The Camino Club Now on Goodreads!

This is the post where I announce that my upcoming YA novel THE CAMINO CLUB is now live on GOODREADS! It feels more real now, I swear.

Please consider adding it to a shelf on Goodreads and telling your friends and fellow readers about it. This book is so near and dear to my heart.

GOODREADS BLURB: After getting in trouble with the law, six wayward teens are given an ultimatum: serve time in juvenile detention for their crimes, or walk the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage route across Spain over the summer holidays with a pair of court appointed counselor/guides. When it becomes clear the long walk isn’t really all that much of an option, they set out on a journey that will either make or break who they are and who they are to become.

No cover as of yet, so I’ll share a pic or two from my own Camino journey to add some colour to this post…

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This is Diego’s doppelgänger. Diego is a main character. The kids found this doppelgänger on a mural in Samos.

I wrote THE CAMINO CLUB after my first pilgrimage on the Camino de Santiago in 2014.

The church in the photo above is also found in my novel. This church is in Portomarin. The town moved it up a hill, and away from the valley they were going to flood, ONE BRICK AT A TIME and reassembled it up on the hill. The castle behind the photo of Michael and I on our September 2019 pilgrimage is found in Ponferrada. It is also the starting point in the Camino that the characters begin their own pilgrimage.

So, again, please consider adding THE CAMINO CLUB to your Goodreads shelf! Here’s the link:

CLICK HERE TO ADD THE CAMINO CLUB ON GOODREADS!

Laurie Dennett – A Hug for the Apostle – And One for Don Elías Valiña Sampedro too!

(ETA: This post has been edited to include a REGISTRATION LINK for Laurie Dennett’s SECOND TORONTO CAMINO TALK. Please see the bottom of post for the link. The event takes place at St. Thomas Church in Toronto on December 7, 2019.)

This past Saturday we attended an event at St. James Cathedral in Toronto, put on by the TORONTO CHAPTER of the Canadian Company of Pilgrims. Laurie Dennett was invited to speak about her book A HUG FOR THE APOSTLE, but more especially about Don Elías Valiña Sampedro (1929-1989), the parish priest at O Cebreiro in the Galicia region of Spain, who almost single-handedly reinvigorated the Camino de Santiago in his lifetime.

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A Hug for the Apostle – Laurie Dennett

Having myself recently returned from the Camino, and being enamored with O Cebreiro from my own two quick trips through the village nestled in the mountainous region of Galicia, Laurie Dennett’s talk helped to revive my fascination with it. It is in the village of O Cebreiro where the world famous author Paulo Coelho professes to have found the courage to pursue his lifelong dream of becoming a writer. In fact, in his will he has given instructions for his ashes to be interred in the village.

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Laurie Dennett giving her talk to the Toronto Chapter of the Canadian Company of Pilgrims.

There is something about reaching the apex that leads to the village of O Cebreiro that makes one become a lifelong devotee to its streets. From the ‘Lady of O Cebreiro’ statue found at the entrance, to the church and the quaint buildings throughout, one immediately gets a feeling. The village stands out on the Camino, calls you back. It is poetic justice that the parish priest of O Cebreiro is the one who revived the Camino Francés. As Laurie Dennett spoke about Don Elías wandering the Camino with a pail of yellow paint and paint brush, I could visualize the happy and hopeful priest making his way through hill and dale, forest and town, painting yellow arrows all along the way…forever hopeful that the spirit of the Camino take hold for current and future generations of pilgrims.

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David Duncan, for the Toronto Chapter of the Canadian Company of Pilgrims, with Laurie Dennett looking on.

Whenever Don Elías was approached along the way, paintbrush in hand, either by bystanders or police, his response to their questioning as to why he was painting yellow arrows everywhere was always the same, “I am planning an invasion.” He didn’t live quite long enough to see his vision come true, but trust me when I say the invasion occurred. 308,064 pilgrims walked the Camino de Santiago in 2018. 301,036 in 2017. The numbers have been increasing yearly. Though this ‘invasion’ Don Elías spoke of was one of love, of longing, of searching, of finding. He knew that at the time. I imagine him winking at whoever he spoke to whenever he spoke of the invasion, but I don’t imagine he could have ever foreseen the sweeping magnitude of it. Pilgrims from all walks of life, from all over the world, follow his arrows every day. His legacy is powerful, and yet many of his followers do not even know the story of the parish priest from one of their favourite Camino stops along the way.

Dennett was most assuredly enamored by the priest, whom she had the good fortune to call friend and cohort. She too spreads word far and wide of the pilgrimage route held so dear to the heart of the now late priest. Perhaps, in her way, she is carrying on with the work he began as its ambassador. Perhaps all who walk the route are, in some way, ambassadors. I know that one of my wishes with my upcoming young adult novel, THE CAMINO CLUB, (October, 2020 from Duet Books, the YA imprint of Interlude Press) is that it persuades even one reader to put the Camino de Santiago on their life’s bucket-list.

Below are a few pictures Michael and I took of our extremely brief blip through O Cebreiro this past September, while we were making our way to Santiago de Compostela.

Laurie Dennett will be giving a second talk with the Toronto Chapter of the Canadian Company of Pilgrims on Saturday, December 7th, 2019, this time at St. Thomas Church in downtown Toronto. If you’re in the Toronto area and have even the slightest interest in the Camino de Santiago, I suggest that you make plans to attend the event. Laurie’s first talk was mesmerizing. I thank her for bringing Don Elías Valiña Sampedro to life for me! And I am currently finding her book as mesmerizing as her talk. I look forward to hearing what else she has to say about the beloved Camino.

To learn more about the Canadian Company of Pilgrims, click on the image below:

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To learn more about A HUG FOR THE APOSTLE visit WORDSINDEED. Or, you can attend the second talk and purchase the book there and have it signed by the author.

CLICK HERE FOR A LINK TO REGISTRATION FOR—LAURIE DENNETT: REFLECTIONS ON 35 YEARS OF THE CAMINO – SATURDAY DEC 7, 2019, ST. THOMAS CHURCH, TORONTO, ONTARIO

From Darkness and into the Light – Santiago de Compostela at the End of the Yellow Brick Road…

Day 12 – AKA We’re off to see the Wizard! This was the day we woke up in O Pedrouzo with our eye on Santiago de Compostela!

For the first 3 or more hours of the walk, we were in darkness. And it rained most of the time. It was, for me, an incredibly hard walk filled with anxious moments in black forests hoping we didn’t get too lost on the path.

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Just prior to daybreak, we hit the marker that announces the jurisdiction of Santiago! We were almost to the city of Santiago de Compostela and the darkness was about to brighten!

Soon after daybreak, we arrived at Monte de Gozo! The HILL OF JOY! This is the place where many pilgrims get their first glimpse of the spires in Santiago. It’s the ONE-HOUR mark, too. Soon, we would arrive!

ALL the familiar signs came into view, building on the excitement of our eventual arrival. Like the dancing star on the outskirts!

…and the Santiago de Compostela sign, which is so covered now with mementos you can just make it out…

SO close!!

Feelings of saudade! Longing, desire, sadness, joy, angst…everything wrapped up together. And excitement for Michael, who had not yet experienced his first arrival into the plaza in front of the cathedral!

THE FIRST GLIMPSES OF THE SPIRES…

That walk into the little archway just prior to walking out the other side into Praza de Obradoiro, the plaza in front of the CATHEDRAL. In the archway, the pipes…the pipes they play!

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Then, what the whole thing is for…the arrival at the Cathedral!

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And that, my friends, was OUR Camino de Santiago!

Keep your ears–and your hearts–open for the CALL. The Camino begins with a whisper. When it finds you, the whisper grows until the day you step off that plane and make your way to the path. When your feet touch down on the Camino de Santiago, your life begins…

You
Touch me
I hear the sound
Of mandolins
You
Kiss me
With your kiss
My life begins
You’re spring to me
All things
To me
Don’t you know you’re
Life itself

Three More! From Portomarin to O Pedrouzo!

I last left you in Portomarin and gave you a taste of Arzua after we discovered a great restaurant run by lovely people. But before Arzua, we had one previous stop. Palas de Rei!

As we CLIMBED out of Portomarin, after getting a shuttle car from our hostel back to the point in Portomarin we had walked to the afternoon before, we came to one of my most memorable Camino places. After leaving Portomarin, there’s a steady climb that eventually leads up an endless orange-sand hill. On my first Camino in 2014, I walked with 7 or 8 other pilgrims. We all picked up some picnic food at a supermercado prior to leaving Portomarin. Then we stopped and had a picnic at the top of that large orange hill. It was such a lovely experience…one I still cherish today.

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Connie and I at the picnic at the top of the world just outside Portomarin (May, 2014). Connie passed away not quite a year after our pilgrimage. Such a lovely person. I was so fortunate to walk with her and our wonderful group of pilgrims.

The rest of the journey to Palas de Rei was uneventful. There was an awful lot of hills this day, though. More than I remembered. It was also the first day we had a little rain. Just a little, though…nothing too unbearable.

Day 10 of walking took us from Palas de Rei to Arzua. My previous post here is about the place we found for dinner in Arzua. It was superb.

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We left Palas de Rei in the dark, but soon stopped for breakfast. Those breakfast stops may just be the ones I looked forward to the most. Zumo de naranja, cafe con leche and cruc de chocolate. Fresh squeezed orange juice, coffee with milk and a chocolate croissant! Mmmmmmmm!

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Such a great part of every morning on the Camino! The Breakfast Stop!

As the morning came into its own that day, it glowed beautiful. We soon found ourselves in Nirvana, quietly taking in its soul-healing rays…

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This was the day we broke the 50km mark, the day of Melide, and the day of walking through the vast and fragrant eucalyptus forests. It was a peaceful day filled with grace and awe. And I remember it as being much easier…or maybe we had just found a stride that day. (-:

Arzua at the end of the day was lovely. I was a little bitter, however, about the shower at our hostel. The showers in Spain were incredibly amazing. Until Arzua. The shower had no faucet, just a button you would push and the water would come out for about 30 seconds and shut off. Annoying. Like a pool shower from 1979. I was not impressed…but it was what it was. Every other shower on the Camino was spectacular.

Day 11 found us making our way to O Pedrouzo AND the very last albergue prior to arriving in Santiago!

Again, we left in the dark and again we found a lovely little cafe in which to enjoy our yummy Camino breakfast.

And we soon came across the beer bottle cafe too. I don’t recall it from my 2014 pilgrimage, but I’ve seen it all over Instagram lately…

We broke the 20km mark this day, and stayed at 23 on the 23rd! (-:

And then, just like that, we were only ONE DAY AWAY FROM SANTIAGO DE COMPOSTELA. The cathedral at the end of the yellow brick road. We would have one more albergue sleep in O Pedrouzo prior to waking up, dusting off and setting out on our final walk…

Food – Ultreia Café in Arzua is a MUST on the Camino de Santiago!

Ultreia was a surprise delight in Arzua on the Camino de Santiago! Don’t miss it!

We walked today from Palas de Rei to Arzua. A long exhausting uphill hike.

After showers, we walked back to the restaurants we passed on the way into town. The one we chose was absolutely incredible!

As with many Pilgrim Meal combos, Ultreia had the 10€ offering where you get to choose a starter, a main, and a dessert… With a drink. I chose cod/pepper croquettes for my starter, meat lasagna for my main and mousse with blueberry coulis for dessert. Ultreia is fine dining. Every dish was impeccable and incredible! It’s obvious they take pride in their work. The whole combo menu looked appetizing. It was so difficult narrowing down our decisions. But I’m guessing every dish is a winner! And they gave us a bottle of wine to share between the two of us.

Michael had a mushroom ravioli dish for his starter and it was the best ravioli I’ve ever tasted. So good.

If you’re on the Camino de Santiago going through ARZUA… make sure to stop for food at ULTREIA CAFÉ! You won’t be sorry.

We did not stay at the albergue, but there is an albergue attached to the Café… It would be worth checking out! If the accomodations are half as amazing as the 10€ meal, they’ll be excellent. ❤

For those looking for more typical Galician dishes, they can also be found on the menu. (-:

Here’s their website:

http://www.albergueultreia.com

Buen Camino, peregrinos!!

The Next Three! Onward to Santiago de Compostela!

We last left you in Ponferrada! Here we go!

Walking Day 3 – Ponferrada to Villafranca del Bierzo – It was a hard day but such a beautiful one. Vineyards everywhere (-: Lovely!

Walking Day 4 – Villafranca del Bierzo to Las Herrerias – Obviously another beautiful day. They all are. The last hour of every day is the hardest.

Day 5 Las Herrerias to Fonfria!

Fonfria, Fonfria, Fonfria! I love the albergue there! Second visit! This was the day of climbing mountains! To O Cebreiro and beyond to Fonfria. The hardest day, but the others prepared us well! Plus, WE MADE IT TO GALICIA!!!!!!!!!!!!

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Marker for GALICIA!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

First 3 Days of the Camino de Santiago – We Are in Love with Spain!

Just pictures. We are on the Camino de Santiago, loving every minute! Began in Astorga this time. Mini Camino.

Astorga, before the walk!

Walking Day 1 – Astorga to Foncebadon

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Day 2 – Foncebadon to Ponferrada

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Cruz de Ferro!
Such an epic milestone on the Camino de Santiago! Cruz de Ferro…

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The Camino de Santiago Part II is Coming!

When we first decided that we would walk the Camino de Santiago in September of 2019, the month and year seemed so impossibly far away. The little number in the corner of today’s date on my desktop calendar tells me the divide between then and our departure date has somehow become so much smaller! Practically insignificant in comparison. The excitement grows every day. Once you walk the Camino, it scratches at your thoughts like a lost home that keeps calling you back. It’s almost as if the Camino aches for you as much as you ache for the Camino…and it keeps reminding you. “I am here. I am here. I am here.”

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This is a small clock tower that leads to a piazza in Ponferrada, Spain. I have arranged it so that Michael and I will be staying right inside that piazza during our September, 2019 Camino pilgrimage. We will need to walk through the small corridor beneath this clock in order to get to our rest stop for that particular night. (I snapped this shot during my 2014 Camino)

September 10th is when we fly to Spain. 54 days from now.

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One of the biggest thrills of my 2014 Camino was when I discovered the murals on the walls of the Monastery of San Xulián de Samos in Samos, Spain. I mean, it took my breath away. I think about it still with some kind of loving devotion that makes no sense to this heretical atheist. I can’t wait to see these murals again. The murals depict scenes from the life of St. Benedict. Shortly before SAMOS, SPAIN, there is a fork in the CAMINO ROAD. One way goes to Samos, and one way bypasses the beautiful town to save a couple miles. TAKE THE ROAD THAT WILL TAKE YOU TO THESE MURALS! It’s worth the extra miles.

We will not be doing the full Camino Frances, but that is no matter. The Camino is not about that, as much as some people who don’t fully get it would have you believe. We will be flying into Madrid, and then travelling from Madrid to Astorga. Once there, we will begin our Camino de Santiago adventure from that beautiful town…from the shadow of the gorgeous cathedral there.

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The vistas you come upon on the Camino will steal your heart and hold it captive. This shot was taken during my 2014 pilgrimage. This is a typical scene in the GALICIA REGION of SPAIN. It’s big sky and big universe country. It will stay with you forever, but it will also demand that you one day return.

I will be taking notes this time. I’ve already decided. I’m not finished writing about the Camino. It has decided to become a greater part of my story, and I have decided to keep listening, to keep reflecting, to keep projecting. So stay tuned, OR BE FOREWARNED. There will be more to come.

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I wrote a novel upon my first return from Spain. One day I hope it finds a way to the light of day. This time? I think I’m going to write about our journey. That’s the plan, anyway. But what happens on the Camino happens…there is no way to predict your journey. We shall see. I will be looking for a sign…and I hope to write about it later. I know one thing for certain. We will be putting one foot in front of the other.

You never will get where you’re going
If you never get up on your feet
Come on, there’s a good tail wind blowing
A fast walking man is hard to beat
Put one foot in front of the other
And soon you’ll be walking ‘cross the floor
Put one foot in front of the other
And soon you’ll be walking out the door
If you want to change your direction
If your time of life is at hand
Well don’t be the rule, be the exception
A good way to start is to stand
Put one foot in front of the other
And soon you’ll be walking ‘cross the floor

 

An Evening With John Brierley and Canadian Company of Pilgrims

On my first trip to the Camino de Santiago, I walked with my friend and Camino guide, Sue Kenney. As a longtime Camino guide, Sue organizes group Caminos to take pilgrims on the last 200km or so of the pilgrimage route in Spain. (Sue is doing TWO Camino tours in May, 2019…One of which is already fully booked.) The one thing Sue always makes sure her pilgrims have with them during their Camino is what I have come to understand is the Camino Bible. It’s probably the most popular guidebook ever written for the Camino de Santiago.

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Two Tickets to Paradise, Courtesy of the Canadian Company of Pilgrims

A Pilgrim’s Guide to the Camino de Santiago (Camino Francés): St. Jean – Roncesvalles – Santiago is the title of that guidebook. It’s so well organized, detailed and curated that it’s easy to forget that it’s the brainchild of one person. Everyone on the Camino carries it. I carried it. It is a wealth of knowledge. If you have a question regarding a town, a restaurant, an albergue, or anything else…you turn its pages and you find the answer. If you have traveled the Camino and you didn’t do it with the guidebook below, chances are you saw other peregrinos (pilgrims) carrying it and/or flipping through its pages.

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CLICK THIS PIC to go to AMAZON to order your copy.

Last night the Canadian Company of Pilgrims had an event in Toronto at the Yorkwoods Public Library Theatre. Sue Kenney and two other peregrinas–Mony Dojeiji and Ingrid Folkers–opened the event with a short panel discussion on their own experiences with the Camino. Then the man who wrote the Camino Bible pictured above was there. In person. John Brierley himself was there to enthrall a packed theatre audience with tales of the Camino de Santiago and the various routes leading to the now mythical cathedral in the city of Santiago de Compostela. John also brought with him a rousing message of love and connection. It turns out the man who wrote the guide walks the walk. He was as lovely as the feeling one gets from experiencing the Camino itself. He was eloquent, informative and inspiring. He talked about the Camino family that I myself have experienced and am now a part of… and he cemented in me everything I have come to believe about the Camino.

By the time John’s talk was over and he had hypnotized an entire audience of some 300 people into blowing out the tiny candle he held out to us, I was more than ready to head back out onto the sacred pilgrimage in Spain. But he also told us we were not merely blowing out the candle, but sending the flame out into the world to give light and warmth to our Camino brethren now currently walking the paths back in Spain.

And I believed it.

I imagined that flame leaving the candle and crossing the Atlantic to find the heart of every pilgrim brother and sister currently walking the various Camino pathways leading to the cathedral and beyond… to Finisterre and Muxía… to the END OF THE WORLD.

 

 

Some pics of my first Camino in May, 2014. Michael and I will be heading back in September, 2019, walking from Astorga to Santiago. I can’t stay away.

If ever you hear whispers of the Camino de Santiago, take heed. Listen up. It is both a gift and a question. And I assure you, your heart wants to know the answer. It wants the gift. With my own journey, I discovered that the Camino calls you. I heard about it in passing and it sat quietly inside me. But quietly like a river that knows a waterfall is coming in the distance. When I didn’t heed the call, it got louder… because something inside me wanted to manifest my inner journey into an outer one. When I stepped foot on the path years later, I knew that it was meant to be. The Camino won. It called, and inevitably I answered.

And I know we Camino pilgrims probably sound like members of a cult…the way we go on about the pilgrimage years after we have walked it…but it’s just that it has given us so much. It’s just a long walk, right? A walk that thousands of people have taken over thousands of years. If you listen closely while you’re out there in the wind, putting one foot in front of the other while making your way to the cathedral in Santiago de Compostela, you can hear their whispers… their inner thoughts. Lean in. They have left their mark on the path lit nightly by the magical Milky Way. Even the stars know the importance of the Camino, and it is their wont to show you the way to Santiago.

But if you don’t trust the stars to show you the way, if you’re afraid of relying on the Vía Láctea to bring you to the sacred cathedral at the end of the sacred path, trust John Brierley. He’ll take you there.

 

(Much thanks to the Canadian Company of Pilgrims for showing me the way to John Brierley.)

 

A Way to Forgiveness – Healing on the Camino de Santiago

It seems I really cannot get enough Camino in my life. Recently, I read the exceptional travel memoir Walking to the End of the World – A Thousand Miles on the Camino de Santiago by Beth Jusino and it took me back to the beautiful pilgrimage experience I had in 2014. And today, I stumbled upon another documentary on the Way of St. James (Through the Facebook group POST CAMINO Support Group). It was an amazing movie!

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Check out Walking to the End of the World by BETH JUSINO. It’s a beautiful Camino memoir!

A Way to Forgiveness – Healing on the Camino de Santiago is a documentary by Erin Dooley. This documentary is a compelling film tracing Dooley’s pilgrimage on the Camino de Santiago as she pondered over and struggled with the concept of forgiveness, both in general and as it related to her own end-goal of forgiving someone in her own life.

From the beginning, I was hooked. I meditated over forgiveness myself as I walked the Camino. I saw many parallels in Dooley’s journey with that of my own…including how things would suddenly come up on the Camino to remind her of the person in her life she wished to forgive. The Camino somehow seems to mirror us, so it was no surprise she discovered things along the path that startled her into immediate recognition of home. The perfect example was how–in small town Spain–she heard the song she and her husband chose to use when entering the reception that followed her wedding. Coincidences and synchronicity are commonplace on the pilgrimage. You don’t realize how startling those coincidences are until they keep happening to you.

For any fan of the Camino–whether you have already walked it, wish to walk it, or are just being called to it now by stumbling upon this post–this deeply personal and contemplative look into the gift and burden of FORGIVENESS is a must see documentary. With the beautiful Spanish countryside as a backdrop, and the vulnerability and authenticity Dooley’s emotional journey…you won’t be disappointed.

As a pilgrim of The Way, I just wanted to also mention…one of the things I most feared as I traveled from my home in Toronto to Spain actually happened to Dooley on her pilgrimage. Imagine the terror of arriving in Spain to walk the Camino and realizing your backpack didn’t quite make the journey! She handled this hurdle with amazing calmness…and the still of her hugging her backpack once it finally decided to meet up with her is worth the price of admission!

Here’s the trailer for the movie:

You can watch A WAY TO FORGIVENESS in two ways. Rent it and stream it now, or buy a DVD copy.

Visit A WAY TO FORGIVENESS online and pick it up today!

Follow A WAY TO FORGIVENESS on Twitter