Our Camino Family of 2013

Camino | Alan and Tracy and view of a wind farm on the meseta of Spain
Camino | Alan and Tracy and view of a wind farm on the meseta of Spain

During our six weeks in Spain in 2013 we met lots of people who were also walking the Camino. Some walked with us for a day, others we would see off and on for a while and still others who stayed with us for nearly the entire journey. Some became family almost immediately. Many still remain on our minds and in our hearts even two years later.

Among the first people we met were Jennifer from North Carolina and Doug & Stephanie from Ontario, Canada. We met Jennifer on the train from Bayonne to St. Jean Pied-du-Port when she took a seat next to us on the train. Jennifer had been traveling through Ireland prior to beginning her Camino and had plans to continue her travels through Spain and Portugal after she was finished. Jennifer is an outgoing, spiritual, lovely individual who became a friend on our two-hour trip. She didn’t start the Camino the same day we did, but we ran back into her a couple of times and stayed at the same albergue in Estrella. We introduced her to other friends we had made and through them, she found us on Facebook after she completed her Camino and we have been able to stay in contact and follow her travels to Muxia, Spain and throughout Portugal. We remain friends through Facebook and enjoy watching her adventures back home.

We met Doug and Stephanie Horst while walking from the train station in St. Jean Pied-du-Port to the Pilgrim’s Office in the historic district. They reminded us of our daughter, Danielle’s, in-laws and we referred to them as Steve and Marilyn for the first week until we met up with them again and re-introduced ourselves! Doug and Stephanie are friendly and warm in that way that some people are who make you feel as if you’ve known them forever. We continued to run into them for our entire six week journey, mostly at cafe stops and occasionally albergues where we were staying for the night. After the first couple of weeks if we didn’t see them for a couple of days we would begin to worry if everything was alright. Doug had a running joke with Alan about how all he had to do was look for Alan and knew that there would be coffee and beer on the menu! Doug believed that there was a reason we spent so much time together on the Camino and is hopeful that the reason will be revealed to him someday. Whatever reason or purpose we really enjoyed this lovely couple and looked forward to running into them during our hike each day. We remain pen-pals with Doug and Stephanie corresponding via email and reading their annual newsletter.

In Roncesvalles on Day 2 we met Mary Jean from Canada and Antoinette from Ireland. Both ladies were walking the Camino on their own and both were our bunkmates for the night. Mary Jean is an accomplished hiker with an extremely large pack that impressed both of us as we went for minimalism when packing. The fact that she could carry her pack was impressive! Antoinette belongs to a hiking group in Ireland and was witty and funny. She joined us at the La Posada bar for a couple of drinks before dinner and regaled us with funny tales of her husband who didn’t realize that when she said she was going to hike the Camino that it meant he would have to cook for himself for five weeks! Both of these ladies out-distanced us the following day and we never ran into either of them the rest of our trip. But they had helped set the stage for the rest of the people we would meet along the way and helped us to realize that our moving community would grow and shrink from day to day and that we needed to relax and enjoy the people we met each day as it may be the only time we would spend with them.

On Day 3, we met one of the nicest couples we encountered were not even walking the Camino, Barbara and István owned the “Corazon Puro” in Bizkarreta. They are a Hungarian couple who just recently opened a pension in Spain for those walking the Camino. Each of them has completed the Camino twice and Barbara had some wonderful insights on places that she had stayed and really enjoyed and a few places to avoid as they were rather generic and other options in the same town had more amenities. We stayed with them for 18 Euro each but it included a private room, shared bath, dinner and breakfast. They had owned a restaurant in South Africa before relocating to Spain and we had really looked forward to our dinner — we were not disappointed! The meal was delicious, but beyond that it was thoughtfully prepared as István had taken the time to look up foods that were good for aching joints and muscles, then prepared a meal that would not only be filling, but also restore our aching bodies. After dinner we sat on the patio outdoors and enjoyed a nice long chat with this amazing couple who shared funny stories about their own Camino’s as well as past guests who were particularly interesting individuals. Before we left the next morning, Barbara gave Alan her contact information and asked that we get in touch with her when we completed our Camino so that she knew we had arrived in Santiago de Compostela safely. It warmed our hearts that they had obviously enjoyed our company as much as we had enjoyed theirs. They remain our favorite hospitaliero’s of the Camino. Though we would love to stay with them again in 2015, we are a lot stronger now and will probably not need an albergue so close to Roncesvalles this year.

The following day (Day 5) we had set out for a monastery in Zabaldika that Barbara had suggested the night before. We hiked 22 kilometers to get there (our longest hiking day at that point). The monastery had 12 beds with one bath and provided a shared meal that everyone helped to prepare. The adjacent church had service at 6:30 which we happily attended in the tiny but lovely church dedicated to St. James. The monastery was run by a religious order of nuns and they had a special ceremony in the choir loft for those who wished to attend. Barbara had suggested that we go and share our stories like she had done and we went to experience something new for each of us. During the ceremony Sister Marasol translated for the attendees, English for us, Italian for Enzo and Elena, French for a visiting nun and Spanish for the other nuns of the order. Sister Marasol was impressive in her ability to translate and we sat in awe of her abilities for over an hour! But as Barbara had said, we met a very nice couple, Enzo and Elena from Italy. They spoke no English and we speak very little Italian, but our bonding at the ceremony opened up the doorway to a friendship that lasted for all six weeks of the Camino. Enzo was using a video camera and recording the following morning, he introduced me on video as the “bella signora Americani” — that I understood just fine — very nice! We would continue to see this lovely couple who started their Camino in Lourdes, France every few days for our entire trip. Enzo and Alan would often get out their guide books and compare the next days hiking strategy even though neither spoke the other’s language. Elena would often greet us with the “faire la bise” (double cheek kiss) which is often reserved for family and close friends — we were honored by her choice of greeting. We were even there to witness their arrival at the cathedral in Santiago two days after our own arrival. We just happened to be sitting outside admiring the architecture when I spotted them walking around the corner. Elena was over-joyed to see us there and Enzo greeted us both with enthusiasm. Though we are no longer in touch with them, they are often in our thoughts and we hope that they are enjoying good fortune and good health.

Also while at the monastery we bunked with a gentleman named Klaus from Germany and his two friends. Klaus had started his Camino several years earlier from his own front door and was doing it in stages each year on his holiday time. By the time we met him he had already travel through Germany, the Swiss Alps, France and the first 100 kilometers of route through Spain. He explained that it would take at least two more years for him to reach Santiago. We were very impressed with both the progress and determination to continue to hike a couple of weeks every year for what will be nearly 10 years by the time he is finished. While we never met up with Klaus again, we do hope that he reaches his goal in 2015. Perhaps we will be lucky and run into him again this year!

In Cizur Menor, just outside of Pamplona, at a small albergue we met Kirsten from a small town in Northern Germany. She is a medical student who was spending her holiday walking the Camino to clear her head before her final exams. Kirsten spoke beautiful English and had studied in the U.S. while in high school. We had a lovely evening discussing the K-12 education systems in both the U.S. and Germany once she learned that we had worked in education. An absolutely charming young lady who also gave us some valuable advice about blister care — an odd but recurring topic for those walking the Camino.

While walking from Cizur Menor to Puenta la Reina we met Steve from Liverpool who teaches English in Pamplona. He has lived in Spain for 10 years and has walked different parts of the Camino over the years. He was a funny guy who entertained us for about an hour before he when went back to his normal pace and outdistanced us! Steve had such lovely things to say about living in Spain that we discussed spending a year or two there in the future — retirement opens up so many choices that it is hard to pick and choose sometimes!

In Puenta la Reina we stayed at a lovely hotel with an attached albergue for pilgrims. It also had a restaurant inside and a mini outdoor bar that served beer in the garden. After a long, hot day we learned that the best plan for the afternoon was to check into an albergue, take a shower, do some laundry, then find a place to have a nice, cold beer. Our favorite places on our trip remain those which combined sleeping, showers, laundry services and a bar. This place was like heaven! It was also where we met Sheila & Jim from Seattle, WA and Jeffrey & Michelle Everets from Hamilton, Canada.

Sheila and Jim are easy-going and a fun couple. They, like us, were enjoying their afternoon beer when we all realized that there were other English-speaking people also enjoying a cold drink and all three couples started commenting on each other’s conversations until we ended up at one table drinking together. We ran into them for about week until they outdistanced our daily progress and we lost track of them. But as with many of the folks we met along our journey, they had a plane ticket waiting for them and needed to make it to Santiago before their return flight.

Jeffrey and Michelle are the one couple we really connected with on our journey. We so enjoyed their company that evening in Puenta la Reina that we all ended up going to dinner a little later than we had originally anticipated, but began a friendship in that little beer garden that continues to this day. They are just a young, dynamic couple that are a lot of fun to spend time with and are that type of people who make friends everywhere they go. We felt pretty blessed to have met them and to have had the opportunity to begin a great friendship. They eventually outdistanced us as Michelle injured her foot and  they decided to skip part of the Meseta and take a train to Leon to allow Michelle to heal. But thankfully for us Jeffrey had already friended us on Facebook and we were able to share the remainder of their journey with them online. These two characters are still friends via Facebook. Michelle still has the coolest job, I would even come out of retirement to work with her! Their 2015 adventure is Machu Picchu and we wish them a Buen Camino for their exciting adventure!

The evening in Torres del Rio was another great evening where we met many new people and enjoyed some great conversations. Most of the people we met in Torres del Rio we didn’t run into again and most were experienced hikers who were putting in many more kilometers than we were each day. A couple we saw once or twice more along the way.

Brook, Canada, an airline pilot who is currently living in Hong Kong and walking the Camino as a challenge while trying to find the perfect way to propose to his girlfriend.

James, Boulder, CO, hiking for spiritual reasons and trying to make Burgos by his birthday as he had friends meeting him there. James had a groin pull injury and a pack that was very heavy making it difficult for him to hike.

Verna & Ed and Dick & Joanna, Hawaii, these two couples we dubbed the “Aloha Group” made hiking through some tree-less landscape an adventure with mini picnics and cold beers several times a day. We would see them sitting and laughing and wave hello, then later they would pass us on the trail and later still we would run into them again sitting and laughing.

Helen, New Zealand, our bunkmate and well traveled pilgrim. She had been to Bali, India, and many places in the States to hike or vacation.

Helen, United Kingdom, a solicitor in London and a very nice young lady. Helen had recently done a two-day, 100 km event in a town outside of London just weeks before she began her Camino. She was outrageously funny and had a long list of crazy adventures she had attempted, including fire walking. Her only regret on the Camino is that she had not previously known to bring a stone from your home country to place at the monument at Cruz de Ferro otherwise she would have brought a stone from her father’s grave as she had recently lost him.

Lee and Robin, New Zealand, Lee was a very fit hiker who could easily out hike many of the pilgrims we had already met and probably would have made Santiago in 30 days or less if Robin, her mother, at 84 years of age hadn’t been holding her up. Robin, who made us laugh out loud with her comments about her daughter “leaving me alone to fend for myself on such a dusty, hot day” when she couldn’t keep up the same pace as her mid-40’s, youngest daughter.

Mike, Ireland, a former pilgrim who had returned with his father to walk the Camino a second time as father and son. We never did meet Dad as he had retired early to make sure he was well rested for the following day. A necessity many of us needed, especially during the first couple of weeks.

Steven, New York, and his Mom and Dad (never did get their names), Connecticut. Steven, a pre-med student, had done the Camino in 2003 and returned in 2013 with his parents. Dad was suffering from severe blisters and they were busing him ahead each day to allow him to heal while Mom and Steven hiked to wherever they had bused Dad. A funny guy who was having a great time sharing the Camino with his parents.

Osa, Norway, a quiet and rather shy lady who spoke some English and was really enjoying sitting with our large, loud, and boisterous group for drinks and eventually dinner as well.

Fernando, our hospitaliero in Torres del Rio — Fernando took a liking to my name and kept calling “Trac-eeeee” every time he saw me! He was a funny guy who was running the front desk, pouring the beer, serving food and doing laundry — all at the same time. Since Alan and I were also  trying to do laundry and get a beer we kept having plenty of opportunities to see him and he was enjoying calling my name to let me know that the washer was free or the dryer was ready or that our beers were poured. He kept me laughing all afternoon with his funny antics!

In Logrono, we stayed at the municipal albergue and ran into Jeffrey and Michelle again. They introduced us to Sara and Francesca, a mother-daughter duo from Genoa, Italy, who were walking the Camino together. Sara had been working on the Camino in stages and Logrono was the end of her hike for 2013. She expects to reach Santiago in 2015.

When we finished day 11 in Ventosa we met a French-Canadian named Luke. As we were chatting he asked us where we were from and when we told him Carcassonne. He was surprised and said that Carcassonne was where he had started his Camino. Apparently a friend had told him that he should start there because the cassoulet was not to be missed, we had no choice but to agree, it is divine!

At our albergue in Azofra, we met a retired teacher, Walter, from Cork, Ireland and his sister, Alexis, a retired nurse, and their younger brother, Scott. Walter taught English in a different county in Ireland and had a beautiful accent. He laughed when I told him and said that the accents in Ireland are different depending on the region and that when he started his teaching career outside of Cork, it took him a year to understand anyone! Walter, with Jeffrey, were part of a ragtag team of would be winos one night as the two of them and Alan took turns purchasing bottles of wine at the grocery store from the senora who filled the bottoms from a cask in back of her store. When the bottles were empty the three would take turns returning to see the senora for refills. It was the second time in 13 years I’ve seen Alan drink too much — and what a happy, happy man after 7 or 8 bottles of wine shared with his friends, plus another at dinner!

While we didn’t really enjoy the accommodations in the monastery in Granon, and thankfully found a casa rural with room for us, we did run into Walter, Alexis and Scott who were staying at the weird hippie albergue along with Javier from the U.S., born in the Philippines. He was standing outside the albergue brushing his teach as there was only one bathroom for the entire place!

Later that evening we were having a cold beer at the local cafe and met a couple from Virginia. Bruce and Joy. Bruce is a Civil War re-enactor and had some wonderful stories about the Civil War and great history about Spain as well. We shared a table and ordered another round and chatted with them for quite a while. Bruce was a really interesting guy to chat with, I learned a lot of things I didn’t know about the Civil War, especially Virginia’s involvement.

While day 14 didn’t rack up huge kilometers for us, we ended up staying at a nice albergue, A Santiago. It was the first one we saw as we were approaching town and Tracy really needed to get off her feet. We bunked with Katherine from Australia, an older but warm and friendly lady who we had a nice long chat with while waiting for our laundry to dry. She has traveled all over the world and her stories made us hungry for more travel.

We also met Adrian from Holland. He had had the misfortune to stay at the monastery in Granon. He said the one-inch thick mats and single bathroom weren’t the only challenges at the beautiful monastery, he only got 1 1/2 hours of sleep due to all the partying in the common room. Earlier in the day we had passed him while he slept on top of a hay bale in a field, trying to catch up on some much needed rest.

Don’t get me wrong, the Camino was a wonderful adventure, but it does take a toll on the body carrying 15 to 20 pounds of gear on your back and hiking 20 kilometers (roughly 12 miles) or more a day. But at the end of the day its the other pilgrims (and sometimes a cold beer) that really make the Camino de Santiago a fantastic journey. We met people from around the world and believe that we are richer for having met them all. Buen Camino friends!

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