Day 21: Tricastela to Barbadelo

Mileage: 13.9

Highlights

GOPR4796.JPG
We love a good break at a cute cafe with some freshly baked goods!

We love a good break at a cute cafe with some freshly baked goods!

Bummers

Today we walked through Sarria, the most popular starting point on El Camino. In order to be considered a true "pilgrim", one must prove that he or she walked the last 100km of the pilgrimage by getting his or her "pilgrim passport" stamped at least twice a day. We always get a stamp where we sleep, so we just needed to remember to get a stamp or two during our walk. You can get stamps anywhere- churches, restaurants, tourist information centers, etc. Honestly, I wasn't very motivated to get my pilgrim passport stamped. My mom, however, started to get a little competitive collecting stamps. She was devastated when literally all the churches in Sarria were closed when we were walking through. Thankfully the restaurant we ate lunch at had a stamp.

Sarria is at the top of a hill. Turns out, the ATM was at the bottom of the hill. Too tired and lazy to walk down the hill to get cash, Mom and I decided to keep walking and figure it out later. I'm not sure why we thought everything would be fine with 20 euros to hold us both over for the next few days. 

Starting today, we decided to push a bit further each day so that we could reach Santiago a day early. The bad news was that this meant we would not be staying in the larger towns or cities. We didn't realize how rural the towns could be until we got to Barbadelo. 

When we arrived to Barbadelo, we accidentally checked into the municipal hostel, but we had already paid when we realized the nicer hostel was up the road. This mistake ended up being a gift because the money we saved by staying at the cheaper hostel spared us a few Euros so we could afford dinner. We ate a pilgrim dinner with kids from Canada, Lithuania and Germany. They started the trek on July 1st and were stuck in an insane storm. That same day, several people were air lifted out of the Pyrenees Mountains and they even had to start a fire and it was insanity. My mom and I have been insanely blessed with weather and basically everything in between.

A Trace of Grace

Notes from a trekking Mama

Rolling hills and woodland paths, a perfect trail day. Plus cows, horses, and sheep, oh my! Even the salad and perfectly made sangria for lunch had us feeling full and happy. Then there was the five hours until dinner in a town with nothing to do. Bored, we went up the hill to a pasture to sit in the sun, and much to my surprise, a mom and her pup were wrestling right there, providing excellent entertainment.

Hands-down the best sangria I've ever had

Hands-down the best sangria I've ever had

Day 20: O'Cebreiro to Tricastela

Mileage: 13.4

Highlights

An early morning start has its perks!

An early morning start has its perks!

Today was fabulous. We started our morning with coffee at the hotel down the street and ate hard boiled eggs that we purchased the night before. Energized, we started our mostly-downhill-with-a-few-surprising-uphill-sections day through farmlands. We didn't just walk by or near farms, we walked directly through them, which was a treat for my farm-loving mother. 

I took a video of the cows walking by and my mom said "Wow! Thank you so much for capturing that moment!" It truly made her day to be up close and personal to her favorite animal. 

I took a video of the cows walking by and my mom said "Wow! Thank you so much for capturing that moment!" It truly made her day to be up close and personal to her favorite animal. 

Our first stop was at the top of a mountain. Yes, I thought we stayed at the top of the mountain last night, too. But, no, there was still more to go. My mom and I ordered a tuna empanada, which is basically a tuna calzone. We paid three euros and were shocked when the baker delivered us a slice that was approximately one square foot. Confused, I said I only ordered one slice of empanada to share with my mom, not the whole dang thing. He understood and said he gave me one slice. Awestruck, we split it up and saved half to snack on later. We were even more surprised when the next few customers came out with empanada slices 1/4 the size of ours. The baker winked. What could be better than a free enormous empanada?! Not much!

FullSizeRender.jpg

We arrived to Tricastela and checked into Lemos Hostel. We splurged on double room and felt like queens. The hostel had a lovely patio with comfortable lounge furniture, which was exactly what we had been needing. 

Rather than eating dinner out, Mom and I went to the grocery store and bought Spain's version of cup-o-noodles and beers. We enjoyed our dinners in bed while watching "Alvin and the Chipmunks" in Spanish. You might think that we've reached a new low, and in retrospect, it appears that way, but in the moment it felt like nothing could be better. 

A Trace of Grace

Notes from a trekking Mama

It's the little things that make me happy; cows beings herded past us on a narrow trail, a very generous serving of tuna empanada, a double room with soap in the shower, and a sunny area to dry clothes. A bag of chips and a beer added to the simple pleasures. Life is good and I am feeling super blessed.

I think she's hooked on this backpacking thing...

I think she's hooked on this backpacking thing...

Day 19: Villafranca del Bierzo to O'Cebreiro

Mileage: 18

Highlights

Everyone knows that the first day on el Camino (climbing over the Pyreneese Mountains) is the hardest day. Not many people know that the second hardest day is climbing to O'Cebreiro. Well, at least we didn't know this. It was a beautiful day to be in the mountains. We stopped at every bakery we came across and smelled all the flowers we passed. We are truly living the dream.

My mom loves when people ask if we are sisters

My mom loves when people ask if we are sisters

DSCF9909.JPG
DSCF9914.JPG

Today we met Eve, a witty, sarcastic British woman that we immediately connected with. Eve is a teacher on holiday who decided to hike the last ~100 miles of el Camino in hopes of getting herself beach-bod-ready to meet friends in Portugal the following week. Her boyfriend walked el Camino last year, so she felt mostly prepared for her first big walk (although she was slightly peeved he didn't spontaneously/romantically join her last-minute). Eighteen miles is a long walk- especially on her first day, so Mom and I were very impressed with Eve for being so positive all day.

DSCF9915.JPG
My mom and Eve, the latest solo hiker she adopted.

My mom and Eve, the latest solo hiker she adopted.

Bummers

While discussing places to stay, a pilgrim overheard us and recommended we stay in a new hostel across the street. It turned out to be opening day, which was exciting to know we would be the first pilgrims to sleep in the bedbug-free bed. We paid for our beds in the bunk room and it didn't take us long to realize that the place was far from ready for guests. We weren't even allowed on our beds until after 7pm because it was being used as storage area for mirrors that would later be taped to the wall (and glued at a later date lol). Only one shower was usable and there was a worker drilling away until 8:30pm. It was the first time on the entire trip that I could tell my mom was frustrated. It was unacceptable that we paid to stay in a "nicer" hostel that was not ready to be stayed in. To make matters worse, when my Mom mentioned turning off the lights (9pm is normal for pilgrims) a German girl snarled that it was "sooo early" and rolled her eyes to her friend when my mom turned away. I wanted to punch her in the face. NO ONE GIVES MY MOM ATTITUDE EXCEPT FOR ME! Jerk. 

A Trace of Grace

Notes from a trekking Mama

Make new friends! We have met a lot of fun people along the way, but today we connected with a British woman who was especially great. There were so many similarities in our lives and we spent a lot of our hike laughing over America and British stereotypes. It is good to be able to laugh at yourself sometimes.

My beautiful mother!

My beautiful mother!

Day 18: Ponferrada to Villafranca del Bierzo

Mileage: 15.3

Highlights

Passing the Castle of the Knights Templar on our way out of Ponferrada

Passing the Castle of the Knights Templar on our way out of Ponferrada

We got a late start on our day because I wanted to finish uploading a video to YouTube. It takes longer to upload the video than it does to actually make the video! Our day was further delayed when we reached a winery at 10:30am. For only 1 or 2 euros, we sampled local wines and were treated to a small snack. It was a deal we couldn't resist- and I'm glad we didn't! It was a lovely break. Obviously "delay" and "late" is relative, since we have absolutely nowhere to be at any particular time; however, we have learned from experience that hiking gets increasingly uncomfortable after 1pm. 

Our hike was on and off the main road. Towards the end of the day, we opted not to take the road, but rather the slightly longer, more scenic route. The "green" route took us through vineyards and was completely worth the extra steps. We were pleasantly surprised to find the adorable village of Villafranca del Bierzo nuzzled between mountains.

DSCF9907.JPG
IMG_1003.JPG

A great day was made to be one of the best when we arrived at Leo hostel. The hostel is family-owned and as charming as it gets. The house was the owner's grandmother's childhood home that has recently been renovated while maintaining its character. The hospitality was top-notch and I can't say enough positive things about this place. 

IMG_1002.JPG

A Trace of Grace

Notes from a trekking Mama

It's the little things I miss, like having a bottle of skin moisturizer on the trail for my very dry skin. A couple Werther's candies would be nice too, but if those are the only things I need, I think I'm doing well.  Appreciating every step we take, every piece of food (except the mystery meat hamburger we had) and every moment I have spending with Hannah.

FullSizeRender.jpg

Day 17: Foncebadón to Ponferrada

Mileage: 16.7

Highlights

Today was one of my favorite hikes to date. We were up in the mountains almost all day. The mountain breeze was refreshing and the views were stunning. For those of you who aren't familiar with el Camino, it's extremely flat. These last few days have been a gift for us mountain-lovers!

FullSizeRender.jpg
FullSizeRender.jpg
DSCF9896.JPG
GOPR4742.JPG

When we arrived to Ponferrada, we checked into Albergue Guiana. Maybe our standards have lowered, but the place felt like the Ritz! The building was new, the rooms were clean, the wifi was good- what's not to love? We shared a bunk room with five other pilgrims, one of whom refused to shower until the next morning (my mom was not happy about that). Mom and I did laundry (yay!) and even bought a new guide book to replace the one we left in Logroño. 

We asked our hostel to recommend places to eat and they did not disappoint. For lunch, they sent us to this incredible hole-in-the-wall and enjoyed fantastic tapas. We shared a meat and cheese plate and the most delicious spread of grilled vegetables. 

We toured the Castle of the Knights Templar. I felt like I was in a fairy tale castle that little kids build Playmobil replicas of. 

Dinner was a game-changer. I was in a horrible mood after stubbing my toe (I stubbed it really hard, okay?!) but it was nothing a glass of red wine couldn't fix. Mom and I shared a fresh caprese salad and a vegetable risotto. We couldn't resist yet another fresh loaf of bread so, yes, we ate three loaves of bread each today. Totally worth it. 

Nothing beats a locally sourced meat and cheese plate to compliment freshly baked bread and well-deserved beers!

Nothing beats a locally sourced meat and cheese plate to compliment freshly baked bread and well-deserved beers!

We felt spoiled eating at a fancy restaurant. Even still, the red wine was cheaper than the bottled water. 

We felt spoiled eating at a fancy restaurant. Even still, the red wine was cheaper than the bottled water. 

IMG_0977.JPG
IMG_0980.JPG
IMG_0992.JPG

Bummers

I should probably omit this next story from the blog since it's fairly irrelevant, but I won't. Across the street from the hostel, there was a cat stuck in the hood of someone's car. The poor thing meowed all night. It was horrible. Everyone heard it, but the staff at the hostel didn't seem to care. My mom even checked to see if the car was unlocked so she could pop the hood. The girl sleeping in the bunk next to me actually cried over the whole ordeal.

A Trace of Grace

Notes from a trekking Mama

Sharing meals with Hannah has been perfect. We love the same foods, we crave the same sweet and savories, and we are almost always up for eating. Lately, we have had the best grilled vegetables and salads. Although today had its ups and downs, our day ended with a perfect Italian dinner and we went to bed happy.

FullSizeRender.jpg
DSCF9899.JPG
DSCF9905.JPG

Day 16: Astorga to Foncebadón

Mileage: 15.7

Highlights

Finally a hike! Our day ended with the most significant elevation change in a week or two. It felt amazing. The mountain breeze was cool and the views were beautiful. At the top of the mountain, a dirt road led us to a small village with just a few buildings. Having skimmed mostly-positive reviews, we decided to stay at Monte Irago Hostel. It cost only 8 euros per bed and we were instructed to "choose any bed that looks free". Without a doubt this was the most loosely run hostel we had stayed at yet. So inevitably, I was skeptical, but tried not to show it since I wasn't sure how much better the other hostels would be. We already had paid and started walking up the stairs before I realized it was far from the type of hostel you want your mother to stay at. On the third floor (aka the attic), we found two mattresses (yes, mattresses) on the floor next to each other. I asked my Mom, "are you okay with this?" half hoping she'd say no and order us a helicopter to the closest hotel. She replied "ya, are you?". So I followed her lead. 

In retrospect, when planning our trek, I warned my skeptical mother that we might stay in hostels with 200 people per room or even sleep on mattresses on the floor. I was obviously exaggerating and had never slept in such hostels during my travels, but wanted to prepare her for the worst. As a result, Mom was totally not phased by the hippie hostel on the top of the mountain. 

IMG_0994.JPG
IMG_0973.JPG

The best part about our hostel was that they offered free yoga at 6pm. My mom and I, along with ten other pilgrims, spread out in a circle in a pasture overlooking the valley below. We were instructed to "watch out for goat poop" as we unrolled our tattered mats. As we stretched and meditated, horses frolicked through the fields around us. It was pretty magical.

IMG_0983.JPG
IMG_0999.JPG

Bummers

It took us until we reached the top of the mountain to realize we had almost no money and there wouldn't be an ATM until the next day. We spent our cash on our hostel and were thrilled to find one restaurant that accepted credit cards. There, we shared a spectacular chorizo and cheese sandwich- a post-hike classic. At dinner, my mom was really excited about the hamburger the waitress recommended. Having traveled a bit, I've learned that no burger will ever be as good as one from the United States. I was right. The burger we shared was brown/purple and looked like a meat that should never be consumed. Still, I tried it and it tasted like bad meatloaf. I was starving and I ate most of my half, but felt pretty sick all night.

A Trace of Grace

Notes from a trekking Mama

I was not expecting ending our day on the top of a mountain, never mind at a hippyish hostel where yoga was offered in a field with horses strolling by. Talk about the perfect place to be reminded to stop and breathe!! Now if I can just sleep as well as the other 15 people around me...

GOPR4724.JPG

Day 15: San Martin del Camino to Astorga

Milage: 14.2

Highlights

We woke up early and had a great breakfast at our hostel. Most importantly, we had coffee. Our walk was flat and steady most of the day. There wasn't quite as much road walking as yesterday, so we were thankful.

GOPR4707.JPG
GOPR4715.JPG

We heard great things about Astorga. Rumor on the trail was that this city had a castle and a chocolate museum. Needless to say, we were pretty excited to get there. When we arrived in Astorga, we decided to stay in the municipal hostel, which is usually the cheapest option for pilgrims and holds the largest number of hikers. Being a Friday, most of the hotels in Astorga were booked, so we didn't really have a choice. It turned out to be pretty decent. The hostel is a converted hospital, so they could only cram two bunk beds in each room, which meant only four pilgrims to a room! Mom was super excited about the favorable odds that no one in our room would snore.

After showering, we headed into the main plaza to grab a beer and a bite to eat. We diverged from the usual Spanish tapas and ordered nachos. Oh my, it was a glorious decision. We were skeptical of the sour cream at first, convinced it was actually goat cheese, but thankfully it wasn't.

We walked around and checked out the impressive cathedral and palace. Unfortunately, the tours were 50 minutes for each and that's just too far out of my attention span, so we (I) had to pass.

Grace was very skeptical of the sour cream

Grace was very skeptical of the sour cream

The cathedral was huge!

The cathedral was huge!

The cathedral (left) and the palace (right)

The cathedral (left) and the palace (right)

Bummers

When I walked into our dorm room after showering, there was a German girl lathering up with bug spray. It appeared she had just gone to the pharmacy and bought every product from the bug repellant selection. I said hello and she said "there are so many mosquitos here! I'm covered in big bites". She showed me her bug bites and I knew, from experience, that those were not mosquito bites, but rather bed bug bites. Horrified, I immediately moved my backpack as far away from hers as possible. I tried (and probably failed) to not to act disgusted, but the thought of getting bed bugs again was not appealing. I said an extra prayer that night that her bed bugs wouldn't jump ship.

We were trying to fill the awkward gap between showering/tapas and dinner, so we walked down the hill to the chocolate museum. When we finally got there, we were devastated to find that it was closed. Of course it was closed- it's siesta time aka nothing is open. We're such dinguses. Classic gringo mistake. It was a very sad walk back up the hill.

A Trace of Grace

Notes from a trekking Mama

A pilgrim service was offered at 8:30pm tonight and although I was tired from our hiking and sight-seeing and pasta and pastry eating, I decided to go. It was unlike any church service I had ever been too. The service was spoken in Spanish and English, but the program was written out in eight or so languages. We shared spoken and unspoken prayers and were invited to come together up front to say the Lord's Prayer in our native language. It was so meaningful to share faith with people from all over the world- all so different, but sharing one path.

GOPR4716.JPG

Day 14: León to San Martín del Camino

Mileage: 15.2

Bummers

It was a major bummer to get out of bed in the morning. Our hotel was amazing. We could actually sleep in the sheets and not have to worry about bed bugs (a fear that still keeps us up at night in hostels). We left our hotel at 6:50am- which was pretty early for our standards. Five minutes into our walk we stopped at a vegan cafe and had the most amazing coffee. We were so happy to have found this gem because most places in the city don't open up til much later in the morning and Grace and I (but mostly Grace) get cranky without coffee. 

The hike was kind of crappy today- probably the worst hike yet. For the first half of the day we walked through neighborhoods on the outskirts of the city. The neighborhoods were not welcoming and the people were not friendly. The cars zoom passed us and the wind practically knocks us over (either they don't have speed limits in Spain or they are not enforced).

The rest of the day was along side a highway. There were no buildings or trees aka no place to pee literally anywhere. To add to the misery, there was more pilgrim traffic than we had encountered anywhere else aka peeing was not a possibility and I was super frustrated and sad. It was a 9 mile stretch without the opportunity to pee. I think I had to pee like half a mile in...so I knew it was gonna be rough. At one point I totally came to terms with the fact that I might pee myself. I was like "I have other clothes to hike in and I can do laundry and it will be ok. I'll survive if I pee myself." So that peace of mind definitely helped me stress less in the final mile before charging into a bar on the outskirts of the closest village.

Highlights

We stopped at a hostel that had fairly good ratings and got bunk beds in a room of 8 people (slightly pushing Grace's limit but we had a good sleep the night before so she let it slide). The food at this Hostel was fantastic. We split an incredible chorizo and cheese sandwich for lunch and had an amazing seafood paella for dinner.

One of the hardest parts about skipping ahead on the Camino was knowing we'd never run into many of our friends again. We found ourselves missing them all day and scheming of ways to find them on social media based on the facts of their lives we knew (yikes, sounds so creepy to write that). At the same time, we met some great people our first night on this side of the Camino. Among them was a hilarious duo from Montana and a friendly guy from Sweden. It'll be nice to see familiar faces while we walk tomorrow.

A Trace of Grace

Notes from a trekking Mama 

I know I have been super positive about our walk so far, I didn't even mind the bed bugs, but today was challenging. Long, flat 14 mile stretch with hard pavement and no water closets- not even a bush that would be discreet enough to pee behind. I am grateful for Hannah's sense of humor and high speed walking that got us to our albergue. 

GOPR4701.JPG

Day 13: Agés to Burgos to León

Mileage: 14.1

Highlights

Last night we decided to skip our rest day and move our schedule forward. We woke up at 5:30am, which was our earlier morning yet (this is the time most pilgrims start walking to avoid the afternoon heat). We enjoyed a cup of coffee and fresh croissants at an adorable hobbit-hole of a cafe next to our hostel. Then we were off! We hiked up quite a hill and were rewarded with amazing views of sun rising above small villages we trekked through.

DSCF9872.JPG

When we got to Burgos, we veered off the Camino to find the train station. It's tough walking next to the highway for 7 miles! We got train tickets to León and had only two Euros left. There was no ATM at the train station. We had several hours to hang out before our train was set to leave, so we decided to explore the city. Amazingly, the local bus cost just one euro each to take us to the main plaza, where we were able to withdraw cash and ball out in Burgos. We got several delicious tapas and drank a beer in the main plaza before wandering over to the famous cathedral.

GOPR4690.JPG
GOPR4692.JPG
GOPR4696.JPG
IMG_0958.JPG

The cathedral was stunning. We were so grateful that we were able to see it before leaving Burgos! As we headed back to the bus stop to return to the train station, we saw many of our friends that we met and had been hiking with the last few weeks. It was such a blessing to get to see our friends one last time and say bye.

Our New Jersey friends! 

Our New Jersey friends! 

When we got back to the bus stop, we realized the next bus wouldn't arrive for 45 minutes, cutting it too close for comfort to the departure time of our train. I was stressed. I spotted a business man examining the same bus schedule and looking equally as stressed, so I asked if we was going to the train station. He was, so I suggested we share a taxi and he agreed! Being a native Spanish speaker he called the taxi service and did all the hard work for us. He even paid for the cab and refused to let my mom and I chip in. We made our train!

We arrive to León and splurged on a private double room at a lovely downtown hotel after five days in dorms (totally reasonable, right?). The receptionist took pity on us weary pilgrims and gave us a suite for the same price as a double room. We explored the beautiful city of León only a little bit because I was very hangry. We got dinner and slept SO freaking soundly.

Skipping ahead to Leon

For those of you not familiar with the Camino, it's nearly impossible to complete in 28 days (unless we average over 20 miles each day, which was definitely not going to happen). Taking the train from Burgos to León eliminates about 100 miles of the trek. However, if we had to skip any section, the meseta is basically a desert and the least desirable hiking terrain. It's flat and hot and would be a nightmare for my Mom's joints (which do much better on ups and downs). This allows us to spend our remaining 13 days hiking 200 miles towards Santiago at an enjoyable pace (~15 miles per day).

IMG_0962.JPG
IMG_0963.JPG

A Trace of Grace

Notes from a trekking mama 

Who knew I would love getting up at 5:30 to hike by 6 am? After a croissant and cafe (classic), we hiked to the top of a hill for a beautiful sunrise followed by an extraordinary day of every step falling into place perfectly. Other than constantly needing to find a water closet because I am seriously hydrating, I am feeling so blessed.

IMG_0929.JPG

Day 12: Belorado to Agés

Mileage: 17.2

Highlights

FullSizeRender.jpg

Breakfast was cancelled at our hostel because not enough people signed up and I was devastated. I was really looking forward to he extensive buffet the hostel boasted. Fortunately, only three miles into our hike we came across a lovely cafe and we had a tortilla (potato omelette) and coffee. It was a great start to our day and just the boost we needed. In the next town we bought more fresh fruit to snack on later.

DSCF9853.JPG

There was a sign for an "Oasis" in the 9 mile stretch without food or water. I was giddy. My trail magic senses were tingling. Two hippi goddesses ran a cafe from their van in the middle of the woods. They had an impressive spread of pastries, fruit, drinks, boiled eggs, sandwiches and more. All they asked in return for snacks was a donation we felt was appropriate. The couple was really lovely- what an epic job, right? They have three cute dogs and apparently do this donation-only-market-type thing in many different locations.

Our hostel in Agés was amazing (I noticed I've been saying this a lot lately, which is a blessing). It was super comfortable and homey, but most importantly, the dinner was the best pilgrim meal I've eaten thus far on the camino. We ran into two girls from New Jersey we hadn't seen since before Logroño and it was the best to catch up with them! The group at dinner was fabulous. The food was amazing and super filling. We had pumpkin soup, paella, salad and vanilla pudding for dessert. The food, hosts and company were priceless.

IMG_0965.JPG

Bummers

Mountains came out of nowhere. Definitely a disadvantage of not having out guidebook. It was actually a pretty tough mountain- it took me by surprise. At the same time, I was so thankful to be back up in the mountains. I love being up high. I love walking anywhere, but there's something special about working hard, walking up, and turning around to see where your legs took you.

We got to San Juan de Ortega, our intended destination for the evening, and it was a very strange village. The monastery that we planned to stay at was very unwelcoming. Ironically we didn't have enough cash to stay even there, so we decided to split a sandwich to hold us over another hour as we hiked to the next village, which accepted credit cards. This bummer turned out to be the best part of our day.

A coupl nervously crossing a pasture just before Agés

A coupl nervously crossing a pasture just before Agés

A Trace of Grace

Notes from a trekking Mama

Just when you least expect it, a van with lovely people selling fresh fruit, drinks, and hard boiled eggs appears in the woods. We were hot and feeling hungry and knew there were miles to go, but being able to have melon, an egg and a Snickers on a log was a blessing!

DSCF9855.JPG

Day 11: Santo Domingo to Belorado

Mileage: 13.9

Highlights

Once again, we were the last people to leave our hostel in the morning. This time it was particularly shocking because there were 200 others in our hostel. Still, we took our time getting organized and eating breakfast before heading out. Some people like to hike a few miles to the next closest village before eating and having coffee. We tried that once and we were very grumpy and tired. We need coffee first thing before we walk.

The last few miles into Belorado were hard because it was long and flat alongside a highway. The town itself was amazing- one of my favorites so far. The streets and buildings were so charming and quintessential of an old Spanish village. We checked into our fabulous hostel, equipped with a complete washroom to do laundry, kitchen, and outdoor pool! Mom and I hand washed our clothes (my mom wanted the experience lol) and hung them to dry in the sun. We grabbed our usual post-hike beer in the main plaza at a cute cafe. We sat in the sun and people-watched, our favorite post-hike activity. In order to hold us over until dinner time at 7:30pm (cutting it close to bedtime after a long day of walking in the sun), mom and I shared a tortilla, which is a Spanish potato omelette that looks like quiche without the crust.

At our hostel, we had the pilgrim dinner, which is usually 3 courses and a ton of food and bottomless wine. It usually costs €10, which is a major deal for the amount of food you get. We sat with a Canadian woman, her 14 year old son and a cute Spanish couple. The Canadian mother had developed tendinitis in her knees since hiking and had several nasty blisters on her feet that made it difficult for her to walk, even without her hiking boots on. I was really encouraging her not to hike and to rest and take care of her injuries (even though I know it'd be extremely hard for me to do that if I was in her position).

I think it's pretty awesome her and her son are hiking together- but then I remember how awesome it is that I'm hiking with my amazing mom! While we're on the subject- my mom is incredible. I never doubted her, but she has exceeded all my expectations of how she'd do hiking, sleeping in hostels, and traveling in general. She's so positive and gets genuinely excited about even the smallest special moments in our day. I'm SO lucky to share this incredible adventure with her. 

A Trace of Grace

Notes from a trekking mama

Just like our own Patton Park "plaza" in Hamilton, MA, the plazas of Spain encourage people to gather. From the thousands of people on the Pamplona plaza to the more subdued Belorado plaza, families gather- the grandparents and the grandchildren, young mothers with toddlers, older couples who just come to sit and watch. It is a familiar site that makes me smile.

 

GOPR4654.JPG
DSCF9843.JPG
DSCF9846.JPG
FullSizeRender.jpg
DSCF9851.JPG

Day 10: Nájare to Santo Domingo

Mileage: 13.2

Highlights

When we woke up, everyone in our hostel was gone. We aren't late risers, it's just that everyone on the Camino leaves their accommodations before 6am to start hiking. Some people leave at 4:30am to miss the sun altogether! I do complain about the sun in the last hour of hiking, so I guess their technique has some merit... but Grace and I aren't ready to accept that yet. At 7am, we went downstairs to eat breakfast. John, our hilarious Irish friend, dispensed coffee from a coffee vending machine for us and gave us an extra croissant he had to share. We were skeptical of the coffee since our one and only vending machine coffee experience was far from pleasant, but this one was surprisingly decent.

The three of us headed out together and remained hiking buddies for the rest of the day. John is a wild child who, at 33, has seen and lived in more places than most people experience in a lifetime. He was excellent company and made the day fly by. He even helped my Mom and I scout out pee spots, which was probably only because he was tired of us whining about having to pee.

FullSizeRender.jpg

It was an especially beautiful walk today- we even got out early enough to avoid being in the sun too much. We arrived to our hostel (which holds 200 people) and were greeted with wine and chorizo on slices of baguettes. My mom and I got a bunk in a room for 16 people. The place seemed clean and had great wifi, so I was happy.

What a lovely way to be welcomed to a €7 per bunk hostel

What a lovely way to be welcomed to a €7 per bunk hostel

Our bunk room...we try to get rooms with 4-6 people but that doesn't always work out. 

Our bunk room...we try to get rooms with 4-6 people but that doesn't always work out. 

Immediately after we arrived, we went to eat tapas. I was starving since we barely ate anything all day. They were the best tapas I've ever had- as fresh as they get. Then I took a nap. I'm starting to adapt to this whole siesta thing and I love it. I'm still confused about what people do when they arrive so early to villages...

A Trace of Grace

Notes from a trekking Mama

Having time to sit and do nothing is a challenge for me. When our hiking day ends early, there are many hours until dinner and there isn't a lot for pilgrims to do besides sleep or site-see, neither of which I am good at doing. It is a good practice for me to sit and breathe though, and maybe have another glass of wine.

FullSizeRender.jpg

Day 9: Lorgoño to Nájare

Mileage: 18.3

Bummers

We woke up and headed out early to make our big miles before the sun got too strong. Several miles in, I realized I left our guidebook in our Airbnb. Even if we wanted to go back to get it, we couldn't get into the apartment because we had already returned the keys. The guidebook has been a huge comfort for us and was our major source of information on where to stay, what to do, which routes to take etc. It sucks losing stuff and I felt horrible all morning.

The last four miles of our day were tough (so the story goes every day). It started to get hot, we didn't eat much, we never stopped to rest, and we were running low on water. My feet were definitely starting to bother me just from being walked on for so many miles. I was later validated in my pain when I eventually took off my shoes to reveal huge bruises along the heel of both feet. I also have this strange spotty rash on the tops of my feet that flares up when I hike...but that's another story. I have pictures, but I'll spare you all the horror.

Highlights

We didn't get lost despite not having a guidebook!

FullSizeRender.jpg
FullSizeRender.jpg

We walked through vineyards all day. The vines are just dropping with grapes- it was amazing. It was also super tempting- my mom and I had to try one but spit it out immediately. They were extremely sour and acidic- definitely not close to being ripe. Ever since walking into Logroño, we have been in the region of Spain best known for its superior wine. After walking from vineyard to vineyard, it only made sense to enjoy some local wine when we finally got to town.

Mom and I got a double room at Nido de Cigueña hostel and it was very basic. The walls were thin, so mom still had to use her earplugs, but it was directly on the Camino wth easy access to downtown.

Nájare is a strangely lively mountain village. People were going hard all night. There was a bachelorette party, a bachelor party, and I think I heard a parade. There were a lot of great restaurants by the river and amazing wine. Mom and I split pasta dishes for a late lunch when we arrived and split a salad much later for dinner.

A Trace of Grace

Notes from a trekking mama

Every day I remember to be grateful for strength and safety, for accommodations and food, for the friends we have met, and the family and friends praying for us at home. There is a lot of time to think, pray and reflect along the way- in between the moments I am trying to breathe, convincing myself to keep going, not in need a water closet, or laughing with my incredibly good humored daughter.

Walking through vineyards with Nájare in the distance

Walking through vineyards with Nájare in the distance

Day 7-8: Los Arcos to Logroño

Mileage: 17.3

ighlights

After a tough walk, we arrived to Logroño and diverged from the Camino to meet the owner of our Airbnb. We booked an apartment to ourselves for two nights to explore the city, do laundry and relax for a day- and that's exactly what we did! After showering and doing laundry we went to explore the Old Town. We immediately went to the street famous for its tapas. However, after 3pm the tapas are stale from sitting out so we were largely disappointed in these world renowned snacks. We shared a small coffee gelato as we wandered around the city and it totally hit the spot.

FullSizeRender.jpg
DSCF9811.JPG
DSCF9818.JPG

The next day (our rest day) we utilized Logroño's free bike service to explore the city. It took me about 10 minutes before I was bored. I thought I'd appreciate biking more since you move so much faster than walking but nope, not for me. Maybe I was just too committed to the rest day and was feeling lazy. We rewarded ourselves for the 30 minute bike ride with tapas (and beer, of course) at 2pm and wow the difference was amazing in the freshness of the tapas.

For dinner, we made salad and oh my, it was everything. We eat pretty well on the Camino, but we definitely don't eat enough vegetables.

IMG_0947.JPG

Finally, we almost cried tears of joy when we found a channel on Spanish television playing a movie in English. It was a Steven Segal movie and was extremely dramatic but we were thrilled nonetheless.

Bummers

Walking into any city is tough because you have to get through the less pleasant suburbs first. Walking into Logroño was especially treacherous the last few miles because of the endless pavement and lack of shade. My mom is SO strong, but this last leg of the journey was toughest yet for her. With one seemingly endless mile left until we crossed the bridge into Logroño, we met up with our friends John and Joe. Both are very funny and chatty and kept us going.

A Trace of Grace

Notes from a trekking Mama

I was reminded by a fellow hiker to stop and smell the roses. Literally, we stopped and took in the wonderful rose smells along the road. Also, grateful to wash our clothes and have a breather in this historic city.

Hoping to satisfy a salt craving, I bought a bag of Cheetos in a small market. Disappointment set in when I realized they tasted like cornflakes with ketchup, yuck. Don't expect everything to taste like home.

Finally made in to our Airbnb and checked in with people state-side

Finally made in to our Airbnb and checked in with people state-side

Day 6: Estella to Los Arcos

Mileage: 13.4

Highlights

The rumors are true! There is a fountain in Spain that spews red wine. For free! Monks produce the wine and allot 100L per day to be free to pilgrims. Dreams do come true!! If that's not reason enough to hike el Camino, I'm not sure what is. 

IMG_0960.JPG
DSCF9801.JPG

Upon arrival to Los Arcos, we were beat! We looked at a hotel room and couldn't say no. So it was definitely a splurge on our accommodations, but we deserved it!! It was so amazing to sleep in a clean bed and have our own space for a night. After cleaning ourselves up, we waddled the plaza to grab a bite to eat. We got glasses of beer and split a big plate of spaghetti, which hit the spot. Dinner time in Spain is tricky for us. We are usually starving when we arrive to the village we stay in, but dinner is usually at 7pm. So when we eat at 3pm, we aren't hungry again by 7pm, but probably will be hungry again soon after. Oh, our lives are so hard out here! We ended up sharing a plate of paella around 6pm, then grabbed beers to-go and brought them up to our hotel room to enjoy in bed. We tried watching TV but the only channel in English was the Disney channel playing some fairy show (which we attempted to watch for a bit).

Another memorable part of today was meeting a young Spanish man and his dog. His dog is the only one we've met on el Camino so far. He has a huge backpack- likely because many places don't allow dogs and so he has to carry a load of camping gear. About three miles in to the "desert-like" section of the day, we expected to come upon a mobile cafe. However, when we arrived to the spot, there was no cafe. Many people were relying on that stop for water and snacks to carry them through the last four miles- including our friend with the pup. Mom and I were sitting in a shady spot when the dog came running over and plopped himself right on my mom's feet. His owner sat next to us and was worried about his dog in the heat. He gave his dog the last of his water and mom and I shared with them both some cheese, pepperoni and crackers. I speak minimal Spanish and he spoke no English, yet we felt so connected to them both sitting in our little shadow of shade. We were SO happy to see the pup and his owner stroll into town shortly after we arrived.

Bummers

Wow! This was a tough one. We started our day with a two mile accidental detour, which sucked. There was very little shade all day so we spent most of our day in the blazing sun with no place to hide (or pee). The back of my neck and legs burned again. I took pictures to show my grandchildren why Nana has skin cancer and why they need to REAPPLY sunscreen throughout a day in the sun. We also passed through very few villages, so resources were few and far between. We really had to fill up as much water as we could at each opportunity. My mom drinks an insane amount of water, which is so great. I love that she's staying hydrated in this heat. However, in the stretches that no water is available, it sucks. She really can't carry more than 1.5 liters at a time because her backpack hurts her, but she almost always finishes that amount of water within a few hours. But I'm a great daughter and have a 3 liter water bladder and carry extra for my beloved mother.

A Trace of Grace

 Notes from a trekking mama 

I was concerned that my body may not want to keep walking and I remembered Hannah's advice to keep drinking water. I did and went through about 4-5 liters but was able to laugh a little at the end of the day when 2 miles seemed like 10. 

On the bridge leaving Estella

On the bridge leaving Estella

Day 5: Uterga to Estella

Mileage: 17.9

Highlights

My mom and I ate the best, freshest croissants on earth. Nothing gets better than that.

We ate our breakfast in the park next to this church

We ate our breakfast in the park next to this church

At a store in Puente de Reina, we bought fresh rolls, local cheese, avocado, and a ripe tomato for our lunch. We sat outside an ancient church in a hilltop village to enjoy our fresh sandwiches. It was the perfect afternoon.

The bridge leaving Puente la Reina

The bridge leaving Puente la Reina

The next highlight was Agora Hostel. After sleeping terribly in so many hostels, my mom decided that a bunk room of four was the most she could handle. She's a light sleeper and it's horrible to walk many miles on a poor night of sleep, so I totally understand. After walking around for an hour trying to find a clean, double room, we had no success. Exhausted, we ended up at Agora Hostel and reluctantly took two beds in a room of eight. This ended up being the best decision we made all day. The hostel was built that year and was impeccable. The family running the hostel was incredibly hospitable and accommodating. It turned out that no other hikers joined the hostel that night, meaning my mom and I got our private room! Everything is better when my mom gets a good rest!

DSCF9797.JPG
DSCF9795.JPG

Bummers

There was nowhere to get breakfast in Urtega so we had to walk for three miles before we reached the next village where we could buy food. We tried vending machine coffee and I nearly vomited. I swear they put goat cheese in everything.

We were the last people to leave our hostel at 7:30am, which basically meant everyone knew it'd be a hot day and planned accordingly. This would be the first day that the heat was seriously an issue. By the end of the day I had bulging blisters on the back of my calves. I also had a horrible attitude to accompany my raging sunburn. The last few miles were tough for both of us. We were able to buy some after sun lotion at the pharmacy and I was super thankful!

A Trace of Grace

Notes from a trekking mama 

Make friends! We met a lot of lovely people along the way so far and were able to share dinner with them at an albergue. Sharing stories with people from Canada, England, Portugal, and France, and laughing about how in Spain, sometimes "chicken" ends up being beef stew.

From one mountain village to the next!  

From one mountain village to the next!  

Day 4: Pamplona to Uterga

Mileage: 11.7

FullSizeRender.jpg

Highlights

My alarm went off at 5:30am. My mom and I promised a girl working at our hostel we would go to running of the bulls with her. I was so bitter to be woken up after a predictably horrible night of sleep, but am so thankful Molly got my bum out of bed. We put our red handkerchiefs around our necks and joined thousands of others in downtown Pamplona to save a spot to watch the infamous event. Every morning for the nine days of the festival, six bulls are released into a 800meter double-fenced stretch where civilians can risk their lives to race with the bulls and avoid getting jabbed or trampled. It's shocking this event is legal and I have my reservations about its treatment of animals, but wow it was thrilling to watch. Literally anyone can jump over the fence and run with/away from the bulls. The day-partying begins once the bulls run, but mama and I had miles to hike, so we trekked on.

IMG_0912.JPG
IMG_0928.JPG

After sleeping in bunk beds with noisy partiers or snorers, we were desperate for a good night sleep. Exhausted, we ended our day in Urtega, where there was only one hostel. The private rooms were all booked. We were so sad. The woman took pity on us and allowed us to sleep in a room on the top floor with two beds. It reminded me of Harry Potter's staircase bedroom with low slanted ceilings, but we were just so happy to be sleeping away from snoring people. Dinner in Urtega was fabulous. We sat with an awesome bunch of people who we had met and walked with along the way from all over the world. We ate a ridiculous amount and drank a few bottles of wine and slept mostly soundly (we're still nervous about bed bugs and wake up to every slight itch- so far, no more bites have been discovered since that first night).

FullSizeRender.jpg

Bummers

We were so tired. Everything seemed so difficult because my body was so desperate for sleep. I went to a new level of weirdness in the last few miles of walking and I think my mom questioned if I was really her daughter. Fortunately, there were not any further bummers other than our worsening bed bug bites from that stupid hostel two nights before.

A Trace of Grace

Notes from a trekking mama

Wind, so much power! As we approached the peak of our climb over the mountain, I stood in awe of the 100s, probably thousands of wind turbines, that lined the top of the hills, blowing down power for the city of Pamplona, but also giving a little power to me to push up and over the mountain.

GOPR4596.JPG
GOPR4597.JPG
Snack break halfway up the mountain  

Snack break halfway up the mountain  

DSCF9765.JPG

Day 3: Zuribi to Pamplona

Mileage: 13

Bummers

Starting with bummers because today was a tough one.

Today was a rollercoaster for me. I don't know what was in the water but I was irritable AF all day. It started out when I was woken up by chainsaw-status snoring in the bed next to my mom. We both woke up, shoved ear plugs in our ears and slept restlessly the remainder of the night. My mom and I woke up with bed bug bites. Yep. That's all I'm gonna say about that. After quickly eating breakfast, I packed my pack, then packed my Mom's pack. I was extremely frustrated that she didn't become an experienced backpacker over night. After what felt like ages of helping my mom get ready for the day, we started hiking. Minutes in, she asked me to braid her hair. I took off my pack and did. Then started tearing up as we started hiking again. Oh god, tears on day 3 is definitely not ideal. I hit her where it hurts with the "you're the mom, not me!". The backpacker routine is so easy and natural to me, but I had to realize that this is new and scary for her.

DSCF9748.JPG
DSCF9750.JPG
DSCF9742.JPG

It's Sunday, so nothing is open anywhere and we had a bathroom emergency. I lived in the woods a while so it was never a concern using natural facilities. However, the Camino is not the Appalachian trail. There are hikers around every corner and villages in between. You can pee quick but otherwise need to find a toilet. My mom and I ran around for at least two miles to every store in a village just off the Camino trying to find a toilet. We were about to start knocking on doors when one municipal albergue was open. Don't take your toilets for granted, people!

This 13 mile day felt like 18 by the time we were approaching the city. Our feet ached from pounding on pavement and our skin ached from being pounded with sun. We stopped just outside the city to crush a tube of Pringles and help us through the last few miles. The closer we got to Pamplona, the more people we saw in red and white for the enormous San Fermín festival. We entered the city around 3pm and encountered countless young people at their peak day-drunkness heading off to siesta, some of which attempted to charge us pretending to be bulls. I obviously loved it and charged back at them, threatening to stab them with my trekking pole if they got any closer to my mom. I was like "this is gonna be an epic night" and my poor mother was like "I'm scared".

Highlights

After an insanely difficult day of hiking, we made it to the beautiful city of Pamplona. We were starving, but nowhere was serving food, so we wandered through crowds of red and white people. All of a sudden, people parted to the side of the road, music in the distance got louder and an enormous parade of hundreds of people came down the street. Our moods were instantly lifted and we got beers instead of worrying about food.

G0014551.JPG
IMG_0907.JPG

To make matters even better, within three minutes of sipping a refreshing cerveza con limon, two older men sitting next to us paid a mariachi band to serenade us with love songs. They bought us beers and tried to convince my mom to marry me off. Grace played along until she started worrying he was serious and told him straight up I have a boyfriend.

IMG_0913.JPG

After walking around the city we enjoyed an amazing Italian dinner. We were back at our hostel by the time people started really partying. No sleep would be had that night.

A Trace of Grace

Notes from a trekking mama

Don't be afraid of the masses of drunk people that roam the city 24/7 during San Fermín festival. You may even get a free beer or two and do some some dancing in the city plaza. Wake up early, even if you don't feel like it, otherwise you might miss the running of the bulls.