Here I go...

Finding magic under the stars of the Camino Santiago de Compostela

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Want to SEE every stage of the Camino NOW?

There is a wonderful 6 hour series online that follows a television host as he walks the entire Camino.
The name of it is

Walking the World: Camino de Santiago

It was filed in 2010, and so you get a chance to see the Camino before it got so busy (after The Way and other movies made it so popular).

Each episode covers one week of walking and lasts about an hour.

You can find it on Gaiam TV which is a yoga website that you pay for by the month.

However, at this time, you can sign up for 99 cents for one month.
Watch the video, then if you don't want to do yoga or meditation, just cancel before the next month's bill comes along. It's only $9 per month and I happen to love it. Not only does it have a wide range of Yoga and meditation classes from beginner to expert, it has some wonderful films and movies available and they're constantly renewing.

So.. I'm not sure how long this series will be there, but it's definitely worth watching.
If you are planning your Camino, you will get the opportunity to see exactly what you're in for.
If you have already walked, it's a wonderful look back...


See more at:

How Long Does it Take to Walk the Camino Frances

Many people ask me, "How long does it take to walk the Camino?"

My answer is always,"Well, that depends..."

It depends on many things.  First, I'll give you some information, then some questions to ask yourself.

The Camino de Santiago is approximately 800 kilometers long. 
That's close to 500 miles.  
It has been broken down into walkable stages (called etapas) 
by various guidebook companies.  
The general agreement is there are 31 stages.  
The stages vary between 20 and 31 kilometers (12 and 19 miles).
Some are flat. 
Some are rolling hills. 
A few can be daunting.

So, 31 stages would mean 31 days of walking. 
But that's if you just rush through, walking, walking, 
and not stopping to see the sites!
There are so many things to see, and if you're in Spain, 
why not see them while you're there?

Those 31 stages aren't set in stone! 
Along each stage are many options for stopping and sleeping. 
Personally, I like stopping "between the stages" t
o get out of the big wave of pilgrims who are sticking to the guidebooks!

You can break the Camino up into however many stages you are comfortable walking!

So ask yourself these questions when doing your planning:

How Many Kilometers/Miles Can You Comfortably Walk?
Me, on my first  Camino. Sometimes you just have to stop and rest, no matter where you are!
I say "comfortably" because a lot of people push their bodies WAY beyond what is comfortable and end up with injuries like blisters or shin splints that stop their trek in its tracks. Most people have wonderful intentions about training for the Camino, but life gets in the way, and they find themselves starting out with little, if any, training under their belt. They end up training ON the Camino. And that's ok!  Really!  You can do it this way - you just need to give yourself a few extra days.

Do this: put about 10% of your body weight into a backpack and go take a hike. How far can you walk without being exhausted? This is the mileage I'd stick to for the first few days on the Camino, slowly increasing my distance each day.

If you are beginning in St. Jean Pied de Port  (SJPP) I strongly suggest you take the first etapa from SJPP to Roncesvalles in TWO days. That walk from SJPP to Orisson is only 8 kilometers. But they don't call it "Hell Day" for nothing!  It is extremely steep!  If you are used to hiking and carrying a heavy pack and you're in excellent condition, you'll have no problem making it to Roncesvalles. But if you're in the shape most of us are in, stop at Orisson the first day.  

It's possible to get reservations there for the night, but beds are limited. If you cannot get a bed there, simply walk or taxi back to SJPP for a 2nd night, then taxi back up to Orisson in the morning to continue over the mountain.

The second day into Roncesvalles (13k) is a STEEP downhill walk. If it's been raining or snowing, it can be treacherously slippery. The beech leaves make it like an ice rink!  If you have attempted to walk the entire stage, and are already exhausted, you're in for trouble.

The third day, most people walk all the way to Zubiri (22.2k). Again, the descent into Zubiri is steep and slippery. There are several options along the route for shorter distance. Viskarrett (also called Biskaretta and Gerendiain) is one at about 12k.  

From there, the 4th day, you could continue on to Zubiri.

The next day, head to Trinidad de Arre or Pamplona.

If you are beginning in another city,
do the same thing.
Plan to walk half-stages for the first few days,
slowly increasing your distance,
until you are walking as far as you'd like each day.

This is a good way to work up to walking full stages.
You have not injured yourself.
You've figured out how much of your heavy pack you can discard.
And you know the ropes.

From this point, if you are booking lodging, you can plan your trip based on 20-30k days.
If you are staying in albergues, you can just walk until you're tired, and stop.

* * *

I once passed a woman on the Camino, 
who was morbidly obese.
I asked her, "How you doing?"
She replied, "I'm ok.
I asked, "How far you going?"
She told me she would walk as far as she could,
then stop. That she realized she was handicapped by her weight
and didn't want to have a heart attack,
but she WAS going to walk the Camino!
She began just walking 5-7 kilometers per day,
and slowly increased her distance.
I ran into her in Santiago a couple of months later.
She had made it all the way,
walking full stages after a few weeks.
And she had lost an incredible amount of weight.
She looked and felt great!
* * *

There is no rule about where you should begin your Camino. The only rule on the Camino Frances is if you want to collect the Compostela, you must walk from Sarria to Santiago. So you have a lot of great choices. Here are some of my favorites:

St. Jean Pied de Port - A lot of people like to begin here. Many people believe this is the 'traditional' starting place, but it is not. The traditional starting place is your front door!  However, that said, SJPP is a lovely village and a fun place to start. What it means, though, is you will have to walk over a big steep hill in the Pyrenees and take a chance of being injured. If the weather is clear, it will be one of the most spectacular days of your life. If it's foggy, it can be one of the worst. Getting there is easy during the season from May to end of September. You can catch a bus directly from the Madrid airport to SJPP. Or you can catch a bus directly from Madrid airport to Pamplona, rest a day or two, then bus or taxi to SJPP. Or you can fly into Paris and take a train. I've done all three and I prefer going from Madrid to Pamplona to SJPP.

Roncesvalles - This is a more traditional starting place and you avoid the big mountain crossing. It's a wonderful place to begin your Camino. You can take a bus from the Madrid airport to Pamplona, then a bus from Pamplona to Roncesvalles.

Sarria - If you only have a couple of weeks, you can walk from Sarria and get the Compostela. Only 5 stages, give yourself a day or two at each end for a more relaxed Camino. To do this, I would fly into Santiago, then take a bus (or taxi) to Sarria to begin. It's only 70 miles and a 1.5 hour bus ride.

Madrid - Fly into Madrid and just start walking!  The Madrid route is easy to follow, and is more like what the Camino was 10 years ago before it got so busy. Be prepared for culture shock, however, once you reach Sahagun, where the Madrid route joins up to the Camino Frances and you are suddenly in a herd of pilgrims!

Other places to begin include any of the larger cities where you can fly or bus in; Burgos, Logrono, Leon.

What Would You Like to See?

There are so many wonderful sites to see along the Camino!  

Every day you will pass villages and churches, including some very tiny ones. Stop and peek in. I have seen art in some of those tiny churches that is just as spectacular as anything I've seen in the Louvre or British Museum.  Places I would suggest stopping for an extra day are:

I like to fly into Madrid, then take a bus directly from the airport to Pamplona. I am flying from the west coast of the USA, so the time change is hard on me. I give myself two full days in Pamplona to adjust to the time change and to see the Old Town. Then, when I'm walking the Camino and the herd is stopping in Pamplona, I can just walk on through.

There is a LOT to see in Pamplona; the cool drawbridge you walk into the city on, the city walls, the parks, the Cathedrals and many other beautiful churches, and the Museu Navarra. I would say if you only have time for one, to be sure to visit the Museu Navarra. It is a small museum, but a lovely one, and if you show your Credential, you'll get a nice discount. I believe the museum is free on Sundays. You can check their website to be sure.

If you are lucky, you may pass a festival and see the fantastic GIGANTES!

Also, there are many wonderful places for tapas in Pamplona. 
You can pick up last minute items you need at the China shop (like a dollar store) 
or at the pilgrim shop Caminoteca.

And remember, all tourist attractions are CLOSED on Mondays in Spain. 
That will be the rule all along the Camino, so plan accordingly.
* * *


In Burgos there are two main attractions. First is the Burgos Cathedral. It is magnificent! And even if you aren't Catholic, you should take time to see it. The art is unbelievable! I once spent 8 hours inside. Tip: there are no toilets inside, but if you really have to go, ask the people at reception. They will usually let you out to find a bar, then let you back in.

The second attraction in Burgos is the Museum of Human Evolution. This is a world class museum. And if you arrive early enough in the morning you can catch a ride out to the dig site at Atapuerca for a small fee. 
* * *


I love spending a day in Leon. The Cathedral and Cathedral Museum there are worth visiting. The architecture, the stained glass, the treaures, all are really something to see! And if you enjoy churches, the Basilica of San Isidoro is another favorite. There, you can usually attend a 7:00 pm Pilgrim Mass on most nights. Check the door for current times.  Leon is a hub of activity. Find a seat outside, have a drink, and watch the pilgrims go by. Order some churros and chocolate. Explore the back streets of the old part of the city - find a local restaurant (not a tourist one) and have a wonderful meal!  You can find an inexpensive private room in Leon on
* * *


I always stop in Astorga on our group trips so people have the opportunity to see the Episcopal Palace designed by Gaudi. I can't begin to tell you how beautiful it is inside. It remind me of a castle in a fairy tale. Definitely worth a visit. Also in Astorga is the funny little Museum of Chocolate. Tiny, and almost silly, but with a very cool vintage film that shows how chocolate is made. For the 2 euro entrance fee, you can't go wrong. For lodging in Astorga, if I'm walking without a group, I stay at the municipal albergue, which I've always found to be clean and affordable. 

DO NOT stay at San Javier!!!  It has been a haven for bedbugs for many years and the management apparently does not care. Until they get new owners, I would avoid it at all cost.
 * * *


Santiago deserves a 2 or 3 day stay, in my opinion.  There is a lot to see and do there. The Cathedral, of course, is important. And if you're lucky, you will see the Botafumiero swing! There is a fantastic cultural (folklorico) museum there, open market, great food and shopping, and many other things to see. Wander out of old town into the newer city if you're looking for good deals on clothing and shoes - get away from the tourist trap. 
* * *

Finisterra and Muxia

By now you will have made many friends on the Camino, and my best advice for seeing Finisterra and Muxia if you are not walking there is to share a taxi. The taxi stand is right next to the San Martin Pinario building (across from the Cathedral). There, you can negotiate a taxi to pick you up early in the morning, drive you to Finisterra and wait while you poke around, drive you to Muxia and wait while you have lunch, then drive you back to Santiago. If 4 people go, it's often less than you will pay for a bus ticket to/from Finisterra alone, and you'll be going on your own schedule.

Ok... so those are the sites you might enjoy seeing, and places you might take rest days.
So, add those days into your walking schedule.

Must You Walk Every Step?

Some people believe you must walk every step of the way from SJPP to Santiago. 
This is not true. 
There are no rules like that.
 The only "rule" is if you want to collect the Catholic Compostela, you must walk every step for the last 100 kilometers, which is from Sarria to Santiago on the Camino Frances.

There are many opportunities to bus or taxi between villages, and it's fine to do so if that's what fits your schedule. Of course, it's easier to catch a bus in a larger city. But many of the smaller villages have bus service as well. Almost always, the people at the albergue will know the bus schedule if there is one.  In my experience, bus is simpler and more available than train along the Camino. And you can buy your ticket directly from the bus driver in the smaller villages. Don't bother buying tickets before you leave home - just get them in Spain. 

If you DO plan any train travel, and you are over 60, you can get a Tarjeta Dorada (Gold Card) which will give you some fantastic discounts up to 50% off. I use this when I travel BACK to Madrid from Santiago. That trip is important to book ahead - I would book it the first chance I got when I arrived in Spain, either in Madrid or Pamplona or somewhere at the beginning of the trip. If you wait until you arrive in Santiago, you may find the train full. Cost in the past has been around 50-60 euros.

Anyway, if you only have 3 or 4 weeks, skip some sections!  Skip the Meseta. I have a love/hate relationship with that section of the Camino. It is long, flat, and boring. There is (literally) nothing to see. Not a tree. Not a building between villages. On the other had, it's a great place for reflection and prayer. But if you must skip something, skip the Meseta is my advice.

How Much Do You Have to Spend?
What is your budget?

How long you walk will depend on how much money you have to spend. 

The Camino is not expensive at all, in my opinion.  Once I am there, I get by very comfortably on 20 euros per day if I am staying in albergues. That includes my one nice meal a day plus coffee and drinks along the route.

If I am booking private lodging of course, it is more.  Private lodging can run anywhere from 20 to 60 euros per night for two people. It just depends on where you are along the route. If you do plan on booking private lodging, I'd budget an extra 40 euros per night to be safe. 

It is possible, if you know your walking schedule, to book your lodging ahead of time and know your budget. That takes some research and time, however, and most people don't bother.

* * *

So there you have it
These are the first questions you should ask yourself when you're planning your trip.
Once you've answered, you should have a better idea of how long you can afford to walk.

There are many good websites that will help you plan.
Here are a couple of my favorites:

And remember, if you don't want to mess with all this, you can let ME do the planning!
Consider walking with one of our small groups of 6-8 pilgrims and having your double private lodging booked for you each night.  This year we have a 21 day trek from SJPP to Santiago planned and we still have some spots open.  Prices have never been lower at $1495!

We operate out of Portland, Oregon, in the United States, and we have lots of experience on the Camino.

Come walk with us!
And have a Buen Camino!

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Camino 2016 - We've Lowered Our Group Trip Prices!

Due to the drop in the Euro/Dollar exchange rate, 
we're pleased to announce we have lowered our prices dramatically for the 2015 May and September Camino treks.
* * * * *


May 9 - 30, 2016
with Annie Carvalho 

September 17 - October 8
with Joe Walsh 

21 days ; 20 nights



-20 Nights Lodging
- Experienced Group Leader 
-Bound Walking Booklet with Maps
-Bus Fares (LogroƱo-Burgos-Leon-Astorga)
-Transport from Orisson - SJPP - Orisson
-Taxi from Villafranca to O Cebreiro to Samos
- Buffet Breakfast in Santiago
(several other breakfasts are included)
 -50+ Pages of Preparatory Newsletters
-Detailed Packing List
-List of Hotels with Contact Info for Family/Friends
- Escort to Pilgrim Office in SJPP
- Pilgrim Mass at Roncesvalles
-Personal Help with Planning
-Pilgrim Shell
- Pilgrim Credential
- Gift

Our Sarria to Santiago trip price has also been lowered.

To see more click here:

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Which Shoes Annie is Wearing This Year

My advice about shoe hasn't changed a lot over the years, but it has changed a little.

I'm still wearing New Balance Trail Runners.

I have wide feet and so I look for those shoes built on a shoe-last with a deep, wide toe and a narrow heel.  When you try on your shoes, be sure your toes have a LOT of wiggle room. Otherwise, when they swell and sweat, they'll rub together with each step and you'll have horrible, painful blisters. Those tosies need space to breathe!

I look for a rugged but flexible sole. One that will protect my feet from rocks but will get good traction on slippery rain-soaked trail. As far as I'm concerned, there aren't a lot of places on the Camino that are so rocky it's an issue, but there are a few. Coming down the hill from Alta Perdon is one place you need to not be gawking scenery, but watching your step! Most of the trail is easy on the feet, in my opinion.

I look for a shoe that can BREATHE (no gore-tex for me!) and that will dry overnight if my feet get wet.  I usually walk the Camino in mid-April, early May and though I see quite a few rainy days, I've never had my feet so soaked it was uncomfortable. This could be because when it is raining, I wear an ALTUS poncho, which goes down between my knees and ankles and does a good job of keeping my feet dry.

I buy my shoes 1 to 1.5 sizes larger than I normally wear because my feet do swell after walking 6 to 8 hours each day. My feet aren't used to that kind of pounding.

Most trail runners have an extra "eye" up around the ankles that you can lace snugly to keep the shoes from moving forward and backward. Adjust this so as to create a "heel lock" and you're in great shape!  Here is a link to an article with video:

Learn to use this to your advantage.

I still take out the inner sole and put in a pair of New Balance Motion Control Inserts. These are very cushy with great support in the instep.  They keep my feet cooler, and make it so I never even feel those small rocks under my feet and also helps keep my ankle from rolling.

These run around $39.

Pay attention here!!!  If you have to cut these to size, DO IT VERY CAREFULLY. Any tiny space between the insert and the shoe is a potential blister-making pinch spot. So don't be sloppy. Take extra care. You SHOULD be able to find inserts that will exactly fit the size shoe you purchase.

I no longer wear two pair of socks unless my shoes are absolutely feeling too large. I always buy SMARTWOOL socks, and if the weather gets hot while on the trail, I stop into one of the China Stores (like a Dollar Store) and I buy thinner, cooler cotton socks and wear those.

This year I bought New Balance 1340v2. (I'm assuming this means "version 2")  I wore this shoe last time on the Camino and it's still holding up well. I use it for training walks still.  This purple pair was all that was in stock in my size so I bought it, but it also comes in grey and blue, I believe.  One nice thing about the purple is they're less likely to get nabbed as they're pretty easy to identify. But I do suggest you write your name in fingernail polish or put some type of identifying mark on them. I'll probably put fabric paint dots on mine like I did my pack!

Here is a 710 version for men that looks good! See the good tread?

New Balance used to make all of their shoes in the USA, and one issue I've had the last two years with their shoes is the lining wearing out around the ankle. Though the advertising says the shoe is made in the USA, what they don't tell you is that some of the materials are imported from Vietnam. And this particular lining material is CRAP!  One trip I ended up putting duct tape around the ankle, which worked fine.

That said, the shoe is still the most comfortable and sturdy I've found, so I will continue to buy it until they come up with something better.

This year, I paid around $139 for my shoes. They're always about that much. Shoes and your pack are your two most expensive pieces of equipment and I suggest you get what you pay for. Don't skimp when it comes to your shoes!

Boots?  I still say unless you have very weak ankles or are very used to wearing boots, boots are overkill. The Camino is not a mountain hike, it is an overland trek. There are maybe two short stages on the entire trek that MIGHT warrant boots.  A good walking stick and paying attention will get you safely through those areas, and your feet will thank me the rest of the 6 weeks of walking!

If you have a New Balance store in your area, ask them for a trail running shoe. Sometimes REI carries New Balance also.

If you have narrower feet, you might like looking at other brands of shoes, such as Solomon or Merrill. But I've never found a pair that fits my hobbit feet!

I hope this information will help.
Please let me know if you have questions.

Buen Camino!

Saturday, October 03, 2015

Morning Walk in the Desert

The weather has cooled by about 10 degrees today.
It's finally beginning to feel like Autumn here in the desert.

My morning walk began just as the light peeked over the nearby hills.  

I can never seem to get enough of this time of morning. It's so quiet and still. The owl is getting ready for bed, and the only sound is the beating of my heart and my breath.  The rest of the world is still sleeping, and it's the perfect time to sort my thoughts and plan my day.

My shins are a bit sore today - so I cut my walk short.
I'll pick up yoga and do some swimming later today to make up for the lost time.

I'm staying in Desert Hot Springs for the next few months.
It's a bit of a silent retreat for me and I'm finding it very healing.
I sit on my front porch each morning and watch the sun come up over the nearby hills.

On the other side of those hills, by the way, is Joshua Tree National Forest.

According to their website:

Two distinct desert ecosystems, the Mojave and the Colorado, come together in Joshua Tree National Park. A fascinating variety of plants and animals make their homes in a land sculpted by strong winds and occasional torrents of rain. Dark night skies, a rich cultural history, and surreal geologic features add to the wonder of this vast wilderness in southern California

It is a beautiful place to visit and to walk.  The rock formations in the park make it a popular destination for rock climbers.

The Latin name for the Joshua Tree is Yucca brevifolia, and it is a member of the Agave family.   Native Americans used this plant for weaving baskets and sandals, as well as for food. Many birds, mammals, reptiles, and insects also depend upon this interesting plant for food.  Here are some of the animals you might see at Joshua Tree:

Black Tailed Hare (Jackrabbit)

Ring-tailed Cat

Desert Tortoise


Big-horned Sheep


Western Tent Caterpillars



Banded Gecko


Horned Toad

There are also many birds, but that is another post

The desert is alive and I love being here!
It's the perfect place to get into shape for my next trek!

Is anyone else out there in training?
Where are you and what are you doing?

Buen Camino!