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The Camino

In August and September 2017 I went on a little walk.  It was 890km, give or take.  The walk is an ancient pilgrimage route called the Camino Frances or the French Way.Along the way I raised money for the Australian Conservation Foundation and wrote a blog, which I have copied below.  It might be useful for anyone thinking of walking the Camino and it might just be interesting to see what goes on on a seven week walk.  Hint: not much – things get pared back to the basic necessities of life 🙂

Day 1: St Jean Pied de Port to Roncesvalles

Day 1: St Jean Pied de Port to Roncesvalles

Spectacular views the whole day long

After months of planning  and waiting we’ve started The Camino and successfully  completed our first day.

I think I’m quite glad this is the toughest day, because it was pretty tough! I was fine up until about 18km or so and then the tiredness set in… and the worry about knees in the steep descent.

The scenery was stunning and got more so the higher we climbed, from 200m above sea level at St Jean Pied de Port to 1400m at Col de Lepoeder. As a nature lover I have to mention the many Griffon Vultures riding the thermals, kite, the black faced black faced sheep (Manech), and the wild horses, who were quite tame and looking for food from the peregrinos.  See Instagram for photos.

The climb up was tough, and long, and hot (did I mention hot?). When we reached the highest point, the other side of the Pyrenees presented itself quite dramatically over the rise.

After this point the steep descent started. I was fairly worried about this but for those who know me, you’ll be pleased to know the knees held out.

At 26km or so, depending on which map or book you read, we reached Roncevalles. There is one very large refugio here and it is amazing. New, clean, and large enough to fit most(?) of the peregrino. (There are a LOT of people walking at this time of the year and we were always within sight of our fellow pilgrims). No bed bugs here… or at least I think not.

Already we have met some really great people and the feeling along The Way is one of camaraderie, openness and friendship. We ate with eight of our fellow pilgrims tonight ranging from 22-56 years in age. We had a tasty soup, extra tasty pasta and trout of a white fleshed variety. Oh, and I mustn’t forget the more than acceptable local Tempranillo. All in all a really very fabulous way to start the journey.

I feel like I should add something reflective at this point but I don’t have anything, so until mañana, adios mi amigos

Day 2: Roncesvalles to Larrasoaña

Nice paths through beech forest along The Way.

Nice paths through beech forest along The Way.

Today we all woke up with an average sleep (only one snorer) and feeling fairly fit considering the big day yesterday. We started with the pilgrims breakfast while discussing our various destinations. Some are completing the whole Camino but with varying timeframes and some are only able to take a couple of weeks off and will complete as much as they can.

It was a less strenuous day today and nice to walk through a lot of beech forest, but a fair bit of road waking too. We passed quickly though some small and pretty villages of stone construction and potted flowers on balconies. The hills were not necessarily small today but we did descend about 900m over the 27km to Larrasoana, 5km further than the recommended town of Zubiri. This means we have a ‘short’ walk of 16km tomorrow to Pamplona, which will allow us more time to explore the city.

Many of the people we met yesterday also made it here and we enjoyed a very good peregrino three course meal with wine for €12. I was pleased to be able to sample garlic soup, a local specialty. At the table we had me (the kiwi), Australians, Germans, a South Korean and a Slovenian.

I’m experiencing a full day so far with not much time for blogging and thinking. There is a routine developing already of organising gear, breakfasting, walking, showering, washing clothes, eating, and hitting the sack… in that order. I’m expecting more cultural experiences to come tomorrow.

Day 3: Larrasoaña to Pamplona

Puente la Magdalena

Puente la Magdalena

Today was only 16km but I found it the hardest to date. I’m not sure if there is a cumulative tiredness effect or if it’s the small cold I’ve picked up.

Regardless, today was the most interesting to date in terms of culture. We stopped at Arre for lunch and happened across a festival, of what origin we have no idea. I thought about asking but realised I probably wouldn’t understand the answer. The festival comprised about 50 or so gigantic 3m high effigies of what looked like various cultures. The wooden framed structures were manned by volunteers and paraded in time to music with flutes and drums. An impressive sight. We couldn’t wait for all of them to pass though and moved on to Pamplona.

Puente la Magdalena (pictured) is one of four bridges that cross over the river Arga into Pamplona. It leads to the impressive walled old town of Pamplona. Luckily the drawbridge was down so we could enter… amazing to think of the history and the sheer manpower that went into building the city.

Pamplona is beautiful. Cobbled roads and a compact centre with a large Plaza where we met up with our friends. Most of them will move on and we will meet new people.

We visited the famous Cafe Iruna and samples their famous G&T served in large bowls! This was followed by tasty tapas. The city is buzzing with people eating at 9pm – standard for the Spaniards apparently.

I am starting to notice the different attitudes and experiences of people walking The Way. I’m pretty tired and hoping for a good night’s sleep.

Buenos noches.

Day 4: Pamplona

Day 4: Pamplona

Plaza del Castillo

After building up some a deficit, we decided to stay in Pamplona for an extra night. We were pretty much the last to leave the refugio and waited until 9am for Cafe Iruna to open. I couldn’t believe the piles of rubbish being swept up from under the tables after Saturday night festivities.

We have our own room for the night, with an ensuite. It’s such a pleasure to have space to sort out our packs, even though it’s only been three nights in communal accommodation. The place is basic and clean and the hosts are very nice.

We used our time this morning to take stock of supplies and get a few things. We lunched at an Italian restaurant where the menu was in Italian but the description in Spanish. Quite confusing. For those of you interested, I had a salad with semi dried tomatoes, burrata cheese, and bresaola. Nice. And very nice to get some vegetables in me!

Then we took a walk around the old town, since we like walking, and found many of the old buildings without actually looking for them. The museum and the cathedral closed at 2pm so we didn’t have time to visit. We walked the wall of the town, which is huge and very high. We saw the modern city past the fortress walls and it looked very uniform and monotonous compared to the old town. It’s interesting how the cultural aspects of a place can be simultaneously preserved and transformed in the modern world.

Dinner was a very sensible choice; a double scoop of gelato in a cone, yum! (I refused the offer of a plastic spoon and successfully navigated it with my mouth).

Much of the activity in town seems to be around the Central Plaza de Castillo and the streets that radiate off it as evidenced by the Sunday hubbub floating up to our room. We’re getting ready for bed at 8pm but the Spanish are just getting ready to eat. We’re hoping our plan to catch up on some sleep won’t go awry!

We are getting up early to try and beat the heat tomorrow. It’s expected to be 35C and this may continue for a few days… eeek

Day 5: Pamplona to Puente la Reina

Monumento Peregrino with wind turbines in the distance

Monumento Peregrino with wind turbines in the distance

Today we left Pamplona at 6.30am without coffee or anything to eat because nothing opens that early. It was quite eerie walking the empty streets of the old town. Back home most people are up and about by this time… even during the day we never see many people around.

Our plan to leave early worked out well and we were at the monument to the peregrino (pictured) by mid morning. We did manage to have coffee halfway up the hill at an albergue in Zariquiegui.

Leaving early meant we walked most of the way before the worst heat of the day. It was however pretty warm by the time we reached Puente la Reina. We are staying at a private albergue for the princely sum of €12. That price does however include the use of a BEAUTIFUL pool that we promptly jumped in. It was deliciously cold compared to the 35 degrees.

We are noticing many people now with injuries. Mainly knees (downhill walking) and lots of blisters. I have developed a minor niggle in my right shin that I am hoping will turn out to be nothing. Worrier FYI: I am taking appropriate medications.

As Janette and I discussed The Way to date over an exceptionally strong G&T (there is very liberal free-pouring of gin here), I expressed my surprise that I hadn’t really developed any viewpoints on, well, anything really. The overwhelming feeling to date is a sense of camaraderie amongst people who have decided to make this journey. We are stripped down to the basics of walking and finding food, water and shelter.

It’s challenging, refreshing and nice.

Day 6: Puente la Reina to Estella

The famous wine fountain, sustaining peregrinos for more than 100 years

The famous wine fountain, sustaining peregrinos for more than 100 years

Ok, so it’s hot. Really hot. We got up early again this morning to walk and most peregrinos are doing the same.

We read in the book that today was an easy 21.6km but we were taught a lesson in the folly of expectations. The day was relatively flat and shorter than yesterday but whether we are getting more tired or it was just a bit muggier today, it seemed harder.

Because I love food I have to mention the fabulous gazpacho we had for lunch in Lorca. We also filled our bottles here from a fountain fed with water from a natural spring and dipped heads in to cool off.

Later, looking at the amazing three storey high haystacks in the fields, we took a wrong turn and we’re called back by our fellow walkers. In turn, we saved a peregrino from walking the wrong way just before Estella. The last 3km were really hard.

Despite this, after showering and doing washing, we soldiered on another 2.5km each way to the Fuente de Vino (pictured). Even the German army boys (and girl), all nicknamed Gunther, thought we were mad. They stayed in town to drink
beer.

Estella is a sprawling town, not very pretty on the surface but on closer inspection you can see the very ancient bones under the fairly modern additions.

Everyone seems to be living with and/or coping with their injuries at the moment (my niggle also seems to be a bit better) but everyone is quite exhausted. I think we have a nice quiet hostel, run by an association employing disabled people. We are hopeful for a good night’s sleep. The German army boys are soaking their feet at the moment, showing that even they are feeling it.

Buenos noches.

Day 7: Estella to Los Arcos

Church of St Mary of the Arches in Los Arcos

Church of Santa Maria de Los Arcos

I’m beginning to lose track of the days. We have been on The Camino for one week now and I had to think hard about the day number. I don’t know if that is good or bad!

We walked a similar distance today from Estella to Los Arcos, 21.5km, however today felt a lot easier. We were in the road half an hour earlier (at 6.30), there was cloud cover, and the expected daytime temperature was a mere 30C… and maybe, just maybe, we’re reaching that time when it’s normal to walk 20-ish km per day.

We passed the wine fountain this morning, without stopping. It was open, but only serving water until 8am. We motored on, chatting to a new acquaintance, a French lady, and missed the option to go through the forest.

The usual route is more open and through villages. We expected a steep climb – the forest route was more gradual – but it wasn’t so bad. Another example of taking all information with a grain of salt. The path was rolling and not very strenuous. Regardless, I was happy to reach our destination. There was a lack of fountains for the last 12km.

We reached Los Arcos not long after midday and walked into an albergue, Casa de la Abuela (House of the Grandmother). We took the last two beds. The host, Joseph, is very nice. He prepares all the meals. We paid €22 for a bed in a room with six bunks, three course dinner with wine, breakfast, and washing.

We’ve since had lots of people ask about the hostel and we’ve had to admit to taking the last spots. It is very nice here; the dinner including lentil hot pot was delicious, as was the local wine (from Rioja) and the hostel is bookable.

As I write we are very excited to hear thunder. There is a little bit of rain and we hope for a cooler sleep.

I wrote a couple of notes today:

  • Tomatoes: Are delicious! All are sun ripened. They are big and small and not at all the supermarket perfection we find in Australia. This is a very good thing.
  • Fitness: We have noticed our fitness increasing rapidly. Recovery time up hills is much better… and we can continue to talk in the way up.

Day 8: Los Arcos to Lorgrono

La Rioja region is famous for the wine of the same name

La Rioja region is famous for the wine of the same name

Breakfast today was great. The fabulous Joseph had prepared everything for the 5.30am rush as everyone scrambled to get out and walk as much as possible before the heat of the day. The coffee was great (the coffee has generally not been so great) and there was a home baked sweet loaf. We thanked Joseph profusely for his hospitality and he blew us a kiss as we left.

The morning walk was cool, the sunrise beautiful and the breeze a relief. We walked through the twin towns of Sansol and Torres Del Rio, the latter looking like a very nice alternative to Los Arcos, especially as one albergue boasted a
swimming pool. I bought a Serrano, cheese and tomato baguette here. After this, there were no towns for 12km. The countryside was very striking and grand.

We planned to stop after 18km at Viana as the full day was 28km. However, after stopping for lunch and eating the feet [sic], we decided to go on.

Wow, that last 10km was hard. My feet were super tired and sore, the heat was intense and most of the walk was on roads of hard parts through industrial areas.

We have now passed from Navarre into La Rioja, one of the best red wine regions in Spain. Logrono is a buzzing city with a great vibe. We were surprised to find friends that we left in Larrasoana and met with them for drinks and tapas.
They left us to hitch a lift to Bilbao – a little side adventure to the seaside as they are both held up with injuries.

After they left we wandered the streets and saw many Camino friends. It made the trip extra 10km worth the pain. An amazing feeling when we’ve only been in the city for a few hours and there are hundreds of people out and about.

We are in a hotel tonight. Inexpensive luxury. And happy to be staying another night tomorrow so we can explore the city further. There is always the possibility of a wine tour.

Day 9: Logrono

Fascinating underground 16th century cellar where wine was stored to mature

Fascinating underground 16th century cellar where wine was stored to mature

Rest days are nice. We woke up at 9am, rather than 6am, and spent time having coffee (I had two because it was the first decent coffee I’ve had). Then we discussed how we might spend the day. Before we knew it, we had wandered
about gathering things and needed to check out of the hotel; check out being 12noon.

We had a nice salad for lunch and then joined a wine tour, where we learned about how wine was made in the 16th century, just metres from where we were staying. Donkeys brought the grapes to the building and they were dumped in a
‘holding’ area to ferment before being crushed and put into barrels. The cellar (pictured) contained four wine barrels for the wine fermentation. Locals would bring their vessels, often made from animal skins to buy the wine. We then go to try
the wine, a Tempranillo, with some vet nice chorizo, salami and Serrano. Needless to say, we then brought a bottle of wine and immediately wondered how we could drink it before tomorrow in order to avoid carrying it.

We took a walk in the park and then went shopping. Not much was bought, but there were a couple of purchases that obviously now also contribute to the pack weight.

By the time shopping was done, including some sensible fruit and nut purchases for tomorrow, it was 6.30pm. After walking back to the albergue and packing, we made our way to dinner, where we had some good conversation, a nice meal and the bottle of wine.

Tomorrow we walk again.

Day 10: Logrono to Navarette

The beautiful plaza with welcome shade in Navarette, a small and well set up town with great tapas

The beautiful plaza with welcome shade in Navarette, a small and well set up town with great tapas

Hello, dear readers

Today was a Camino lesson, in mindfulness and also on the valuing material things. Sounds deep and meaningful, not to mention cliche.

Today we planned to walk 22km to Ventosa but only made 13km to Navarette.

Perhaps because I was over-excited to find proper coffee at 7am or maybe because we only had a few hour’s sleep (between staying up till midnight and a couple of exceptionally loud snorers), I left my hat behind at the cafe. What a
stupid thing to do! I should be minding my gear and though the hat is replaceable, there is sentimental value in it as it was purchased recently in South Africa… and it’s a really nice hat

So, rightly or wrongly, we agreed to stop in Navarette. After settling in to a new hostel with only six bunk beds, we took a bus back to Logrono. Janette was nice enough to come with me. We were like little kids in the bus after ten days
on The Way. The ten minute ride to Logrono was not lost on us after walking 3.5 hours to complete the same distance.

Thank goodness my hat was at the cafe – the barista remembered me from this morning and we enjoyed a light hearted exchange across the language barrier. The pastries were excellent. I had a pecan and caramel pastry that morning so
we had another to celebrate. It was a delightful mixture of cream, sponge and custard with some sort of heavenly jam topping.

On the way back to the bus we had a random encounter with a clothes shop and Janette found the perfect outfit for an upcoming wedding. So the whole day turned out to be just fine.

It was even more enjoyable when we came across a fantastic local tapas bar back in Navarette. They had vegetables! Wine was 80c a glass and not bad (don’t worry, we were well behaved) and my dinner of three tapas plates and a wine cost €5.30.

So, be aware, mind what you are doing and where you are, stay positive and be grateful for things that are important and make you happy.

Day 11: Navarette to Azofra

Beautiful natural river coursing through Najera.

Beautiful natural river coursing through Najera.

I felt a small discomfort in my heel when walking but no pain, however, when I took my boots off, there was the evidence

After consultation and consideration on my usual method, I drained it – it was deep – and I’m leaving it overnight to (hopefully) dry. I’ll put compeed on it tomorrow morning and wear stockings to reduce rubbing. I’m sure there will be
an update tomorrow.

The walking today started off on a path near the main road and wasn’t the most stunning scenery. We arrived at Najera, a large town and walked though the suburbs that were also rather uninspiring.

Just when we were making up our minds about Najera, we came to the river, which was really stunning. We stopped for a coffee and met some Australians from a few days ago (we met over watermelon at a stall). It rained consistently and so
I got out my jacket and pack rain cover. As I finally got everything sorted and we were ready to leave, the rain stopped.

We walked out through the old town, which was very lovely with a backdrop of hills featuring the local red earth.

That was 16km and we walked on to Azofra through more vineyards and great views of the rolling countryside. We arrived at 1pm and have the luxury of a refugio divided into two-bed rooms. We are very hopeful of a good night’s sleep.

I’m writing this early as we are, unusually, stuck for things to do. We have had more rain and ducked into the local to escape it after buying our fruit and breakfast. The rain stopped at about 4pm – just enough time to finish our gin and tonic. A rowdy poker match had started at the table next to us and more locals were arriving as we left. It seems a lively town (population 290).

This establishment has a peregrino menu and we have high expectations with both minestra and vegetable soup listed as a first plate. We are off now to find out…

Day 12: Azofra to Granon

Rain threatens from the roof of the cathedral at Santo Domingo de Calzada.  Time to move on.

Rain threatens from the roof of the cathedral at Santo Domingo de Calzada. Time to move on.

Azofra meal update: After much anticipation, I am pleased to report the pilgrims menu last night was delicious. The minestra was full of beans, peas, artichokes, mushrooms and whole cloves of garlic. My main plate of chorizo, Serrano and perfectly fried eggs went down well, as did the local wine.

Blister update: Draining the blister, applying compeed, and wearing nylons seems to have worked (for today). I could feel it all day but it wasn’t too sore.

Now, to today. Today was overcast and cool. A nice change. The wet weather gear came out fairly early. We motored through to Santo Domingo de Calzada.

We had lunch and talked about whether to stay or go on. There is a nice monestary with a small refugio run by Cistercian nuns. A nice town, however the decision was to move on 6.7km to Granon as originally planned.

We stayed long enough to spend time looking through the Cathedral (€3), mostly so we could see the chooks (a hen and rooster) that are kept in the church as part of the legend associated with Santo Domingo. We also walked up to the roof where we saw some threatening clouds (pictured). Time to get back on The Way.

We are now walking close to the road with many big trucks. We amused ourselves by waving and making a motion (from my childhood) that means please toot. Janette didn’t think it would work, but it did! We laughed all the way up the hill waving and gesticulating at truckies.

We are staying in Granon in a pretty amazing refugio that forms part of the cathedral. We walked up the stone steps into a beautifully appointed old space with a lounge room and kitchen. The mattresses are on the floor and the shower was cold but the atmosphere is great. It’s run by volunteers, including the priest. We have all helped prepare a meal and are waiting till 8pm to eat.

Day 13: Granon to Tosantos

Enjoying a bucket of gin and tonic in our resort style surroundings at Los Arancones in Tosantos.

Enjoying a bucket of gin and tonic in our resort style surroundings at Los Arancones in Tosantos.

After receiving hugs this morning from all the volunteers, we left Granon and as most of The Way was along the main road we walked without stopping and before we knew it we had walked 17km. Without breakfast! Nothing opens before 10am and so we stopped for tortilla in Belorado.

We’ve now walked another 5km and are staying in Tosantos, population 50. We are staying in a fabulous albergue, Los Arancones. It’s new and clean and our hosts are lovely. We are fitting right in as you can see from the photo. I think the attached bar is the only one in town and we think most of them have been through this afternoon.

We are the only pilgrims and enjoying our resort style surroundings. We have a 16 bunk room to ourselves.

Mañana es otro día.

Day 14: Tosantos to Atapuerca

El Oasis Del Camino, a nice place to stop for lunch in the middle of the forest.

El Oasis Del Camino, a nice place to stop for lunch in the middle of the forest.

We had a very nice pilgrims meal at Los Arancones last night. We found out the place was run by a husband and wife team and his mother. Carlos’ wife did the cooking and Carlos made a good waiter. We started with a delicious zucchini and pumpkin soup with crusty bread, which could have been a meal in itself, followed by steak, salad and homemade chips. We were way too full for dessert.

The walk today was much different to yesterday. We walked the first 7km in farmland passing little villages. One, pleasingly, was open when we passed at around 7.30am so we were able to have coffee.

From Villafranca we walked up, through oak forest (and later farmed pine), into the Montes de Oca. We passed a monument to 30 Spanish people that were executed in 1936, during the Spanish Civil war. Their remains were discovered when the Camino road was being worked on some years ago.

The next town after Villafranca is 12km so we stopped for lunch at ‘El Oasis Del Camino’ (pictured) where a lady has set up numerous benches and tables made from logs, and hammocks. She offers tea, coffee, sandwiches and fruit by
donation. She brings her dog and cat and today, as it is school holidays, her daughter. It was a very pleasant place to eat our omelette sandwiches made by Carlos’ wife.

We stopped briefly at St Jean de Ortega then moved on to Atapuerca, which boasts a UNESCO world heritage site containing the remains of the earliest human ancestors in Europe.

The albergue is simple and small but clean. We have already had our dinner of bocadillo/panini as we couldn’t wait until 8pm for the restaurants to open. Everyone seems quite tired and we are looking forward to some rest in Burgos.
And some vegetables.

Day 15: Atapuerca to Tosantos

Cathedral of Santa Maria, Burgos

Cathedral of Santa Maria, Burgos

Well, thank goodness we are staying two nights in Burgos. Janette’s been ill with what we suspect is food poisoning (she bravely walked 10km today but had to bus the last ten). I thought I was fine until I stopped walking and it seems I’ve overworked my left leg in some way. It’s cramping and painful. Seems ok if I don’t walk on it!!  We are both hoping the day off tomorrow will cure all.

I met some fellow pilgrims on their way in this afternoon and they were wrecked as well. Perhaps this is a significant point in The Camino.

I feel great and felt great today. We passed through some beautiful towns today before hitting the airport and a 15km walk on roads trough industry and town to the centre of Burgos.

There was an alternative pass that I missed. Many people did find the turn off and were rewarded with a walk into town along the river Arlanzon. I, however, was not paying attention and was rewarded with a 13km walk around the airport, through the industrial area and outskirts of Burgos. Another lesson related to mindfulness.

The walk in through the industrial area was not without thought or observation. I noticed at one point, a large building that must have been abandoned – another business bust or moved on. Some industrious sector of society had made it their home. It is no longer wasted space.

There were large factories and warehouses selling kitchens, bathrooms and cars. This is in contrast to the old city centre that is peaceful and full of history.

I am looking forward to a decent night’s sleep without snorers and people up at all hours of the night. I hope to have an early night, although none of the restaurants open until after 8pm.

Day 16: Burgos

View over Burgos from the Castle.

View over Burgos from the Castle.

After breakfast of coffee and sweet pastry, this morning was mostly spent wandering and then waiting, ‘un poquito’, for a haircut. A little while turns into an hour and then another hour for the actual cut.

Patience. A virtue. Especially so in Spain where service means you are attended to when the server decides they are ready. But there is no point in getting frustrated. It is what it is.

After 1pm I made my way back to the hotel having bought some goodies like yoghurt, fibre biscuits and salted almonds at the supermarket and had a very weird lunch. Then I was tired. So I had a siesta.

About 5-ish I went out and pretended to be a tourist, climbing the big hill to see the castle (Castillo). The views were amazing (pictured) and the castle is situated in a very big piece of land with beautiful paths and gardens. A great resource for the city. Burgos is a very nice place.

For the second evening in a row, Janette and I sat on a park bench with our drinks and observed the people walking by, speculating about who were pilgrims. Dinner was at an Italian restaurant and we are in bed by 9.30pm.

Janette is still recovering and my leg is pretty good but not great. We will see what the morning brings as to whether we walk 20km to Hornillos del Camino. It already feels like we are off The Way and we are more holiday makers than pilgrims. It puts into perspective the unique feeling that comes with being a peregrino every day.

Day 17: Burgos

The 650m deep water well at the Burgos Castle.  Not bad engineering for 850AD.

The 650m deep water well at the Burgos Castle. Not bad engineering for 850AD.

The decision was made today to stay in Burgos. We needed a little more rest and, as it turns out, some retail therapy. We have posted a package on to Santiago. There is some conflict in this as we are supposed to be shedding our possessions rather than accumulating them. However, one does need to be clothed.

After breakfast and shopping, it was lunchtime, which was exceptional. Janette had ‘baby’ lamb and I the tuna carpaccio. The tuna was prepared fresh in front of us and the lamb was a milky white rack. The quality of the meal and the service was amazing. There were also a few complimentary add ons… Before the meal we had smoked butter on corn crisps and then nori with langoustine and avocado. And after the meal chocolate truffles – three of them, of which I ate three.

Then, siesta.

After siesta we went to the supermarket to get food for the walk tomorrow. I went on the the castle (Castillo) again but this time I paid to go inside. The castle is a ruin and the history around why is very interesting. There is a lot of conflict between the castle and the city of Burgos.

The picture shows the well that was dug to ensure water supply in time of siege. It’s 63.5m deep. Good engineering considering the castle as initially built in 825AD. There is a stairwell running around the well to enable service and repair. Associated with this are various tunnels but I was too late to take a tour (next time?!) and find out more.

Tomorrow’s blog will be from the peregrinos perspective again, as opposed to the occasional tourist

Day 18: Burgos to Hornillos del Camino

The pretty town of Hornillos del Camino.

The pretty town of Hornillos del Camino.

On The Way again… it feels great!

Today we started across the dreaded meseta. We have heard so much about this bleak part of the Camino that we were unsure about what it would hold. The general consensus is that this is the time to reflect on the journey as there is not much to see, the towns are far apart and there is little shade or water.

We both enjoyed it. It is quite barren, especially as the crops have been harvested. However the starkness hold its own beauty. The towns we came across were pretty and Hornillos (pictured) is no exception.

We’ve had our first paella and it was very good. Accompanied by good wine again and served at a long table, there was lots of conversation. We have met up with two Australian couples that we saw several days ago and met some new people that we will be travelling alongside for the next week as there isn’t much flexibility in the stages.

Well fed and watered, it’s time for sleep and we’re hoping for a good one in the communal dorms once more.

Day 19: Hornillos del Camino to Castrojeriz

The ruins of the Convent of San Anton. A stunning place including an albergue with ultra-basic facilities.

The ruins of the Convent of San Anton. A stunning place including an albergue with ultra-basic facilities.

Another ‘short’ 20km day today.

A long walk along the meseta to begin with. After a few kilometres it becomes quite meditative.

The first town was Hontanas where we had great service with coffee and snacks.

Walking along we came to the very small location of San Anton. There the main feature is the ruins of a magnificent convent (pictured). The main arch of which crosses the road i.e. the road goes through it. We had a look at the structure and found an albergue nestled amongst the remaining structure. We enjoyed our lunch there and talked to the volunteer hospitalero for quite some time. It is truly a stunning place and the highlight of our day.

Next minute we were in Castrojeriz. We spent a lot of the afternoon looking for the supermarket, which was closed for the siesta. We enlisted the help of an Irish friend in the end. The town population is 600 but it is long and thin and, apparently, confusing to navigate.

We eventually found it and bought a few supplies for tomorrow. Back in the albergue our Australian friends had arrived independently and were allocated to the same room as us. So we went to dinner together and had some good Camino conversation.

We retuned to the albergue to find we had missed the tour of the wine cellar. Someone mentioned it and we got a special edition. What an amazing experience! The cellar is part of a series of tunnels running for three kilometres from the castle in the hill. The part under the albergue has been cut off from its surrounds due to property boundaries. Our host, Jose, explained the history and the strategic nature of the tunnels.

In particular, there was a very small  doorway that even I had to stoop to get through. It was designed to let only one of the enemy pass at a time and the defenders could then ambush them on the other side. Such history!

Now, lights are out and I must go to sleep.

Day 20: Castrojeriz to Fromista

Castrojeriz in the dawn, under the morning star.

Castrojeriz in the dawn, under the morning star.

We were up at 5.30 today to try and beat the heat. We saw a beautiful sunrise (pictured) with Castrojeriz sparkling underneath the morning star behind us, so we knew we were heading in the right direction, even in the dark.

There was a big hill to climb but no sooner had we climbed it and settled into walking the meseta, we had to walk down again, no switchbacks and an 18 degree incline.

The first town was 10km away and so the first caffeine intake was at 9am. Nothing else was open and we walked another 7km before we were able to have something substantial to eat.

We made the mistake of tossing a coin between two eating places/albergues in Boadilla and ended up at Titus where upon asking about a ham, cheese and tomato sandwich, I was told that I could have ham or nothing. Stunned at the rudeness we went outside to sit. The man came out and asked if we would like drinks. When we declined he told us we would need to leave.

Doubly stunned, disappointed and angry, we left and headed to the other albergue, En el Camino, and found a totally opposite situation. The place was green, clean and the hosts super hospitable. We were told to sit down and a ham, cheese and tomato sandwich was delivered to the table by one of the happiest people I have met.

Another lesson on the Camino?

We are now in Fromista, a small town. The temperature today got to 30 degrees and we were quite tired walking in. I am looking forward to breakfast  tomorrow as the panaderia opens at 6am and I can have coffee and something nice to eat before we walk. The temperature is expected to be a more moderate 24 degrees so there is not as much of a hurry to leave.

Day 21: Fromista to Carrion de los Condes

Vast expanses of harvested cropland.

Vast expanses of harvested cropland.

Today was a good day. We had an excellent sleep with no (or very little) snoring. We allowed ourselves to sleep in as it was another short 20km day and the temperature was not predicted to be severe… we got out of bed at 6:45am. We heard afterwards the grumpy albergue host turns the lights on when we were in the bathroom and woke up anyone who was still asleep by talking very loudly at them. Vacate time was 7:30am.

I had a good coffee but a stale pastry. The panaderia seemed to have a problem with the pastry delivery being late and when the van turned up, the girls who run the place gave the driver ‘what for’… from the shop, across the outside area we were eating, to the van parked next to us.

On The Way we managed to find the alternate route that took us off the road and along a river. We came to the clean and tidy Villacazar de Sirga just in time for an 11am brunch of egg and chorizo tortilla. The chorizo here is nothing like the processed sausage we get in Australia.

The path today was flat and cereal fields as far as the eye could see. It has been described as boring but actually it started working its magic on me today with a bit of reflection on the different attitudes we have found over that last couple of days and what might be going on there and in other situations around the world.

Another 6km on from brunch we reached Carrion.  A nice town. After some grumpy experiences we didn’t realise how apprehensive we were.

We stopped at Santo Maria parochial albergue to pick up my towel – that I had forgotten in Castrojeriz and the wonderful Jose had arranged to courier ahead for me – and we were taken aback by the happiness and hospitality (warm and sincere welcome at the door with cold tea and biscuits) so we stayed.

I have avoided the song singing in multiple languages at 6pm and the pilgrims mass at 8pm and am now listening from bed to the communal dinner that started at 9pm.

We chose to have dinner at a restaurant, Le Corte, that turned out to be a great meal. Castilllian (garlic) soup and rabbit stew, WITH vegetables! Dessert was melon – a Spanish melon shaped like a football, green like a honeydew and sweet and delicious.

Tomorrow will be tough and remote so we have stocked up on provisions and will leave early.

Day 22: Carrion to Terradillos de los Templarios

 

Leaving early in the morning with a long day's walk ahead, way signs are always a welcome sight.  This one shows the distance to the next town.

Leaving early in the morning with a long day’s walk ahead, way signs are always a welcome sight. This one shows the distance to the next town.

So today was a bit of a non event. We walked 27km and I was a bit/fairly worried about the distance, especially as the first section was 17km before any township. The only other 27km days we have done were the first two days. The second day, from Roncesvalles to Larrasoana I found really hard.

We prepared yesterday by buying up a lot of food, filled up with lots of water and made the decision to stop more often to rest our feet.

As it turns out, the food was not so necessary, we walked very well the first 17km. However, the decision to stop often was probably a good one. We had three short stops and at the first town, Calzadilla de la Cueza, we felt very fresh, especially after an excellent coffee. The food looked great too but we had supplies to eat…

The walk itself was fairly mundane along wide paths and through wheat fields. Good meseta meditation time.

Terradillos de los Templarios is exceedingly small with no pharmacy, supermarket or pub. These needs all appear to be met by the albergue Jacques de Molay where we are staying.

The town gets it’s name from the Knights Templar but there is nothing to evidence any existence of them here. One story is that the name comes from the ownership of the land the town was built on, which makes sense. The name of the albergue is named after the last Great Master of the Order who was sentenced to death by fire in 1314.

Day 23: Terradillos to Calzadilla de los Hermanillos

The sign reads "Sahagun Centro Geografico o El Camino". We suspected this was something to do with being halfway. After Sahagun, we had a very isolated, hot and hard walk along an ancient Roman road.

The sign reads “Sahagun Centro Geografico o El Camino”. We suspected this was something to do with being halfway. After Sahagun, we had a very isolated, hot and hard walk along an ancient Roman road.

I’m tired right now and it’s hard to write this blog as everyone is asleep around me and I’ve had the best meal of the Camino. There were vegetables. The place is called Casa el Cura and it appears to be run by a husband and wife team. We had a party of ten but the chef couldn’t ensure we all had a meal so he said a maximum of six. We randomly cut off the group based on who got there first and there was a lot of angst within our party, who got to stay.

The long and the short of it is that we has an amazing meal with amazing hospitality. The chef was delighted that we enjoyed his food so much and we delighted in him. One of our party paid for all five of us, which was totally unexpected and very lovely as I didn’t even know him three hours before.

This experience has dominated my evening but it has been a mixed day. The first part was easy as we walked through several towns earlier on. We decide to take the old Roman road rather than the modern one alongside the motorway and this was hard. The road is phenomenal but long and the weather was hot. Everyone found it hard. It was 27km again; same as yesterday and similar terrain but mentally different.

We have more tomorrow.

Day 24: Calzadilla to Mansilla de Las Mulas

Kilometres of modern concrete canals transporting water to parched fields. The technology hasn't changed for hundreds of years, we saw earlier models of this method as well.

Kilometres of modern concrete canals transporting water to parched fields. The technology hasn’t changed for hundreds of years, we saw earlier models of this method as well.

Today was the first, and only time, we will walk without encountering a village or town. We continued along the Roman Road, fairly bouncing along after our nutritious meal last night and/or because we had a good night’s sleep (we woke at 7.15am and left at 8.30am).

The road was long and, in parts, hard to navigate due to the rocks. It’s pretty amazing the road has endured in such good shape, apart from where it’s been realigned as a dirt track to circumvent the railway and roads. In all, just over 23km.

The canal system (pictured) is extensive and a big deal in this dry landscape. Most fields are irrigated in this region. The smaller canals run alongside the fields and are controlled by gates and weirs. The water runs quite quickly and is very clean compared to some of the natural rivers we have seen recently.

We are staying in Manzilla de Las Hermanillos at Gaia, the cleanest place we have come across. The hosts are very nice, and clean. And it’s great value at €5.

We cooked tonight for the first time. A tomato pasta with eggplant, capsicum and spinach. It was very satisfactory and so nice to eat what we felt like and with vegetables.

There is a festival in tonight celebrating the birth of the Virgin Mary. There is choral singing in the church, 20m away, starting at 11pm with fireworks afterwards. But for me, it’s buenos noches.

Day 25: Mansilla to  Leon

The Parador in Leon. A little bit of luxury.

The Parador in Leon. A little bit of luxury.

Wow, not much sleep last night. The fireworks last night were very near us. It sounded like we were being bombed. They went on for about half an hour (felt like longer) and then there was a large Spanish man snoring very loudly in our room. Part of the Camino.

However, we were up and gone by 7-ish. The walk into Leon was easy and only 18km. Breakfast was in Puente Villarente. A very town with an impressive bridge, and an impressive coffee and home made cake, similar to Los Arcos.

The walk into Burgos was long and hard along the industrial area but into Leon was mostly on separate paths and through residential areas. We were expecting worse.

Leon looks very nice. There is a large, rambling old town within the old city walls and some beautiful architecture – and some no so much. There is a Gaudi museum that we plan to visit tomorrow, in amongst our other Camino ‘shopping tasks’.

We are staying at The Parador (entrance pictured). The photo is near dusk so will try to get a better one tomorrow for Instagram. The building was a palace and is now called ‘Hostal de San Marcos’. It has a strong association with the peregrinos. We will hopefully learn more about this during our tour tomorrow. It is very impressive with many different rooms for sitting and general use; space that you just don’t find in modern buildings. It is furnished with antiques throughout.

We pretty much didn’t leave the room all afternoon having a sleep then dinner in the hotel. I went for a walk after dinner and had a drink at Plaza Torres de Omana where the locals were just coming out for dinner. Great atmosphere.

Looking forward to breakfast tomorrow in the Salon Peregrino, included in our stay. We are enjoying the breaks in the journey. It allows us time to soak up some of the city culture and history and also important time to stop, rest and rejuvenate.

Day 26: Leon

The cathedral in Leon.  Magnificent and even more so lit up in the evening

The cathedral in Leon. Magnificent, and even more so lit up in the evening

Our day started slowly at The Parador San Marcos. We emerged for breakfast some time before nine and proceeded to eat and drink as much as we could – we managed to avoid the champagne table but I did have two cups of good coffee. My highlight was the spinach on my egg benedict.

We took a tour of the building and learned something of it’s history, even though the tour was in Spanish.

We checked out at about 12pm and went on to find another albergue. We are at the San Marin in the Plaza Torres de Omana. Very nice place again. Clean, with sheets and towels – €15 each for a twin room and a shared bathroom.

Following an ice cream snack, we walked around doing odds and sods while we waited for the room to become available. When we checked in we met up with the four Australians that we last saw in Castrojeriz.

We met later for G&T then proceeded to sort out the biggest question of the day, where to eat dinner. We found a place with a vegetarian menu but dinner started at 8.30. Because this was so late, we shared a pizza snack and visited the Gaudi Museum in the Casa Botines.

This was Gaudi’s first commissioned house and it is magnificent. There is something about his work that is very visually appealing. Something to do with the symmetry and the clean lines and playful beauty… or something. The Casa Botines is build to fit the parcel of land exactly so none of the walls are parallel to each other. Amazingly clever. We are looking forward to seeing the church he built in Astorga in a couple of days.

Dinner was really quite nice, spoiled only by the surly head waitress. We were all completely farctate by the end. As we emerged from the restaurant, we were struck by the beauty of the cathedral lit up against a starless sky (pictured).

Such a late dinner means we will make use of the late check out time tomorrow and sleep in. It’s not a long day and reasonably cool.

Day 27: Leon to Villar De Mazarife

Enjoying the day.

Enjoying the day.

Walking again today after our time out in Leon.  Feels great!  Although I did suffer with some niggles, I enjoyed the day.

We walked 8km before we left the city proper of Leon. We’ve taken the alternative route that doesn’t follow the main road. It’s quieter. We’re still walking through open country some farmland, but also scrub and bush. It’s pleasant. The temperature was just right.

It’s nice just to walk sometimes. We have an idea of where we’re going, but it still a surprise when we come across different places and landscapes. You never quite know what’s around the corner.

We are in a really nice place tonight in Villar de Mazarife called San Antonio de Padua. We’ve accidentally paid for a twin room again with sheets and towels. AND… we’ve had a four course vegetarian meal!! The whole town seems happy and very welcoming to the peregrinos.

Today we also met some more really nice people. Tomorrow we’ll mix it up again by taking some time out in Astorga so who knows if we’ll see them again.

Day 28: Masarife to Astorga

 

Gaudi's Pentecostal church.

Gaudi’s Pentecostal church.

Sometimes the best laid plans go awry. We planned to sleep in this morning and got woken at 5am by the people in the dorm above us. So, if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.

We set off at 6.20am, our earliest morning ever, with the intention of walking about 20km. We ended up walking just over 30km in our longest day ever. It worked out well, we took things slowly, had several stops, and didn’t feel too bad by the end.

We reached Hospital de Orbigo after 13km and we entered over a very impressive medieval bridge. There is a legend that says a cavalier defended the bridge, after being rejected by a woman, and won over 300 jousts in 1434. There is a medieval festival held there every year.

I had a coffee at the restaurant Don Suero de Quinones and was permitted to use the toilet but when Janette attempted to go she was told in no uncertain terms that she was not allowed to use the sevices as she had not bought anything. Not impressed, I didn’t go on to buy my lunch and we came across a lovely albergue in the next town, Villares de Orbigo where the attitude was totally different.

As we were leaving this hamlet, we were stopped by a local who asked us if we would like some watermelon. No expectation of payment, just being nice to some hot peregrinos. The contrasts can be stark sometimes.

After the next town it was 8km of farmland and bush before reaching the outskirts of Astorga. We had a nice lunch under some poplars where I ate my 30cm long boccadillo. A couple of hills later – the hills feeling more like mountains due to my full belly – and in 28C heat, we came across a wonderful oasis, ‘La Casa de Los Dioses’. Here we were able to rest and partake of various fruits, juices and home baked goods for a donation. The host, David, is a recluse who enjoys providing some respite for weary pilgrims. It was a relaxing and rewarding experience for all who stopped there.

We are in Astorga tonight. We didn’t arrive until nearly 4pm and have taken a room in the Gaudi hotel, opposite the Gaudi designed Pentecostal church (pictured), which is interestingly right beside the cathedral. Both churches are very impressive. Because we were so late, we haven’t had a chance to look around.

We had drinks (G&T ) and dinner with some Australian friends. The dinner was mediocre but we had fun and good discussions… and ice cream for dessert on the way home. Astorga is known for its chocolate and there were some purchases made.

We will move on tomorrow – a nice, short, but uphill 20km stretch – but we don’t have to check out until midday so we will have a chance to investigate Astorga in more detail.

Day 29: Astorga to Rabanal Del Camino

The pretty village of Rabanal del Camino.

The pretty village of Rabanal del Camino.

We have moved towards the mountains today. It’s very nice to see green bush (scrub) again after so many bare fields. The architecture has changed and the houses here are made from local stone cemented together. It’s visually appealing.

We started late today as it was a relatively easy 20km and we had a noon check out from the hotel. Psychologically though, it was challenging not to be arriving on the early afternoon.

We walked though several villages along the way giving many nice stops with amenities available. A pleasant walk.

Rabanal is a cute village. There is a green influence here with a shop promoting ‘save the earth’. They are also being rebellious in selling vegetarian food. Janette bought some hummus and puffed corn wafers that we had with our G&T tonight. Amazing how good that tasted.

I also had lots of vegetables with dinner in the form of menestra, a vegetable stew comprising beans, mushrooms, artichokes and asparagus. For second course I had a veal stew, with the ubiquitous chips.

We’re all feeling generally fine physically and mentally. The mood is great amongst everyone on The Camino. We are meeting new people every day but less so. We notice the difference now between those that started in St Jean or Roncesvalles versus those who joined more recently in Burgos. We feel seasoned and comfortable with the routine and the ‘normality’ of this life.

There is cooler weather on the way and being in the mountains means it’s even cooler… a low of 1C tonight and a high of 15C tomorrow. Quite a difference from 28C yesterday.   We think we are well prepared though. There is a reasonable climb and a very steep descent so there is a lot of angst amongst those of us with dodgy knees.

Hopefully tomorrow I will be writing to you with good news on the knees

Day 30: Rabanal to Molinaseca

Sunrise through the bush walking up a mountain to Foncebadon.

Sunrise through the bush walking up a mountain to Foncebadon.

What a day!

We walked in the dark from Rabanal further up into the mountains. It was cold, not literally freezing but close to it… we reckon we started out at about 4C. The wind chill factor was significant. My waterproof jacket was out to good use as a wind break.

Our first stop was at Foncebadon. Janette arrived before me and chose an albergue on the left, Monte Irago, as a rest stop. What a great choice! It’s an alternative place… think Byron-esque before the money arrived.

We had proper chai tea made in a pot and an amazing home made cake containing yoghurt and walnuts and other goodness. The man asked what we thought of his cake and was super pleased when we were very enthusiastic in our praise. A perfect stop on a cold morning.

Walking on, we had great views (including the sunrise pictured), and a nice hike up  through bush, even if still near the (quiet) road, to the highest point of the whole journey (1,515m).

Then it was downhill 900m. Parts were steep and rocky and hairy. We had a few villages to pass through, all with a distinctive alpine look. It was beautiful but very hard. My knees took some strain but appear to be ok at the moment.  Our friends also seem to be ok but everyone found it challenging.

Molinaseca is another pretty town. We were very tired walking in, which is perhaps why we missed the one albergue on this side of the river and opted for a cheap, but very nice, hotel. The main albergues are another kilometre away.

So today was a mixture of pleasure and pain, but the knees held out.

To tip the scales towards amazing, we found a restaurant serving a vegetarian menu. We found out the food was made in house by the lady, Paki, serving us. We had a cream of cauliflower soup followed by baked aubergine with pimiento purée and fresh tomatoes. I had home made tiramisu for dessert.

Wow, it was easily the best meal on the Camino. Every course was superb. The restaurant is Kalapaka, and when we asked about the start time for dinner, she said ‘whenever you like’.

Now we have had a delicious early dinner and consequently an early night. Noches.

Day 31: Molinaseca to Villafranca del Bierzo

Beautiful countryside on the way to Villafranca.

Beautiful countryside on the way to Villafranca with mountains in the background that we will be climbing in a few days.

We had a huge day today. The walk was long at 31km but the terrain flat. We left in plenty of time at 7.30 but our undoing was the sheer number of beautiful and interesting towns we came across.

The first stop was Ponferrada. This is the last major town until Santiago. The first thing we came across was a nice cafe opposite the castle. The castle is open for visits but because of the long day, we didn’t go in. It is very impressive in size, scale and in its preservation.

Sometime after this we received a text from our German friends that we met on the first day and we’re in the picture from the Day 2 blog.  They were going to try and visit us in Villafranca. They were in Santiago. It’s about 200km.

We stopped in Camponayara for a €1.50 glass of wine and pinchos, apparently a traditional thing to do for peregrinos passing the wine cooperative. The grape for this region is Bierzo. However, the wine we given was not of this grape, nor was it good quality. And the pinchos were a bowl of crisps. So unfortunately I can’t recommend this particular ‘tradition’.

By way of explanation, Pinchos are very small snacks that are generally served, for free, with your evening drink and can vary from nuts to the neat little ham, mayo and salmon concoction we had tonight.

In the next town, Cacabelos, we stopped for lunch. The restaurant, Moncloa de San Lazaro, is in a beautiful setting. We sat in the terrace area and shared two fantastic veggie meals.  Out the back there were two women firing the capsicums/pimientos in a grill as fast as they could to keep up with demand.

Lunch took us much longer than anticipated because the Spanish service is not very speedy. We left ver happy but late at 3pm with nearly 10km still to go.

Walking on we chose the proper Way out of Pieros. Everyone else took the road option and we enjoyed a great walk through vineyards and a sleepy village. The countryside is very pretty (pictured).

Villafranca is nestled in the steep side of a valley so it’s steep and hard to navigate. We arrived about 5.30, which is very late. There is a festival on and the town is full.

At 6.30 we got conformation that our German friends had arrived! They had hired a car. So we met up and had dinner.

Now it is very late and I must go to sleep.  Very tired

Day 32: Villafranca de Bierzo to Vega de Valcarce

The new highway soars above the valley and the villages, whisking tourists up to O'Cebriero but missing all the interesting bits.

The new highway soars above the valley and the villages, whisking tourists up to O’Cebriero but missing all the interesting bits.

Today was 18km up the valley from Villafranca, all of it on roads and most of it safely behind a barrier. We were supposed to take an alternative path over a hill, off road, but my knees were a bit sore and it is often said on The Way ‘listen to your body’. So it was the road and it felt a bit like cheating with such an easy walk.

It was a nice walk. The valley is beautiful and we passed though some very nice villages. Of note was Pereje for the little ginger and white kitten that spent time playing with me. And Ambasmestas where a German Shepherd barked a warning then looked at me and jumped up with his paws on his gate waiting for a pat. We were at eye level. We also saw a bunch of hungry geese that I fed some dandelions. They seemed very pleased.

We followed the N-VI up the valley, which was the old road. The A6 (pictured looming overhead) now shoots straight up the valley. It is a very impressive piece of expensive infrastructure, allowing the people faster access through the mountains.

It is a very obvious reminder of the varying pace of life.

The little villages that are bypassed are struggling to attract business as both the cars and pilgrims head for the more popular O’Cebreiro.

We have split this stage to stay in Villa Valcarce. We are in an older but very nice albergue Fernandez. The host, Maria, is very welcoming. She’s washed, dried and folded our clothes and our €8 stay includes breakfast. Tonight we peeped in and the kitchen is full of very nice looking baked goods for the morning.

We had dinner at a nice restaurant, I think the only good one in town (and recommended by Maria). The barman/waiter was quite grumpy but the food was good – not good if you’re vegetarian. I had my first Galician soup (cabbage in bacon broth), chicken and mushroom stew (tip: if the menu says ‘stew’ it comes with a sauce), and the Santiago tart (almond and lemon) was delicious. It seems like the food is getting better as we head into Galicia.

So it is with another full belly I say buenos noches.

Day 33: Vega de Valcarce to O’Cebriero

O'Cebriero has ancient Scottish roots.  I'm not sure if this influenced the architecture in this mountain village.  It is charming and feels cosy and welcoming.

O’Cebriero has ancient Scottish roots. I’m not sure if this influenced the architecture in this mountain village. It is charming and feels cosy and welcoming.

We had rain overnight and the morning was cool. The breakfast was nice and relaxed and late… we had a 12km day planned. The shortest so far but with a big mountain climb involved.

The forest was glowing in the morning light in the morning light and we passed through some pretty villages.

At Las Herrerias we encountered Project Brigid and the dreams tree where we wrote our dreams on a piece of paper and added it to the tree. We spoke to the volunteers there about their mission, which is to bridge the divide between the pilgrims and the local culture.

Not long after, we reached La Faba. This place had been on our list of places to visit since Granon where we heard about the great vegetarian food they served. After having a great lunch we thought it would be nice to come back for dinner.

When more people arrived for lunch, we discovered there was no accommodation left in O’Cebreiro for the evening. Things are getting tight in the accommodation front. So a plan was hatched to book into El Refugio, leave our packs, walk to O’Cebreiro (5km) and taxi back. Then our dinner plans were set.

It’s amazing how easy it is to walk up big hills without an extra 10kg on your back. The trip was not without a feeling of naughtiness or guilt at not carrying the full weight for a spell of the Camino.

On the way to O’Cebreiro we passed into the region of Galicia. The town was beautiful (pictured) with stone buildings and thatched roofs and the region has a very strong Celtic/Scottish background.

We booked at taxi to take us back to La Faba and had a wonderful dinner… tomorrow we will taxi back to O’Cebreiro and resume our walk.

Day 34: O’Cebriero to A Balsa

Great farmland views walking off the mountains.

Great farmland views walking off the mountains.

This morning was a big rush as we hurried to pack our belongings and take turns to use the one bathroom after waking up late at 7am. We needed to get ready before our taxi arrived at 8am. We hurried to pack our belongings and take turns to use the one bathroom.

We duly arrived at the kitchen area at 7.30 for breakfast but no one was around. Six of us waited until our hosts arrived at 7.40 to open and start breakfast. They weren’t very happy to be awake at that time of the morning. They soon warmed up though, once they had their coffee, joking that we should remember the welcome we got yesterday rather than the one this morning.

The taxi arrived at 8.10am and we resumed our walk from O’Cebreiro. The scenery was stunning again. I’m really enjoying this part of the journey with lots of green mountains, bush and countryside.

We passed through many villages and cracked the 150km to go mark about 10am.

A lot of this country is dedicated to small dairy farming with herds of around 20-30 cows being, as far as we could tell, hand milked. We saw many cows in sheds in the villages waiting, often with chickens pecking around them. The cows are moved through the villages resulting in a large mess of cow manure. These towns are more functional and less pretty than most we have seen to date.

It was a hard day, coming off the mountains. We walked 23.5km in total to the albergue we had booked, El Beso.

We are staying at a very nice and relaxing albergue in a small town. Dinner was cooked by the volunteers and it was delicious. A vegetarian meal again.

We are all in bed early-ish and hoping for a sleep-in as we have a short day tomorrow. Only six more walking days till Santiago. Unbelievable!

Day 35: A Balsa to Belorado

My new friend, a fierce looking and very large but friendly cattle dog.

My new friend, a fierce looking and very large but friendly cattle dog.

So we’ve been walking through some particularly nice country over the last few days. The picture here is of me and my new friend, a huge sheep dog that was stationed outside the shed where a herd of Friesians were waiting to be milked. The John Deere tractor is beside us and the cows are in the background.

We had a very nice, picturesque walk today through woods and green countryside. We walked about 22km. It was a relaxed walk but there were some significant hills.

We set off at about 8.30 from El Baso after a very nice organic coffee and home made muesli and yoghurt. Late.

We are feeling more relaxed in this last week of our journey. We are less focussed on our exact location and when we will arrive at the day’s destination. And there is more and more conversation about what will happen when we return home.

We arrived at our prebooked albergue in the early afternoon. We are booking ahead now as we have passed Sarria where peregrinos commence so they can walk the last 100km and get their compostella certifying that they have walked The Way. Accommodation is getting tight.

We did the usual chores on arrival (preparing beds, showers and washing) and eventually ended up in the terrazza with our Australian friends, a bottle of vino tinto and some snacks that were cobbled together.

Dinner was very good and now the day us over again. I am tired and we will get up in the morning when we are woken, without any alarm. Buenos noches.

Day 36: Belorado to Portomarin

The water level in the Belesar reservoir is so low, the remains of the old town can be seen. When the dam was built in 1960, the town was relocated and rebuilt, brick by brick, on the hill on the other side of this bridge.

The water level in the Belesar reservoir is so low, the remains of the old town can be seen. When the dam was built in 1960, the town was relocated and rebuilt, brick by brick, on the hill on the other side of this bridge.

The days are all beginning to blur now. There is a very relaxed feeling while walking. We hardly notice the towns we go though – although today we found another great veggie place for lunch in Vilacha. We had a cruisy 16.5km today, which may explain some of the relaxed feel.

There were a lot more people on The Way today starting the first day of their 100km, the minimum walking distance required to obtain a compostela (so we passed the 100km to go today).

Pretty much all of the ‘seasoned’ pilgrims are talking about the newbies, many of whom are walking with day packs (having sent their bags on to the next town) and are overly excited and far too chatty. Of course, we were the same in the first days. We know we should be tolerant of them but can’t help feeling sometimes that they are turning this into a tourist holiday.

There are many towns in these stretches and we are not worried about food or water and, as we are booking, there is no hurry to get a bed. These decisions have been taken away. The day is routine with morning preparations, walking, arrival, showers, and washing, leaving the only real decision about where to eat. And our lives are full and busy!  I wonder how we will find the real world.

Portomarin is very interesting. The picture above shows the bridge into town. The bridge crosses the dam, which is a water supply. The level of the water indicates obvious drought and this is confirmed by Google. However we’ve seen no signs of water restrictions and haven’t been asked to restrict our water use in any way.

The original town was flooded and the new town was built on the side of the valley. The important buildings, including the impressive church, were relocated brick by brick. From a distance the town looks very white and new and clean. It is steep with steps leading up to the town once over the bridge.

Tomorrow we have a tougher, more ‘normal’ day so I should go to sleep.

Day 37: Portomarin to Palas del Rei

The Camino traffic significantly increases from Sarria with people walking 'just' the last 100km to obtain their compostela.

The Camino traffic significantly increases from Sarria with people walking ‘just’ the last 100km to obtain their compostela.

A longer day today at 25km. I can’t say it felt much different to yesterday’s 16.5km except my feet complained a bit. The towns are still blurring together and the number of people is significant. We feel like some sort of army on the march (photo).

The Camino certainly feels different and I’m not sure if it’s because we are nearing Santiago or if it’s because of all the extra people. One person said they heard from the stop that they’re getting over 700 people per day through. That’s an unofficial stat but I can say it’s not unusual now to be walking in a group of 20 people.

The highlight of the day, apart from having Galician soup , Galician octopus and Galician wine for dinner, was the 2000 year old ruins just after Castromaior. This is an important archaeological site yet you can walk amongst the ruins without restriction and make up stories about what each room was and how life might have been in the year 4BC.

I am tired, happy and looking forward to finishing – we passed the 700km mark today – unbelievable!!

Day 38: Palas del Rei to Ribadiso

Nice scenery but still a tough day.

Nice path but still a tough day.

Today was tough. I’m not quite sure why but the walk seemed very long. There were some undulations in the landscape but not as much as yesterday. Perhaps it’s an accumulation of sleep deprivation or perhaps we are relaxing in to the end of the journey.

The number of people on the Camino didn’t bother us as much today. There were some alternative paths that no one else took and the newbies seemed happier; perhaps due to the sunshine or maybe they’re settling into their third day on the Camino.

Most of the day was through wooded paths off the road but following parallel; far enough away that we didn’t notice the traffic. It was very beautiful and nice to be walking amongst the trees. The weather was warm and pleasant.

We have had an early dinner – nothing special at all, a very average peregrino menu – but it has allowed us an early night. I’m looking forward to catching up on an hour or two of sleep (I hope).

It’s very strange to think that we have only two more walking days to Santiago.

Day 39: Ribadiso to O Pedrouzo

Sunrise and morning mist in the valleys.

Sunrise and morning mist in the valleys.

The day started chillier than expected with a lot of mist sitting in the valleys as per the early morning shot pictured. It was very beautiful.

We walked mostly off road again today in the woods. Very much like bush walking but with European trees. Particularly noticeable are the oak and chestnuts.

We have seen no further sign of squirrels but there are about a gazillion acorns and chestnuts around. For the past couple of days we have been collecting chestnuts and tonight they were roasted as a pre dinner snack. My first experience and they were delicious.

Janette and I did a rather silly thing today and missed O Pedrouzo. We walked 2km before we questioned the timeframe and checked our location with Google. It wouldn’t have mattered except we have booked ahead with accommodation at this point. So we walked back.

It was pleasant enough on the flat and through the woods. We were questioned three times by pilgrims on our sense of direction and also noticed the lack of enthusiasm of several others at that time of the day.

We joked that perhaps this was a penance for skipping the 4.5km to O’Cebreiro with our heavy packs. What goes around comes around. We walked 27km in total today.

We had another fantastic dinner at ‘Taste The Way’ as recommended by the admin at our Albergue O Trisquel, which is new and very well thought out.

This is officially our last night on The Camino as we will arrive in Santiago tomorrow just after lunch.

Day 40: O Pedrouzo to Santiago de Compostela

 

The cathedral at Santiago de Compostela was covered in scaffolding, so this one is sourced from the web.

The cathedral at Santiago de Compostela was covered in scaffolding, so this one is sourced from the web.

We have finished the Camino Frances!!! We arrived in Santiago de Compostela at midday, just as mass was starting.

It was a long walk in. Comparing notes with others, they also found it hard. It has to be a totally psychological thing because the day was only 20km and wasn’t hard. We did walk the last 17km non-stop though and I don’t think that helped. There is such a sense of anticipation and a feeling that you just want to arrive after so many days walking.

But arrive we did, in the end. We sat in the middle of the Praza Obradoiro looking at the cathedral. Unfortunately the cathedral is covered in scaffolding and wrapping at the moment so the picture above is from the web.

One of the biggest tasks today was to obtain our Compostela. After nearly two hours in the queue we finally obtained our certificates. It says we have walked 799km.

We’ve seen quite a few people from along The Way and there are hugs all round and everyone is jubilant. There is also agreement about a sense of sadness and disbelief that it is all over.

Thank you for following my blog. It’s been tiring to write this every night but fulfilling as a discipline as I now have a fairly complete record of my journey. It’s been very nice to receive your words of encouragement. I hope you have enjoyed sharing this with me.

To the End of the Earth

At the 0km marker at the end of the world, Fisterra.

At the 0.00km marker at the end of the world, Fisterra.

I finished my blog at Santiago as we had planned to go somewhere for a beach break, however, the logistics of getting anywhere meant the travel would take up most of a day and we felt it would hardly be worth it.  In any case, arriving in Santiago felt almost like an anti-climax, so after two nights in Santiago, we headed off to walk the extra four days and 89km to Fisterra.  It was a lovely walk with our longest day of the entire trip an unavoidable 34km due to the layout of the villages and accommodation.  Arriving in Fisterra really felt like the end of the journey, especially when we walked out to the lighthouse and stood at the 0.00km mark.  We were very glad with our decision.

2 Responses

  • Louise Hargreaves says:

    Hey PP
    I will look forward to news of your adventures and remember – live life with all the enthusiasm of a kid!
    TMWyer

    • Rochelle says:

      Hey TMWyer
      Thanks for coming along on the ride, woops, walk. Does that child-like enthusiasm include tantrums when all the albergues are full and we have to walk to the next town?! Ba ha ha… but I am very enthused right now and getting a teensy bit over excited too!
      PP 🙂



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