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Saturday, November 2, 2019

Wrap-up and Final Thoughts?

Wrap-up and Final Thoughts?

Total  Ireland: 52 miles.
Total  Spain: 77 miles.
Total  Switzerland: 131 miles.
Total This Camino: 260 miles.
Total All Caminos: 1365 miles
Intercontinental Airplane Tickets: $2000
Inter Europe Airplane Tickets: $770 ($300 Ireland -> Spain) ($220 Spain -> Switzerland) ($250 Switzerland -> Portugal) 
Lodging (Ireland) $525
Trains/Buses (Ireland): $50
Taxis (Ireland): $80
Lodging (Spain): $120
Trains/Buses (Spain): $35
Taxis (Spain): $25
Lodging (Switzerland): $815
Trains/Buses (Switzerland): $130
Taxis (Switzerland): $20
Lodging (Portugal): $25
Trains/Buses (Portugal): $10
Total Lodging: $1485
Total Transportation (Trains/Busses/Taxis): $350
Total (not including food): $4600

Notable memories

During Camino 2019 over 30 days, I thru-hiked 260 miles in Ireland, Spain and Switzerland, starting on the west coast of Ireland on the Dingle Peninsula, then next to Galicia Spain, walking to Santiago de Compostela, and finally crossing Switzerland from the French border and climbing 7000 feet in the Swiss Alps to the Great Saint Bernard Pass on the Italian border.

Yet despite sets of beautiful sights, quiet pleasing sounds and a plethora of sweet smells, a theme to link the entire journey into a seamless story, proved one step too far. I am left with only a series of anecdotes.

On Ireland's west coast, the deep-blue Atlantic Ocean joined with the wind-blown, white-capped Ventry Bay.

On the north shore of the Dingle Peninsula, the exhausting Mt Brandon rose over 3000 feet from Feohanangh (Fi-o'-nak), and where, on the descent, the slickness took my feet out from under me, rolling down the mountainside, ending up with mud all over and a tattered ego.

In the streets of Ferrol, in Galicia Spain, the dusk light played a trick of the imagination run wild and created a gathering of ghosts, spirits who stood mutely in the rain, lining a restaurant patio to startle the passers-by. A trick of the streetlights in the rainy darkness? An over-active imagination? Yes. Or a window on another world? Maybe.

In Santiago de Campostela, Jesús and I shared one last meal together, talked over the past days and looked forward to what the future held. As we said good-bye, we wished each other well and, of course, 'Buen Camino'. Jesús is at this moment walking the Dingle Peninsula, inspired by someone else's stories of beauty.

Lake Geneva, also known as Lac Leman, with a view of the Alps reaching skywards, sits between France and Switzerland. The Dutchman Antonio, a vagabond pilgrim hiking to St Peter's Basilica in Rome, and I broke bread there and extended our wishes before separating on the trail.

Walking farther and farther into the Rhone Valley, the terraced vineyard slopes of the Alps kept narrowing the landscape of the plain.  Having climbed 4000 feet on the previous two days, the final day Regina and I tackled the last 3000 feet climb to Col du Gran San Bernado, the Great St Bernard Pass. Getting lost, finding the trail, always onward, always upward, the final steps to the top ended in strong emotions of pride and self-satisfaction. Admittedly it was a small part of the Alps, but a thru-hike of the Alps nonetheless. There Italy lay before us, now scant steps away, and tho' neither of us crossed the border, ten days ago, she was a hundred miles in the distance.

This Camino, this set of trails, was like nothing experienced before. Whereas every other Camino unified under some significant thought, there were no profound moments of inner realization, no brilliant insights nor any deep philosophical moments. The trail conditions did not allow for self-realization, constantly demanding my focus and attention on the roots and stones, and the foot-wide trails with steep ravines with fall-offs, measuring hundreds of feet.

Dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin and endorphins are the body's mechanisms for creating happiness. The beauty of mother nature, the interaction with hiking companions, the relaxation under a tree and the self-satisfaction of a challenge met and conquered all lead to happiness in the moment. On the other hand, constant challenge and increased demands for alertness lead to the production of cortisol. The former leads to self-reflection. The latter leads to stress. And that interferes with the mind's ability to process at a deeper, reflectional level.

Without the opportunity for introspection to create a unifying framework, I didn't figure anything out. Without that framework, I can't say that I'd undergone a profound change.

At a minimum and at the maximum, Camino 2019 happened with a raft of physical challenges met head-on and conquered.

It was almost a letdown that there was not some flash of realization, a quasi-religious 'acid trip', so to speak. The id, primitive and instinctual, kept driving forward against the physical challenges. The ego, with its realism, balanced risk versus reward on the trails. The super-ego, the conscience, submerged into the constant attention to terrain and conditions, had little time or energy to ponder deeper meanings.

What remains at the end of it all is only a persistent soft-watt light bulb illuminating the darkness. There are shadows, and traces of light all over, revealing indistinct and out-of-focus  objects. The shapes are visible so that I don't run into them, but any recognizable pattern is absent.

And that is the crux of the confusion, the bewilderment. Everything wanted out of this adventure and everything expected out of it did not happen, while all kinds of unforeseen challenges and unanticipated consequences took place all around me.

Weeks later, the encounters and anecdotes and stories remain somehow disconnected.

At some point in the future, the greater context of all those moments will gel into a narrative.
An overarching theme will emerge from these moments to sort out the chronological set of stories.

Not to be nihilistic, but this Camino was so different from the hopes and expectations that I found little time for spiritual meaning.

Perhaps the final meaning of the trails, mountains and loneliness is like the hapless person who finds him/herself transported to a strange universe in a strange state of being and not being.

Rod Serling might say: "The journey is complete. Or is it? We leave our sojourner neither at the beginning nor the end, neither inside nor outside, but only one step away from "Twilight Zone."


It's just under three weeks since I returned from hiking Europe. Tonight I went to see the Brad Pitt movie "Ad Astra". It hooked me because the central character's main issue is what I felt. Disconnectedness. Life being a series of events, forward propelled by forces not under control.

At the end, Maj. McBride realizes what is important, what connects him to the world. To paraphrase the principal character's final dialog:
"All we have is each other. I know what matters and I focus on the important, the essential. I am loved, and I love, and I am in love."

The Camino provides.

Saturday, October 26, 2019

Day 29 Porto, Portugal to Rochester NY

From Porto, Portugal to Rochester NY

Total This Camino: 260 miles.
Total All Caminos:  1365 miles

07:15. Up and getting ready
08:30 On metro and on way to airport.
0900 Arrive airport
09:15 Thru security. One more cafe con leche and flan.
12:10 Depart Porto.
13:10 Arrive Lisbon. Cleared immigration outbound.
17:10 Depart Lisbon.
20:00 Arrive JFK
22:30 Leave JFK.

00:15 Arrive Rochester. Back home. Carlos and Adriana meet me at the airport.

Notable memories

The actual day of travel went really well. No issues. Everything went according to schedule.

I think the one thing that I could say was notable was my arrival at Rochester airport at 12:45 in the morning, and seeing my wonderful granddaughter and amazing son, there in the airport waiting for me.

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Day 27 - 28 Porto

Porto, Portugal

Date10/14 - 16/19
Hostel/Albergue: Albergue de Peregrinos do Porto @ 24 eu; 2 nights.

Time to come home

Eu nao falo portugues.        I don't speak Portuguese.


Rain, rain and more rain.

Stopped in a supermarket to treat myself to a new tooth brush. The simple things of life.

Signed up for an afternoon tour of Porto. Since it is going to be raining all day, might as well use the guided tours.


Woke up this morning to another pouring rain. I began to ask myself, how much do I want to do this some more. Yesterday the weather report was not bad, but it seriously deteriorated overnight.

As I was sitting at the breakfast table in the albergue, I realized I had done enough. Maybe if I was going to have good weather, I could have stuck it out. But I think in my heart, I was really ambivalent. And the rain just pushed it over the edge.

So I'm spending the day in Porto. I'm walking around during the morning, taking an afternoon guided tour and then we'll see about the evening.

But this time tomorrow, I will happily be returning to my loved ones.

Took the metro downtown for practice.

Walking to that famous bookstore but the line was huge to get in.

Walk down to the river, literally. Took a tram back up to the top of the hill. Walked across the Ponte Luis I bridge over the Rio Douro.

Had pizza in Jardim do Morro park while it poured cats and dogs.

Had chocolate cake and a latte, waiting for the tour to start

Notable memories

I've had so little time for thought and reflection on this hiking experience.

Walking the camino, I finally realized is about walking. True it's amazingly long distances, but it's walking.

Ireland and Switzerland were stone cold hiking experiences. I didn't have time to think and reflect because I had to keep watching where I was stepping to avoid injuring myself.

 It's a whole different mindset. On the Camino my thoughts could wander.

In Ireland and Switzerland letting my thoughts wander could have gotten me hurt seriously.

Only now one month later after starting it, do I realize this important distinction.

And perhaps that is why the entire vacation I've had an uneasy feeling in my belly that I was missing something. I was missing special people.

And the nature of the hiking experience didn't give me time to think of them. Only at night in the dormitories was I able to unwind and remember the joys back in Rochester. A good woman, amazing grandkids, a wonderful son and daughter-in-law and supportive family.

Sometimes the Camino is closer to home and doesn't need to be across the ocean.


Rio Douro

Walking around

Best chocolate cake in the world and a latte

Torre de Clérigos

Partly sunny, partly cloudy, not raining, really raining

Igreja Dos Clérigos

 Port tasting

Porto train station

Sunday, October 13, 2019

Day 27 Bourg St Pierre, Switzerland to Porto, Portugal

From Bourg St Pierre, Switzerland to Porto, Portugal

Bus/ Trains: $70
Plane: $250

07:15 Left Bourg St Pierre on time by bus. So odd again to be watching from a bus as I traverse my hike in reverse.
The thing I notice the most is how the road only does one thing in this mountain valley. It goes down, down and descends some more.
And I am reliving the incessant climb, climb and never ending ascents of the past three days.

07:45 In Orsiéres in order to transfer to my first of three trains of the morning. All I can say is on the bus ride down, I was overwhelmed by the descent. And I am stunned once again that I made those climbs over the past 3 days.

08:00 Arrived Sembrancher. Easy transfer to my second train of the trip to Geneva airport.

08:20 On the IR90 train to Geneva airport.
- left the Rhône valley's green fields and bordering mountains behind
- rolling along Lake Geneva's expansive, blue waters
- third time thru Lausanne, where my Switzerland experience began

10:10 Arrive Geneva airport.

11:30 Since I'm flying business class, I'm now in the Swiss air lounge. Free beer. ... And free food.

12:45 And my seat assignment is 1F. Am I in the first row? I'm liking this business class.
- fell asleep on the train and fell asleep hard in the airport. Could this be the body telling me that I've done way too much over the past 10 days?

13:40 Depart Geneva.

I'm in premium class. First one on the airplane. Loving it!

The first class bathrooms are twice the size of coach.

I took a nap. They served drinks and snacks. As soon as I woke up, one of the flight attendants came right over to get me my drink and snacks.

My luggage was marked priority so it was the first one on the carousel.

I may never fly coach again.

15:30 arrive Porto. Took metro light rail to Porto.

16:30 Arrive Albergue de Peregrinos do Porto

Notable memories

Raining like a son of a gun in Porto.

Saturday, October 12, 2019

Day 26 Bourg St Pierre to Col du Grand St Bernard

From  Bourg St Pierre to Col du Grand St Bernard

Today's Distance: 8 miles / 13 km
Total Switzerland: 131 miles.
Total This Camino: 260 miles.
Total All Caminos:  1365 miles
Hostel/Albergue: Gîte Au Petit Vélan

Thoughts on Completing the Via Francigena in Switzerland

After hiking the four and 1/2 hours to Great Saint Bernard pass, I found out the bus back to the town where I started, stopped running two weeks ago.

So rather than walk the 8 miles back to where I started, I hitchhiked instead. Fortunately I got a ride right away. Sometimes the ending is as good as the beginning.

Notable memories

It's all done. I completed the via Francigena in Switzerland. 
This was an emotional moment for me. 

This trail is a lot tougher than I imagined. I was kind of expecting a Camino like trail. But this was much more like mountain hiking in parts. 

Of course, large parts of it were dirt roads, well worn trails, etc. But there were parts that were absolutely brutal. Like nothing that I've seen doing a Camino de Santiago.

Some of the sign posting on the way up the Alps. I've been following this whole time trail number 70.

Via Francigena

Regina and I met last night in the dormitory room. Took today out to hike together. She's good company.

Pictures of the Alps are more meaningful when there's a context to them.

10 days, 100 miles, and over 7,000 ft of elevation gain. Via Francigena in Switzerland is finished.

Chapel at the Hospice Saint Bernard

What else do you try on at Great Saint Bernard pass, but a hat with a great Saint Bernard on it.

View from Col du Grand St Bernard

Day 25 Orsiéres to Bourg St Pierre

From Orsiéres to Bourg St Pierre

Today's Distance: 8 miles / 13 km
Total This Camino: 252 miles.
Total All Caminos: 1357 miles
Hostel/Albergue: Gîte Au Petit Vélan   @ 65$; 2 nights

2300 foot climb today.

Thought I was going to be the only person in the dorm room again tonight, but another hiker showed up. Her name is Regina and she is Swiss. She is doing a different set of trails than me but we're in the same place for tonight.

She speaks English. Oh my God! I can talk to somebody.

Cow block video. See pictures below.

Notable memories

Everything was so green today. so where I thought I might be in mountains with snow caps, I really wasn't today. But the fields of crops were gorgeous, the pine trees lining the hills were beautiful and the blue sky contrasting against the mountain ridges made for just a wonderful vista today.

The climb

My big fear about the day was the tremendous altitude change. But it turned out to be a non-starter. It was still exceedingly difficult, but I had a plan. From the beginning, I knew I would take lots and lots and lots of microbreaks, followed by hourly mini breaks and then a full break around lunchtime to eat the lunch that I was carrying in my backpack.

I think the plan worked out well. I made it to my destination in 6 hours which really surprised me because I thought it would take longer. And I arrived in pretty good shape, tired but not physically beat up. 

Photographing the climb

Already been going uphill. At altitude 3,550 feet.
I know I don't look happy. 

Going up. 3,980 ft altitude.

Altitude 4120 ft

Altitude now 4,340 ft

Altitude 4790 ft

Altitude now 5,350 feet

Cowblock ahead

So this rancher was marking his land but he told me I could keep going. So I took a little break, and when I got back to the string marking the boundary, these guys came rushing towards the line. I had permission to cross, but just looking at all of them, I decided to find a better way.

Church of Bourg St Pierre

Friday, October 11, 2019

Day 24 Martigny to Orsiéres

From Martigny to Orsiéres

Today's Distance: 13 miles / 21 km
Total This Camino: 244 miles.
Total All Caminos: 1349 miles
Hostel/Albergue: Hôtel Terminus @ 50$

According to the contour map, I had to climb from 500 meters altitude to 900 meters. That difference of 400 meters is just over 1200 feet over 12 miles. I think I can do 100 feet of elevation climb for every mile. Of course it's not a straight quitd pro quo, mile for mile.

Tomorrow's climb to Bourg St Pierre

I don't know what's with the different elevation guides. The official Via Francigena app says that there is 1000+ meters difference in altitude between where I'm at today and where I'm headed tomorrow. But then I look at the profile map that they provide and I read it as more like 700 meters.

I have a separate app that gives me the elevation of different places. I did a quick calculation again between where I am tonight and where I'm headed tomorrow and it comes up with about 2,300 feet which if you divide that by 3.1 feet per meter comes out to about 750 meters. So I guess I know what number to believe.

Just not sure about what I'm feeling to do next. The original plan was to go to Portugal. But I'm feeling burned out. The question is: what am I feeling burned out about?

Burn out?

I could call it quits after Switzerland, but I did have a desire to hike in Portugal. On the other hand, if I'm burned out because of Switzerland and being alone, that would change in Portugal where I would expect to be with other pilgrims.

Right now getting up and started in the morning has been difficult for the last four or five days. I think it's because I'm hiking alone, and then I'm alone all night in the whatever room I'm in, be at a hotel, hostel or b&b.

if I go to Portugal, there'd be albergues along the way where I would meet other pilgrims. But if I'm just burned out on hiking, being in Portugal won't be the answer.

Notable memories


My bed for the night. Mixed dorm.

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Day 23 Saint Maurice to Martigny

From Saint Maurice to Martigny

Today's Distance: 10 miles / 16 km
Total This Camino: 231 miles.
Total All Caminos: 1336 miles
Hostel/Albergue: Octodure Midi Guestrooms @ 65$ 

Notable memories

Tomorrow I have an 1200 foot climb over 12 miles. Not sure that I have complete confidence in the guide regarding altitude.
Later I will go out and locate the mountain to climb and try to get a contour map.

State of mind

I'm pretty much on my own all day from waking up to hiking all day to evening chores to sleep to waking up the next morning.

This is so different from the Camino where I can figure that I'll meet others at some point. It really can be tiresome to have no one to talk to, especially since I don't speak French.


The other day I had a massive salt fixation. Now
I'm craving sugar. Cookies, ice cream and donuts.


I'm getting much more physically exhausted by the end of the day. My sleeping which usually only needs about eight hours, has gone up to sleeping nine to nine and a half hours every night, without any inducements.

I don't know whether I'm physically exhausted or mentally exhausted or emotionally exhausted. I just know that I'm tired.

I feel like I've lost weight, although I won't know for sure until I get back to the States.


There is the daily grind of hiking, hiking and more hiking. I'm just under 250 miles now, and without a long term, clearly defined objective, like Santiago, which provides an emotional catharsis for reaching the end.

Sometimes in the morning I wonder what I'm doing in Switzerland. If and when, or when and if, I make it to the Great St Bernard Pass, my only cognizant reward will be that I climbed to 8100 feet from 1500 feet in the course of three days.

Story idea

The priest knows that to end the recurring nightmare of his failed search, as he's become used to it, for redemption is to confront the evil from which he is running, but he can't do that because he believes that in the end it will cost him his life, just as that same evil destroyed his parish and his village.

Rain, cows and the Alps

Just as Switzerland is beautiful, it's also a country where business has to occur, so there are these distractions along the way.

Having fun and not having fun at the same time

A beautiful two hundred foot waterfall along the way

I would have liked to visited, but the rain at this point was a real drag.

Although it rained all day, it wasn't bad until the last mile when the skies opened.

In Martigny. Tomorrow I have an 1300 foot climb into the Alps. Then Friday I have to repeat it, and Saturday repeat it once more. 

Chateau de La Bâtiaz

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Day 22 Aigle to St Maurice

From Aigle to St Maurice

Today's Distance: 12 miles / 19 km
Total This Camino: 221 miles.
Total All Caminos: 1336 miles
Hotellerie Franciscaine@ 65$

Today the weather was gorgeous. Lots of sun and blue skies. It makes for a very motivating walk when the sun is washing over you.

The weather for tomorrow is going to be miserable. Right now the current prediction is pretty much 100% rain all day long. So if I'm lucky I'll be that light sprinkling kind of rain rather than that more kind of sheet rain.

Daily chores done. Clothes washed. Shower taken. Supermarket run for energy foods done.

Notable Memories

It has been three or maybe four days now since I've really talked with anybody about hiking out here. I meet people and have casual conversations, local people, who say that many hike the trail that I'm doing. I just don't see them.

Trail feelings

I'm on the downhill run as far as Switzerland goes, meaning that I've got less days to hike remaining than days I've already hiked.

It's been a different experience. Most days I'm by myself.

No real spiritual meaning to it, at least nothing I've been able to pull out. It's a hike which is okay, just feels different.

It's not a Camino but it is a pilgrimage route to Rome. But there's no infrastructure support, so that's probably what changes everything.

But in just walking around Saint Maurice, I stumbled across the Abbey of Saint Maurice which had a mass in French but with Gregorian chant.

I found a column to lean against and put myself in shavasana and just really let the music flow over me. Crazy how a stupid little quirk of fate can negate an earlier feeling.

First climb of the day is about 500 feet.

Rhône valley after climb

Many of the tributaries have been reengineered to human specifications

First sighting of the Rhône river

View from second climb. Rhône valley amidst the Alps.

Saint Maurice

 Rhône river in St Maurice

Abbey of Saint Maurice

The Abbey of St. Maurice, Agaunum is a Swiss monastery of canons regular in Saint-Maurice, Canton of Valais, which dates from the 6th century. It is situated against a cliff in a section of the road between Geneva and the Simplon Pass. The abbey itself is a territorial abbacy and not part of any diocese.