Everybody deserves a day off

I’ve shared a lot of “keeping it real” posts lately, both here and on social media, attempting to capture the hot, dirty, and not-so-glamorous side of living on a sailboat. Especially in the month or two each fall when we try to cram six-months worth of maintenance into a few weeks! So I reckon it’s time for some fun! We couldn’t possibly spend a month in a beautiful place like Puerto Rico without getting out and exploring, now could we?

Beautiful Luquillo Beach is only about a 20-minute drive from the Puerto del Rey marina. So when we needed a beach fix, this was our go-to spot! At low tide, you can walk for over a mile on the sand, connecting several public beaches, and the tall palm trees and red wooden life guard stands add to the natural beauty of the water and sand. When we tired of the beach, we introduced each of our cruising friends to the wonder that is Mojito Lab. It’s basically a food truck for mojitos – each one hand made and muddled to order, with fabulous flavors such as passionfruit, coconut, and tamarind. At $11.15 for a 32 oz drink, Capt. Mike and I like to share (after negotiating on who gets to pick the flavor) and that way our drinks never get warm!

After seeing the amazing lightweight beach chairs that Zach and Lindy of SV Holiday had aboard, we went onto Amazon that night and ordered two for ourselves. That’s one of the things that makes Puerto Rico such an easy place to store our boat – Amazon Prime free delivery of everything we need for the season!

When we felt really adventurous, we piled into the rental car and drove WAY up into the mountains of central Puerto Rico to Guavate to check out the famous lechoneras on Pork Highway. What a scene! After about 45 minutes of highway driving, we turned off onto a super winding, always climbing mountain road. Now don’t get fooled by the first lechonera you see – keep climbing, keep climbing, to find the where the locals go on a Sunday afternoon. When the road comes to a T so you have to turn right or left, and you can barely hear your passengers over the sound of the salsa music, you’re there!

Lechon is roasted whole suckling pig. Each restaurant has its own secret recipe of marinades and spices. And of course, each restaurant insists they are the first and the best! At El Rancho Original, first order a pina colada at the tiki bar kiosk out front. The bartender will ask “con ron?” “with rum?” and I highly recommend you answer yes 😎

If you’re not quite ready to eat yet (although the yummy smells may convince you) take a minute to bet on the wooden horses.

Then sip your drink as you stand in line, trying to decide what to order. I can’t imaging NOT ordering the lechon. It is displayed in full glory on a spit in the front window. Every few minutes, a server walks over wielding a machete and hacks off some serious pig.

Each serving, in its styrofoam takeout tray, is elegantly plated with a piece of fried skip balanced on top – don’t mind the occasional black bristle. Choose your two sides to go with you hunk of pig (all starches – no veggies to be found here!) such as rice and peas or potato salad. There are plenty of other Puerto Rican delicacies to try, such as morcilla (blood sausage), batatas (roasted sweet potatoes), and pastels (a yucca-based tamale, steamed in banana leaves). Once you’ve placed your order and given your name, loiter by the bar waiting for your name to be called. Then pay (cash only, of course) and carry your cafeteria tray down to one of the many picnic pavilions down by the stream.

Here the volume of the fiesta is a bit lower, and you can enjoy your meal and conversation in peace. It’s also great people watching! Check out the big groups in matching colorful t-shirts all here together to celebrate a birthday or anniversary. And some of the pavilions are decorated with balloons and streamers and birthday cakes. There’s everyone here- from babies in strollers, to abuelos (grandfathers) in wheel chairs.

When you are as stuffed as the pig, head back up the stairs to the main restaurant to enjoy the band and watch some serious salsa dancing. Or better yet, drift from one restaurant to the next, sampling the mojitos (a live mint plant in a pot is a good sign), and checking out which band is the loudest and most energetic, and which establishment has the most serious dancers. No flip flops here! The women in the Cuban heels and the men in tight black pants and elaborate white shirts came here to dance! My gringo blood shows, and although I can’t stop my toes from tapping, I really can’t compete with these dancers!

Hopefully, you’ve picked a designated driver, because it’s easy to get caught up in the festive atmosphere and to forget that it’s over an hour of winding roads to get back home. But this is an afternoon party, not nightlife, so it’s easy to be back in the marina, full and happy, way before cruiser bedtime!

How’s much does it cost to walk the Camino de Santiago?

I’ve been thinking a lot about this as I’ve walked toward Santiago over the past month. And I’ve come to the conclusion that you can do it quite comfortably and enjoyably for a budget of €35 per person per day. Maybe with an emergency fund of €100 or so… just in case! It’s really an inexpensive European trip, although once you multiply by 30-40 days to walk the entire 800 km, it does add up!

Lodging: Budget €10 per day

For €10 you’ll get a bed in a shared room with access to a shared bathroom, a hot shower, a place to do laundry, a common area, and probably a kitchen and wifi. Basically, this is everything a pilgrim needs after walking 20-35 km per day.

On a tighter budget?

Whatever your mileage goals for the day, there will always be a municipal (run by the city) or parochial (run by the church) albergue that charges €5 or €6 per night. They’ll provide all the same services, but might be bigger with a younger crowd, and therefore more crowded and maybe less clean. There are also donation-based albergues where you simply pay what you can afford.

Can splurge a bit more?

Sometimes it’s really worth it to splash out for a private room. You’ll have more space, your own bathroom, fewer snoring Croatians, maybe even perks like cotton towels, free breakfast, and a terrace to overlook the city. In our first 28 days on the Camino, we spent 7 days in private rooms, ranging from €35 to €45 per night for the two of us. But that includes our rest days in Burgos and León. Albergues won’t let you stay more than one night unless you’re injured or sick. So taking a rest day really requires private accommodations. Of course, you could also stay in a hotel, Casa Rural, or Bed and Breakfast and could choose to spend much more!

Dinner: Budget €10 per day

Either your albergue or one of the many nearby bars will offer a pilgrims’ menu – three course meal with bread and wine – for somewhere between €8 and €12. The pilgrims’menu has three things going for it:

  1. It’s filling. Focusing more on quantity than quality, a cheap pilgrims’meal will probably include french fries, pork, eggs… or all three!
  2. It’s served at a reasonable time. Since Spaniards eat dinner at 9:00 or later, the 7:00 pilgrims meal is a lifesaver for someone who’s walked 20 miles today, and who’s going to wake up before sunrise tomorrow to do it all over again!
  3. It includes wine. They don’t call it the vino Camino for nothing. Plus… it helps you sleep.😉

(So the photo below is a regular people’s weekend menu, not a pilgrim menu, so it’s more expensive, but you can see how it works- and how difficult it can be to decide what to order if you don’t speak Spanish!)

On a tighter budget?

Instead of a three course meal, you could order a plato completo, which is basically your whole meal on one plate. You can find the usual eggs or pork and fries and salad for around €5.

Or, better yet, shop at the grocery store and cook for yourself. Most albergues have kitchens, and a hearty pasta meal hits the spot after a long walk. One night, we bought groceries in the tiniest shop in the tiniest town and the entire thing, including gluten free pasta, sauce, veggies, olives, a bottle of wine, and yogurt, eggs, and coffee for the next morning cost us €16.

Can you splurge a bit more?

The the food in Spain is really amazing! If your budget allows, you can always go out for a real dinner instead of the pilgrims’ menu and enjoy octopus, iberico ham, paella, roasted lamb, and much more. A restaurant meal would increase your dinner cost from €10pp to €30pp or more – PLUS wine. León has a fabulous tapas culture, so it’s fun to explore and hit the bars. You could treat yourself to a cocktail instead of the ubiquitous wine – that would raise the cost of your end of the day celebration from €1.50 per drink to around €6. You could certainly eat all three meals in bars, rather than carrying hiking snacks. The cost of food is entirely in your control!

Other expenses: Budget €15 per day

If you’ve budgeted €10 for lodging and €10 for dinner, that leaves €15 per day for everything else: breakfast, hiking snacks, coffee, wine, museum entry, donations at churches, refilling your soap and toothpaste. Plenty! Skip the overpriced albergue breakfast and get espresso and tortilla at a bar for €3. All the tourist sites offer discounted rates for pilgrims. There are plenty of supermercados and tiendas selling nuts and fruit and ham and cheese. And a cup of espresso or a glass of house wine costs between €1 and €1.50. that €15 will go far!

Optional expenses

Of course, you can always spend more money if you’ve got it.

Laundry

Some albergues have a washing machine and charge between €2 and €4 per load. Every three or four nights, it’s nice to wash all your hiking clothes with soap in a real machine. And if you combine with someone else, you’ll have a full load. 😁

Luggage transfer

There are a number of competing companies that will carry your pack from town to town for about €5 per day. You don’t even have to plan ahead or commit to the whole trip. If you’re having a rough day, or you’ve got bad blisters, or the next day’s route is particularly hilly, your albergue can arrange for luggage transfer tomorrow. Pilgrim Hack! If you’re traveling with a partner, combine your heavy great into one bag for transfer and carry the rest and you’ll only spend €5 for the two of you! (No, Mike and I haven’t tried this yet. Did I mention we do things the hard way?)

Use a travel agent

This is a very American way to do the Camino. You can go through an adventure outfitter and have them plan and schedule your trip, book your accommodations, arrange your meals, reserve your luggage transfer. And … add a big premium to the cost for this service! But as I’ve described, it’s not very difficult to arrange lodging, luggage transfer, and meals for yourself. Plus, if you are pre-booked into a tour, you don’t have the flexibility to stop early if you’re hurting or the weather’s bad (or there’s a fiesta!) Or to walk longer some days if you’re feeling good or you’ve just heard about an albergue that’s “the best on the Camino.”

Bottom line?

It’s not as expensive as you think to walk the Camino Frances! Between different types of accommodations, discount meals and entry costs for pilgrims, and honestly the small amount of “things” you actually need, you can make this a very affordable trip. But keep in mind that doing the whole trip from St Jean Pied-de-Port to Santiago will take 30-35 days. On the plus side, you’re not putting gas in the car at home, your water and electric bills will be lower back there, and you’re not going out to movies or concerts or shows. You may find it’s cheaper to do a pilgrimage across Spain than to stay home! And of course, the beautiful views, scenic visas, and ancient churches are the same no matter how much you pay for your trip!

More surprises… The Camino provides…

After several short days near Burgos, we are back to walking all day – today we walked 30km. We are walking through the Maseta, which is high desert and flat, but a completely different terrain than a week ago.

Today, while walking the Camino de Santiago, we crossed another ancient pilgrimage route, called El Camino Lebaniego – a pilgrimage to the monestary which holds the largest relic of the “true cross” of Christ’s crucifixion. While the Camino continues west to Santiago, this route diverges south, and again it is a reminder of the countless people who have walked this way before me. The crossroads is a lovely spot along a canal where we walk across a lock.

The sign describing the pilgrimage to the cross was my favorite part of the day. At the bottom of the English portion it reads: “If you walk for religious reasons, or you walk for cultural reasons, you are welcome. Whatever intention you bring is good.” I think this means whatever reason brought you to the Camino today is the right one – it is where you are meant to be right now.

After a very long day, when we bypassed lovely hotels and beautiful gardens and even swimming pools…

We finally arrived in Población de Campo. The albergue at La Finca is lovely, with each pilgrim having her own little private space of bed, and shelves, and light, and locker – all for 10€ pp. I joked with Mike that the little privacy curtain has super powers, and would even block out snoring.

But when we walked across the garden to the restaurant, we learned that, for the first time in our Camino, they had absolutely nothing gluten free than we could eat. We were pretty much ok if the pilgrims’meal contained pasta – we were prepared to order off the regular menu and to spend more money. But the woman at the bar clicked her tongue and said “muy dificile, muy dificile” repeatedly, and didn’t offer us a single gluten free thing we could eat. So I was ready to have peanuts for dinner, but we decided to put our tired feet in shoes and walk into town to see what we could see.

We stopped at a small hotel and asked if they had a Pilgrim’s menu. The response was an absolute torrent of Spanish (I have GOT to become fluent in Spanish) but the gist of it was, “we don’t have any pilgrims starting here tonight, so we aren’t doing the pilgrims menu. You’re staying at La Finca, right?” So Mike and I said yes, and proceeded to look very sad, and senior spoke to senora and soon decided that if we came back at 7:00, we could have dinner. So we walked down the street and killed an hour in a local bar where my elbow literally stuck to the table and we had to pull the barkeep away from his telenovelas. But after we ordered wine and peanuts, he warmed up to us. He asked where were were from, and showed us his collection of currency from pilgrims who have visited from all over the world: USA, South Africa, Thailand, Indonesia, Bulgaria… He gave us each a shell (the symbol of St James), and wished us a Buen Camino!

So we made it back to the hotel right at 7:00, and seriously had one of the best meals of our entire Camino. The whole dining room was set, with a table just for us. A bottle of water, a bottle of wine… Senior brought a tureen of the best soup I’ve ever had – white beans and clams, still in the shell. Then a plate of tomato salad. Then pork ribs that just fell off the bone. Then dessert – but the cream dessert had a cookie crust, so in distress, senior gave it away to the front desk clerk instead and replaced it with the most delicious ripe melon. And, to go with the melon, he brought us two shot glasses of house-made after dinner liquor, that tasted like sunshine and honey. After all this, he only charged us 9€ each. We did leave an appropriate tip (trying not to be stupid Americans) and a glowing Google review, but their hospitality to these two starving pilgrims will be one of my best memories of the Camino.

You’ve got a lot of huevos, my friend…

My Camino is pretty much powered by eggs! Mike and I are both gluten-free for medical reasons so we can’t eat bread, pizza, sandwiches, or pasta. It can make things kind of tricky in Spain. Breakfast here is usually bread or croissant with butter or jam and coffee and juice. The easiest snack to grab during the day’s hike or when the day’s walk is over but there’s hours until dinner is a boccidillo, or ham and cheese sandwich. Since we can’t do bread, we eat tons of eggs instead.

We are becoming connoisseurs of the Spanish tortilla. At it’s most basic, it’s a big omelette of eggs and potatoes. It’s usually sitting in the counter of a bar, ready to be sliced and served alone or as a sandwich.

Now mind you, we’re eating this at least twice a day, so we get really excited when we find something different -maybe tortilla with olives and peppers, or one that’s extra thick or particularly crispy on top.

Of course, Mike is thrilled when they give him a slice that’s extra big – when they don’t, he’s taken to ordering two slices right off the bat. I, on the other hand, order two coffees ’cause there are no venti-sized cups here!

Occasionally, the tortilla is already premade into sandwiches, so we have to negotiate using our very limited Spanish to see if they’ll make us a fresh one “sin pan.” Sometimes these turn out to be the freshest, yummiest tortillas of all!

We recently spent the night in the small village of Atapuerca, which is organised to support tourists visiting the archaeological site and not really supportive to pilgrims. The only place serving food before 8pm was a bar. And the only option besides sandwiches was fried eggs. Go figure!

Add that to the hard-boiled eggs we often make when we stay in an albergue with a kitchen and, as Mike says “I think I’m on my eighth egg of the day.”

More Camino Surprises – Where wine flows like water

Ok, so this one wasn’t a real surprise. The Irache wine fountain is famous on the Camino. The plaque on the wall next to the fountain reads, “Pilgrim, if you wish to arrive at Santiago full of strength and vitality, have a drink of this great wine and make a toast to happiness.” So we did! Even at 9:00 in the morning. We arrived at the same time as for women from England and Australia so we all toasted and mugged for the cameras and got a little bit giddy together.

Mike started up the trail, and I was still busy adjusting my pack when Antone, an older gentleman dressed all in black, walked up and asked me why I was walking the Camino. He said he was walking to help people and to provide healing. So he pulled out a crystal and let it swing above his palm. He told me that my soul is very advanced, that I am in my last life before reaching enlightenment, and that I am close to working through all the karma from my past lives. So I’ve got that going for me!

The next village of Villamayor de Monjardin is one of those stone cities high of a hill that you can see for miles as you walk toward it. We found a shady oasis just below the church tower for a picnic of chorizo, hummus, pate and olives, before heading to our final stop of the day in Los Arcos.

The wave of brutally hot weather was well underway by now, and when we arrive in a town at mid-afternoon during siesta, it feels like arriving in a ghost town. Los Arcos was no different, but we found a bunk at Casa de la Abuela (Grandma’s house), cleaned up, and moved as little as possible until it was time for the communal dinner of lentils and sausage and salad. This was one of many nights on the Camino when Mike and I were the only English speaking pilgrims at the table and the conversation just sweapt around us. The church at Los Arcos is surprisingly beautiful, with much of the stone walls and arches still painted in brilliant colors, rather than faded to one of the many colors of J Crew chinos (stone…ivory…khaki…vanilla…eggshell…)