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My Camino Pilgrimage in Northern Spain

A good friend gave me an amazing book a few years ago called  “The Pilgrimage” by Paulo Coelho and it had me totally enthralled with the possibility of making my own pilgrimage on the “Road to Santiago” .

4004 Paulo Coelho tells the story of a pilgrimage which is both inspiring and taps into the core of what it means to be human, facing our demons, dreams and everyday challenges of life.

Well it took me 4 years after reading the book to make my own Camino. The following are my day by day observations pulled from my journal accompanied with my photographs.

“The Camino de Santiago (Latin: Peregrinatio Compostellana, Galician: Camiño de Santiago), also known by the English names Way of St. James, St. James’s Way, St. James’s Path, St. James’s Trail, Route of Santiago de Compostela, and Road to Santiago, is the name of any of the pilgrimage routes, known as pilgrim ways, to the shrine of the apostle St. James the Great in the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia in northwestern Spain, where tradition has it that the remains of the saint are buried. Many follow its routes as a form of spiritual path or retreat for their spiritual growth.” Wikipedia

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Saying Goodbye to my Mom and Dad on Long Island before leaving for the airport.

May 14, 2017 9:15pm

I’m boarding the plane for Madrid. Its been a very hectic day saying goodbye to my brother Terry and my parents on Long Island. I’m ready to embark on my Camino pilgrimage in Northern Spain. It’s hard to believe this day actually arrived after months of research and planning. May the good Lord bless and guide me on this 16 day walking sojourn from Leon, Spain to mile marker 0 on the coast of Spain.

May 15, 2017 7:30pm

I made it to Madrid after a 7 hour flight and then boarded a high speed train for Leon, Spain where I will start my Camino. Leon is a beautiful, historic town with narrow side streets, lots of activity in and around the outdoor cafe’s and a beautiful Cathedral. Once I got settled at my hostel, I went to the Cathedral and thanked God for getting me to Spain smoothly. Afterwards I spend 90 minutes exploring the city and then sat down at an outdoor cafe and ordered a beer and pizza in Spanish. Feeling anxious about starting my journey tomorrow.

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Leon Cathedral, Leon Spain

May 16, 2017 Day #1 Leon to Libertad

I had a rough night sleeping due to my anxiety about embarking on this difficult challenge and concern about my new hip. I finally fell asleep and then woke up, packed my bag and went down to the restaurant and had a great breakfast. Wouldn’t you know it…I left my little bag with my passport and wallet on the chair in the dining room. Once I realized it, I ran back in a total panic and after asking fellow pilgrims and the waitress I found it behind a woman’s coat draped over the chair I was sitting in.  Wheew! What a way to begin my Camino. I walked out of the hotel and started walking towards the Camino trail. It didn’t take long for me to get lost.  Luckily, while I was looking at my map a big, burly pilgrim came by and asked me if I was lost.

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Day #1 Hiking the Camino Trail with Camino John

His name was Camino John and he took me under his wing for the entire day, walking with me and sharing his Camino stories and giving me tips from everything from managing blisters to how to greet fellow pilgrims with “Buen Camino”. Camino John walked with me for 28k and literally dropped me off at my tourist hotel in the quiet, almost deserted town of Libertad, Spain. My anxiety level went down considerably thanks to Camino John’s advice and getting my first day of hiking behind me.

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Camino John my first Guardian Angel

May 17, 2017 7:00 pm Astorga, Spain

What an incredible day it’s been! Walked about 5k before the rain started. Once it started coming down heavy I put on my red poncho and slogged on….and on….and on for almost 30klm for about 6 1/2 hours. My feet were soaked and sore and I basically stumbled one foot in front of the other into my hotel. I enjoyed meeting and chatting with fellow Camino pilgrims as we all walked through mud, puddles, rain and sharing the misery of hiking in the rain. Most people on the Camino are nice and polite, but reserved. You just say “Buen Camino” and walk on and maybe say Hola and ask where are you from?

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Day #3 Camino Trail with Mile Marker and Cross

I’m 64 and have led a full life filled with good times, sad times, travel, disappointments, emotional pain and my share of joy as well. That’s what the journey of life is all about and the Camino pilgrimage is essentially a metaphor for life. There are good days, rainy days, pain as in the blisters on my feet and people going along the path with you dealing with there own personal issues and just slogging forward doing the best they can with what is dealt to them.

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Astorga Castle, Astorga Spain

While I was getting ready for a shower Camino John knocked on my door to check on me. Its like God sent me a guardian angel to help me out. He told me what to buy for my blisters so I went to the farmacia and got some clear adhesive to put over my blisters. Problem solved! The view from my hotel window was fantastic.  It was like looking out at a postcard of a magical castle in a children’s fairy tale.  After tending to my blisters I bought a ticket and toured the Castle.

May 18, 2017 6:00pm Astorga to Convento de Foncebadon

3rd day on the Camino. Another long day walking the Camino trail. Today’s hike was a little easier because it was not raining. It was surprisingly chilly and I’m glad I brought a flannel shirt with me. I met up with Camino John again and we walked together most of the day.  Tomorrow looks like a very long day of walking. I have to hike 32k to get to my next hostel. So far the Camino has been amazing and a real challenge.  This little town I’m staying in is essentially for pilgrims. There are people here from all over the world. I just met a Mom and her 2 daughters from Ohio.  Its refreshing just how friendly and kind all the pilgrims are to one another.

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A typical trail on the Camino – Pilgrims up ahead and also behind me

May 19, 2016 6:30pm Foncebadon to Ponferrada

Today was a very difficult day of hiking. I got a good early start from the hotel and began hiking up a steep mountain. In a matter of 10 minutes it was snowing lightly and it got very cold. I thanked God that I thought to bring a hoodie, woolen hat and an insulated undershirt. I would have been miserable if I didn’t have some worm clothes for this high altitude mountain weather. Its amazing what you can accomplish when you just put one foot in front of the other for 7 hours. After about an hour of hiking I came across a tall cross that had thousands of rocks and mementos all around its base. Pilgrims left rocks and other memorabilia  signifying all their worries and troubles being left behind on this Camino.

Tall Cross that Pilgrims leave mementos and rocks that represent their problems at the foot of the cross

There was a humble little sanctuary along the trail this morning and I stopped in and lit a candle and said a prayer for a safe and successful Camino. This sojourn is a magical and spiritual experience. All the little towns and villages in Northern Spain are deserted for the most part. Seems like catering to the needs of Camino pilgrims is the main business in all the small Spanish towns on the Camino trail.

Shrine to Santiago on the Camino Trail

May 20th, 2017 PONFERRADA -VILLAFRANCA DEL BIERZO

Hot sunny day on the Camino trail today. Weird how it snowed yesterday and today its hot with the sun blazing down on me. Only had to hike 24k so I got to my hostel by 2:30pm even though I got lost for a short while. I met another guardian angel named Anna from the Ukraine today. She was very kind and helped me find my hostel with her IPhone GPS. There was an alternative route and we somehow got on the highway route. We navigated our way back to the trail thanks to Anna’s Google Maps.  Anna didn’t have a Camino shell to put on her backpack so I gave her my extra one. Needless to say God was watching over me and dropped Anna in just the right place to help me. Each day on the Camino trail I am reminded to “Trust in God”!

Old Roman Bridge on the Camino Trail

May 21, 2017 VILLAFRANCA DEL BIERZO – CEBREIRO

Today was my most difficult day on the Camino so far. I went to bed early so I could get an early start on my 32k hike through the mountains. I decided to take the more difficult mountain route instead of the highway option. It seemed I would never get to the village of Cebreiro. I walked for 8 ½ hours through some very rough mountain terrain. The last 3k were the most challenging considering my feet were swollen and blistered. This village is on top of a mountain 1600 meters above sea level. After checking into my hostel  I visited the beautiful church and showed up just as mass was about to start. It was in Spanish, but even though I didn’t understand a great deal it was good to end my day with mass.

                                             Rugged Terrain on the way to Cebreiro

May 22, 2017 CEBREIRO – TRIACASTELA

I just completed my 7th day on my Camino. The weather has been perfect for hiking and the scenery is absolutely breathtaking. I met some very nice pilgrims along the way today. The last 3k went very quickly due to meeting a guy from Colorado who shared my passion for photography. We stopped multiple times to take photographs of the ancient stone buildings, weathered old doors and windows we stumbled upon in the little villages on the Camino trail. The Camino for me is more than just a spiritual journey. It’s an opportunity to meet people from all over the world – it’s also a personal challenge to overcome both physical and mental obstacles that confront me each day on the trail.

Walking through a quiet Spanish Village on the Camino Trail

May 23, 2017 TRIACASTELA – SARRIA

I woke up in my little room this morning, packed up quickly and had breakfast consisting of toast, cheese, OJ and coffee con leche and then hit the road. I love meeting people from all over the world. Making conversation with my fellow pilgrims from Ireland, Brazil, South Korea, Spain, Germany and England helps the time go by as we walk hour after hour on the Camino trail. Sure I enjoy the solitude of walking as well, but part of the Camino experience is connecting with fellow pilgrims and sharing stories and our reasons for doing the Camino. I met 2 very nice college students from Virginia. It was great walking with them and sharing our faith and our Camino experiences as we hiked through Northern Spain. After about 2k out on the trail this morning we were blessed with a blanket of clouds spreading across the mountain range and valley below the path. It was truly a magical and almost surreal scene. After taking a few photographs I just stood and looked out at the scene and savored the moment – a visual blessing.

White Clouds hovering on the Mountain

Being “in the moment” is very important on the Camino. Today was just a series of rolling hills, beautiful forests, bubbling brooks and fields filled with multi-colored wild flowers and grazing cows complimented with the sound of pilgrims boots crunching the gravel and stones on the rocky path.

Sometimes we had to wait for Cows to pass by before we could continue on our Camino

I keep thinking I’m going to experience some kind of spiritual epiphany, but after 8 days of hiking I’m coming to realize this journey is more about being surrounded by great people from all walks of life and being part of something bigger than myself. We are all part of humanity and are searching for something on the Camino.

Looks like rain for tomorrow. That to is part of the Camino. I’ll just have to put on my poncho and deal with it.

May 24, 2017 6:00pm SARRIA – Portomarin

It was just another long day on the Camino. Its pretty awesome waking up and hitting the trail after breakfast to see a line of pilgrims hiking both in front of me and lined up for ½ mile behind me. This morning there was a shroud of fog blanketing the trail and it looked like the pilgrims in front of me were being swallowed in it.

 

Camino Pilgrims hiking into the morning Fog

Its really nice how homeowners and farmers along the trail leave food, fruit and drinks on tables in front of their homes and farm houses for the pilgrims passing by – just for a donation.

Everyone is on this Camino journey for a variety of reasons. I wonder if anyone truly finds enlightenment? Do they grow in their faith? Do they just see this Camino as a personal physical challenge? I suppose its a combination of these things – it is for me. I feel my faith and trust in God growing, yet I haven’t experienced any major epiphanies so far and probably will not.

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My New Friends from South Korea and China

One lesson I’m learning on Camino is to enjoy each and every moment God has given me on this earth. The older I get the more I’m becoming aware of this simple reality.  So it looks like rain again…I’m just going to have to suck it up, put on my orange poncho and start walking. This pilgrimage is not suppose to be easy – its a time for serious reflection and introspection.

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Rainy Day on the Camino – Must Continue Moving Forward

May 25, 2017 6:45pm Portomarin -PALAS DE REI, Spain

I’ve been on the Camino trail for 10 days now. 3 more days of hiking and I will get to Santiago and then I’ll take a rest day before setting out for the ocean and mile marker 0. Its so cool to see so many pilgrims in multi-colored clothes and backpacks both lined up in front of me and behind me.  We are all on the same journey to Santiago and that’s what brings us all together – there is a sense of camaraderie among all the pilgrims although some are eager to chat as they pass you by and some just nod and give me a “Buen Camino” and move on.

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Fellow Camino Pilgrims on the Trail

It was great having the opportunity go to to mass at the church in Palas De Rel tonight. Just being be in church with my fellow pilgrims and receiving communion was a perfect ending to my day topped up with a great pilgrim meal at the hotel complimented with a delicious local red wine.

May 26, 2017 6:00pm PALAS DE REI, -ARZUA Spain

Today was one of the more difficult days hiking on the Camino. It rained all day soaking all the pilgrims to the bone. My feet were wet and shoes weighed me down like bricks as I walked. Just as I was feeling tired and a bit discouraged I met up with Madison and Shelby – the 2 college students I had met a few days earlier. Just meeting up with them picked up my spirits and gave me the energy to slog on in the pouring rain. We hiked on and shared the misery together chatting about life, college and our faith. They hiked faster than me so I forced myself to step it up and keep up with them making for a shorter day on the trail.

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Taking a break from the rain with my new Camino friends Madison and Shelby

So many thoughts run through my mind as I hike towards Santiago hour after hour. Thoughts of my relationship with God, reminisce about the hills and valley’s of my past, think about the future and pray, pray and pray.  Its pretty amazing what a human being is capable of when he/she puts their mind to it. My feet are sore, blistered and swollen, but once I get in the zone of walking the pain and discomfort seems to fade away. I’ve been walking for 11 days now – 2 more days to my fist destination…Santiago.

May 27, 2017 6:30pm ARZUA to the little village of RUA, Spain

Today was not as difficult as the past few days on the trail. I enjoyed walking with a fellow pilgrim from Scotland who was my age and knew a great deal about art and photography so we had a lot to talk about.  That’s another thing great about the Camino  – meeting new friends along the way.  Conversation makes time fly by and takes your mind off the pain of blisters, sore legs and wet feet.  My fellow pilgrims are from all walks of life. We are all part of the human condition. We all have our hopes, dreams, fears, joys and disappointments and ponder them as we carry on.

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Shadow Portrait with a fellow Pilgrim on the Camino

We are all on this journey together. I think the biggest “take away” about the Camino is the sense of “camaraderie” I have with my fellow pilgrims. Tomorrow I’ll be walking to Santiago. Phase I of my Camino Pilgrimage will be completed.  I’ll take a rest day in Santiago and then get back on the trail for a 4 day sojourn to the beach and mile marker 0.

May 28, 2017 RUA to Santiago, Spain 7:00pm

I made it to Santiago!!! What an incredible journey the past 2 weeks have been. I woke up in a little hostel in Rua, Spain just 20k from Santiago.  I walked as fast as I could to make it to the Pilgrim Mass at the Santiago Cathedral that was to start at 12:00 noon. Unfortunately I got to the Cathedral 10 minutes late and the doors were closed.

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Exterior of Santiago Cathedral – Waiting on Line to get to the Pilgrim Mass

Luckily I met up with my South Korean friends that I had met a few days earlier and we went out for a great lunch celebration.The city was buzzing with activity and pilgrims from all walks of life converged on the city and the cathedral.

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Having Lunch and Beers with my new friends Hwi and Paul  from South Korea Taking a moment to celebrate making it to Santiago.

I will admit this Camino pilgrimage was not exactly what I thought it would be. I’m not sure I even knew what to expect. One thing I do know. God had my back the entire Camino and sent me guardian angels whenever I got lost or needed some kind of help. I’m going to take a rest day tomorrow and prepare myself for my final 90k hike to the ocean. Part of me is ready to go home since I made it to Santiago and received my Camino completion Certificate. The other part of me is up to the challenge. What’s another 90k after already walking 340k.  My Camino pilgrimage brought issues of faith and mortality into perspective for me. No matter where we are on this earth we are on a journey that leads to death and I believe “hopefully” eternity with Christ.

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My Pilgrim Passport, Shell and Completion Certificates

May 29, 2017 Santiago Spain – Rest day

Santiago is a beautiful “old” Spanish city with narrow streets, crooked side alleys, pilgrims at every turn, outdoor cafe’s, churches, tourists and locals galore.  Travel is a beautiful thing – a learning experience and yet it also can make you feel a little vulnerable as well. I have been blessed throughout the pilgrimage so far. Everyone I met have been so kind, friendly and helpful. Earlier today I bumped into my new friend Ryan from China who had bought a post card and wanted to mail it to my home in the states. I gave him my address and he wrote it out in front of me while we sat and had a beer at a cafe.

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New Friend Ryan from China showing off the Post Card he is mailing to me

Ryan told me the Camino for him was all about meeting good people from all around the world and I agreed with him.  It is a large part of what makes the Camino so special.  The people, camaraderie, fellowship and conversations along the way.

Camino #II – Hike to the Ocean and Mile Marker 0

May 30, 2017 Santiago to NEGREIRA 7:30 AM

I now set out on my last phase of my Camino journey. Hiking from Santiago to a town called Finisterre situated at the ocean.This hike should take me 4 days and then I’ll take a bus or a taxi back to Santiago and from there a train to Madrid.

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View of the Santiago Cathedral as I leave the City for the Ocean

Walked about 22k today and made it to my hostel in Negreire, I’m about 68k from the ocean. Just 3 more days walking this last leg of the Camino and I’ll be finished. Even though I met a lot of pilgrims on my Camino to Santiago this final journey is very lonely with only a few pilgrims hiking to the ocean.

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Deserted Northern Spanish Street during Siesta Time

So much of Northern Spain is very rural and seems deserted – especially in the little towns and villages.  The only activity is centered around the cafe’s and Albergues. Cafe culture is truly unique and comforting for the pilgrims. Its so cool how a free appetizer always comes with any beer, coffee or glass of wine that you order. I’ve made a meal from some of the hearty appetizers brought to me when I just order a cold drink of coffee.

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Sharing a Meal after Pilgrim Mass in Santiago with my friends from Minnesota

The Pilgrim Meal…..Camino Pilgrims that carry the pilgrim passport get a dinner meal at almost all restaurants along the Camino called the Pilgrim meal. You are not going to believe this deal. Basket of bread, bottle of water, bottle of red or white wine, giant salad with tuna or pieces of fish, chicken, meat or fish with potatoes and desert for 10E which translates to about $11 – needless to say I’m replacing all the calories I burn hiking each day.

May 31, 2017 2:40pm NEGREIRA -Olveiroa

Today was a very introspective hike through some incredibly scenic and lush countryside. My first 2 hours of walking was through a haunting mist of fog – it was almost surreal and put me in a very reflective mood. I really did some serious soul searching. Pondered the past and thinking about the choices I’ve made over the years both good and bad.  Sure I can dwell on these things, however I can’t change the past – I can only accept it for what it was and move on like I am doing on this Camino.

Ferns and Fog

The past 15 days have gone by fast. Just like life. Just 2 more days of hiking and I’ll be at the ocean and mile marker 0. What an amazing / life changing experience this Camino has been. I’ve been thinking a lot about mortality today – I passed a cemetery and it struck me how we are all going to die. Young people don’t think about this reality, but when you get older like me in mid-60’s it’s something you start thinking seriously about.  The Camino forces you to go inward and reflect on your life – the good, the bad and the ugly.

Mile Marker in the Fog – Getting Closer to the Ocean

Its weird how walking for long periods of time can put you in a meditative state of mind. I’ve never hiked for so many hours and days in my life. As I walked today I just kept feeling how good it is to be alive and what a beautiful world we live in. This Northern Spanish countryside is absolutely breathtaking – I feel like I am walking through a postcard.

Green Grass and Blue Sky with winding trail

June 1, 2017 Olveiroa -CEE Spain

I’m going to take it slow today because I only have about 23k to walk to my next destination. My final hike to the ocean will be tomorrow and the end of my Camino sojourn. This second phase of my Camino is very different than my pilgrimage to Santiago. There are much less pilgrims on this trail and the landscape is different. It’s expansive with rolling hills, flower filled meadows and dense forests as well. This is certainly a more contemplative phase of my personal journey. I feel my anxiety leaving me as I get closer to the ocean and the end of my Camino.

Fields along the Camino covered in multi-colored wildflowers

When I checked into my little hostel in Cee, Spain the chef who was also the owner was very nice and accommodating. After he checked me in he asked if I was hungry and he made me some fresh sardines with the heads and tails still on them. They were actually delicious washed down with a cold Galacian beer.  The man was so nice he even carried my bag to my room. Needless to say I was ready for a nap before exploring the city.

Sardines for Lunch

What’s so therapeutic  about the Camino is you step out of your normal daily routine and out of your comfort zone. Its a time for self reflection, prayer and some serious soul searching.  Tomorrow is my last day of the Camino. Its hard to believe I’ve been walking for 16 days. It went by incredibly fast. My pilgrimage has changed my perspective on life – not dramaticall,y but in a subtle, more subliminal way.

June 2nd 2017 7:30 am CEE – Finisterre, Spain “End of the Camino”

Today is my final day on my Camino pilgrimage. It is  a bittersweet feeling knowing that I will accomplish this difficult challenge. I’ve met so many people from all over the world – each person on his/her journey with their own personal issues to work through. Everyone on this Camino pilgrimage is walking to Santiago and/or the ocean for a variety of reasons. It may be spiritual growth, a personal physical challenge or just out to enjoy a long challenging hike while on holiday. Its heart warming to see so many people come together with a common destination and be so kind and helpful to one another.

The final hike to the ocean

June 2nd. Continued 12:00 noon

I completed my Camino! I walked from Leon, Spain to the Ocean about 260 miles (420k). Don’t ask me how I did it. I just put one foot in front of the other for 16 days and I got here.  So many feelings and emotions going through me right now. I walked another 5k to the lighthouse and mile marker 000. I feel accomplished and very pleased I was able to persevere. I’m tired, but not burned out. It’s even a bit anticlimactic.

Made it to Mile Marker 0 at the ocean in Spain

My #1 Lesson learned on the Camino was to TRUST IN GOD! Yes…he was there for me every step of the way. He never let me down. Whenever I got lost or ran into a problem God sent someone to help me find my way.

Lesson #2 is that people are relatively the same from all over the world. We all have  hopes, fears, dreams, joys and disappointments in life.  The Camino renewed (enhanced) my faith in people, especially being away from news and politics for 3 weeks.

I ended my Camino journey at the Pilgrim Mass back in Santiago. I got a ride back with some pilgrims from Minnesota who offered me a ride in their rental van. Words can’t describe the spiritual experience I encountered during the ceremony – especially at the end of mass when the priests swung the giant incense burner called a “Botafumeiro ” over the alter.

Pilgrim Mass at the Santiago Cathedral with Botafumeiro

The Botafumeiro is a famous thurible found in the Santiago de Compostela Cathedral (in the past similar devices were used in large churches in Galicia, nowadays sometimes is used in the Tui Cathedral). Incense is burned in this swinging metal container, or “incensory”. The name “Botafumeiro” means “smoke expeller” in Galician. Wikipedia

BUEN CAMINO!!!

The following are more photographs from my Camino. Click on each thumbnail to enlarge.

 

 

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13 comments on “My Camino Pilgrimage in Northern Spain

  1. Donnie baby
    June 16, 2017

    Very cool, Patty me lad……

    • Patrick Keough
      June 16, 2017

      Thanks Don!!! We need to get together soon! Smoke some fat cigars and drink some good beer.

  2. souldiaries
    June 16, 2017

    So inspiring!!! My sister has wanted to do it for s while and def think it will be skmehij b for us to do. Thanks for sharing this journey 😘😘😘

  3. Trish Hayes
    June 16, 2017

    Great photos, Patrick…I’m ready to go!

  4. Pablo Zevallos
    June 16, 2017

    Patrick thanks for sharing your journal with me. Inspiring words and photos.

  5. Charles Strange
    June 17, 2017

    Thanks for posting this, Patrick. I’m planning my annual summer month in Europe right now but I’ll save Spain and the pilgrimage for when I retire in a year and can go during the cool weather. Great pictures, great narrative. Thanks again.
    Charlie

    • Patrick Keough
      June 17, 2017

      Yes Charles….make sure you give yourself plenty of time to do the Camino. It is a life changing journey. Its a good idea to start training about 3 months before you go. Do a lot of hiking with a pack as part of your training program. I used Camino Ways to help me plan my Camino. They are very good and will assist you in designing/planning your own Camino. http://caminoways.com/

  6. Patrick Keough
    June 18, 2017

    Yes Charles I saw the movie – it gives a slight glimpse into the Camino but Martin Sheen overacts in it in my opinion. This is a fantastic book about the Camino written by a Catholic priest. It is very true to the Camino and what to expect. Great read! https://www.amazon.com/Field-Stars-Pilgrims-Santiago-Compostela/dp/0802825923#reader_0802825923

  7. Mary Flanagan
    June 21, 2017

    This has been such a monumental undertaking that I just can’t believe it…after reading this blog….and knowing what courage it took to accomplish this pilgrimage all alone, I have greater admiration than ever before. YOU DID IT MAN!!!!…you really did….an incredible example of self confidence and endurance……Glad your home safe ..Love Maryann

  8. Mary Flanagan
    June 21, 2017

    Time to write that book!!!!!

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This entry was posted on June 16, 2017 by in Keough Journal, Photography, Travel and tagged , , , , , , .

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