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Thursday, June 30, 2011

The Pelgrimspad in ENGLISH - Coming Soon!

Today I finished reading the English version of Pelgrimspad: Through the Eyes of Hans Brinker.

This guide is being written by Jan Gerritsen, who has graciously asked me to do the editing.

The Pelgrimspad begins in Amsterdam, Netherlands and continues to 's-Hertogenbosch, a distance of about 210 kilometers.

The Pelgrimspad 2 continues to Vise' in Belgium and from there a pilgrim can take various routes on their way to Santiago.

Although there are plenty of little places to rent a bed, there are also lots of camping spots along the way for the frugal pilgrim or the one who just enjoys sleeping under the stars.

Until now, all the guides have been in Dutch or German. This will be the first ENGLISH version and this route is sure to become a favorite, based on what I've read so far!

It was so exciting to read these notes!
My feet are itching to walk!

I plan on starting in May, if all things go my way.

So stay tuned, Pilgrims!

An English Guide to the Pelgrimspad is on the burner!

Buen Camino!

* * *
Note:  If you are interested in walking the Camino Santiago, 
or the Pelgrimspad, 
but are not quite ready to go it alone, 
consider joining Annie
on one of our small, affordable Camino walks. 
For more information see our website 
at this link: AnnieWalkers Camino

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Gearing Up for the Camino Santiago - 2011

(Updated February 2014)

One of the few treatments that works for Multiple Chemical Sensitivities
 is distance walking. 
Walking daily at a steady rate
 helps chelate the chemicals that build up 
in organs, bones, and tissues 
without causing the liver and kidney damage
 associated with chemical chelation processes.  

My favorite long distance walk is the Camino Santiago de Compostela, 
fondly referred to by many as The Way. 
Since 2006, I have tried to walk every year, 
and sometimes more than once a year.
 I also began walking with small groups in 2012.

When I talk to people who are walking for the first time, 
one of the first questions walkers ask is
 "What equipment will I need, and where do I get it?"

Walking the Camino can be as expensive or inexpensive as you make it. 
Some people will want to stay in 5 star hotels 
and have a transport company carry their luggage. 
Other pilgrims will carry a lightweight pack 
and sleep on benches and mats or in albergues along The Way.
Some will buy the latest expensive technical equipment.
Others will simply pack from the clothes in their closet.

Every Pilgrim, rich or poor, 
will need a certain amount of standard equipment. 
If you would like to purchase some equipment, 
here is a list of my Camino gear with explanation of why I chose each.

First Purchase is SOCKS:

I take with me 2 pair of wool socks and 2 pair of liners.
These liners separate toes - not necessary but cool
I love Smart Wool - they are cushioned
I suggest you purchase mid weight woolen socks, like SmartWool.  
Wool socks only have to be washed once each week. 
You will wash the liners nightly. 
The photo shows liners with separated toes. 
This is not necessary. 
In fact, I've heard these actually CAUSE blisters, so I'd avoid them. 
I just thought the photo was interesting :)

I do not always WEAR the wool socks. 
If it gets hot, I often only wear the liners. 
But my feet like the variety.

If you are walking in hot weather, June through August, 
you may decide to pick up some inexpensive cotton socks 
in one of the many China stores or open markets along The Way.  
But I always suggest people begin their Camino with wool, 
even in summer.
 Until your feet get used to walking 20-plus kilometers per day, 
they will appreciate the cushion.

Buy your socks before you go to try on shoes.

Second Purchase is SHOES.

On the Santiago Camino Forum there is a constant discussion 
about whether or not the Camino warrants wearing hiking boots.
 Each person has their own preference. 
I can only give you my opinion.

To me, the Camino is not a mountainous hike.. 
it is a "trek."  
It is nothing like the Pacific Coast or Appalachian Trails. 
There are not many places where you are scrambling 
up and down rocky slopes. 
Most of the time, 
you are ambling along at a comfortable pace on grassy or dirt pathways. 
There are some stony places, and some steep places. 
But not enough of those to warrant heavy hiking boots. 

70% of the pilgrims I've met who ended their Camino early 
ended it because of horrendous blisters.  
The blisters were caused by ill-fitting shoes.

I can not stress this enough.
You must have appropriate shoes.

This means shoes that FIT and shoes that are BIG ENOUGH -  
because your feet ARE going to swell. 
And then there are the little places that rub... and rub... and rub. 
You know what I'm talking about. 
Sometimes it is the heel. 
Sometimes it's where the shoe ties.

Often, with trekkers, 
it's the toe rubbing on the front of the shoe as you walk down a steep incline. 
If you'd like to see what can happen to feet when proper shoes aren't worn, 
do a Google search on "foot blisters!"  
Here's a good example:

You want a FLEXIBLE shoe that has good support, 
has a cushioned sole, 
and which has a large toe box. 
You also want a shoe that dries quickly. 
There's nothing worse than putting on 
a pair of cold, wet, stiff leather boots first thing in the morning.

For these reasons, I choose New Balance trail running shoes. 
New Balance makes a shoe on a shoe last with extra toe space - 
it is called SL-2.  
For an explanation of shoe lasts, see the following link. 
Please do not pass over it, it is important information: 

If you have narrow feet, this may not be important. 
But my feet are wide and short. 
The SL-2 show last has a narrow heel, 
so the shoes don't slip, 
and a wide, deep toe box
 so the toes don't rub against each other.

With the wonderful fit of New Balance, 
you can walk out of the store and directly onto the Camino 
with no time for breaking in the shoes. 
They fit from the first moment you put them on. 
I had only one blister on the Camino. 
It was after my first trek over the Pyrenees 
and it was because I did not wear my liner socks.

This year (2014) I bought the New Balance 1210.  
It comes on the #2 Shoe Last. 
It is extremely lightweight and comfortable. 
Not waterproof, but if these trail runners do get wet, 
they will dry by morning.

Whatever shoe you decide on, try the shoes on over both pair of socks. 
You want them to fit comfortably, with no tight places. 
You want a LARGE toe box so your toes can spread when you walk. 
 This is not like walking to the grocery store. 
Your feet are going to be hitting pavement 6 to 8 hours each day 
 and those toes will want to spread, 
something they're not used to doing in our regular, 
walk-to-the-refrigerator world. 
A large toe box giving your toes room to spread 
will prevent them from rubbing together and causing blisters.

I buy my shoes 1.5 sizes larger than I generally wear. 
The shoe salesperson will try to talk you out of this. 
Do not listen. 
Your feet ARE going to swell. 
You can always put on another pair of socks, 
but you can't make your shoes larger.   
I generally wear a size 6 and I buy a 7.5 for the Camino. 
They work great.

Third Purchase is GEL INSERTS.  
To me, gel inserts are a must!  
They protect the bottom of your feet from the constant pounding 
and from pebbles on the path. 
I buy Motion Control by New Balance. 
They are not inexpensive. 
I think I paid about $40 this year. 
They're worth every penny!

I like Motion Control inserts 
because they also keep your foot aligned in the shoe 
and this protects your ankles from turning in or out. 

To use, pull out the standard insert in each shoe 
and replace it with the gel insert.
If necessary, trim them, but beware… 
if you trim them too small, 
you'll create a place where your skin will get pinched so take care.

Doesn't matter which gel insert as long as it's made to cushion your feet against rocks

I pay between $65 and $125 for my shoes.
 I pay another $35-40 for the gel inserts.

because if your feet fail, 
your entire walk is over. 
Don't try to cut corners on shoes. 
Spend what it takes.

I belong to a club called The Clymb.
They offer 70-80% discounts throughout the year
on various types of gear.
If you join (joining is free) and send out invites to your friends,
and if your friends make a purchase,
you get credit toward your next purchase.
Here is an invite from me:
Invite to The Clymb

An example of the money you can save:
This year I paid $160 for a pair of shoes.
Then, I found the exact same pair on The Clymb for $45!
I bought a pair for next year's Camino!

Your next major purchase will be your backpack.
 I went to REI and other mountaineering shops
 and tried on many packs before I settled 
for my Arcteryx Khamsin Backpack. 

It is 30L and that is plenty big!
Good backpacks come in several lengths, 
which was important for my 5'3" frame. 
Mine has an internal frame and holds the weight close to the back comfortably. 
The shoulder straps are nicely padded, as is the waist belt. 
This is a top-loading pack 
with only one zippered compartment on the outside 
which I used for my Nysil pack cover. 
The attached adjustable straps were convenient places
 to carry my water bottles and trekking poles. 
There is no place for a hydration system on this pack.
 I choose to carry a bottle and fill it along the way.

Some people like lots of zippers and sections in their pack.
 I prefer one big top-loading bag. 
I then organize my items in easy-to-grab stuff sacks. 
There are less zippers to fiddle with and less weight to carry.

Joe, my walking partner, chose an Atmos 40L pack. 
It does have a place for his hydration system 
and he was very happy with the pack.

When you're shopping for your backpack,
 this will be a part of your body for the next 6 weeks, 
so it needs to be VERY comfortable.

Tell the sales person that WEIGHT and COMFORT 
are the two major considerations. 
You want a lightweight pack and you want one that FITS.

Try the packs on FULL. 
You should try each pack on with at least as much weight as you plan to carry.
 I suggest 10% of your total body weight.

A good gear shop will have weights for you to put into your pack 
so you can see what it feels like.
 Put the weights in the pack, put it on, 
and walk around the shop for at LEAST 10 minutes, 
noticing things like "Where does it rub?" 
There will be a blister there in a few hours!  
"Does it pinch me anywhere?" 
Another blister! 
 "Does it pull down on my shoulders?"  
Muscle cramps!

Most of the weight should fall on your hips, not your shoulders.
 Ladies, find a pack that has an adjustable strap in the front 
that is comfortable above your breasts. 
This is VERY important.

If you feel any problems at all, 
take the pack off and try another.
 I can't stress this enough. 
If you have to visit several stores to find just the right pack, do it.

You won't be sorry.

If the salesperson seems clueless or pushy, 
ask for another salesperson with more experience.

Don't be talked into a purchase that doesn't FEEL right.
 Listen to your body. 
A small problem now will become a huge issue on the Camino.

NEVER buy a pack online
unless you have tried it on in a store first. 
You must try it on with weight in it to know it will fit.

Is the pack waterproof? 
If not, you'll want to buy a nysil cover,
 especially if you're walking in the spring. 
There WILL be rain in Galicia. 
Covers run around $30. 
It should fold up very tiny and fit into the front pocket of your pack 
where you can quickly access it.

Once you have found a pack that feels comfortable,
 take it home, fill it up, 
and wear it around the house for a couple of hours. 
If you find any problems, take it back and start over!

Your next item of expense will be the sleeping bag. 
How heavy a bag you need depends on the season. 
My first Camino was from September to November. 
I get cold easy and I found my Marmot Pounder Plus to be perfect! 
Weighing in at 1.5 pounds, and costing $130, it was easy to carry.

I originally bought the Marmot Pounder which only weighs one pound. 
Although this would be a great bag for a summer walk, 
I felt it was too lightweight for September 
after testing it on my front porch in Oregon.
Marmot Pounder Plus weighs 1.5 pounds
 Joe simply took a $35 micro fleece liner and he was plenty warm.
Joe's fleece liner weighed about 1/2 pound

I've since found a down bag works great for me.  
It hurt my heart, but after a few years of carrying the bag, 
I cut off the hood and zipper (which I never used) and now I have a down blanket. 
I love it!

In the summer, I'd consider simply carrying a silk liner.
I've seen them on Ebay for as little as $19.
Silk liner weigh only a few ounces and pack up smaller than a cigarette pack
That said, last year in June on the Camino, 
I almost froze when the albergue in Obanos 
where the hospitalero wouldnt turn on heat or give us blankets
 and again in Santo Domingo when I stayed in an unheated convent. 
 If you do get cold, you can always wear your clothes to bed 
or stuff the foot box of your bag with clothing.  
I've also covered myself with my ALTUS poncho and stayed warm.
 Many albergues supply a blanket
 but you can't count on it.

If you are walking with AnnieWalkers, 
consider a lightweight fleece, 
as you will mostly be staying in places that provide linens and blankets.

Rain Gear
Many Pilgrims simply carry an inexpensive poncho.
 For me, this did not work. 
I tend to get cold, especially in the hips,
 and needed protection from the water so I didn't get chilled. 
The first time I walked, 
I found a featherweight set of rain pants and jacket made by Marmot.  
They kept me warm and were comfortable.

The second time I walked, I discovered the ALTUS PONCHO. 
I'll never look back!

Altus Ponchos come in 3 colors
Made of heavy plastic cloth, 
this poncho covers you and your pack from head to ankle. 
It has heavy snap closures and comes with its own stuff sack. 
Unfortunately, I've not found a place to order it in the United States, 
but you can order it from the sports shop in SJPP 
and pick it up when you arrive. It costs around €45 now.  
If you are walking with AnnieWalkers, check with me for the latest information. 
Whatever it takes to get, this is one of the best things you can buy for trekking. 
It keeps you and your pack DRY.

Trekking Poles
Your last big expense is optional. 
Many pilgrims, including myself, purchase walking sticks along the Camino. 
Made by the locals, they are absolutely indestructible and finely made sticks. 
You really need nothing else. 
You will find them all along the way anywhere from 4 Euros up, 
depending on their decor. 
They make a wonderful keepsake.
Fancy and Plain Sticks
The first time I walked the Camino Frances, 
I bought one of these sticks. It worked fine.

The second time, 
I was having issues with my wrists so I purchased Pacer Poles.
I'm sold on Pacer Poles!
There were positives and negatives to both.  
The sticks you purchase along the way are sturdy, inexpensive, and disposable.
 If you lose one, it's no problem, you just buy another. 
The pacer poles were great for my wrists. 
I liked having two sticks on the rough terrain. 
However, other times I felt they were overkill. 
That said, they were easy to fold up and strap to my pack for carrying. 
The biggest downside was the fact that some albergues will not allow poles inside, 
no matter how expensive, 
so you take the chance of having them stolen 
by leaving them outside or downstairs in a barrel.
 I didn't like that option and more than once, 
moved on to a different albergue so I could carry in my poles.

If I were short on cash, 
I'd bypass the trekking poles and just pick up a stick on the Way.

Other less expensive but necessary gear include the following:

Do not even consider walking without a money belt. 
I've watched in Italy as a thief sliced a woman's pack, 
grabbed her passport and wallet,
 and got away while she continued walking, not knowing she'd been robbed.  
Then there was the vomiting thief on the bus in Rome! (Ask me)

A money belt is the only safe place to keep your cash, 
your credit card, and your passport. 
Keep it on you AT ALL TIMES.  
Carry it to the shower with you, 
putting it in a ziplock bag to keep it dry.

 Never let it out of your sight, and never access it in public. 
Carry a small change purse for today's money. 
Keep the rest in your money belt. 
You can buy these online or at travel stores. 
Do not buy the ones that loop around your neck,
 as they are easy to cut, grab, and run. 
Buy the ones that go around your waist 
or the ones that fit over your belt loops and tuck inside
your skirt or pants.
Buy a money belt and USE IT!

This year (2014) I bought two different types of money belt; 
one by Tom Bihn that I love for extra cash.  
It looks just like a belt, fits into the belt loops of my Macabi skirt, and holds many folded bills.
 Here is one link to that belt: Money Belt Tom Binh
Now that I'm wearing my Macabi skirts,
 I have belt loops and I've changed over 
to also using this type of money belt with loops that fit over your belt.
 I love it because it doesn't bind my waist, and it is very easy to access.
Wearing two types of money belt gives me the option
of splitting up my cash
in case of theft.
Theft is not common on the Camino
but it does happen.
Wearing two types of money belt is a simple way to split up your cash.

 Depending on the season, you will need a hat.
 I have two hats. 
One is a Tilly Airflow Hat.
 I like it because it can be stuffed into my pack, i
t is good for sun, and it's also good for rain.
 I wear it UNDER the hood of my Altus Raincoat to make visability even better. 
Cost was about $35 on sale. 
You can often find them second-hand on Ebay.
My Tilly Hat - a ball cap is just as affective
My other hat 
is a featherweight Mountain Hardware Butter Beanie to keep my ears warm.   
The Mountain Hardwear Butter Beanie
 is great little headpiece to throw on or toss in your pocket for a ride or hike. 
It's super stretchy, and has the softness of well-worn flannel. 
The inner surface is lightly brushed and warms as soon as you slide it on. 
That same slight brushing on the inner surface 
serves to actively wick perspiration away from your skin.

The material that makes up the Butter Beanie is warming yet it has negligible bulk. 
The fabric is thin and the seams lay perfectly flat and don't bunch. 
The entire beanie is stretchy which helps it cling to your head. 
The almost unnecessary stretch band that goes around the bottom of the headpiece
 just seals the deal.
 In contrast to other beanies, this band is slight and doesn't bind around your forehead. 
Cost was about $20 on sale.

a ball cap is just as affective as the Tilly to keep sun off your eyes, 
but I love the Butter Beanie. 
It's amazingly warm and lightweight.

I also recently purchased a BUFF!

If you have never heard of this great piece of gear, 
go to this link and check out the video:  Ways to Wear a Buff

I used to take two pair of pants. I would wear one and carry one.

What's important is that these are lightweight, quickdrying, and comfortable. 
They must not be binding. 
Personally I like the travel pants with zip off legs. 
I find them for under $6 in the Activewear section of Goodwill here in Portland.

Macabi Skirt
Last year I wore two Macabi skirts instead of pants and I'll never look back. 
I'm in LOVE with these skirts. 
They are comfortable, cool, warm, have HUGE pockets 
that will carry guidebooks, water, and anything else you need for the day. 
They have a secret zippered pocket for cash and belt loops for my belt.  
Here is a link:

These skirts are incredible! 
I probably could have gone the entire 3 months with only one skirt! 
They NEVER get dirty.
They just don't hold dirt. 
When you DO need to wash them, they dry in 1.5 hours. 
They're tough, comfortable, and versatile. 

I love my Macabi! 
Here is a link to the community of women wearing Macabi skirts 
so you can read what they have to say 
and see the various colors and lengths they offer: 
If you buy one, please tell them "anniesantiago sent me!"

I take three shirts. I wear one and carry two.
 I take one long-sleeved shirt for sun or cold weather and two short-sleeved shirts. 
These come in all styles. 
What's important to me is that they are lightweight, quick drying cloth.
 I choose to have no buttons or zippers (weight). 
Lately I've been wearing merino wool teeshirts. 
They are warm in cold weather and cool in hot weather. 
They also never seem to need washing. 
Hanging and airing each night seems to take away any smell 
and I wash my shirts maybe only once a week when on the Camino.

I carry one heavier micro-fleece shirt to layer if I get cold. 
These often have a zipper at the neckline.
I carry a featherweight hooded jacket to layer for wind and cold. 
If it is extremely cold, 
I put on my Altus Poncho over everything and stay toasty.

I carry one pair of cuddle duds or silk long johns.
 I get them at J. C. Penneys. 
You can find silk long johns online or at REI or other outdoor shops.

Keep these to a minimum, where possible.
 Remember, anything you need you can buy on the trail. 
Spain is a modern country with plenty of shopping malls in the larger cities. 
Here is what I take:

Deoderant crystal - 
I break a regular crystal and take one of the smaller pieces. 
Water will soften the sharp edges.

Liggett's Shampoo Bar - 
I use this for showering and washing my hair. 
Buy it online and keep it in a plastic soap case.

Fels Naptha - 
Used for the cold water hand laundry you'll be doing along the Camino. 
You can pick it up in any Spanish Tienda
 if you can't find it in your town or online.
In Spain, there are several varieties 
of cold water clothes washing bars.
 Cut it into about 4 or 5 pieces and share with other pilgrims.
 One piece will last the entire trip, usually. 
In a pinch I've used it for showering with no problems.

That's it for sundries, unless I've missed something.
I take no comb because I cut my hair very short.
I wear no make up
I certainly wear no perfume 
PLeASE do not wear perfume!
It's really difficult for people with allergies
to be stuck in a room with 
heavily perfumed people.

If I need lotion I use olive oil I find on the way
If you're a guy, 
carry a plastic razor and use your liggets to shave with… 
works great!

If you're a girl, consider giving shaving a break
and let those legs get hairy!

That's all I can think of for now except for the guidebook.
If I had to choose a single one, it would be this one.
Mine is dark blue - an older issue - and I still use it.

I have a system of packing that works great for me. 
I stuff my sleeping bag into the bottom of the pack, 
not bothering with a stuff sack. 
On top of that go separate nylon or net stuffsacks containing clothing.

Important Note:
 Please ignore any advice 
to carry your clothes in plastic grocery sacks and use cloth. 
The rattling of sacks in the dark morning
 is the bane of the pilgrim
 and you won't make a lot of friends in the albergues. 

For the same reason, please leave the headlamp at home.  
A bright headlamp in your eyes at 5 am doesn't put you in a good mood!

My cold/rain gear goes on the very top for easy access.
The underneath zipper compartment holds my toothbrush, soap, and towel.

My water bottle and guidebook go in the pocketa of my Macabi skirt!
My daily cash goes in a small change purse (maybe €20 for the day)
My big cash is split up between my two money belts.

That's it!
If you choose to take electronics, 
well, that's another post.
Consider leaving it all behind...
In the end, you want to look like this:

 NOT this!

Please feel free to ask questions or remind me if I've missed anything.
You're going to have a wonderful time!

Buen Camino!

NOTE! Please see the updated Gearing Up post at this link:
* * * 
If you'd like to walk the Camino
but aren't quite ready to do it alone,
see my website:
for more information about
Guided Walks on the Camino Santiago 
and on other Pilgrimage Trails of Europe

Camino Frances Part 3: Albergues Bersianos to Santiago

Continuing on in 2006, we walked to Bersianos.
This seemed to be a nice little albergue. It was locked up tight when we arrived so we did our laundry and took a walk in the village. When we returned, the door was open. We went upstairs, found a bed, and I lay down for a siesta when all of a sudden I heard a woman's voice saying, "What is this on my stomach?" Then another "Oh, and my legs!" then "My neck!"

I looked up at them and saw the signs of 
(horror music and deadly drums) 
I'd seen so many pilgrims disfigured from these bites on this trek, that I immediately went into panic mode! Now knowing what caused the huge welt on my neck at Zubiri, I wasn't in the mood to get bitten again!
Under the bandage is a bedbug bite. We didn't know at the time what it was.
With dusk approaching, we quickly packed up our gear and set out on the road, walking to the next village. This is the part where I got shin splints and my 2006 Camino was greatly transformed.

Without my notes, I can't recall the name of the village where we found lodging, but it was a nice little bar with beds upstairs and a private bath. We rested that night and from here bussed into Leon next morning. From this point in 2006, we walked, bussed, walked, bussed from here to Santiago, missing some of the more strenuous sections of the Camino Frances because of my injury.

In 2009, we returned to Leon to pick up the sections we missed and so I'll give you information about albergues we stayed in on both trips.

Santa Maria de Caarbajalas (the convent) at Leon was our next stop. There, we were met by vigilante nuns, who insisted we empty out our mochillas completely, spray the whole lot, wash everything in hot water and dry it in hot dryers before we were allowed inside the building.
Actually this was a good thing, we thought, except all those bedbugs weren't caught. Next morning, the fellow in the bunk below me told us he'd stayed up all night battling the little buggers and had a paper full of dead bugs to prove it!
We didn't get bitten that night. Seemed all the folks that did get bites were on the BOTTOM bunk, which led me to always seek out a TOP bunk as part of my "no bedbug" routine, which I'll post in my next blog. This turned out to be an easy task, as most pilgrims prefer the bottom bunk.

In 2009, when it grew too hot to walk the Via de la Plata, I returned to Leon to walk the stages I missed in 2006. I arrived late at night, around 11 pm, and knocked at the closed gate of the Convent. I told them I'd just arrived by train and pleaded for a bed. They graciously unlocked the gate and let me in, and I quietly snuck into bed, thankful. This is a nice place to stay, if you don't mind crowds. The first time I stayed, men and women were separated unless married. I honestly can't recall if that was the rule the last time, I was so weary when I arrived, but I believe it was. There are nice hot showers here and you're sent off with a good breakfast of coffee, chocolate, toast and jam.

In 2009, from here, I walked to Villar de Mazariffe where I stayed at Refugio de Jesus. This was a wonderful, quirky little place with foam sculptures and a swimming pool in the yard. The beds were clean, and there was a possibility of sleeping on a mattress out on the open air patio if one wished, which I did. There was awesome pilgrim art all over the walls, a nice kitchen, and NO MORNING CURFEW which was out of the ordinary. You could even stay there for more than one night, if you wished. I loved this place and would stay there again in a minute! Here are some photos:

There was another albergue on the right, as you walked into the village. We checked it out. It was nice and clean and offered dinner with your bed, and had a massage therapist available, but we chose to stay in Jesus.

Walking into Hospital de Orbigo next day, we crossed the bridge and up into the village on the right hand side we found a lovely parochial Albergue San Miguel (I believe it's #32)  where we stayed with Frida the Flemish Hospitalera. She really made this albergue inviting. The beds were clean, the rooms small, but I chose to sleep out in the yard under the stars, which she allowed. There is a nice kitchen here and clean hot showers. If you prefer to buy your dinner there are several options in the village.

Leaving at dawn, we walked back to the bridge, where we found breakfast and coffee.
We then continued on to Astorga. In 2006, when we passed through Astorga, we stayed in the San Javier Albergue and enjoyed it very much, so in 2009, we immediately went there. However, once checking in, we found bedbugs in the beds and asked for our money back. They sheepishly returned our money and we went to the Municipal Albergue, which we found was very clean and bug free. In addition, it has a lovely terrace where you can sit and have dinner and see the countryside. I recommend the Municipal in Astorga, simply because San Javier rented beds to people KNOWING they had bedbugs... not nice!
Stopped here for tortilla on the way into Astorga

Pilgrims on the terrace at the Municipal in Astorga
St. Javier
Beds in the Municipal
I would be willing to try St. Javier again, but not without checking for bugs first. It was a shame, because from that point onwards, we could trace almost every bedbug infestation BACK to St. Javier's albergue. Not very responsible behavior!

Please take a day to explore Astorga! The Gaudi Palace is fantastic! There is a park at the end of town near the municipal with incredible views! There is a wonderful archeological museum that gives discounts to pilgrims. A good place for a rest day!

For some reason I can't recall, we took a short 10 kilometers the next day and stayed in Santa Catalina de Somoz. We found a nice restaurant/bar who had rooms. It was lovely, dinner was good, and we totally enjoyed it. Later down the road, however, we met a German boy who had been eaten alive by bedbugs in this same albergue, probably infested by some pilgrim staying in San Javier!
View from my window
 From here we continued to Rabanal del Camino where we stayed at the albergue run by a UK Confraternity right next door to the Benedictine Monk house. We were hoping to hear vespers sung, but there was some problem between the villagers and the monks that year and so we missed it. Perhaps on another walk. This was a lovely albergue, with a nice big kitchen. There was a priest from Croatia walking the Camino who stayed with us that night and offered Mass in the back yard. A nice experience.
Rabanal has a nice big kitchen
Monjarin was our next stop. We had heard the tales of this eccentric man who claims to be a Templar Knight and wanted to meet him for ourselves. If you want a very precious and different experience, and you are not afraid of being pushed out of your comfort zone, please don't miss this stop! The strangeness disappears the minute dinner begins. We were served a wonderful dinner and escorted up the stairs to some scary mattresses whose sheets had obviously not been laundered for weeks (the place has no running water). The toilet was a makeshift outhouse across the street, open air, and honestly, I was worried. But my fear dissipated as the evening went on. This turned out to be one of my favorite stops and I wouldn't hesitate to stay here again. The experience was one of richness and love. Stay... you won't be sorry... and by the way, there were NO bedbugs here!
Sleeping in the attic at Monjarin

The kitchen at Monjarin

The famous "Tomas" the Templar Knight - a wonderful supporter of the Camino!
We left at dawn, hiking through some beautiful high country, and stayed the next night in Molinesca. Having found bedbugs inside the albergue, I chose to sleep out on the porch and had a wonderful night's sleep!
From Monjarin to Molinesca, we passed through this beautiful village high in the mountains

I don't recall it's name, but they had lodging here also and it was beautiful

The Porch was fine for sleeping!
Molinesca had another lovely albergue, but it was not in my budget
From here we walked to Cacabellos, where we stayed in the Parochial Albergue. It is interesting, with a circle of rooms, each having two beds, around the church. We tried 3 rooms before finding one without bedbugs (which doesn't mean anything because the critters can crawl fast!).
Behind each door is a small room with two beds.

This is what is behind each door
Leaving Cacabellos, we walked through beautiful fields and vinyards to Vilafranco del Bierzo where we had hoped to stay in the famous Ave Fenix albergue.

We checked ourselves in, but were distressed to find the beds so close together they actually touched each other, and after a bedbug check, found several live bugs. The hospitalera generously not only refunded our money, but called some friends she knew who had a Casa Rural and arranged for us a room and a ride. We had a wonderful dinner, guitar jam session, and slept that night on a bed stuffed with straw. These folks also guide Camino treks on horseback. The woman, a Brazilian named Alejandra and her partner, a Spaniard whose name I can't recall at the moment, were wonderful hosts! I'm not sure how to find more information on them until I retrieve my journals, but if anyone has names and addresses, I'd love to post it.
I really felt sorry for the guy who own Ave Fenix. I found out that just the past weekend, they'd taken ALL the beds out, washed them, and even went over the metal frames with a blowtorch to kill bedbugs and eggs... but then a few days later, were reinfested by new pilgrims carrying the bugs. I hope if you are planning a Camino, you will read my next blog about how NOT to get bedbugs!

Next morning, our host drove us back to the Camino and dropped us off. Our next stop was Vega del Valcarce. There are two albergues here that I'm aware of. The first, you pass right before you get to town. If I walk again, I will stay here because I think it is a fine place. We went inside to see it and to speak with the Portuguese lady who runs it. It looked VERY clean and she offered dinner with bed for a fair price.

However, we were budgeting, and so continued on to the Municipal Albergue. We found it to be clean, with a good kitchen and showers. It is a bit of a climb up from the street, but at the bottom is a tienda where you can purchase food for dinner or a bar where you can buy a Pilgrim's Plate. There are tables outside where you can eat or journal.

The local tomcat
If you want to see something interesting, be outdoors at dusk, when a group of ancient people make their winding way up the hill to a clubhouse where they drink and watch the sunset. The locals say they're "holding Parliment" and it is something to see!

An elder returning from Holding Parliment
O'Cebreiro was our next stop, and we stayed at the Municipal Albergue there. It was clean with about 100 beds in the room. They had a great kitchen, but no utensils or cooking pots, so we found food in the village.

If you go to the edge of the village and look down over the wall, you'll find a man making the thatching for the rooftops! It is interesting to watch him!

From here, we walked a stage and stayed in a Casa Rural that we really enjoyed. Unfortunately, I do not have my journals - so I will post the name and place later.

Next we walked into Samos where we stayed across the street from the Parochial, which just seemed too crowded. Again, I don't have my notes.. sorry.

From here, we went to Sarria. In 2006 we stayed in a wonderful albergue called Don Alvaro. This was a sweet place with an outside fireplace and clean beds. I highly recommend it.

In 2009, we took a chance and stayed at the Municipal Albergue. In my opinion, this was the WORST albergue on the entire Camino! It was filthy, crowded, unfriendly, and dark. I won't recommend it, and in fact, if you can't get into Don Alvaro, find any other albergue besides the Municipal!
 In 2006, from Sarria we walked to Ferreiros where we stayed in the Albergue there.It was small, clean, and sufficient. There was a kitchen, but no utensils or cooking pots. There is a bar there where you can buy food, but beware of the owner. She made a pilgrim pay twice for a bottle of wine - we watched it happen!
Small nice kitchen but no utensils

I actually enjoyed this tiny albergue in its park setting
In 2009 we stayed in Casa Morgade, up the road a bit. I absolutely adored this place and will stay here again! Clean beds, great food, nice clean hot showers - and only 4 beds to a room!
Casa Morgade is a popular lunch stop for Pilgrims passing through

Inside, the cafe is nice. The dining room is much nicer still!

One of the several patios.

A sitting room with fireplace for cold evening journaling

Four beds in this room. I believe they also have a doble.
Not far up the trail next morning, we stopped here for coffee. This is another option for sleeping.
On to Portomarin where we kept seeing signs for a new albergue. We decided to try it! It's up on the hill to your right as you go into the village and it's brand spanking new. It has a huge room with hundreds of beds, but it's clean and the showers are awesome! Also, there is a large, lovely kitchen with a great view where we cooked our dinner. And lastly, a TELEVISION!  WOW!

Onwards to Ligonde, where at the end of the alley through the village is a tiny albergue which I fell in love with! Only 18 beds, and a wee kitchen with no utensils, this still was one of my favorite places. From here we walked a kilometer into the next village for dinner, then returned to sleep in peace and quiet. 
A pretty little albergue at Ligonde

Walking to the next village Eirexe for dinner
There is an albergue at Eirexe also where many pilgrims stayed. The next day we continued on to Albergue Mato in Casanova. The albergue there is nice and clean, with a good kitchen and showers. I don't have a good photo, so I've borrowed this one from another website by Gunnar.
 There is no restaurant here, but you can buy a dinner ticket and a taxi to the restaurant is included. There are other albergues in town, as well.

From here we walked to Ribadiso and Arca where we stayed in a private home. 
And from there to our little secret spot in Santiago.

I hope this will help some of you decide where to stay. 

Just remember that the volunteers change about every two weeks and that can change the entire experience. They may be kind and helpful or tired and cranky, and that will leave an impression about that particular albergue. So don't be shocked if your experience is different from mine. And don't be afraid to try new places!

One thing I will suggest is looking above your head as you walk through villages for signs saying "Habitacciones" -- these are often as inexpensive as an albergue if 3 or 4 pilgrims rent the rooms together, and are more private. You will get a better night's sleep and sometimes a real BATH!

The other tip is to go to bars or the police station and inquire. 
Also the fire stations are good for finding unadvertised lodging.

Tomorrow I will do another blog on bedbugs since my last one was deleted. 
It will help you learn how to recognize the signs of bedbugs
and how to avoid being bitten on your walk.

Buen Camino!

* * *
If you'd like to walk the Camino
but aren't quite ready to do it alone,
see my website:
for more information about
Guided Walks on the Camino Santiago 
and on other Pilgrimage Trails of Europe