Month: April 2015

Sam and A Unique Journey

image image image image imagePortomarin to Palas de Rei (Pop: 3600)
April 30, 2015
7:30 AM to 1:30 PM

6hrs for 25.1 km

We entered Palas de Rei about 1:10 PM, saw the closed Casa Curro where we had booked and decided to look elsewhere. It looked like it had rooms above a cafeteria/pool hall. The rooms might have been nice but we did not want to wait for someone to open it. ( we have since learned we were standing in front of the wrong place!)

We went up the street and entered the enchanting San Tirso Church. Only the front archway is still remaining of the original eleventh century Romanesque church but the newer stone church was built in the simple elegance of the original style. It has more modern stained glass windows. The volunteer who was there to stamp our Camino passports was happy to point out the Alpha and the Omega and the symbolism of all the other windows. Beautiful recorded music was playing. How peaceful!

We exited the church and went across the street to the ultra modern San Marcos Albergue which also has private rooms. We have now had a rain shower and I am reclining with my feet against the forested wall mural. Margaret went downstairs to use the wifi and Brian put our clothes in the coin operated washing machine.

We were the first customers for breakfast at O’Mirador. But like many establishments they were not open at 7 AM when they were scheduled to be. I peeled a clementine outside while Brian looked down and Margaret up the street for an alternative since outside town would have meant a ten kilometre walk before breakfast. At 7:05 AM a server arrived and the lady in the kitchen opened the door. Coffee and chocolate croissants awaited. We still had to walk the ten kilometres to get our egg protein but that was okay.

Rain threatened all day, but we only had a light sprinkling at the outset, just enough so that we covered our packs with rain covers.

We travelled on tree lined paths, often on the Senda near the highway, more country road than highway. The busiest traffic was Polish-manufactured white Skota taxis going back and forth. Perhaps they were trolling for collapsing pilgrims or maybe they were ferrying backpacks. Certainly there were plenty of backpacks sitting at reception although we were among the first people to arrive.

It was a rather odiferous morning, not good smells. We saw a number of low pig buildings. We did not see any pigs but we heard them and smelled them. But the worst of the day was walking beside a fertilizer plant. I thought some of you would have to come and erect memorials to the three Canadians asphyxiated there. I was surprised there were not already some cairns to other casualties there.

We climbed the first fifteen kilometres (climbed!) but on less rough trail, fewer toe stubbers; less pavement than yesterday. Margaret prefers the more rugged terrain. I was happy not to walk on as much pavement nor in mud.

We passed groves of eucalyptus. You would think this would be a great smell, but we could only smell this if we tore a leaf.

There were gardens with large calla lilies and others with huge rhododendrons: fuschia, pale pink, red or white.

The highlight of our day was meeting Sam, the donkey, and his owners, Anna and Johan, who had already walked for nine weeks from the south of Portugal to Santiago and had at least nine weeks to go to arrive home in Germany. They had been working on a farm in Portugal and spontaneously decided to buy a donkey and walk home. They were camping and had to be careful that Sam did not eat too much grass. Johan is planning on writing a book about their adventure. I said we would be watching for that.

Brian told us we walked almost 8 km in the first 55 minutes today. We did not believe him. He rechecked his GPS and corrected himself to say that our maximum speed was 7.8 km per hour but we did not keep up the pace. In the first 55 minutes we only walked 5.5 km.

Yesterday Margaret and I walked around Portomarin. We thought it had a good feel to it, a place we could live. A good portion of the town was moved up to the hill before the reservoir was filled. When the water level is low, you can still see some of the town underwater. The twelfth century San Xuan Church was rebuilt brick by brick!

We finished yesterday with a delicious ham and olive pizza and a game of rummy. Our lodging last night was the first that had NO heat. A good thing there were extra blankets.

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New Pilgrims

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Corn crib

Corn crib

image imageSarria to Portomarin (Pop: 2000)
April 29, 2015
7:30 AM to 1 PM
5 hrs 30 min for 23.06 km

Ha! Ha! Ha! Just look at those steps. We went up a serious set of steps into Sarria. We went further up to leave Sarria then we went down steeply away from the Monasterio de la Magdalena and its huge walled cemetery. More up than down was the order of the day. We just crossed a very long bridge over the River Mino that leads to a reservoir. At this end of the bridge was a set of steep stone steps to lead us through an arch to Portomarin.

As we started up the steps, we saw Susie coming down. She was looking for the last Camino directional arrow. Kanji was up top and they had wandered around looking for the way out of town. We puffed up the steps, gave them hugs and pointed them out in the direction of Hospital, 11 km further, where they will stay tonight. The next time we see them will probably be in Ontario. They plan on walking to Finisterra then back to Santiago before flying home. They have a week more than us.

We had booked a place in Portomarin last night but it is further up the hill and on the wrong side of town for tomorrow’s departure; so, we walked into two places close to the trail before finding two rooms at a lower price but with two shared baths for four rooms. At the Gonzar everything looks fresh, bright and clean so we took these rooms rather than walk further. Bonus: Brian is happy we have a “waterview”, albeit a small one.

We just had a sumptuous feast at O’Mirador. Awesome! Good vegetable stew; pasta salad for Brian. Fabulous lasagna; yummy veal stew for Brian. I had a very fresh fruit salad, not from a no-name brand can! Margaret is on her third sampling of Santiago cake and each one has been better than the previous. Brian is especially happy to have some brown beer, the best he has had in Spain, crafted right here. Highly recommend this restaurant.

Today we saw lots of dairy farms with very old stone buildings. Plenty of cows had preceded us on the first several kilometres, leaving slurries of their presence.

Sarria is the beginning point for many pilgrims who want their Compostela certificate. Ten kilometres after Sarria is the 100 kilometre marker to Santiago; and that is where the majority of walkers begin. Certainly there were more walkers on the trail today. We told Brian he is supposed to be charitable but he wanted to tell the newbies to get out of the way and go start in St. Jean. 🙂 there is a discussion online that shows a division between those who say “Leave well enough alone. Be godlike.” And those who would like to see people get certificates that show how many kilometres they actually did.

The water flowed fast in places but instead of walking in water and mud, there were cobblestone or concrete sluice ways running beside the path to divert the water.

Mostly sunny today but we walked under shady trees so it felt cooler. Summer pilgrims will be delighted with this shade. The overwhelming perfume of wisteria spills from gateways and door fronts although these flowers will soon be finished. At least one clump of calla lilies graces the front of most gardens of any size.

Brian chatted with an ostrich and almost got a big wet kiss from a cow hanging over a fence.

Brian says he is going for a nap but Margaret and I will check out the large rose window in the church.

A hawk has been swooping and soaring above the reservoir as we dined.

Smiling above Clouds

Triacastela to Sarria (pop: 13 500)
April 28, 2015
8:30 AM to 1:40 PM
5 hrs 10 min for 19.32 km

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Well, this is bizarre. We arrived on Rua Major ( the Main Street) in Sarria and discovered a tall locked white door with a sign showing we were at Studio Calle Mayor. I phoned the number on the sign and was directed to the bar two doors down where I was given a key, no questions asked.

We are now in a loft studio that has stone walls and huge wooden beamed ceiling. There is a double bed on one side of the upper floor and four singles on the other side. We will be able to put a sign on the Camino outside our door and rent the extra beds. Downstairs there is a bath with large shower but it takes two to enjoy it…one has to hold the nozzle. There is a kitchenette and four drying lines in the enclosed garage out back. There is a bar with a beer tap but Brian has not figured out how to work that. There is a bottle of scotch in the fridge. The lower floor is too cold to enjoy sitting there. Rummy will be upstairs.

WIFI does not work until May but if we stand on the balcony or in the street we can have Sarria’s free WIFI. To get a stamp for our Camino passport we can go to any bar. We already have a stamp from Meson O Tapas and a sports clothing store where Margaret bought more socks. A pair disappeared in yesterday’s laundry.

We have tried the famous Galician steamed octopus. I like it. Margaret declared it too chewy and preferred the accompanying fresh bread.

We ordered our pilgrim menu. Yeah for Ensalada Mixta. Oh, oh, no olives today.

We just finished week four of walking. Hard to believe. Less than a week of walking left.

Today was fabulous. A lot of you must have been praying for us after yesterday’s deluge. The birds awakened us with cheerful song and rosy clouds and blue sky greeted us when we opened our eyes.

We only walked 19 km today. I said that was hardly worth getting up for, but the springs in our bed were poking me to get up. Brian said that whether he walked nineteen or twenty-nine kilometres, his legs were still weary. Margaret says she is ‘road weary’.

We did a lot of uphill followed by a lot of downhill this morning. We went from 680 metres to 905 metres in the first five kilometres. We are down to 440 metres in Sarria. The clouds were below us. We had sunny views of green pastures surrounded by rock walls. It is said that Galicia is much like Ireland. I concur: very green hills and plenty of rock walls sometimes bare, often covered in vines, moss, or ferns with many different tiny jewels of flowers sprouting out of the cracks.

We are sure there were beautiful views yesterday if they had not been obliterated by rain.

There are many more cows in Galicia and individual farms where the milk truck comes to empty the milk cans. Lots more pasture but not much crop land.

Much of today we walked on a path through deep rock cuts or with slab rock walls higher than our heads. Beautiful trails everywhere. We felt the cool shade then the warmth of the sun on our backs. We are developing the Camino tan, our left side more tanned than our right from always walking westward.

Here in Sarria, as in many towns, there is a lot of restoration and beautification happening. A Jesuit church had a beehive of activity all around it, and much needed as the roof looked as if it were caving in. The nearby thirteenth century castle has fence around it to prevent people being injured by falling stones.

Santa Marina Church has quite a different interior, a carved wooden altar, rather than gold. Many of the statues looked very ‘natural’, very welcoming. One was Saint Isidor Labrador, patron saint of farmers. He had a pair of cows with him. One of the churches we saw yesterday had a statue of a full-sized donkey. We do not often see animal carvings in churches.

A note on washrooms: Spain is very energy conscious. Most toilets are dual flush and almost every washroom has lights which automatically go off two seconds after you sit down. It is important to note where the light switch is as soon as you enter the washroom, then hope that you can reach the switch from the toilet. I have never found waving my arms to be successful.

Slogging through Clouds

Laguna de Castilla to Triacastella
April 27, 2015
8:15 AM to 1:40 PM
5 hrs 20 min for 23.9 Km
Moving average 5.7 km/hr

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imageI cannot remember the last time my hands were so cold. Margaret knows that her hands were frozen like this at the end of our first day of hiking the Beaver Valley this fall. I don’t remember being so cold then; so, maybe my memory has erased that and will soon forget today’s misery.

O'Cebreiro

Leaving Laguna

Margaret did not waste any time waiting for us as she was freezing. Though Casa Olga had a few advertising signs coming into town, there were no directions around two corners and up a steep hill to Olga’s once we were in town. Margaret asked a couple of people for directions, as we did ten minutes later. Since Margaret arrived at Casa Olga ten minutes before us, she had the first hot bath in our three foot long tub. I stripped the minute I was in the room and leaped into bed. Olga showed up with a hair dryer; so, Brian plugged it in for me and pushed it under the covers to thaw my hands and feet. Oh, bliss!

After warming, bathing and changing, we gave Olga our laundry and went downhill with a borrowed umbrella to Fernandez’ bar. We had ordered our full pilgrim meal deal when Kanji and Susie arrived. They joined us for a plentiful meal once they knew Fernandez had a room for them.

We dressed for rain this morning in spite of the forecast that indicated showers and thunderstorm at 3 PM with mostly cloud until then. We had the cloud and fog. We were walking surrounded by clouds and those clouds were pouring or drizzling water on us all day except for two minutes. I wore my gloves until morning coffee but they were then soaked; so, I could not bear to put them on. Ten minutes later my hands were freezing; so, I put my merino socks on my hands. I sure wished they were the kind with toes. It is hard to grip poles with socks on my hands. As my sock mitts were getting wet I withdrew my hands and poles inside my poncho. Then my good husband would give my poncho a jerk now and then to reposition it so that I could see. The poncho kept twisting sideways. It’s extra hard to get a handkerchief out to blow your nose with sock mitts on!

Forget about the camera! I did not take many photos. My hands were too cold, and it was too complicated. For most of the day we could not see more than fifty metres. I studied the ground a lot. It was rocky and muddy. The good news was that for the last five kilometres the path was more fine gravel than rocks and mud. This was the big descent of the day, from 1200 metres to 620. Brian was pleased that his knees were pain free with such a big descent. He is certain that he could not have done this without limping three weeks ago.

We continued to ascend to O’Cebreiro after leaving Laguna. We actually had a breath taking view of our surroundings in the first kilometre before we reached the clouds. We arrived in O’Cebreiro, excited about seeing inside the ninth century church, the oldest on the Camino and one which Peter and Kristin said was a “must-see”. It was closed. We peered in through the bars to the dark church. Nada. We will rely on Peter and Kristin to send us the prayer to La Faba that they saw there.

There were many unique stone dwellings, most with slate roofs but also some round ones with thatched roofs: palloza. We saw a couple of these in Laguna, still being used for farming purposes. Of note, all the metal garbage receptacles had the print of a witch on them. They made me smile on a dark day.

Last night we had the pleasure of seeing half a dozen cows at a time being herded past the inn door, being brought in from the pasture for milking in the village, maybe in the palloza! then back to pasture. There were a few ‘cow drives’, by a man in blue coveralls and baseball cap on horseback past the inn. We found it quite humorous that there was a sign in the bar stating that you were not allowed to remove your boots for hygiene reasons but everyone walked through the mud running with cow dung into the bar.

We are back in our room in Triacastella with munchies and rum and coke for Brian. Margaret is looking up rules for three person card games. We are tired of the ones we have played. We wish we had our Hand and Foot deck but no one wanted to carry in the backpack the five decks required for play.

The forecast is for sun tomorrow then a week of rain. We do not believe forecasts much but we are now in Galicia, the rainiest part of Spain. Apparently the song about the rain in Spain being mainly on the plain simply is not true.

According to our guide, we will be in Santiago in 133.8 kilometres. According to the concrete markers that have been every kilometre since arriving in Galicia, we have 129 to go. The book warns that the markers are not always accurate.

Mountain Rivers Beside Us

Villafranca del Bierzo to Laguna de Castilla (Pop: maybe 7?)
April 26, 2015
7:45 AM to 2:05 PM
6 hrs 20 min for 26.27 km
5.7 km per hr moving average

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Yahoo! We made it! No, we are not at O’Cebreiro. That will be our first two and a half kilometres tomorrow with another 150 metres of altitude. We rose 600 metres since this morning, half of that in the last 6 kilometres.

Until the last six kilometres we thought we had a relatively easy day. Since it poured all night we sagely decided not to take the Pradela route which would have started us up then down a steep hill on muddy track. Instead we went along the old highway through Pereje which kept us more on the valley floor between the mountains. We had a fast flowing mountain river beside us all day, first the Burbia, then the Pereje, but most of the way, the Valcarce.

Although most of the path, to just past Herrerias, is along side a highway, it is the old road and not very busy. And on the other side, the river. For much of the way there is a knee high concrete divider between pedestrians and vehicles, the most viewed vehicles are the bread truck and the company moving backpacks to the next town. The locals, few though they are, drive old jeeps (from the fifties in mint shape) or other small four wheel drive vehicles or old VW buses painted Hippie style.

We saw lots of old growth forest today, chestnuts, large deciduous trees, many hawthorns blooming their sweet white scent. There were some very large pines, looked like jack pines. Yellow flowered plants that looked like jewel weed, minus its normal poison ivy companion, was everywhere. We saw lots of woodland flowers: pink Herb Robert, many tiny flowers: pink, blue or purple, some pale yellow primula and once again lime green hellebores. The higher we went the more prevalent was heather.

As we travelled through the valley we were always looking up to the mountains, watching the sky darken then brighten and not shower us with rain. Yeah! We saw a faded rainbow. The new highway went through tunnels while we went around those hills. The highway passed over us and as it did so, cars sounded like thunder. Sometimes there were two highways at dizzying heights above us, but we continued to enjoy the sound of rushing rivers and birds singing.

Occasionally there was a patch of pasture surrounded by an electric fence fueled by a small solar battery. The fence kept its small flock of sheep or light brown cows from falling into the river.

Shortly after Herrerias, our yellow arrow directed us down a dirt path toward La Faba. Dirt soon became mud then the rocky trail took us ever upward in switchbacks through the woods. This had more of a Bruce Trail feel to it. There were even fiddleheads out. No part of the Bruce Trail, however, takes us to such a change in altitude.

We were enjoying the cooler air and beautiful countryside as we rose higher until the black cloud doused us with cold rain and the path became a sea of mud. Fortunately this was only for the last two kilometres, but, oh my, that felt like a very long two kilometres.

We are above the bar of the Albergue La Escuela in our private room with bath. True there is not much room to turn around, nor many places to hang our wet clothes, but we have three beds ( Margaret on a cot) and the two heaters are working well to dry things and warm us.

Actually Brian and Margaret are enjoying beer and wine by the fire in the bar, but I am quite cozy here in the room. The sun started shining soon after we arrived and it is warming me and my bed.

Two women just arrived on horseback with their packs. That was an option for the past five kilometres but I would not want to have ridden on the track we came on.

Gardens, Orchards and Vineyards

Ponferrada to Villafranca del Bierzo ( Pop: 3500)
April 25, 2015
7:15 AM to 1:13 PM
5 hrs 58 min for 25.67 km

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1:30 PM

We have not yet arrived at our lodging, this is the first time we stopped at a restaurant first. We have reached the centre of Villafranca, but Hostal Burbia is about 500 metres further.

We decided we would have our big meal now since lunch did not happen.

Later…

We had a very good pilgrim’s meal at Cafeteria Compostela. All of us had the lamb chops which were done just right. For my first course, I had vegetables in tomato sauce with a fried egg on top. I was not expecting the egg but I gobbled it up. Breakfast at 7:30 AM was a long time ago and the pain au chocolat is long gone. I had rum caramel cake for dessert. There was more alcohol in that slice than in the bottle of wine Margaret and Brian drank. Brian helped me with my cake. Margaret ate all of hers.

Margaret had gazpacho and Brian deep fried calamari as their first course.

We did not take picnic food with us today as we figured it would rain most of the journey. It did. We planned on having lunch in Valtuille de Arriba, but there may only have been a population of three and no one was serving food nor drink. We sat on a wet bench and shared a bag of nuts and a clementine.

Although this hamlet had cobblestone streets, the single road in and out was red mud. We slid our way to Villafranca, donning and removing our ponchos as the sun and rain played with us. We did our best to clean mud from our shoes before arriving in town. We did not want to be rejected at the restaurant.

Today we saw many gardens, orchards and vineyards. The area of Bierzo is noted for wine and sweet apples. Mercedes told us the best apples in Spain are here while Oscar said this is the second best area for red wine. Apparently the best red is from Ribera del Duermo. He was not a lover of white but suggested Galicia and Rioja had good whites.

This year’s cherries are well established. Looks like a good crop. Pilgrims in late Mayight be able to sample them as they walk.

There appear to be many garden plots outside of towns and villages. Often the plots are surrounded by fencing and or stone walls. Some fences have barbed wire on top to protect their vegetables and fruit trees. In town, many gardens are surrounded by chain link fence with artificial grass woven through it; so, only tall people can get a peek at the green and flowering treasures within.

Yellow, blue and purple irises, large white calla lilies, roses (red, yellow and white), azaleas, peonies, hydrangea…all are in bloom. Grape vines are sprouting green shoots. Some are growing between rows of cherries, apples, peaches, almonds, pears or plums. There are huge fig trees with this year’s crop in evidence. One pine forest had vines in between its rows.

I saw the chapel door open in Fuentes Nuevas; so, I went in. I chatted with the artist who was on scaffolding painting a scene above the altar. He was very humble about the Last Supper he painted on the dome of the side altar. It was beautiful and not at all expected in such a small chapel.

Last night we could not wait until 8 PM to eat. We found one place that was to serve at 7:00 PM, but that did not look likely; so, we went to an ice cream store and had a cup of delicious ice cream then returned to our hotel and Brian made us a sandwich with what he was going to make them at lunch time.

We walked around the exterior of the castle, visited the Basilica and walked through the old town. Our general fatigue and continuing rain made us lazy. We were happy to return to our hotel room. One game of rummy was enough before sleep.

We have been reworking the distances suggested by the Brierley Guide over the past few days. We find it to be much better to do days of twenty – four to twenty-six kilometres rather than days of thirty then twenty.

My pack preceded me again today and Brian is also enjoying a much lighter load.

Flowers to Cheer Us

Foncebadon to Ponferrada (Pop: 69000)
April 24, 2015
7:45 AM to 2:15 PM
6.5 hrs for 26.72 km

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Margaret at Cruz de Ferro

Margaret at Cruz de Ferro

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We are in the city again. We hear busy traffic noise from our third floor blue and white room at Hotel El Castillo, a couple of blocks from the castle and historic centre of Ponferrada. There is modern art on the wall instead of crucifixes and madonnas. We have a large bathroom with the biggest shower stall yet.

We are happy there is an elevator. This has been a very up and down day with especially steep downs. In spite of a forecast that said it would be cloudy until three when the rain would start, we walked in drizzle from 9:30 AM on. Even rain proof jackets are no longer rainproof after a while. My shoulders and upper arms have been wet for a few hours.

I shipped my pack along with the heavy half of the contents of Brian’s pack today. I am glad I did. So was Brian. I usually hurrying to catch up to Brian and Margaret. I thought our moving average was seven kilometres per hour. Brian assures me it was only 5.3. We only stopped twice, once for coffee after 12 km in a lovely stone restaurant in Acebo. We parked ourselves beside the roaring fireplace. Our jackets were actually beginning to dry by the time we left. Our second stop was for lunch in Molinaseca 8 km back. It was too wet for a picnic lunch even though we had the supplies. I offered to carry Margaret’s pack but she said she would be lost without it. I told her she would be liberated.

Instead of pink heather hills, our grey day was brightened by white hills. No, not snow, it was only on the higher distant mountains. Shrubs of stiff branchlets covered in small white flowers decorated every hill. I will call this broom until a gardener friend corrects me. Randomly there were smudges of lavender just beginning to bloom purple and a few spots of yellow gorse. As we went along, the broom shared the landscape with a shrub with larger white flowers that looked like wild roses but were not. The five petals each had a flash of burgundy and a yellow centre.

A few kilometres above Foncebadon we came to the Cruz de Ferro at 1504 metres where pilgrims leave a stone and a prayer or a blessing of love on the great pile of stones at the foot of a simple iron cross on a very tall pole. Margaret left her stone as well as two she carried for friends, Keith and Rick. I did not bring a stone but I left my prayers in this silent meditative place where others also gathered near us in silence.

We climbed still higher to 1515 metres, the highest point on the Camino, but our steepest climb still awaits us tomorrow. Mountains give such incredible views even in mist and rain.

We passed the only latrine we have seen on the Camino at Manjarin across the street from where the solitary resident of Manjarin lives. He waved and wished us “Buen Camino”. He has a one room albergue with 35 mattresses and an outdoor toilet. Not our style.

Molinaseca has a Roman bridge at its entrance and very narrow streets but the west side has quite large newer homes with big gardens. This wealthier bigger look continued as we entered Ponferrada. There wisteria was draping itself everywhere, even climbing a large spruce and making it look like a decorated Christmas tree.

Red poppies spilled across embankments as we entered the city. They mixed with mauve and yellow weeds. Flowers definitely made a rainy day cheerier.

Margaret did not sleep well last night, but all of us are feeling very weary now. It feels as if we have been walking for twenty-four days.

To the Mountains…Fiesta!

Astorga to Foncebadon (Pop: semi-abandoned- who knows?)
April 23, 2015
7:35 AM to 2:05 PM
6.5 hrs for 25.77 km

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That beer with lemon sure went down well! The last five kilometres were all uphill on very rocky ground (large, toe tripping rocks or slabs of schist). We went up three hundred metres in altitude. We went up six hundred metres since this morning but the earlier part was gradual. Margaret thought it was easy. Margaret had The Sound of Music playing in her head.

I enjoyed the walk because of the beauty that surrounded me. We walked through five to six foot high pinky purple shrubs that I believe are heather. Our landscape became more and more hilly after Astorga and the hills became more and more alive with this shrub. The agricultural land first gave way to oak and pine forests. The young pines have suffered from pests or fungi as they are quite brown.

Feet update: yesterday I bought some metatarsal pain pads and applied one to my right foot at the first break. Until then my foot had not hurt but my toes were beginning to be painful. My toes have never bothered me. For the rest of the walk, the sole of my foot never hurt but my toes hurt more and more. C’est la vie!

We saw lizards yesterday as we entered Astorga. They were running in and out of the cracks of the concrete blocks that formed the sidewalk beside the railway crossing ramp. The government, in its desire to bump off fewer pilgrims, had a blue metal pedestrian ramp constructed. We had to climb five ramps, cross above the tracks then go down five ramps. We figure it took us a kilometre more to cross the single set of tracks. We did get to see a train go under us.

Today we saw bigger green lizards as we walked up through scrub land. The biggest was about seven centimetres in diameter and twenty centimetres long. The rest were much smaller but equally green.

Other animal sightings: Brian and Margaret stopped to talk to a large brown horse who sniffed out the pear in Brian’s pack; so, he fed it to him and made a friend. We spotted a large hairy white castrated bull who did not care to give us the time of day, too busy munching grass. I saw two small startlingly blue butterflies dart across my path. Margaret saw a big black beetle (3 inches long), only Kanji got his photo. The storks continue to make us smile as they soar overhead or stand up in their church tower nests or feed their babies. We do not see many sheep but we keep seeing their droppings along the Camino. Maybe shepherds herd flocks by night! Birds of many sizes continue to chirp and sing to us.

We had our picnic lunch on a slate bench beside a fallen oak tree that was three hundred years old, the biggest tree we have seen in Spain.

There was a small chapel open past Puente de Panote. The eighteenth century Capilla de St Juan was much adorned with gold statuary. I was surprised to see so much gold in such a small church. We have seen a lot of Quartz in these hills. Brian says that gold is often found with Quartz. Even though the large boulders of Quartz were beautiful we were not inclined to put any chunks in our packs.

Yesterday we went into the pouring rain hoping to go to the chocolate factory but the cathedral was closer. Even Brian went into it and the accompanying museum because he did not want to stand in the rain. The other pilgrims we have seen each day also came in while we were there. Every cathedral is different with its own unique character and incredible carvings in stone and wood. It is difficult to imagine sculptors and stone masons working at such terrific heights without today’s lifts and equipment.

The Gaudi palace next door was not open; so, we just admired the exterior before visiting a few chocolate shops. We gave up on going to the chocolate museum. It was too far to go in the rain. This is a sweets town: lots of chocolate shops. People also sell the local specialties everywhere: mantacadas ( honey cupcakes) and hojaldes ( cream filled pastries we never did try). We thought the mantacadas would be improved with a chocolate centre or at the very least some chocolate drizzled over them.

After looking at several pilgrim menus and wanting an early supper (7 PM), we had our meal in a side street at Cuba50L. It has been in business fifty-five years. When you see a gathering of locals in such a bar, you figure it is a safe bet. It was! We had a delicious meal at one of the lowest prices yet, less than nine euros. Brian had pasta in tomato sauce followed by beef stew made with big vertebrae. Margaret had tomato slices accompanied by fried cheese then a whole fish ( flounder) with fries. I had the flounder as well preceded by cauliflower cheese cream. It was a thick soup even though the server insisted it was not soup. I had tiramisu that was more like a custard than tiramisu, but tasty. Wine, water and coffee/tea were our liquids.
We are now in the one street village of Foncebadon which has been a mountain village here for more than a thousand years. According to the Brierley guide, it is a “semi-abandoned village stirring back to life.” It has a deserted look about it, piles of rock and rubble, caved in dwellings line the street. Today’s villages have all been stone where we have seen a lot more red brick and red Adobe in the past several days.

We are staying in a former convent: Convento de Foncebadon. It has been charmingly renovated. Oscar has been here fifteen years. He is our friendly host. We reserved dinner here for six with Kanji and Susie. Oscar’s motorcycle collection inside the restaurant is joined by a statue of the Madonna and a mural of medieval noblemen, and an eclectic mix of bric a brac. Wifi is not very strong, not enough businesses to create demand for a stronger signal, much to Oscar’s lament.

Brian and Margaret have showered and done their laundry and suspended it on the metal roof outside our window. Time for me to get clean.

Well, that was fun… A small capsule of a shower but it had a seat and fifteen jets to massage my back.

Today is a fiesta day for Castilla y Leon. A parade just went by under our window that is draped with laundry. People walked by carrying three tall flags, mostly red flags with some green; several drummers accompanied them; the rest of the walkers were dressed in red and white or blue and white.

Highlights on a Rainy Day

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Villavante to Astorga (pop: 12400)
April 22, 2015 Mom and Dad’s Anniversay & Earth Day
8:45 AM to 2:01 PM
5 hrs 16 min for 21.62 km

OK, Hostal La Coruna is not the Ritz and is at least 600 metres past the cathedral, twice the distance advertised and no mention that the last kilometre was all uphill. But we have arrived and the distance is one third shorter than yesterday, thus, a walk in the park. Admittedly a rainy walk in the park but we got to make use of the rain gear we have been carrying. The sun is out now and it is hot. More rain forecast.

Last night’s supper was divine. Mercedes and her husband are good cooks. We had blended zucchini and onion soup that even Murray would have liked. I thought it was asparagus soup until told differently. We had salad then chicken cordon bleu with grilled red peppers, wine, water, flan and coffee/tea. With such a great meal, you knew we were going to wait for a late 8 AM breakfast.

Kanji and Susie were surprised they did not wake until 7 AM, by which time on other days, they would already have been walking. Ditto.

For breakfast we had cafe con leche, pots of it, as well as tostadas with homemade mixed fruit jam, scrambled eggs and orange juice. Mercedes made sure we took fruit with us for the road: Apple, pear, banana: all from Spain. The bananas are grown in the Canary Islands.

We hugged our hostess goodbye. It was like leaving a friend.

In spite of the weather reporting that it was already raining. We did not get rained on for two hours. We made it to our first coffee break and sock change. I did not carry my pack yesterday for the long walk. I gave my back the break it needed. I was not sore at all today carrying the pack. For the thirty kilometre days I will continue to send my pack ahead.

We had a lot more dirt road that was kinder to my feet. Still had burning but not as bad.

A highlight today was the medieval bridge at Orbiga, built over a Roman bridge from the ninth century. It is known as the bridge of honour because of a famous jousting match in the holy year of 1434. The story involves a noble knight scorned by a beautiful lady.

We crossed through fields on rolling hills; so, yes, there were several ascents and descents. Two of the latter were very steep and a little slipperier on wet rocks.

Our second highlight was lunch in a family run bar in Santibanez where we shared a large fresh bocadillo and a delicious dish of pig’s ear in tomato sauce with chunks of potato, a first for all of us.

Further en route when it was pouring hardest we were welcomed under shelter at La Casa des Dioses (House of the Gods). David, a young Spaniard (fiftyish?) has his Adobe home in a field, far from anywhere, a yard with a Star of David made with stones in the courtyard, a shelter with benches and
Lots for stools around a wood stove. He drew us in to his warm shelter where there were already a group of Koreans from New York and a German girl. He passed around hot coffee and delicious cookies and offered fruit, rice cakes and other goodies. He asked folks where they were from. He was most genial and gave us our second hug of the day as we left, glowing and refreshed. A third highlight!

Wearing a poncho has another advantage besides keeping me dry. I don’t need a bush to squat behind. A real benefit for females where bushes are scarce.

We did not take many photos today as we wanted to protect our cameras from rain. We do have a bathtub which I will luxuriate in before going to view the Gaudi designed palace, the 15th century Gothic Cathedral and the chocolate factory.

A Charmed Life

Leon to Villavante (population: 60? Maybe?)
April 21, 2015
8:30 AM to 3:30 PM
8 hours for 33 km

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We thought last night’s accommodation was the best. We live a charmed life. Tonight’s is even better! Mercedes and her husband, whom we have not yet met, bought this falling down mill nine years ago and in two years completely renovated and restored it to a gorgeous bed and breakfast half a kilometre past the bridge out of Villavante, a huge property beside the Camino. There are six double guest rooms and one cottage with a room for people with pets. If you are looking for a great B and B in Spain, call Molino Galochas.

We were warmly welcomed by Mercedes and offered hot and cold drinks and nuts. We had called ahead and she gave us a family rate (75 euros) for the three of us to have two rooms rather than paying 55 euros per room.

We arrived with two extra customers for her: Kanji and Susie. Fortunately there were extra rooms. Last night the house was full.

Bonus: Mercedes will make us dinner for 7:30 PM and breakfast at 8 AM. She does not function well before that hour! We normally leave earlier but we are happy to make an exception. We walked 33 kilometres today but only have 21 kilometres to do tomorrow. Plus this is such a beautiful home, staying longer would not be a hardship. Margaret wants to move in. I told Margaret she will have to buy one of the many fixer-uppers we have seen, but she has fallen in love with this one.

Our road was hard today, very hard, mostly pavement and in full sun. It felt warmer than 19 C although there was a refreshing breeze in our backs. My feet were burning a good part of the way in spite of having purchased new insoles and taking frequent stops. My feet are not part of my charmed life!

We walked out of Leon for the first eight to ten kilometres. This was interesting to see where people live and work, but hard on my feet.

The next several kilometres were between fields of scrub, pasture and some newly planted fields of pine trees. More mature pine forests stand out on the horizon like green saws on their backs bearing their teeth to the sky.

The snow-capped mountains were in the distance behind us then to our right side and finally they also rose out of the mist in the horizon before us. One snow-capped dome was curiously always even with my right shoulder.

The last several kilometres were finally on a hard packed dirt road rather than a paved country road. The land was more fertile and once again there were crops of peas, cereals and canola surrounded by concrete irrigation troughs. Theses latter were quite full of cold clear water. I refrained from shedding my shoes and walking in them although I was sorely tempted.

For the last few kilometres the drainage ditches were full of water and in these were millions of frog eggs, some tadpoles and the first crop of croaking frogs. Red poppies blew in the breeze watching over the frog population.

We enjoyed walking several kilometres in the streets of Leon yesterday. The cathedral was magnificent. We had a delicious pilgrim feast at Meson La Perla. Mine was leeks and mushrooms with Roquefort sauce followed by roast lamb and fries. I could not eat three lamb shanks. Even though Brian and Margaret helped me out, there was still some on the plate. Marg and Brian had an asparagus and mushroom green salad then five lamb chops with fries. I do not know where Margaret is packing hers. Maybe flying faster than me along the trail burns more calories. None of us had dessert. The ice cream earlier in the afternoon filled that spot.

Time to check out more of this house. My feet and legs are done resting on the wall