Finding Our Trail Family on the Camino

Camino Mural

Remembrance and celebration

On our tenth day on the Camino, we were walking through the countryside, headed into Estella. A couple of pilgrims caught up with us and we began the usual friendly exchange. The pair was a father and daughter from Canada and we learned that they were carrying the ashes of the wife/mother.

The daughter told us that her mother had walked the Camino twice and had fallen in love with the Spanish language and culture. She commented that she would have loved to see the poppies blooming.

I gathered through our brief conversation that her mother was able to make one final visit to Spain before losing her battle with cancer.

Now this woman and her father were carrying her ashes to Santiago, fulfilling her final wish.

Later we realized that we never even exchanged names and yet they shared this deeply personal story with us.

How many people have I known for years and never had this kind of connection with?

When we got to Estella, we were hot and needed to rest. We found an albergue that employs people with intellectual disabilities. A sweet man named Carlos stamped our passports and showed us around.

We were both so exhausted that we observed siesta for the first time and passed out. When we woke up a couple of hours later, we went out to explore the town and find dinner.

We were crossing one of the bridges when we heard a familiar voice call out to us. It was Mike, our Australian friend! Reuben, his son, had stayed behind in the albergue because there was a festival going on. Even though he was a performer, the noisy, crowded streets stressed him out.

We had only known them for a few days but it felt like running into an old friend. It was nice seeing a familiar face in the crowd. We sat for a while getting acquainted as the locals paraded through the streets, drinking wine and dancing to the music of the marching band.

The Camino was starting to feel like a big, roving family reunion.

The road less traveled

The next day, we reached another of the points that I had been so excited to see: Fuente del Vino. It’s a wine fountain for pilgrims and the tradition is to drink the wine from your scallop shell. We obliged, of course–who are we to break a tradition?

From the wine fountain, the trail gave us two options. The more common, busier path to Villamayor de Monjardin, or the lesser-traveled route described as “more scenic and peaceful.” We chose the latter and were rewarded accordingly.

When we arrived in Luquin, we learned that “lesser traveled” was an understatement. We were the only pilgrims in the town.

We found the one albergue and called the number on the sign. We waited while the owner came from another village to receive us.

He gave us a brief tour of the albergue which was spread across three floors. It felt extravagant to have this whole place to ourselves. The privacy of a private room but the cost of an albergue–what a treat!

The next morning we were greeted with a huge breakfast spread laid out just for us. We had neither seen nor heard our host come set it out. This place was a real gem.

After we left our little hideaway, we made it a little way down the trail when I heard music playing. It was a familiar sound but I couldn’t place it right away. We turned a corner and I saw a woman playing the accordion. Andy gave her some change and I asked permission to take a video before we continued.

How’s ya blisters, baby?!

We continued our walk to Los Arcos, crossing the rolling farmland and vineyards. Andy’s blisters were getting worse. We stopped so that he could put on a fresh pair of socks. This drew some spectators and commentary from fellow pilgrims passing by.

Because everyone has an opinion on the best way to avoid or treat blisters.

One of the pilgrims that stopped was a jovial Irish man who offered words of encouragement along with his blister advice.

Signage of the Camino

When we got into Los Arcos we claimed the last two beds at the municipal albergue. It wasn’t the spacious solitude we enjoyed the night before, but we were happy to have a bed. Their laundry area had a wringer, the closest thing to an actual “dryer” that we had seen since leaving the States.

Once we stowed our gear, we went back into town for food. We found a sweet little shop that sold wine and homemade baked goods. The woman proudly told me everything was made with “Este y este” (“this and this”). She held up each arm to indicate that she handmade the whole array of items.

We selected a couple of flatbread pizzas and a bottle of wine and walked back toward the plaza. We selected a table away from the crowd and enjoyed our meal, drinking the wine straight from the bottle.

As we finished our meal, we noticed a crowd gathering where someone was performing live music. We got closer and saw that it was the jovial Irish man we saw earlier. He recognized Andy and shouted “How’s ya blisters, baby?!” as he continued to sing and play.

We took a seat to watch the performance and enjoy the atmosphere. The Irish duo had a guitar and a tin whistle and their repertoire seemed endless.

We ordered a pitcher of sangria and joined a table of pilgrims from half a dozen different countries.

We hadn’t been there long when we heard a familiar voice behind us. Australian Mike! And he had another pilgrim with him, someone he had met earlier that day. He introduced us to Nicole, a college student who was from Texas. Practically a neighbor to us!

I could tell she was in distress and she told us she had been having serious pain in her foot. Her parents were worried about the walk causing permanent damage and she was trying to decide whether to keep going.

Mike invited her to walk with us, joining our merry band of slow walkers. I could see her reservation, so I encouraged her. “Oh my gosh, yes! Just walk with us tomorrow, we’ll take it slow and it’ll be great.”

The four of us had already made arrangements to ship our bags ahead the next day for the section described as a “knee wrecker.” It sounded grisly and I didn’t want to take any chances.

We encouraged Nicole to ship hers ahead too, but she wasn’t ready to give up her pack. I could tell she was struggling with slowing down and drastically changing the plan she had in mind for her Camino.

We had deviated from the guidebook long ago and I was in the process of accepting the “hike your own hike” mantra. I wanted to be encouraging and supportive without being overbearing or holding her back.

She eventually agreed to walk with us, so we all made plans for the next morning.

Amigos del Camino Mural

I knew this trail family might not last the whole Camino. We all had our own journeys, motivations, and abilities.

I had been thinking about the woman we met who was carrying her mom’s ashes. We never know how much time we have with people. Family, friends, and strangers we meet on the trail.

I was determined to make the best of the time I was given with my trail family.


  1. Kathy Villarreal aka Mom

    Adventure on….????❤️❤️❤️❤️

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