Guadi Palace, Grand Cathedral and the Camino Santiago de Compestela in Astorga, Spain.

We arrived at the deserted Astorga, Spain train station around noon, during a heat wave so hot and uncomfortable that it was widely referred to in Europe as ‘Lucifer’.  Carrying all our worldly possessions on our back, we were full of excitement to start our pilgrimage to the Camino de Santiago the next morning.

Although everyone told me I wouldn’t get lost on the Camino I was soon skeptical.  After exiting the train station, I really did not know how to get to our hotel, just that it was a block or two from the Camino and the Cathedral.   Somehow, I thought I would just know how to get there but this was not the case.

Since I didn’t want my 12-year old to know I was feeling disoriented and had no idea where the Camino was actually situated, I needed to get my act together.   Luckily, I did have cell service and was able to google and find directions that were only 5 minutes away.  But as we trudged up the steep road I then realized the Google estimate was for driving not walking.    For the next 2 plus weeks, the only directions or times I would need from google would be the walking instructions.

The Camino’s path is marked with yellow arrows and scallop shells all directing you towards Santiago.  We started seeing the arrows and we finally found our hotel across from the Cathedral and right off of the Camino.

Astorga is a beautiful town with lots to see and do. Hotel Spa Cuidad de Astorga was chosen as our hotel because it had a pool and spa.  I wanted my child to enjoy her time here in Spain, thus the pool, but I really needed to recover from the jet lag, so the steam and sauna were for me.  The hotel was quirky, modern, centrally located, and the staff was extremely helpful.  They are used to pilgrims and their needs, and it shows.    Our room was air conditioned but little did I know that would be one of the last air conditioned anything I would see for a couple of weeks.

We ditched our backpacks and went downstairs to the Spa.  We had the entire place to ourselves as there wasn’t even an attendant there and thoroughly enjoyed the pool, hot tub, sauna, steam and Turkish baths.   They have plush towels and drinks set out for those using the facilities.   Although it is in the hotel’s basement, it had large windows and skylights, so beautiful light streamed in and it never felt closed-in nor claustrophobic.

We then set out to obtain our first pilgrim passport stamp in Astorga from the nearest albergue.  An albergue is an inexpensive place where pilgrims sleep while on pilgrimage in Spain, that is owned by the local government or the Catholic Church.   Since most albergues are co-ed I decided that it was best that my child and I stay in private rooms or moderately priced hotels along the way.

The pilgrim’s passport inscribed with your name is available through organizations such as American Pilgrims on the Camino ( APOC).  Just like an official travel passport receives stamps from different countries, this passport receives a unique stamp from the businesses along the Camino.  This passport entitles pilgrims to pilgrim’s meals and lodging at a substantially discounted rate along the way.  Once you complete the Camino, the passport will be your proof at the Pilgrim’s Reception Office in Santiago that you walked the required stages of the Camino. After examining your passport, with its many different stamps and dates, the Pilgrim’s Reception officials will issue you a Compostela if you have completed the necessary requirements.

Here is a link to the Pilgrim’s Reception Office:

https://oficinadelperegrino.com/en/

We then walked to the Albergue de Peregrinos San Javier to have our passport stamped.   Once inside we realized how hot these albergues can be.  There were no apparent fans and the place was stifling.   We saw several pilgrims lying on their cots totally exhausted from the long day’s hike.  Alarmed is an understatement of how I felt at that moment.  What was I doing bringing my 12-year-old to Spain alone to walk 270 kilometers during the summer?  Was I crazy?  I would soon find out.

We then visited magnificent Astorga Cathedral, which began construction in the 15th century but not completed until the 18th.  Adjacent to the Cathedral is the Episcopal Palace a beautiful castle designed by the incomparable architect  Antonin Gaudi at the turn of the 20th century and which houses a museum devoted to pilgrims.  This town, with a population of only 11, 000, has both a palace, a cathedral and the Camino trail running through the town center.  Amazing sightseeing opportunities everywhere in this village.

Within blocks of the Cathedral are plenty of shops serving pilgrims needs such as hiking gear, scallop shells and sun hats. After some last-minute shopping, we remained in the plaza just pilgrim watching.    I was just so jealous of their look, which was part strength and confidence, and part shabby and dusty.   They appeared exhausted to me and I could not wait for the next morning to become part of this group; those that were willing to give up their comfortable lives back home to walk across NW Spain.

Our plan for the following day was to rise before dawn to start out at 5:30 am when it was still reasonably cool and to begin our Camino.

Buen Camino.

 

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Cathedral in Astorga, Spain
The Astorga Cathedral
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In front of the Albergue in Astorga, Spain
Astorga Hotel
Wonderful Spa in Astorga, Spain
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Follow the scallop shells

 

 

How to use Mochilas on the Camino Santiago de Compestela

 

Mochilas on the Camino

In June of 2017, my 12-year-old daughter and I set out to walk the last 283 kilometers of the Camino Santiago de Compostela, a pilgrimage in NW Spain.

After spending several months’ salary at REI on lightweight gear, hiking shoes and clothing we were all set to begin this once in a lifetime hiking trip.   However, once we arrived in Leon, Spain we quickly realized how hot and humid it is in the NW of Spain. The summer of 2017 was so hot in Spain that the heatwave was dubbed “Lucifer.   Assuming we might be in over our heads, the hotel receptionist suggested that we ship our backpacks to the next day’s destination for a few days until the heat wave subsided and that is what we did.

On the Camino Santiago, many folks have their backpacks, also known as rucksacks in Europe, shipped each day to their next location.  It is very economical to use these services which only costs about 3 to 7 euros per bag and are extremely reliable.  Since all your worldly travel items are in your backpack, it is critical that once you arrive at your next location your stuff arrives with all its contents intact and on time.

The Spanish people call the backpack or luggage transport service ‘mochila‘ and the albergue, Refugio and hotel reception areas all offer the service.  Once a pilgrim arrives at their destination for the night they need to request a mochila envelope, the clerk will then make the arrangements with the transport company for you or you can call yourself.  I was apprehensive about calling the service but quickly learned the person answering speaks passable English and the process is very simple.  The hardest part of using this valuable service is figuring out where you will stay the next night.  So, if you tell them you will be staying in a village 25 kilometers away but then you can’t walk that far your bag, unfortunately, will be at the village 25 kilometers away.   Luckily after 2 or 3 days on the Camino, you will know how many kilometers you are capable of walking to each day. We walked about 24 kilometers each day and some days were much harder than others.

There are different transport companies in different stages of the way, but the drivers all seem to know each other and once you pass through their region of Spain they pass you off to the next region’s transport company along the way.

To use the service, you will get a small envelope which asks for some basic info like name, contact info, and lodging today and where you want your bag dropped off the next day.  When you are departing your lodging in the am just attached the completed envelope with a pin or rubber band to your backpack, insert the cash and leave the backpack in the lobby with all the other backpacks.  On really hot days we saw upwards of 20 packs in the lobby.  When you retrieve your backpack later that afternoon/night at the new town there will be a blank envelope attached to the previously used one..    Once we did not know exactly where we were staying but did know which town we would be walking to,  so the transport representative told me to pick up my bag at a certain bar in the village of Palas de Rey, and sure enough when we entered the town around 3pm, we found the bar and our back pack was near the bar.  Easy Peasie.

 

REI and OSPREY backpacks and Pilgrims Passports
Backpacks and Pilgrims Passports
Back pack transport envelope for Mochila
Mochila Envelope

 

Not carrying a back pack up long, steep hills and treacherous descents back down on the Camino was wonderful.  We simply carried a day pack with water and other essentials. After about 5 days of walking we started carrying our own packs but it was nice to know we had options.

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Camino Santiago de Compestela with soon-to-be teenager.

This is a very short blog about my Camino experience for my travel agency, Sailor’s Delight Travel. I am trying to write a more comprehensive article about my Camino but haven’t had the time.

In June of 2017, my 12-year old daughter and I threw on our Osprey Backpacks and headed to Astorga Spain to walk the last 283 kilometers of the Camino Santiago de Compostela.

Camino is Spanish for path or trail and el Camino de Santiago has been a globally popular pilgrimage route following the death of St. James the Apostle in the 9th century.  Legend says that the remains of Jesus’ apostle St.James lie inside the Cathedral of Santiago and Christian pilgrims throughout the globe follow this way to the Cathedral in penance for their sins. Today it is both a religious and nonreligious experience for young and old alike.

I have been researching this pilgrimage for about 3 years ever since I watched and cried through the movie “The Way” starring Martin Sheen.  As a young widow, I knew immediately that I wanted to do this pilgrimage and somehow convinced my child that this would be an excellent family vacation. To be honest she loved the adventure and made some great friends along the way.  As long as she can group chat her friends back in the States she is happy.



On the Way


There are various Caminos to walk and they all end in Santiago de Compostela, Spain.  Most first time Pilgrims, start on the  Camino Frances.  There are many other routes including Camino Portugues,  Camino Primivito, Via de la Plata and Via Francigena.  

Almost to Santiago


Farm Animals are my friends

We obtained our Pilgrim Passport from the American Pilgrims on the Camino (APOC)  Chapter.  These passports are used by pilgrims for admission to pilgrim housing and restaurants along the way. We flew to Madrid,  took the RENFE train to Leon and spent a few days visiting the historical sites in the area before starting our pilgrimage.

I did have a major ‘parental fail’ moment in Leon, Spain.  We were in an outside cafe where the server spoke only trace amounts of English and my daughter ordered a lemonade.  My daughter is only 12 but could pass for 16, and the waiter asked her if she wanted a ‘lemonade’?  When she received the drink she groaned and said she hated it, which is pretty common for a tween.  I told her she is drinking every drop of it because it cost money.  She took a few more tiny sips and refused to drink anymore. I then took a sip and realized the drink was some type of Sangria wine. Ooopppssss.  Sorry child of mine. 

 

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Follow the arrows and shells to Santiago


The next morning, we took a local train to Astorga and began our walk.  Since it was June and extremely hot out we were only able to walk about 15 miles a day.   Astorga was a starting point and probably will be next year when we repeat the pilgrimage because it is such an incredible city for pilgrims to enjoy.

After 16 wonderful but strenuous days walking through NW Spain through villages, forests, mountain ranges and the countryside we joyfully reached Santiago, Spain and received our Compestela at the Pilgrims Office.  This trip was one of the best things I have ever done for myself and I plan to do it again next year.

 

Santiago

 

Sailor’s Delight is my travel agency and I am proud of the work I do  If you should want to walk the Camino and need help with your arrangements, including travel insurance, baggage transfers, flights, hotels or rail please consider Sailor’s Delight.  If you don’t need our help but still have questions, please give me a call as I would be glad to help you.

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