Hey, 2022, What’s New?

How time flies…

It’s hard to believe that it’s been 7 years since I picked up my Gregory 36L pack (fully loaded for the first time) and walked those first wobbly steps out of the cathedral in Le Puy. Down the steep cobblestone street, turn left, and put one foot in front of the other…for a thousand miles.

Six months after that, and 3 months after I came home from that first pilgrimage, I left my crowded and busy Seattle apartment and drove to the coast of Washington, where I holed up in an oceanfront hotel, taking advantage of very off-season rates, to work on two related projects:

  • The first was this website. Camino Times Two launched in November 2015 as a place to share the lessons, stories, and deep love I’d found for the Way of Saint James, the Camino de Santiago. It was here that I shared stories of all three of my trips to the pilgrim paths walked by millions of people before me, some of the most commonly asked questions future pilgrims ask, and other Camino odds and ends.
  • The second project I started in that beachfront hotel was a book that dug deeper into my personal Camino experience. It took a year before I had enough written to start reaching out to publishers. It took almost two more years to bring it to the world. But with the support and brilliance of Mountaineers Books, Walking to the End of the World hit bookstore shelves all over the world in October 2018.

Where does the time go?

It’s been more than three years since that release, yet I can still remember every bookstore, every conference, every podcast interview I did in that wild, blurry year.

By the end of 2019, I was exhausted. I’d been “on tour” for a year while holding down a day job. I’d traveled as far as England, and in the space of a single week spoke at bookstores in both Portlands (Maine and Oregon). I loved every minute of it, but I started to feel that the book-launching season was drawing to its natural end. I started to look for something new.

I thought I knew what it would be. As the calendar rolled over to 2020, I was talking with a group in the UK called The British Pilgrimage Trust, who were soft launching a new trail called The Old Way, steeped in history and yet mostly unknown, far different from the Camino’s well-trod paths. I was going to be one of the first people to walk it, and of course write about it.

Little did I know. Little did any of us know.

On February 6, 2020, I found out that I’d been exposed to the “novel” virus Covid-19. I never got sick, though many of my friends did, but just like that, my world that had been rapidly expanding for 5 years suddenly compressed.

I don’t have a dramatic Covid-19 story to share here. To date I haven’t had the virus, but I definitely got the lockdown. I traded writers conferences and coffeeshop meetings for Zoom, and learned how to measure and schedule my life around something more than the physical destinations. The TSA Pre-Check I’d just (finally) invested in went unused, as did my frequent flier miles.

Needless to say, the Camino – the long flights, the close dormitory quarters, the daily communal dinner tables surrounded by strangers – felt like a dream.

Not that the Camino ever fully disappeared…in fact, stepping into that unknown adventure back in 2015 prepared me for a pandemic in ways I couldn’t have predicted.

It’s the Camino that showed me the importance of hospitality, which during Covid I carried into new, local volunteer opportunities in my own neighborhood.

The Camino taught me how to be outside, and the healing properties of walking every day. The pandemic took that foundation and turned me into a hiker, exploring the mountains and waterways of my own beautiful Pacific Northwest almost every weekend. When nothing inside is open, as the hashtag says, #optoutside. (Check out my Instagram post about the top 10 hikes of 2021)

Last winter, our hiking friends Chris and Cara convinced me to try backpacking…as in, sleeping-in-a-tent and carrying-everything-you-need-up-a-mountain camping. We spent four days in the Enchantment Lakes of Washington, a pristine, alpine, stunningly beautiful (and steep and scary) area. To my surprise, I loved it. Okay, it lacked the mid-day café con leches and evening carafes of vin rouge… but waking up in the shadow of a mountain, beside a lake, was worth the instant oatmeal and ramen noodles.

Backpacking in Washington’s Enchantment Lakes area, Cascade Mountains

Perhaps most of all, the Camino prepared me to adapt to my surroundings. Closed restaurants, theaters, and even libraries? Well, an unexpected cerrado or fermé is nothing new for a Camino pilgrim. What’s Plan B? A picnic in an outdoor space? A walk in the woods with a beer garden at the end? Let’s go.

Eric and I thought that we would be in the UK last fall, visiting friends and exploring trails, but the Delta variant put an end to that. So we rented a car and drove across the United States instead, stopping in parks large and small to hike and explore the outdoors, seeing places we never knew we wanted to see. Every day, I planned a new route based on weather and how we were feeling. Every night for two weeks, we arrived in a new town. It wasn’t the Camino, but it was a grand adventure. We adapted.

And the book that was part of the beginning? Throughout all of it, I’ve been delighted to see that Walking to the End of the World is still connecting. Last fall, it was added to BookClub.com, with a series of original interviews and opportunities to connect with new communities.

And just this week I got an email from South Africa:

I had planned on walking the Camino from St. Jean. My homework was all done and I was ready to go when Covid struck.

I have just read your book and I just had to get in contact with you. I literally read the Epilogue a few minutes ago and I felt a sudden emptiness…. Thank you for taking me on your pilgrimage. And thank you for bringing your pilgrimage to my living room.

But what about Camino Times Two? You may have noticed that things here have been a little…dusty. I started this site to help guide and inspire people looking for their own pilgrimage trips. Now here I am, with a much-neglected blog and two years of living in a very different kind of normal. I haven’t left the United States since 2019, and have no immediate plans to do so. The Camino, despite its influences on my everyday, feels very far away. My knowledge and insights feel like they come from a different time… what is it like to be in Spain or France today? How do Covid variants and vaccine passports affect albergues and communal dinners? I can’t answer those questions.

Still, I’m not ready to let this space go. Y’all are still reading this. You’re finding something. This is a big piece of my life.

What would you like to see here? Are you interested in other hiking adventures? Travel stories from the US? Or are you content to let this blog become an archive, until such a time that I can go back, if I ever go back?

Share thoughts in the comments, or email me directly. I’d love to hear from you.

Hot Meals and Coffee to Go: On Becoming a Hospitalera in My Own Backyard

For an introvert, it turns out I’m really bad at a full pandemic lockdown. I know people who haven’t left their houses or seen anyone outside their immediate family for almost half a year. Me? It only took about a month before I couldn’t do it anymore.

Washington state shut down in mid-March. By mid-April, the walls of my small (and feeling smaller) apartment were closing in. Eric was still going to work every day (albeit to an empty building), but my days and nights all started to blend together. The daily walks helped, but I needed some kind of structure or purpose.

So when I found out that our neighborhood Hot Meals program needed volunteers, I jumped on it.


Phinney Neighborhood Association’s Hot Meals programnourishes our community with free hot meals in a welcoming setting three times a week,” according to their website. Seattle, with our growing population of people experiencing homelessness or living right on the edge of it, has a lot of people who rely on programs like this. And even in a pandemic, people need to eat.

So that’s how I became a volunteer waitress and food server. Every Monday for the past four months, I have donned my mask and gloves to stand (outside) behind a table welcome my neighbors. At first, we were limited to offering take-away meals. With the understandable rules of quarantine and social distancing, we packed bags full of healthy, savory, homemade meals, snacks, fruit and vegetables, and whatever snacks had been donated that week, and sent diners on their way. As I poured coffee into paper cups, I asked guests about their day, and I heard stories I’ll never forget. For a lot of people, the novel coronavirus is the least of their concerns.

I started to recognize the regulars and learned who is vegetarian, who wants the leftover peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to give their grandkids, who takes extra cream and sugar, and who wants their coffee black. Every week, I try to remember one more name.

As the pandemic plateaued in my area and the restrictions lifted a little, we could set up picnic tables outside so that our guests could sit and enjoy their meal in relative comfort. (God bless Washington state, where summers are sunny and mild, bugs are rare, and eating outside is a gift.)

And that’s when I really started to notice something. The people who came for Monday night dinner didn’t just eat and run. They lingered. They visited. Our regulars know each other and support each other. I started to get how this program provides “far more than a fresh-cooked meal.” We provide space for a community to develop. A place where no one will be hurried along or pushed aside or overlooked.

So why am I telling you this on a blog dedicated to the Camino de Santiago?

Because it’s the Camino that taught me how important a shared meal can be.

The communal dinner table in Lascabanes, France

When you ask any pilgrim about their journey on The Way, it doesn’t take long before they tell you about the communal dinner tables, where groups of tired, dusty travelers gather to share bread and stories. Or the plastic tables where we could drop our heavy loads and share a few minutes of peace and café con leches. Hearing the stories of others, tracking our “Camino families” as we journey together, and sometimes just offering a shared “wow, this is hard” look…those are the things that keep us going on the days when it all seems to be falling apart.

And now here I am, isolated in some ways. I’ve been grieving the loss of a long walking trip, only to discover that I’m actually serving as a hospitalera in my own backyard. The pilgrims’ journey is harder here, in so many ways, and the coffee isn’t nearly as good. But the purpose of our weekly communal meals is the same—to offer a little bit of peace, and sustenance, and encouragement for the road ahead.


When we are generous in welcoming people and sharing something with them–some food, a place in our homes, our time–not only do we no longer remain poor: we are enriched.

(Pope Francis)

Pilgrimage in a Time of Pandemic (and Hummingbirds)

This morning I spent a delightful hour talking with two authors I admire, Richard Frazer (Travels With a Stick)  and Ian Smith (Stepping Out). They’ve both thought deeply about the meditative and spiritual aspects of pilgrimage, and were gracious enough to allow me to join them next week in a free, public Zoom discussion about Pilgrimage in Pandemic, hosted by the Heart Edge program of St. Martin-in-the-Fields in London. (You’re all invited. Click here for details.)

I’m not sure where next week’s conversation will go, but today I found myself talking about the challenges I’d had when the lockdown started. How I’d had that wide-eyed, shell-shocked feeling of being lost, both culturally and physically. How the last time I’d felt this out-of-balance was on my first Camino, when it took a few days to sort out the new normal and to slide into a rhythm of walking, daily chores, and unfamiliar beds.

And how in a communal gite in Saint-Côme-d’Olt, with the words of a kind host, it all came together.

As the wine flowed, Sylvain described what he’d learned from his time as a pilgrim. “It is a monastic life,” he said. “You wake up, you walk. When you arrive, you take care of your feet, you take care of your basic needs, and you eat. Do it day after day, and it becomes a meditation.”

He’d hit on one of the things that had been scratching at my mind all week. We walk, we eat, we sleep. Is this it?

According to Sylvain, yes. And the way he said it, it was enough.

(from Walking to the End of the World)

IMG_20200602_1755396 (1)

Now my life is Home. Walk. Sleep. Repeat.

For the past decade, Eric and I have chosen to live in small apartments (lower cost, less maintenance, smaller environmental footprint), which has worked well mostly because we’re so rarely home. But then the pandemic struck, and I was here All. The. Time. (Eric’s job is on-site and essential, so he left everyday.) My options, on the other hand, shut down seemingly overnight…except the parks.

Side note: I cannot stress enough how important public outdoor spaces like parks are for people who don’t have the luxury of a private yard.

So every day, after I put in my day-job hours of Zoom calls and staring at screens, and before I settled into another quiet night at home, I’d walk for an hour or two on the wooded trails and beaches of Carkeek Park in north Seattle.

Home. Walk. Sleep. Repeat.

Day after day, and it starts to be a meditation.


It wasn’t a traditional pilgrimage. I wasn’t moving across unfamiliar space each day toward a sacred destination. Most of the time, I didn’t even have a destination. But my park walks were—or at least became—meditative in their own way. I was moving and living at a human pace again, rather than rushing from appointment to appointment, and gathering to gathering. For one of the first times since my 2018 Camino, I had more time than I needed and nothing to do but linger and look, if I was only willing to put aside my headphones and pay attention.

The turning point came about a month ago. I was on a small, narrow side trail that was rarely traveled, and at one point I stumbled a bit on a root and brushed against a salmonberry bush. To my surprise, a hummingbird burst out from under the leaves just above my head and started buzzing around me, chirping sharply.

Knowing what that probably meant, I started peeking between branches, careful not to touch or disturb anything, until I found the hummingbird’s nest just a bit higher than my head. I held up my phone to grab a couple of quick pictures and then retreated to give the mama bird her space.

When I looked at the pics later, there was something I’d never seen before: eggs.


And not just eggs, but eggs that were already hatching.

When I went back two days later and held up my camera again (to catch what I was too short to see), there were already little worm-like babies.

And so it began. My walks had new purpose. I followed that little side trail every other day (not wanting to put too much pressure on the tiny family) and documented the growth of two new hummingbirds as they transitioned from jelly-bean-sized worms, to spiky and blind adolescents. I saw their beaks develop and their feathers grow.


In the midst of what felt like a season marked by fear and retreat, I was journeying on foot every day to see something grow.

Is that a pilgrimage? Perhaps not by the technical definition, but it was certainly a journey to something I found holy.

IMG_20200609_1846069 (2)

According to the experts, hummingbirds fledge between 23-28 days after hatching. On Day 21, I visited and found wide-eyed birds. Four days later, I found an empty nest. The babies were no longer babies, but fledglings out exploring the world.


As I, too, am slowly beginning to do again, but with a new form of pilgrimage tucked into my pocket of memories.


How about you? Are you on some kind of pilgrimage in place?



PS. Hummingbird nests are a lot smaller than these pictures may seem:


Conques After Dark (#CaminoTuesday)

Today’s #CaminoTuesday theme* over on Twitter is “Camino After Dark.” That struck me as a trick question at first, because Camino pilgrims rarely stay awake long enough to do much after dark. (Travel tip: Pilgrimage is not the way to experience European nightlife.) But then I remembered a night in Conques, just 10 days into my first Camino on the Via Podiensis…which means it was April in the mountains of France, and so the sun set early. 🙂

The Abbey Church of Sainte Foy, Conques, France

Conques has been a popular stopping point for pilgrims for centuries, ever since the monastery “acquired” the relics of Sainte Foy (Saint Faith) in 866 – a story of larceny and piety I’ve shared before. The Abbey of Sainte Foye now hosts a gite in the 11th century monastery, where of course Eric and I stayed. After a cheerful communal dinner and a quiet, emotionally charged, echoing compline service in the cathedral, a priest led us all outside to explain the elaborate tympanum of “the last judgment.”

(A tympanum, for those readers who are as unfamiliar with architectural terms as I was that night, is the decorative wall surface, usually semi-circular or triangular, over a door or entrance.)


I understood almost nothing he said (my French was still almost non-existent), but the images themselves told quite the story, and it was fascinating to watch the crowds move through the chilly spring night.

When I got home, I read more about the cathedral, the history, and especially the artwork–because by then I’d learned that medieval artists knew how to tell a good story.


From Wikipedia:

There is little exterior ornamentation on Conques except necessary buttresses and cornices. The exception to this is the Last Judgment tympanum located above the western entrance. As pilgrimages became safer and more popular the focus on penance began to wane. Images of doom were used to remind pilgrims of the purpose of their pilgrimage. 

The tympanum appears to be later than the artwork in the nave. This is to be expected as construction on churches was usually begun in the east and completed in the west. The tympanum depicts Christ in Majesty presiding over the judgment of the souls of the deceased. The cross behind Christ indicates he is both Judge and Savior. Archangel Michael and a demon weigh the souls of the deceased on a scale. The righteous go to Christ’s right while the dammed go to Christ’s left where they are eaten by a Leviathan and excreted into Hell.

The tortures of Hell are vividly depicted including poachers being roasted by the very rabbit they poached from the monastery. The tympanum also provides an example of cloister wit. A bishop who governed the area of Conques but was not well liked by the monks of Conques is depicted as being caught in one of the nets of Hell. The virtuous are depicted less colorfully. The Virgin Mary, St. Peter and the pilgrim St. James stand on Christ’s left. Above their heads are scrolls depicting the names of the Virtues. Two gable shaped lintels act as the entrance into Heaven. In Heaven Abraham is shown holding close the souls of the righteous. A pudgy abbot leads a king, possibly Charlemagne, into heaven. Sainte-Foy is shown on the lower left kneeling in prayer and being touched by the outstretched hand of God. Particularly interesting are carvings of the “curieux” (the curious ones), forerunners of the World War II-era cartoon image known as Kilroy, who peek over the edges of the tympanum.

The tympanum was inspired by illuminated manuscripts and would have been fully colored, small traces of the color survive today.

Rabbit poachers pudgy abbots, and some rather graphic depictions of hell… this was the day I started to understand we don’t give the Middle Ages enough credit for their humor.




*  #CaminoTuesday is a hashtag initiated by Oxford Medievalist Anne Bailey. Each week, a new theme is announced, and people from around the world share their pics and memories that relate. If you’re on Twitter, follow the hashtag, @AnneEBailey1 or me, @bethjusino.

Santo Domingo de la Calzada and COVID-19

There’s an article in The Guardian today about how the small towns of Spain were affected by COVID-19. Specifically, the writer explores Santo Domingo de la Calzada, a name familiar to most pilgrims of the Camino de Santiago. It’s worth a read.



This is the home of “the chicken church” — the cathedral known for the two live chickens that live inside — and a memorable stop along the Camino Francés. I’ve been there twice, once in 2015 and then again in 2017.

Santo Domingo’s cathedral at dawn, August 2017

The coronavirus ravaged the town, where the fatality rate per capita seems to be twice as high as New York City’s. “People are still scared,” says a resident. “The truth is, we don’t know if life will ever be quite the same.”

Greeting the chickens in the albergue yard, Santo Domingo de la Calzada

Yesterday I did a Zoom call with a group of Camino enthusiasts in South Bend, Indiana. They had questions about my first trip across France and Spain.

How many people were there? How did we make reservations? Was it hard to find food or bathrooms?

I answered them all as well as I could (I love talking to these groups, and the chance to re-visit photos and stories), but there were times I felt myself getting stuck. I was full of caveats. Well, this is how it happened before… who know how will it happen now? Spain is re-opening, but the impact on the Camino remains unknown. What does social distancing look like among people who share so much and carry so little? But without it, how do towns like Santo Domingo rebuild?

Santo Domingo de la Calzada, as seen from the cathedral bell tower

I don’t have the answers. (Well, that’s a phrase I’ve needed to use a lot this week.) All I can do is wait, and continue to share the stories in the meantime.

Practicing Acceptance in the Time of Covid-19

Practice acceptance, my husband would remind me when the Camino got the best of me.

When the gites were full, the markets were closed, and the rain just would. not. stop.

You know, all of the times when traveling through new places didn’t line up with my plans.


Practice acceptance, I remind myself now, when this new world gets the best of me.

When the people wear masks, the markets are closed, and the news just will. not. stop.

You know, all of the times when this new future doesn’t line up with my plans.


Dawn in Le Puy

Hello, my friends. It’s been too long. In five years of blogging here at Camino Times Two, I’ve never dropped off for a month, let alone three. But I suppose we’ve never had such a time as this.

I had big plans in February, and a list of things I wanted to write about. On Leap Day weekend, Eric and I flew down to southern Oregon to visit friends who’d just bought a house there. We had a fantastic, relaxed time hiking and exploring and visiting wineries…not knowing that it would be the last travel we did for the foreseeable future. We flew home on March 1, and two days later I got emails from a few friends I’d had lunch with the week before. Several of them had odd, flu-like symptoms…and suddenly, coronavirus was real. (I’m fine. Through the luck of table seating and who drove in what car, I never got sick. But it shut down my “everything’s normal” attitude pretty quickly.)

For the next couple of weeks, we watched the dominoes fall. Schools closed. My beloved library closed. Restaurants closed. Everything closed.

The Camino closed.

I didn’t know how to talk about that. I still don’t. My fellow Camino blogger Nadine said on Instagram this week, “every time I open up my photos from last summer, I ache a bit.” I have the same reaction. It seems impossible to share the stories, let alone the advice, when we don’t know what happens next. It’s often hard to remember.

I had a whole new plan for this year, including a Big Trip (that might have become the Next Book) that crumbled before I even had a chance to tell you about it. I had a lot of little trips I thought I needed to take. I fought reality for the first few weeks. If you know me, or you’ve read this blog or the book, you know that I’m not an early adopter to change.

But…practice acceptance.

Or, as I said when I first tried to explain this:

Sometimes I just have to accept what is, rather than what should be, and adjust myself, rather than the immovable situation in front of me.

More than two months into a pandemic lockdown, and five years after my first steps on the Way of St. James, I’m still working on this Camino mantra. I’m still learning to live in the present and in what’s right in front of me. I work from home, and am grateful that work is still coming. I walk almost every day in our local park, a deep ravine of Pacific Northwest woods that are full of surprises—last week, two barred owls; yesterday, a hummingbird nest with two eggs (pics on Instagram). I volunteer once a week at our local hot meal program (like a soup kitchen). I bake cookies. I read. Eric and I play board games. And I wait.

Because the Camino is closed, but it’s not going anywhere. The pilgrimage path of Saint James has survived worse than Covid-19. It survived the Black Plague. It survived the Reformation. It survived the Spanish Civil War. The cathedrals built by hand have stood for centuries, and they’ll still be standing when we all emerge.

Burgos Cathedral

So maybe it’s time to start writing again. I don’t know yet what will be here. (I’m open to suggestions.) The things I’m thinking about right now are less about global travel and more about how to stay connected, and to live without fear, and to find peace in the quiet places. But then again, maybe those are Camino lessons, too?

Thanks for still being here with me, in these online spaces.

Ultreia et suseia.


Beating the Camino Bed Race

“There are no beds.”

“There are too many people.”

The rumors flew up the Way faster than I could walk, carried by Radio Camino. They were shared over pilgrim menus and café con leche, baguettes and French cheese plates. Even when I’m home, if I see them ripple out across the Facebook groups and discussion boards, my shoulders get a little tighter.

Feeling the pressure to keep up as we passed through a village in France, along the Via Podiensis

The Bed Race

The Camino is always in motion. Moving forward every day by foot or bike, and sleeping in a different place each night, are key parts of the experience. Traditionally, so is traveling without a pre-determined agenda, trusting that every night “the Camino will provide” a modest albergue bed. This was something that drew me to the Way of St James over the other historic walks in Europe. I wanted that experience of letting go. I wanted to let go of my tightly managed and controlled schedule for a little while. I wanted to set out without an itinerary. (Here’s a longer piece about Why I Walked the Camino.)

But letting go is getting a lot harder in the modern era of Camino crowds. The numbers of pilgrims arriving in Santiago, especially via the Camino Francés, grows by tens of thousands of people a year (see the statistics here), and those people all want beds. And while Camino infrastructure (albergues, cafes, etc.) is growing rapidly across Spain, demand does sometimes outweigh supply.

Waiting for an albergue to open in O Pedrouzo, and realizing there are already more people here than available beds

Eric and I experienced that on our very first two nights on the Way of St James, when we arrived in French villages near Le Puy and heard the dreaded complet (full). We paid attention and learned to compromise, calling ahead (or asking someone with better French to call for us) each night to reserve beds for the next day. (Read more about making reservations on the Chemin du Puy.) We were still making decisions day by day, but a little security goes a long way in the remote French countryside, where gites are small and walking days often don’t end until three or four o’clock.

Then the rise in the pilgrim tide left us stunned when we entered St Jean Pied de Port, as the number of fellow pilgrims increased tenfold. The trail over the Pyrenees sometimes felt like we were part of a never-ending line, and at 3:30 we were assigned the last two beds in the Roncevalles albergue. (Those who arrived later were housed in overflow dorms in the basement and in storage containers….I’ve heard things have expanded since then.)

Following the line of people (and horses) toward Roncevalles

Anyone who’s read Walking to the End of the World knows that it took me a while to adjust to the new pace and crowds, and to find community among the lines of people waiting for albergue beds and showers and stove burners. And by then, I was at the edge of the second wave—when we reached Sarria, the number of people on the road increased tenfold again.

Two years later, when Eric and I walked the much less traveled Camino del Norte, we thought we would avoid that pressure. But I found myself looking skeptically at the guidebooks. The only albergue in town has 20 beds? That would fill quickly. Better hurry up.


Better hurry up

This is the bed race:

  • The feeling of anxiety that rises when you see a large group of pilgrims with backpacks stretched out on the trail ahead of you.
  • The competitive sense that you need to speed up, or cut a break short, or leave even earlier tomorrow, to “beat” someone else.
  • The negative thoughts that creep into the experience of walking, feeling like you’re in a race and competing for limited resources, instead of engaging in a shared experience.

I’m a planner and worrier, and there were days I was as guilty of the bed race as anyone. I gave fellow pilgrims the side eye every time someone passed me. (And I’m slow up the hills, so I get passed a lot.) I rushed my companions and skipped breaks that my body dearly needed.

But after 100 days on trails, I’ve learned (and re-learned) some things about beating the bed race. With a new Camino season just around the corner, and a holy year promising to draw even more crowds in 2021, these strategies may help you, too.

Here are my guiding principles for staying within a budget and still getting a bed on the Camino de Santiago. (Results not guaranteed.)


Beating the bed race

  1. Start early, but don’t be ridiculous about it.

I’ve tried the “start walking in the dark” thing a few times, and I’ve always hated it. I can’t appreciate my surroundings when I can’t see them. It’s hard to find the trail markers. It’s hard to be quiet enough not to disturb the neighbors (not just fellow pilgrims in the albergue, but the people who actually live along the Way). The experience of being in a new place is too easily lost.

I tried walking in the dark a couple of times, but it’s not my style

I start at dawn (or a little later, usually between 6:30 and 7:30) when the air is cool and the morning light captures everything in beauty (Check out First Light on the Camino), but I see the arrows without a headlamp.


  1. Finish early…but that doesn’t mean walk fast.

I learned the hard way not to rush through a walk with my eyes fixed on the destination. I missed out on so much beauty and wisdom along the trail. And I know many others who learned the hard way that walking too fast causes injuries and an abrupt end to the pilgrimage.

Instead, either first thing in the morning or the night before, set a reasonable distance that your body can go, at your best pace, and where there are a few housing options. If the trail feels crowded and the albergues are full, cut your distance a little shorter that day, so that you can reach your destination when the albergues open. Save those 40-kilometer days and 4:00 pm arrivals for days when you’ve got a reservation. (Alternately, if your body loves long days and arriving at 4:00, acknowledge that there will be a lot of people ahead of you, so make that reservation.)

Stop a few kilometers before everyone else (like we did here in Ribadiso) and take the time to wade in a stream or appreciate a vista

  1. Go private, and stick to the edges of town.

Most towns in Spain and France have municipally-run albergues (called gites in France) that offer the least expensive lodging option, but are also typically the fastest to fill. We quickly learned to bypass those and seek out privately owned hostels. They might cost 1-2 euro more a night (still a bargain compared to other travel), but rooms typically held fewer people crowded together, and they filled more slowly.

Knowing that Sarria was likely to be crowded with new pilgrims, for example, Eric and I stopped at Albergue A Pedra, one kilometer before Sarria, and had one of the best nights of our Camino Francés walk. There was a small group of pilgrims, a sunny back yard for lounging, and a communal dinner. The next night, in Portomarín, when the crowds turned right at the top of the (brutal) staircase, Eric and I turned left, and were two of the first to check int the albergue on the ground floor of the O Mirador restaurant. (Bonus was the great pilgrim menu just a few steps away.) When we reached O Pedrouzo the day before Santiago and saw the line of pilgrims snaking around the municipal albergue yard, we walked two blocks farther and checked immediately into a private albergue, the Porta de Santiago. There wasn’t even a line for the showers.

Set reasonable distances, arrive early, and have a backup plan

  1. Make sure there’s a backup option.

The best way to preserve my sanity was to make sure I wasn’t in danger of stumbling into a town with my last burst of energy, only to be turned away from the only albergue and sent back to the road to walk another 5 or 10 km. (That happened once, in the tiny village of Espinosa.)

What I lack in hiking speed, I make up for in research skills. I don’t have an itinerary when I walk, but I always have a guidebook (preferably one of the Village to Village Guides), and I study it carefully during breaks to know what’s available at my destination town. If the first place I go to is already full, what’s my second option? My third? If there weren’t backup options, that’s when it was time to set aside the “traditional” way and call ahead to make a reservation.


  1. Don’t spend the day worrying.

(Okay, TRY not to spend the day worrying.)

This is the hard one, but here’s what I learned: worrying doesn’t change anything. Fretting over whether there’s room or not, or whether that young kid who just went striding past me will take the last bed, doesn’t actually change whether he takes the last bed. There will be room, or there won’t. This is one of those things that you cannot change.

So set your destination goal for the day. Give yourself time to get there. And then stop thinking about it and look around. You’ll probably never be in this exact space again, on a day like today. And isn’t that really why we’re here?

You’ll probably never be in this exact space again, on a day like today. And isn’t that really why we’re here?  (From the afternoon of the first day on the Camino del Norte, between Irun and San Sebastian

I’ve heard lots of other opinions, like don’t start your Camino on the 1st of the month or a holiday, or you’ll travel in a “bubble” of crowds. Stay in “off-stage” towns, although with different guidebooks suggesting different stages now, that’s less helpful. What were your “beat the bed race” strategies on the Camino, and how did they work out?

First Light on the Camino

Just outside Mazarife

“We need to be reminded sometimes that a sunrise lasts but a few minutes. But its beauty can burn in our hearts eternally.”   

– R. A. Salvatore

Anyone who’s met me knows I am not a morning person. I don’t often see the sun rise, nor do I want to. (A more accurate quote for me might be the one from Nanea Hoffman:

“Today’s goals: Coffee and kindness. Maybe two coffees, and then kindness.”

The first morning
My first “first light” of the Camino, Le Puy 2015

But on the Camino de Santiago, I saw the mornings. Not only was I awake, but I was usually already outside, moving through the light as it gathered and changed. Sunrise in the open places of Spain is something not to be missed, even for a night owl like me.

A setting moon on the Meseta


Today’s theme for #CaminoTuesday is “first light,” and it has me thinking about all of the early mornings, from my very first morning in Le Puy, to the day we walked out of Santiago de Compostela toward Finisterre and turned to watch the sun rise over the cathedral, now to the east.

La Rioja, 2017


Dawn above the clouds
Morning light above the clouds

Getting a head start out of Sarria



looking back
looking back to Santiago in the east (in 2015, when the cathedral was still encased in scaffolding)

My Camino Family

Before we left to walk the Camino de Santiago the first time in 2015, I read everything I could, including plenty of Camino memoirs. I was desperate for practical information and advice. How would I know where to sleep? Where would I find food? What if I needed a bathroom in the middle of the day?

But I noticed that every story focused mostly on the people the authors met along the way.

An afternoon on "The Farm."
My Camino family on the Chemin du Puy: We saw each other every day for weeks. The people here come from 5 countries and our ages range from early 20s to mid 70s. No one in this picture knew each other before the Camino began. There were tears when we said goodbye in St Jean Pied-de-Port.

Wait, I wanted to say to the writers. You’re walking through this magnificent country, and all you can talk about is the Austrian guy you met at dinner? Where are your priorities?

And then I went to France, started walking, and met the people. And they became the center of my story, too.

My Camino del Norte “boys” made even pavement walking fun

Today’s #CaminoTuesday prompt is companionship, because the true story of a pilgrimage isn’t just about the history or the trail or the architecture.

New friends and vending machine beers

My Meseta friends on the Camino Francés

It doesn’t matter how old you are or where you’re from, whether you’re traveling alone or with a group, or whether you consider yourself an introvert or an extrovert. If you walk the Way of Saint James, the people around you will make or break your experience.

Alto del Perdon with Laurel in 2016. In just 9 days walking together, we met college students and retirees and professionals from around the world.

The Camino is as much about the hours of conversation in the evenings, with people you’d never meet otherwise, as it is about the physical challenge of the mornings. Whether you have a good day or a bad day on the trail depends as much on the person walking beside you, sharing their story, as it does the mud or blisters or steepness of the hill.

My Camino del Norte family: French, German, Spanish, Australian, and American. We didn’t have a common language, but we looked for each other, looked out for each other, laughed a LOT together, and made it work.

My pilgrimage was a social experience in ways I never expected, and the people I met are bound to my memories. This is also true for both times I’ve gone back for shorter walks, in 2016 and 2018. I came home with new friends—some I’d known in person for only a day or two.

There’s a reason, I realized, that most people who have walked come home talking about their Camino Family, not their Camino friends.

obligatory pilgrim shadow shot
 Walking together near the Burgos airport on the Camino Frances






Beautiful Bridges of the Camino de Santiago

Last week, on New Years Eve, the Twitter world had a #CaminoTuesday theme of “The Old and The New.” I didn’t have time to write up a whole blog post, but I did share this:

Screenshot 2020-01-07 12.39.29

Here are the photos bigger, in case you’re curious:

Pont Valentré, Cahors, France

Pedestrian elevator (complete with Camino yellow arrows) in Deba, Spain


And that got me thinking about bridges, and how important they are to the Camino experience.

“We build too many walls and not enough bridges,” said Isaac Newton. Saint Dominic de la Calzada would have agreed. The 11th century hermit-turned-priest, born in Burgos, found his calling in engineering easier paths for the growing swells of pilgrims to Santiago de Compostela, starting with a bridge over the River Oja.

Today, he is the Patron Saint of Spanish Civil Engineers. He probably deserves a blog post all to himself. Because the bridges of the Camino de Santiago expand past just his work.

Here are a few of my favorites from my Camino walks in 2015, 2017, and 2018, and, when possible, links to the stories they inspired:


The Pont-Vieux, Espalion, France:

(Tucked under this 14th century bridge, just across from the 16th century castle, is a very surprising 20th century scuba diver. Click here to read the story.)



The Pont Valentré, Cahors, France:

(This defensive bridge on the Via Podiensis comes complete with a legend about the devil himself. Click here to read it.)

Cahors Bridge


Pont d’Artigue, Larresingle, France:

Just outside Larresingle, the medieval fortified village on a short Via Podiensis variant past Condom



Saint Jean Pied-de-Port:

In the bright light of mid-day sunshine, the colors of this bustling town still shine.



Pamplona, Spain:

Approaching the walled old city, this gentle bridge was just the first of our surprises. Click here for the full story of my day in Pamplona.

Toward Pamplona


Puente La Reina, Puente La Reina, Spain:

The bridge of the queen, possibly one of the most iconic, historic places of the Camino Frances.



Puente del Paso Honroso, Hospital de Orbigo, Spain:

The site of jousting knights fighting for true love and honor (one of my favorite Camino history stories), this is also one of the longest bridges of the Way of Saint James.



Ponte Nova, Portomarín, Spain:

This “new bridge” carries the growing swells of pilgrims on the final days of the Camino Frances.

pilgrim arrival


Ribadiso, Spain:

This 12th century bridge, which as far as I can find doesn’t have a name, was witness to one of my favorite nights on the Camino Frances, and a story I tell often.



Ponte Maceira, Negreira

On the way to Finisterre, the sun was hot and all of the bars were closed for the Feast of Saint John the Baptist, we paused at the Río Tabmre for a dip in the shade of this lovely bridge.




Vizcaya Bridge, Portugalete, Spain:

Lest you think that everything on the Camino is medieval and stone, I’ll finish with this, just past Bilbao on the Camino del Norte. I wrote about our trip across the Nervion River on this UNESCO-recognized hanging bridge, on the Camino del Norte, here.

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I know this just barely touches the surface of the beautiful paths over water. What am I missing? What was a place you loved?


(It also brings up several stories that I’ve never told here. How have I never talked about wild swimming on the Camino? That must be remedied. Guess I’ll renew the domain and keep the blog alive for another year.)