Day 1: Santiago 66

“You don’t choose the Camino. The Camino chooses you.”

It chooses you even when you had your sights set on Ireland, a multi-day hike near the sea and milky cups of tea with a friend in Galway.

At the bottom of the webpage explaining Ireland’s mandatory 2-week quarantine, the next article caught my eye: “Spain opens June 3!”



If the Camino calls you, and you don’t heed it? It will just keep calling you. And calling until you relent. I’ve learned.

So, flights, PCR tests, international forms, QR codes, and some good PPE obtained (yes, I’m fully vaccinated and followed all reqirements), I hopped across the Atlantic.

In record time, I had heeded the call. There I was, blinking up in astonishment at the twin cathedral spires of Santiago de Compostela.

happy peregrina

Santiago. My end and beginning.

If you don’t know, Saint James the Greater was the hot-headed disciple of Jesus, his cousin actually. To me, he’s the saint who holds a sword aloft, slaying and trampling that which comes between me and the Divine. (In reality, he is the patron saint of Spain, associated with massacre of thousands of Muslims and Jews throughout history. Every pilgrim gets to grapple with this reality.) I don’t love the dude, yet there’s spiritual merit in hanging with him. But that’s me. Your mileage may vary.

With two Caminos under my belt, you’d think I would have learned everything the journey had to teach me. But maybe it was just time for me to cut away more of what’s not essential? Dunno! But I’ve been here enough, facing a daunting walk to know I can trust this illogical, inexplicable call.

So here I am.

Squeaky clean cathedral

And it’s so different. Everyone here is wearing masks indoors and out. I didn’t see a single pilgrim for hours. Instead, the city was alive with locals. I mean alive.

My pensión balcony looked over an outdoor terrace where two different bars offer seating and cerveza. The air felt ebullient. Laughter, happy, emphatic conversation, and occasional bursts of song echoed off the medieval stone buildings. Rather than an outsider, I felt like part of an unannounced celebration from three stories up. Even still masked, Spain seems to be taking a deep breath after a devastating year.

the view
my balcony as viewed from the terrace

After an evening stroll, I met G, a Jewish pilgrim from California, and we talked until nearly midnight about everything under the sun. My first pilgrim buddy!

The next morning, I found my way to the “new” pilgrim Welcome Center to attend “the only English Mass in Galicia.”

In a little side chapel there, with seats marked for appropriate distancing, I and three other pilgrims celebrated Mass with a kind, young priest from the Philippines. Everyone got to introduce themselves, where they were from — an unusual lovely touch. During the intercessional prayers, the priest invited us to come up to the altar, light a small candle, and express a prayer from the heart. It was so intimate and touching!

Afterward, the priest invited us out to coffee. D from New Hampshire, C from France, and I sat with a view of the cathedral and visited. It felt like such a blessing to be suddenly connected with fellow pilgrims. After all this time!

In the evening, I took G’s suggestion from the previous night and sought out a great vegetarian restaurant (rare in Spain’s pig-focused cuisine). Or rather, I tried to find it!

Despite this being my 4th visit to the city, I *still* get lost! But, persist I did, and ended up in a verdant cafe called The Green House. Run by a delightful woman with even more delightful stories, I’m so glad I found it! Curry empanadas served with an amazing dipping sauce for the appetizer along with the house white wine. The main dish a veggie style French cassoulet was absolutely delicious.

For dessert, rather than sweets, I got to have a most delightful conversation with a young woman from Germany, A, who spoke flawless English. She arrived after me and sat down at a nearby table alone — though there were only four tables in the place! It seemed unfair to me that I had the biggest, comfiest table by myself.

When I invited her to join me, she smiled and accepted immediately. The German guy sitting alone at his table, put his hands up as though he didn’t want to interrupt.

“You sure? You’re welcome to join us!”

“Yah, yah,” he waved me off kindly.

I learned that A does amazing international work AND is also an artist who creates paintings and murals. She wants to bring more creativity to her life.

And after an hour of heartfelt conversation, thought to myself: this is what the Camino is! Bringing different people together who are seeking ways to live more meaningfully in the world. Folks who are making hard decisions about how to release the good to go for what’s really calling them.

Every single one is a teacher.

So, I’m grateful to be here, but I won’t be a real pilgrim until the walking begins tomorrow from Santiago to Negreira — about 13 miles. I hope. I haven’t trained at all.

So, if I don’t keel over from the effort (sorry, Mom, just joking), I’ll post again tomorrow with photos.

Tell me what you think!

66 thoughts on “Day 1: Santiago

  • carmel merrill

    Thank you Jennifer for your so very visceral descriptions of what you are feeling and experiencing, making it easy to feel I am there with you. Godspeed.

    • Jennifer Hofmann Post author

      Thank you! It gets a little sweary at times, but sometimes that’s what the moment calls for! 😂

  • Carol Sullivan

    Oh, the memories, Jen! The cathedral, the street . . . the camino. . . . I did it part way with three daughters, and when they left, was joined by my future daughter-in-law. It was to Celebrate 70! I returned the next year to pickup where we had left off the year before, and completed the journey to Santiago.

    You are speaking of what I called “Camino Miracles”: all those wonderful things that you would experience only on Camino. Those “miracles” are somewhat bittersweet, because, to me, they were the way the world should run. Strangers sharing meals, sharing steps, sharing the experience. The world meeting and learning that we all take this journey called life one step at a time, and it’s better to share it with everyone.

    I’m looking forward to your next installment.

    • Jennifer Hofmann Post author

      Thank you, Carol! Until you return, I’m happy to help you live it vicariously! 💖

    • Jennifer Hofmann Post author

      Did I know you walked this? How lovely that we have this in common, Carol! May we each walk a little closer to living Camino every day!

  • Donna Maurillo

    I’m excited to hear of your adventures. A few of my friends have done the pilgrimage, and all have come back with new “life lessons.” Two friends from here in California sold their businesses and their home to move to Spain, and they love it!

    • Jennifer Hofmann Post author

      Wow! There’s really nothing else like slowing down so much and for so long that one has space to hear an inner call to a more authentic life.

    • Jennifer Hofmann Post author

      It’s a bit of a risk to open oneself so widely, but on my third Camino yet, I’ve never once regretted the changes I’ve made — only regretted not making them sooner! Lovely to have your vicarious company

  • Ben Estes

    I truly enjoyed your narrative. Your statement “Folks who are making hard decisions about how to release the good to go for what’s really calling them” really resonated for me. I’ve been kinda doing that for the past 10 years without a succinct way to describe it. I love Spain. I was in Madrid during Easter Week in 1991. I was there for other reasons but was blown away by the way Spain celebrates Catholic holidays. It was a real treat. Enjoy your pilgrimage. I admire your devotion and commitment to action.

    • Jennifer Hofmann Post author

      Seekers are not always welcome or understood, but they are essential for humanity’s future. Keep seeking, brother!

  • Julie

    I think multiple definitions of wonder are peeling away, more to be unveiled as you continue. I mean for me, reading you, following the adventure. And clearly the unveiling is yours, too, though of probably many more words than wonder.

  • Carol Myers

    So fun to hear about your beginning journey… thank you for sharing these beautiful openings of your heart as you take your en steps and join with others….. many blessings!

  • persis coleman

    I’m so glad for you. You deserve as much fun and happiness as anyone. Thank you for the entertaining blog.

  • Dr. Arlette Poland

    As usual, you are impressive, original and deeply thoughtful.
    i love having you in my life!

    I saw some of this Camino on one of the Rick Steve’s TV tours. His take was much as yours. Great way to meet people more deeply and from all over the world. Even in a pandemic!
    Remember to BE safe because we need you in our world… and back home!

    Enjoy and thanks for bringing me (us) on the walk with you!!

    Many thousand blessings… and esply to your zappatas!

    • Jennifer Hofmann Post author

      So lovely to hear from you! Thank you so much for the encouragement!!

  • Cheryl G

    I love being with you as you do this journey. I now to the willingness to tackle the distance with faith in your body to partner with you. I don’t think you needed the training, this is meant to be

  • Jan Daugharty

    I think you are a brave soul to do that journey with no training. Are you doing the whole walk? It is on my bucket list. You have a great, positive attitude and some new walking friends for when you need conversation. I always enjoy walking and not talking. I get totally immersed in the journey and at times myself. I tend to have great conversations with myself, answering questions that I have. Please keep posting. I would enjoy following along. My sisters and I try to do 1 long distance walk a year. Last year was the first year in 16 that we could not do one. Take care.🦯🦯

    • Jennifer Hofmann Post author

      Hi! This is my third one. I walked all 500 miles in 2013 and again in2016, but in reverse. This time, I’m just walking the loop to the ocean and back from Santiago. Depending on wifi availability, I’ll be posting daily until I finish! Thank you for the encouragement!

  • Donna Dominguez

    I have thought/dreamed/planned to do the Camino for over 40 years now, since my first visit to Galicia. My father immigrated to the US from there & I have gone to see family over the years but, no Camino . . .
    Jenn, I am simultaneously envious & inspired by you! Looking forward to hearing about your experiences.

    • Jennifer Hofmann Post author

      Galicia is one of the places my heart calls home. I can only imagine ernest it would be like to be FROM there! I hope you heed the call someday!

  • carol routh

    You never fail to amaze me, Jen!!! If you had just said “guess where I am now!” I would never have guessed in 1 million years. This is fantastic! Can’t wait to hear your stories!

  • Susan

    Have a great journey. Sounds amazing. “Be the change you wish to see in the world”

  • Barbara Jung

    So thrilled to be able to track you on this wonderful pilgrimage. I so admire all of you brave pilgrims.
    It sounds perfectly wonderful meeting all the people and make friends from many places.
    I am happy that you are doing this for yourself. You have been such an inspiration to so many
    and put in so much work and energy. Great leadership, great character and I so appreciate you.

    • Jennifer Hofmann Post author

      Wow, thank you, Barbara! I could say the same of you! Three Camino taught me that we get there together!

    • Jennifer Hofmann Post author

      Oh my gosh, such kind words from someone I admire so much! Thank you!

  • Patricia Torres

    I love the line “how to release the good to go for what’s calling them.” That’s a really powerful statement. Best wishes on your Camino.

  • Annie Chapin

    This is a fascinating blog. Thanks Jennifer. The Cathedral in Santiago looks so clean…last time I was there it was covered with scaffolding for exterior cleaning. It seems like you are walking backwards on the Camino, do I have that right? Or maybe there isn’t a backwards or forwards. I love that you are traveling alone and the people you are meeting are so interesting, something that seems easier to do when you are solo. You are a wonderful, thoughtful writer and I look forward to following your journey.

    • Jennifer Hofmann Post author

      Thank you very much for your kind words! That means so much! This time I’m just walking from Santiago to Finisterre, much shorter but my favorite part!

  • Melanie

    Sweet day of preparation and connection, the Camino community – you are all connected by way of your journey. And so you begin – buen Camino.

  • Laura

    I’m so excited that you’re doing this! And I stayed in the same Hostal in Santiago 😊 Buen Camino!

  • Diane Stehlik

    I love reading about your journey! My daughter walked a portion of the Camino as part of her college experience several years ago. I have read many many books written by “pilgrims.” Living vicariously as I wouldn’t be able to walk so many miles per day.

    • Jennifer Hofmann Post author

      For what it’s worth, if you have enough time, you can walk as slowly as you like!

  • Iris Graville

    An inspiring and surprising post, Jen! I’ve not been keeping up with AoC posts, and I didn’t know you were embarking on the pilgrimage. I look forward to your journal. The Camino has been calling me for a number of years, but I haven’t yet responded.

    I’m sure you’ve read lots of writings by other pilgrims (and, clearly, you could/should write your own!). Here’s another one that might interest you by a fellow author of Homebound Publications – Into the Thin by Stephen Drew.

    Blessings to you on your journey – Iris

    • Jennifer Hofmann Post author

      Thank you so much, Iris! Once the Camino calls, it will keep calling until you go — or at least that’s how it works for me! Thanks for the book recommendation. I am indeed writing a memoir of my first Camino in 2013. Hoping to publish next year!

  • LInda E Martin

    At first, I had no idea why you’d popped up in my email feed…and then I remembered your take on surviving the last few years and got a fix on your adventure. Brava! This is something I’ve wanted to do for years…almost got there right before COVID and then…you know the drill. I will follow your story here with relish and delight…good for you…again! Excited for your updates…take good care and muchismas gracias for sharing your experience. XO

    • Jennifer Hofmann Post author

      Thank you! It’s my pleasure to share. May the road ride to meet you!

  • Serena Leiser

    OMG Jennifer, Spain is one of two European countries I have not been to and you have made it come alive for me. You travel the way I do, alone and open to meeting and talking with other people. How enriching that makes the trip. I can’t wait to read more.

    • Jennifer Hofmann Post author

      I can’t say enough good things about it, honestly! Highly recommend!! Buen Camino to you!

  • Barbara Vangsness

    Jennifer–this post and today’s are my “dessert.” I love reading about your serendipitous journey to Spain and the Camino.

  • Beth

    I have always wanted to walk the Camino…and reading your blog you just planted a seed…I don’t have to go only one time…I can go and come back and repeat and keep journeying. I love that. Thanks for the inspiration! What a great trip you are embarking on!!

    • Jennifer Hofmann Post author

      Wow! I didn’t know that about you! And yes, you can do this journey any way you like. Thank you so much for sharing with me!

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