Mill Bay couple return to Spain for second visit to the Camino

Any room left at the inn?

It was a question Julie and Joerge Rosenthal asked a lot five years ago in September 2009, tired and looking for accommodations at the end of a day walking along Spain's famous Camino.

The inns — in Spanish they're called albergues or refugios — dot the route and provide accommodations for weary, tired walkers who are on the famous 800-kilometre pilgrimage across Spain. Pilgrims can walk, horseback ride or cycle the route.

Five years later, in June 2014, the Rosenthals found themselves answering that question instead of asking it, after volunteering to be hospitaleros, the people responsible for running those inns.

The Camino holds a special place in their hearts. It's where they fell in love.

"It was the best five weeks of my life," Joerg said.

Julie originally met the German-born Joerg while they were travelling through the United States. One evening, while camping in February in Utah, they ran out of kindling. Joerg ripped up a book that he'd finished reading to get the fire going.

Julie asked him to tell her what the book was about and Joerg said it involved a German comedian's trip along the trail.

The Camino was already on Julie's radar. After her nine-month trip through the United States, it was the next adventure on her list.

And as love would have it, on his too.

The Way of St. James, more commonly known by its Spanish name, El Camino de Santiago, is the name of a number of pilgrimage routes  to the shrine of the Apostle St. James the Great in the Cathedral of Santiago de Compestela in Galicia in northwestern Spain. Legend has it that St. James' remains were carried by boat from Jerusalem to northern Spain and buried there.

Many take the route as a form of spiritual path or retreat, for their own spiritual growth.

"The experience is great; you meet incredible people, there are ups and downs, joys and hardships," Julie said.

Day one saw them leave from St. Jean Pied de Port in France, hiking up over the Pyrenees into Spain.

"I did some training beforehand for two months; it made a huge difference, but I still had aches and pains," Julie said. The couple hiked 15 to 25 kilometres a day.

The hardest part for her was painful knees, she had to deal with it every day.

"It's hard to remember that now, I remember only the good things," she said.

Anything that stands out?

"I get goosebumps when I think about it," Joerg said.

For the photographer/web designer, it was the people he met along the way.

People like Tim from Belgium, who's spent 15 years of his life walking around Europe, 60,000 kilometres of them barefoot.

"I missed the walking, it was exciting to be part of it again," Julie said, explaining why they volunteered to run the inn in Estella, Spain. "Having done it, we knew what our guests were going through, they're tired, they're hungry, we treated them well, we tried to enhance their journey."

The couple, who say they live for adventure, met all kinds of personalities and different kinds of people. Grumpy at night, their guests were different people in the morning, they'd start fresh the next day.

During their two weeks of volunteering, the duo decided they'd walk the Camino again. They're exploring other routes, through Portugal, France and Northern Spain. They all lead to Santiago.

"One guy we met has done it 29 times," Julie said.

Those interested in learning more about the camino can visit the Canadian Company of Pilgrims' website at

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