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:
I found a neat Camino Website with a comprehensive planning feature for the following Caminos:
• Camino Francé • Portugués • Camino de Fisterra • Via Francigena • Primitivo • Portugués Interior • Camino de Muxia
Go to the website ( see below for link) and read about the various routes. Enter your data into the simple to use planner and once you figure out which route you want, enter your starting point, such as St Jean Pied de Port, then add your last stop, such as Santiago de Compostela.
This awesome tool then allows the user to check off all sorts of interesting options based on your budget and desires. You can pick the type of lodging you want and various travel amenities, such a municipal lodging or private, WIFI and washing machines. It has a comprehensive list of options. Another great feature is once everything is plugged in you are able to download for future use.
Thank you to CRCamino for developing a super helpful webpage.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Today we jumped out of bed and headed out to walk through the Monte des Leon (mountains of Leon). I first stopped at the reception desk to drop off the key and buy some water for the long day ahead, only to find a sign that informed us that reception was closed and those departing should leave the key on the desk. Okay then…
It was still dark out and the was air was misty as we headed up the hill and soon passed a closed café. I kept assuming we would find someplace to buy water for the upcoming walk but I was wrong. As always, around 5:30 a crowd of pilgrims were beginning their daily trek and soon enough we approached a Camino arrow and could see with our headlamp that the trail was leaving the village and heading into a forested area. I knew from looking at a map that the next town was only 6 kilometers away and figured it wouldn’t be difficult. The heat hadn’t started it meteoric rise yet but all we had was about 5 swigs of water left in our water bottle. Most reasonable people would turn around and wait until the town opened up to buy water but not me. I just wanted to stay with the multitude of pilgrims, avoiding a late start and being left behind. Huge mistake.
When the sun finally rose, we could see the landscape had changed dramatically. We were now on a gravelly dirt trail in the mountains. On our right was higher elevation and to our left was a gentle drop down from the mountain slope. We experienced beautiful views but at no time did we see any houses or facilities in any direction.
The heat came in quick and hard, and I was huffing and puffing as we continued forward and upwards. I had put my daughter and myself danger of dehydration and heat exhaustion with my haste to get on the Camino.
After a while, we stopped to rest on a felled tree aka a Camino rest stop, as I tried to figure out how to make this situation right. Camino veterans always say “the Caminoprovides” which is loosely translated to mean that when a pilgrim is lost or out of sorts the Camino will give you what you need, and somehow at just that moment, it did. We were deep in the forest with no cell service or water and thoroughly overheated when two young Brazilian brothers sat down and joined us. They spoke minimal English and I spoke no Portuguese, but they offered us a granola bar. I declined the food and instead asked if my daughter could have a small drink of water because we had none. They shared some of their water with us, I thanked them and we were all on our way again. Many pilgrims have very limited funds and resources, but everyone we met was beyond generous and kind.
We continued on up the mountain range and a short time later we reached the small hamlet of Foncebadon, which until very recently was an abandoned town overrun with wild dogs that supposedly do not like pilgrims. After several famous books and a popular movie about the Camino Santiago de Compostela were released and the Camino regained its popularity and this once deserted town is now being reborn. I believe 10 people now reside there and volunteers routinely visit to assists with pilgrims passing through.
I rushed into the first cafe and purchased at least 5 bottles of spring water and some locally made cheese. This café, as were most, was located right on the Camino trail, literally a few steps from where pilgrims walked by. As we sat outside at the plastic picnic tables assembled for the pilgrims we saw our Brazilian saviors. I gave the brothers several bottles of water but they declined my offer to buy their breakfast. I am quite sure they thought I was some crazy old lady, dangerously walking in the mountains with her child with no provisions and they were right. We would see them again many times on the trail and I will always be grateful for their kindness.
Foncebadon is an isolated mountain outpost with a strange but quaint vibe. It looks like it could be a science fictions movie set but staged in a beautiful country area. It’s main, and possibly the only road is made of dirt and runs straight up into the mountains, but on both sides of the road are all these old, dilapidated stone structures that don’t look habitable; most without roofs or windows. But every now and then someone has gentrified one of these ruins and now uses it as a café or albergue. It’s either going to be the coolest location to visit in about 10 years because of these unique structures being renovated or completely deserted again because too many of these same structures have collapsed. It’s hard to tell which will happen.
In the 12th Century, a hermit named Gaucelmo set up shelter and protection for pilgrims passing through the mountains here. It was an important route toward Santiago but in the late 20th Century it was known more as an abandoned town where wild dogs routinely attacked pilgrims. We did not see any wild dogs ready to pounce on us as we passed, though we did see at least 30 -40 gentle sheep wandering down the road toward us. Elizabeth loved this encounter with the sheep.
After moving on, we were blessed to have experienced one of my favorite moments on the Camino. As we walked the trail the forest opened up and we could now see the most beautiful blue sky and an incredible panoramic view of the valley. We heard cowbells ringing in the distance and saw several horses grazing a few feet from us. We then sat on my towel about 10 feet from the Camino on the side of a mountain saturated with acres of wildflowers and hundreds of bright orange butterflies and had an impromptu picnic of farm fresh cheese, chocolate, rasberries and spring water. Absolute heaven.
At around 3:00 0 in the afternoon we finally arrived at our hotel in Rabanel del Camino, Spain. Although most of the trail had seemed relatively flat, we were now in the mountains region and we started to experience long, steep inclines, including the road through Rabanal del Camino to our hotel.
The isolated village of Rabanel del Camino is a small ancient hamlet with a population of about 60 residents, that sits at the foot of the Mount Irago and has a long interesting history. During the time of the Crusades in the 14th century, the Knights of Templar were widely credited with defeating the Moors in the Iberian Peninsula. That same secretive order protected Rabanel del Camino and provided protection to the Christian pilgrims crossing Mount Irago en route to Santiago. Knowledge of the extensive history of Rabanel and the Pilgrimage forces me to understand just how many pilgrims have struggled to walk through its stone streets over prior centuries.
We choose to stay at the El Refugio Hosteria in the center of town, right on the Camino. This quaint family-run inn has 16 rooms and is kept in immaculate condition. The façade of the building is made of stone and the rooms overlook the Monastery, the Camino and you can view the mountains which we would pass through the following day in the distance. We quickly went up to our 3rd-floor room and entered using an old-fashioned skeleton key. I opened the unscreened windows to let in fresh air, while Elizabeth collapsed on her twin bed. Inside the bathroom was the smallest tub I’ve ever seen, only about 2 feet by 2 feet, if my memory serves me right. I filled it with cold tap water and both of us removed our hiking shoes and sweat soaked socks and soaked our feet for a good long time. We immediately felt energized and comfortable.
I then walked across the street to the towns grocery/everything store to buy snacks and water for the next day. I purchased some chocolate and a couple of liters of Aquarius which I wrongly assumed was regular water. Back in the room I tasted the water and realized it wasn’t typical spring water but some sort of sports drink that neither of us liked, so we tossed it out. Yuck. Plan B was to purchase water for the next day from the hotel receptionist before we started out at 5:45am. This turned out to be a big mistake because when we departed there was no one at reception and the stores/ café was closed, so we started walking the Camino without any water in a heatwave. More on this in a future segment.
I then dragged Elizabeth to La Iglesia de Santa Maria de La Asuncion Church across from our hotel. Benedictine monks chant the vespers in Latin each night at this Romanesque church on the Camino. The ancient building had a pretty bell tower but the inside appears to almost resemble a cave. Because this service is well known to pilgrims as a must-see event it is usually packed with locals and pilgrims. I am glad we experienced the vespers but we ended up standing in the back and Elizabeth pouted through the entire Latin mass.
The only caution I have is the chapel is tiny and unless you get there early and are lucky enough to get a set, you will be squeezed in the rear or sides with many other pilgrims and locals. Here is the website if you would like additional information:
We ate a terrific Pilgrim’s meal at the restaurant in our Refugio. The entire gas light eatery was filled with pilgrims enjoying the ambiance, wine, and scrumptious meal. I had the salad with tuna and some pork roast and Elizabeth had her usually spaghetti Bolognese and ice cream. We then went upstairs to our room and past out from exhaustion.
My daughter Elizabeth and I are early risers, so getting up before dawn would not be a hardship for us while walking the Camino Santiago de Compostela in NW Spain. Our plan was to leave by 5:45 am in an attempt to avoid the brutal heat and humidity of the day.
We left our much-loved hotel in Astorga in complete darkness, turned on our headlamps and headed out to find the way. We quickly saw other pilgrims and just followed along. We were still in Astorga when we saw our first restaurant/bar with the lights on. We timidly entered the establishment with so many other pilgrims but feeling like outsiders. We ordered our standard Camino breakfast of café con leche, croissants, and fresh squeezed orange juice. All the backpacks and walking sticks rested against a wall while pilgrims stood at the bar eager to eat and get back on the trail. The server was neither friendly nor rude he just brought the food, collected the money and was on to the next customer who was most assuredly another pilgrim.
I was extremely nervous at this early hour that we would lag behind the other pilgrims that were out and about. Would we get lost, die of heat exhaustion, be attacked by wild dogs, robbed in the forest areas and how the hell do I call the police in Spain?? So many questions, but so much excitement and pure joy that I was walking the Camino Santiago.
We quickly departed the café and joined the hundreds of others walking single and double file on the way. Quickly people were passing us but they always said “Buen Camino” as they did. At first, I felt foolish responding with “Buen Camino”, like I was a fake pilgrim or a fraud. This was our first day and others had been walking for weeks but after an hour or two, it became second nature for both me and my teenager.
As we walked out of Astorga, over several highway overpasses we observed the sun rising in the east. I knew the heat and humidity would soon prevail and I dreaded it. Sure enough, about an hour later I started sweating and didn’t stop until I was on the plane heading home from Spain four weeks later.
After about 5 miles we found our groove and were thoroughly enjoying this experience. We spoke to fellow walkers from all over Europe and they all seemed pleased that my child was walking. One Italian man was about 75 ish and told us he had been walking for over a month and the entire time we walked with him, he serenaded us with beautiful songs in his native tongue. The sound of people walking with their heavy hiking shoes, hiking poles clicking on the ground, and quiet conversations quickly became the norm.
Each day we walked about 15 miles and we were constantly hungry and thirsty so we stopped a lot, including 2 times for breakfast, a snack and then a long leisurely lunch. The best part of stopping was that all the pilgrims walking with you at different sections all seemed to stop and linger at the same cafes so you could reconnect.
It started raining and Elizabeth was thrilled to use her new rain poncho but not me. I knew the plastic was going to trap in more heat and it did. We quietly walked the trail and finally approached the very small town of El Ganso (translates to the goose) and decided to dry off and have lunch. El Ganso is home to the infamous Cowboy Bar, but we choose the no-name restaurant across the road to chow down on freshly prepared Spanish omelets and bananas. We were thrilled because there was a sign on the wall that said “240 kilometers” to Santiago so we were making progress.
We then got back on the Camino and immediately noticed the villages were smaller, some only appear to have a couple of houses and our trail went right by their front doors. I loved wandering through these tiny towns where some of the villagers sold drinks and walking sticks from their front doors or windows. Elizabeth decided to purchase a walking stick and paid about 5 euros for a very nice one. It was made of wood and had Camino Santiago carved into its side. We were advised that we needed a walking stick because of the steep hills but up to this point we had not really seen any hills, but would shortly.
That afternoon the crowd of pilgrims had thinned out and for the first time, I was unable to see pilgrims in front or behind us. This was my concern prior to arriving in Spain, hiking through the woods and not know who was lurking behind those trees. My motto was ‘there is safety in numbers’ and I had no intention of letting Elizabeth get victimized.
So just prior to entering our first forest we stopped and waited for 15 minutes until other pilgrims approached and we joined their pack. Many times, the groups you are walking with spoke no English, but it didn’t matter because we all had the same goal, to get to the Cathedral in Santiago. Once we entered the exquisite, old growth trees forest and started walking on the simple dirt trail I somehow knew we would be safe. The forests turned out to be my favorite places on the Camino, so peaceful and calm, a perfect opportunity for reflective moments.
At some point, we started seeing wooden twigs made into crosses that were placed in the barbed wire fences. There were literally hundreds of these crosses in this section of the Camino and they reinforced the fact that so many pilgrims came before us. All the anxiety and fear were gone and now all I care about was walking towards Santiago. We would be safe and succeed on this difficult journey and we knew it.
Elizabeth has only 2 vivid memories or our first day; all the crosses on the barbed wire fence and how happy she felt when she first observed the town where we would rest for the night in the distance. It took us another hour and a half to reach Rabanel, but I agree it was a great feeling when it first appears on the horizon.
After 8 or 9 hours of walking, we reached Rabanel, which is located straight up a long hill and although completely exhausted and depleted from the oppressive heat, I don’t remember being happier in a long time.