Inside the Cathedral, the Tree of Jesse. Millions of pilgrims have worn finger holes into the carvings over the past nine hundred years. Unfortunately/fortunately, people are no longer allowed to touch it.
The girls in front of the Cathedral, contemplating the route to Finisterre...
<photo will be reinserted by late September>
Here are some answers to questions folks have asked me in emails, comments, and private messages. If I'm forgetting something, then please write and tell me!
Washing clothes - there are washers along the route, but the easiest and most economical thing to do is hand wash the essentials and hang them out to dry in the sun (or drape them over radiators if the albergue allows you to do so). Every day, we washed undies. Socks were washed, at most, twice a week (I'll explain why in a following paragraph). We only washed shirts or pants when they became smelly. Since we only wore synthetic, quick-drying clothes, our garments were only smelly (to us) about once a week. Keep in mind that we hiked in cool weather - had we hiked in the summer, I am sure the smell factor would have increased exponentially and we'd have washed more clothes more often.
Feet/socks - we put a thick layer of HikeGoo/Vaseline on our feet every morning, then we pulled on our socks right over the HikeGoo/Vaseline (Vaseline is available in every Farmacia). Alex had a grand total of two small blisters during her Camino. Sage also had a grand total of two small blisters. I treated the blisters by duct-taping them. I did not puncture them, use a needle-and-thread, put any ointment on them, or use Compeed. I just stuck duct tape over them so the girls couldn't feel them while hiking. The duct tape came off by itself at the end of each day, no pulling or ripping off needed. All four blisters healed well, without infection, and without the drama that comes from sticking a needle in your child's foot. I purposefully did not wash their socks often because the HikeGoo/Vaseline worked its way into the fibers during the day and turned the socks into a non-smelly glove-type-thing that felt good on the feet. Every morning, more Vaseline was added to the foot and therefore more Vaseline got into the sock...which seemed to increase the effectiveness of the sock. I only washed the socks when enough dirt/grit got stuck into the fibers to produce friction against the skin.
The HikeGoo/Vaseline worked...
We used two pairs of socks each, switching back and forth every couple of weeks. Here's one set, stripped off our feet right after we finished the Camino Frances.
Alex's socks - yes, she used those same socks she's worn since she was five years old. They're stretched out and threadbare in places, but they made it through the Camino Frances and they will probably get Alex to Finisterre.
<will reinsert photo by end of Sept 2016>
Shoes - yes, you'll need a second set for walking around after you finish hiking for the day. Trust me - you will want to get out of your hiking shoes/boots. If you don't like sandals, then Crocs weigh nothing and they work well. As for hiking shoes - Sage wore her favorite tennis shoes for 35 out of the 40 days. Alex switched back and forth between waterproof boots and hiking sandals depending on the temperature and the amount of mud on the trails, and I wore waterproof trail runners throughout. We were all happy with our choices.
Technology - I bought an iPad mini for this trip and I am oh so glad I spent the money. Every photo, video, blog post, etc. has been done with the iPad mini. I have checked emails, booked hotels, surfed forums, and rented movies online. I did not bring a cell phone, since using a 3G or 4G network outside the USA can be crazy expensive (thousands of dollars over the course of the Camino, so I'm told). I relied solely on free WiFi. There were four days when I could not find WiFi and thirty-six days when WiFi was easily available. Almost every cafe/bar has it, and many albergues do too (as do most/all hotels). The girls brought their iPods and used them to take photos and create videos. For entertainment in the albergues, they played cards or made paper dolls (or had their paper dolls play cards). They also liked to create paper clothes/masks/balaclavas for their Beanie Boos.
Food and timing - what worked for us may or may not work for you, but here's what we did - up at 7am, out of the albergue/hotel by 8, breakfast at a cafe at 8:15 (Cola Cao - a type of hot chocolate- or coffee, toast/croissant and juice ...three Euros). We then bought a large block of locally-made cheese, a tube package of cookies, trail mix, and cartons of juice (all usually available at bars or stores along the way) and we would eat all that while we walked 12-16 miles. We do not usually stop for breaks on the way up mountains at home so we rarely stopped for breaks while we were hiking here (unless someone had to use the bathroom). We took turns biting chunks off from the cheese and we'd pass the cookies/nuts. We arrived at our stopping point for the day anywhere between 12 and 4, depending on how many miles we did and what the weather/terrain was like. At the albergue/hotel, we'd clean up, wash whatever we felt had to be washed, and go out for our pilgrim's menu (three course meal where we ate our veggies and protein...ten Euros each). After we ate, we'd come back, lounge, and get to sleep by 8 or 8:30 (most pilgrims go to bed between 9:30 and 10).
Safety - you'll feel safe on the Camino. You'll be out in the middle of nowhere quite often, but you'll feel safe nonetheless. I'm talking about safety regarding people. If you're out there wearing cotton during a cold spring rain, then no, you won't be safe, but that's a different topic.
Dogs - they're everywhere, but here's the thing - the Spanish believe in keeping their dogs away from strangers. There were countless times when an unleashed, unattended, growling dog would run up, come right to the end of their property line...and stop. They would let us know that we were close to their property, but they would not come into the street or approach us. Others would come running, but they'd be on a chain or behind a fence. We also saw many working dogs (owned by farmers, cattle/sheep owners, etc.), and though they were off-leash, they had no interest in peregrinos. In other words, the dogs on the Camino are either extremely(!) well trained or they're kept behind fences or on chains.
Cats, sheep, cows, bulls, goats, horses, ponies, donkeys, storks, slugs, snails, roosters, hens - you'll see them all, often right on the Camino itself.
Exposure - up until just after Astorga, trees are scarce on the Camino Frances. This means you are going to feel whatever is going on with the weather one hundred percent of the time. There won't be any ducking into the woods to get out of the wind/rain/sunshine/cold, etc.
Pacing - if possible, plan for more time then you think you'll need. You never know what might happen - injury, illness, a desire to spend five days at Astorga's Museo del Chocolate, etc. Also, I'd advise against speeding up or slowing down to keep pace with folks you meet. Do whatever's right for your body instead. You'll likely run into many of your new friends again anyway at some point, as many end up taking unexpected rest days here and there.
Food - I know I've already covered this, but...you will end up eating more food than you ever dreamed possible, and you'll probably lose weight while you're at it. I haven't weighed myself yet but all my clothes are loose and I can see a huge difference in my body. The girls look the same as when we left NH, but since they are growing children I didn't expect or want them to lose pounds (they took twice as many steps as I did for every kilometer we walked, so making sure they had the right amount of energy for their bodies was key).
Terrain - most of the time, the Camino feels like a gravel driveway and it rarely gets steep. In that sense, the Camino feels easy. It's the near-one hundred percent exposure to the elements that can make the Camino feel difficult. That, and the miles and miles of walking day after day after day after day.
Scenery - since there are few trees (at least, before Astorga), there is no green tunnel...which means you are treated to constant views of rolling hills, vineyards, mountains (in the distance), ancient churches, castles, ruins, etc. There's almost always something beautiful to look at (always choose the country alternatives and minimize your sendas!).
Body odor - we don't smell...at least, I don't think we do...we do wash ourselves every day or every other day...but when we come into town, we can smell the non-hikers. Meaning, we can now smell the scent of people's laundry detergent and shampoo from two blocks away. I'm not sure what that says about our own odor... I'm pretty sure those people can't smell US from two blocks away...maybe...
Arriving in Santiago...it feels fantastic to reach this city. The atmosphere around the Cathedral is always joyous - pilgrims everywhere, happy and proud. Talented street musicians sing and play here and there. The only negative is that albergue and hostel employees shove advertisements into pilgrim's faces every other minute, hoping to attract overnight customers. For me, that kind of advertising has the opposite effect - I didn't want to be bothered by people trying to sell me anything during the final moments of my pilgrimage. I took note of the names of the establishments whose advertisements were being shoved at me and I purposefully avoided giving those places any of my money. We are now at a hotel - the Moure - located just outside the old city. We have a beautiful room that is competitively priced.
More tomorrow (Tuesday), when I'll write some reflections of a more personal nature.
On Wednesday, we will head to what was once considered the end of the world - Finisterre (also called Fisterre). That's the pre-Christian, pagan end to this ancient pilgrimage westward. It should take us four days to get there from Santiago.
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