Cocooning on El Camino


Your walking warrior made it to Day 13 – a whole Sunday in charming Santo Domingo de La Calzada. And a day of rest in my loosely scheduled itinerary.

I had sought refuge this time in Hospedería Cisterciense . The Cistercian nuns operate this hostal and although a little Spartan, the care is like being wrapped in a blanket and given chicken soup when you have a cold. The receptionist at the Hospedería spoke enough English to help me with my questions, directions and requests during my two days in Santo Domingo. On several occasions however, that same receptionist would perhaps have another life and not be at her position at the desk. So whichever sister was at the front desk would listen patiently to my pigeon Spanish and pantomiming.  Then she would give me the universal sign for “wait a moment” and go get Sister Ascuncion who spoke the best English among the nuns, which is to say, not so much – but we worked out our language differences with fervor! Here is Sister Asuncion with one of the ubiquitous Santo Domingo roosters.

imageAlthough hundreds of miracles were attributed to Santo Domingo, let me tell you the story of the most legendary miracle.  It is crazy!

So sometime in the 13th century, a pilgrim couple and their son were on the way to Santiago and took refuge one night at an inn in Santo Domingo de Calzada.  The son had the misfortune of catching the eye of the pretty daughter of the innkeeper.  When the boy did not respond to her flirtations, the girl slipped a silver goblet into the boy’s rucksack. (Cautionary tale. Woman scorned. Not good.) He was caught and tried and then hung which was the penalty for theft. His parents were certainly sad, but continued on their pilgrimage to Santiago. Fast forward a few weeks and the pilgrim couple return to Santo Domingo to reclaim their son’s body…which is still hanging in the town square.  Imagine their surprise when the boy…hanging from the gallows…greets his parents, announces that he is alive…and would his parents check with the sheriff and see if he could be cut down.  The parents adjourn with haste. When they get to the sheriff’s home, he has just sat down to dinner.  When he hears the couple’s request, he responds “Nonsense! That boy is as dead as the chickens that have been prepared for me for dinner tonight.” And with that, the chickens grow beaks and wings and resurrect and start squawking.

Now realizing that he is in the presence of a miracle and that the boy has been falsely convicted, the sheriff immediately cuts down the boy from the gallows and gives him a full pardon.

While the story ends there, the enduring quality of the miracle is celebrated everywhere in town. Even in the Cathedral de Santo Domingo. Are you ready?


Yes, gentle reader. That is correct. You are viewing a chicken coop IN THE CATHEDRAL. One rooster and one hen are kept there for a fortnight before being traded out for two more foul feathered friends and resume residence in a more normal barnyard setting nearby.

And how about that piece of wood above the coop? Yes! You’ve guessed it! That is from the gallows where the dead-not-dead boy hung for a few weeks. But wait! There is more to commemorate this miracle at the Cathedral.

imageThis is a view of the balcony of the Cathedral. Let us look closely at the discs mounted on either side of the statue of the Virgin Mother. imageYes! The rooster rules in tiny Santo Domingo de Calzada.

My quiet and gentle time of cocooning came to an end and Monday, your peppy pilgrim was back on the road with destination: Burgos on her mind. I was reminded that the way is always smoother when you give yourself time for solitude, reflection and a good miracle.

Lord in your mercy, hear my prayer.

Observations, Surprises and Tiny Miracles on El Camino

imageEl Camino Scorecard.

In Logroño. 9th day of walking. 103 miles covered. No sunburn. No blisters. 1 scraped knee. (Note to self. Double knot your shoelaces.) Heat rash on legs now a nonissue. Cortisone cream helps.

I had this plan of walking 7 or 8 hours per day, snapping pictures and communing with the planet. Then, once I reached that day’s destination, I imagined settling into a nearby cafe, sipping a glass of red wine and writing reams of words on my journey that would delight and amaze you all. I imagined incorrectly. I get to town, find an Albergue, pensión or hotel, flop on my bed and put up my feet, shower, do hand wash and hang to dry, eat dinner and go to sleep. Apparently, I have sweated out all of the creative juices. I am so tired. Happy, delighted, awe-filled…and tired.

Should have called this blog “Sauntering to Santiago”.

I’m braver and stronger than I thought.

Spaniards and Italians – the most patient with my bastardization of Spanish. (Note to self: Learn Spanish immediately upon reentry.) Also the most generous with directional help.

French – The most abrupt.

Australians – The funniest.

Germans – Speak the best English.

Americans – The most grateful.

After 10 days, I think in km, liters and Euros. And I can almost tell the difference between the coins.

Learning “focus”.  A well marked trail is in the eye of the beholder. Re-learning “patience”.

In case you were wondering, American idioms do not play here. I am reminded of Jorge’s story of seeing AIRPLANE for the first time in a giant cinema in Guadalajara.  When Robert Hays & Leslie Nielsen do that bit: “Surely you can’t be serious?! I am serious and quit calling me Shirley!”, the Mexican audience went stone cold silent while Jorge and his Engligh-speaking buddies were laughing their heads off. Same difference in Spain. I am NOT funny here.

I like wearing my little house on my back. I suppose it is not the same.  I expect a mattress at every stop I make. But it is comforting to know that everything I really need, I am carrying. Now, if I can just ignore those who tell me that I don’t need all that which I am carrying.

Songs I have sung on The Way. Every GS song I ever knew. Everything from Sound of Music. Most of Godspell. A great deal of The King and I. Amazing Grace.

No one takes VISA…or AmEx. Cash is king. Which leads to…

The plural usage of ATM machine is nonexistent. Actually, any cash machine anywhere is merely a  concept.

How many baguettes and croissants and potatoes have I eaten?  How much jamon & queso can I  eat?   How much red wine (agua de Santiago) has this chardonnay drinker consumed?                                                  Where on earth are the vegetables? I pass fields of green beans and corn. Cannot seem to purchase them in a grocery or at a restaurant.

A great day CAN start without a Starbucks grande vanilla latte!

The most glorious views are revealed following the most arduous climbs.

Lord in your mercy, hear my prayer. 






Lists, Listing and Lapses


In which Heidi deals with overwhelmedness.

I love lists. And nothing beats a 500 mile hike in bringing out the list maker in me.Before I left home, I had a list of my Camino lists.

I have a list of sights I don’t want to miss based on other pilgrim reports. Foncebadon is the site of the Cruz de Ferro. The Iron Cross.


Pilgrims have stopped at this humble monument sitting high above the old  village to meditate, reflect and pray and perhaps leave behind a rock that they have carried from their point of origin. On the rock, according to accounts I have read, are written worries, baggage, struggle and points of deep despair that are left there in Foncebadon…at the foot of Jesus.  Again, the pictures I have seen are very moving. Thousands and thousands and thousands of stones and tokens are pictured at the base of the Iron Cross.


Then we have Pamplona! This town, the only community on the Camino route that I had ever heard of two years ago,  is the site of my first rest stop – meaning two nights in the same place. Alas, I have missed San Fermin this year – but I shall not miss Hemingway’s stomping grounds for The Sun Also Rises. Museums, cathedrals and  Arenas  oh my! Oh yes! Bring on Pamplona.


Somewhere on Day 8, I will come upon the red wine drinking fountains. Built in 1991, the wine fountains are casually located across the way from the local Benedictine Monastery. Pilgrims are encouraged to take a drink with the words:

“Peregrino si quieres llegar a Santiago con fuerza y vitalidad de este gran vino echa un trago y brinda por la felicidad”. (“Pilgrim, if you wish to arrive at Santiago full of strength and vitality, have a drink of this great wine and raise a toast to happiness.”)

Who am I to resist strength, vitality and happiness?

I imagine that each of my days will be filled with medieval cathedrals, statues of local heroes, pastoral scenes and glimpses of a lifestyle of which I have never dreamed. And which certainly have not made any of my lists.

And in case you were wondering, I got everything packed into my backpack from the packing list and sent my walking plan to those who had asked for the itinerary. And to a few who hadn’t asked.

Notably, I only got about ½ done of the “things to do before I leave for the Camino”. So – Sarah and Sarah…your May graduation gifts will come to you in November. And what a surprise that will be…yes?

5 days until I start walking.

God in your mercy, hear my prayer.

5476 Miles

In two years, I want to walk the way of St. James – el Camino de Compostela de Santiago. I want to follow the path of about  215,000 pilgrims who journey annually to the cathedral in Galicia and in the same way that hundreds of thousands of pilgrims have strode the various routes since the 12th century.


Pablo Coelho and Shirley Maclaine have walked and written books about their journeys. Martin Sheen and Emilio Estevez have done some of The Way and made a movie. I guess my turn is coming.

I am Heidi.  I live in Palo Alto and love my lattes and wine. Lest I sound consumed with liquids, I also love my family, my girlfriends, the theatre, art museums, movies, reading and finding people, closets  or events to organize. I am a practicing Catholic and the happy mother of the amazing Olivia and a reluctant mother to the wonder doodle – Daisy.

And why the title – 5476 Miles? That would be the distance between Palo Alto and St. Jean- Pied-de-Port…the starting line for the Camino de Frances. Those first 5000 miles should be fairly sweat-free.

I am setting a date.

AUGUST 22nd, 2016

Why August 22nd?

I’ll still be 60 for the six weeks I figure it will take me  to walk the 500+ miles from Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port to Santiago de Compostela and then the final 50 miles to Finisterre. The end of the world.

Lord in your mercy, hear my prayer.