Buen Camino! Tips from an American Pilgrim

New BOOK Notice!
Not a guidebook, no maps, no long-winded legends or history – just lots of stories and helpful suggestions to anyone planning their first Camino or just waiting to go back. Geared toward American Pilgrims, this book is a must-have, must-read.

It’s the perfect companion to your standard guidebooks, like John Brierley, the Confraternity of St. James guidebooks, or Wise Pilgrim.

Look for it on Amazon ($6.99 US) December 10, 2017 in paperback and January 8, 2018 on Kindle!


Having the Cathedral All to Myself in Oviedo

When I arrived in Oviedo, the desk clerk told me, “Everything is closed, you know. It’s a holiday.” Never found out which saint was being honored or if it was just Pentecost Tuesday, but damn if she wasn’t right. Including the very object of my visit: the stunning Cathedral of Oviedo.

I was bummed. I’d planned initially to continue walking from here along the Camino Primitivo, but a combination of forces changed my plans. The weather was dicey and I was nervous there could be snow or dense fog. The route is challenging in the best weather. I was also worried I’d really gotten in over my head and maybe tacking a different new and unfamiliar route to my walk along the Meseta was just too much. 

But I still wanted to visit this Cathedral. It’s been on my list for a long while and it’s what drew me to the Primitivo in the first place. So I  took a bus from León just to spend the night and visit the church. And it was shut.

But I kept thinking, maybe, if I’m there sitting in front of the place, somebody might need to get in and I’d slip in behind them. And that’s what happened this morning!

I’d remembered reading a note that said Mass was said every day in the Capilla de Santa Barbara at 9:15 a.m., so I waited – hopefully – on the plaza and this man, followed by a priest, opened the gate, unlocked the door, and the priest held the door open so I could step in.

They walked ahead up the aisle and disappeared and I very nearly had the entire sacred space to myself.

It’s now 8:55 a.m. and my bus is at 10:00 a.m. but I’m happy as a clam and not even thinking about the Mass.

I walk into this beautiful side chapel. There are two people praying near the front and as I start to leave, that same priest that let me in takes the altar and begins to say Mass. I remembered my friend, Priscilla, saying Mass was only 20 minutes in León, so I take my seat. I have just about that much time before I’d have to get back to my hotel to get to the bus station.

On my way out, I thanked St. James once again for guiding my feet.

Next stop: Santiago de Compostela

Winter Tips

2012-12-24 17.11.08

I love a winter pilgrimage. I prefer the solitude, the challenge, the weather, and the extra indulgences. But it does take some doing if you want to enjoy yourself. Here are some quick tips – from my own experience walking three times during the months of December and January:

1 – Take a sleeping bag. While the weather outside may not be exactly frightful, it’s rarely warm indoors in the winter. Many places you stay will only offer a few hours of heat. A sleeping bag will save you.

2 – Take poles. I love my walking poles and I always recommend you bring the most expensive, lightest weight poles you can find. It sounds cavalier but if you buy inexpensive poles and find yourself needing to use them to get you out of a tight spot, they could fail you. They can save you from falling, help you down the mountain, and keep you balanced.

3 – Go high tech, extremely lightweight. I love the new high tech fabrics that trap your body heat and weigh next to nothing. It’s better to take several extremely lightweight layers and wear them one over the other than to bring something heavier like a sweater and not have that flexibility.

4 – Get a buff. I love these. I used a brilliant yellow one with reflective strips – to keep my face warm, to keep my neck warm, to keep my ears warm, and to keep my hair out of my eyes. When it started to rain a bit, I used it as a hat.

5 – Carry cash. In any event, cash is always going to be better than a random assortment of credit cards – especially if you only have American credit cards. The magnetic strip on American cards doesn’t always work in European credit card machines – you might want to try to get a card with a chip. But even then, many places will not take any credit card which will leave you looking for an ATM or a bank when you should be resting or enjoying your time in Spain.

So these are my top top tips. I remind everyone to shun fear as well, but that calls for a larger discussion!

2012-12-24 17.01.19

Buen Camino!