Sunday, September 19, 2021: This town is a little bigger than the previous few with a population of 2800. It contains some of the earliest examples of Mudejar architecture.
The city thrived with a diverse population including Muslims and Jews. Sahagun’s historic architecture illustrates the Romanesque-Mudejar style, which incorporated Islamic decorative motifs and was built primarily out of brick rather than stone.
We stayed at a monastery called Santa Cruz. Brother Ivan from England welcomed us and the hospitalaro, Alexandro, showed us around and made us feel welcome.
This is definitely a sign of Covid times … the holy water font is empty and it has a bottle of hand sanitizer in it.
We were so fortunate … we had our own room.
,,, with a private bathroom and we were on the first floor. The cost was “donativo”.
The arch of San Benito was originally the door to the church but now it is a main thoroughfare into the town. It was part of the Royal Monastery of San Benito which was destroyed in 1835.
The town had lots of interesting artwork.
Sahagun was a delightful little town … glad that we didn’t skip it.
Saturday, September 18, 2021: Slow start today. It’s 7:00 am and dark out. Time to roll up the sleeping bag and load the backpack. This daily routine is getting old. I wonder how small the next town is going to be and if there’s any way to skip it. The days were becoming repetitious with fields that are endless and a big sky that is too big. Worst of all, there was nothing to see along the way. I would be so happy if there were some good ruins, an old church, a cemetery, a herd of sheep or even an irrigation canal. There was nothing but fields of sunflowers, fields of wheat, a few corn fields and some empty ones. Theresa and I are now in Taxi mode.
We were the last to leave today. We walked to the town’s only restaurant for coffee and to figure out how to find a taxi in such an isolated rural farm area.
In the reception area before entering the restaurant, I saw something unusual — several suitcases waiting to be transported to their next location. What’s unusual is that some people who are walking the Camino are opting to bring a suitcase instead of a backpack. There are courier services on the Camino that will transport backpacks, suitcases or other parcels to your next Camino stop. It costs about $5 a day and for many who don’t want to carry a backpack, it’s a great option.
Having a suitcase instead of a backpack is another good option. It probably holds more than a backpack and one wouldn’t need to be too concerned about its weight. I’ve heard of people breaking the handle off their toothbrush to save a fraction of an ounce on their backpack load. The suitcase option may make walking the Camino appealing to more people.
As we settled in with our coffee, we watched the room empty as walkers made their way out the door and down the road. A backpacked young woman entered the restaurant and sat at a table near us. Since we had already made up our minds to boycott walking today, we had nothing better to do so we struck up a conversation. Jenneke from Holland became an instant friend. She had just taken a cab from her last stop and was in desperate need of a rest day.
The man running the restaurant, Caesar, waited on our every whim. We didn’t order from the menu, we just asked for things. Jenneke wanted a fruit plate which reminded me how much I like that honey-dew melon and Theresa was in the mood for ham and eggs which I thought was a good idea too. And Caesar did not disappoint.
It’s amazing how we connected with Jenneke. I think it was because she is so genuine. We talked for hours about so many things. She is a fascinating person. The morning went by so fast. It was hard saying goodbye but we needed to get moving.
We asked Caesar to call us a taxi. His response in Spanish was something about a taxi being too expensive. Next thing we know, he’s loading us into his car and was going to drive us to our next stop. That is how life on the Camino happens. We did pay him but I’m sure it was far less than what a taxi would have cost.
Jacques de Molay is the name of the albergue in Terradillos. This village seems to be planted in the middle of farmland with a bit of industrial sites along the highway. In addition, there was a little church that was locked, a small playground and three or four streets with various housing. Behind the albergue was a little park with picnic tables.
So who was Jacques de Molay and why was he so important that they named an albergue after him in the middle of nowhere? I did a little research and he was the last grand master of the Knights Templar. The order was dissolved in 1312 by Pope Clement V. Little is known of his actual life and deeds except for his least years as Grand Master, he is one of the best known Templars.
While most historians agree that the Knights Templar fully disbanded 700 years ago, there are some people who believe the order went underground and remains in existence in some form to this day.
The Order and its members increasingly appear in modern fiction, though most of these references portray the medieval organization inaccurately. In modern works, the Templars generally are portrayed as villains, misguided zealots, representatives of an evil secret society, or as the keepers of a long-lost treasure.*
We took a tour of the town which took less than ten minutes. I’m always fascinated with the dwellings made from mud and straw.
The garden patio, restaurant and bar were an oasis that made the day a lot more interesting. The restaurant had charming and interesting bits of history and culture decorating the walls. We were fortunate to reserve a private room in advance. They started turning away walkers around noon.
We had the “menu del dia” –– meal of the day. Theresa was adventuresome and went for the Inky Squid which she said was very good and better than the Inky Squid in Pamplona.
We crossed another day off the calendar and only four more nights remaining in The Meseta.
* Information taken from Medievalspain.com; Wikipedia; Britannica.com
September 17, 2021: Another isolated village in the middle of nowhere with a population of 54. There was a lot of tractor traffic and not many cars. We were surrounded by sunflower fields everywhere.
There were two places to stay in town and both were sold out. Because of the reduced capacity due to covid, several without a reservation were turned away.
This is the part of the Meseta where those walking it are asking themselves, “Why am I walking this?” The miles of fields become monotonous and the days drag by. Several of the coffee shop/bars didn’t survive covid as well as a few albergues. There was an 11 mile stretch between this town and the previous one. To walk all that way in the sun and then find out there is no place to stay and you need to walk another 6-7 miles can be the straw that breaks the camel’s back.
This albergue had a laundry facility with washers and dryers as well as a grassy lawn area with a pool. It was a good day to catch up on laundry.
We have the feeling that albergues were owned by the same family with one shutting down their bar and restaurant so both could conserve resources.
Sunset is around 8:00 pm. After being outside in the hot sun and walking for miles, no one complains about going to bed early.
Thursday, September 16, 2021: In the Middle Ages, Carrión was a wealthy and important town with as many as 10,000 citizens. According to legend, Charlemagne camped here in his campaign against the Moors, who had succeeded in building a castle in Carrión in the 8th century.
Carrion’s population is about 2,200. There are several monasteries that also function as Albergues. We stayed at Espiritus Santo which is run by nuns. Having attended a Catholic grade school, high school and college, I had plenty of encounters with the Sisters. I expected everything to be run strictly and in order –– and it was.
We had to wait in line until the Sister in charge was good and ready to deal with us. It was a slow process. Not only did we need to show our vaccination cards but they also took our temperature. Then they processed us, recorded our passport information and took our “donation.” Then we given a brief tour and shown to our rooms
The nuns don’t do bunk beds. They would pop in frequently to check on things. Lights out at 10:00 pm and they made sure of that. A couple of nuns came up to turn the lights off personally. In the morning, everyone is eager to start walking. Some people get up as early as 4:00 am. Everyone has to be out by 8:00 am.
The cities of Burgos, Carrión de los Condes and Sahagún are hosting the 25th edition of the Lux exhibit. The objective is to teach people about the sacred art found in the countless churches in the provinces of Castile and Leon. The title “Lux” refers to the characteristic light of gothic cathedrals, famous for their impressive stained glass windows. The different landmarks hosting the event represent different architectural styles, such as Romanesque, mudéjar and gothic.
This nearby old church is falling apart and it looks as if they structurally reinforced the facade which is home to three stork nests. These nests are at least as big as eagle nests. We got up close and it’s mind boggling to see the size of these nests.
Even though it is relatively small, Carrion is one of the larger cities and now it seems like the wheat fields are getting bigger and the distances are getting further. It’s time for a taxi.
Wednesday, September 15, 2021: It rained all day yesterday and into the night. Today the air was fresh and the sky was cloudy which isn’t so bad — there’s no shade here so cool and cloudy is ok. Today’s distance is only about 6-7 miles so it will be an easy quick day.
I reached Villamentero and not to my surprise it’s in the middle of nowhere and surrounded by fields of wheat. Villamentero has a population of 11.
Amanecer is the name of the albergue we are staying at and it is surrounded by green bush trees with an opening that reveals a wonderland of sorts.
The man who runs the place, Marcello, has created his own reality … a combination of art, music, animals, and an array of creative places to sleep. Everybody who walked by stopped in for coffee, a beer or a bocadillo. It was very inviting and welcoming environment.
We renamed this place “Animal Farm” because we were surrounded by animals and farmland. Donkey’s, sheep, geese, chickens, cats, dogs, birds and more. It was a nice (crazy) change of pace.
Many options were offered in addition to beds. There were cute little Casetas (cabin) for two.
Sleep in a concrete tube?? What??? Looking at it through American eyes we thought this was just crazy. However, our friend Kate from Australia informed us that during hot summer days, a concrete tube is a very cool place to sleep — literally. There is no air conditioning anywhere, so that might be a good option. Marcello also offered teepees, tents and hammocks. We opted for the usual bunk beds.
In this town of 11, there isn’t a lot of sightseeing to be done in its half dozen streets. There is another Hostal in town so we wandered over there for a drink in the hot afternoon sun. It was a little more elite and had a swimming pool. They spruced up the patio with pots of flowers but you could still see the old barns and farm equipment off in the background.
Next, we wandered over to the church that sat on a small mound of a hill. An abandoned tractor missing its tires sat in the church yard which was a patch of dry grass that badly needed rain. We did not think that a town of 11 people would have a functioning church and it certainly would be locked. Wrong! The church was open and their was a woman attending it.
Mudejar art was typically done by Muslims living under a Christian King. The Mudejar builders were Muslim artisans who were permitted to stay and were employed to build the new churches and palaces in the reconquered territories.
We were impressed with the beauty of this humble little church. It makes me wonder how a village with such a small population can keep a church open. Well … in Spain there is no separation between church and state. Some funding probably comes from the state to help keep this historic site open. The majority of the churches are Catholic and they all contain interesting and beautiful artwork and sculptures … Spanish splendors!
Marcello was making a feast for the half dozen guests staying overnight. Most of the Peregrinos continue walking to the next town, Carrión, which is much bigger and offers an array of accommodations.
Dinner was amazing! A beautiful salad followed by five or six different local dishes. The platters were rotating around the table and the wine was flowing. Marcello is a man of many talents.
When you cross paths with English speaking Spaniards, the magic words are Ricky Rubio. Even though he no longer plays for the Minnesota Timberwolves, they like to associate him with his Minnesota years.
Rubio is a rock star with the Spanish because he became the youngest player ever to play in the Spanish ACB league at the age of 14 in 2005. In 2009 he was drafted with the fifth pick in the first round of the 2009 NBA draft by the Timberwolves making him the first player born in the 1990s to be drafted by the NBA. Currently he plays for the Cleveland Cavaliers.
If you want to strike up a conversation with Spaniards, it pays to know Ricky Rubio history and to be from Minnesota.
The stars were out and it was very pleasant to listen to guitar strumming and local folk music. A nice way to end the day.
Fromista had been a breadbasket farm area since Celtic times until being destroyed by the Moors and later rebuilt in the 12th century. In spite of being a successful market town in the 15th century, the town declined until a revival in 1773 when the canal brought water and again allowed agriculture to thrive.
Rain, rain, rain. Nothing but dark clouds, precipitation, mud and more mud.
By the time I reached Fromista, I was thoroughly drenched and full of mud. Time for coffee.
Off in the distance is Boadilla del Camino a town that was fortified in medieval times. Independence was granted in the 15th century and they were allowed to publicly torture and hang their own criminals.
The Canal de Castilla was built from 1753-1859, covering about 130 miles. The canal was used for ships that were pulled by mules on tow paths. Today the canals are used to irrigate agricultural fields.
The Turismo office is located above the canal. Looks like the canal wall has sprung a few leaks.
There are three churches in Fromista. This is the church of San Pedro.
More rain the next day. We were eager to move on. Our next stop is Villamentero de Campos … you won’t believe where we stayed — or maybe you will.
It’s WEDNESDAY! Chris and Jenny are my favorite co-workers and I miss our Wednesday morning “staff” meetings. Wish you guys were here! I’m way over in Reliegos, Spain … Last night Theresa and I walked down the street to Bar Elvis where we met a nice couple from Minnetonka, Minnesota of all places!! It’s a small world!
WHAT’S UP WITH THE LOW AIRFARES TO HAWAII?? Every now and then I check my emails and have been seeing really low airfares especially to Hawaii. If I weren’t in Spain right now I’d be on a plane to Hawaii. However, my source does say there is a, “fare war to Hawaii through December BOOK ASAP! The state of Hawaii has requested tourists stay home until November. No testing is required for vaccinated travelers.” WOWZA!
I can’t wait to get back to the office so I can find out what you guys are hearing about low airfares. As you well know, Hawaii is pretty high on my bucket list.
Time to hit the road again! Just wanted to take a few minutes to say Hola to mi amigas Chris y Jenny at Skad’s Travel. A big hello to Will & Kathy too!
Monday, September 13, 2021: The plains of the Meseta were flat and easy to walk … until today. It was another hot sunny day and the trail started out flat but off in the distance I could see a pathway going up a large and steep looking hill. Surely that was not our route.
This hill was a nightmare. Walking it in full sun with no shade and it was a fairly warm day. Very few places to stop and catch your breath. When we walked the entire 500 miles of the Camino Frances in 2017, I don’t remember anything this traumatic.
Next stop is Fromista which is about 7 miles away. It had been the breadbasket of the farming area since Celtic times until being destroyed by the Moors and later rebuilt in the 12th century. Buen Camino!
Sunday, September 12, 2021: This is one of my favorite walks so far! We started packing up around 6:30 am when it was still dark out. We started walking a little before 8:00 am when the sun was just starting to come up.
So the story goes … the road to Castrojarez leads to the ruins of a church complex started by the Order of St. Anthony, a 11th-century order of nuns dedicated to the 3rd century Egyptian hermit whose relics it held. A man brought his daughter to the relics and she was healed of a particularly pernicious disease reminiscent of leprosy. This disease became known as St. Anthony’s Fire, which caused a terrible burning feeling, loss of circulation and eventually gangrene. This disease was in fact like ergotism, caused by a fungus that grows on rye bread. The order developed a reputation for healing this disease, though serendipitously, pilgrimage was an excellent antidote to the disease a vigorous exercise and plenty of wine helped to overcome it. Hiking the Camino de Santiago by Anna Dintaman and David Landis.
The ruins were privately owned and inaccessible to everyone until 2002 when an entrepreneur decided to commit himself to a project of creating a refuge for those walking the Camino. For almost a year he shared his ideas with the owner and they wrote a formal contract leasing the ruins for 35 years. The commitment was to create a hostel for pilgrims walking the Camino and to consolidate and restore these ruins. A lot of effort was used to clean up the shambles and make it useable.
Mendizabal is the new name … now you can stay there! It’s rustic, mystical, haunting and not for everyone. I would love to see it lit up with candles at night (there is no electricity) but don’t think I could stay here. It’s a bit too eerie for me especially when thinking about all the history that happened here.
When walking through the ruins, you see little alcoves filled with big drippy candles and many slips of paper with hand-written prayer intentions. In the Middle Ages, these alcoves were where nuns left food for the poor. Now, three sheds have been set up to receive, stay and dine in with another as a bedroom with six bunk beds donated by the Spanish army and another shed that serves as a restroom.
Since 2002, the ruins are open from May to September. In those years they have welcomed more than 15,000 Camino walkers (also called Pilgrims) even though they only have 12 beds. They offer everyone who stays overnight a bed, dinner and breakfast and charge absolutely nothing. They maintain the site based on the donations freely left by pilgrims and visitors. Every year, they explain the history of the convent and the Antonians to more than 20,000 visitors. It is a fascinating place to explore however, even though the space was sacred at one time, the energy is now sad and dormant.
Legend has it that’s Mary appeared to St. James from an apple tree and he was so startled that his horse reared up and came down heavily, leaving hoof prints in the stone outside. We did not see any hoof prints.
In Spain there is no separation of church and state. Maria del Manzano is also used as a ‘church art museum’. They charge 1 Euro to enter. In the main altar area they had a display of vestments and other chapels featured artwork, statues and sacred items. I’m just glad the doors are open and we can see these amazing structures, sacred spaces and intriguing artwork.
As we strolled through the art exhibit at Santa Maria del Manzano we heard a small choir preparing for a mass service. The locals were starting to arrive and many brought a handful of flowers probably from their gardens. They had a special wooden rack for holding the flowers. Very nice way for the parishioners to contribute to the service.
This is the view when entering Castrojarez. High on top of the steep mesa is Castillo de San Esteban. The Romans used the castle, said to be founded by Julius Caesar, to protect the roads to Galicia’s lucrative gold mines. The city changed hands frequently until coming under Christian rule in 10th century.
Thursday, September 9, 2021: Tardejos has a population of about 850. The town’s church had a giant size stork nest on top. The stork took off flying over the buildings.
As I was walking away a woman came and unlocked the church doors so I stopped in to check it out. The churches always have interesting things — sometimes its hard to figure out the logic but I assume the congregation knows the rhyme and reason why.
I entertain easily … watched a truck with cages of firewood being delivered to local businesses. The crane would move the cage to the sidewalk. Then it would release the cage and all of the wood spilled out. Somebody probably had the job of moving the wood inside or stacking it neatly.
The Village of Hornillos is quite possibly an ancient city. There are some ruins prior to entering the town which are the remains of a hospice for lepers.
The town fountain features a rooster on top because of a story that says Napolean’s troops stole all the chickens in Hornillos while the townspeople were at Mass. The soldiers killed the chickens and snuck them out of the town in their drums. When confronted by the townspeople, the soldiers denied everything, but one rooster miraculously came back to life and gave a nightly crow from within the drum, proving the soldiers’ guilt.
Moving on! Next stop is Hontanas which is named for the numerous springs and abundant water in the area. Buen Camino!!
Due to time constraints, Theresa and I skipped the Meseta when we walked the Frances in 2017. We are excited to discover this unique piece of Iberia.
The Meseta is a geographical area within the region of Castilla and Leon – the largest region in Spain. The Camino Frances crosses The Meseta between the cities of Burgos and Leon. The flat land glimmers with golden wheat and flocks of sheep. There is an endless horizon and wide open space. Sun is full strength — there are very few trees and very little shade.
My Camino guidebook says, “The Monastery was built in 1175 by Alfonso VIII who transformed one of his palaces into a luxurious convent where widow noblewomen could retreat from the world in decadence. Today an order of nuns live there and guide visitors on tours.” The Santa Maria la Real de Huelgas” guidebook says the word “Huelgas” was misinterpreted and it actually means, “Idle”. The Monastery of Idle?
A beautiful walkway wrapped around the cloister. We were allowed to take photos outdoors but not indoors. In one of the chapels is a statue of St. James that has jointed arms that move. One has a sword in it and was used during rituals to tap the kings on the shoulder when they were dubbed as knights. Only St. James is worthy to knight a king, even if it is a statue.
This is our final destination … LaFabrica. It was an old flour factory turned in to a Hostal. It features exposed stone walls and wooden beams.
Our room had unique decor and an extra large bathroom.
We enjoyed a very nice dinner at the Hostal’s restaurant. A nice couple from Germany joined us. They were also walking the Camino. A nice finish to a long day.
It’s a 2-1/2 hour bus ride from Madrid to Burgos. The people of Spain take Covid and mask wearing seriously. Everyone wears masks! They are required inside all buildings. When walking around outside, over half the people are masked. You don’t see anyone with their nose hanging out either. As of today, 74.6% of the entire population of Spain (over 12) is vaccinated. The US is at 54.3%. I feel safer here in Spain than in the United States. Last week at the Dallas-Fort Worth airport in Texas, countless people were walking around with their mask around their neck or their nose hanging out. Selfish. We all share the air.
Burgos is a small historical city with a very large Cathedral and a beautiful river walk that leads you to the city gates.
The first day in Spain is to acclimate. Let the body recover from the stress of leaving home, the long flight and the time change. Absorb the energy of Madrid and lean into the culture.
Iberico Belotta hams come from pigs that feast on acorns. The favorite pastime of Iberico hogs is rooting around the pastures of the dehesa, (wooded farmland) foraging for acorns as well as herbs and grasses. All this running around and feasting makes for exquisitely marbled raw meat packed with natural antioxidants — a key ingredient for extended curing of the ham.
Iberico ham is considered as the most cardio healthy of all animal fats. It is low in calories, rich in vitamins B1, B6, B12, antioxidants, and has the ability to lower bad cholesterol levels and its high content in Omega 9 makes it unique.
The ham is sliced thin and often served with bread. The ham melts in your mouth and has a rich flavor profile that has been described as nutty and sweet, to earthy and floral.
Madrid is a fun place to visit but now it’s time to move on to rural Spain. The next stop is Burgos which is the start of the Maseta.
So we survived the flight and sailed through Immigration and Customs just fine. It was 9:30 am in Spain, but my legs knew better … in Minneapolis time was about 4:00 am. Onward to Puerto del Sol in central Madrid. We took the Renfe train which is faster than the Metro subway system. The cost for a Renfe ticket is $3.50. Surprisingly, the train was not crowded like it should have been. On previous trips we have ridden both Renfe and the Metro at various times of day. Remember, we were here in Madrid exactly two years ago. This seemed very odd. Perhaps, like in the United States, many people are now working from home.
Much of the day was spent sleeping. We crashed hard. We were revived in time for a walk around Puerto del Sol and dinner at Cafe Europa just off Sol. A lovely welcome to Spain.
Our last trip to Spain was exactly two years ago and it was a lot simpler all the way round. Just as 911 changed travel in 2001, Coronavirus is changing the way we travel now. There are several new procedures required and I’m thinking that some will fade away and some will become the new normal for travel. If any of you are planning to travel international in the near future, I hope this is helpful.
Accommodation Reservations are a Must. On the Camino, hotel rooms and albuergues are plentiful but now they are limiting their capacity because of mandated COVID restrictions. It varies from province to province but some are as low as 30% of their normal capacity. We’ve read that many of those walking the Camino are sleeping outdoors because they can’t get a room or a bed anywhere within reason. After two or three days of this, several have called it quits and gone home. Theresa and I spent countless hours planning walking distances and finding hotels, hostels or albuergues where we could reserve a room or beds.
Travel Requirements are Volatile: It’s necessary to keep a constant watch on the entry requirements for countries you wish to visit. The more countries, the more requirements which can change without notice at anytime. We restricted our travel to “Spain only” so we could avoid crossing a border and having to deal with multiple requirements. Spain’s only requirement at the time of our travel was to be vaccinated. Just a few days prior to our departure, Italy decided to require all visitors to quarantine for 14 days while France requires a negative PCR test within 72 hours prior to arrival.
Days before our departure, the European Union (EU) made a recommendation to its 27 members to restrict non-vaccinated United States citizens from entering their countries. Each European country then decides whether or not to accept the EU’s recommendation. This volatility will continue until COVID is contained … and then what happens when the next COVID variant arrives? Consult your crystal ball because nobody knows!
Digital Vaccination Passports: Theresa and I have been vaccinated and now we have to prove it to Spain and American Airlines before being allowed to board the plane to Spain. After purchasing our airline tickets we were encouraged by American Airlines to enroll in their VeriFLY program which acts as a digital vaccination passport. To complete VeriFLY, we needed to receive a QR code from the health department of Spain. To fulfill the above is a two step process.
1. Download Spains SpTH app. This process is probably similar for other countries too. Follow the directions to fill out a request for a QR code. The typical information like name, address, passport #, etc. can be completed at anytime. But the covid information can only be completed within 48 hours of departure. It asks the typical covid questions, like “have you been exposed to anyone with COVID in the last 14 days”. It also asks for the date your COVID vaccination was completed and what type of vaccine you received.
After completing the form correctly, you will receive your QR code. The trick question for us was the “which vaccine did you receive?” We couldn’t find “Pfizer” on their list. It turns out that Pfizer goes by several names and here it was listed as Comirnaty. Completing these forms can sometimes be a problem solving experience.
2. Download the “VeriFLY” app from American Airlines. It would probably work best to add it your your cell phone as opposed to a computer. However, if doing it on a computer, you could print out the QR document and take it with you to check in. VeriFLY is available for all of the countries American Airlines travels to, not just Spain. The other airlines probably have similar apps. It will ask you to take a selfie photo and complete some of the typical info. Similar to the SpTH app, much of it can be done in advance but you are not able to complete it until you have the QR code from SpTH.
A Confident Traveler: Once again, when you complete the VeriFLY form correctly, it will reward you with a digital credential that has your photo and a VeriFLY QR code. It proudly boasts, “A Confident Traveler” over your photo. When you check in for your flight, you provide your VeriFLY digital document to the airline rep and boom you’re done.
Be a Smart Traveler: The Smart Traveler Enrollment Program is a free service that allows US citizens traveling or living abroad to receive the latest security updates from the nearest US embassy or consulate. For us, that would be the US Embassy in Madrid. The embassy will be able to contact you in case of an emergency. If your friends or family back home are having difficulty reaching you with urgent news, the US embassy can try to reach you.
Coming Home to the US: The United States requires its citizens to take a PCR (Polymerase Chain Reaction) test within 72 hours of returning. This means the airlines will want to see the results before you board your flight home. We’re flying American Airlines and they offer a verified PCR tests for purchase and it was reasonably priced compared to other similar tests. So we bought a 6-pack of tests rather than take a chance finding an appointment somewhere in Madrid or having the results not be accepted by American Airlines. It ended up costing each of us $85 for three tests. They recommend having a back up test so we each carried two tests with us to Spain.
Verified PCR Tests: After ordering and receiving the tests, the next thing required is to download the NAVICA app by scanning the QR code on the package. The test is actually a Zoom call to a technician (whom you find through Emed) who watches you take the test and verifies the results by emailing you a QR code. The QR code is proof of your PCR results for the airlines and US customs.
This may sound complicated but it really isn’t. The directions on the package are easy to follow. I downloaded the apps and did a test run at home just to learn how it works so it will be easier to accommodate from a hotel room in Spain.
My suggestions: If you are planning a trip to Spain or elsewhere, reserve some time a day or two before you leave to complete the digital forms … like 2-3 hours. Sit down with a cup of coffee. You don’t want to be rushed. If you are like me, human errors happen when completing digital forms and I rarely get them right the first time through. Be a problem solver! If the form keeps indicating errors, look at it as a puzzle you’re trying to solve. Usually it’s something very simple that is easily overlooked.
If you have trouble filling out online forms, get a second pair of eyes to help. The younger the eyes, the better. High school and college age students seem very astute at this and for many of them it is very intuitive.
So How Did it Go?Departing MSP: Check-in at American Airlines was smooth and easy. A delightful ticket agent name Gabby was impressed when I flashed my VeriFLY credentials. She was knowledgeable which helped us navigate this new procedure. We have TSA pre-check so there was no waiting in line. The experience at MSP airport was easy, fast and smooth. Might I add that MSP has some of the best restrooms ever seen at any airport. The flight boarded and left on time. Flight service was good. All passengers were masked and did what they were suppose to do. No incidents.
Breathing easy: One noticeable difference on this flight was the plane’s super pure cabin air. Even with a mask on, in a cabin full of people, you could tell the air was different. It felt fresh and light … like being at a lung spa. When allowed to take the mask off for a glass of wine and dinner, it was very noticeable. According to the American Airlines email received prior to the flight, “HEPA filters refresh the cabin air every 2 to 4 minutes so you can breathe easy.” And that statement was true. It made the flight a much more pleasant experience.
Arriving at the Madrid Airport: Going through Immigration is always slow and this airport did that really well. At the start, they only had two immigration agents working to accommodate our flight of several hundred passengers. It took 45 minutes of going through the line maze. The hard marble floor was not kind to the feet. Eventually two more agents arrived and the line moved slightly faster. Next step was to take the airport’s link tram to Customs. The tram ride was really long but it did get us to the correct place. The custom agent wanted to see the SpTH QR code document. After he dismissed me, another agent appeared and went through it more thoroughly. She wanted to see my vaccination credentials in addition to the QR code … they take this very seriously. This is when being totally prepared pays off. We were now done with the entry process and on our way.
Almost two years have passed since Theresa and I returned from walking Camino Ingles and volunteering as greeters at the albuergue in Ribadiso. We had planned to return to Spain in September 2020. And like many others, our plans were hijacked by the Coronavirus Pandemic.
We waited patiently for travel to Spain (and everywhere else) to resume. I guess that’s a lie because we were not patient at all. In fact, when we gave up hope of returning to Spain in a timely manner we decided to do a domestic Camino. During the fall and winter months we spent many evenings plotting a trip to New Mexico. It wouldn’t exactly be like a Camino in Spain, but there would be lots of hikes in beautiful nature and visits to many mystical, spiritual and Native American sites. We were surprised when we discovered that New Mexico was closed too due to high levels of COVID.
Now what? We decided to make a plan to go somewhere in the fall of 2021. Our 1st choice would be Spain, 2nd choice New Mexico and if neither of those two became available, the default would be to do a Minnesota road trip. It was looking like Minnesota would be the likely winner. But magically in July, Europe opened its doors to the United States. I was still a bit apprehensive about traveling to Spain. Then we found a round trip airfare for $505 and that was the deal maker.
Walking the Maseta: We decided to take it easy this time. On our first trek across Spain in 2017 (the 500 mile one) we skipped a small segment called The Maseta. We weren’t alone. Many consider it to be hot, flat and boring. There are long views of big skies, flocks of sheep and rolling fields of grain. Being slow walkers, we needed to cut it so we would arrive in Santiago to meet my husband David. We’ve always wondered what we missed and now it’s time to find out. In addition, we want to walk the last two days of Camino Ingles, which Theresa missed in 2019 due to an ankle injury. After completing those two goals, we have seven days to explore Spain — Bilbao? San Sebastián? Barcelona? You’ll find out when we get there.
Travel in a Covid World: Tomorrow I’ll write about the new normal and how global travel has changed in a short two years and what’s required to leave and re-enter the country.
Today is our last day as volunteer Hospitaleras at the albuergue in Ribadiso. As hosts, we enjoyed greeting hundreds of guests from all over the world while staying at this historic albuergue that has been welcoming visitors since 1523. Now it’s time to say goodbye.
We’ve gotten used to candlelight breakfasts.
This is the main dorm. It has three levels. After we get the straglers moving, we usually do pre-cleaning by removing debris and sweeping. It usually takes between 15-30 minutes. The paid staff comes in later to do the real cleaning, disinfecting and floor mopping.
Terry and I said goodbye to Maricarmen, one of our Xunta supervisors.
Farmer Alfonso is finally fixing the fence so the cows can’t escape.
Home Sweet Home! We spent a couple hours cleaning our cottage and washing linens and towels. Thankful there was a washer & dryer here.
We stopped next door at Meson Rural to say goodbye to our friends. Sylvania poured us a Gin & Tonika.
A toast to Ribadiso and our two weeks in paradise.
Even little Chisco came by to say goodbye.
This is Lolo our cab driver for the past two weeks. He said next time we return we need to speak more Spanish and he will learn more English. He gave us a ride to the bus stop in Arzua. From there we took the bus to Santiago where it was raining hard. We had a few hours to kill at the bus depot before catching our all-night ride to Madrid. From Madrid we fly to Boston and then to Minneapolis and back to reality.
It’s been an awesome five week adventure in Spain. Meeting and sharing so many experiences with people from all over the world has been enriching, enlightening and inspirational. It’s time to head home now but I have a feeling Jane will be in Spain again.
Today it is more than just cold rain, it is a downpour. It rained most of the night and the Rio Iso is rising. The water is moving much faster than before. Most of the pilgrims have stopped walking for the day
Dark skies all day long accompanied by rain most of the day.
The river is rising.
The water used to be so clear you could see every rock on the bottom. Now it’s muddy and murky.
We showed up for our 1:00 pm shift and it was still raining hard. Ana the Albuerguesa sent us on our way. It is too cold. We spent most of the afternoon at Meson Rural drinking wine, blogging, backing up phones, catching up on news and talking.
Terry and I have been together for almost five weeks. One would think we would run out of stuff to talk about …. never.
Here’s another nook at the Meson Rural. This is the indoor grill. Looks like they stoke it with charcoal. It has a very large vent over the top.
Taylor from Long Island, New York said her realtor license expired today and she was happy about it. Didn’t like working 24/7. She’s walking the camino to discern her future. She graduated from Art & Design school a few years ago. When she returns to NY, she would like to start out doing retail window display design.
Ken from Toronto, Canada is done for the day. Walked in the rain and cold and has had enough.
This would be our last day working with Ana. I made a batch of Mahnomen Porridge, a Native American recipe from Mahnomen tribe from Minnesota. We packaged it up and made a thank you card to go with it.
Mahnomen Porridge: Wild rice, roasted hazelnuts, dried blueberries, cranberries and cherries, maple syrup, cream. Serve warm.
Cow rebellion: Rosella, Agnes and Elsie rebelled and made an escape. They left their pasture, crossed the river and walked through the Albuergue. Freedom! And where did they go — straight to the neighboring Pension’s fenced in garbage. It smelled so good they were licking the wood.
In the meantime, poor Bernadette was all alone. She did not leave the pasture, would not cross the river and did not approve of the others going. She paced around the pasture and moooed a lot. She was quite upset.
The great escape: Elsie takes off over the bridge
Agnes hides behind a tree.
Rosella makes a run for the weeds.
The three renegades went through the weeds, crossed the river again and ended up where the grass was greener.
Terry comforted Bernadette who stayed behind.
Alfonso and Chisco got everything under control. The gals are all heading to the barn.
Today’s Cutest Couple: Bernadette and Rosella
As you can tell, things have gotten slow at the Albuergue. Time to go home. We leave for Santiago tomorrow.
Fall is definitely settling in here. The days are getting shorter. It’s dark at 8:00 am and dark at 8:00 pm. It’s windy, cold and rainy. Not a good day for pilgrims to be walking today. Sunday morning is very quiet at Meson Rural.
One of my priorities today is to call my son Owen, it’s his 20th birthday. He is going to school at NDSU in Fargo. It’s about 3:00 am in Fargo, so I better hold off until later today.
First Pilgrim to Arrive Today: Pablo from South of Seville, Spain. He said he walked in rain the entire way form Palais de Rey.
Melissa from Seattle on a rental bike. She said the bike was rented through Cycling-Rentals.com. The bike was at her first stop when she arrived. It came in a box with directions on how to attach the pedals and adjust the handlebars which were packed for shipping. It also came with a helmet, tool kit and the panniers. When she reaches her last destination, she leaves the bike as is with the helmet and panniers in a garbage bag next to it. Someone comes and picks it up. She said they also rent e-bikes which I think would be a great option for this terrain.
Melissa said biking is about as fast as walking because she stops often to take photos or look at the scenery. She said while riding, her eyes are focused on the road mostly.
Cutest Couple: Rose and her brother Clarence. Both are from California. Rose has walked four caminos and Clarence has done two. She’s already planning her next one.
The Ladies from Taiwan: Ching Lee, (Terry), Maria, (Jane), Teresa. Agnes is taking the photo. We may take a lot of photos of pilgrims staying at the albuergue and passing through Ribadiso, but we are also in a lot of photos. Many pilgrims take our picture or want us in a photo with them. As the saying goes … there are no strangers on the Camino, only friends who haven’t met yet.
Teresa from Taiwan wanted a photo with the American Theresa. Very sweet!
Even though it is a damp cold with mist and rain today, people are still in the icy cold water of the Rio Iso. It’s good therapy for tired feet. Our numbers are dwindling … it was just a week or so ago and the river was full of pilgrims.
Farmer Alfonso had the cows in the pasture across the river from us. Three of the four cows crossed the river and came on to the Albuergue property. Bernadette our favorite cow does not leave the pasture and gets upset with the other cows for leaving.
Dinner tonight is spaghetti with a sausage meat sauce and Parmesan. Of course it is accompanied by a bottle of wine, some good bread and salad mixta. A hearty meal to end a cold, rainy day.