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Time walked – 7.5 hours, including a coffee stop, rain stop, lunch stop and foot care breaks

Total distance walked – 15.5 miles

Miles to date – 479.85 (Ray) and 470.05 (Wendy) + 5 miles each on horseback

Weather – Foggy, rainy, cold – 53 degrees F to warm, 70 degrees F

Terrain – Pavement, rocky trail, muddy path

In Ventas de Narón, our room was on the Camino path. Ray woke up listening to pilgrims walking by before 6:00 a.m. There was no way Ray could go back to sleep once he knew others were walking by, so he got up to get dressed. Ray’s standard outfit is his cotton shorts and wicking polo with his long-sleeved fishing shirt on top. The fishing shirt acts as a jacket, but also protects him from the sun. I brought more variety in my clothing so that I would have choices. While I wear it all, I walked in the same few items every day. Without looking outside, I put on a short-sleeved wicking shirt and a pair of nylon hiking shorts. It had been too hot on the Meseta for me to wear a jacket for very long, so I had gotten out of the habit.

Ray noted that we were ready to leave before 7:00 a.m., a rare feat for us. We stepped out of the building into dense fog and heavy dew. Water dripped off the leaves of the trees although it was not raining. I reluctantly told Ray that I was going to have to dig my over-shirt out because it was too cold. I wanted to zip the legs on the bottom of my shorts as well, but didn’t have the patience. I snapped a quick photo of the fog as Jeri waved to us from an upper window. She opened the glass and called to us to have a good day. We waved back telling her that we would message her later if we didn’t see her on the way.

The Camino followed the paved road for several kilometers. My legs were cold, so I thought walking faster would warm me up. Before leaving the albergue I had noted that we had two options for coffee only two miles from our start. I knew that it wouldn’t take long to get there especially if I was walking fast. Ray and I approached a sign pointing to a café off the road. Ray did not want to veer from the Camino, nor did he want to stop at the first place so we kept going.

It started to sprinkle by the time we reached the second café which had plenty of outdoor seating. It was packed with pilgrims inside trying to keep warm and dry. Ray started to take our coffees to a covered area outside, but I asked him to wait. Three German pilgrims had spread themselves out at a table for six while checking their phones. I asked if two of the chairs were available, and they made room for Ray and I to sit at the end. While we drank our coffee, I overheard one of the women telling another pilgrim that this was their fifth Camino. For four years they had walked the Camino for one week, starting the next year where they had left off the previous year. This was their year to finish.

Ray and I left the café noting that there were fewer pilgrims on the trail than we expected. We discussed the possible reasons just to give us something to talk about. I had read that the first of the month is a popular time for pilgrims to start the Camino. Ray had noticed that the trail was much busier on the weekends, but that meant we should be in sync with more people. The small talk didn’t last long, and we walked in silence for a few miles.

Ray and I passed a older woman walking by herself. Ray greeted her, and I detected a southern accent when she greeted him in return. We chatted with her briefly as we walked. Her name was Cathy, and she had started in Saint Jean at the end of April. I asked her if she was excited to be so close to Santiago. She smiled and closed her eyes when she answered, replying that she was excited yet savoring every last moment of her Camino. Her sweet, peaceful expression was angelic as she talked. Ray and I eventually continued on, but I knew that our brief encounter was for us to learn to live in the moment and not always be looking ahead.

We walked between lush green field that continued to remind me of Boquete. Our Camino friends commented on our group chat how beautiful this area was, and it made me wish they could all come visit us when we got home. I imagined how fun it would be to hike through the hills surrounding Boquete, something that I had not done prior to training for the Camino. Ray had not thought I would be able to tackled some of the challenging trails before, but commented that I would be ready to climb Volcán Barú when we returned. At 11,000 feet, the top of the volcano is near freezing. I told Ray that I would climb until I got too cold, but moved to Boquete to escape freezing temperatures.

We only stopped for me to snap a couple of pictures since it constantly threatened rain. Ray and I were hoping to get to the next largest town, Palas de Rei, before the clouds opened up and the rained poured.

Palas de Rei was much smaller than I thought it would be since it was one of the recommended stops in the guidebook. We were almost through the town before finding a place to stop. Ray had some emails to take care of, and before he finished, the rain was coming down hard. It was still too early to eat lunch, but we ordered drinks and a snack while using the restaurant wifi. We waited for the rain to let up, then donned our ponchos and set off again.

As soon as the Camino turned off the road onto a muddy path, the rain poured down hard. We met a young man heading the opposite direction, asking us which way the Camino led. We pointed him in the right direction and asked if he had finished in Santiago and was now headed back. He answered that he had, saying that he had started in France and would continue walking through Europe until September when he reported to work. We were for him that he was able to make that commitment, briefly wishing that we had been like him at that age.

Another pilgrim was struggling to get his poncho over his backpack, so Ray caught up to him helping pull it down in the back. Vladimir, a Bulgarian-born Canadian introduced himself, thanking Ray for his help. He asked if he could walk with us and told us his story as we trekked through the rain. A tall and fit man, he was on his third Camino Francés, walking primarily to prevent type 2 diabetes. He told us about his experiences on his first two Caminos, and Ray had his usual questions of what life was like after the Camino. Vladimir happily shared his advice from his experience, while Ray and I followed behind. His stride was much longer making it hard to keep up as we walked. I could feel my feet getting hot and remembered to slow down. Vladimir planned to walk 30 or more kilometers a day, completing the Camino Francés in less than a month, so we wished him well and watched him disappear before us.

The rain had let up and Ray and I were getting hungry as we entered the hamlet of Casanova. I remembered the name as being one of the places I had planned to stop on an early spreadsheet. I snickered to myself at how many versions ago that spreadsheet had been. I was so naive about the Camino in the comfort of my living room. Ray followed me as I turned onto the patio of an albergue restaurant. I needed to get my shoes and socks off to let my feet dry out. Vladimir had beat us to the restaurant and was sitting with some other pilgrims. He greeted us and showed us his lunch of bread, rice and stew. The stew looked delicious and a welcome change to our typical sandwich lunch. He ordered two meals for us explaining that it was not on the menu, but he knew how to ask for a variation to the pilgrim’s meal served in the evenings. I wished to myself that we would have met him weeks ago.

My shoes, socks and feet were wet from the rain. While waiting for our lunch to be served, I removed my shoes and socks. I inspected my feet for new blisters or changes and was happy that they were fine. Ray carried the first aid kit and the tube of petroleum jelly and had already placed them on the table for me. After we ate, I started my foot care routine, preparing them for the final six miles of the day. Vladimir looked at my feet and asked if I was alright to walk. Ray and I laughed, telling him that I was much better than I had been in León. He proceeded to ask if we were aware of the preventative protocol, telling us about different products available. I assured him that I had finally figured out what worked and that my feet looked much worse than they felt. He looked at Ray and said that his wife had given up after one week on the Camino, telling Ray that he was a lucky man. Ray smiled at Vladimir, acknowledging that I was pretty stubborn. I responded that I was just a tough, old Kansas farm girl, knowing that my dad would have been proud to hear me say that.

The rain stopped soon after we left Casanova, but the clouds remained. Trying to make up the for the days of rest and low mileage was exhausting, and I was dragging when we reached the edge of Melide. Though not a big town, we entered through a long industrial area, which seemed like miles and miles. We walked to a gap between the industrial park and the residential area where two vans were parked, advertising transport for pilgrims. My tired feet were hurting so badly that the vans were extremely tempting, but we were within 100 kilometers of Santiago. In order to receive the Compostela, pilgrims on foot were to walk each step of the last 100 kilometers. I was sad to think that some people might take the vans, but decided that there was information that I did not have. “Everyone walks their own Camino” is a mantra spoken often on the Camino as a reminder not to judge other pilgrims.

Ray and I had a reservation in Melide, but even with the address and a map app, it was hard to find. We walked through a depressed, urban area before reaching the commercial street where our room was above a restaurant. No one behind the counter spoke English until a man appeared from the back to show us to our room. He led us to an elevator, and the three of us barely squeezed in with Ray and I still wearing our backpacks. The small elevator trapped our sweaty smells, and I felt bad for the man having to ride with us.

Once in our room, I removed my shoes and socks revealing a new blister on my right heel the size of a nickel. I hadn’t felt it forming and it wasn’t there at lunch. I slapped my hands on the bed and told Ray that I was giving up thinking there was something I could do to prevent the blisters. He couldn’t believe that I hadn’t felt anything and agreed that it was out of my control. Ray acknowledged that I was doing everything I could to prevent more blisters, offering me his sympathy. I tried to console myself, encouraged that we only had a few days left, but I could not stop my feelings of despair.

I hoped that a shower would help me to feel better. Ray gathered our smelly clothes to be washed as I took over the small bathroom. The shower did not wash away my bad mood. I blamed my feet for blowing our budget for the trip, using the blisters as an excuse for having to reserve private rooms. We had spent over 50€ on creams and bandages as well. I didn’t know if I was mad because of my lack of control over the blisters, or because I hadn’t planned for them, knowing that I hated surprises. I decided that I was too tired to care why I was angry and needed to concentrate on finishing my shower so that I could get my feet elevated.

Ray had downloaded his emails while waiting for me to get out of the bathroom, announcing that we had a lot of work to do. I heard the familiar sound of the group chat on my phone, a opened the app to see who was checking in. Claudia had sent a message that she was too far behind to meet up with us in Santiago. Jeanette, Mike and Sue were a half day ahead of us, recommending a nice albergue. Jeri had been behind us all day but was now checked in to an albergue above a restaurant closer to the main part of Melide. She was not recommending it to those behind us, but had phoned a place for the next night where I was hoping to stay as well. Yung Mi had walked further than her plan, surprising herself. Carmen sent a photo of with Lisa and Claudia in Barbadelo, just past Sarria. Hearing from everyone had become my favorite part of the day, and immediately cheered my mood. Even though we had known each other a short time, sharing the Camino together provided a strong bond.

Ray and I wanted to get something for dinner while working so that we could be ready for bed early. We hoped to eat at the restaurant below our room, but they were not serving food until 7:30 p.m. We wandered down the street to find a better option, but had to walk several blocks closer to the central, busier part of town. By the time we chose a restaurant, I was exhausted, the new blister was hurting, and Ray was frustrated. We had created the perfect storm for an emotional melt down. We placed our order a started working. I thought Ray was being too dramatic about a problem at work, and he thought I was being rude and uncaring. For the first time on our Camino, we had a full-on argument. We frequently disagreed about work, but had avoided conflict for over a month. I knew that my words were harsh, but I thought Ray was being too sensitive. Neither one of us was ready to back down when I noticed that a table behind us was being served while we were still waiting on our food.

I snapped at Ray to do something about our food, blaming him for choosing a lousy restaurant. He jumped up and asked a server at the counter if something had happened to our order. After checking, he acknowledged that our order had been lost in the kitchen, but they would get it right out. As soon as we started eating, our troubles were forgotten and we solved the work problem. We paid the bill and agreed to make up over ice cream. Chocolate and ice cream seemed to be the cure and we went to bed looking forward to a new day.

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