Once my daughter and I completed our first Camino in 2017 (Astorga to Santiago) we responded to the Pilgrim’s Office (Oficina de Acogdia dl Peregrino) to obtain our Compostela. We anxiously waited in line with Pilgrims from around the globe, and once it was our turn to step up to the long counter, we were greeted by a volunteer who asked us a few questions and examined our pilgrim’s passport. He then advised we qualified for our first Compostela. We were then offered an additional document ‘Certificate of Distance’. Although I had not previously heard about this document I ordered one without hesitation.
We were charged 3 euros and received our certificate. which was a beautiful document written in Spanish calligraphy and signed by the Dean of the Cathedral de Santiago. This distance acknowledgment lists our names, starting point, dates of travel and the total Camino distance walked. Some folks have said the kilometer distance is not accurate but this does not matter to me. We also purchased a cardboard mailing tube to safeguard and/or ship our Compostela and ‘Certificate of Distance’ document for only 2 additional euros.
I believe the Pilgrim’s Office only began offering these “Certificate of Distance” documents in 2014 in conjunctions with the traditional Compostela for Pilgrims who reach Santiago de Compostela. The Pilgrim’s office also allows you to request one via email if you were unable to obtain one after your Camino.
Here is a link to the Pilgrim’s Office in Santiago de Compostela:
Pilgrim’s Passport or Credential (credencial del peregrino) for the Camino Santiago de Compostela
While traveling on the Camino Santiago de Compostela pilgrims carry small accordion pleated booklet called a credential or pilgrim’s passport. This document is used to identify you as a pilgrim and to track and verify your progress along the camino. The credential has numerous small blank squares, that the pilgrims will eventually fill with inked stamps or ‘sellos’ from albergues, refugios, lodging, churches, police stations, museums, eating/drinking establishments, and tourist sites. Each place has its own unique sellos.
Although it is not required to have a credential to walk the camino, unless you are staying in an albergue ( pilgrim’s hostel), if you want to receive a compostela at the end of your journey, you must carry this document and have at least 2 sellos stamped in it every day from Sarria, Spain until you reach Santiago. The official requirement request 2 sellos per day for the final 100km of walking ( or riding a horse) and 2 stamps per day for final 200km if you are on a bicycle.
Many of the stamps list the town on them and you can obtain one from the innkeeper when you check in at the end of the day and then an additional one from a church or restaurant during while you are walking. You will see stamps and ink pads on most bars when you enter a place to buy a coffee. Just ask any waiter for a Camino sello and he will probably point to it and you will be free to stamp your passport. Excluding albergues, if you do not ask for a stamp you probably won’t get one; it is on you to remember to get your stamps.
Most pilgrims start collecting stamps where ever they begin walking, not just in Sarria. If you start in a far-reaching place like St. Jean Pied de Port, France you might need several credentials because they fill up. Sellos are readily available at most places pilgrims frequent and they become a valuable memento of their Camino experience.
Once you arrive in Santiago proceed to the Pilgrim’s Welcome Office, receive your final stamp and at that point, they will examine your document and if you successfully meet the requirements you will be issued a Compostela which certifies your Camino. You will be allowed to keep both your pilgrim’s passport and your Compostela.
The wonderful old town of Portomarin is a joy to visit for a pilgrim. There are plenty of outdoor restaurants, discount and grocery stores and plenty of places to hang your laundry to dry. The town’s square includes the Church of San Juan, a building that is both a church and a small castle. This town is packed with road-weary pilgrims enjoying the fine outdoor cafes which surround the plaza. If I could have stayed for an extra night just to relax and soak in the Camino vibe I would but it was time to move on.
The next day was a blur. Pilgrims were everywhere on the trail, lots of small villages to walk through and unrelenting heat. Busloads of pilgrims from all over Europe, Asia, and South America were now on the way heading to Santiago. At one point we were walking with two young men from Korea when one mentioned they were from North Korea. What a wonderful experience for my daughter to realize that not everyone from North Korea hated Americans. They were wearing expensive Patagonia clothing so I assume they weren’t typical citizens from DPRK.
Hundreds of Spanish school children are now on the Camino on school field trips. They were singing songs, laughing and really seemed to be enjoying themselves. I felt sorry for my child because she clearly did not fit in but this was to be expected because she was walking with her mom and they were with their classmates. But she did not seem to mind and she received lots of second looks from the teenage boys but she was too young to notice.
We saw more than 1 family today pushing baby strollers up the steep hills and through the rocky paths. These baby stroller-pushing families should be awarded a medal, I know I would never be able to do it.
After about 7 hours of walking, we arrived at the town of Palas de Rei. After some searching, we realized our lodging was located directly over a noisy bar. In fact, I had to enter the bar to obtain the keys to our room. It wasn’t as bad as it sounds because the room was spotless with cute twin beds and extra soft blankets in the bureau but the windows opened into a nondescript courtyard. I ensured the door was locked at all times and since there was no lobby I was not 100% comfortable staying there with my daughter.
This town was my least favorite place on the Camino, but it could have been because we were now just plain tired and worn out. In my opinion, there was nothing exciting or interesting about this place and the highlight was watching the local children riding their skateboards in the towns’ square. The Camino route in Palas dd Rei is on a steep paved hill and although the population is 3,500 it seemed more industrial than rural to me.
We ate supper with an atheist Pilgrim we briefly met the night before. She was from the UK and she despised the United States, the United Kingdom, and all other wealthy nations. Her goal in life seemed to be lecture everyone she met and ensure they were as miserable as she was. At one point she told me her husband had left her and I have to admit I couldn’t blame him. I quickly realized I did not want to spend one more minute with her, so I bought her a glass of wine and made up a story about needed to go make a call and we parted ways.
After a long, peaceful week on the Camino we felt part of the Camino family. We knew what we were supposed to do and say to everyone, and most importantly what to expect each day. Get up, walk, eat and rest, nothing more, nothing less.
Once we arrived in Sarria, Spain the atmosphere quickly changed and the peaceful calm of the previous trail was gone. There were pilgrims everywhere and they looked clean and energized with their sparkling new clothes and equipment. Sarria, Spain is the starting points for most pilgrims walking the Camino because the final 100 kilometers it is the least distance you can walk and still qualify for a Compestela once you arrive in Santiago. It was exciting to see so many new faces and groups but I was a little melancholy that the experience as I had known it, was over.
We stayed in a new albergue called Albergue Puente Ribeira in Sarria, right on the canal that runs through the Camino area. We loved our albergue because it was near all the action including a street fair and many restaurants. Puente Ribeira is super clean, modern and had several washers and dryers so we were able to sanitize our disgusting clothes and towels. Here is the website and I do absolutely recommend this place.
My clothes were falling off me because I lost weight from the heat and longs hikes so we stop by the local Rhodani Sports Store and bought new trail pants and shirts. Yea! The store was well stocked and the prices were similar to REI or Dicks in the US but they did not have a lot or any XL women clothes so I bought men’s clothes. Here’s the website:
We enjoyed some seafood and rice at one of the many cafes along the canal and then retired to our much-loved room to prepare for the final 100 kilometers of our Camino.
The next morning, we departed our albergue and jumped right back on the Camino which was located behind our albergue. All the additional pilgrims ensured the peacefulness and serenity of our prior days had disappeared, but it wasn’t unexpected. We had been warned the most people start their Camino in Sarria and it was true.
We wandered through beautiful hills, forest, and some older farming villages. We peeked into some of the open barns to gaze at enormous cows and enjoyed listening to the roosters trying to wake everyone up. Although the Camino had now changed for us it was still a simple place.
This day was long but it was relatively flat. After lunch, I swore we had walked at least 30 miles but it was probably only about 15. Today’s endeavor just would not end. Just when I thought I couldn’t go on anymore we approached the River Mino and the Camino trail went over the bridge over the river. Portomarin was our final destination for the day and it was just on the other side of the bridge.
Walking over the bridge was the most frightened I was our entire time in Spain. It was built high above the water and the cars sped by us pilgrims. I thought for sure we were going to get hit and tossed straight down into the River Minho. Looking back at the pictures it doesn’t look so precipitous as I remember but I guarantee you if you are the least bit afraid of heights you will not like anything about this bridge. Funny, but my 12-year-old wasn’t concerned about the terrifying bridge in the least. She was singing along with her music and devoid of any fear. Silly girl.
After timidly crossing the bridge we then faced a steep set of stairs up into Portomarin.
Will we ever finish this ‘easy’ day?? The stairs were a beast but the view the entire up is stunning, so we took our time and just kept climbing. Unfortunately, after climbing the stairs and entering this charming town we discovered this town was built on a steep hill and the main church and our lodging were at the top of this hill. Somehow we made arrived at our Refugio and were happy with our accomplishments.
Portomarin was definitely one of our favorite places. The main plaza has great restaurants where pilgrims congregate to socialize and discuss the day’s events.
I just started a new Facebook Group for those wishing to begin researching, preparing and finding out info for a possible Camino Santiago de Compostela Pilgrimage.
This group is not made up of judgemental or experts on the Camino. It is just a group of regular people who want to learn more about the Camino and possibly start planning their Pilgrimage. Those who have walked before are especially welcomed to answer questions.
Please consider joining and contributing your knowledge. Here is the link to copy and paste into your browser:
Today we went on a little horse ride up a mountain trail on the Camino.
Elizabeth was still suffering from a blister on one of her toes, and although we tried all the recommended therapies it was necessary to give her foot a rest so it could heal. We decided to skip hiking for a day and to ride horses along the Camino trail instead.
Our next area to walk was up to the mountain hamlet known as O’Cebreiro in Galicia and I found a horse stable called Al-Paso that caters to Pilgrims. Al-Paso is located directly on the Camino in Herrerias and has twice daily trips up the mountain for about 30 euros each. The manager’s name is Victor, and he was a wealth of information about the horses and the Camino. Elizabeth was the youngest rider but luckily there was another young person about 18 years old for her to chum around with. Our group consisted of about 8 riders, 2 guides and the rest Pilgrims from Italy, New Zealand and the USA.
The horses well-cared care for and were given a lot of attention and love by Victor and his staff. There were a lot of flies swarming around the horses’ heads and they were not wearing fly masks, but the assistant assured me that horses were used to it and it didn’t bother them. Still, I spent a lot of the time swatting the pesky insects off of my poor animal’s head during our ride.
Our group rode straight up the mountain and passed many Pilgrims and runners along the way. The ride was smooth but we moved at a quick enough pass that it was fun and exciting. The farmlands and valley views were spectacular and we both really enjoyed this experience.
We only stopped once so the horses could have a drink from a water trough in the center of a small village about 3/4 of the way up. Once we arrived at the top and dismounted we took some photos and then headed to the center of the ancient but tiny village called O’Cebreiro, where we enjoyed local music, some tapas and liquid refreshments.
O’Cebreiro weather is startlingly different from the other parts of the Camino we had walked in. It had a thick mist surrounding it and was much cooler and comfortable out. There are lots of things to see in a small space which has been described as a hobbit’s hamlet. The round stone buildings with thatched roofs are called pallazas and they appear to be right out of a fairy tale. I bought several tee shirts and the prices were very affordable. This is a cool place to spend an afternoon.
As Elizabeth and I continued our pilgrimage towards Santiago, we started to feel like real pilgrims. We seemed to recognize the others everywhere we went and felt comfortable eating and socializing with them.
Just like the other pilgrims, we washed our sweat soaked clothes in a sink each day and then immediately tried to air dry them, because we would be wearing them the following morning. We took a glorious siesta every day after our walk by falling into a deep sleep for a couple of hours around 4:00 pm. This allowed us to recharge and recover from the brutal heat and the steep hills, both up and down. The best part of all was all the stress and concerns from our life back home ceased to exist for us. Camino related concerns were the only thing we worried about, and they were minimal at best. Life was definitely good.
After Cruz de Ferro we walked several kilometers through mostly mountain trails. At one point we saw a paved street abutting the Camino. Parked in a small pullout area was a food truck complete with 5 or 6 plastic tables with umbrellas. This truck stop/rest area was clearly popular because it was the first place to buy anything in a long while. We stopped and had some refreshments including my first beer of this trip. I hardly ever drink beer, but this drink was the best cold one I have ever had in my life. I was so depleted from the heat and the Estrella Galicia beer was so cold and delicious, that I did not care that I was drinking a beer at 10:30 in the morning in front of my daughter. After that day I made a rule that I would reward myself with one delicious Estrella every day until we left Spain.
While at the rest stop we were speaking with a Spanish pilgrim and she explained there were 2 Camino routes available to get to the next town of El Acerbo. One was on the paved road we were on and the entry to the more difficult route was across the street back into a mountain trail. Up to this point we had been walking on loose rock-filled dirt trails and you had to be extra cautious of where you were placing your feet because the rocks were so unstable. My feet were killing me, it was hotter than hell out and I had no desire to fight pesky unstable rocks anymore that day, so we decided to walk on the side of the asphalt road to the next town.
When I grew up, many years ago, the kids in my neighborhood use to race barefoot and I was quite good at it. After walking about 20 minutes on the asphalt route, I removed my hiking boots and walked for the next 45 minutes with just my socks on my feet. Having shed the heavy boots for a period proved to be the most comfortable my feet felt the entire time we were in Spain. My daughter removed her hiking boots as well and walked the same distance in her flip-flops. We were happy campers.
After about an hour we re-entered the other route and started hiking in the mountains again. The trail was treacherous and I fell once, but soon enough we were back in our grove. We passed through El Acerbo and the picturesque village of Molinaseca and spent the night in the city of Ponferrada, which has a population of about 65,000.
At this point, Elizabeth complained of a blister on her toe. On the Camino blisters are a big deal and the pain can dash a pilgrim’s hope of finishing the pilgrimage, so off to the pharmacy we went. In Spain, you don’t have to go to the Emergency Room for some basic medical care instead people go to the local pharmacy. The pharmacist listened to our blister problem and then provided expert treatment recommendations. I then purchased every kind of blister remedy she suggested and then some.
We then walked around this fairly large city and visited a few of the cultural and religious sites, including the exquisite Basilica of Our Lady of Encina.
In the year 2009, my family faced a heartbreaking situation when my husband and father to our 4-year-old daughter Elizabeth died after valiantly fighting the dreadful disease known as ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis). At the time of his death, we both had successful careers and Elizabeth had not even begun kindergarten. It rocked our world to the core, but I decided right away I was not going to allow our great misfortune ruin our lives, so I chose to survive.
After the funeral, I really had no time to properly grieve because I was responsible for a small child and a demanding career. We fell into a routine and with tremendous help from our family, Elizabeth did great. She is now 13 years old and remembers very little of our life before ALS robbed her of her dad.
I found working, commuting and single parenting very difficult, so at age 52, when I had accumulated enough time to retire, I did. I stayed home and raised my then 7-year-old and removed some of the parental burdens from my parents, who up to my retirement were doing most of the child-rearing.
My late husband’s name was Joe and he was a New York City Police Detective. Everyone who met him agreed he was the perfect example of a stereotypical NYPD type of guy, with his thick NYC accent, always impeccably dressed in Paul Stewart suits, quick-witted and sarcastic. He was 6’5” and weighed well over 230 pounds so criminals rarely tried to flee or fight with him or his brothers in blue. He definitely could protect himself and the rest of our family. In 2008 he started slurring his words and losing weight but we did not know what was wrong. In late 2008 it was apparent that the problem was ALS and several months later he was dead.
My husband was a September 11th World Trade Center first responder, as were most of the people we hung out with and knew, but his illness has yet to be formally linked to that horrible time. As most of those who were present while the attack happened we know what really happened down there. There were no respirators or face protection on that day and many, many people have since become sick and have passed on. Our family and friends believe his disease was caused by the toxins he inhaled during those first hours at Ground Zero.
I have wanted to walk the French Way of the Camino Santiago de Compostela since viewing the movie, “The Way” in 2010. Although still struggling with grief, we had built a nice life for ourselves, but I thought if I completed this pilgrimage maybe I could finally put his death behind me. The time was not right because of Elizabeth’s young age and I was fearful of taking her to Europe to walk alone. In 2017 I finally decided the time was right, so Elizabeth and I flew to Spain to walk the Camino Santiago de Compostela.
One of the important stops along the Camino is named Cruz de Ferro (Iron Cross) and it is the highest point on the way. As you can see from the attached photos, a metal cross is affixed to tremendous wooden pole that is surrounded by a massive pile of small rocks which have been growing larger each year as pilgrims walk past. Pilgrims place a rock in their backpack when they leave home and it stays there until they arrive at the Iron Cross and then they leave the rock at the base of the mound. The act of leaving the stone is to absolve them from their sins and to leave their burdens or pain behind on the mound.
There are several legends of the origins of the Iron Cross, one being it was built by the hermit Gualcemo in the 11th Century to help pilgrims cross the mountains or maybe it was simply erected centuries earlier as a trail marker for when the ground was covered in snow.
While still at home we prepared a nice beach rock with Joe’s name and attached a small replica of his NYPD badge. We carried it to Spain and hiked with it until we arrived in Cruz de Ferro.
When we approached Cruz de Ferro I was immediately struck at how different this site was from all the previous Camino stops. There was a paved path, lots of police vehicles watching the site and busloads of tourist waiting for their chance to climb to the top. Definitely not the quiet peaceful sites we used to on the Camino.
After Elizabeth and I climbed to the top of the mound I could only focus on the thought that what we were standing on had been built by so many others before us and all the new stones we were leaving would soon be crushed by future pilgrim’s stones thus building the pile larger.
Elizabeth and I then left our precious stone on the base with all the others. This was a solemn moment for us and there were tears, but overall, I was overjoyed remembering our love and acknowledging the grief and great loss we have experienced during the past 8 years. Rest in Peace Detective D.
We then continued on the way, happy to be in Spain, grateful to have been married to my best friend and hopeful that life for my daughter and I would just keep getting better.
I work up early as I was super excited to start my Camino, only thing was I told Ashley and Nora that I was going to meet them at 8am. There was a chill in the air at 7:15am and the wind was blowing down the cobble lined streets. I waited another 15mins and had to send Ashley a message saying I was going to start and meet up with them later.
I walked about 50m got cashed up and some supplies from one of the only shops open at this hr. Continue out of town it was a steep accent and from previous experience I knew it wasn’t going to let up for the next few hrs.
The weather was sunny but it took a good 30 minuets hiking before I was warm enough to take my jumper off.
After leaving Palais del Rei it happened to be a Sunday and Sundays are different from the rest of the week on the Camino. Many of the services we rely on are closed on Sunday in this part of the country. So there won’t be two breakfasts for us today, no wonderful rest over café con leche and no socializing until we find an open cafe. When we finally find something open we ordered double of everything because we weren’t sure if this would be our last refreshments until supper.
Spain is beautiful and gritty all at the same time. The hills, farmlands and ancient forests are peaceful and spiritual but there is also inspirational pilgrim graffiti scrawled all over the place. Some pilgrims seem to really enjoy reading and photographing the various tags and motivational sayings but I prefer not seeing it. Call me old-fashioned or closed minded but it’s not my thing. My daughter loved reading all the messages so it might be a generational thing.
Many of the kilometer signposts are missing the actual plaque that lists the kilometers .to Santiago. To me this is vandalism and the person who removed the small plaque, possibly for a souvenir, is only hurting the local Camino Associations that have to raise money to replace it and all the pilgrims following the person who stole it.
Sundays also bring out multitudes of bike riders. They are everywhere and are speeding by us slow walking pilgrims. Some are just exercising on the hilly paths and some appear to be pilgrims because they are carrying a lot of gear. They are racing up and down the dirt Camino roads and I was terrified we would be hurt. When the bicyclists are out in full force us pilgrims have to remain alert or risk colliding with the bikers.
Just prior to beginning the Camino Santiago (French Route) we observed this wonderful gathering of the local religious population outside the Cathedral de Leon on a beautiful Sunday morning. The plaza is beautiful with lots to see and do.
Here is the official website if you want more info: https://www.catedraldeleon.org
Sorry, my video skills are so poor.
Camino Santiago de Compostela with a soon-to-be teenager.
The next few days rushed by and I hardly had time to enjoy the peace and tranquility of the Camino way. We completed walking in the Leon Province and then entered the hypnotizing countryside and vineyards of the Galicia Region.
Elizabeth and I were eating, sleeping and most importantly walking together, day after day, with no breaks from each other or the schedule. To pass the time, sometimes we discussed history, politics, how talented she was twirling her walking stick and how difficult middle school was. We took care of each other, me by ensuring her toe blister was cared for and her by handing me her walking stick each time we descended steep hills, so I did not kill myself in a tumble. We were both entirely committed to each other’s success here and in life. She seemed to mature right before my eyes and my stress levels vanished to a non-existent level. The life I had was perfect at this time, as we wandered up and down the hilly pathways and inched closer to Santiago.
Departing Ponferrada, we enjoyed the path out of town because this flat Camino section runs parallel to a river or creek that was partially visible with our head lights. But just when I thought it was going to be an easy day, we were faced with a monstrous stone staircase that needed to be climbed. It was only 6:00 am, and I was already overheated and panting climbing these killers. But once we arrived at the top, it was satisfying to know that we were able to do it without stopping to rest. Our bodies and our mother-daughter bond were getting stronger by the day. After the stairs, we were rewarded with a lovely stroll through the edge of town. We then entered the bountiful and green, wine producing region of NW Spain known as Galicia.
Spain is the worldwide leader in exporting wine, ahead of even Italy and France, and its wine production dates back 2,000 years. Galicia is well known for its lush landscape, white wines, and seafood. At one point on the Camino, we approached a large wine production factory that bottled wines called Vinas de Bierzoso. It was opened to the public and although there was a wine tasting area, this was a real wine factory with its workers in protective clothing and hairnets. I wanted to buy a bottle but did not want to carry it, so we continued on. It was so nice to walk in and out of different grape vineyards during this wonderful day and we sat down regularly to enjoy the pretty scenery.
The heat wave continued to haunt us and that night while staying in the lovely town of Villa Franca del Bierzo we found some relief. The town has a picturesque river flowing through it with a beach area for swimming and sun bathing. This place seemed different from the others to me in that it wasn’t a typical Camino type stop with tourist stores everywhere but a real town with restaurants, stores and locals who were out and about, working and socializing. I liked it here.
After checking into our Refugio, we went for a swim in the crystal clear, fresh water river. I expected to see many pilgrims cooling off but didn’t any. It did not matter because we had a ball. Elizabeth was thrilled to be swimming and devouring ice cream at the foot of Leon mountains we had just walked over. The icy cold water was the perfect remedy for my aching legs and Elizabeth’s sore foot.