The final days, bedbugs vanquished, and a vacation after our vacation

(El Camino part 3)

I want to start off here by saying how much I admire Carlo for how he dealt with suffering the brunt of our predicament. For those of you who don’t know him, he’s big hearted, energetic, hard working and optimistic with a great sense of humor. He could have easily sunk into despair, especially being so far from home, and being with friends not family. But no, he often lead the charge and was always quick to turn the negative into the positive. And I could always count on him, when I was exhausted and hurting, to help me out and run that quick errand when I didn’t want to take another step.

Koben’s steady leadership was much appreciated as well. At nineteen, he’s an adult, and I felt that shift in our relationship more than ever. I could count on him to talk through the more difficult decisions and there was an easy flow as to which one of us was holding the group and keeping us together and moving forward. His outdoor and travel experience paid off and I learned from him on this trip.

Casey definitely surprised me. Let’s just say he’s not a morning person so I wasn’t sure how this would go. If he could, he’d sleep every day til noon, but on the Camino we got up most days before dawn and he did so without complaint. He handled the hiking easily and had playfulness and energy to spare at the end of the day. He was helpful, positive, flexible and an all around great companion.

So, back to the story….. we left off after our first night of camping in O’Cebreiro. Our next night we stayed outside on a covered patio at an albergue in Triacastela. We were able to do laundry and had a good dinner in town. The next day was probably my favorite day of hiking. It was misty in the morning and so beautiful.

I stopped in a small art gallery and got my favorite “stamp” of the Camino. Have I mentioned stamps? At the start, everyone gets a “credencial” to prove that they are pilgrims on the Camino. It’s a little book that accordion folds with several blank pages. At every stop – albergues, hotels, restaurants, churches, etc – you can have your credencial stamped to prove that you were there. You have to get one stamp per day (and two per day in the last 100 km) to be official. At the end, in the church office, you show your credencial, and they will give you your final stamp and (for a small fee) your Compostela. The Compostela is a certificate stating that you have accomplished this feat and completed your journey.

I love this watercolor the artist painted for me! I’m not religious but the verse fits.

The day’s walk also featured many “holloways”. I was blown away while I pondered the time and all the travelers who contributed to them. A holloway is a road that is shaped over many years by travel – foot, hoof, and wheel – that is significantly lower than the ground on either side. I’m guessing that these are some of the oldest original sections of the trail and have been formed over many centuries of use.

How many feet have walked here?

Just past Sarria was the best “campsite” we found at a hotel called Casa Barbadelo. They had a pool, which was kind of surreal, but very welcome because, once the mist cleared, the day became very hot and the trail was long, dusty and uphill.

Chillin’ poolside

We asked if we could camp on the property and they let us do so for free as long as we ate dinner in their restaurant. We were happy to oblige and ended up setting up under this tent in a back corner of the property. Notice that it even has electricity for lights and charging our phones!

Glamping, Camino style

We ended up spending a second night here to give ourselves a rest before the final stretch. My feet were really hurting and Koben had a strained muscle so we both needed a day off. It was a good choice and was nice to have a day to relax. It was our one and only rest day over 278 km (167 miles). We played a lot of cards, caught up on laundry and just basically hung out.

Shortly into the next day we passed the much anticipated 100 km-to-go marker.

100 km to go!!!

Our last night of camping was a little rough but still fun none the less. We had already walked 27 km (16 miles) that day and hadn’t found anywhere to camp that had shelter. There were no good prospects so we finally stopped in a cafe and asked the patron if we could camp in the field next door. Apparently, it wasn’t her family’s but when her dad heard what we were asking, he told me to follow him. After trying to bum a cigarette, he took me down the road to his neighbor. The neighbor was happy to oblige the crazy Americans so through the gate we went.

It was a pretty little field and we set up in a shady corner.

A cute, but somewhat mangy, dog even visited us but thankfully didn’t stay for the night.

He kinda looks like our dog, Kody

Without shelter we woke up cold and wet unfortunately, so decided that for our last two nights we would look for small hotels. Our barometer, Carlo, didn’t have any fresh bites so we were feeing confident that our plan was working and that we weren’t carrying any live bedbugs. But to remain vigilant, we ditched another round of our belongings – our sleeping bags, sleep sacks, travel pillows, and anything else we wouldn’t need went into the next dumpster we found. Eggs hatching were our next concern so we kept our packs and things off the floor and away from the beds and furniture so that we wouldn’t risk spreading anything to the hotels.

After a couple more long days but restful nights, we arrived in Santiago de Compostela!

Our final breakfast on the Camino
Starting out on our last morning
The City Limits!

The church was a welcome sight! We hung out for a long time in the plaza in front of the church relaxing in the sun and taking photos. We ran into a few people we had met on the trail and shared our congratulations. We had done it! It was a nice time to reflect on all the good times, the challenges we overcame and everything else in between.

The Cathedral! We did it!

This was, without question, the most demanding physical task I have ever accomplished. I’m a pretty outdoorsy, active person and have pushed myself before, but never for so many days in a row. But, it felt great to know that at 51 I can still (more or less) keep up with my kids. It did take it’s toll, however. Six weeks later and I still have pain in my feet when I walk a lot, especially if I’m not wearing my new shoes. The next time I take on a challenge like this, I will be sure to have a lighter pack and better shoes/boots for the hike. A lot of people had suggested light trail running shoes for the Camino but they just didn’t give me enough support. I also think 20 km (12 miles)/day is a good limit for me.

So here we are at the end, but alas, even this final accomplishment was tainted. Even though we were tired and just wanted to relax and continue celebrating, we still had the last of the bedbug cleanse to complete. This is where we get OCD but we also knew that we would not be easy in our minds unless we took this to the extreme. Not only would we have more hotels to stay in, but we were going to friend’s houses in Barcelona and London (and ended up back in Norway too). There was no way we were going to spend time at more hotels, or anyone’s house, when there was the slightest chance we were bringing bedbugs with us.

So, judge us or think us crazy if you will but we had no guaranteed way of treating our belongings. If we’d just been going home, we would have showered and worn new clothes on the plane, and bagged everything up for six months to a year and felt fine with that. But that wasn’t an option. So we talked a lot with our German acquaintance and basically followed his plan from the previous year. He was doing the same this year, just in case. (Funnily enough, we ran into he and his wife at the mall when they were buying their new clothes too.)

Here was the plan: Basically, we tossed anything made of fabric including our shoes. We bought new, cheap clothes, showered and put them on, careful to put our Camino clothes in a garbage bag without spreading any possible eggs. We cleansed all of our electronics and other non-fabric items with rubbing alcohol (which would dry up any potential eggs). Then, to just make absolutely sure (this is the slightly crazy part) we bought another set of new clothes to wear once we got to our next destination (the cheap clothes were also to be thrown out) .

Was it a pain in the butt (and expensive)? Yes. Was it necessary? Maybe. Am I glad we did it? Absolutely. When we showed up at Jose and Carmina’s house in Barcelona, I was able to smile, hug them and feel 100% confident we weren’t bringing them a major, and potentially, costly hassle.

So, after another day, we were ready to leave Santiago, and decided to treat ourselves to a few days at the beach since Carlo didn’t have to leave quite yet. We certainly earned it! We ended up in Sitges, a small town just south of Barcelona and had a terrific few days. The water was still warm, the weather beautiful and we even got to enjoy a totally insane and fun festival!

Under the Sea…
Festa Major in Sitges!
Yikes! See me hiding?

So, that’s my Camino story, thanks for listening. I think sharing it is part of my therapy! Major takeaways for me? Bedbugs really, really suck but can be dealt with, especially if you catch it in time. I love traveling with my kids and Carlo! Proper footwear is essential. Spain is beautiful! Don’t bring anything you wouldn’t mind throwing away. There are many, many good and generous people in the world who are happy to help when needed. I love adventure and need to make more time for it in my daily life.

3 thoughts on “The final days, bedbugs vanquished, and a vacation after our vacation

  1. Hi Holly – being the non-Facebook person that I am – I’ve been relying on Peter to give me little updates but I am glad I finally read your El Camino blog. What an incredible adventure. I see your now an Asia and have to catch up on all your blogs! So impressed with all of you!

    Liked by 1 person

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