We were so excited to receive final (lengthy) update from Sandy and Nikki. It’s a fantastic read, so grab a cup of tea and get cosy as they transport you to the Camino Trail! Reading about their travels makes be truly excited for International Travel to resume from Australia – we have so many exciting trips planned for 2022!
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Sandy & Nikki Travel Diaries
On October 19, we dropped off the Camino Frances at Ponferrada (known for its Knights of Templar castle) and continued our journey to Santiago via the Invierno (Winter) Way. Up to this point, we walked a busy pilgrims’ highway. We planned our trip to be “off-season”, but a pilgrimage this Jubilee Year is special (when July 25 falls on a Sunday, celebrating the martyrdom of St. James). There were people walking from all over the world, and whether we spoke a common language or not, communication happened (thank you, Google Translate and Charades). The tiny village churches and many of the older structures were restored and well maintained. There were usually several villages along the daily path where we could drop our pack and poles and enjoy a cup of café con leche and a sweet treat. We were never alone, and there was always someone who had walked the route before for advice on the best things to see and do along the way.
As soon as we started the Camino Invierno, a beautiful peacefulness settled in. The first day brought a quiet, misty morning through vineyards and forests of ripe hickory trees and a warm afternoon as we climbed towards Las Medulas, an area shaped by the gold mining techniques of ancient Romans and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This beautiful day set the tone for the rest of our trek through Galicia. This route was used by pilgrims in ancient times to avoid the winter snow along the traditional French Route. As we hoped, it allowed us to avoid the ever-growing crowd along the French Way as we got closer to Santiago. It took us through the vineyards of Galicia and along the peaks and valleys of the River Sil. We rarely came across more than one or two other pilgrims on any day.
The Camino Invierno is physically challenging. There were very long, steep ascents and descents on every imaginable terrain – gravel, asphalt, softball-sized stones, concrete, rock steps and woodland paths. But those climbs also gave us stunning views of Galicia and the villages that we had just walked through or were approaching. The area is very rural and was more isolated from international visitors until this Camino was officially recognized as a route in 2016. We walked along river valleys, vineyards, farms, pasturelands and plowed fields, and we walked with hunters, a few villagers, cows, chickens, roosters, horses and sheep. The villages were smaller, older and on many days few and far between. Most of the historic and ancient structures, including churches, had not been refurbished, something I hope will change as more money will flow with more pilgrims walking through the area.
Walking across Spain from Roncesvalles to Santiago was an amazing journey. Spain is a beautiful, diverse country with distinct regions, cultures and languages (who knew a native of Santiago might have trouble communicating with a fellow Spaniard from Seville). The glass of wine or cup of café con leche seemed to always be there when you needed it most, and the food and accommodations were excellent. The solitary walking was energizing, as were the times I shared with the people along the way. Spending a few minutes or a few hours in conversations with people from all over the world could help ease a difficult day.
Being away from the news of the world was wonderful, but so was the refreshing dialogue I had with a young political science student from Argentina. How fortunate we were to have stopped for lunch in Navarrete where we learned from a fellow pilgrim, we were just in time to celebrate the mass for the patron saint of Parroquia de Nuestra Senora de la Asuncion with the once-a-year swinging of a botafumeiro. In Hornillos de Camino, we shared our first pilgrims’ mass with a joyous Spanish priest and pilgrims from the Canada, Brazil, Spain and the USA. We had the good fortune to spend 2 nights with a family at Casa Rual Pasio do Sil in La Rua where we were treated to delicious home cooked dinners, the best croquetas ever and good conversations with Susana and her parents. My pilgrim credential would never have survived without the kindness of the employees at a couple of cafes between San Juan de Ortega to Burgos who attempted to dry it while I dried out with over coffee and tea on a very rainy day.
There was the lovely man in Villares de Orbigo with his own credential stamp and walls filled with post cards from pilgrims who, like us, had stopped to say hello and were treated with kindness and enough goodies to last for days. We were pampered for two nights by the hotel staff at the Eco Hotel Nos in Silleda (no traditional pilgrims’ meal here). We were among the few pilgrims who arrived in Santiago on October 29 to receive passes from the polite clerks at the Pilgrims Office allowing us to sit close to the alter at the evening’s pilgrim mass. Lucia gave us a special tour of the Cathedral de Santiago, registered us for free tickets to view the spectacular Portico de la Gloria and gave us tips on when to get to the cathedral and where to sit to get the best view of the Botafumeiro during the All Saints Day mass on November 1. All our Camino planning and rescheduling these past two years paid off, because we WERE able to attend the holy day mass sitting in the best pews and close to pilgrim friends we had met along the way.
I can’t express enough gratitude for everything Miguel did for us. The trek was absolutely flawless from our perspective. If there was a hiccup, we never felt it. All the accommodations and meals were good, most were very good, and we felt totally spoiled at more than a few. A highlight of the trip for me was finally getting to meet Miguel and spending time with him over delicious food and drink. He is an upbeat, unique individual who is passionate about life and especially about the Camino.
The initial purpose of my Camino was just physical – walk decent distances every day for 5 weeks. But there was a period of time when I realized my physical limitations and questioned my sanity. But we made it to Santiago. As I look back through my pictures, I realize that although time is distancing me from my trek, it continues to broaden my adventure. I am even more amazed now with everything I experienced and how it keeps subtly changing me. Maybe that was the hidden purpose of my Camino… meeting the walls of physical, mental and spiritual limitations, realizing you are not alone and figuring out how to go on. As Miguel told us early on, the Camino provides. And it continues to do so.
Lyn here again! I want to say a huge congratulations to Sandy and Nikki! What an achievement. This was truly a trip of a lifetime.
Does reading about their adventures make you feel excited for a new year of travel?We are ready to get back out there and create some more customised adventure travel opportunities across Australia, New Zealand and the world.
If you are like Sandy and Nikki and are interested in travelling with some likeminded women, check out our upcoming Women’s Only Tours. Or feel free to reach out via our CONTACT US form and we can discuss your interests together and even created a tailored trip just like Sandy and Nicki did.
– Lyn Taylor