Kindness of Strangers on Camino Primitivo

While walking along cow pastures and woody stands, I had not seen a soul for the past three hours. But I was accompanied by huge thunderclouds, hanging heavy with the rain that seemed destined to come. The low clouds refused to release, and I silently prayed for the showers that would dampen the oppressing heat and humidity that had been building all afternoon.

Combing the countryside on Camino Primitivo

I was walking the Camino Primitivo, an ancient pilgrimage path that connects Oviedo in Asturias to Santiago de Compostela in northern Spain. While trekking, I was also editing and updating a guide book for the route for a London publisher. I was not surprised how much the lists of restaurants and accommodations had changed since the last edition in 2011. With the growth of interest in walking the various Caminos that spider web through Europe, there was sure to be many changes and additions. But I was surprised by the amount of construction in the backwoods of northern Spain that was changing the actual route.

Course changes meant that I needed to document those route deviations in the guide book. I needed to stop, make notes and maybe retrace my steps to ensure accuracy. The frustrating search for San Salvador de Soutomerille, a small 9th C church, had me back-tracking through hot, farm fields. I finally decided that the ancient chapel must be on the alternative route that, although I was sure I had taken, I must not have followed. My 23-pound pack seemed twice as heavy as it did that morning when I left O Cadavo. I spent two extra hours and retraced three miles combing the remote countryside.

Alone in Northern Spain

That was the reason that by 4 pm I was walking alone. My pilgrim friends would have checked into Albergue Casa da Chanca, the place where we’d agreed to rest for the night, hours ago. I still slugged along under the sweaty heat of the pregnant clouds. I was climbing towards Lugo, which lies on a hill surrounded by three rivers. As I climbed, I got nearer and nearer to the clouds that were turning black. My prayers were about to be answered.

I set my pack down under the sheltering arms of an oak, opened my pack and as I reached to put on my raincoat, the skies opened. Hunching down, I fit my rainfly around my backpack as the rain pelted down. I was getting hammered and as I stood up to survey my situation in the thunderstorm, I knew I’d have to stay in place under the tree on this lonely farm road for a while. I could see a barn at the intersection ahead of me, but it looked deserted and locked. I thought of my friends sheltering in the albergue. I was looking forward to reconnecting with them for dinner; this surely put a kibosh on that.

For some reason, I looked back up the tree-lined road where I’d just come. Maybe I heard something that caused me to look. But there, up the lane, were two Spanish people walking their dog. The country couple huddled under a big umbrella, which maybe seemed so large because they were so short of stature. The man held the umbrella in one hand and his wife’s shoulder in the other. As the rain pelted sideways from the wind, he pointed the umbrella towards the gusts and steered his wife to another oak on my side of the road. Their Golden Retriever crouched at their ankles.

Appeared out of nowhere

After an afternoon without seeing anyone, they seemed like angels to me. They appeared out of nowhere, and I thought, “They’re old folks, walking their dog. Their home MUST be close by.” I waved a hand of welcome, and the woman waved back. We stood under our prospective trees for what seemed like 20 minutes. I had no idea how far I was from Lugo, but it was already after 5 pm, and I was giving up hope on meeting my fellow pilgrims for dinner. I felt sad that after such a frustrating day, I would miss the compassionate companionship of fellow walkers.

When the storm finally let up, the villagers began walking. I waited, and we trod through the light rain together. We only smiled and laughed since none of us had a handle on the other’s verbal language. After about a mile, and the third country intersection, the wife pointed to the right and said, “Camino.”

Through the twilight drizzle

I said, “No, yo voy a su casa. You quiero un taxi.” “No, I go to your house. I want a taxi.” They both smiled and motioned onward. And we kept walking and walking. So much for my theory that old people take short dog walks. Another twenty minutes, I could see a line of row houses through the twilight drizzle. We must be reaching the outskirts of Lugo. “Esta es la casa de mi amigo,” she smiled. “Llamará un taxi para ti.” “This is my friend’s house; she’ll call a taxi for you.”

Muchas gracias,” I cried. The door opened, and the wife explained in rapid Spanish as I slid, dripping, into the entryway. I was happy to have the introduction because the friend spoke no English and I couldn’t understand her Spanish. She left me standing on the linoleum at the door to go upstairs to get her millennial son to call a cab.

Rescued by Camino Angels

She returned to ask me a question, which I couldn’t understand. After repeating it three times, she gave up and went back upstairs to retrieve a huge, thick cotton towel. Toalla! Towel! That’s the word I didn’t recognize. Then she asked me if I needed a shirt – I could understand the word camisa. No, the towel would do, I somehow explained. I felt bad about all the water on the floor that was dripping off of me, my raincoat and my pack. But I helped her mop it up. The kindly mother made her son come down to explain that the taxi would be here soon. His English was about as good as my Spanish.

The taxi arrived and whisked me to Albergue Casa da Chanca. The ride was only five minutes long, and I realized how close I was to town when the thunderstorm had broken loose. Rodrigo and Ximena, my pilgrim family from Mexico, welcomed me warmly. They laughed at my stories of misfortune and Camino angels, and I had fifteen minutes to unpack and dry off before we went back out into the rain for a late dinner. There, over octopus and white wine, I repeated my story of the kindness of strangers to Lazlo and Peter, our Hungarian friends.

Stacey “Vagabonding Lulu” Wittig, an Arizona travel writer based in Flagstaff, has written three books about the Camino de Santiago. To learn more, go to Amazon at


Camino Book Review: Inspired Journeys

Bouldrey-Inspired-Journeys-cInspired Journeys: Travel Writers in Search of the Muse

Brian Bouldrey, Editor

Book Review by Stacey Wittig

Inspired Journeys is a diverse collection of essays by real travelers who move the reader through both time and place. Much of travel writing is simply about place or what to do once you arrive. But as we pilgrims know, often the real stories lie within the journey rather than the destination. Editor Brian Bouldrey, a Santiago pilgrim himself, understands this well and has compiled seventeen stories of pilgrimage to places as divergent as Varanasi, India; Ross Island, Antarctica; El Centro, California, and Santiago, Spain. These tales are told by American writers and mirror both their inward and outward journeys, a theme that the editor describes as “telling the way within.”

The name Brian Bouldrey may be familiar to many American Pilgrims on Camino (APOC) members as he was the lauded keynote speaker at the APOC 2016 conference. The 2016 annual gathering was themed “Telling the Way Within,” and included a pre-conference travel writing workshop presented by the editor/writer who teaches creative writing at Northwestern University.

Bouldrey admits that he casts a wide net around his definition of pilgrimage by including stories of both spiritual and secular pilgrimages. While introducing us to the stories he explains that each author addresses what pilgrimage is and that he orders the anthology to give the definitions “encouragement, space and incrementally growing meaning.”

While some writers share journeys to religious shrines as in Sharman Apt Russell’s “Buen Camino” and Russell Scott Valentino’s “An Accidental Pilgrimage,” others move along Laura Ingalls Wilder’s prairie (Kimberly Meyer) or the Grimms’ fairy-tale road (Raphael Kadushin.) Though some stories read like raw, black-and-white documentary film footage of the writer’s experiences, others like my favorite essay “The Terriblest Poet” (Brian Bouldrey), and Kadushin’s “Driving the Fairy Tale Road” feel like they were shot for the big screen in panoramic Technicolor.

After reading these essays that are not just about place, but also about the inward journey and outward movement of getting to that place, you’re sure to find several that will move you as well. The engaging, 280-page book is available on Amazon at .

Brian Bouldrey has written eight books, including Honorable Bandit: A Walk Across Corsica, and edited six anthologies, including Traveling Souls: Contemporary Pilgrimage Stories.

Stacey Wittig is author of three books including Spiritual and Walking Guide: Lourdes to San Jean Pied de Port, a guide for both the inward and outward journey.

This review originally appeared in La Concha, the quarterly publication of American Pilgrims on the Camino.

Spiritual Guide on the Camino in 2018

Albergue Santa María de Carbajal-Benedictinas CarbajalasHappy New Year! I’m looking forward to walking and writing about the Camino de Santiago in 2018. I was honored to see my Camino book, Spiritual and Walking Guide: León to Santiago in the book showcase at Albergue Santa María de Carbajal “Benedictinas Carbajalas” during their New Years dinner in León, Spain.

On Facebook, the Sisters posted “Cena de Nochevieja que nuestros Hospitales prepararon para los peregrinos que ayer pasaron el día y la noche en el Albergue del Monasterio.”

In English: “New Year’s Eve dinner that our Hospitaleros prepared for the pilgrims who yesterday spent the day and night in the Monastery Hostel.”

The Christian daily devotional is available for sale at the Benedictine monastery’s albergue in León, Spain. And on  Happy New Year!

Stacey Wittig is an Arizona travel writer based in Flagstaff, AZ. She writes about pilgrimage and Camino de Santiago.

Lourdes pilgrim ‘thrilled’ about guidebook

“I walked the Piemont route from Lourdes to St Jean Pied de Port in September 2015 with only a French guide book, and I don’t speak or understand French!  Needless to say, it made the journey at bit more challenging.  So I am thrilled about your book and hope to walk the route again this year with your guide book in hand.  And what an incredible, beautiful route it is!” said Fred Bovenkamp, on Camino de forum today.

Spiritual and Walking Guide front-cover

Learn more about the Lourdes, France, to St Jean Pied de Port  route by viewing the Camino book, Spiritual and Walking Guide: Lourdes to St Jean Pied de Port, on Amazon at By Stacey Wittig, Camino pilgrim.

The only English version spiritual devotional and walking guide for this part of the La voie du piémont pyrénéen. Available now in paperback or Kindle.

Road Trip Jordanian-Style

I love a good road trip. If you’ve followed my blogs for awhile you know I enjoy muddin’ in Louisiana bayous, road tripping through New Mexico and off-roading around Arizona backwoods. So when my new friend Mohammad Qamhiya suggested that we take the Namaleh Road – or King’s Highway – on a sort of pilgrimage to Petra in Jordan, I said, “Heck, yeah!”



“We just called in and learned that the backroad to Petra is open today,” announced Mohammed. “It is our good fortune as the mountain pass is not always accessible.” Who knows who he called to get that information? I was surprised to learn that there was cell service out here in the back of beyond. We’d just spent a candlelit night at off-the-grid Feynan Ecolodge in the Dana Biosphere Reserve, Jordan’s largest nature reserve. True Bedouin country with camels, goat herds and sunbaked rock sans electricity except what little was produced by the lodge’s solar panels. The compound was designed around internal courtyards reminiscent of the ancient caravanseri or inns on the silk routes through the desert. Adventurers from around the world come to the inn to spend a day with a goat herder, hike the slot canyons and ancient ruins or learn traditional Bedouin coffee rituals from a shaykh (tribal leader). Explorers like us are willing to give up the luxuries of a five-star hotel for a star-lit experience.

The previous evening, we lay on mats on the lodge’s panoramic rooftop terrace looking up at a field of stars. Suleiman “Starman” Al-Hasaseen guided us through the heavens pointing out stars that could be seen with the human eye which were used by Bedouins to navigate passage in the desert. Then he got out a high-powered telescope, and we stood to peer into the state-of-the-art astronomic device to view Jupiter’s moons. I was tickled by the anachronism: traditional Bedouin starwatching versus modern high tech astronomy.



“Seriously, are you up for taking Namaleh Road? We’ll ride in Bedouin Jeeps on a rough, dusty, primitive four-wheel-drive road,” Mohammed warned with a frown. Mohammed seldom frowned. The King’s Highway, so named because it was a trade route of frankincense and spices from the southern Arabian Peninsula through Petra towards consumers in Egypt, Rome and Greece. Huge camel caravans made their way through mountains and deserts on this track.

He must have predicted our answer because when we walked out of the desert compound, four local men each with a well-used vehicle waited to take us over the desolate mountain pass to Petra. I didn’t see a Jeep among the fleet, but rather 1980s-vintage Toyotas, Nissans and Mitsubishis. I snagged the front seat with Abdullah in an extended cab Mitsubishi pick-up – old but meticulously wiped clean. He drove us over rutted, bumpy roads from the ecolodge to the nearest village. He pulled up into the on-coming lane of the dusty two-lane road next to another Bedouin Jeep, waving at the driver and shouted across open windows something in Arabic before swinging into a roadside vegetable stand. More Arabic or maybe it was the local Bedouin language as he jumped out of our truck, and from behind the tomatoes appeared a green five-gallon plastic can. “Oh, this is the gas station,” I said to my two travel writing companions in the backseat. The shopkeeper hoisted the heavy can and started pouring gasoline into our 4×4.


“Why is it I always get the driver that needs to put gas in his Jeep after he picks us up?” I said remembering my white-knuckled off-road trip to tea plantations in Kerala, India, with the gas needle pegged to empty. But here in the remote reaches of Jordan, our gas gauge read ‘full’ as we turned towards Petra on the asphalt highway.


Oncoming traffic included a robed Bedouin on his camel, a horse decked out in Arabian regalia and, of course, the occasional passing car bearing head-on into our lane. No matter that my seat belt wasn’t functional – I simply prayed. Fields of tomatoes and squash were just a blur as we sped up and over what us off-roaders call “whoops.”

“Oh, my God,” I laughed as my head almost hit the ceiling.

“Don’t laugh – you’re just encouraging him,” said Annette from the back gripping the “Oh Shit” handle above her half-opened window, which wouldn’t go up or down, BTW. Abdullah turned to me grinning and motioned to the road ahead. Somehow in a split second he communicated, “Hey if you liked that, this next one is even better.” I glanced at the speedometer as we hit the second asphalt rollercoaster: 80 kilometers per hour and I tried to do the math – how many miles per hour? It seemed like a million, and I thought for sure we were going to take air. I’m sure all three travel writers’ stomachs were in our throats as we came down.

“I think he thinks we like it,” Brigit hooted above the wind noise in the backseat – as if she liked it. Soon we were on gravel road and weaving around a construction barricade in the middle of our lane. This evidently was the part of the road that was typically closed, but we passed the sign too fast to see if it actually said, “Road Closed.”

“Yallah, yallah,” laughed Brigid, “That mean’s let’s go! Let’s go!”

Annette remained solemn.

We drove right by the UNHRC work crews and onto the dirt road that switched backed and forth ahead of us like the ominous Going to the Sun Road at Glacier National Park. Were those United Nations Human Rights Council workers that we just dusted? Before grabbing my own “Oh Shit” handle, I noticed that its vinyl covering was pretty much worn off. I tugged one last time at the flaccid seatbelt – no, it still didn’t work.

vagabonding-lulu-on-kings-highwaycwittig-30Up and up we drove on the mountainous, squiggly two-lane dirt track. Earthmoving equipment was parked catawampus of the side of sharp-angled ditches. They seemed to be laid aside for the preferred method of road building as groups of three or four workers with shovels bent backs in front of the motionless behemoths. We hit the first mountain pass and started down the other side, seeing more mountains rising before us. “This could be like how Berthoud or Loveland Passes looked before they were paved,” I contemplated as I viewed the harsh angle of downward gradient before us. Abdullah started pumping the brakes to slow our descent. The brakes didn’t really seem to be working too well, but he continued to pump.

“Great! This is payback time for the prank I pulled on my flat-lander Father back in Durango years ago,” I realized to my horror. Dad was visiting me after I first moved out West and was working for the phone company in small mountain towns. I had finally gotten used to driving on steep mountain roads without guardrails and wanted to show off my expertise in my sassy sports car. As we whizzed down One-Million-Dollar-Highway with drop-offs on the outside turns, I pumped the clutch, pretending it was the brakes. “Oh no, the brakes are out,” I taunted my Dad. Did I mention he was afraid of heights? Yes, I still feel totally guilt-ridden about that one.

So back to Abdullah. He seemed to be well-practiced at the brake-pumping thing, so I realized that “this is how they do it here.” No need to worry. As we began to climb again, I watched the mountains outside my open window change from grey to red. We stopped at the summit to stretch our legs and make use of the phenomenal photos ops high above the Jordanian desert below at sea level. We climbed to the top of a rise where we could look down on our Bedouin jeeps.


“Oh, no what are we going to do?” wailed a travel writer from another truck. “Looks like your truck is broken down. He has the hood up.” I could see Abdullah pouring water from what looked like an skin animal bag onto the radiator.

“No, it’s OK. He knows what he is doing,” I said. I, too have a truck of the same vintage that I must baby like Abdullah was doing with his brakes and radiator. My ‘87 Toyota Four-Runner with windows that fail to rise and an engine too small for the load is like my baby, and Abdullah’s vehicle seemed to be its twin separated at birth. I walked down to where Abdullah stood proudly over the engine compartment nursing his ‘baby.’ I caught his eyes and then patted the fat fender of his truck. When he smiled back, I knew we had a special connection: crazy drivers and their well-worn vehicles.

Enjoy this article? Then go to and read more. #MyJordanJourney #LearnJordan Disclaimer: Jordan Tourism hosted author Stacey Wittig on this trip. All her opinions are her own.

Bootstrapping: Challenges of translating Camino book from English to German


“It’s an idiomatic phrase that we don’t really have in German,” explained Thomas with a frown. I couldn’t really SEE his frown, but I could HEAR it. I was sitting in my car in Flagstaff, Arizona, talking on WhatsApp to the linguistic expert who is translating my first Camino book from English to German. The young Deutscher just moved to Brisbane, Australia, last month so it is somewhat difficult to set an appointment where our time zones don’t collide. It was 5 pm my time and 10 am his time. I’d just completed my last meeting of the day and could give my full attention to the international call.

“You say in your book that you ‘pull yourself up by your own bootstraps.’ We don’t really say that in German,” Thomas continued. Bootstrapping may just be a purely American thing. “We do say that we pull ourselves up by our hair,” he added.

“That would work,” I replied, and thought, “This guy is GOOD! I am so blessed to have met him in Paris.” Thomas and I had accidentally, or perhaps with divine intervention, met in Paris, France, when we walked a pilgrimage from the cathedral of Notre Dame to the Chartres Cathedral 100 km away. The Christian Paris to Chartres pilgrimage that takes place every year during Pentecost has roots in the Middle Ages. The pilgrimage is called Notre-Dame de Chrétienté in French.


Even though I was older than Thomas’ mother, we had walked together joking and laughing much of the way. (When we weren’t lamenting blisters, sleep deprivation or exhaustion.) In three days filled with challenges and joy, Thomas and I got to know each other well. When I learned that he was a professional translator, I asked the twenty-eight-year-old about interpreting my first book, Spiritual and Walking Guide: Leon to Santiago. Since publication, many Germans have recommended that I translate the text into their language.

“I could work on it in September, after I move to Australia,” he smiled. “I’ll have time then.” Since Pentecost was in mid-May, I had plenty of time to prepare my manuscript and raise funds to pay for his services.

But last night Thomas wasn’t laughing or joking too much. This translation was serious business for the young scholar and he approached me with the respect due a valued client. “Maybe I am being too German here, but I want to discuss each of these changes with you. You have laid your heart out in this book. And you’ve been very true to the Bible scriptures that you quote. I don’t want to change the words [imagery] without your approval,” he said sternly.

The impossible task of pulling yourself up by your own bootstraps is analogous to the achievement of getting out of difficult situations through your own efforts. The German version uses “Schopf,” an archaic word for “hair” or “head of hair” and is used in this context because it is from an old proverb. Today’s use of “schopf” means “swamp.”

The excerpt from my Camino devotional that uses the bootstrapping idiomatic phrase:

Seven years ago, during a self-imposed weekend retreat, I heard the Lord whisper, “Walk El Camino de Santiago.” El Camino hadn’t crossed my mind for over a decade; and, in fact, I really didn’t know much about the ancient pilgrimage route. Yet I felt the Lord’s call to take a spiritual journey. The obedient act of walking would teach me to shift my emphasis from trust in a busy calendar to trust in God’s provision. I had to let go of the belief that if only I had enough sales appointments, won enough sales contests, (fill in the blank with your own if only,) then I would be perfectly happy. I thought of myself as self-made, and relished the image of me – a working woman – pulling myself up by my own bootstraps, or in my case, by my own Bandolino Italian leather pumps.

The German translation of that excerpt:

Vor sieben Jahren dann, während eines Einkehrwochenendes, hörte ich den Herrn zu mir sagen: „Begib dich auf den Jakobsweg.“ Der Jakobsweg war mir damals schon über ein Jahrzehnt nicht mehr in den Sinn gekommen und ich wusste auch nicht allzu viel über diese historische Route. Allerdings fühlte ich einen starken Ruf, mich auf eine spirituelle Reise zu begeben. Laufen hat etwas von Demut und ich hoffte, dass mir eine Pilgerreise dabei helfen würde, mein Vertrauen in Gottes Plan anstatt in einen vollen Terminplaner zu setzen. Ich musste loskommen von dem Gedanken, dass ich eigentlich nur genug Verträge brauchte; eigentlich nur genügend Wettbewerbe gewinnen müsste, um endlich glücklich zu sein. Jeder hat irgendwo ein „eigentlich nur“, eine Bedingung für das Glück. Mein Selbstbild war das einer eigenständigen, erfolgreichen Frau, die sich in schwierigen Situation am eigenen Schopf aus dem Sumpf zieht. In meinem Fall an einem aufwändig frisierten Schopf.

Order the English version by clicking here:

German version now available at

Rudy Maxa’s World discusses Stacey Wittig’s new book

160924-rudy-maxa-logo-1Author Stacey Wittig was honored to be interviewed by Rudy Maxa from Rudy Maxa’s World with The Careys last week. The interview was broadcast from the chic lobby lounge of Hilton Sedona Resort at Bell Rock in Sedona, Arizona. The radio program reaches over 275+ weekly radio stations each week across the USA.

Bell Rock happens to be the site of one of Sedona’s four major vortexes of earthly energy and a spiritual place for Native Americans and others.


Stacey and Rudy talked about hiking in #Sedona and her new book, Spiritual & Walking Guide: Lourdes to St Jean Pied de Port in the comfortable “Living Room” of the Hilton Sedona Resort. The book was written to enhance the spiritual experience of pilgrims walking from Lourdes to SJPP along the Way of St James.

The show aired on Saturday 10a-12p ET on TuneInListen. Click here to listen to a recording of the interview that took place in one of America’s sacred places:

The show has a weekly audience reach of approximately 1.4 million via approximately 275 affiliated network stations, a 24/7 channel, growing social media platforms, frequent remote broadcasts, online and more.


About Rudy Maxa’s World with The Careys

Renowned travel expert and award-winning journalist Rudy Maxa, along with the show creators and married travel partners Robert and Mary Carey, easily connect with the audience and skillfully cover the world of travel, culture and its allure through modern segments, on-location remote broadcasts, etc.  Combined, Rudy Maxa’s World with The Careys offers unmatched experience, unparalleled insight and unique understanding into travel, trade, tourism and dozens of related industries.

About Hilton Sedona Resort at Bell Rock

Located in the spectacular Red Rock Country in Northern Arizona, Hilton Sedona is a luxury resort with spacious rooms and suites, spa and championship golf course. #HSRRedRock

Order Wittig’s new book about the Lourdes pilgrimage on Amazon by clicking here:


The “Living Room” or Lobby Lounge of the Hilton Sedona Red Rocks Resort and Spa.