From Berducedo to Castro… the Camino will provide

Oviedo –> Grado –> Salas –> Tineo –> Sumblismo –> Berducedo –> Castro –> A Fonsagrada –> O Cadavo –> Lugo –> Ferreira –> Castaneda –> Amenal –> Santiago de Compostela

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Dear Family and Friends,

I hope this note finds you all healthy, happy and connected to those you love and who love you!

I slept soooo well last night…finally! Oddly enough, I have only been sleeping about 4 or 5 hours a night, probably a combination of jet lag at the beginning coupled with being over-tired and excited all a the same time. In any case, I loved my sleep last night and it made all of the difference. I woke up at 7 am after getting a solid, uninterrupted eight hours sleep, and had energy to spare. It was awesome! I packed and rolled out of the albergue around 7:30 am and was greeted with a lovely sunrise as I left Berducedo:

After climbing out of town, I had some of the most beautiful vistas so far on the trip. Maybe it was the wonderful sleep that I got last night, but everything just felt brimming with life. Here are a few pictures of the sights that greeted after just a few kilometers on the trail:

About5 kilometers down the road I entered the small village of La Mesa, with its 17th cenur church in the center a fairly substantial albergue that was full from many of my companions who went passed Berducedo the previous day. After many hearty “Buenas Dias’s”, “Buonggourno’s”, and “good Morning’s” (very awkward to write but you can just imagine), we headed up a very steep climb out of town. At the top of the hill were several huge, new windmills, which had seen dotting the ridgelines all along the way in Asturias. Needless to say the hike took my breath away, as it was still pretty early in the morning’s hike and had been gentle to that point. Fortunately I had my shadow to walk with me up the hill! 🙂

After reaching the top of the ridge just below the windmills, it flattened out as it approached the day’s descent. The guidebook I have relied on my whole trip said that it was a fairly steep decline down into a lake basin called Grandas de Salim. This is a beautiful reservoir created by a dam on the River Navia. As I walked toward the ridge I was to descend, I saw a small church on the edge of the trail called the Capilla de Santa Marina de Buspol. This church dates from the 14th century and the bell that is a part of it dates back to 1327 and is one of the oldest in Asturias.

Just across from the church I saw a young couple, and it was clear that the man was in pain so I stopped and asked them if they needed help. He was Spanish and spoke fluent english (as did his partner who was from Hong Kong), and he said he was having some knee pain and was worried about the steep descent ahead. I asked him where the pain was and it was sort of on the side of his left knee. I asked him if he had any ibuprofen (I had Aleve in my pack which had saved me on this trip) and he said no. I also noticed that he was rubbing his knee directly and not his IT band which runs down the side of your thigh and actually causes the pressure or tension on your knee. I gave him some Aleve and the massage ball I had carried with me all of this way for his IT band. I then wished him well and went on. There is a saying here that “the Camino will provide.” It’s a beautifully simple yet profound statement and I have thought about that being analogous to faith. I felt like giving him these things were a small example of how the Camino provides, whether it is from fellow pilgrims, Camino angels, or others along the way, somehow it just does.

Although the guidebook made it sound like the walk to Grandas was going to to be worse than the Hospitales route, I didn’t find that to be the case at all. Maybe because it was so beautiful or maybe because it reminded me so much of walking at home in the Sierra Nevada mountains. In either case, the next segment of the walk was one of my favorites on the Camino so far. The train zigzagged down the mountainside in a pine forest and then I saw the lake…it was beautiful! Take a look:

After I finished the descent of the mountain, I walked a gory bit on the road and then crossed the lake via the dam. The walk across the bridge and up the other side offered some spectacular views of the lake and the shimmering sunlight on the water.

Whenever I see sunlight on water, I think of my mom. She passed away in a car accident when I was 19, and after I had visited the scene of the accident to gather some of her belongings, I went to the nearby river to swim (it was nearly 100 degrees that day). As I was jumping in the river, I saw the sunlight shimmering and sparkling on the waves, and I thought that was my mom telling me she was alright. I know it sounds kind of silly but it is truly what I think about every time I see those lovely sun-drenched waves. Love you, mom.

After leaving the lake it was more climbing up to the beautiful little city of Grandas de Salime. As I walked into the town, the first thing I saw was a beautiful church, the Church of San Salvador de Grandas. There was a gentleman inside changing all of the light bulbs – he was very kind to me and gave me permission to take photos…take a look:

I thoroughly enjoyed sitting and praying in this small but special church. I prayed for peace.

After Grandas I decided to play one my favorite playlists of Jim Brickman (listen to the song, If You Believe) and George Winston (Autumn) piano music as I walked the final 5 kilometers to Castro. I was reall happy and relaxed, and I had no idea how wonderful a stay awaited me…

As I walked into the small village of Castro, I was greeted b a private aubergue on the right, followed by a tiny church (dates from the 1500s) and then the small B&B I was staying in, Casa Ferreira:

The first order of business once in town was to check into Casa Ferreira…and what an *amazing* surprise! The person who greeted me was Carmen Alvarez, the great, great granddaughter of the original builder/owner of the home. Her family was four generations of blacksmiths and the original home was built in 1879. Carmen had personally overseen the remodeling of the home, between her fall to spring job as a teacher in Oviedo! The remodel was extremely tasteful and she kept the motif of a blacksmith’s home, including her great grandparents original kitchen, an old Singer sewing machine, and other heirlooms. It was absolutely lovely! Take a look:

Great grandparents original kitchen!

It was a lovely home and it was clear that Carmen cared for it and her parents who lived with her in the private side of the home. Here is Carmen receiving my gift of The Pilgrimage by Paulo Coehlo in english:

After checking into Casa Ferreira, I went over to the albergue and the one place to eat in town. Fortunately, the food was amazing and the friendship with my fellow pilgrims and the owner of the place made it even better! Here are a few photos to give you a sense of the place and more importantly the people:

Pilgrims from afar: Katherine (Australia), Sigurd (Germany) and Julie (Ireland)

Susan (Denmark) on the step stool provided to her by Javier (Spain) on the right) hanging her clothes to dry (the Camino will provide) 😉

After some food and drinks, I found out that Castro had a museum, and ancient Roman ruins, the Museo Castro and Chao Samartin. One of my friends from the Camino, Ronaldo from Brazil, and I hustled over to the place some we could see it before it closed. We got there with about 45 minutes to spare, and found our friend Markus from Switzerland, a real history buff. He had already gone through the museum, but since it was so late we had to choose between a museum tour or a tour of the ruins. We chose the latter and we were not disappointed at all! Our tour guide only spoke in Spanish, so she carried my phone and used the Speak & Translate App I mentioned earlier in the blog to give the tour. Between the S&T App and Ronaldo — who’s native language is Portugese but can speak some Spanish and very good English — we could understand what she was saying as she went through the history of the ruins.

Ronaldo and I on our way to see the ruins.

Ronaldo at the entrance to the museum

Markus, me, our guide Ingrid and Ronaldo at the wall of the ancient Roman ruins.

The ruins of the main house of the Roman family that lived here as the overseer of this part of the Roman Empire. This person reported all the way back to Rome.

One of the interesting stories she told us was that the Asturian people were never conquered by Rome. The Romans had come to Castro and the area in general to take the gold, and according to Ingrid tried to enslave the locals. The locals fought back with poisoned arrows, poisoned from the juice of a local berry. If they were about to be caught, many Asturians used the poison on themselves rather than be enslaved. This infuriated Emperor Augustus and he couldn’t believe the couldn’t be subdued. It was apparent from the passion in her and body language that there was no love lost between the Asturians and the Romans!

After the tour it was time to go back to the albergue for the main course, and I had the turkey leg in a delicious, cinnamon-laced broth with basmati rice. Simply delicious!

After this last meal, I was absolutely “shattered” (as my friends from Britain say), and it was time for sleep. Tomorrow as I walk the Camino to A Fonsagrada, I will say goodbye to Asturias (sniff!) and say hello to Galicia.

It was another wonderful day on the Camino…sleep, beauty, food, grace, friendship, a step stool…everything you need. The Camino does indeed provide everything you need.

Peace and love,

Brian

Carpe diem…Sumblismo to Berducedo via Hospitales Route

Oviedo –> Grado –> Salas –> Tineo –> Sumblismo –> Berducedo –> Castro –> A Fonsagrada –> O Cadavo –> Lugo –> Ferreira –> Castaneda –> Amenal –> Santiago de Compostela

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Good morning dear friends,

After the wonderful evening spent eating, talking, laughing and singing with my Camino “famly” in albergue Sumblismo, it was time to decide whether or not to take the Hospitales route up over the mountains or to take the more protected route through the valley to Pola de Allande. This decision was mostly made the day before when we decided to stop at Sumblismo, but if the weather was bad we would forego the exposed Hospitales route and go through Pola de Allende. We were fortunate to wake up to a weather forecast of no rain or snow, rather an expectation of blue skies and some relatively high winds. We decided to take the Hospitales route.

Map on the trail showing the choice we had to make regarding routes to Berducedo.

Why all the fuss over the route we were going to take? Well, the long and the short of it is that the original pilgrims to Santiago went the Hospitales route as it is the more direct route over the mountains on the way to Galicia (the next region over). The route gets its name from the remains of three pilgrim hospitals that date back to the 15th century, and this was a compelling reason for me (and many other people) to take this route. In fact, the reason I named this post “carpe diem” or “seize the day,” was because of all of the stories I heard from different people from all over the world who wanted to “conquer” this route. The stories ranged from fear of heights, to battling brain lesions, to a man hiking after the death of his wife last month, to simply wanting to prove they could it. Every person I spoke to was determined to do go this route, to seize this moment and hike this mountain, to wrestle with and overcome their life challenges. Carpe diem, seize the day, making the most of the day in front of us, to make it count. That is what I saw on this mountain for my friends and for me. And as has been the case for me since Day 1, the lesson of the Camino can be directly applied to our daily lives.

The hike started out on a dirt road and was a gradual climb out of Sumblismo:

Seemed easy enough. But as my friends and I marched upward, the trail narrowed and became steeper and steeper, and the smiles were replaced with more determined and laboring faces. Here’s a funny one from Jerome, my friend and fellow pilgrim from Portland:

As we continued on, the views expanded and were absolutely breathtaking:

As we continued our journey up the mountain, we came upon the first of the ruins of the three pilgrim hospitals from the 13th to the 15th century:

Ruinas del Hospital de Paradiella, 15th century

I was amazed at how there were actually pilgrim hospitals in such a remote area, and it made me reflect on the thousands of ilgrims tat had walked this way before me. I wonder what they were thinking at the timeof their pilgrimage? What were their lives like? What was their motivation to take what arguably was a more difficult journey (lack of modern medicine, equipment, etc.)? Although we won’t know the answers to these questions, my belief was they were seizing the day, and paying their respects to Santiago (Saint James) was worht the risk. I respect that.

The jourey continued on, and although the weather turned a little dicey — very cold and extremely windy — we were able to carry on to the other sites on the trail. I love this photo because it shows the rays of sunlight shining through the clouds…a nice metaphor for life, especially when it seems the cloudiest.

As we kept climbing up the mountain we came upon the remains of the second pilgrim hospital:

Ruinas del Hospital de Fonfaraon, 13th-15th century

This one had stood the test of time a bit better and had a it more structure to it. But can you imagine tending the tired and weary pilgrims in such a remote place? That is what you call a “calling.”

A little ways up the trail we came upon a marker that has started to turn into a small shrine, the poor person’s version of the Cruz de Ferro of the Camino Frances. While the practical reason for the Cruz de Ferro was to mark the way for pilgrims making the trek in the winter months (a snow marker), the legend part of it is that pilgrims bring a rock to place at the base of the “iron cross,” leading their fears and worries behind. On the Camino Primitivo we don’t pass the Cruz de Ferro, but I had heard of this little monument on the Hospitales route and left my rock at the monument. My rock says “Love” on one side “conquers all” on the other.

As we continued the relentless march up to the top of the mountain, we found the very few remains of the third pilgrim hospital:

Ruinas del Hospital de Valparaiso, 13th-15th century

We were all starting to feel good that we were nearing the top, and despite the wind the team I was hiking with near the top even posed for a picture:

I took this short video to give you a sense of the wind near the top, supposedly close to 80 km/hour. People had told me that they close the trail if the winds get above 100 km/hour so we had some buffer! 😉

At this point, people were being blown around a bit, so we doubled the pace to get to the top of the mountain…and we made it! The feeling of accomplishment was real, and while the long walk down the other side was still in front of us, we paused and reflected on the day so far.

Marcus from Switzerland

Brian from California 🙂

The next hour or so was pretty grueling as it was very steep downhill and the path was covered with loose rock and shale. Arduous to say the least. After descending about 1500 feet we started to climb again (only a little bit) and then we fond a place for a rest in a place called Montefurado:

This rest came at the perfect time, as everyone was beat and needed to refuel and take off our shoes and just relax in the Spanish sun. Everyone shared snacks and stories. Bueno. Muy bueno.

The rest of the walk to Berducedo was a bit anti-climactic but also very nice…here are some pictures of the scenery along the way:

As we walked into Berducedo, we were very tired but also very happy, and when I saw my room for the night I just smiled…it was a lovely shade of pink with plenty of open air ventilation (so I could dry my clothes) and a very (firm) comfortable bed.

After freshening up we all met at the one restaurant in town and shared a meal.

We seized the day, and you can too — wherever you are and whatever you are doing.

Carpe diem. Lesson #5 from the Camino.

Peace,

Brian

From Tineo to Sumblismo: Life on the Camino

Oviedo –> Grado –> Salas –> Tineo –> Sumblismo –> Berducedo –> Castro –> A Fonsagrada –> O Cadavo –> Lugo –> Ferreira –> Castaneda –> Amenal –> Santiago de Compostela

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Hola Everyone,

How are you all doing today? I am doing great!

First of all, I wanted to thank everyone who has written me notes or commented on my stories as this is all a part of the Camino Way…building a community through shared experiences. It is also very cathartic for me to simply write the story of the day and share what I have observed or experienced, so I appreciate the warm response and participation!

Second, I want to apologize for any mistakes that you find in the stories; I am doing all of my writing on an iPhone in a small stand using a small bluetooth keyboard as I purposefully didn’t bring a laptop or even an iPad on the trip. So pardon the typos that I don’t catch before I publish.

Third, several people have asked me to use Strava or some other app to show where I am so they can follow along. As a reminder, I am on the Camino Primitivo and here is the path I am following:

Here are the towns I am planning to stay in on my way to Santiago:

Oviedo –> Grado –> Salas –> Tineo –> Sumblismo –> Berducedo –> Castro –> A Fonsagrada –> O Cadavo –> Lugo –> Ferreira –> Melide –> Arca or O Pedrouzo –> Santiago de Compostela

After I reach Santiago, I plan to continue my journey on to Cape Finisterre on the coast and ultimately Muxia on the western coast of Spain where I will conclude my Camino.

I am in Castro right now, and my stories are a couple of days behind as I need a bit of time to write these stories. So today’s story will be about the journey from Tineo to Sumblismo, which was my journey a couple of days ago. Since I don’t have Strava on my iPhone (and frankly don’t want to get it), I have been playing around with my Garmin InReach satellite GPS communicator that has the ability to send a message over satellite and put a pin on a map that I can share. Again, I just started playing with it so it only has the last couple of towns on it. You can check out that map here.

Finally, please forgive me if I miss a day or two on these posts. I write either late at night after a long day’s walk or early in the morning, I love writing like this as it makes me happy to share these experiences and feelings with my friends and family. Also practically speaking, it will help me remember all of the wonderful people I have met and places I have been. 😉 And honestly, it’s quite cathartic to write like this as I have so many things to say and share. So… if I do happen to miss a day or two, please forgive me.

Tineo to Sumblismo

Tineo was a very nice mountain town and a great place to stay before launching into the mountains in earnest. After a good bit too short sleep, several of us left the albergue and started the steep hike out of town. I really don’t mind starting out on a steep hike right off the bat as it really gets the blood pumping and typically results in great views. Tineo was really special in this regard…after a climb of ~900 meters here is the beautiful view of the Cantabrian Mountains:

After that initial climb we settled into a pretty nice rhythm as the walk leveled out and we starting to walk through forests, fields, farms and fruit (blackberries actually, but I loved the allure of alliteration;-)):

But most of all on this beautiful day I saw a lot of life on the Camino, from pilgrims to locals, walking the trail, running farm equipment, talking over the stone fence/hedge, or gathering in the local watering hole. For example, we stopped for lunch in Campiello at Casa Ricardo, and this place was clearly the social hub of the little town. I thoroughly enjoyed watching the people converse, eat, drink, laugh and just generally live. I don’t have a lot of pictures to explain but I do have a couple of examples:

It was a wonderful place to stop for lunch as we experienced the joy of the Camino from a locals perspective…it was lovely.

Since my fellow pilgrims had a place to stay there in Casa Ricardo and I didn’t, I continued alone to albergue Sumblismo, about 5 kilometers beyond Campiello. It was cold and it looked like rain so I “geared up” for some wet weather with my rain jacket and gaiters for my boot. Here I am as I headed off for the last walking of the night.

I loved the hike to Sumblismo, especially the hydrangeas and purple flowers (don’t know the name) that I noticed was all over this part of the trail. It was a beautiful way to end my walk for the day.

I arrived at the albergue around 4:30 pm and found myself in the most peaceful albergue yet on the Camino. I loved the simplicity of it, from the outside of the building to my ti room…I felt like a *real* pilgrim.

Albergue Sumblismo

My humble pilgrim room

The albergue owner, Javier Yela, was a very calm and thoughtful person, having moved from Barcelona and his big job to the peace and quiet of the Camino. He was also a wonderful cook and was preparing the meal when I arrived:

But what I think made the night special besides the simple spaces and Javier the cook were the wonderful people staying there for the night. There were Charlene and Jim from Canada, Albert and Esperanza from Spain, and Jerome, Ken and Kyle from the USA. Everyone was engaged and helped in some way, from helping to set the table, fold napkins or just participate in the evening.

It truly felt like a family, and Javier outdid himself by serving such simple but delicious vegetarian food, starting with pasta in cream sauce, followed by hearty vegetable soup with home made and freshly baked bread, and melon for dessert. It was delicious and very healthy!

After a wonderful family meal, Javier grabbed the guitar and asked if anyone knew how to play. Jim said he played “a little” and that was the understatement of the year! He tuned the guitar and started with some CCR, followed with a beautiful Spanish song (see the video below), and then played songs by REM, the Eagles and John Denver. It was the most fun night for me so far on the Camino, and I am so grateful for this lovely experience. I truly understand what people mean by “life on the Camino” now because I experienced it with others.

As I close my eyes for the evening, I feel the lesson I learned today is that life is found in the little things: friends, family, food, laughter, and all of the little things that make a life. And while I found and felt this on the Camino, it can and should be found anywhere, we just need to slow down long enough to see and more importantly feel it. This is the big lesson for me: I need to slow down and be quiet and experience joy in the simple things in life. Intuitively I guess I knew this, but now I really know. I thank the Camino for this wonderful life lesson.

Buen Camino,

Brian

Salas to Tineo: You’ll Never Walk Alone

Oviedo –> Grado –> Salas –> Tineo –> Sumblismo –> Berducedo –> Castro –> A Fonsagrada –> O Cadavo –> Lugo –> Ferreira –> Castaneda –> Amenal –> Santiago de Compostela

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You’ll never walk alone.

The first time I heard this saying was from my good friend and work colleague, Eric Schwartz. For context: at Equinix I was responsible for a massive, global business systems and process program and we were all struggling. As the leader, I felt responsible and as people say “leadership can be lonely,” which is exactly how I felt. Well, I think my friend Eric sensed that and sent me a huge Liverpool Football Club flag and emblazoned on it were the words, “you’ll never walk alone.” According to Discover Music on ClassicFM.com, “legend has it that the motivating effect of the fans singing You’ll Never Walk Alone gave the players hope when all seemed lost. This small act of defiance in the face of adversity galvanised the Liverpool team, and they managed to pull back and win the match on penalties, crowning them European Cup Champions.” I will never forget this incredibly kind act by Eric.

As I was walking from Salas to Tineo I was struck by the same thought. As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, we are all blessed to have come into (and go out of) our lives, just like I have been blessed to have people to walk with on the Camino. But even when no one was walking with me, I never felt alone. I think I can attribute this to the love of family and friends that you feel in your heart, the connectedness to nature as you walk amongst the trees and over the mountains, and the belief in the divine that is strongest when you are still, not physically but in your mind. The Camino has reminded me that I will never walk alone.

Leaving Salas and entering the mountains

The morning walk out of Salas was pretty much straight uphill and vigorous, which is a wonderful way to start the day. About 2 kilometers outside of town there was a 250 meter detour to go see a waterfall or cascada in Spanish. This was a beautiful little waterfall and I took a short video of it to share with you:

My favorite waterfall poem came to mind and is very apropos for the Camino:

Venture out for there’s a new path to find.
Let it become delightful as an exquisite fine wine.
Follow the river to the waterfall. Observe the power it holds to create a wall. Allow it to release all that holds you back, 
especially any thought for what you think you lack.
See it become the key to uncovering what the vinedresser engrafts. Take an unexpected walk through the spring rain, explore the caverns, make mindfulness your aim. 
Move with freedom, to the valley below let it reveal what is in its rhythmic flow. Leave the ties of yesterdays tears, come away renewed and without fear. 
Allow the day to form something unexpected, 
as you listen in the quiet with a heart that is deeply affected.

The sound of the waterfall and the words of this poem made me raise my arms in pure joy:

After this wonderful little respite, my friends Loretta and Rosella and I — we were walking together this morning — climbed back up to the main trail and recommenced our journey.

As we continued the morning climb, we started to separate as I went at a slightly faster pace. The solitude of the Camino washed over me and my thoughts wandered as I observed the beauty of the land and listened to the slight breeze in the trees above my head. I loved this morning.

Pilgrim bench

Fresh blackberries

A cross on the Camino

Marking the Way…

Such a fertile valley, corn growing everywhere

My first view of the mountains a few kilometers from Tineo.

As I walked out of the fields filled with corn and/or hay, I entered the town of Tineo. The Camino followed a quaint, lamp-lined path above the city and offered amazing views of both the town and of course the spectacular mountains to the south:

“Viator horam aspice et abi viam tuam” which means “Traveler look at the hour and continue on your way.”

The medieval town of Tineo, a major pilgrim stop in the Middle Ages. In fact the Asturian King Alphonse II decreed in 1222 that pilgrims must stop at both Tineo and the Monastery of Obona (9 km past Tineo).

As I entered the narrow streets of the town, I was a little weary but also excited for the evening meal of fabada and the next few days in the mountains. I reflected on all of the feelings and emotions felt during the day, and a wave of gratitude rushed over me. I felt at peace.

Sharing a meal with friends (the fabada is in the bowl), after which it was time to do laundry! 😉

As I took my now fresh clothes back to my room and laid my head down to rest, I thought of lesson #4 of the Camino:

You’ll never walk alone.

Goodnight and Buen Camino,

Brian

The journey from Grado to Salas…new friends and new perspectives

Oviedo –> Grado –> Salas –> Tineo –> Sumblismo –> Berducedo –> Castro –> A Fonsagrada –> O Cadavo –> Lugo –> Ferreira –> Castaneda –> Amenal –> Santiago de Compostela

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Buenos Días, amigos! Como estas? (Okay that is about it for my Spanish… learning more every day though!)

Actually, I have been using Google translate to have some pretty decent conversations with people on the Camino, albeit it is a bit awkward to walk and type at the same time! 🙂 But I do have to share with you this wonderful new app I found that allows me to speak into the iPhone and in near-realtime it translates to the language of choice. It is amazing! I have used it to have conversations in Spanish, Italian and Portugese, and it has really opened up the communications channels between pilgrims. People are passing the phone back and forth, speaking into it in their native tongue, and it translates into the language of the other person the are talking to. It’s brilliant! Check it out: Speak & Translate, it is an absolutely brilliant tool! Now back to the journey…

Grado to Salas

Despite a fitful night listening to dogs barking on the streets of Grado, I woke up fairly early and went down for a quick breakfast, cup of coffee and a few chats with the other pilgrims. The breakfast room was full of people and conversation and laughter, and there were no empty tables available. So I asked a young woman sitting by herself if I could sit in one the empty chairs at her table. She replied “yes” in English (!) and in between quick gulps of food and sips of coffee we chatted and I learned that she was from Toronto, Canada and on her first Camino. The conversation was brief as we both wanted to get on our way…so we said “Buen Camino” and went on our way. More on this young woman a little later…

The hike out of Grado was pretty steep as the trail rose over 1000 feet in a relatively short time. While I was climbing I was treated to a stunning sunrise as the sun worked its way through the mist over the sleepy, agrarian countryside:

As the sun broke through, the outlines and shapes of this beautiful land started to sharpen and life started its day (or maybe I just started to see it):

This was such a stunning start to my morning that I didn’t notice I had already climbed 1,000 feet and was starting to level out onto a beautiful country lane lined with a stunning hydrangea wall:

What a glorious morning! I loved waking up to the world this way and feeling I was waking up with it, truly happy to be alive and on the Camino.

As I walked up the mountain and by the rolling farmland, I was presented with a grand vista of the valley on the other side:

As I started my descent down into the valley, a couple of young men caught up with me on the trail. They were laughing and smiling and talking, and stopped at a bridge to take a photo. They were speaking English, so I asked them if they would like me to take a photo of them together. They said yes and I took their picture — here they are (I asked if I could share their photo and stories in my blog post and they said yes):

After taking the photo we just naturally started walking together. No one said a thing, no one asked, it just happened naturally and the conversation just flowed. Their names are Ken and Kyle and they are brothers, originally hailing from Portland, Oregon. They were hiking the Camino with their father who had left the aubergue a few hours earlier to get on the trail (he’s an early morning guy, they are not — sounds familiar:)) The older brother Ken went to Carleton College in Minnesota (wonderful liberal arts college…my bias), and when I asked Kyle where he went to school he simply said, “Carleton…my brother really liked it so I went too.” It was clear that that these two brothers really liked hanging out together, a sight to warm a dad’s heart. I asked them where they were living now and found out they both live and work in San Francisco, Ken at Blend and Kyle at Air BnB, and they both just love to be outside. They were bright and thoughtful lads, and I thoroughly enjoyed the conversation with them. But I soon saw that they were ready to motor to try and catch their dad, so I bid them farewell, and soon they disappeared in front of me. Buen Camino, Ken and Kyle.

As I continued my walk to Salas, through the small and lovely towns of Doriga and Cornellana, I continued to be touched by the beauty of Asturias:

Beautiful, no? I walked alone for the next couple of hours, enjoying the peace and quiet, lost in thoughts of my own sons and how much I thought all three of them would love the Camino. One day.

Around noon I crossed the Nonaya river, meandered through the cute yet bustling town of Cornellana, and started to climb again on a path up the hillside, just past the Monastery of San Salvador, a ~1,000 year old monastery still in operation.

I enjoyed the shade of the trees while climbing the hillside as it was starting to get hot. After a bit of hard walking, I saw two people on the trail ahead of me, and as I approached them I saw that it was Christine from breakfast and her friend Adrienne. I offered to take a photo of them as they didn’t have one from this section of the Camino, and the said yes. As with Ken and Kyle, I asked if I could present their photo and stories in my post and they also said yes:

Again without a word, we starting walking and talking together on the Camino. These young women were also very bright, engaging and articulate, both having graduated from college in Canada with undergraduate and graduate degrees, and both working hard to make their way in the world. Christine works for the Canadian government in an agency chartered with supporting families that are victims of violence, and was very well-versed and clear spoken in her role in creating or running programs to help these families. We was passionate about her work and it came through in what she shared. Adrienne had just finished her masters degree and was working as a graphic/digital artist for a firm that creates teaching aids, tools and apps. She was excited about her new role and new company (just started in June), but she also shared a very insightful comment that this was a tough transition. When I asked her to say a bit more, she said that transitioning from college to “real life” is hard; you have been in school your whole life — elementary, junior high, high school, undergrad, maybe graduate school — and then it’s over. The event is celebrated but then it’s time to start work, earn money, pay bills and the only structure there is is just that…and that it is a bit unsettling and takes time to get in a rhythm that works. Wow! That comment really hit me because I have been talking (selfishly) about my transition and how “unsettling” it is, when my wonderful, recently graduated college daughter Natalie, has probably been experiencing some of the same things that Adrienne described. Further, maybe this transition home has been hard on Jill or the other family members. Man, I really need to get out of my own “deal” and learn to be more empathetic… the first lesson of the Camino. After this wonderfully enlightening talk, we said our goodbyes and went our separate ways. Buen Camino, Christine and Adrienne.

By this time it was late afternoon and I was close to Salas, the beautiful medieval town of Salas. What a place! I felt like I had gone back in time:

As I walked into town this young woman approached me in front of the little grocery store and asked in perfect English if I had a place to stay yet or if I was hungry. I said yes, I had already booked Hotel Castillo de Valdes, but I had no plans for lunch. She asked if I could come up for lunch at her and her husband’s new hotel/albergue/restaurant. She said her husband made the best paella and that I would not be disappointed. I said yes, I would go after I checked in and dropped everything off in my room.

Around 4 pm I walked to their place, located right on the Camino but at the far end of town…5 minutes walk, but after all of the other aubergues and hotels. When I saw it I was stunned – it was brand new and beautiful! So tastefully done and with views to spare – check it out:

I especially loved the all-wood finishes and the painting of the Camino Primitivo under the bar. Patricia and her husband came over to the table, he introduced himself, and then asked me what I would like to eat. He asked if the “pilgrim menu” was okay and I said yes. I am not sure pilgrims could eat any better!

Sorry about this last picture, I took a bite before I took the photo! 🙂

Actually, it was this Brazilian dessert that brought the story of Casa Sueno to me. Patricia told me that she was from Brazil and came to Spain to walk the Camino Frances. She was a lawyer in a very large firm in São Paulo, doing mergers and acquisitions for large corporate clients in Brazil (explains her proficiency with english). Well…on the Camino Frances she met her husband and she said it was “love at first sight.” She was very stressed at that point in her life and decided to marry her husband, leave Brazil, and build a place on the Camino. Now she and her husband are the proud owners Case Sueno (Dream House), and working hard to get the business going (only opened for 3 months). I gave her several suggestions and she wrote them all down, including getting into the Camino guidebooks (I showed her several popular ones), the Camino apps that have embedded booking tools (e.g., Wise Pilgrim), and also thinking about demand gen using social media. It was a fairly intense conversation as she knows all of this but has very little time, as she also has a 15-month old baby! But I saw in this little family a passion and drive to make their dream (house) work. I told her I would do everything I could to help them be successful, including connecting her to my dear friend from Stanford, Raphael Silva, as he is also Brazilian, also worked for big corporate in Brazil (Bank Itau), but now he is moving over to to run a private albergue on the Camino Frances in Vega de Valcarce. She was both excited and grateful to have these conversations, and said we would keep in touch, and of course she wished me a Buen Camino.

Dear friends, the reason I spent so much time introducing you to these wonderful people and sharing their stories, is that it hit me that the Camino is a metaphor for life. People come into our lives, sometimes for a brief moment sometimes longer, for reasons we don’t know and maybe won’t know unless we open up a little and share a bit of our life journey with them, ask them questions, and sincerely care about their answers. All of these people you briefly met today — Ken, Kyle, Christine, Adrienne and Patricia — all have different stories and different perspectives, yet all of them influenced my journey on the Camino. I only shared a sliver of what we talked about, but hopefully it gave you some insight into life on the Camino if you are open to it. And my learning — other than the clarion call to continue my journey in developing true empathy on a deeper level with my family and friends — is to appreciate what different people bring to the table, their perspectives, their wisdom, and their stories. I think it’s a lesson for us all to welcome more people into our lives.

Lesson #3 of the Camino.

Buen Camino,

Brian

Oviedo to Grado: A day of sunshine…and joy

Oviedo –> Grado –> Salas –> Tineo –> Sumblismo –> Berducedo –> Castro –> A Fonsagrada –> O Cadavo –> Lugo –> Ferreira –> Castaneda –> Amenal –> Santiago de Compostela

***

Hello Friends,

First of all I want to express my gratitude to many of you for your kind words of support and love after my illness in Oviedo. I am really happy to announce that since Sunday afternoon I have had no head pain, and I am so grateful for your support as I walk the Camino pain-free. On the wings of love (and prayers)…

The joy-filled way from Oviedo to Grado

On Monday morning, I packed up my things, filled my Osprey Hydration system with water (it’s a 3 liter bladder that fits inside of my backpack) and said goodbye to the people at the hotel and headed out for the Cathedral San Salvador in Oviedo. I arrived there at about 8:45 am (I got a bit of a late start due to my continuing challenge with sleeping), touched the stone of the cathedral by the front door, took a quick photo and headed out to find the signs to the Camino.

So a bit of explanation on the signs of the Camino. The road to Santiago are marked throughout by scallop shells, symbols that represent the pilgrimage to Santiago. Here is what it looks like:

The symbol also tells you which way to go, as the side with many lines converging in the center symbolizes the many paths one can take to Santiago de Compostela, thus the base of the shell is representative of Santiago itself. In many places you will also have yellow arrows indicating the direction. I can tell you, in a busy city like Oviedo with the many cross-crossing streets, these signs were a Godsend in finding my way to the Camino. Here is an example of the Camino markings I found in the city:

I knew I had found the beginning of the Camino when I found this pilgrim statue on the edge of town:

“As a testimony to the first pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela by the King of Asturias Alphonse II El Casto.”

It was an absolutely perfect day for a walk and the Way did not disappoint… the walk from Oviedo to Grado was incredibly beautiful and peaceful, with wide views of the lush, green valley. I loved this walk very much, as I was happy, feeling healthy and strong and ready for whatever the day brought. Look at the beauty I spent the morning in:

After walking for a couple of hours by myself in this tranquil, verdant land, I came to the small chapel Carmen, and I met the first of the “Camino Angels.” The Camino Angels are people who live on or near the Camino and help Pilgrims. They are wonderful, beautiful souls, and truly genuine in wanting to help people on the Way. A gentleman stationed there welcomed me to view the chapel and asked if I would like to take a look at the chapel and also get a stamp for my credencial del peregrino (also known as the “pilgrim passport.”) I think I forgot to mention that when you walk the Camino, you obtain a passport from the government and along the way you receive stamps (sellas) in it from the various churches, cultural landmarks or pilgrim hostels (called an aubergue in Spain) that you visit. When you reach Santiago, you present your passport at the pilgrim office in Santiago to prove your journey and to receive your Compostela, a document of completion awarded to those who walked 100 km or more to Santiago. I had received three stamps in Oviedo, one from the Cathedral itself, one from the pilgrim office, and one from the Church of San Julian that I wrote about in my last post. Here is my credencial del pelgrino:

I told the gentleman that I would love to look *and* get a stamp in my credencial, but what I would really like is a picture with him. Although he spoke no English (and my Spanish is terrible), he understood, smiled and said “si.” Here he is with me at Chapel Carmen (I know he may not look like it, but he was happy to take a picture with me) 😉

And here is my stamped credencial:

After his brief stop, I returned to my walk, enjoying the warmth of the sun, the beauty of the flowers, the fruit-laden apple trees (there are thousands of apple trees here), and the life-giving rivers of Asturias:

By the time the ~16 miles had passed and the late afternoon arrived, I was ready to get to my destination and take a load off of my feet. As I begin the small ascent into the town of Grado, a couple of pilgrims from Italy joined in the last steps with me and the celebration of arriving at our first destination on the Camino Primitivo: Grado.

In Grado, I stayed in my first albergue, La Quintana. The proprietors were very nice, the room was cozy and warm, and the food was wonderful. Here are a few photos to give you a sense of the warmth and “homeyness” of the place:

As I close for the evening, I simply can’t express the feeling I had walking in this beautiful land on my first Camino. Most of the times I walked alone, sometimes I walked with other pilgrims, but what I can express is that the sense of peace and joy I felt while I was walking was overwhelming. I always loved the outdoors but this felt different. Here in the Asturian countryside, as I deeply breathe in the past and present of this place, I think I am learning in my soul that the simplest things in life are the best. While I dearly miss my family, I also feel that there is something to getting reconnected with yourself because when you do, you can be better for others.

Lesson #2 from the Camino.

Buen Camino,

Brian

The road to Oviedo and true empathy

Hello Friends,

Sorry for the delay in writing but it has been an eventful journey to Oviedo and Sunday night, the night before my walk to Santiago begins. I am excited to begin, but wanted to share with you the experience so far.

The flight from San Francisco to Frankfurt was uneventful, except for a conversation with the flight attendant who said walking the Camino is a dream for him. I said it was the same for me, and dreams do come true. It was a great conversation and I think we both left it more inspired than when we began talking.

The flight leaving Frankfurt was a bit late and as a result I arrived in Madrid around 4 pm. I went straight to the hotel and, after a brief workout, went to dinner in the hotel. The meal was lovely, but more important were the conversations with the staff at the front desk and in the dining room – they were heartwarming and inspirational. Marisa told me about how her father had just walked the Camino and cried when he got home; Fernando told me that he and his father walked it together and it was the most special time of his life. Maria and Rodrigo all said they can’t wait to do the Camino, and held their hands over their hearts when they spoke about the people (and the food :)) of Asturias and Galicia. And Jorge said that “the world today is all about me, me, me, but on the Camino it’s all about us, pilgrims and their hosts along the way.” I was so inspired! I also felt grateful that I have this opportunity to walk the Camino – truly blessed.

Dessert in Madrid: Homemade goat cheese, raspberries and quints.

The next day I decided to take the train from Madrid to Oviedo, a 4 1/2 hour train ride through the beautiful Spanish countryside. Here is the route:

I am so happy I decided to do this rather than flying! The terrain changed from dry and sparse vegetation to the much more green, mountainous region of Asturias. I tried to take some pictures from the fast-moving train…here are a couple that hopefully will give you a sense of the beauty and majesty of the land:

I can’t believe what I am seeing, and am even more excited about hiking in those mountains! Needless to say, the train ride to Oviedo was a breathtaking surprise.

Oviedo

I arrived at the Oviedo train station at 7 pm Friday night and as I exited the train, I met the first two fellow Pilgrims from Ontario, Canada. I also received my first “Buen Camino,” wonderful words to hear after so many months planning! I walked the 3 kilometers to my hotel near the old town, dropped off my gear, and went for a walk to see the Cathedral of San Salvador and the surrounding area. What a site to see! The old town of Oviedo is beautiful, clean and filled with friendly people. It was a wonderful welcome to the city. Here are a few pics for you to imagine the walk from the hotel to the cathedral:

It was a lovely evening and a warm welcome to the city. After a brief stop to eat a local meal of jamon (ham), cheese and bread, I thought this was an absolutely perfect evening…and that is when the troubles began.

That evening I ended up with the worst (and I think only) migraine of my life. I didn’t sleep at all because of the pain, and the next day I ventured out to the town to try and find a pharmacy to see if they could prescribe something for the pain. Well I found a nice pharmacist in old town, and he prescribed some migraine medicine and suggested I go to the hospital to get checked out. I, of course, chose to just take the medicine, drink a ton of water and “walk it off.” I had planned to stay in Oviedo through at least Sunday so I could see the UNESCO Heritage churches in the area, and I thought the walk would do me good. It ended up being a wonderful afternoon as the pain in my head had significantly lessened and I was fortunate to visit three churches from the 8th century(!): the Church of San Julian, the Church of Santa Maria del Naranco and the Church of San Miguel de Lillo. I felt like I went back in time…here’s a a picture of each for you:

Church of San Julian

Church of Santa Maria del Naranca

Church of San Miguel de Lillo

I actually had the opportunity to sit in on a tour of the Church of San Julian, and the paintings on the wall from 1200 years ago were vivid and extraordinary. However, my personal favorite was San Miguel because of the peace I felt as I sat in its presence for 20 minutes.

At this point I had walked about 3 km from town up the hill and was quite hungry. I decided to stop by at a restaurant on my way down the hillside. What a great decision! The views from table on the covered outdoor area were spectacular, and the locally famous “fabada” — a stew with large white beans and sausage — was delicious. Enjoy!

At this point, all was right with the world and my head was seemingly fine. After dinner I walked the 3 km back to my hotel, took the medicine and went to sleep. Unfortunately, that was not to be the case as the migraine returned in full force. After another night of severe pain and no sleep, I decided to take the pharmacist’s advice and go to the hospital. Oh my goodness, what an ordeal! First of all, I want to thank all of the staff at the HUCA hospital for the care they gave to me, including the doctors, nurses, MRI technicians (brain scan), and administrative staff. Second, I want to thank Google for the ability to search and learn and ultimately say “no” to the medicine they wanted to prescribe to me (look up nolotil: it is outlawed in the US, UK, Ireland and Sweden for deaths resulting from side effects). And third, I would like to thank the kind taxi driver, that upon discovering that the hospital had forgotten to remove the IV implant in my arm, took me to a clinic close to the hotel and went in with me to ensure I was taken care of and then took me to the hotel. God bless him.

So what does this mean for my dream to walk the Camino? Well, as of midnight I am pain free and I am planning to start my walk to Grado first thing in the morning. This is 25 km and depending on how I feel I may not make it that far, so I have a backup plan of Escamplero which is only 13 km away and has an albergue (hostel for Pilgrims) where I can stay. All prayers are welcomed.

Before I close for the night, I’d like to say a few words about the importance of moving from compassion to true empathy. As I went through these couple of days of severe pain from a dehabilitating migraine, I realized very clearly that I hadn’t been empathetic enough when my son went through a few years of painful migraines. While I was compassionate toward him, I was never truly empathetic for his situation and the pain he was in. I never moved from compassion, the ability to feel for another living being, to true empathy, where I put myself completely in his shoes and imagined what he was going through, in essence becoming one with his distress. This thought washed over me like a tidal wave and I had to call him and tell him that I loved him and was deeply sorry for not being as empathetic a father as I should have been when he was suffering. I told him that I loved him. And my wonderful son just thanked me told me he loved me and that it was alright, and more importantly, that he was really glad I was okay. This painful experience in Oviedo, and my wonderful son Jake, taught me that true empathy is needed for humanity to fully understand each other’s pain and find the desire to help and heal.

 

My first lesson of the Camino.

 

Peace to you all,

Brian

Exploring, discovering and learning about the world