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Camino Amigos, Friends and the Trail, Camino de Santiago, Spain

“Let’s get a sandwich” I said to Ol.

It didn’t look like we could make it to the next town for France’s lunch hour so we decided to go to the bakery we passed coming into town.

“Do you have sandwiches?” I asked.

“We are a bakery, we have bread, if you want meat you must go to the butcher shop on the next block” she replied.

We bought some bread and walked a block and entered the butcher shop.

“We would like some meat for a sandwich” I said.

“We have lots of meat to choose from, what would you like?” Was the reply.

“Some ham will be great! Do you have cheese for a sandwich as well?” I asked.

“If you want cheese you must go to the cheese shop on the next block” the butcher replied.

In France after visiting the baker, the butcher, the cheese shop and the grocery store, we had a wonderful lunch. In Spain, there is a noticeable difference. At remote trail heads, an enterprising Spaniard is selling something; drinks, sandwiches, fruit, or souvenirs. Every village is in on the "Camino action", they even have vending machines that dispense burgers!

I never thought that I would miss France’s beautifully preserved quiet villages, with their kitchen gardens and quaint traditions, but now I do.

The landscapes in Spain are different and though the villages are not as colorful, the people more than make up for it with their laughter and music.

This week we walked our 1,000th kilometer on the Camino de Santiago. We have now been in Spain for over two weeks and I don’t want to compare the two countries but it can’t be helped. Friends that walked with us in France find they are doing the same thing.

For us the difference was almost immediate. The trail, the food, and most noticeable the sound. We entered one town in Spain fairly early in the morning and the music and laughter made us both smile. It was louder than all of the noise in all of the villages in France we visited combined.

The farms are also different. In France it seems that each house has a kitchen garden, and flowers are everywhere. Farms looked to be run by families as we saw dads driving tractors with their children next to them. Every village had abundant domestic animals like goats, sheep, cows, donkeys, horses, chickens, pigs, cats, and dogs.

In Spain we see an occasional cat or dog and the farming seems more industrial, we have only seen two sheep herders, and one was in the town park. Though it is fall, the planters are empty and in most small towns and villages everything is paved with very little green space.

For me the most notable difference is spiritual. In France, the Camino passed by three or four churches each day, and all of the churches were open and I had a 6 euro daily habit for lighting candles. Also in France, the Camino was lined with beautiful crosses and Ol took pictures of hundreds of them.

In Spain, we are lucky if we find the large cathedrals in the big cities open. We have actually gone several days without visiting any church. We have also only seen a few crosses along the way in Spain. Sadly, most are memorials for pilgrims who have lost their life on the camino. Today, we visited the first church in Spain that allowed me to light a candle! I did go a little crazy as I think we Catholics have a thing for candles.

So far, the Spanish camino has included walking along a lot of noisy interstate highways and industrial areas. I am sure that 1,000 years ago, this was not the case, and I know that this is a spiritual journey and not a scenic one, but it does make it difficult to think good pilgrim thoughts with all of that noise!

We have loved some of the Spanish towns and cities. We fell in love with Pamplona and will be back. We actually took a zero day there, but ended up walking around fifteen miles playing tourist. We wandered the beautiful streets, explored the museums and squares and even tried to drink our way through all of Hemingway's haunts. We loved the interactive film and ran with the bulls at the Plaza del Torros.

In Logorno, we arrived early enough to participate in “day drinking” on the town square. In the evening we had an amazing dinner and were astounded to see every street and square filled with people. It was just a typical Saturday night, but to us looked more like Mardi Gras or Times Square.

In Burgos we explored the magnificent Cathedral and went to dinner with a few of our friends we met in France and haven’t seen in a month. “Roo”and “Bordeaux” (my affectionate trail names) were both injured but now mended. They took trains and buses to rejoin the trail in Spain.

We had a great night out and it appears that they too were trying not to compare the two countries. According to these single girls, the French Chemin is more conducive to romance, but Spain wins out for vegetarian options and cost. So, I suppose it comes down to either love or money!

In Spain with the exception of one hotel a double or king hotel room consists of two twin beds pushed together. So I say France wins in the romance department! Ol thinks that Spain wins because obviously the Spanish place a great deal of importance on getting a good night's sleep.

We all agreed that France was a more scenic and challenging hike and that Spain was less expensive, more fun, and included more for young people. Ol was amazed that our dinner for four with two bottles of wine was $35. He loves Spain!

It was an amazing coincidence that seven of the people that we began hiking with in France were all in the same city at the same time! It was fun to catch up and hear all of the stories.

After Burgos we had several weather alerts that snow was in the forecast. We decided to skip our zero day and start making miles. In one day we rocked 43 kilometers even though we started at our usual late starting time of 9:30 a.m.

The trail has become more scenic the more remote we are. I enjoy walking through wind swept plains, along beautiful rivers and streams, and past groves of colorful trees shedding the last bits of color from the landscape.

We have walked by ruins of monasteries, and castles atop hills. Many of the churches seem to have a giant stork’s next atop it’s bell tower. Each town has it’s distinctive shell embedded in the street which marks our trail and signifies St. James Way.

For me the most surprising thing was how well my picky eater husband did in France. Surprisingly he loved everything and had no trouble. In Spain, I laugh nightly as Ol’s order is completely different than what either of us expected. His vegetable lasagna had no pasta, no cheese, or tomato sauce. Tonight he just gave up and ordered a salad with goat cheese and apples.

We have three weeks left until we finish our journey to Santiago. We feel especially blessed with the friends we have made along the way. We are thankful for our good health. Most importably we thank God for the hospitality of our host countries and the pilgrims and volunteers that have paved the way before us. I am especially grateful for the artists and their works of art that have withstood the centuries to transport and enlighten us on our journey. Buen Camino!

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