Sunday, June 19, 2016

amaWalkers Camino Foray into Italy

12 months of planning, thousands of hours pouring over blogs to choose the best possible routes and daily mileages; Google searching for accommodation for 42 people for 24 nights = over 1010 beds bookings. (Plus the usual Camino Frances groups' bookings in Spain in May and September) 
amaWalkers Camino will stay true to its original mandate of friendly, well organised, no-frills but great accommodation, group walks. 

In July 2015 Jenny and I  planned on taking a group of pilgrims to Rome in 2016.  Within a week of putting it out on Facebook and on our website, 56 people asked to go on the walk. So we made it 2 groups (we would each take one) then 3 (Marion would take a group) and finally a 4th group (was to be Kathy's group) to cater for 8 South African women who wanted to all walk in the same group. After the initial excitement of trying the new route, people change their minds due to financial constraints, not enough leave, unexpected family reunions.  Some cancelled, some postponed, others changed groups.  [The group of 8 women decided to go it alone, using our planned stages over the Alps and in Tuscany.  We wish them a happy Via Francigena.]

Hundreds of emails sent to hotels, pensions, agriturismos, apartments and osterias for single, double and twin rooms.  Many places don't have twin rooms and can't guarantee two beds so we have to change our search for alternative places.  Some don't reply - could be that they only open in the summer, like the Hotel Italia at the Gr San Bernard, which is closed for most of the year.  Relief when we finally get an acknowledgement of our reservations for 4 Gruppi on consecutive days.  We realise that it must be a headache for a small hotel to have to change linen and towels in 7 or 8 rooms day after day. 

Many Italian hotels are B and B, but what time is breakfast?  8:30 is too late for eager pellegrini hoping to avoid the worst of the mid-day sun by making an early start.  Will they prepare breakfast earlier for our groups, or provide a take-away picnic breakfast?  We have vegans and vegetarians, some don't eat red meat, others don't eat pork; some have allergies, to honey, nuts or seafood.  All has to be planned for and hotels alerted.

Some hotels want full payment upfront, sent via bank transfers.  We tell them that we need an invoice, SWIFT code, IBAN number, name and address of hotel.  (South Africa is paranoid about money laundering or sending money to overseas accounts).  Information received is often incomplete - wrong SWIFT code and insufficient numbers in the IBAN number.  It takes hours, sometimes days to send the money. is our best friend!  Safe, secure bookings which (for the most part) can be changed or cancelled within days of arrival.  Beware the non-refundable bookings.  They are not only non-fundable but in many instances cant be changed so you could be stuck with rooms you don't need.

We are walking in the Swiss and Italian Alps for four days.  How to get the 4 groups from Aosta to San Gimignano in northern Tuscany - 500km away - without involving them in multiple bus and train changes?  Hiring a private bus and driver for  €1295 for each group (€130 pp) might seem excessive but of you add up the bus and train ticket costs for 12 people there isn't much difference.  And, the journey is about 5 and a half hours instead of 8 - 9 hours on public transport.

What about arriving in Rome and visiting the Vatican?  Groups can be pre-registered here -  - so that they don't have to join the long queues at the Vatican waiting to walk through the Holy Doors. Our Four Groups have all been registered to walk through the doors at specific time slots. 

Group one starts at La Douay on 23rd June:  Group Two on 24th June:  Group Three on 25th June. Group Four on 26 June.  We will arrive in Rome one day after each other and will each have two days in Rome. 

For the past three days I've been fighting a rotten cold - Mrs Potato head type cold and cough.  I leave on Tuesday afternoon and am hoping all the fluids, hot med-lemon, cough syrup and Corenza-C will clear it before then. 

Wednesday, June 15, 2016


Yeehaa!  6 more sleeps and Jenny and I fly to Geneva.  Our other two group leaders follow a couple of days later. Four groups walking to Rome, starting in the Swiss Alps on consecutive days.  We will hike from La Douay to Bourg St Pierre, then to the Gr San Bernard Pass, Etroubles and Aosta.
From Aosta a hired bus will take us on a 6 hour bus ride to San Gimignano in Tuscany.  We will walk to Rome from there.

A couple of days after arriving in Rome, I will lead another, smaller group, from Viterbo on a Slow Walk to Rome (10km per day with a back-up vehicle).

In June 2006 when I walked the Via Francigena we walked long distances (over 30km per day) because there were no guide books in English and all ...we had were a few blogs and maps that, although very pretty, were mostly misleading! 

The hike from Martigny to La Douay was on a scary ledge, clinging onto chains bolted onto the rock face. The climb from La Douay to the Gr San Bernard was gruelling - 28 km in 11 hours.
This time we will start at La Douay and will take two days to the Col - 2473 m. We will send our small bags ahead, carrying only a day pack. Longest day will be a 24.2 km near Rome (hopefully we'll all be fit by then!) 

For years I said, "I don't think I'll ever do the VF again" but I am really looking forward to this slower, more gentle way of walking to Rome. After all, I'm 10 years older, am osteopenic and losing eyesight and don't have anything to prove anymore! 

 [Three of the five who walked in 2006 are leading groups to Rome]

Can't always rely on long-range forecasts but the weather doesn't look too bad next week when we will start walking from La Douay to Aosta.

Gr San Bernard pass snow report is for light falls above 2756m (200m above the Hospice) and rain below.

 No snow is predicted for lower altitudes. It is a relief to see only light winds predicted.
First picture is for Bourg St Pierre when our four groups are there on 24, 25, 26, 27 June.

Saturday, March 26, 2016


The recently formed Fraternidad International del Camino de Santiago (FICS) has made a proposal to extend the minimum distance required for pilgrims to earn a Compostela from 100 km to 300 km.  (So far the Cathedral is not impressed and has said that they will not be dictated to by anyone or any organisation.)

The document was signed by Anton Pombo [FICS] and translated and circulated on Facebook by Rebekah Scot  "Read, consider, and inwardly digest. And SHARE! The latest from FICS: (my clumsy translation. Sorry)"  

'Debate' and 'discus' was not included and I'm doubtful that it is welcomed.  After reading through the document a few times, I posted a few questions on the FICS Facebook page today and the flame-throwers started taking aim almost immediately! 
I feel that all healthy debate should always consist of opposing opinions and that it is the subject that should be debated, rather than attacking the messenger.   I was taught that the basis of any good science is to prove a concept wrong, not try to prove it right. 

Much of what is written in the proposal makes sense, but there are also glaring inaccuracies, and a lot that many might not agree with.   Although I have written comments on each section of the document, this time I will keep my opinions to myself.  If anyone is interested in reading my opinions you can contact me.

Why do pilgrims have to walk the last 100 km to earn a Compostela anyway? 
There are two reasons.  One, included when the 100 km distance was introduced by the Archdiocese in 1993, is to ensure that pilgrims put in some effort and sacrifice for the expiation of their sins before being awarded the Compostela.   

“El esfuerzo y sacrificio en expiación de los pecados"

Two, is that pilgrims wanting a Compostela must actually walk to the shrine containing the tomb of the saint.  Walking 3 500km from Bulgaria won't earn you any kudos unless you walk the last 100 km to the cathedral.  

FICS' reasons are a little more obscure.  Many pilgrims presumed that it was to relieve the ever growing problem of overcrowding on the last 100 km, but the aim is to make pilgrims walk longer distances so that they can:

"reclaim the long distance Camino and the values that make it unique: effort, transcendence, searching. reflection, encounters with others, solidarity, ecumenism or spirituality, all of them oriented towards a distant, shared goal."

We know that this proposal came out of a meeting of FICS big-guns in Sarria.  Rebekah called them 'Camino heavyweights' and their combined knowledge, care for all things Camino and their integrity is not questioned. But there are unsubstantiated claims made, assumptions, negative terms used to describe particular pilgrims.   Were they unanimously accepted by all the esteemed and learned delegates, or are they just personal perceptions of a few people? 

To read what others think - visit this link:

Wednesday, December 09, 2015


In 1986 (30 years ago) 2491 pilgrims received a Compostela. This has increased by over ten-fold.

Between 1996 and 2015 over 2.5 million pilgrims earned a Compostela.

1996 17138
1997 25179
1998 30126
1999 61418
2000 55004
2001 61418
2002 68952
2003 74614
2004 179944
2005 93924
2006 100377
2007 114026
2008 125141
2009 145877
2010 272135
2011 183366
2012 192488
2013 215880
2014 237812
2015 262000

The total number of pilgrims who have received a Compostela so far - January to November - is 260,396.

In December 2014 the number was 1870 so we can assume that at least that number will be reached by the end of the month. 262,266 for 2015.

With Pope Frances announcing an Extraordinary Roman Holy Year of Mercy in 2016 and appealing for cathedrals with Holy Doors to open them next year, I reckon that the numbers will go up exponentially. The Santiago Cathedral is opening their Holy Door on 16th December.

A previous pilgrim office Dean calculated that only 1 in 5 pilgrims walking the Camino routes during the year obtain a Compostela. Many Europeans walk a week at a time; some walk shorter routes that do not end in Santiago; others do not apply for the certificate. If that is still valid, there were over a million pilgrims walking the Camino routes this year and the numbers will rise in 2016.

The number of pilgrims walking to Rome is also expected to rise. There are now dozens of tour companies offering various distance walks on the Via Francigena and although we started booking accommodation for our groups a few months ago, many places are already full. The same can be expected on the Camino, especially the last 114km from Sarria.

Thursday, October 15, 2015


Angela is a Camino angel.  She served in the albergue in Castrojeriz for 9 years and when they started charging 4 years ago she moved to San Anton where she serves every September. 

From the first day she arrived we just clicked, like women sometimes do.  She thought my black solar shower bags were a hoot but was happy when she had her first lukewarm shower instead of a freezing cold shower.
She loved the pilgrims and they loved her.  She was always kind, cheerful and supporting.  She was fascinated as I assembled all the ingredients for a Durban curry, with a home-made Spanish style chutney made from apricot jam, finely diced onions and balsamic vinegar.  "Mermelade en currie?" 
She was always generous and when we went to mass at the convent of Santa Clara she introduced me to the sisters as the hospitalera who had introduced a prayer request box. 
I had been home two weeks when I received this email from her.

Querida Silvia
Me alegro mucho de haberte conocido,gracias por lo considerada y amable que fuiste conmigo.
Quiero que sepas que me encantaría volver a tenerte como compañera hospitalera porque eres la más trabajadora,entregada,amable y amorosa que he conocido en los 13 años que llevo de hospitalera.
Es verdad que en tu afan de hacerlo lo mejor posible, te escediste en lavar todos los días las sabanas, cuando realmente no hacia falta, ya que se podian llevar cada semana a la lavandería del hotel.pero bendita seas por el amor que pusiste en ello.
Nunca olvidare tu exquisita y amable atención a los peregrinos, las veladas de hermandad y unión que creabas cada noche despues de la cena, pidiendo a los peregrinos que cantaran una canción de su pais, que dijeran como se sentian en el camino y que leyeras cada petición que dejaban escrita.Fue precioso y lo conseguias tu cada día con la mayor sencillez.
Que dios te bendiga Silvia, espero verte en logroño cuando vengas, no te olvides de llamarme y mandame las fotos.
Un fuerte abrazo

Google Translation:

Dear SilviaI'm glad to have met you, thanks for how considerate and kind you were with me.I want you to know that I would love to have you as hospitalera partner because you're the hardest-working, dedicated, kind and loving I have met in the 13 years I've been in hospitalera.It is true that in your eagerness to do your best, you exceeded, to wash the sheets every day, when it really was not necessary, as it could lead to the laundry each week hotel. But be blessed by the love you put into it.Exquisite and never forget your kind attention to the pilgrims, veiled brotherhood and unity you used to create each night after dinner, asking the pilgrims to sing a song of his country, to tell how they felt on the way and for them to read each request that left precious escrita. It was beautiful and conseguias your every day with great simplicity.Silvia God bless you, I hope to see you when you come Logroño not forget to call me and send me photos.A hugAngela

Sunday, September 27, 2015

27 September - LAST DAY - SAN ANTON

I opened the gate extra early this morning because two pilgrims wanted to leave before 6am.  The moon was low in the sky and shone through the open circle with the TAU at the top of the gate. 
The walls glowed in the moonlight and I thought, 'How am I going to manage going back to cities and noise and closed spaces after living in a place with the sky for a roof, moonlight for illumination and only the sound of the wind or pilgrims singing?"    I was missing my family and wanted to get back to them, but I was torn between needing them and wanting to stay here longer.

After breakfast Angela, Kristine and some of our pilgrims went off to mass.  A young Italian pilgrim went with them but left his pack as he intended coming back later.  I did the usual housekeeping, and whilst I was shaking out the blankets a familiar figure on a bicycle came through the gates - it was Mau.  I was really pleased to see him and offered him a coffee.  He had brought tomatoes, onions and a the biggest zucchini I'd ever seen slung over his shoulder. 

"You are happy to be going home to your family?" he asked.
"Yes and no," I said.  "I am missing them but I am also sad to be leaving this place."  I almost felt like weeping, something I don't do easily.   He just nodded in understanding, and we sat and had our drink.  He is a special human being, gentle and kind and he told me about a visit he's had from his father who he's been estranged from for many years because his father didn't approve of or understand his choice of a way of life that was so different from his own.

Once Mau left I tidied the prayer box, set out the register and the first pilgrim of the day arrived, my first South African!  Well, they are not born and bred South African's but moved to Cape Town from Argentina and call South Africa their home.  She asked if she and her husband, who was struggling along the path behind her, could stay the night.  We are not supposed to keep beds for people on the trail but I couldn't refuse an injured husband with the wife sitting in front of me.  He arrived soon after and they chose their bunk beds.  The Italian pilgrim returned from Mass for his pack and he soon carried on walking to Castrojeriz.

A tour bus arrived and the guide asked if we had seen a group of German pilgrims.  No, we hadn't seen them.  He told us that he had lost a group of pilgrims outside San Anton.  "Is there are bar anywhere here?" asked a German sitting outside the albergue.  "Only 4 km away, at Castrojeriz," I told him.  "That's where they will be, : he said.

Two American pilgrims arrived - a young woman and her older friend.  They asked if they could stay.  Rebecca was thinking of doing a hospitaleros course and I told her that she could also volunteer, arrive a couple of days early and be shown the ropes at the albergue she was assigned to. 

A car pulled up outside and Rebekah Scot and her husband Paddy walked in.  Reb and I had a chat about the albergue, the bed bugs, about Angela and me leaving tomorrow and leaving Kristine on her own.
I introduced her to Rebecca and after a long chat, Rebecca and Lois agreed to spend the next two days with Kristine, after which Reb would join her for the last two days.  The universe had a way of making things right and everyone was happy!

Angela and Kristine returned and Angela told me that we had an appointment with the sisters at 4:00pm.  When we arrived at the convent she rang the bell at the revolving hatch and they passed a key to her for the door on left.  We went upstairs and sat down in a room, separated from another smaller room behind bars.  Soon a few nuns arrived, including two from Kenya and one from Berundi.  We had a great conversation about Africa, our President Zuma, polygamy and politics.  They were interested in my heritage and were surprised to learn that on my mother's side, the Dutch had arrived at the Cape over 400 years ago.  They were happy to provide a prayer box for pilgrims.

We hoped to hitch a lift back to the albergue but all the traffic was going to Castrojeriz so we ended up having to walk the 4km back.  When we arrived back the place was full and we only had two beds left. 

Angela, the South African pilgrim and Kristine started preparing for dinner and as I was signing in a pilgrim I looked up and saw a familiar person walking through the door.  It was Dean, a Ramblers pilgrim from Durban who had come to nearly every Camino workshop of mine since 2002!  He had finally got his act together and was walking his first Camino.  He wasn't sure if I would still be at San Anton and because he was walking quite slowly he was a little behind his planned schedule.
I was delighted to see him and we sat together at dinner so that we could catch up on news. 
This was my last night on the Camino and at San Anton and as I looked around the table at the pilgrims who still had over 450 km to go, I wondered how the Camino would impact on their lives. 
After the last song was sung, the last thank you said to the Camino, and the last prayer request added to the box, I said good bye to Angela and Kristine.  Pedro the taxi guy was coming for me at about 5h45 and I preferred to say goodbye now than wake them up and get them out of bed in the morning.  I left my down jacket for Kristine to use on her Primitivo walk and wished her well.  Angela and I promised to keep in touch.


I got up at 5h15 and quietly carried my big case to the gates.  Then I packed my things into my backpack and whispered good bye to Angela and Kristine.  I closed the gates behind me and walked up to the road.  The walls of the monastery looked different from the outside, the moon shining through the arch that spanned the road.  How many pilgrims have walked through that arch, I wondered?  Millions.  I could almost hear the shuffling of feet and the click-click of walking poles on the road.  The taxi arrived and we were soon speeding along towards Burgos.

I had time to think on the way to Burgos.  Besides the joy of serving pilgrims, very special pilgrims who had chosen to stay at San Anton because they wanted to experience the spirit of the Camino, what lessons had a I learned this time?  I have learned patience, tolerance and endurance, and not to give in to a bossy person, for the sake of peace, on issues that I feel are important or right.  I learned to stand my ground with a smile and not get into any disagreements or arguments. 
I have served with 7 hospitaleros and have fortunately have had a special, happy relationship with all but one - Mrs Bossy.  Even this relationship wasn't doom and gloom, more like stoically enduring constant fault finding and control.  Would I serve with her again?  Probably yes - if we could sit down on day one and agree that there will be no fault finding or bossiness.  They say an apple doesn't fall far from the tree and she has displayed the very qualities that she disliked in her mother.  The fact that she has been on her own for 27 years, raised her children on her own, is an occupational health nurse also contributes to her controlling nature.  She can't help it - in her world she is the boss-lady and she brought that with her to the Camino, and to San Anton. 

Saturday, September 26, 2015


I suggested to Angela last night that she take Kristine with her to mass from now on.  After we leave, Kristine will be on her own and won't be able to leave the albergue again.  She agreed but said that we would visit the sisters in the afternoon to discuss the idea for the prayer box so they went off after breakfast and I started the daily cleaning routine.

A tiny, elderly Mexican pilgrim hobbled in at around 8am and asked if she could please stay.  Her legs were painful and she didn't think she could walk any further today.  I offered her the last of the coffee from the pot and some breakfast and chose a lower bunk bed for her, taking her backpack into the dormitory. 
I told her to sit and take it easy, but the next thing she had taken a cleaning cloth and was wiping down the table and sweeping up the breakfast crumbs!  When I started wringing the sheets she came to help but she was too short to help me hang them on the wash line.

Pilgrims come and go all morning.  Some stop and rest, others have a cursory look and move on.  Most get a 'sello' and have a drink of water, dropping a few coins into the pottery cup.  We have two 'sellos'.  One is the TAU and is the stamp for the albergue. The other is left on the table for anyone to use and represents the Tau, sign of Malta, and the logos of Castile y Leon.
I have come to realise that only special pilgrims want to stay here, really want to stay.  Some run to get here in order to secure a bed.  They have marked San Anton on their 'must stay' list and we have had to turn bitterly disappointed pilgrims away when we are full.
 Others express an interest in staying but no electricity, no Wi-Fi and no hot water is too much for them and they move on to Castrojeriz.  I can understand this.  That was me, 13 years ago when I first walked the Camino and shunned all places that were described as 'basic' i.e. mattresses on the floor, no hot water or no electricity.  "Pass!" we said - and moved on to a more upmarket, modern albergue.  After a long, hot day of walking the least we wanted was a hot shower and a comfortable bed.

By choosing only the modern albergues we didn't stay in any albergues that offered meals, no candlelight dinners, sing-alongs or pilgrim blessings.  I didn't realise what I had missed until I returned home and started hearing other pilgrims' glowing accounts of communal meals, special 'oraciones' or blessings.  In 2004 I walked from Paris, a route that had no pilgrim shelters for at least 750km until we reached the south and then we started finding a few albergues close to Saint Jean Pied de Port. 

When I returned to walk the Camino Frances in 2007 I made a list of the most popular traditional pilgrim shelters and we religiously sought them out and stayed in every one of them - Eunate, Granon, Tosantos, San Bol, Bercianos, Manjarin, Ave Fenix, Vegetariano, Ruitelin, San Xulian - all chosen for atmosphere and tradition.  I reckoned I could have shiny new bathrooms, comfortable beds and bedside lamps when I got back home! 
I was just like the pilgrims that run to San Anton with a determination to stay here.

Angela and Kristine returned and we were able to sit and chat to the pilgrims that were staying the night.  I took wine left over from the night before and a few more plums to the niche under the arch and topped up a black shower bag so that I could have a lukewarm shower.  A couple of the pilgrims followed and also had a warm shower.
I checked the fridge and when I saw that we only had lettuce and tomatoes, I decided to fetch a large, red apple a pilgrim had given me from the ice-box.  As I started to dice it into the salad Mrs Bossy looked at me and said, "We could've shared that apple.  You didn't have to use it in the salad." 
"Id prefer to share it with all the pilgrims," I said with a smile.  After all it was my apple, given by a pilgrim and now many would share it.
We had a full house at dinner and half way through, we saw bicycle lights approaching the albergue through the gates.  I had set a place for San Anton and we had enough food so when the cyclist asked if we had a bed we said yes, and offered him some dinner. 
"Where are you from?" I asked the stock question as I prepared to sign him in and stamp his credencial. "I'm from the Netherlands, " he answered. 
"And what is your name?" I asked.
"My name is Anton," he said.
We all started laughing and had to share with him our tradition of keeping a place for San Anton!
Kristine was going to be walking the Primitivo when she left here but she was concerned that she didn't have enough warm clothing.  It had turned chilly and the temperatures at night and in the early mornings were very low.  I offered her my down, padded jacket and said I would give it to before I left.

Friday, September 25, 2015


Today was my turn to go to mass at Santa Clara and a small group of us left after breakfast, walking in the early dawn towards Castrojeriz.  There were at least a dozen prayer request in the box this morning and by the time the pilgrims left, only a few remained.  It was gratifying to know that the pilgrims' prayer requests were being taken to Santiago by other pilgrims. 
I had an idea for continuing the prayer requests after the albergue closed next week and chatted to Angela about it on our way to Castrojeriz.  Perhaps the sisters at Santa Clara would be prepared to provide a box in the church where pilgrims could leave their requests, as they did in other churches along the Camino.  I told Angela about the box of prayers in the Church of Santiago in her home town of Logrono and she said she would make an appointment for us to visit the sisters and speak to
them about the ides.
Because we had to wait until 1pm to see the nurse, Angela and I climbed the hill to visit the castle above the village.  When Marion and I visited it in 2007, most of it was off limits and was pretty much just a ruined pile of stones but in the last few years, a lot of money has been spent on the renovation and restoration of the castle.  One can now walk through the castle and see where the small dwellings were.  Climbing the narrow stone stairways gives you a view of four floors of living quarters, kitchens, pantries and water containers.

When we returned to the path in front of the castle we hitched a ride down to the village with a young man.  We walked to the Hotel Jacobus and both of us were able to have a hot shower - my first proper shower in two weeks!  Wonderful to wash your hair under a running stream of hot water instead of in a basin using a plastic cup to rinse!
We walked back to the square and visited Angela's friend, buying a few fresh provisions for albergue.  At 1pm I saw the same nurse at the clinic.  She changed the dressing on my finger and declared it almost healed. 
We returned to the Hotel and I met Ovidio for the first time.  He was busy behind his bar counter but listened avidly as Angela told him about the bed bugs and how we had been dealing with them.  She gave him a list of things we needed, including water, wine, candles, milk, bottled vegetables and fresh, and after half an hour he took us back to the albergue in his car, promising to return later with provisions. 
Kristine went off on her walk and Angela and I tidied the pantry cupboard and fridge so that we would be ready to pack the new provisions when Ovidio returned.  He brought a box of potatoes, onions, tomatoes and cucumber as well as lettuces, a box of bottled salsa sauce, milk and bottles of chickpeas and lentils.  He also brought 5L water bottles and a box of red wine.
That evening Maria Alvarez arrived again, this time bearing a huge tray-box of sweet plums and another of apples for the albergue.  We invited her to stay for dinner and when she told us that it was her birthday, we all sang happy birthday to her.

Thursday, September 24, 2015


"Don't you think you've cut too much bread?" said Mrs Bossy this morning at breakfast.  "No problem," said I, smiling, "we can toast and left-overs tomorrow or have it for lunch."  There was none left over.  After breakfast, a small group of pilgrims were ready to accompany Angela and Kristine to the Convent for mass before continuing to Castrojeriz.

"No lavar los platos!" said Angela (do not wash the dishes).  I wasn't supposed to get the dressing on my finger wet but I pulled on a silicone glove and a plastic glove and was able to wash the dishes, stew the sheets and hang them, wash down the shower walls and floor and mop the two rooms without getting it wet.

Any water left over from the black shower bags or final rinse water went on the herbs and plants.  The herb pots contained rosemary, basil, Italian parsley, oregano and there were tomatoes on the vine, a couple of peppers, a large pumpkin almost ready to pick and zucchinis.  I also watered the Cyprus trees that had been planted in honour of Julian and Jose. 

I had to listen out for the bread van.  He gave a long hoot like a train whistle and if you didn't hustle he could drive off and there would be no bread for the pilgrims. 
" Con pan y vino se anda el Camino"  (with bread and wine we walk the Camino).
No bread would be unthinkable!  I had decided to treat the pilgrims and had ordered two large tuna empanadas (baked pies) for dinner.  

Angela and Kristine returned at around 1:30 pm and shortly after a car arrived with a special visitor for me.  I had never met Maria Alvarez but had heard about the angel who lived in Burgos and spent days standing at a crossroads directing pilgrims around a construction site.  Tom from Jenny's group had met her and when she met Moyra, she told her that she knew a South African called Sylvia from Facebook.  There are many unsung heroes on the Camino who serve pilgrims in their own way.  A cyclist pushed his bike through the gate and up the hill to the albergue.  He looked dehydrated.  "I've cycled too far with no water" he said. "But I have to go on and meet my sister in Castrojeriz."  I poured a glass of water for him and filled his bottle. "Its only 4km to the village" I told him.
"You shouldn't have given him our water" said Mrs Bossy. "The water is meant for us and our pilgrims." 
"All pilgrims are our pilgrims," I replied.  There was always water in the two carafes on the tables outside so giving the cyclist water wouldn't leave us short.  How could we refuse a thirsty pilgrim some water?  If we ever ran out we could boil tap water and fill the bottles for drinking.

The empanadas were golden in their boxes and we were able to heat them by placing them on upturned lids over pots of boiling water.   We decided on a tapa starter with bread, olive oil and balsamic mix to dip bread into, slices of pickled peppers and olives.  Empanada and salad would be our main and we were able to make a fruit salad from a large melon donated by Mau, plums donated by the sisters at the convent, apples and bananas, served with Convent cookies.

The pilgrims told us that this was the best meal they'd had on the Camino!  We told them that a meal like this was only possible through the generosity of the pilgrims who had stayed before them.  If they had been given lentil soup and bread, that might have been because the donations received the day before could not buy anything else! 
The great thing was that we had not had to dip into the donations once since I'd been there and all the shopping was paid for by the donation in the 'sello' cup on the table at the entrance, and from tourists' purchases of trinkets and cards. 

The table is laid out with a carafe of fresh water, a few pottery cups, bowl of fruit or biscuits and a 'sello' (stamp) and a pen to write the date in their credenciales.  Every night when I cleared the donations from the cup, there was always enough to buy at least 8 loaves of bread and eggs for the next day's breakfast.

Breakfast on the Camino usually consists of bread and jam and coffee.  When I did the hospitaleros course with Rebekah Scot, she suggested that we included eggs which were easy to buy and cook, cheap and always appreciated by the pilgrims.  Each morning we boiled eggs which they could either eat or take with them on the trail. 


After breakfast Angela and I walked down the path towards the Santa Clara convent.  The convent, which is run by a closed order, the poor sisters of Saint Clara, is the one Marion and I had visited in 2007.  They sell cookies and preserves via a wooden revolving serving hatch.  When Marion and I visited, we put our money on the hatch and it turned, but when the nun behind the hatch tried to turn it again to deliver our order, the hatch became stuck.  We got such a fright when a side door opened and a smiling nun stood there with our cookies in her hands! She explained that she was a community nun and that was why we could see her.



The mass was beautiful - a singing mass with the nuns in a room behind the altar cut off from the main church behind grills and the priest, a young Berundian, on our side of the grill.  After mass we walked to Castrojeriz. 

The sunrise was amazing and the approach to the village gave us a different view to that of the one from the road,



 We walked to the square and visited Angela's friend at the little shop in the square.  She showed us where the Medico was.  The Doctor could be visited from 11am and a nurse from 1pm.  We sat in the waiting room for over an hour waiting for the doctor but he told us I needed a nurse so we had to leave and come back at 1pm. 
Back in the square we bumped into Mau Mariani (who Kevin had introduced to me on my first day at the albergue) and had a coffee with him before Angela showed me his beautiful place, Hospital del Alma (Hospital of the Soul) where he and Nia Peiro had set up home which included a gorgeous photographic exhibition. 

When I had first seen Mau walking into the ruins of San Anton I had immediately recognized an old soul, one of these people who, although you've never met, you know who they are and what they stand for.  Hospital del Alma is a place of refuge, a silent retreat available to anyone for a donation.  One can stay for a day or a month, or longer.  That is why Mau doesn't spend too much time at home!  He says that if he is there people want to engage him in conversation, so he spends little time there, preferring to cultivate his special vegetable garden outside the village.

We visited the hotel Jacobus and then did some shopping.  At 1pm we went back to the Medico and I saw the nurse.  I didn't have the Tetanus injection.  She cleaned the wound and redressed the finger and told me not to get it wet and to come back in two days time.

Angela's friend, a hospitalero from the albergue San Esteban, offered to take us back to the albergue and on the way we stopped at a café-bar for a drink, arriving at the albergue after 2 pm.  The place was full and Angela and I started to prepare dinner while Kristine had some time off to do her training walk.

There were three Spanish pilgrims, including a father and his beautiful daughter, in the albergue tonight, which was unusual; we have only had a handful of Spanish pilgrims staying with us.  After dinner the Spanish girl told us that she couldn't sing very well and would prefer to do a dance for us.  She clapped out a rhythm on the table which we followed, rolled up her top to under her boobs and her skirt down to below her naval and started to belly dance!  She was fantastic and was awarded with the greatest round of applause we have ever had at San Anton!