January 28, 2011–from Portmarin to Palais de Rei   Leave a comment

Traveling through Galicia is a joy…meeting up with peregrinos we have met is an added joy….and peeking into life in the villages and towns gladdens my ethnographic heart! We walked all morning and arrived at Erexe (Airexe) and had lunch with pilgrims we had met before: Estevao and Leticia from Brazil, Jose from Madrid.

Jose walked with us to Palais de Rei.

It was a día festivo in Palais–San Tirso, the patron saint’s day–so everything was closed. An elderly woman who told us why everything was closed bemoaned the fact that it was not “como antes, con fiestas el mero día,” now the fiesta will be on Saturday and Sunday; at least they have the decency to close most businesses, she told us. At a bar we were able to check e-mail on the internet. dinner at Restaurant La Cabaña was only 4.20 Euros…but breakfast was 7.10! After dinner, we talked and reminisced with Jose who told us about his life in Cantabria. He “threw” the Tarot cards for us. Mine were enigmatic: stay and write. Creativity kept coming up. I am feeling pressured to finish all my projects–novels, academic books, anthologies, etc.

The albergue where we stay is Os Chacotes right outside of Palas de Rei. The walk over mud and rocks often alongside a highway tired my knees and fee

House with grannery

t. A few stories: Estevao’s about the granneries made us laugh: when he last walked the Camino some villager told him that the granneries held the bones of the deceased and he was to stomp the ground three times and say a prayer each time he saw one. So he did. When he shared the story with a priest a few towns later, he found out it was not true, that the coffin-like structures are really to store grain!

We walked with them as we passed through a town where Carlos V and Felipe II came through. The plaque attests to the fact that here it where they rested–the dilapidated structure does not seem fit for a king or an Emperor .

The bird songs Becky taped  reminded me of home. As we walked through a tiny village the bell tolled announcing a death. For over 15 minutes we heard the tolling…Becky taped it.

I loved the sun and partly cloudy sky. A sliver of a moon at sunset. but not like the one in Ferreiros. The cold I can handle just fine; it’s the rain and snow I fear. I begin to fret over things at home, a student’s dissertation, about my siblings and Mom’s upcoming b’day, about all my projects that lie unfinished. But, I meditate and know that it is not for now–I am to let go and enjoy the present.

As I fall asleep I give thanks for the walk, for the tiredness of my bones and for the company of all who walk with us…

Meditation: Let go of worry. Be in the present. Like the birds and the plants, exist and allow the universe to guide and protect you.


Posted March 18, 2012 by normacantu in Uncategorized

January 27, 2011 Walking in the snow once again….brrrrrrrr   Leave a comment

We left Ferreiros with snow and sleet.

Leaving the Albergue in Ferreiros

The slippery path a challenge for us. Our walking sticks did their jobs and our boots theirs to keep us upright! It was a Thursday. The woman at the restaurant in Ferreiros showed us a magazine article–she and her daughter Natalia are famous because they rescued a pilgrim who almost died. They have served the pilgrims for generations. The daughter is now in Santiago studying at the university. The father has died.

At a cross-roads, the yellow arrow clearly marks the Camino

We arrived in Portomarin in the early afternoon. The albergue also is without menaje but here there is no restaurant so we all pool our meager holdings. The couple from Uruguay has a pot and so we cook our dinner–a watery soup! We contribute our day old bread and some clementines.

A pilgrim shrine...

Along the Camino, on the way to Portomarin

Someone tells us about the local drink, orujo, a liqueur made with herbs; carajillo is coffee with the liqueur.

the church in Portomarín

At dinner, Jose and Ricardo–looks like the couple we met a few days back–they’re Spaniards; there’s also a Korean, and the Japanese scientist. Leticia and Estuvao from Brazil (they have a rock band), knew to bring a pot along; they offer to cook. We laugh and enjoy the meal and the company.

Our makeshift dinner from all of our meager contributions...but we were happy!

Posted February 14, 2012 by normacantu in Uncategorized

January 26, 2012 Sarria to Ferreiros   Leave a comment

Almost there!

We begin our walk along a beautiful path, not too steep, not too wet, not too anything!  But end it with water everywhere along a slippery, wet path that climbs and dips. Well-marked by the yellow arrows, it leads us past the 99.9 Kilometer  marker! We are almost there!

A bird joins us for a while…

wet, slippery path

As I ponder the end of the trip, I wonder how many lessons I have not leaned, how many messages I have not heard. I worry about the ones at home, my family, my students. Daily I dedicate my walk to them, sending them loving kindness and all the good energy from the Camino.

As we ate dessert at the restaurant in Samos,  Cleber our Brazilian friend gave us rosaries and an ribbon bracelet from la Virgen de Nazaret. I remember Maria Gambiel giving me one of these ribbons and tying it around my wrist. I was to wear it til it fell off so that my three wishes would be granted. It stayed on my wrist for almost a year; the three wishes were all granted! I choose not to wear this one, though. He tells us that they are blessed. I keep them in my pack. I get teary thinking of all the people we met and of the bonds of pilgrimming (just made that one up). Joy, is the Korean mother who is walking with her sons. She is hurting and tells us she wants to go with us. Slowly, not rushing like her young sons. but her oldest son decides for her; they will stick together and get to Santiago together.

We begin thinking of what we will do after we end our walk in Santiago. I want to continue to Finisterre, but Becky doesn’t. We will take a bus and spend one day there instead of walking for three days. I agree it makes sense. I want to spend three days in Santiago. We talk of how we will get our stuff at Correos, but before that we must buy a suitcase to fit our purchases, not many, but still it will require a carry-on. I want to look for cheap flights to Madrid from Santiago.

Becky walks past a well marked fork in the road.

We arrive in Ferreiros and stay at the albergue de la Xunta–5 Euros–but the impeccable kitchen has not menaje! That’s right, no pots or pans whatsoever. Primitiva, the hospitalera, nice and accommodating, tells us can leave later than the official posted time of 8 a.m.  She says it is different for winter because it is still dark at 8 a.m. She directed us to a cafe/bar where we had dinner. I ate meat and decide I will stay off beef from now on. I have only had meat 3 times the whole Camino–counting the Caldo Castellano and the meat for New Year’s eve! I wrote in my book that I wish to go vegan but it is not realistic; decide to eat chicken and fish, but no red meats for a year. Then cut off the chicken too. Becky tells me, “you are a spiritual being,” as an explanation for why I should stop eating meat. For dessert I ate a tarta de piña. I don’t think I am losing weight given the meals I have been eating. We walk and I feel light.

I have ideas for poems, plays, stories. One for Champú will be called “First Kiss.”

We share the albergue with a couple from Uruguay. They didn’t end up at the restaurant but went to another place that looked closed down the road. He is young, dark long curly hair; she is short blonde hair and athletic.I seep my last herbal tea bag from the ones Cinthia and Maria gave me for the trip–I have been very frugal.


From my journal:

“This day has been a blessing–Gracias! I see the birds, the tress can now recognize them. The weather is bitter cold, but it is spring and the wild flowers bloom. Streams run with rustling waters from the montains, El Roble. El Castaño. Y el Acebo. Glorious trees, majestic and beautiful, watch over us. We walk on paths carpeted with chestnut and oak leaves. The bare trees are about to burst into bloom; new shoots are about to burst into leaf. The roosters, hens, cows, horses, burros and all other animals surround us placidly going aobut their business as we walk by. The path will be muddy for summer pilgrims!

…I have massaged my feet, made my bed. This trip has meant nothing more than walking to exhaustion and then resting, with time for eating in between. What  a luxury to focus on such basic needs. The spirit of the Camino is in me. I want to serve humanity, find the purpose of my life–or am I already living it? I sense, YES. The prayer of St. Francis is on my mind as I walk. Each step I sing a song of gratitude and see the angels surround us. Three times the nature creatures have healed me and all is well. Even the knee no longer hurts as it did one day. My heart sings with joy. What an incredible gift this trip has been. All whom we have met mirrored and taught me so much. Quintin who is 24 as is Noki and the the older Joy and her sons and the Japanese scientist in Samos  too. Jesus Jato who was born in 1940 teach me. I remain open to it all. Gracias!”


Posted February 14, 2012 by normacantu in Uncategorized

January 25, 2011–From Samos to Sarria   Leave a comment

Chapel on the road to Sarria

We left Samos around 10 a.m. although we got up much earlier. The night before we dined at a real restaurant, A Veiga–the food was excellent. I had merluza a la gallega and menestre de verduras. El camarero, the waiter–Moises–took us back to the albergue because we were running late and they close the door at 10 p.m. His car wouldn’t start and he was mortified fearing that we would be too late. But we got there with 10minutes to spare. The lights were out already and we sneaked into our cots with double blankets–it was so cold! the hand-loomed wool blankets–mine were beige and blue and red. I made a pillow with yet another blanket. Cleber–from Brazil–joined us for dinner. The others were nowhere to be found when we left the monastery tour we made time before mass by finding the restaurant–the kitchen opened at 8:30, just after mass.

Albergue municipal de Sarria

Walking on a somewhat sunny day–what a respite from the fog and drizzle! The path clearly marked. The albergue in Sarria a welcome sight, although it was tricky to find it and climbing that last set of stairs a challenge.

So we walked into Sarria this afternoon and headed for a grocery store. As we were headed back several pilgrims stopped us to ask where the grocery store was located. The Koreans, mostly young men travel alone or in groups. Here it is a group with an older woman we found out later is the mother.

Sarria is the spot many pilgrims choose to start at for if you arrive in Santiago with a credencial stamped from here on in, you get your Compostela just the same as if you’d walked from France.

We went to a papelería and I bought a notebook since my old faithful is about filled up. Wonder if I will ever read my notes; and here I am, now over a year later reading and reminiscing and so wishing I were back on the Camino. Jose wrote an email last week. He too is thinking of us, but he is walking it again.


MEDITATION FOCUS: The Camino starts wherever one chooses. It is the walking that makes it real. Cada quien lo hace a su manera.

The storks reign over everything.

Posted February 14, 2012 by normacantu in Uncategorized

January 24, 2011 — An evening in a Benedictine Monastery Albergue   Leave a comment

We walked into Samos in early afternoon tired and ready for a nap. We only walked 10 km, so it was a brief trek. It was a beautiful walk in beauty and inspirational scenes. Cleber, the Brazilian walked with us for a bit but then passed us. He is staying at the albergue. When we arrive at the albergue next to the monastery, he is already there.

Along the way, we stopped for a bite in one of the small villages near a cow pasture. The birds came by and so did a huge fly, almost looked like a bumble bee. We ate the left over bread from last night and some cheese and gigs plus a bag of potato chips. We must be getting used to the stench of the cattle. The cows were waiting to be led to pasture.

After a rest, we went to a tour of the monastery. Benedictine nuns live here, too, but we don’t see them, just the monks. After the tour we went to see the 1000 year old tree that Quentin told us was a must. Currently only 12 monks live in the monastery and they were all at mass and sang. Their deep sonorous voices — beautiful voices–resonating in the cavernous space although the mass was in a small side chapel not in the main church. The monk at the monastery shop is older; the one who leads the tour is younger. A fire destroyed the monastery including the library. Now, the new one has over 300,000 volumes.Stories of San Benito. Santa Scholastiaca his sister wanted to talk all night he didn’t want to so she prayed for rain; God granted the miracle and they talked all night. In the morning when the storm cleared, she went back to her convent. When he opened the door, a white dove flew out so he knew she was dead.  He had the monks bring her body for burial in teh monastery. Among the precious relics, one finds a thorn from Christ’s crown of thorns. San Julian and Santa Batida are the martyrs of the monastery. Their bodies are here. She was not really martyred as he was killed. The stories abound. The characters are incredible! In the 60s the murals were painted by contemporary painters: Enrique Navarro and Celia Cortez. The guide points to a spot on the mural, draws our attention to a washing machine in the mural! We kill time until mass and after mass we walk to a restaurant for dinner with Cleber. Because we needed to be back by 10 pm and it was really close, the waiter gives us  a ride. We made it just in time! The albergue is freezing cold–I pile up blankets. The older Japanese man who is a retired economist is asleep already.  We are almost there so I know we are to begin the process of reflection. Time to focus on the lessons learned. My resilience. My discipline. My tenacity. The monastery has a beautiful organ, but it goes unplayed. I think of Ray Keck and how he would love to play it.  The 1000 year old cypress is majestic against the blue sky. It is a marker along the Camino although Samos is a bit of a detour.

1000 year old cypress

Samos. Where even the trash cans are in the shape of the viera, the scallop shell. The monastery of Samos, historical and blessed space. Where will it be when there are no more monks? Samos. I will not forget the freezing night I spent there, nor the magical mass shared with the pilgrims. The sound of the benedictine monks’ voices intoning the holy mass. I will not forget Samos.

Posted January 28, 2012 by normacantu in Uncategorized

January 23, 2011 Descent from the heights to Triacastela   Leave a comment

I begin the day walking with mild knee pain! I worry. I realize that my body is reminding me of what an ordeal this walk entails on the physical level and other ways too. We were at the bar having breakfast when Becky did reiki on the knee and it worked! the pain is gone. So we walk and feel the crunch of ice on the road beneath our boots; we walk along muddy path due to the ice melting, and along a rocky path even more slippery. 

In Fontfrias the cows come to welcome us! We keep walking and find a spot with a nice cement bench to rest and have a bite of our bread and cheese. An old woman with missing teeth and bright laughing green eyes comes walking down the street, greets us and offers to make us a bocadillo. We finally relent and say yes and she is off running to a nearby house to fix us the bocadillo. we go on and sit on the bench that is near her place. Moro, the woman’s dog approaches us and then started to fight with a neighbor’s dog, Rufo, the dog that had been lying in the middle of the road–reminds me of Oreo, the neighborhood dog in Laredo. Rufo had also come by to say hello but went back to lying in the street until Moro came up. We were eating when a younger woman, the daughter, came and opened a barn door so we could go in and get out of the wind. When I took my first bite, I must’ve done it “off” because my jaw hurt. We fed Luna, another dog, a piece of bread. The old woman whipped up some crepes for dessert! We asked how much, and she said lo que sea su voluntad. So we gave her 4 Euros each. the crepes were ice cold but sweet and tasty. We continued walking past small villages with the same dank smell–in some places stronger than others. This morning Becky told me a story about her dance teacher in Laredo. I am convinced I want the story for Champú, my novel. I need to interview her. I didn’t sleep well with all the snoring. The same peregrinos as last night are here: Quentin, Brazilian couple, Spanish woman, the men who were at the Valcarce albergue and a woman who passed us earlier in the day. We all eat at the Bar Fernandez; bocadillos was ll that was available. The afrolatina server with an attitude switched with the Brazilian.  Tomorrow we walk to Samos so I must rest. I massage my feet with Vicks Vaporub–at the Estella albergue, Alba told me that it was recommended for tired feet. Fernando who did the pedicure in Madrid had also recommended Vicks for tired feet!

Posted January 27, 2012 by normacantu in Uncategorized

January 22, 2011 O’Cebreiro!   Leave a comment

Arrived in O’Cebreiro around 6 p.m.; the pilgrim mass was at 6:30 at Iglesia Santa Maria Real, so we got the pilgrim blessing. Edita, the hospitalera–she was named after her swedish madrina–works for the Xunta at the albergue that costs 5 Euros as do all the state run albergues in Galicia.

Our walk although rough with very steep climb to over 1000 meters, walking through beautiful little hamlets along the winding river de Valcarce. We saw cows, chickens, many birds. We took the route that went through the “monte” the wild, and again we were glad we did. Along the way we stopped at a vegetarian restaurant, El Capricho de Josana, and had juice. they had a little yorkie that reminded me of Chacho; his name is Tomas. At another stop, in Faba, we ate fruit, nuts. Martha, Sandra and the baby Alba. NO FOTOS, read the sign. Ganesh, Shiva and others greeted pilgrims. We met several older folks; all warned us and urged us to walk along the highway. We didn’t. As we approached O’Cebreiro, tired and walking very slowly, we met a woman who was sprinting along with a huge load of firewood on her back–Que despacio, she exclaimed!  A sign in Faba urged to go by burro or horse to O’Cebreiro.

Once in O’Cebreiro, we talk to the monk at the church; we read about the legend that tells of the miracle. We marvel at the 12th century statue of Santa Maria Real and the chalice and paten of the miracle. Here’s the story. A poor peasant braves  a not unusual snowstorm, to attend mass at the church. As he is about to take communion, the bread and wine become the body and blood of Christ; the priest who witnesses it all also claims that the statue inclines her head to witness the miracle.  In addition, I take photos of the burial place of Don Elias Valiña Sampedro who is credited with having thought of the yellow cross as a sign for pilgrims leading them to Santiago. Allegedly, he is also responsible for restoring many of the sections of the Camino and the chapels along the way, including the buildings in O’Cebreiro. Only four of us attended mass, and we kept our hats and parkas on because it was as cold inside the church as it was outdoors. Another story claims that Queen Isabella stopped her on her way to Santiago. There are claims that this is the oldest church along the Camino.

We shared our dinner with Quentin and the Korean women who are here. There are 12 altogether, including a Brazilian and some Saniards who just began the Camino in Ponferrada. Like life, the Camino begins at different places. Becky and I want privacy but with twelve of us, some of us quite noisy, too, it is not to be. Cell phones. Laughter. Talk. For dinner, Becky and I went looking to buy some veggies, but the only store in town is closed. The owner opened and sold us some potato chips. She gave us an onion and a potato from her own pantry!

I try to forget and be in the present, but mis muertos are with me–tia Licha, Dad, Tino, so many others…I saw my aunt in the old woman who was buying fish off a furgoneta, a small van that goes from town to town selling goods. “Valgame Dios!” she exclaimed when she was told the cost of the fish. Then she rationalized, well, after all, they have to make a living. They have to make money or else they wouldn’t come around. I am amazed by the informal economy we find everywhere.

I dream. I am. I write. The light in me is. Each poem reflects a truth revealed along the Camino. Today’s  lesson: The higher you climb, the closer to heaven! The harder the path, the more you appreciate getting there. Martha told us that she walked the camino –it took 46 days because she took it slowly and meditated along the way. Then she didn’t want to leave Santiago! She felt called. Felt that she needed to serve as others had.

As I fall asleep, I listen to the couple giggling. Becky doing laundry. Someone is talking on the cell phone. Quentin is asleep. Naki is coughing. Tomorrow we will walk 13 miles!

Again, no photos tonight….I will update tomorrow and add them.

Posted January 27, 2012 by normacantu in Uncategorized