carvings on (I think) the cathedral in Burgos.

Going through my pictures — and through my mom’s very helpful daily accountings of the Camino — reminds me of how many stories I still need to tell. The pensión we stayed at in Cirueña, with the puppet show outside and the Italians sharing our dinner and the completely charming host and hostess who made us dinner, that deserves a post all of its own. (I had a brief but intense flirtation with the idea of giving it all up and moving to Spain to be a hospitalera while we were in Cirueña.) And the saint story of Santo Domingo, and observations on walking, and so forth . . .

For now, though, I have to finish packing for a very different trip to a very different pilgrimage site; I’m off to Rome with la famiglia this afternoon, staying there for about a week. (I remember where my passport was! Go me!) I commented to my dad and sister last night that it’s hard to get out of the Camino packing mindset, but I have made a valiant effort by packing multiple impractical sundresses. I’m also bringing my little slow netbook, so I may be posting some, but don’t count on it.

I’ll be back in the States on September 16, and will resume my reglarly scheduled whimsically irregular blogging then. Ciao!


Alto de Perdon

Can anyone translate this for me? It appears to be Italian.

Alto de Perdon.

That means “Height of Forgiveness,” and traditionally a pilgrim reaching this height was pardoned, even if she didn’t make it all the way to Santiago. The wrought iron statue of peregrinos here – a recent addition – reads “donde se cruza el camino del viento con el d las estrellas.”

And it is the path of the wind. Above me and stretching off along the hilltops are wind turbines. Their steady thrum contrasts with the higher, faster chirrup of a grasshopper nearby.

I am sitting in the shadow of a stone shrine much older than anything else up here, waiting for my parents to catch up and feeling the arches of my feet relax from the long climb. My decidedly untraditional pedometer app tells me we have walked more than 7 miles already.

Beside the shrine is a cairn. People have written on the stones they left, benedictions and remembrances. Hats and scarves are pinned under the stones. Ribbons are tied to the peregrino sculpture. I have nothing to leave; the stone in my backpack I am saving for Cruzo de Ferro, later in the trip. So I kneel before the cairn and kiss my fingers to the stones, then I sit and I write, taking away intangible things since I have nothing tangible to leave.

Man, that was pretentious. The idea of being on a pilgrimage can give one airs when one writes.

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A brief stay in Pamplona

A street performer painted as an angel statue in Barcelona.

And then there was a weird pause, and then she said, ‘All angels go by the name Erika.’ And then I was like, ‘Right, right, right,’ and then I felt dumb, because that’s, like, the first thing you learn in seventh grade transmigration studies. Anyway.


August 26th marks the day we set out from Pamplona, and I seem to have basically no pictures of Pamplona itself — we didn’t spend much time there — so here’s another picture from Barcelona’s Las Ramblas. This is one of the many living statues that line the street taking pictures with tourists.

From my Facebook, last year:

Aqui estamos en Pamplona – finalmente, despues de un acidente con mi cafe por la mañana y un viaje de tren que cambió a un viaje de autobús – y ya encontramos otra peregrina. Aquí vamos… // Here we are in Pamplona – finally, after am accident with my coffee in the morning and a train ride that changed to a bus ride – and we already met another pilgrim. Here we go …

The accident with my coffee involved me spilling a scaldingly hot Americano on my pink shirt, which I managed to change out of in the middle of the train station. (I remember my dad was very impressed that I could change shirts in less than a minute in a public space. The things you learn doing theatre, I told him.)

Our train ride to Pamplona ended halfway through when some kind of electrical glitch made them kick all of us off the train and eventually herd us onto a bus to get us the rest of the way. At that point in the trip my Spanish was still fairly rudimentary, so it was a confusing process.

In Pamplona, when we got off the bus with our walking sticks and backpacks, a woman approached us and asked in a noticeable Australian accent if we were walking the Camino. Her name was Lisa, from Perth, and she said she was setting out in the morning from an albergue. We shared a taxi ride to her albergue, and Dad insisted on paying for the whole fare: the first in a long line of favors we would do and have done for us along the way.

The taxi driver, I remember, asked us where we were from (he spoke rudimentary English, I spoke rudimentary Spanish, we were making it work). When we told him “Alaska,” he lit up. “Grizzly bears!” Seemed fair — everything I knew about his town was “Bulls!” At least it wasn’t “Sarah Palin!” which was the reaction I usually got when I visited Greece in 2010.

August 26th marked our first day of walking. More pictures tomorrow!

Buen viaje y buen camino

A fountain in Barcelona by night.

A fountain in Barcelona by night.

One year ago, I left Alaska for points east (Barcelona) and then began trekking back west (Seattle, via New York, via Santiago, via Pamplona).

August 23, 2012


Here being Barcelona! With all the time zone changes, we got here . . . Approx. 36 hours after leaving the house. So since the Camino pilgrimage – and indeed, all pilgrimages – traditionally begins with the first step out your door, I have been on pilgrimage since yesterday.

It is, as Bilbo said, a dangerous business, stepping out your front door, but thus far the worst we’ve had to deal with was non-functioning wifi in Heathrow and the hostel mixing up our reservation such that we have a room with a shared bath rather than a private.

There are a lot of “One year ago I…” moments coming up, and I have hundreds of photos from the Camino that I never posted anywhere, so expect a lot of those, and a lot of nostalgia, in the next month and a half.