Nights in Castañeda + Santa Irena = “Nearly There”

A fellow peregrina from Denver wrote in a post nearly a year ago (

“In a pedestrian tunnel someone had written in green paint on the grey cement (my translation):  The Camino is NOW.  It´s not better in Compostela. 
“And, in an arrow pointing to the ground : Here.

“She mused, ‘I wonder how many speedy pilgrims saw it.’ ”

Well, I’m happy to say that I was paying attention to my surrounds, and I did see it.  The closer I get to Santiago de Compostela, the clearer I am that the Camino has always been NOW.  That was how I unconsciously greeted every walking day, and as I’ve said in these past posts, it’s surely how I’m feeling at this point.

So . . . October 11, 2013  It’s Friday, and we are on our way to Castañeda.  Ria and I begin  together, first having breakfast at our albergue, which doesn’t have eggs, but does have delicious, fresh croissants and marmalata.  Then the walk out of town.  We meet Karin and the three of us wind our way through the streets, looking for a farmacia so I can renew my supply of ibuprofen.  It’s too early, of course, and I doubt there will be big enough towns along the way to house a farmacia, though the locals must go somewhere.

But the towns greet us one by one, and we find ourselves each walking alone, adjusting to individual strides and thoughts.  I like traveling this way, with opportunities for company if I wish, and no insults thrown at anyone if I just want to be alone.  That will be something to get used to again on “re-entry”.  Not being able to just duck out of a conversation to function at my own pace.  So at one bar or another I see Ria or Ken or other familiar faces with no names, and more quickly than I can imagine, I’m in Boente, one town before my sleeping destination.  And there is Ken, still trying to figure out what he will do when he gets to Santiago.  He tries to tell me his possibilities, and I gently explain that I need to get to Castañeda for my room.  So he walks with me awhile, still agonizing over his choices.  Finally, he turns back, since he is sleeping in Boente, and I walk the next 2 km alone and in peace.

The albergue in Castañeda isn’t hard to find, since the town is barely there, and there are two places to stay, but only one albergue, private, sleeps six.  The Brierley book calls it Albergue Santiago, but I don’t really pay attention to what the sign says.  However, when I arrive, I see Ria and an Australian woman I’ve met before, but her name escapes me at the moment.  The owners, Mercedes and her husband are wonderful, and like their guests to feel as though they are staying with family.  They cook the dinner, and since I don’t want the usual Menu del Dia, Mercedes offers to make me a cheese omelet.  I have a bit of the heaping salad Ria and our friend share, and of course I do not miss the opportunity to have tarta de Santiago.


Our little corner of the world in Castañeda

Ria and I are the only two people in our four-person bunk room, with the bathroom just outside in the hall, and our night is restful, uneventful.  In the morning we will go through the big town (population 7000) of Arzua, walk another 23 km and again settle into smaller village, Santa Irene,  just about 4 km. from the “on the page” destination of Arco o Pino (or Pedrouzo).  Face it.  We will be one day from Santiago.  No ignoring it now.


Walking out of Castañeda

Saturday, October 12, 2013. This morning, Mercedes’ husband makes eggs for me, with a bit of toast and the requisite cafe con leche.  He is as kind as she is, and when she arrives, they are beaming, waving us off as though we were their children, though I’m older than either of them.  I thank them in my smiling Spanglitalian and we’re off again.

Ria says, “See you at the next bar,” as usual, and indeed, as I get to Arzua, into the middle of nothing like a pretty place, there she is at a table on the sidewalk outside a large bar and cafe.  She is just leaving, as usual, and I get my juice, croissant, and water, so I can take a break.  A small child’s giggles breaks me out of my thought cloud.  I look across a fairly busy main street to see a father pushing his baby in a stroller.  From the sound of the giggles, the baby is perhaps almost a year old.  Who can tell, really, but no toddler, no infant.

The father fakes a loud and drawn-out sneeze.  “Ah . . . Ah . . . AH . . . AHHH . . . CHOOOO!”  And peals of laughter come from the stroller.  Over and over the father plays this game with the child as they move across my line of vision.  Then the father stops for a moment, and the baby waits.  Hearing nothing, the baby tries . . . “ah . . . ah . . . ah . . .  . . .” and stops.  The father finishes with, “CHOOOO!!!”  Giggles and giggles.  It isn’t the camino for this dad and his child.  It’s real life, day to day.  I have loved watching fathers and their children on the occasions in which the size of the town allows me that opportunity.  Children on Daddy’s shoulders, or walking hand in hand, or in strollers like this one.  All over the world, there are children who are loved and cared for, no matter how messed up the world in general might be.

I must move on, and I see a Farmacia sign across the road, down a block.  The time is 10:49 a.m.  The sign on the Farmacia’s door says that Saturday hours begin at 10:00.  But the door is locked.  I sigh.  Of course.  Glad I’m not bleeding.  A helpful woman comes out and in her Spanish lets me know that if I just go around this plaza and down the street, there is another Farmacia and it is open.  This one is closed for a holiday, though I have no idea what that means and why the other one won’t be closed as well.  She kindly insists it will be open.

So I go.  I see it down the street, past the Plaza, but as I approach it I can see that it too is closed.  The woman waves to me from across the street, and I shake my head and say, “Cerado.”   She gestures in an animated fashion, but she can’t change the fact that the Farmacia is just not open.  So I turn, retrace my steps enough to find my yellow arrows, and walk out of town.  My leg pain and any headache I might have later on in the day will surely be gone before I find an open Farmacia.

Again, the walk is easy and uneventful, with an uphill just before I get to Santa Irene.  Other than a glimpse of Ria now and then, and also of Karin and her young German fellow, I am alone, or passed by relative strangers.  Sleepy villages with names like Raido, Cortobe, Boavista, Ras, Oxen are on my path, but most of them are a few stone houses, the requisite chickens, dogs and cats, and the farms.

John Deere must be expensive here, too!

John Deere must be expensive here, too!

I turned a corner to see this:  a typical ancient stone building, with a new (and very expensive) piece of farm equipment parked next to it.  I wonder how these people do it?  This is one of the smaller pieces of big equipment I’ve seen, and it hasn’t occurred to me that the money has to come from somewhere I’m not seeing, but this vision brought it home, somehow.

Not an isolated sight, as we pilgrims move out of the way for huge hay stackers coming along the road, or backhoes or tractors.  A sort of visual oxymoron.

I reach Santa Irene, where I have my reservation for a room, and wherevRia will most likely show up.  I’m glad I have Brierley’s book with a little photo of where I am to stay, because there really isn’t a good sign outside.  However, when I ring the bell and the young woman of the house lets me in, I am taken aback.  An actual living room, with fireplace, classical music, walnut furniture, family photos, like a real home.  I ask whether a German woman named Ria is here, and the young woman says no.  She shows me to my bed, the only single bed, in an alcove of the bunk room, no less, and I drop my pack.  I follow her back out to the living room and there is Ria, coming in from the garden in the back of the house.  She was relaxing, waiting for me, before she registered.  I sign in, give the young woman my Credencial to stamp, pay for the room and 13 Euro for the dinner.  It seems like a lot for dinner, but when the soup, the salad, the roast and gravy with delicious potatoes, and a homemade dessert show up, I’m grateful.

However, in the two hours before dinner, Ria and I sit in front of the glass-fronted wood stove, listening to the music, feeling as though we’ve been transported to some other civilized world.  Other trekkers drift in and sit down, talking quietly as the mood of the room encourages.  I do some writing, in my journal and on the computer, call Ashley on GoogleVoice, since I have both a good connection and a fairly quiet room, and generally relax.

Dinner for thirteen of us, Ken included, three Italians I’ve never met before, several other Germans, Ria and myself.  The young woman explains to us that tomorrow, Sunday, this Albergue will be closed, so we must let ourselves out the garden door and gate in the morning, and walk another 2 km. to the next village for breakfast.

I split a bottle of wine with Ken, the German couple to my right, and one of the Italian men.  Then it’s a late shower for me and I join the rest of the residents for a good sleep.  Tomorrow I will walk into Santiago de Compostela.

About Woodswoman

Writer, educator, psychotherapist, woodswoman. Crave solitude and just walked the Camino de Santiago from the French Pyrenees to Santiago de Compostela. Long-term partner, Neil. Three grown kids, one traveling the world for a couple of years (see, and two in other countries . . . Thailand and Texas! One Golden Retrievers and two cats. Avid reader, looking for 10 more hours in each of my days.
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3 Responses to Nights in Castañeda + Santa Irena = “Nearly There”

  1. says:

    When I saw the water, I wondered if you took a dip. Looked inviting.

  2. Miriam Carrasquel-Nagy says:

    Wow. This post reminded me of a poem by Antonio Machado. It is called Cantares. One of the verses say: “Caminante no hay camino, se hace camino al andar”.

    Miriam Carrasquel-Nagy

    • Woodswoman says:

      Lovely, Miriam. yes, the road is made by walking. Though I’m not sure what I would have done without those yellow arrows and signs!

      And thank you so much for your Spanish Conversation class. Though I didn’t get to attend many of the classes, I wobbled my way through Spain with more awareness, pronunciation and vocabulary than I would have otherwise!

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