Slow down, you’re moving too fast 

Oct 12

I come from a long line of slow people. 

My great aunt who never drove, told her sister who she forced to drive her everywhere, “You know Amy, you  can’t always be the last car on the road.”

Her nephew, my father, had a truck that never went past second gear unless one of the kids was driving it. 

I have a friend who refers to me, his daughter, as Slug. You get the picture.

On the Camino B and I are famous for being the first on the path and the last to the alberge. 

But really what is the point of racing down the path. Slow has its advantages. 

 By the time we arrive, the  rush for beds is over. It’s too late to do laundry, there is no more hot water so we don’t have to take a shower and no matter what time you arrive there will always be something to eat and drink. 

Slow is the only way to go. There is so much to see and too much to miss.

Yesterday, as is typical in Galicia,  we left in the fog. We faced an  eighteen mile day on the same path we have walked every day for the past 29 days.  At our speed – a rousing 2 1/2 miles an hour- it will take us about eight hours. 


What could possibly entertain us  for eight hours? Plenty as you will see.

The first thing I notice is that the path is completely different. We are walking over huge soft ripples of grey stone. Imagine your are Gulliver walking over the back of a rhinoceros. Hard and lumpy like rolls of fat on an elephant .

We walk on this stone path for several hours.

Note two things. 

B, in her stylish neon jacket makes  her easier for me to find and harder for cars to hit.

Note also the nifty stone wall on the left. 

Up close every section is  different. This amazing wall, in the middle of no where, went on for miles. 

And  the stones themselves, they were covered with fuzzy black lichen. 

Before the day was over we would see other great stone walls .

The classic

The green monster

The tombstone

But I am getting ahead of myself. Back to the grey stones. 

Not only were the stones different, the vegetation surrounding us had changed. We were walking through yellow gorse, scotch broom and fading pink heather. The ferns which had been brown were now rusty red. 

 But as pretty as they were, early morning on the camino is the time for spiders and spider webs. 

Remember the snowflakes you used to catch on your mittens. Each one  was unique and they didn’t last very long. When the sun shone on them, they were gone. 

Spider webs are the snowflakes of the camino. 

It is easy to become obsessed with them and I  easily obsessed. 

They come in every shape and size. They are vertical and horizon. Some are perfect.  Beautiful right angles  and  perfect symmetry. 

Others are full of holes and mistakes- like the spider was learning to knit.

And last there are the three dimensional ones that are like cats cradle gone crazy or a fairy house built by Frank  Gehry.  

Well here’s the deal. A spider lives about twelve months. A spider as young as seventeen days old will spin a perfect symmetrical web. 

The older the spider, the worse the web. By eight months old the spider is losing his ability to make a web. His web making ability will decrease until he dies.

Spiders and their web spinning lifespan  are very useful in studies on the aging of the human brain. Not sure how that works but that’s what I read so it must be true!!!if not at least it is interesting. 

I thought back to the spider sculpture I saw at the Bilbao Guggenheim (see earlier blog) and laughed. 

In the woods the spiders make the sculptures. They have been doing it for a hundred and forty million years with no computers.

Our path shifted to the woods again. Galicia has one of the largest oak forests in Spain and we walked through several of them .

It was a nice change to have acorns bopping us on the head instead of chestnuts. First acorns are smaller and second the spiny chestnut  pod sticks to my hair! 

In addition to the oak and chestnut, there are many impressive trees and forests  on the path. 

Each tree  has a very distinctive trunk. They were very “touchable”. I wondered if I were blind would I be able to distinguish each type by rubbing the bark. Braille on the trail.  Bet the answer would be yes.


Plane tree


My time  on the trail sped by as did the miles.

As we were approaching Sobrado dos Monxes we encountered two odd things.  One I can explain; the other I cannot.

Suddenly we came upon a field of about a dozen whale sized rocks. Just there, sprinkled over the land. Dropped  from the sky? Popped up from the earth?? Who knows .

I could find nothing about this so it is a mystery.  A cool mystery.

I can explain the large circular body of water we came to a few minutes later. 

Between 1500 and 1530 the monks at the local monastery made this lake.  It took thirty years of digging and damming but they needed a source of drinking water and water for their crops so they took matters into their own hands. Today it is one of the most successful and important ecosystems in Europe.

And if that doesn’t impress you I’ll leave you with some pictures of the monastery where they slept after they finished digging. They built that too, with help .

The Monastery of Santa Maria started in the 10th century as a Benedictine monastery. It was abandoned and became a Cistercian monastery in the 11th century and was abandoned again in the 17th century.  It was sold out of the church and again abandoned.

In 1954 it was re founded as a Trappist Monastery.  Today it houses a pilgrim alberge, a hotel, and welcomes tourists who come by bus  (and foot).

Just as we were leaving the monastery a large group of tourists walked out with us raving about much they had seen. 

As they filed onto their bus I thought of how much they had missed.

If every day were sunny…

Oct 11

Growing up, every time I complained about something my father would say ” if every day were sunny, life would be a desert.”

For the past three days our days have begun shrouded in heavy fog. 

Not only was it foggy, it was cold. Two days in the 40’s and today even colder. There was ice on the car in our parking lot this morning. 

The first foggy day it stayed foggy all day but since we were walking in the woods it didn’t really matter. 

For the first time we needed to put on a fleece. Still my ears were freezing.

The  fog stayed with us all day. Everything  was grey and fuzzy but we were safe in the woods and it was beautiful. 

The next day was still foggy. This was more problematic as today our path crossed and recrossed a busy highway. 

Happily the Camino Norte takes good care of its walkers.  There are dedicated sidewalks along some roads and at 

particularly dangerous crossings,there are pedestrian buttons that set off flashing signs to warn to the cars and trucks flying through the fog.

One if the sad realities of every camino is that people are killed as they walk  along the highways.

To see memorials to pilgrims killed on their way to Santiago is disconcerting and we were determined not to  become another  statistic.

Cemetery in the fog!

This morning was the coldest yet. There was ice on the roof of the car in our parking lot. 

But by the third day we got it right .

We were prepared for the cold and the fog, knowing we had another long stretch in the road. 

I lead with my flashlight bicycle light and B followed in her glowing yellow jacket. maybe it was mid October but the mittens and ear warmers were put to good use. 

By the time we crossed the railroad track and entered the woods, the sun had come out. It was the perfect cold autumn day. 

Since this was to be our last long stretch in the woods before we reached Santiago,we wanted to savor this day. 

It could not have been more beautiful- easy walking, no cars, no people.

As I walked I reflected on the great variety of conditions we have encountered on this walk.  

Starting in Irun in mid September we were 825km (515 miles) from Santiago. 
When we saw this sign at the end of our second day we were feeling pretty good and very bad. Happy to have gotten this far, more dead than alive.

We scrambled up muddy mountains, and slid down the other side. We walked along the seashore and over the rocky cliffs. Every day was different. 

Some were short. Others felt like they would never end. 

We never could decide which was more painful. Going up or coming down   If the sign said it would take one and a half hours it would take us four. 

It rained. We sunburned our noses. Our maps blew away and it was glorious ( most of the time)  And suddenly we were more than half way there.  

In Galicia the markers record the distance to Santiago four times each kilometer.  It’s possible to get obsessed with these numbers, especially when you are tired. Then they seem to get further and further apart. 

 By the beginning of this week we had walked over four hundred miles and had climbed the equivalent of 2,222 flights of stairs. (We feel that every morning!)

So when we passed this marker yesterday afternoon we were ecstatic.  We were 66 miles  from Santiago. Coming down the homestretch.  We will get to Santiago either Sunday or Monday.

My thoughts as I walked today 

The camino is a metaphor for life. Some days are long and hard. Some days are easy. Some are  sweet and everything works.  Some are sour and nothing goes right.

But you need the hard to appreciate the easy. You can’t enjoy the sweet until you have tasted the sour. 

Another lesson learned, maybe relearned on the camino by the gift of time and solitude.

My father got it right. 

  If every day were sunny, life  would be a desert. 

Having church

Oct 8

We arrived in  Montenedo late yesterday morning. We had intentionally given ourselves a very short six mile day. 

After three brutally long and hilly stages  we had had enough. Walking had ceased to be enjoyable.  We needed a break.

 I had weeded another two pounds of weight out of my bag and was looking for a post office.  

Our clothes were beginning to smell like cheese. 

The logical decision was to take the afternoon off. B would do the laundry and I would unload the “stuff”. 

             Less stuff- smaller box- progress 

When our work was finished, we would tour the Cathedral of Saint Martin, known as the kneeling cathedral. It is tucked down in the town square, totally hidden until you are right beside it. 

 XIII frescos of the slaughter of the innocents  The ” English Madonna” taken by John Dutton from St. Paul’s Cathedral in London during the Reformation and brought to Spain where it became the altarpiece of this cathedral.

Sanctuary slippers in all the litergical colors 

My favorite pair.

XII Madonna and child 

The Holy Family

But today is Sunday and the Cathedral service schedule was not pilgrim friendly so we would do what countless other Christians do. We would worship in the country with nature. 

Mother Nature did not disappoint. She gave good church.

The temperature this mornings was in the mid 40’s but as usual the “initial ascent was long and steep”. Two hours later and fifteen hundred feet higher I was warm.

Surrounded by beauty on every side I was filled with gratitude. Thankful that I had the time to walk for seven hours with no telephone ringing. No interruptions.  No noise.  What luxury. What a gift. I looked out at  God’s world and gave thanks. 

After reaching our cruising altitude we walked on a quiet level road. Not only could I look out at the countryside, I could stop and enjoy nature up close. I could crawl around on my knees not quite praying but not far from it. Another gift of time. 

I found myself singing. First I sang All Things Bright and Beautiful. Then I tried For the Beauty of the Earth. I could only remember the first two lines so I sang them over and over and over or hummed or made up my own words. 

 Alone in the woods I could sing as badly as I did and no one complained. For that too I gave thanks. 

There was no sermon but with my old Quaker background I was very comfortable with long periods of silence.  

I had looked around. I had looked down and as I walked I looked into my heart and my soul. 

My church “service” lasted seven hours. I was the celebrant,  the choir and the congregation  and if I had been The Mystery  Worshipper , I would have given my  service all 1Os. Instead I gave thanks. 

Hook a left

Oct. 7

For the past three weeks we have been walking along or near the coast of Spain- first beside the Bay of Biscay and more recently  next to the Atlantic Ocean. 

We have passed through the Basque Country, Cantabria and Asturias. Although we dipped away from the sea from time to time it was always on our right. 

Three days ago that changed.

We left the province of Asturias and walked into the province of Galicia.

At Ribadeo, we hooked a left turn and are now heading southwest to Santiago de Compostela. 

We have left the cliffs and the surfers and summer behind us.

No more speedy little ferries to whisk us from one spit of land to another.

No more death defying bridges either.
For more than three hundred miles we  have followed markers on which the “back”of the scallop shell has pointed us in the correct direction. 

Go left

Go straight

Go left again
And suddenly  in Galicia the signs are switched. We now go in the direction in which the “fingers” point.

This now means go right.

And sometimes two contradicting shells point you in the same direction .

Suddenly it is easy to get lost if the mind is wandering. And it is and we do. 

However this problem has been mostly solved by a new set of concrete markers that tell you not only the direction to go but also gives the distance left before you arrive at Santiago.

  Very clear, very visible and very satisfying to see the progress we are making .  

Very demoralizing to believe you are nearly done for the day and discover the distance given for that stage is off by 10 kms!

 Very nice -everything matches!

But even more noticeable than a change of province or direction or of marker style, is that autumn has come to Spain.

The green ferns of a month ago are now rusty red. 

The lime green chestnut pods of three weeks ago are a dull brown and litter the path. The shiny chestnuts are glistening and popping out of their skins. 


In the woods, the lush greens of summer have been replaced by the muted shades of fall. 

The grasses  are turning golden and the corn is being cut. Even the color of the clay under our feet has changed. 

And as the seasons have changed, we have changed also. 

Tanner, maybe a little fitter, maybe a little more bruised and blistered, hopefully a little wiser. 


October 5 

Morning on the camino is not your typical morning in the US.  The sun does not rise until about 8:30.  Until then, to quote B, ” Outside is as black as the inside  of your hat.”

This suits me just fine. I am Newton ‘s First Law in the Flesh.  “An object at rest stays at rest unless acted on by an unbalanced force.”

B is the unbalanced force. By 6am she has made coffee with our nifty immersion heater and the Folgers coffee bags- coffee “tea bags”. After a coffee or two and a cookie or two I join the human race. 

When it is light enough to see, we are off. 

Whatever problems kept us awake last night look insignificant in the light of day. 

Pilgrims like me worry about mosquitoes. Mark Twain was tormented by a mouse in his travel book A Tramp Abroad.  Usually we  are too tired to worry about anything at all. 

Outside the morning is generally cool and quiet. Whether we are in the country or on the shore the colors are beautiful. 

The only things moving are the chickens, the cows, the cats, and the pilgrims.

Somewhere I read that in Spain morning was from 11am until 2pm. 

The roosters did not get this memo. They crow all day long. They are everywhere and quite loud and quite colorful.

The cows have seen a lot of pilgrims and give us a jaded “stink eye” and the odd bellow.

And the pilgrims?  Today it is raining and there is not a walker to be found. Normally they pass us every few minutes until we are the last people on the path. They are missing one of the pleasures of the camino- walking in the rain.

But this morning it was the cat who had my attention.

My thoughts turn to my fat faced, one eyed, black feral cat, Schwartzy.  I think that what I love about him is that he is such a survivor. 

When we moved to Rhode Island we inherited the cat. He has survived outside for at least fifteen years.

 In the winter he sleeps in the warmest part of the loft; if he doesn’t like my food he tries the neighbors; if he doesn’t like theirs, he catches a chipmunk. When he gets in a fight with a fisher cat or a coyote, he disappears for a week or two and come back less than perfect but still alive. He is a survivor.

I think of the Jewish survivors in the concentration camps and their incredible will to survive under the most horrific circumstances. 

I think of Salvador Alvarge, a San Salvaforian fisherman who drifted 6700 miles for 438 days when the engine on his boat failed. 

I think of friends who have survived cancer not once,not twice, but three times. 

I think about what makes these people survivors. For some it is their deep faith but others have no faith and yet they too are survivors. 

Once when I was going through a bad patch a friend gave me a sheet of paper, black except for two white eyes. At the bottom it said. “When you are going through hell keep going. “Winston Churchill.

That paper lived  on my refrigerator for years until I passed it along to a friend who needed it more than I did. 

Survivors. One step at a time. Pilgrims one step at a time. Life one step at a time. 

All this thinking and we took a wrong turn and ended up going about ten miles out of our way. Our short day turned into a testy long slog.

The last thing we had to do was cross a bridge into town on a busy highway. 

Roads cars and pilgrims are a bad combination and when it came time to cross B was far ahead. 

Those who know me know there are two things that terrify me. Snakes and heights. 

When I got to the bridge I realized the cars were not my problem. 

The pedestrian bridge was three boards wide with a three foot high  see through railing. It was about a half mile above the sea and about a have mile long. 

Shaking like a leaf, I remembered all the real survivors and their real problems and their real heroics. Fool.

I took a deep breath and repeating Churchills’words,I crossed the bridge. 

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