This was the best tour I have ever been on. The walking was great. I enjoyed every section and it is hard to choose a favorite - maybe Day 10 to Samos or Day 11 to Arzua. Nancy and Jose were experienced and professional with expert knowledge. I wish Nancy had been my history teacher at school. In terms of the picnics, what can I say ? Jose’s lunches will become part of the folklore of the Camino. I cannot fault the running of the tour - it ran very well with plenty of free time and no time wasted.
J. Pearson, Royal Exchange, New South Wales, Australia
I enjoyed our journey immensely. It is by far the best group tour I have ever taken. The people, the hotels and the food were delightful. I was very impressed with the care and planning that you put into this and by the concern you showed for our individual comfort. I was delighted to find that I could do so much walking and that it made me feel so good. The journey was very meaningful to me on a spiritual level as well. If you create any new tours that you think I could handle, please let me know.
I. Junod, New York, New York
i had a wonderful time, and I want to thank you and Jose for making it possible. You both do such a great job, I cannot believe there would be anyone who does not enjoy/profit from the experience. You two have created something unique and wonderful !
S. Marthens, Portland, Oregon
Nancy and Jose give a wonderful cultural, culinary and outdoor experience with as much historical and art history perspective as one can possibly absorb. Their knowledge and love of the Camino are deep. They provide well for every travel comfort, too. A conscientious, honest and unusually personal job. I got a kick out of how well you two young ‘uns parented us older ‘uns.
A. Rosenfeld, Brookline, Massachusetts
Nancy, I love your approach to teaching us. Your love of the subject matter is very evident in your enthusiasm, casual, informative style and humorous stories. You make learning fun. Thank you. You and Jose are a good team. The El Camino is an adventure that I’ll always treasure and I’ll definitely recommend you to friends. Thanks to both of you for your encouragement when we were hot and tired, your sense of humor, your ability to impart your knowledge to us in an interesting, personal way, and the delicious lunches, just to name a few of the highlights. I am still re-living our wonderful Camino adventure...it will stand out as a highlight in our many travels. Would Jose be willing to share his Sangria recipe ? I’d like to serve it this weekend.....
P. Vandeventer, Portland, Oregon
I liked Nancy’s ‘personal’ response to my initial inquiry and all dealings as we signed up. The materials in the form of the diary/booklet and reading lists are excellent. The organization was excellent, very smooth - the smoothness and organization were impressive. They made a difficult operation seem very simple and smooth. The daily timing was excellent. The picnics were truly wonderful. I loved the care taken to detail and to introduce different local specialties. I really enjoyed a wonderful 12 days. Thank you Nancy and Jose.
J. McCowan, Conneware, Victoria, Australia
I congratulate you both on your excellent organization. I had a great time, and so did David. He thanked me for taking him and said it was one of the best experiences ever ! I hope to see you again on a future trip.
R. Reuben, Woodstock, Vermont
Your knowledge was incredible and you communicated very effectively to a variety of intellectual levels. You and Jose make a great, well-rounded team. I loved it, and I’m now talking about the experience with friends to get them (and me) to go with you soon.
C. Meissner, New York, New York
From a second time client:
You’ve done it again ! Surely this is your true profession (as long as you can continue to put up with the customers !) !. Jose’s picnics are the best ! Can you do a cookbook ? ? ? Let me know if you decide to add the Portugal trip. Thanks for everything.
M. Strohl, Sarasota Springs, New York
It was literally the trip of my life. I can’t believe how much we enjoyed doing things that we really are not known for being ‘into’ - not athletic, don’t do tours, food fussy, anti-social grumps. And we had a fabulous time. I chalk that up to the quality of your program. Your knowledge could not be better. It was a very nice balance between in-depth and beginner and I loved the library supplement. Of course the picnics were a real highlight. I’m not sure how you communicate it but they were 1000% more than I expected. I’m not sure the tour can be matched anywhere (But come visit us in New Orleans and we’ll try !).
L. Buurma, New Orleans, Lousiana
You two did a wonderful job of planning, organizing and leading the trip (a perfect 12 days). The balance of town and country as well as culture and nature was brilliant. It was an amazing experience that will take a long while to process. Nancy has the background and sufficient detail to describe any of the cultural sites we visited. She gave us just the right amount of information. Please tell Jose that I bought salmon-stuffed olives and other assorted goodies that he convinced me were so good. Those lunches were memorable (inventive and delicious ! !) as was the whole trip. Your knowledge and love of the history, culture and Camino provided a framework for the whole trip. I recommend this tour unconditionally.
C. Broadus, New Haven, Connecticut
The tour reflects the interests, experience, knowledge, sensibilities of two unique people - that is what sets it part from the garden variety tour. Nancy’s knowledge of all aspects of the Camino enriched the trip and was a real intellectual treat throughout. Jose’s support, energy and knowledge of the territory ‘greased the wheels’ of the tour. He has mastered the art of providing a delicious meal en plein aire. Their attention to meeting personal needs was much appreciated and they are flexible and creative in their conduct of the tour - and all the while organized and conscious of group needs and interests. I was delighted with the accommodations. Nancy’s library is a great idea - I noted most of us dipped into it.
L. Milan, Salem, Oregon
I did not expect to enjoy ‘walking’ as much as I did. I give Nancy and A+ on her knowledge and the organization of the tour. Jose did more than a first class job with the picnics which could not have been better in contents or location.
J. Wleugel, Ontario, Canada
Absorbing history, scenery and the atmosphere of ‘El Camino’ added up to a great experience. The companship of peregrinos of different cultural backgrounds/experiences lent an extra dimension of enrichment. Both Nancy and Jose broadened our understanding and appreciation of Spanish history (past and present), gastronomy (picnics especially ! !) and life in northern Spain. It was especially nice to have lodgings central and easy distance to local sites and restaurants. I think the variety of lodgings and their locations added to the taste of culture. You did a great job ! ! !
M. Barnes, Atlanta, Georgia
Nancy and Jose, this tour exceeded all of my expectations. Nancy, your knowledge of architecture, church history and even flora & fauna constantly amazed me. You both obviously love this work and we are the beneficiaries of your love of Spain and hiking.
M. Murray, Pompano Beach, Florida
All of the pre-departure info was close to perfect. Nancy, I’ve already given you my verbal feedback on how very effective you are in presenting so very much interesting material. You are so knowledgable and even-handed in presenting what could be controversial information. In terms of organization I can’t think of anything that I would ask you to change. Jose did a great job. Thank you. I had a wonderful time.
M. Schrodt, MacLean, Virginia
I would think each night, ‘how could tomorrow be any better ?’ and then the next day there was always a wonderful surprise.
Anonymous (on his/her rating of the tour from 1 to 5 he/she gave it a 10)
Thank you both for a flawless execution of a sound concept. As a result, you may not have seen the last of me ! As soon as I get organized, I will send you pictures I took. They don’t seem to do any justice to the grandeur of everything one sees. So, what is one to do?
S. Verma, Ontario, Canada
The level of knowledge was exceptional. I didn’t expect to gain so much history. That was a real bonus. The extra excursions were fabulous and the operation very smooth. The picnics were wonderful. Wonderful ! Wonderful ! Clone Jose ! The restaurants were also excellent. This was a wonderful experience and really three tours in one - walking, cultural and gourmet ! This is not the usual tour of fly by the building and then say you’ve seen it. Thanks you for everything you did for us.
G. Melton, Salem, Oregon
Everything went smoothly. Nancy responded quickly and in complete detail to my questions which were concerns about difficulty of walk. Nancy was extremely well informed, not only about architecture, but all aspects of Spanish life - food, customs, history. I learned a lot about Romanesque and Gothic that I didn’t know before and this will greatly enrich my travels in the future. In terms of organization I wouldn’t change anything. The Roman villa and Las Medulas (optional excursions) were absolutely marvelous. Picnics were a highlight of the day - delicious variety, relaxing and in a good location. I think about our wonderful trip all the time and I’m so happy when I see people who know what I’m talking about ! The walking was especially wonderful. I was so happy. I had no troubles and it felt so good striding along in such a beautiful country. I was totally satisfied with lodgings, meals, art history, non-ecclesiastic places of great interest.
D. Berkeley, Charlottesville, Virginia
I had expected you to be knowledgable but was very impressed with your presentation of info. Also, even though I was familiar with a lot of the stories/legends, I was mesmerised by your storytelling talents. The wildflower info was a special treat for me. The tour was run in a very flexible manner. The picnics were ‘awesome’ - very homestyle and extremely well presented. I am at peace with my decisions to travel the Camino and I’m very grateful to you and Jose for being my companions/guides. I look forward to traveling with you again. Thank you ; especially for making my birthday so wonderful. I was very touched.
S. Carney, Mystic, Connecticut
A former client shared with us this quote from Cees Nooteboom’s celebrated travel journal Roads to Santiago (p.45) which she read to us at dinner in the tiny hamlet of Vilamor at the end of our Galicia trip. Afterwards she sent it to us with the forward : “I hiked up Bromley mountain, and read the passge I read a year ago before dinner in Vilamor, and thought of us all together, and what a wonderful trip it was “
The traveler in Spain should rid himself of the sense of time as anecdotal, he should be unconcerned by planned itineraries and times of arrival, he should be willing to lodge at modest village inns and to expose himself fearlessly to different concepts of temporality. Climate, obstinancy, the mercy of fate, even sheer lack of interest have caused some parts of Spain to be left well alone, making it possible foryou to believe for a moment in the illusion that the world is not so chaotic after all, not as savage and transitory as the newspapers and television images would have us believe, that there are given constants which, even though they are made up of individual lives, transcend the vicissitudes of cruelty, bitter conflict, most recently in this century.
All those dramatic events brought men to ruin, men who thought everything would be ruined with them, and yet the traveller of today encounters landscapes, monuments, attitudes that are unchanged. Change is always exaggerated by contemporaries, and their exaggerated views are reiterated by the news media which, in order to safeguard their very existence, are obliged to affirm the change because constancy has no appeals. There are other media for that : museums, books, cathedrals.”
M. Strohl, Sarasota Springs, New York
You two made a great team in terms of knowledge of history, culture, environment as well as the efficient handling of details, etc. To be served colorful, simply, tasty food by a waterfall by an attractive Spanish man - what’s not to like ? The introduction to the cuisine of the area was truly a highlight of this trip ; it’s a feature you would not likely get on your own.
Cliches not withstanding, this was truly an unforgettable experience. I had never had much of an interest in visiting Spain before. Now I intend to return to learn more. You have fashioned a well-designed blend of activities that brings the history, culture and real people of Spain alive for us travelers. Thanks.
M. Walton, Bakersfield, California
Jan and I thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. I feel that I have a great understanding of Spain in the northwest. I would be very happy to recommend the experience. Thanks and best wishes...
R. Marich, Northbridge, New South Wales, Australia
Nancy, you know your subject well, you made it interesting yet didn’t overload. I loved trying the food and appreciated the variety. The mix of lodgings was also very good. I feel you gave us a special taste of Galicia which we could never have gotten ourselves. Thank you!
J. Marich, Northbridge, New South Wales, Australia
You were both wonderful, knowledgeable and well organized ! The picnics were great ! I really enjoyed the quality and variety of food (especially the fresh seafood) we had at the restaurants. Now you just need to put together a souvenir cookbook ! By the way, I made your family empanada dough - with a leek, mushroom and bonita filling - it was great.
We have many fond memories of our trip with you. I especially appreciate all the behind the scenes efforts that it took to make everything go smoothly. I have just returned from a trip to Italy with my two teenaged daughters (I did all the legwork) and I must say that I prefer Spain, and Spanish food. This is probably because of the trip we took with you and Jose. I hope that we can return soon.
H. Radin, Palo Alto, California
BASQUE COUNTRY & PYRENEES
I felt like we were walking through Spain with friends. I really enjoyed hearing about the Camino de Santiago.That was probably most fascinating for me. But there were many highlights - the Guggenheim, the Arantzazu sanctuary, San Sebastian, Pamplona. You seemed to know the answer to every question. You were extremely well informed about the terrain and the cultural aspects of the area. The tour was beautifully organized.
M. & B. Hant, Los Angeles, California
I enjoyed all of the walking. I didn’t have a favorite but the ocean walk was very enjoyable as was the walk from Roncesvalles. Thanks for your knowledge. Jose thanks for the fun picnics. Your thoughtfulness at preparing and sharing local specialties means a lot to us. I enjoyed all aspects of the trip. Our group was very congenial and Nancy and Jose thank you for your thoughtfulness.
Jo. McGraw, Alexandria, Virginia
The walking was perfect for me. I especially liked the walk along the cliffs/water coming from San Sebastian but each walk had special elements that made it fun. I have had a wonderful time this week. You have offered me an experience in Spain that I could not have gotten any other way. Your wealth of knowledge about Spain has inspired me to read more. We were able to learn about Spain all through history which is especially exciting to me. The walks were fun and each different. And being in the company of both Nancy & Jose made the experience what it was. I’ve felt privileged to spend some time getting to know you. Our other travelling companions were also fun ; having a small group we felt was an asset and enhanced the experience.
Ju. McGraw, Alexandria, Virginia
This was one of the most memorable holidays I’ve ever had. My favorite walk was from San Sebastian to Ainhoa and the picnics were beyond expectations. There was a good sampling of local foods and well prepared. The organization was perfect and all the restaurants were excellent.
P. Arntsen, New Westminister, British Columbia, Canada
This was a wonderful experience and a great way to experience the Basque Country. I would definitely do this type of tour again. The picnics were fantastic, the tour ran very smoothly, you are both very knowledgeable, and all the hikes were great - my favorite was from San Sebastian along the coastal trail. I felt very well prepared. My numerous questions were promptly answered and we were given names of people to contact for feedback. The tour of the caves was very interesting!
J. Arntsen, New Westminister, British Columbia, Canada
Everything was handled so efficiently and smoothly throughout the length of the tour. Nancy and Jose work together and complement each other in all ways. So many positive memories come to the surface as I look back on that experience. Most memorable are the hikes themselves, the picnic lunches and evening dinners and the knowledge shared along the way.
There were hikes in meadows winding around lakes and climbing hillsides where the tinkling of cowbells and the splashes of wildflower colors are vivid memories. There was a hike through the Cares River gorge, a spectacular natural wonder stretching seven miles long with towering peaks above and a deep riverbed below. The much anticipated event of the day was the picnic lunch which Jose backpacked in for us and carefully presented while awaiting ou arrival.
There were always many varieties of delicacies including local cheeses, breads, green and black olives, petite corn cobs, white asparagus spears, carrots, tomatoes, etc. All the accommodations were very comfortable and well chosen for introducing us to inns in both the rural settings and larger towns with the Picos region.
In every way Nancy and Jose proved themselves to be expert guides and tour planners. Mostly their love of what they are doing shines through and makes for a most personable and delightful experience. I had a wonderful time.
Jane and Charles F., Sacramento, California
"Nancy & Jose. It has been a real pleasure to enjoy this very planned and carefully thought out adventure. You are a delightful couple, and your enthusiasm was much appreciated. It goes without saying that Jose`s picnic spots and menu were delightful. Your prompt responses to email and keeping me updated in preparation of this trip were exemplary.
Nancy, your knowledge of Galicia is more than what I would expect a Galician to have. I enjoyed all meals, bar none. Starting and ending the tour in this fantastic hotel [5-star Reyes Catolicos in Santiago de Compostela] is a great idea.
Your tour is the BEST and I wish you great success in your future endeavors....I think your set up is so far above all other 'commercial' tours that the best thing you can do, is, not to change much. Hope to join you on one of your future trips."
Kal S., Huntington Beach, CA
"An awesome experience in the real meaning of the word....You`ve opened a big door. Superb!...Excellent organization. Very well planned and balanced....Have re-read your book and enjoyed so much knowing the places mentioned; this time, too, could feel with the pilgrims as they described their expectations and discoveries."
Jennie H., Florence, AL
"Nancy & Jose could not have been more knowledgable or better prepared. The organization and pace of the schedule were outstanding...The operation was smooth but extremely flexible...The picnics were one of the highlights of the day. We appreciated our exposure to a variety of regional foods and the kind attention to our likes and dislikes. We loved the restaurants that you selected and would recommend every place that you chose. It was obvious that you took great care to expose us to many regional foods in different settings...This 'Camino' experience was one that we`ll never forget. The knowledge, kind attention, warmth, good humor and sensitivity of our guides will long be remembered. Our group was so compatible that we hate to see it end...Thanks for creating a fabulous memory! What a rewarding experience. p.s. will highly recommend the trip to our friends!!"
Jean S. and Dianne S., Charlotte, North Carolina
"I find it remarkable how individuals can bond in such a short time!....The two of you add a special something that made the trip truly unique and memorable. I so appreciated your dedication to my total satisfaction. Thank you for being who you are."
Bernie S., New York City, NY
"Thanks again so much for everything. I`ve decided that the one-word description of the trip is 'magical'....Your knowledge was absolutely excellent. I can`t imagine traveling with people more knowledgeable about an area, or more willing and able to share their knowledge....Organization was perfect....Part of the perfection is a measure of flexibility that allows small changes to be made easily in the face of unexpected circumstances....The meals were wonderful.
The food was invariably delicious and representative of local cuisine....Every restaurant provided new information about local culture and local dishes. I`m going to try and learn to cook Spanish food at home!....I can`t imagine how the tour could have been better, and I feel lucky to have participated in it. Every detail reflected thoughtful advance planning, and I felt your concern about us having a good time, and seeing what we wanted to see, during virtually every hour that passed, but always in a pleasant, low key fashion. Thanks to you both."
Karen P., Sacramento, CA
"The walking was great; each section so different it`s hard to pick a favorite. Loved the uphill climb, meseta, wildflowers, greenery in Navarre and Galicia. Walk into Estella beautiful!... I felt like I was with the experts! It far surpassed my expectations... The organization could not have been better. Well paced for all levels....Can`t wait to come back. Hope to count you both as friends."
Catherine H., Atlanta, GA
"Your information to me was superb!....Jose & Nancy, both of you complimented each other so, so well. Because of you, I know more about the history, the geology, the flora and the 'cows'. The church history and the legends about Santiago were inspiring for the non-religious me....Your organizational skills are outstanding. If I were the CEO of a corporation, I would try to hire you, both, immediately! The timing of everything was great. You gave us space when we needed it....Great food; the variety of breads and cheeses with the regular fare of tomatoes, baby corn, varieties of olives and peppers was perfect....I never have experienced such individual attention on any trip. The totality of the journey - and that includes the wonderment of Galicia, the interpersonal relationships among all included, the physical exerting, the eating, savoring, drinking of such special wines - exceeded my expectations in every way!"
Tony P., Boston, MA
"One of the best trips I`ve ever taken (that`s not an exaggeration!). You were both fabulous - your knowledge, enthusiasm, and attention to detail resulted in a very special experience. Best wishes for much continued success!"
Vivian R., New York City, NY
"You have spoiled us! It will be hard to find a tour experience like this again (except with you!).
Your (both of you) commitment to quality - enhancing every facet, being patient with us, introducing us to such exceptional places - was great and we are both quite conscious of it....Thank you both for a great experience."
Bernie and I think and talk often about our Galician adventure. When we tell our friends about it (as much as they can stand!) we run out of superlatives.
As you know, we took a bunch of pictures--a few are good and we`re still enjoy looking through them.
We so appreciated your efforts--from the larger scheme of the trip to the smaller details!...Please keep us posted on interesting developments!"
Shelley M., New York City, NY
"I`m extremely impressed with your experience, your website and the sights/subjects of your tour. I was even more impressed when I compared your prices to other similar European tours and found yours to be very reasonable. Your website is excellent, very easy to find through several good links, and very professional. I also thank you for your immediate reply to my inquiries and your kind words!"
After returning from her trip to Galicia, a participant wrote the following letter about her journey and sent it to her family and friends.
"On Foot In Spain. www.onfootinspain.com. We saw the ad in the New York Sunday Times, logged on and signed on all in one day - propelled by some unbridled impulse that said DO IT! -Nine days in a foreign land. -A bit of history. -Good eating. -Good exercise. -Sounded ... good. Little did we know we were about to step into another arena in space and time and pleasure.
Unspoiled. Pastoral. Breathtakingly beautiful. Isolated from the rest of Spain by ocean, rivers and mountains, Galicia is a world into itself. Even its language, Gallego, sets it apart. Testimonials to its impressive history are evident throughout the region, from the ruins of circular settlements called castros dating to the 6th century BC and still functioning Roman churches, to the perpetual portrayals of its beloved St. James, whose remains were alleged to have been discovered in the 9th century at the site that became Santiago de Compostela. Medieval dwellings are still inhabited. Cowherds continue to pursue their flocks with stick-in-hand. Fishermen carry on traditions set by their great, great grandfathers. Women scrub clothes at washing wells and bake bread in centuries old communal ovens. We watched roofs being thatched and girls being taught how to make bobbin-lace. -And we listened to the favorite musical instrument of the area, dating back to invasions by the Celts, the bagpipe.
On Foot In Spain is the brainchild of a couple who share in common a passion for Northern Spain. Jose, a lawyer turned teacher / writer / carpenter / tour guide is a native of Santiago de Compostela. Nancy is a cultural anthropologist from California who has spent the past eight years studying, writing and lecturing on Galicia and El Camino. Their combined knowledge of the area`s history, geography, anthropology, culture, architecture, art, flora, fauna, food, wine, music and folklore is boundless. Avid hikers, they have combed the countryside`s trails, recording detailed descriptions in the Lonely Planet`s Walking In Spain. Their tour objective is to encompass the best of the above.
This was our first tour, but I would imagine in any group that is bound together through travel, one`s level of enjoyment is as contingent upon interpersonal dynamics as it is upon sites beheld. From the first meeting, the synergy among us was up-beat, smooth and amiable - with an immediate sense of camaraderie. Not one to sleep on airplanes, I crossed the Atlantic reading Nancy`s Pilgrim Stories: On and Off the Road to Santiago, intrigued that her published dissertation concerned pilgrimage, a topic that has held my interest for years. From the personal content in her book to her easy and informative rapport in the planning of our trip, it was not surprising that Tony`s most consistent adjective for Nancy was "sparkles". Without exaggeration, she and Jose are a physically beautiful couple, charged with enthusiasm, and organized to a T. Breakfasts concluded with map handouts - to be followed throughout the day by commentary on all aspects of interest. We traveled comfortably in a blue mini van in which, among all else there was a library of books of the region!
Their policy of BEST meant our lodgings (all with private bath) stretched from the exquisite five star Hotel Reyes Catolicos in Santiago and a lighthouse in Finisterre, to the slate-roofed Casa Carlos in a tiny mountain hamlet called Vilamor. All meals were provided, with emphasis on traditional fare. At this point I am about to run the risk of overdoing my superlatives, but the food truly was among the highlights of the trip. -Fresh. -Simply prepared. -Extraordinarily tasty. -Always accompanied by home-made wines. We ate what the local people eat ... and the local people in Galicia enjoy what must be some of the finest eating in the world. Dinners by the sea consisted of seafood salad appetizers followed by the catch of the day (grilled, fried, or as a caldeirada casserole) plus a selection of octopus (pulpo - the specialty of Galicia), squid, shellfish, fresh vegetables and potatoes. All were commonly served with refrito, an olive oil, garlic and paprika sauce. Mountain dinners began with Caldo Galego (soup), then Spanish tortillas (omelets of eggs, potatoes and onion), grilled or stewed beef, pork, chicken or lamb, green salads and French fries. Flan or Pastel Santiago (an almond cake) concluded every meal ... when there was room. -And then, the lunches! -In a minute.
First, the foot portion of On Foot In Spain! The days. The hikes. The point, in essence, of the journey. "Medium" level difficulty, said the www site: "Six to twelve miles a day on rolling hills and mixed trails with an occasional steep ascent". Tony goes on extended hiking trips every year with his buddies. He was tested. I was not. For all of our daily walking, I knew better than to ponder my hiking aptitude to any extent for fear of talking myself out of the trip. I admit, however, to sometimes amusing, sometimes horrific visions of myself gasping for breath, toiling behind in sweaty despair. Our first hike was one of the most difficult, the ascent of A Moa in the seaside mountain range called the Celtic Olympus. -And it was wonderful, with lush vegetation giving way to mountain meadows, rock formations, the sighting of wild horses - all in cool mist. -Not to mention the first of Jose`s lunches! To our light day-packs, Jose`s burden was gravity defying. Every day he produced a fresh loaf of pan (hogaza bread), a local cheese (Tetilla, Arzua, San Simon and Cabreiro - my favorite) and an assortment of olives (such as salmon filled), roasted red peppers, jamon serrano (lean ham), green or white asparagus, fresh tomatoes, ajeta (pickled garlic sprouts), baby corn, tuna or cod empanadas, pate a la pimienta, pate a la jamon, a variety of chorizos (Fuet, Salchichon, Iberico) and replenishment for our water bottles. All of this he carried with ease, racing on ahead so that our arrival at the lunch spot would be greeted by a magnificent spread!
Yes, happily, I could do it. -The hiking that is. The most difficult part of every day was the first half hour of incline as my lungs adjusted to the increased demand for oxygen. The feeling of competence that ensued, however, is beyond description. It bears mentioning with admiration that Karen Patterson soared at Jose`s heels for most of the trip!
The following three days were one extended walk along the Costa da Morte, returning each morning to where we had left off. The lone sandy beach deceptively featured on summertime travel posters is a reality here. -Beach after glorious beach. We hiked for miles along seaside trails with one outstanding view after the next, almost never encountering another individual. Consistent througout the trip, Nancy would periodically pause to point to a particular indigenous flower or a rock that looked like a bear, or she would describe the "Death Coast`s" heart wrenching history and tell stories about the light houses and fishing villages along the way. In the afternoons and evenings we visited monastic ruins, local museums and lace makers, and watched the fishing boats return to port, overflowing with their catch.
Our day of transition to the mountains started with the third leg of the coastal hike. En route to Piornedo we toured the 'medieval' river port of Betanzos and then walked the circumference of the fortified city of Lugo on its second century Roman wall. If the seaside fishing villages had been isolated, the mountain pueblos were back-of-beyond, accessed only by a narrow, winding single-laned road with steep drop-offs. One could not help but equate this near impenetrable land of tiny hamlets to a Spanish Brigadoon, complete with the violet hue of heather blossoming on the hillsides! Upon one turn in the road Jose pointed to the highest point in the Serra Dos Ancares, O Mostallar, the 6437' peak that we were scheduled to ascend the following day. Gasp!
It too, perhaps it most of all, turned out to be a personal high in every meaning of the word. Before the trip was to end we would drive to another mountain range, the Serra do Courel, climb a mountain devesa, a "type of forest unique to Spain with more than 1000 species (both flora and fauna)", and drink from its side-by-side lime and iron based springs famed for their healing qualities (Fonte Do Cervo). The final day began by following the Rio Lor (by foot) from hamlet to hamlet along nine miles of ancient trails, and concluded with Santiago`s most elegant restaurant back at the Hotel Reyes Catolicos.
Over dinner every night Nancy would ask each of us our highlights of the day. I now ask myself, the highlights of the trip? Hard.
The affinity of the group. We traveled as one body. There was no discord nor imbalance. The guides, Nancy and Jose, were superb. Our times of exchange were often profound. Moments within our own thoughts were respected.
Quite simply, the glory of Galicia! It is impossible to distinguish a spot or an occasion as better than the rest. My two most memorable sites while hiking were the descent over meadows, cliffs and dunes to the spectacular Traba Beach, and the panoramic ridge walk on Pico de Lagos in the Ancares Range.
The fact that nine days away felt like nine weeks! We returned recharged and enriched - our outlook on life broadened."
Channing T., Boston, MA
Emilio Estevez's film The Way set on the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage route, and starring his father Martin Sheen premiered in Santiago de Compostela on 8 November 2010. Nancy was there and met them both.
By Nancy Frey:
When I heard that Emilio Estevez’s new film, The Way, set on the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage route in Spain would be premiered in Santiago de Compostela on November 8th, I was eager to go. Starring his father Martin Sheen, Estevez wrote and directed the film as well as appears in it as Sheen’s on-screen son. I knew that in 2009 they had been filming along the route and I wondered what kind of Camino film two Hollywood notables would make. I invited my friend María Santos and off we went to the elegant 19th century Teatro Principal in Santiago´s historical quarter to find out. I have to admit it was quite a thrill to see Martin Sheen and Emilio Estevez walk the mini-red carpet surrounded by a sea of umbrellas as the rain accompanied their entrance.
As we sat down to wait for the movie to begin, I realized how interesting it was to have María at my side. The Camino is something that I’ve lived and breathed for the last 18 years. María, born in the US and a daughter of Galician immigrants, knows about the Camino de Santiago but has no personal experience with it herself. How different, perhaps, our perspectives would be. When the movie began to roll I was filled with emotion as I could I identify nearly every scene, landscape, historical monument and bit of Camino.
Estevez and Sheen’s angle was clear early on: It’s a movie of the heart from start to finish. 2010 has been my own personal year of the heart and so this tack resonated strongly with me.
Countless times over the course of this year I’ve been reminded to listen to my heart: Let the heart be your compass.
(I’ve accompanied the article with several photos from the film and post-premiere event as well as images of heart stones that Jose and I have collected over the years along the Camino de Santiago that we have in our house.)
In The Way Sheen plays Tom Avery an ophthalmologist from California who becomes an accidental pilgrim when he receives the tragic news of his son’s death on the Camino.
Estevez and Sheen take us on a gripping, epic journey in equal parts hilarious, deep, heart-wrenching and moving as we share the struggle of a father gripped with confusion and remorse to understand the tragic loss of his only son Daniel, a person he realizes he never really understood. Tom suddenly finds himself in Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port, a small village in southwest France where many pilgrims start the Camino today. Impulsively, he decides to take his son’s pack and ashes and walk the 800km across Spain making the journey that his son could not.
The opening scenes are very moving and set the stage for the profoundly human story of how we must each fumble along to find our own way. In the movie Tom says to Daniel before he heads to the Camino, ‘I live the life I chose. Why can’t you do the same?’ Daniel responds, ‘You don’t choose your life, Dad. You live it and that’s what I’m doing.’ The pilgrimage is a metaphor for life and the pilgrim the lost soul who finds his way back home by following his heart. Estevez (and Sheen through his inspired performance) makes you care about this lost soul and wonder how he will ever make it. Unlike other Catholic centers of worship where pilgrims often look for a cure of the body through faith, modern pilgrims to Santiago (most of whom would not define themselves as religiously motivated) frequently seek some kind of answer for life’s inner woes. The focus is on the power of the journey rather than simply reaching the destination. Many people find themselves doing the pilgrimage to Santiago and are not sure exactly why but somehow know that it is the right place to be. The contemporary pilgrimage to Santiago is very popular precisely because of its openness: there’s a place for everyone irrelevant of age, background, faith (or lack thereof) and motivation and it has a way of hitting each individual in just the right spot (even though what that spot might be can be quite a mystery).
One of the common sayings among pilgrims along the Camino is that ‘You can start alone but you never end alone.’ The power of community and friendship is a theme reinforced throughout the film. Tom starts very much alone but soon acquires three unlikely companions who share his journey.
As Estevez shared with me at the after-party, The Way is a modern-day Oz story as three flawed characters help Tom (Dorothy) find his way back home to his son, his heart and, ultimately, himself and his faith.
The movie brings vividly to life the sights, sounds (both pleasant and annoying – in addition to a great soundtrack including Coldplay, Alannis Morrisette and James Taylor), color and feel of the Camino as we see the group of pilgrim friends share meals, sleep together in the pilgrims’ refuges, walk through the varied landscapes as well as have both good and bad encounters with locals and, importantly, with each other.
Despite their conflicts, and also because of them, the pilgrims are able to have unexpected moments of liberation and insight.
The Way gives us a picture of the Camino, warts and all, to show how pilgrimage is a process of trial and error, forgiveness and insight, sorrow and laughter and how pilgrims’ motivations are as varied as a rainbow from the deeply religious to personal angst to physical challenge to the apparently trivial. The characters are credible and you care what happens to them keeping you riveted until the end.
Estevez and Sheen want to show how the Camino’s magic helps to work change in pilgrims – when people leave behind their normal lives and go to the pilgrimage stripped of most of their possessions, normal stress and obligations, they connect more easily with the world (ie, self, nature, God, others, body, history, etc). Unhindered by the labels, status and titles they may have back home, when the day’s obligations are reduced to the basics (walking, eating, and finding a bed), suddenly life seems much easier. As pilgrims lighten their loads mentally, they often describe how their inner worlds also free up giving way to the possibility of greater insight and self-awareness. On the Camino people describe connecting more intensely to everything around them and inside of themselves. Making the pilgrimage to Compostela helps many people discover their own way on the Way – it can be a type of mobile therapy.
After the premiere I asked María her general impression of the film. Overall she was very positive but was surprised at how ‘religious’ it was. I hadn’t felt the same way. Reflecting on it more, the themes of re-finding one’s faith and connecting with something spiritual are definitely present but it seemed to me part of each person’s private story and not an imposition on the audience. Also, being a religious pilgrimage in its origin, it’s inevitable that elements of the Catholic church will be woven throughout. I think I also take for granted with my years along the Camino the incredible diversity of stories and how on the Camino it is possible to be steeped in religion yet not feel religious. Yes, religion is inevitably present throughout the film but its intention is not to prosthelytize.
The moving story behind the story also involves the heart. When Emilio Estevez introduced the film to the audience he started with a quote: ‘It’s a pleasure to return from whence I came.’ He said, ‘It is the same for Martin and me. Our film is a love letter to Spain. It’s a love letter to Galicia.’ Before Martin Sheen took his stage name he was Ramón Estevez son of a Galician immigrant from Salceda near the coastal town of Pontevedra. Spain remained close to Sheen’s heart and he continued to return to his father’s native land. Seven years ago Sheen invited his family to tour Spain with him. They ended up doing their own road trip of the Camino as they crossed the north of Spain to Galicia. This journey and Sheen’s own faith eventually led them to make their own film about the pilgrimage way and transform it into a tribute to the land of their ancestors. The film is dedicated to Martin Sheen’s father.
Anyone who intimately knows the Camino will find a number of odd edits of landscapes. Emilio Estevez explained to me after the premiere that his original movie was 3.5 hours long and he was required to do some creative editing. This is inconsequential to the overall feeling of the film as the scenes selected are visually rich and conjure the depth of beauty of Spain in its many facets (and at its best). They did skip the sections where pilgrims must walk along roadways or wait in lines at refuges but one would expect that type of poetic license. Also, the pilgrims themselves remain remarkably immaculate during much of their pilgrimage, they don’t seem to have any physical problems and Tom tends to charge through the whole Camino with great determination and vitality. I would have softened his pace as his character softens and evolves over the course of the journey. The development and transformation of Sheen’s character is particularly good. We see how the others are deeply touched by the Camino but I did wonder how the experience would stay with them over time. Of course, this a major interest of my own (How does the journey impact people in the long-term, if at all?) as I explored in my book Pilgrim Stories. On and Off the Road to Santiago.
These are minor complaints as The Way manages to touch on and give accurate and colorful insight into a wide ranging mix of Spanish (eg, regional differences and Gypsy stereotypes) and Camino culture. There are several scenes that poke fun at Americans and there is an especially funny moment when two characters debate about the proper word to use for Spanish finger foods – tapas or pinchos – in northern Spain that brought the house down in the predominantly Spanish-speaking audience in Santiago.
The film also wrestles with one of my favorite Camino topics: authenticity. One night around the fire the pilgrims debate about the nature of the ´true/authentic’ pilgrim. One side claims that real pilgrims only walk and must suffer as they did in the medieval past. Another pilgrim points out the hypocrisy in this idea of modern self-styled suffering pilgrims who travel with plenty of comforts (eg, cell phones, credit cards and waterproof shoes) unknown in the past. It’s not how you do the pilgrimage that’s important but how you carry it in your heart. Walking with your own pack is one way to do the Camino but it’s not the only way. Everyone must find their own Camino. That’s one of the central messages of the film: Nunca es demasiado tarde para encontrar el Camino. It’s never too late to find the Way/way. There’s no formula to be a ‘real/authentic’ pilgrim. It’s a real shame how many, many people today see the Camino as a competition of who is a better (ie,imagined ‘authentic’) pilgrim and get very snooty about where they started, where they stayed and didn’t stay, how far they’ve walked, how many times they’ve done it, etc as if that were the point of the Camino. What a sad outcome of a pilgrimage along the Camino de Santiago. Authenticity comes from within and isn’t found by following some unwritten code of oughts and shoulds and trying to impose it on others. Live your own life. Live your own pilgrimage. Follow your own heart. Walk your own Camino (and stay clear of anybody who tries to tell you there is a right way)!
***I’d like to thank my dear friend María Santos for accompanying me to the premiere and the post-premiere cocktail where we met the remarkably gracious Emilio Estevez and Martin Sheen.
***For more information on the film, see the official The Way-The Movie website: https://www.theway-themovie.com/
To prepare for and enjoy more your walking and hiking tour in Spain, along the Camino de Santiago or in Portugal, here are some of the brochures from these area’s official tourism websites (www.spain.info, www.turgalicia.es, www.visitportugal.com, www.turismo.navarra.es, www.tourism.euskadi.net).
They are great resources and will help you with trip planning and anticipation of your holiday in Spain and/or Portugal. Find many additional brochures not listed here through the tourism websites.
In 2008 Australian journalist and organic olive oil producer Dee Nolan journeyed with us on our On Glory Roads: Camino de Santiago pilgrimage tour.
She has crafted an extraordinarily beautiful book detailing her pilgrimage to Compostela - A Food Lover’s Pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela (Penguin, 2010). Read More....
Camino de Santiago
Best vacation of his life!Mary & Terry Schuler, Pasadena, California, June 2011 Camino
This is not a tour, but a life changing experience. I have to tell you that on the way home, Terry said this trip was the "best vacation of his life". He may have mentioned it at our farewell dinner as well, but I wanted to make sure that you knew it.
One day, I hope to put my thoughts and feelings about the Camino into words. In the meantime, just know that you are awesome, your family is awesome and you have given so much of yourselves to all of us as we explored a unique and treasured bit of world history and current pop fascination across Northern Spain.
How lucky are we! Nancy, you are a wonder. You have made this trip unforgettable! You are bright, articulate, organized, helpful and just an overall pleasure to be with.”
This is not a tour, but a life changing experience. You made me realize that I could challenge myself physically more than I ever had. Loved the fellow pilgrims, the food, the history, the culture, sites and your lovely family. What a gift! Thank you so much.
You have a special gift that brings people from all over the world to walk together in harmony while simultaneously fostering the individual perception of the Camino.
I think of our experience as "community on foot." Your graciousness, careful planning and preparation, timing & flexibility and extensive knowledge made the trip outstanding and allowed all of us to be together in a mysteriously beautiful way. I really miss everybody.
M. Voorhies, Portland, Oregon, USA, May 2012 Camino de Santiago
you made (it) happen with a bit of magic weaving…
I'm feeling very nostalgic for yellow arrows, warmth, wild flowers, space and wonderful scenery, soaring and magnificent cathedrals, so many stories, history lessons, music, our songs, no decisions, Jose's lunches, Sam's funniness and cuteness, long walks, great company and so much more...... We have been so privileged, I do appreciate it all, and you made all that happen with a bit of magic weaving, .... you gave us all a lot more than most holiday companies would, so thank you so much for making my holiday so special and memorable.
O. Bovill, Suffolk, UK, May 2012 Camino de Santiago
I am still savoring…
I am still savoring all the experiences and delights of walking the Camino with you. For as long as I have memory I will recall and retaste the many lovely and profound moments of our journey. You are an angel.
B. Spiller, Santa Monica, Calif., USA June - July 2012 Compostela
these trips [are] such life-affirming experiences
Nancy and Jose, we owe you a special thanks for all of the behind the scenes work that goes into making these trips such life-affirming experiences and for sharing with all of us your special passions and your family. Sam was a joy to be with.
MB Davis, Vienna, Virginia, May 2012 Camino de Santiago
you engendered a love of place and being…
We said last night that our time on the Camino with you was the best holiday we'd ever had …… you engendered a love of place and being that I haven't felt for such a sustained period anywhere or at any time in my life!! We were all caught up in it and so I fervently hope the bond will draw us back together again some other time and place....
J. Clutterbuck, North Yorkshire, UK, May 2012 Camino de Santiago
You truly have a gift for what you and your husband do…
You truly have a gift for what you and your husband do…. You made the trip the best with allowing us to get to know ourselves, individuals and the group. You gave us space and yet knew when to come in for a talk, or encouragement or just to experience with us…. Good teamwork. Miss his lunches!!! They just aren't the same here…. Thank you for everything you and your family did to make it a most memorable trip.
B. Cak, Crown Point, Indiana, USA, Compostela June – July 2012
the best [tour] ever
5 [of 5] is not high enough. We have been on other tours and this is the best one ever. We hope we can join you for other tours.
A Kithrades and Y. Sinanoglou, Wilton, CT, USA, May 2012 Camino de Santiago
picnic lunches were so exciting with new discoveries each day
Thanks for a wonderful time on the Camino. Your planning was meticulous, yet flexible...The structure of the whole journey was excellent with plenty of time for each of us to be alone or with whomsoever we chose.
The walks that you selected were clearly representative of the whole trail, as we saw in the movie “The Way” which we saw recently. It brought back great memories – the cut out metal statues near the windmills, the villages, and “our” Romanesque church.
The length and timing of the walks was excellent ...
The picnic lunches were so exciting with new discoveries each day, including the alliterate salad. The accommodation and evening meals were top rate and we very much enjoyed our last nights in the Parador.
G & S Paul, Chatswood West, NSW, Australia, Camino May 2012