Here I go...

Finding magic under the stars of the Camino Santiago de Compostela

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Patty Moak - Pilgrim Photographer

In Fall 2012, Joe and I led a group of pilgrims 
on a 3 week walk on the Camino de Santiago. 
This trip is nice for people who don't have an entire 6 weeks to walk,
 and who might be more comfortable
 walking with an experienced pilgrim. 

One of my walkers was Patty Moak, 
 from my home town, Portland, Oregon.

Patty with her friend Ponferrada
Patty was a delight to have on this trip! 
Always positive and up-beat, 
her great attitude was a boon to her fellow pilgrims.    

When we returned home, 
some of the pilgrims shared photos they'd taken along the Way, 
and I really enjoyed the photos Patty had taken. 
I asked about her photography experience.  
Here is what I learned.

Patty Moak was born in Sacramento, California in 1942. 
Like many pilgrims, 
Patty decided to do the Camino to honor her birthday
 - her 70th birthday!  
Until that point, she had never been East of Colorado 
or on plane for more than 4 hours. 

Patty says the thought of traveling alone to a foreign country 
whose language she didn't speak was overwhelming at first. 

She says, "I heard about you, Annie, through a friend
and signed up. 
It was the most extraordinary experience of my life 
and the hardest, most challenging one. 
Harder even than the longest backpacking trip at 10,000 feet elevation. 
That being said, I'm going back in Spring 2014 to do the whole 500 miles."

Patty's interest in photography began in 1980 
while on a sailing boat on San Francisco Bay with friends. 
She had a small camera and took some really good photos with it. 
She got her first SLR in 1981 and her first digital SLR in 2005. 
She now has a Cannon T4i and a Cannon S100. 
The S100 went to Spain with her. 

Patty enjoys shooting mostly nature,
landscapes and old buildings. 
Spain was paradise for her!. 
Everywhere she turned, there was a superb photo op!

Once returning to Portland, Patty
 began taking photography classes at PCC. 
She belongs  to a photography group. 
At the moment, they are attending a lot of workshops, 
because the Portland winter weather isn't conducive to outdoor photo shoots. 

Patty says she loves being in the wilderness. 
She says, "I like old buildings and houses 
and ghost towns because they tell a story in some way."

I'm encouraging Patty to put up a Flickr account and to share her photos.
 But for now, following are some of my favorite photos Patty took 
while walking the Camino Santiago with our group in the Fall of 2012. 

I've chosen these photos because they show 
some of the varied landscapes you'll be walking, 
and some of the things you'll become familiar with as a pilgrim.

Pulpo, or fresh octopus, is a common sight on some sections of The Way.
 In O Cebreiro and in Melide, 
pulpo is a very popular dish.
I suggest you get a group together 
and order a dish of pulpo.
That way, if you don't care for it,
you can order something more to your taste.
But please, 
give it a try!
You may be pleasantly surprised.

Which way will you go?
 Monjarin is a well-known place along the Camino.
It is run by Tomas, 
a self-described modern Templar Knight.
The Templars were wonderful friends 
to the pilgrims,
protecting them along The Way.
Tomas does a great job
keeping the tradition alive.

There is no running water, however, 
at Monjarin.
The latrine, which used to be a simple hole in the ground
has been improved!
It now has walls and a seat!

Sunbreaks like this one make for magical morning walking!
People often ask me what the weather will be like in Spring, Summer, or Fall.
If I could predict the weather in Spain, I'd be rich!
But even when it rains, 
the pilgrim is blessed with sunbreaks and rainbows
that make the walking worthwhile.
Just do it!

You will see many interesting sculptures and fountains.
There are some fantastic sculptures and fountains along the Way.
Be sure to keep your eyes open for these.
Sometimes they're so realistic, it's difficult to tell if they're flesh or stone.

Foggy beginnings.
 Walking up and over the Pyrenees
will often take you through clouds.
Once you are above the clouds, 
the sun will shine,
and you will feel like you're staring at islands
when you see the mountaintops through the mist.

Other times, the Way will be flat and dry.
 Some days you will have rain and wind,
and the very next day it can be hot and dry.
Be prepared for both.

My shoes, close to the end of the Camino.
 Patty got this photo of my shoes,
which had been walking for nearly 3 months straight.
They were held together, literally,
with duct tape.
Three cheers for duct tape!
And yes, you can find it in Spain!

You will see many shrines along the Camino. 
 This cross is at the top of the Pyrenees
before your descent into Roncesvalles.
Many pilgrims have added ribbons,
stones, and other mementos to the shrine.

There are still a few wildflowers left for Fall pilgrims to enjoy.
 I particularly enjoyed walking in Spring this past year,
mostly because of the wildflowers.
But even in Fall,
there are flowers to be enjoyed!

Plenty of chances to buy a walking stick or a shell!
 If you don't want to bother with bringing trekking poles on the plane,
you can pick them up quite inexpensively in the outdoor shop
in SJPP. Or, you can buy one of these handmade walking sticks
in almost any village along The Way.

The sleeping places are well-marked.
Don't worry, you'll find the albergues.
The signage is clear.

Expect beauty!
Sometimes, you notice things
that you would have walked right past
a week earlier at home.

Waymarks are easy to find, even in the city.
Waymarking continues,
even in the big cities.
Just keep an eye on the ground,
and on buidings and walls.
Those flechas amarillas are difficult to miss!

One of the "dangerous" dogs on the Camino!   Not!
 I hear a lot of "dangerous dog" stories about the Camino.
This guy is probably closer to what you will encounter.
Little beggar! He sure is cute, huh?

Wine and tapas or pinchos after a long walk - a treat!
 All along the route are bars
where you can find beer, wine, soda, bocadillos, 
and lots of other great treats!
Take a load off!
Rest for a bit and get ready to walk another 4 hours!

Just in case you didn't notice...
 The Basques are a proud people!
They do NOT consider themselves to be Spanish.
They are BASQUE!
Theirs is the oldest language known,
and its roots cannot be traced.
You will see signs in both Basque and Spanish
along the Basque portions of the Camino.

Quiet forest walking is lovely.
 Sometimes you will walk with groups of noisy pilgrims.
Other times, you might walk alone.
The choice is yours.
If you tend to love being solitude,
consider beginning mid-week
and walking "between stages"
instead of following the crowds.

There are many "fixer-uppers" along the Way!
 Buildings like these are not beyond repair.
Somebody could very well buy this,
put a new roof on top,
and slap on some siding.
Old buildings are being reclaimed,
all along The Way.

Follow the flechas (arrows).
 Even in the more remote areas,
don't worry,
the flechas persist!

St. Jean Pied du Port is a beautiful village!
This photo should have been first,
since it is of St. Jean.
But that's the way they loaded
so here it is!
This tiny village is such a gem!
Plan on spending an extra day here
and exploring.

Old trees and old stone walls line much of the Camino.
What I enjoy most about the Camino
are the ancient trees
and the awesome stone walls
that line much of the road.
Who built these walls?
How many generations have they stood?
Who planted these trees?

You will see a castle in Ponferrada.
 The castle in Ponferrada is worth seeing,
although the town itself is disappointing these days,
full of grafitti and trash.
I was sad to see this and wonder
if it's an effect of the poor economy?

Sunrise is a special time for the pilgrim.
 Getting up just before dawn so you can see the sun rise
makes for a happy day!

The rain brings rainbows - and they are beautiful!
 And if there's rain?
Well.. there will be RAINBOWS to lighten your steps!

Gathering for dinner with fellow pilgrims is traditional!
Don't hesitate to gather a group for dinner.
Meeting and getting to know other pilgrims along the way,
and sharing a meal 
is a great tradition!
You will pass each other here and there along the road,
and often, getting into Santiago is like
a big old family reunion!

Shrine to a fallen pilgrim - many of these along the path.
Some pilgrims do not make it to Santiago.
They fall along the way.
Shrines are often kept up and added to
by passing pilgrims;
they are becoming a common sight
as more and more pilgrims walk the Camino.

One of the things I love about spiders...
 In the early morning mist,
the spider's webs are beautiful works of art!

Some folks are familiar with the road... this pilgrim has done some traveling!
 You will meet people on their first pilgrimage,
and you will meet people walking for the 
2d, 3d, or even more times!
Some folks just have itchy feet,
like me!
The Camino is addictive,
and often, pilgrims return to walk it again,
this time as seasoned travelers.
Patty's returning to Spain next year,
aren't you Patty?

O Cebreiro with its thatched roofs and stone walkways.
 Don't pass by O Cebreiro.
It's a beautiful village.
If you're there in the Fall,
you can watch the thatch being made in the field
below the stone wall surrounding the village.

This is how bag transport works.
 Bag transport is one option for the pilgrim.
You leave your pack in the pile,
with envelope containing money attached.
A taxi picks up the pack and delivers it to your destination
It's waiting when you arrive.
What could be easier?

Acebo is a beautiful mountain village above Molinaseca.
 I think I'll stay in Acebo my next Camino.
It's such a pretty mountaintop village!

Cervesa con limon - beer with lemonade - a refreshing drink after a long, hot walk!
Cervesa con limon is one of my favorite drinks
along the Camino.
It is refreshing and really quenches the thirst.
It is a half/half of beer and lemon soda.
In the UK, this is called a Shandy.
Try one!

You find flechas in surprising places!
These are but a few of Patty's photos.
I hope they've given you a better idea 
of what you can expect while walking the Camino.

Unless you are a photography bug like Patty,
I suggest you take a small but good camera,
like the Cannon ELPH - which takes excellent photos
and isn't too expensive.

You never know when a photo-op will appear!

Thanks, Patty, for sharing your photos!
Buen Camino!

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Sleeping on the Camino Frances

One the questions I hear often about the Camino is
 "Where do you sleep?"
"What are the albergues like?"

The answer is so varied!
Each and every place is not only physically different, 
but depending on who is acting hospitalero that week,
the entire mood of the place changes!
A grumpy hospitalera
or one who thinks she is a drill sergeant
can ruin your morning if you let it.
On the other hand,
there are people like Frida,
who love the pilgrims
and do all they can to make their stay
comfortable and memorable.
Frida, our hospitalera at Hospital de Orbigo
I've stayed some places that I've simply adored,
only to hear a pilgrim complaining later 
that it was the most terrible experience of their Camino!

So... my advice is 
"travel the Camino with no expectations" 
and you will not be disappointed.

There are seven basic different types of accommodation along the Camino.


On the VDLP,  I camped out in the open air when possible.
First, and the least expensive, is to simply camp.
There are some legal campgrounds along the route,
but they are often a bit off the beaten path.

Wild camping is not legal,
and with the low price of lodging,
it's really unnecessary unless you have a special reason
to do it,
but a few pilgrims do camp and enjoy it!

If you are sleeping in the countryside in a field or orchard,
and there is someone to ASK,
I would suggest that.
If not, and it's late, and you don't have a lot of other options,
I'd stay, but leave no footprint behind.
Be sure to clean up all of your trash,
and leave the place like you found it,
or better.

I often carry a lightweight screen tent to use 
when the albergue is too perfumed for my tastes
or if I find bedbugs and there's no other place to sleep.
I've stayed in my screen tent in several albergue courtyards.
They are often open to this,
and for a small fee, 
you can often arrange to use their shower and kitchen facilities as well.
 This is a better option in the summer months,
because Spring and Fall can bring sudden rains,
and a screen tent won't give you much shelter
in a Spanish rainstorm!

 PAROCHIALS or Parish Hostels

Next up the scale are the parroquias.
I will refer to them as parochials.
These are often owned by the local churches,
and are run by the local priest.
Some are quite stark
and others just lovely.
They often do not offer "real" beds,
but rather offer comfortable mats on the floor.
Melide Floor Mats - photo by Michael Hayward
Tosantos is one of my favorite parochials.
When you settle in at Tosantos, 
there is often an excursion offered
that takes you up to the hermitage 
dedicated to the Virgen de la Peña on the hill.
Many people walk past this hermitage,
not taking the time to visit.
That is a mistake.
It's worth a stop.

The Virgen de la Pena hermitage has a one-room chapel built into the rock.

The parochial at Trinidad de Arre offers a "snoring room!" 
and a lovely garden.
Trinidad de Arre

Located behind the Convento de la Trinidad, 
you must wait in the cool front breezeway to be checked in 
before being escorted to the back door leading to the hostel. 
There has been a pilgrim hospital here since the 11th century, 
so they know what you need!
Waiting for Trinidad de Arre to open - 2006
In the parochial albergue or refugio, 
you may be offered a family style meal.
How much food you get 
and the quality of the meal
often depends 
on how much money the last night's pilgrims left
for their "donativo" fee.

 Remember this please, 
and always leave a generous donation,
especially to these parish hostels.
To me,
they are the "sweet spots" along The Way,
and are run on your donations and love.
If there is a special pilgrim's mass
or some other type of ceremony offered,
consider attending,
even if you are not religious.
Understanding the religion
that historically runs along the Camino
can make your pilgrim experience
a much more rich and full one.
Dinner in Viana
Viana has a nice parochial refuge.
You will sleep on mats there,
but it's clean and friendly.
 One year, at Viana,
the priest played guitar and sang songs to us
and then he gave us a tour of the basement.
We were shown the church treasures,
art that is as good as any I've seen in the Louvre
or the British Museum.

Next morning, we were awakened at dawn
to a beautiful choir singing outside our window.
If I close my eyes,
I can still see and hear them,
those voices like angels - with the sun rising behind them -
an incredible Camino moment!


These are owned and run by Confraternities, 
either Spanish or from other countries. 
They are usually clean and well-run.
Almost all will have beds.
(Don't be put off by sleeping on a mat by the way - they're quite comfortable!)
Often, volunteers who are former pilgrims staff these hostels 
and so they are well aware of what the pilgrim is experiencing 
and what their needs are.
They understand how tired you are.
They have worn your pilgrim shoes.

Some confraternity hostels are donativo,
and others ask for a small set price.
It takes money to run these places,
so give a bit more if you can afford it
to cover the cost of those pilgrims
who may be on a very tight budget.

Some have kitchens and some do not.
Those who do not sometimes offer a family styled dinner.

San Nicholas is a beautiful place to stay.
Set in an old stone chapel, and run by an Italian Confraternity,
you are treated to a scrumptious dinner
and a special ritual after hours.
Then, climb into your bunk
and go to sleep by candlelight,
as there is no electricity in this refuge.
They do have a shower room in another building
offering hot showers,
and there is a hand-pump in the back yard
where you can do your wash.
San Nicholas
Casa Paderborn in Pamplona
 is run by the Jakobsfreunde Organization in Paderborn.  
This is another beautiful, well-run refuge, a delight, 
from the clean beds and the duck-filled stream running out back,
to the hefty breakfast served next morning.
I think it's worth paying a little more to experience Paderborn's friendly welcome!
But you'll need to get there early,
it fills up fast!

I heard Paderborn had some flooding this year.
I hope they will be hosting pilgrims later this season.

Paderborn is very popular!

There are several monasteries and convents along the Camino
and these can be excellent places to sleep. 
One of my favorites is the Hospederia San Martin Pinario 
in Santiago de Compostela.
 Set in a beautiful historical building, 
the rooms are stark, but sufficient,
 and the buffet breakfast is fantastic!
Price for a shared double last year was around 22 euros.
I suggest you call and make a reservation
as soon as you are sure of your arrival date.

Room in San Martin Pinario
Municipal hostels are owned and maintained by the local authorities.
The hospitalera is usually a local person.
They offer basic facilities and are very affordable.
You might expect to pay anywhere from 3 to 5 euros per night.
In Galicia, you may pay up to 7 euros.
Sometimes the municipal is the best place to stay,
even though there may be more pilgrims there.
I found that true in Astorga,
where the more expensive private was full of bedbugs
and was run by a hospitalero
who just shrugged when I told him!  

The tiniest municipal I've slept in was in Uterga.
It was one tiny room
with a bunk bed
and a toilet/shower.
I understand when Joe walked past it in 2012
it was no longer operating.

Outside Uterga Municipal with my one Peregrina roommate.

I took the top, she took the bottom, Joe took the floor!
Staying here was a sweet experience
for me, 
a brand new Pilgrim.
I feel lucky to have experienced it
before the Camino got too busy
to need such a tiny place.


Network Hostels include the famous "Red" Albergues.  
These are hostels that have formed loose federations. 
They provide a clean place to sleep and often offer additional services, 
such as washing machines and wi-fi or internet access.  

One of my favorite Red Hostels is at Ventosa. 
It is called San Saturnino.
 I have stayed there twice. 
The first time was in 2006, when it was located beneath the church. 
The second time was in 2009, in its new location. 
Both were fantastic stays! 
 I've never been disappointed staying in a "Red" albergue.

Laundry hanging in the OLD San Saturnino Albergue
PRIVATE hostels are just that... privately owned hostels. 
They often have washing machines and dryers, 
and if not, you can almost always pay someone to do your wash. 
 They have no overall code or regulations 
and tend to be a bit more flexible with their rules,
 such as whether or not the doors will lock you out at 10 pm! 

One of my favorite private hostels is at Molinaseca.
I won't mention the name because I don't want it to be full next time I walk! 
Here is a photo to tease you:
Photo by Patty Moak
You will pay anywhere from 9 euros up
for a private hostel bed in a double-shared room along the Camino,
depending on where you are.
Does that make sense?
I'm saying a double-shared room has 2 beds,
and the rooms run anywhere from 18 euros up,
so if you find another pilgrim to share with,
you pay 9 euros or more each.
In general, I'd expect to pay closer to $35-$45
for a private double,
but the lower cost rooms are available
if you know where to look.

Another of my favorites is in Santiago.
I pay 22 euros per night for just me,
and 32 euros for 2 people (that's only 16 each!)
for a private room with a television
and a bath.
That's cheaper than the backpacking hostel!
I stay there each year.
I found it simply by walking up the street,
asking at bars.
Those deals are around.
You just have to keep your eyes open and ASK!
Bartenders are a good source of information.

In a later post,
 I will list all of the places I've stayed and tell a bit about each. 
You can find some of this information in previous blog posts, 
if you go back a few years. 

You can expect to pay a bit more in the private hostels
than you would in a municipal, 
but not as much as in a hotel.  
You most likely will have fewer people sleeping in a room 
than in a municipal hostel.
 There is sometimes a kitchen where you can cook your dinner.
Other times, there is a restaurant attached to the hostel.

Next, you have hotels.
You can often book these ahead of time, 
especially in the larger villages and big cities.
You can expect to pay anywhere from 25 euros up
for a double private room.
In small, remote villages you will pay less
than in large cities.
You will almost always have your own bathroom,
but generally will not have a kitchen. 

Sometimes it's just nice to have some privacy,
no matter the cost.
One year, I walked into the Parador
in Santo Domingo and took a room.
When I returned home and got my credit card bill,
it was over $350.
But you know what?
It was worth every penny!
I took several baths in a REAL bathtub that night,
and had a fantastic breakfast in bed.
It gave me the gumption to walk the rest of the Way!
Annie at the Parador!


Sometimes, you can find private rooms in regular pilgrim hostels.
It doesn't hurt to ask.
Some do have private rooms for a bit more money,
and it's often worth the cost
to get a good night's sleep.

When I walk, I enjoy staying in a combination of lodging.
Sometimes I stay in parochials, sometimes confraternity hostels,
and sometimes I rent a hotel.
I just depends on how I feel that day
and how much sleep I've gotten the night before.

As far as price goes, 
you can expect to pay anywhere
 between 3 euros and 10 euros per night
in most albergues.
Prices vary depending on where you are.
Galicia tends to be more expensive.
If you are willing to share a private room,
or to share a bathroom
(which is foreign to Americans but not bad at all)
you may pay as little as 8 euros per person
for a double private in an albergue.
Hotels, of course,
will cost you more.
You can check for current prices in larger cities.
It's just hard to say,
because the prices change from village to village.

Whatever you decide when it comes to lodging,
this is YOUR Camino!
Do it however you prefer.
What's important is that you get a good night's rest.
The "rules" are few and far between,
at least to those of us who are seasoned pilgrims.

Buen Camino!

Singing 70's songs in Rabanal - photo by Patty Moak