Camino Angels and How I Ended Up in Santiago: Part One

Hola, amigos. I’m writing this post from Santiago de Compostela, the last stop on many of the Camino routes. I last wrote about Cruz de Ferro. This is the first part of my encounter with Camino Angels and how I ended up at the end and the beginning.

After Cruz de Ferro, I hiked down the mountain, a steep, dusty and rocky path, through small villages and ended up in El Acebo at a luxurious pilgrim and tourist spot. It was the last accommodation on the one road through the town. That’s my caveat for staying in this almost-resort, when I was really looking for an albergue. Really. My ankle had been bothering me since I stepped off the train in Astorga and the downhill from Cruz left me in enough pain to stop after 16 km. That was it for the night. This hotel-albergue was advertised every six kms down the hill, €10. What a surprise. But €35 was the price of a private room and worth every euro.

I was so dirty and loved the shower, where I washed my clothes and my dusty self. I met up with other pilgrim friends, ate the pilgrim meal and fell into bed.

Next morning, with overnight rain and a beautiful sunrise, I continued hiking. The route was rocky and slippery and I had to concentrate on staying upright. All the way down the mountain, I was singing, “Get me to a Farmacia” and when we entered Molinaseca, the beautiful sign welcomed me. I didn’t know then that this would have been a perfect stopping point for the night.

A slippery and rocky downhill slope

A welcome sign for a Farmacia which was all the way across this little town, off the Camino. More walking.

Farmacias along the Camino stock everything for Pilgrim ailments and injuries.

I didn’t think 17 km, but especially the last eight, could be so long or there could be such a contrast between this quaint village I was leaving, the path all on hard, paved sidewalk, and the small (pop. 66,000) city of Ponferrada. This city is home of the Knights of Templar Castle and very touristy and spread out and feels huge. We entered from an Industrial/commercial area. I was in pain and disappointed I hadn’t stayed in Molinaseca. I want to escape most big cities when I’m hiking, although I loved Leon and Astorga and Pamplona in their most beautiful and quiet moments. Now I couldn’t find a place to stay unless I walked off the Camino, which goes through town, so for a while I sat on a bus bench thinking about my next step, which was getting challenging. No picture of me feeling sorry for myself.

The hotels and hostels in my guidebook weren’t on this main route, so in my usual way, I stood up and began walking through Ponferrada, one step at a time. After a while I met up with two Spanish women I had met on the trail and they were my Camino Angels. They pointed me in the right direction, directly across the street, and this stay turned out to be one of my best experiences so far.

I entered the Albergue de Peregrinos San Nicolás de Flüe, a parochial, donativo Albergue. (You do pay, not a set fee, but what a similar accommodation would cost or what you can afford. It’s not free). A room with two adventurous German university students, an amazing dinner, a leg and foot massage, the sounds of Pilgrims of all ages laughing, sharing, whispering, serious or joyful, limping and hobbling or not noticing, sleeping in my warm jacket and my silk liner, I had no idea this absolutely bare bones, no blankets, no working wifi, would be one of the best memories of my Camino. More Angels.

My new roommates, Theresia and Verena, told me they were planning to cook dinner. When I asked, they replied they hadn’t yet had a pilgrim dinner, so I offered to take them out. They budgeted for each Camino day, €10 total, the cost of one pilgrim meal. I had to convince them it was a gift for all three of us. We couldn’t find a restaurant open at 5:30 p.m. and next went to the supermercado, where €20 bought food for dinner and tomorrow’s breakfast and lunches for all three of us. They wanted to make dinner (and lunch and breakfast, too, for me!) We returned to a kitchen busy with pilgrims taking turns at sink and stove, all the time talking and laughing. We had enough food to share with other Pilgrims and more meals along the way.

We hit it off, this gray-haired, life-experienced pilgrim and these two beautiful, smart, compassionate, young women. I loved asking questions and hearing their stories. And…they offered to help me try to troubleshoot the wifi password problem and after seeing me with my iPhone, couldn’t believe I could use my complicated smartphone with ease. What a beautiful place to be that day. I still smile when I think about it.

By morning, I knew I had to decide where to go next, because my ankle and leg were still painful and I wasn’t going to be able to walk a long distance. I was disappointed, but I had other ideas of where to walk before I arrived in Spain. When my foot improved, I could go to Porto for part of the Camino Portuguese or Finisterre to walk. First things first. Step by step means feet that get you there. I might find help in Santiago, so that was my next stage on my Camino. No celebration or Compostela this time, just a little first aid.

I decided to walk to the train station which would have been about one km for someone driving or who knew the way. I did finally get there, passed the Knights Templar Castle and must have walked around the round-about three times first. Eventually I ended up in Santiago.

“More Camino Angels” next time

7 thoughts on “Camino Angels and How I Ended Up in Santiago: Part One

  1. Hi Irene! We are so happy and relieved to hear of your Camino Angels. Apparently the Camino provided again and just as you needed. Power on, my friend, knowing that many are carrying you in our thoughts and hearts.

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    1. Gracias, Marge. We both know about those Camino Angels. Yes! The Camino Provides yet again. I didn’t expect to be challenged physically after much preparation, but now there are other opportunities and I hope to be back Walking strong while I’m here in Spain, if I can talk myself into resting my foot. Big IF! Everyday, I feel your support. With gratitude, Buen Camino

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  2. Hello Irene!
    I did not receive your Email yet, but now I got the pictures anyway 😉 Verena and I are still on our way to Santiago and love reading your stories. We had such a great time with you and were thinking about you and your way of thinking and living a lot.
    We wish you all the best,
    Verena and Theresia

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    1. Hola Theresia and Verena. It’s awesome to hear from you. Meeting you and spending time shopping, sharing and eating together were some of the best times of my Camino. Wishing you both a Buen Camino and hoping to hear from you when you are at the end. By the way, not only were the pasta and salad the best on my Way, I loved breakfast and lunch, too. Muchas gracias. Be safe and enjoy every step. Have a great year at university. Ultreia, Irene

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      1. Hola again!
        We arrived in Santiago yesterday and sat down in front of the cathedral for having our last traditional bocadillo de queso –
        lunch in the sun. Tomorrow morning we are leaving to Barcelona, but before we’re going to cook a last meal at our albergue tonight.
        We hope you’re doing alright and still following your blog posts.
        From Santiago with love,
        Theresia and Verena

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  3. Hola, Theresia and Verena. Bravo and Bueno! Congratulations. You have earned that Compostela. I wish I were in Santiago eating your wonderful dinner with you. Celebrate and enjoy every minute. Love and best wishes to you both. Have a successful and fulfilling school year. With love and gratitude, Irene

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