The Big Adventure

14 October 2019 | Mid air
13 October 2019 | Santiago de Compostela, Spain
12 October 2019 | Amenal, Spain
11 October 2019 | Arzua, Spain
10 October 2019 | Melide, Spain
09 October 2019 | Palas de Rei, Spain
08 October 2019 | Portomarin, Spain
07 October 2019 | Sarria, Spain
06 October 2019 | Triacastela, Spain
05 October 2019 | O Cebreiro, Spain
04 October 2019 | Trabadelo, Spain
03 October 2019 | Cacabelos, Spain
02 October 2019 | Molinseca, Spain
01 October 2019 | Rabanal del Camino, Spain
30 September 2019 | Astorga, Spain
29 September 2019 | San Martin del Camino, Spain
28 September 2019 | León, Spain
27 September 2019 | León, Spain
26 September 2019 | Mansilla de las Mulas, Spain
25 September 2019 | El Burgo Ranero, Spain


14 October 2019 | Mid air
Andrea Berndt | Sunny
Our time on the Camino has come to an end. Trying to put it in perspective starts with looking at why we were drawn to do it in the first place. I was intrigued by the challenge and adventure, wondering what I would find. Mike saw it as a celebration of life, feeling the joy of being able to do this as an affirmation of all the blessings in our lives. What was the final verdict? Did we have the big Shazam of life altering experiences? Reflecting on our Camino experience will take time, particularly given its abrupt ending. As I sit on the plane traveling at a speed far in excess of the past 6 weeks, I feel truly blessed to have had the opportunity to slow down, savor life, and renew a sense of what is truly important in the greater scheme. To develop an appreciation for the small, subtle things like a mid morning café con leche, a smile, nod or words of encouragement from a fellow pilgrim, or a guaranteed bed at the end of the day is a privilege. We've learned mundane things like toilet seats are optional but toilet paper essential and some times you have to wave as you heed the call of nature to keep the timed light sensors from plunging you into the darkness at the most in opportune times. Waking up each morning and witnessing glorious sunrises as the day comes to life is a priceless treasure. To walk by yourself yet never alone, we're honored to feel the presence of family and friends walking with us in spirit. We've connected with fellow pilgrims from all over the world, sharing an experience and communicating despite language barriers. We are all traveling this planet and time together, like it or not, and it's high time to set aside our differences and make it work. If only each of us would climb on board with faith, persistence and tolerance, we could build a better future.

We made it!

13 October 2019 | Santiago de Compostela, Spain
Andrea Berndt | Rain
We were not looking forward to the final leg of the Camino. We only had 16.6 kilometers (10.3 miles) to go, but anticipated a slog as the weather forecast called for 100% rain starting at 0200 and continuing for several days with the possibility of flooding. We briefly considered napping for a few hours and continuing on yesterday, but we were just too tired to keep going. Besides, this is why we have ponchos! At least our place was starting breakfast service at 0630, so we could have something substantial to eat prior to starting out. Sure enough, we woke up to a steady drizzle. Made the usual last minute email message check before leaving to ensure everything was in order and got the message that my aunt had died. We practically flew out the door and made our way to Santiago de Compostela as quickly as possible. Since we'd already had our coffee at breakfast, we only made one quick stop for orange juice and didn't even bother to take our packs off. We dodged puddles and small rivers on the trail and covered the distance in less time than it took me to run the Army Ten Miler back in 2005, sans backpack. We were thrilled to see familiar faces of Camino friends at the pilgrims office in Santiago de Compostela, and to find out we'd made it in time to get our compostela (certificate of completion) today. Then the real challenge began, coordinating with airlines and family to get back. Thank heavens for my sister Joan, who filled in the lodging and transportation piece in North Carolina. Having faith that it would all fall in place, we finally fell into bed exhausted.

Santiago or bust

12 October 2019 | Amenal, Spain
Andrea Berndt | Overcast
We left Arzua on a wing and a prayer this morning, even the roosters weren't up but the cats were rounding up the last of their nightly field mice conquests. We were armed with headlamps and iPhones. Mike considered retracing yesterday's steps, but we already had a long hike (25+ kilometers) without adding to it. I plugged tonight's lodging address into google maps and off we went, skirting farms and country houses on the backroads. Mike used the Camino app to verify progress towards the official trail. We were tracking right along when Cujo and his brother appeared out of nowhere. Mike quickly shifted his poles to the ready position, but it turned out the dogs were just keeping things in order since the usual little old Spanish ladies were not up yet. We passed without incident and connected with the trail farther down the hill. We spent the day walking through eucalyptus forests. Still haven't spotted any koalas. We passed a large tour bus parked at a crossroads. Looks like the Grand Circle Camino tour, dropping tourists off to have a go at the Camino before picking them up and whisking them off to luxury accommodations for the night. After 760+ kilometers on the Camino with multiple nights in questionable lodging, sure sounds good to me. We've also encountered students on fall break walking sections as a group, like the field trip of all field trips. We've heard that young folks try to get the Compostela to pad resumes, similar to having Eagle Scout. To each his own. A couple of hills, rivers and villages as well as the prerequisite café con leche, we made it to Amenal, our last stop before Santiago de Compostela.

Are we there yet?

11 October 2019 | Arzua, Spain
Andrea Berndt | Sunny
We decided to head straight for the Camino this morning and skip the trek past all the churches in town and up the hill. It only seemed like the thing to do as I'd been there done that while exploring town yesterday afternoon. We had a pleasant all down hill jaunt out of town and into the woods by ourselves in the dark. Just as Mike remarked that we had the trail all to ourselves (markers confirmed we were on the right path) we came upon a river and a trio trying to walk across very large, uneven stepping stones. The fellow in front was struggling, and the 2 behind were trying to shine a light to help. The first pilgrim almost made it across before losing his balance and falling off near the end. Turns out he was not with the next 2, and they were a bit abrupt with his lack of adequate lighting and progress. They took off up the hill and we jumped in to see what we could do. The poor fellow was an 81 year old man from Quebec who spoke little English or Spanish. We helped him to his feet, got his pack and gear back in order, then took his arm and guided him up the hill. He told us his wife of 35 years had died in April and he had left Canada 5 September to walk the Camino. He was planning on walking all the way to Finisterre, visiting the basilicas along the way. He also hoped to spend time in Madrid and Paris visiting art museums before heading home in November. We walked together until our first coffee stop when he chose to continue after thanking us profusely for our help. We were in desperate need of our first café con leche of the day, plus who could pass by a place named No Camino? Refueled, we hit the trail once more, this time running into Hector and Walesa. We walked together for a while comparing notes. We aren't in a hurry as today is supposed to be a short day, only 14 kilometers, which is like a rest day at this point. We made it to Arzua well before noon and settled in for arrival beverages. When I fired up the phone to locate our lodging, we had a very rude awakening. Seems the place was 4 kilometers north of town and back the way we had come. Those nuns got us again for skipping a hill and church. Mike needs to get a better travel agent as being way out of town and in the wrong direction was not welcome news, especially considering that tomorrow was already slated to be one of our longer days. We dropped off our backpacks and went exploring. Not much out here other than a 17th century historic hospedia across the street that has been lovingly restored into a luxury hotel and restaurant that actually starts serving dinner at 7. That's the Spanish equivalent of the early bird special! We made dinner reservations and headed back to check into our place. A shower and laundry later, we had a quick lunch of salad and grilled scallops before settling in for some rest.

Different flavors

10 October 2019 | Melide, Spain
Andrea Berndt | Sunny and cool
We thought we were in good shape for our departure in the dark from Palas de Rei this morning. The clue should have been yesterday at lunch when we sat at a corner café watching the blank stare of pilgrims straggling down the steps from the church and looking for Camino signs. The arrows were posted around the corner on the side of the building not visible to them. We were like traffic cops gesturing to send them in the right direction. Our turn was this morning at the edge of town, when a highly visible arrow took us to the left in the direction of the last albergue and we missed a barely visible small arrow to the right. About 100 meters out of town, something just didn't feel right. We were going uphill when the guide said we'd be heading down, and there was a conspicuous absence of pilgrims ahead or behind. The granite markers that had been practically every 5 meters yesterday were also missing. We backtracked to the last visible sign and started over. Sure enough we found that concealed arrow and got back on track. The sun came up by the time we arrived in Casanova, a must stop for pictures, coffee and a stamp on the credencial. Not much else to see, so carried on. The Camino has taken on a very different flavor since Sarria, less of a pilgrimage and more of a touristy vibe. Tour buses drop folks off at major intersections, looking well rested and well dressed, not exuding the "I've been wearing these 2 shirts for the last month and can't wait to burn them" attitude. I'll bet their trail shoes even still have tread. As you pass through little towns, taxi signs are prominently displayed everywhere... a rarity before. No matter. As the newcomers saunter along the trail, we just blow on by walking with a purpose. We have our Camino on! There are still a few familiar faces. We are delighted to see Everett is still at it, his shin splints manageable at this point. Hector and Walesa, fellow Army retirees we met back in Leon, seem to be on the same schedule. We traded foot care tips and supplies as Hector just lost a toenail. We made it to Melide in time for a lunch of the most scrumptious grilled Galician scallops served under a kiwi fruit trellis. Feeling refreshed, we went to find our lodging. My heart fell when I saw the sign on the dilapidated corner building with a sagging roof. Our night at the truck stop was one thing, but this is way beyond "suck it up Buttercup". Fortunately the corner building was only serving as signage and the albergue was a few doors down.

Passing thoughts

09 October 2019 | Palas de Rei, Spain
Andrea Berndt | Partially sunny and cool
Leaving before daybreak has its advantages. The stillness of the morning followed by the sounds of the earth coming to life is the most wonderful music to the ears. Watching mist rising in the fields is an experience to savor. Our path through the forest gave way to meadows and little clusters of buildings that pass for towns. While it is easy to zone out with your own thoughts, observing the surroundings provides delightful surprises when you take the time to notice. Passing through a small farming community, I had to pass around a tractor parked beside a barn. As I passed, I just happened to notice the make. No John Deere tractor here, it was a Lamborghini! Can't begin to imagine what it sounds like when fired up by no doubt a gentleman farmer. More commonly though, are all the different plants growing wild by the side of the trail. Interspersed with weeds has been a plethora of herbs. Dill, rosemary and lavender were common to start. Now they've been joined by thyme, oregano and mint. Today we had a new addition to the forest of chestnut and oak. Copses of eucalyptus trees added perfume to the air. As we passed through Ventas de Naron, we spied Capela a Magdalena, a small chapel built with stones from an collapsed 13th century Templar hospital and dedicated to Mary Magdalene. Curious, I poked my nose in briefly. No pictures allowed and they'd stamp your pilgrim credencial for a fee. Note that everywhere else is happy to stamp your credencial for free. Sounds to me like an attempt to perpetuate her reputation as a member of the world's oldest profession by charging for something others offer for free. Hmmm. Mike pointed out today that we're 90% of the way through our journey. Good thing because the tread on our shoes is getting very worn. That prompted discussion of what we were looking forward to at home and various plans. We both agreed that our shoes and hats would not make the trip home. Perhaps we should have an adios sombreros and zapatos ceremony in Madrid our last night. After 48 days of washing clothes in the sink every night, we'll practically kiss the washer and dryer when we get home. Mike promised he'd only wake me up early 4 more times. On that note, we finished the last of our really long days (25.4 kilometers) in Palas de Rei.

Vessel Name: Free Spirit
Vessel Make/Model: Saga 43
Hailing Port: Palm Harbor, FL
Crew: Andrea & Mike Berndt
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Free Spirit's Photos -

Who: Andrea & Mike Berndt
Port: Palm Harbor, FL