October 15

 

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We  had a hard time going to sleep and only fitful sleep during the night. Excited to finish. So, when we woke up around six this morning and  couldn’t force ourselves to stay in bed past 6:45, we got dressed, went to a nearby cafe for breakfast, and headed out at 7:15 in the dark.

It was raining when we started and had been raining a good while during the night. The path through the trees was muddy and mushy.  Within thirty minutes, the rain had worsened and the path was a stream.  Our headlamps were only somewhat useful in helping us avoid getting our feet wet. We weren’t alone. We walked with various groups of walkers, depending on our and their speed. An hour into the 12 miles, the rain was hard driving. By the time we left the path for asphalt, it was torrential–with the wind blowing rainwater in waves across the pavement.  By the time we got to Santiago, the streets were rivers.  At one cross street, we walked in six inches of water. Cars were hydro-planing.  Manhole covers were lifted up by the volume of water and the holes looked like geysers. By the time we got to the cathedral, we were totally wet–down to our underwear.

We walked the whole 12 miles without stopping and made it in four and a half hours–in time for the pilgrims’ mass which was capped off with the swinging of the huge insense burner (botafumeiro).

After mass, we headed for our cozy hotel, took showers, and crawled in bed to get warm before heading out for wine and tapas. This evening we went to the Camino office and got our Compostela, the official certificate of completing the walk. Then we went out to dinner and walked around the cathedral square.

Because the weather forecast for Santiago for the next several days is rain, rain, rain, we changed our flight home. We leave tomorrow afternoon for Dublin, stay one night, then fly to San Francisco on Friday.

For the past two months, we have said “bonne route” and buen Camino” to hundreds of people in France and Spain. The expressions are used as greetings and goodbyes, words of encouragement, and polite indications  that you are about to pass another walker.  As I end this blog, I will say them as a declaration to sum up the adventure Bob and I shared these past sixty-one days.

Bonne route.  Buen Camino.

 

October 14

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Today no rain and no threatening clouds until the last mile of our 13.8 day. We started with a steep climb and then ups and down though three river (actually streams) valleys.  Cold sometimes–finger-freezing, see-your-breath cold–in the deepest parts of the valleys, but also warm when we were out of the valleys.  See photo 1.  Beautiful walking in the sunlit forests. Lots of eucalyptus trees here, brought in for the pulp industry.  We walked through several hamlets, all with one road leading in and out. Sometimes we shared the road with cows. Photo 2. To get a sense of the narrowness of the road, see photo 3.  Bob is touching buildings on both sides of the road with his walking sticks.  Galicia has been green and beautifull the whole way. Photo 4 is taken from the window of our room.  Beautiful and green and wet: imagine hanging clothes out to dry here.  But, of course, people do.

Last time we walked the last 22 miles in one day. This time we are going slowly. Slowness has its rewards–we are seeing lots we didn’t see in our rush to get to Santiago.  Today I have been especially aware of my fellow walkers.  And I am moved by the struggle that some of them are going through. Today we passed a man who walked deliberate and extremely slow. When we passed him, we could see how gaunt he was and how concerned his woman companion was for him.  What is his story? And what is the story of the man with bandaged legs we passed awhile ago. And the story of the very obese Spanish woman making her way down a hill awhile back?  There are lots of stories we know, of course, because people share their stories easily. The Canadian woman whose daughter is walking with her as a retirement gift, the Oregonian who just finished a stint with Americorps and isn’t ready to decide what she wants to do next, the divorced woman from New York who called her ex-husband three weeks before she left the States to say she was walking the Camino only to discover he was starting a few days before her.  Lots of stories that somehow connect us to the walkers.  But being this long on the walk–60 days today–we also feel connected to southern France and northrn Spain.  How can you not feel connected to a country whose back roads you’ve walked?

On another note: one thing we have noticed for several days is the  tutting of trees. We see trucks and railway cars loaded with trees. We see trees on the side of the road waiting for pickup. Much of the cutting looks like clear-cutting which is worrisome.

Tomorrow we walk the last leg.  We will start when it is light so we don’t miss a thing.

October 13

We walked 16 miles today, much of it in the rain.  Most of the paths were tree-lined with the tree branches forming a canopy over our heads.  That was good for our protection but sort of magnified the sound of the rain.  The more it rained, the more mud and the more rivulets that paralleled our path. Sometimes there were two and three streams on the path. The last three miles were hard because the path led up and down through, according to our book, “six shallow river valleys.” That meant lots of up and downhills, the ups being particularly taxing at the end of the day.

Around four, we got to our albergue, “a wonderful reconstruction of one of the oldest pilgrim hospitals still in existence with an award for environmental architecture.”  When we checked in, there were several men/pilgrims sitting around the common area wrapped in blankets.  That told us we were in for a cold night.  We have a room in the new part of the albergue that Bob says has 15th century insulation. We are so cold we aren’t braving showers. Down the lane is a restaurant that serves reasonable spaghetti with tomato sauce and great Galician/Santiago torte.

October 12

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Today we walked from Portomarin to Palas de Rei–16 miles.  Leaving Portmarin was not the trial entering it was–no dramatic and demanding steps. Why didn’t they give us this choice yesterday at the end of our day’s walk? It rained on and off most of the day. Not hard rain, but enough to require raincoats at times.

There are lots of people on the trail now, many joined at Sarria, the town that is 115 kilometers from   Santiago. To earn a Santiago certificate, a peregrino has to walk at least 100 kilometers.  Lots of groups do this.

As we passed through the clusters of houses today, we tried to be more observant than we have been.  The houses are almost all attached to barns and sheds. There is one street to the “town” and the barns open into it–for ease of leading cows to pasture. Today in one such town (totally a misnomerr), we saw three cow herds (one man, two women) wait for peregrinos to pass before they brought their cows onto the street and into the barns.

Photo 1 is of a horreo, a raised granery.  Most farm houses have them. Some appear empty or used to store tools and boxes. Photo 2 is of a cluster of farm houses on a hill we passed near.  They appear far more prosperous than the ones we pass by.

Tonight we are staying in a hotel we stayed in last year. We didn’t realize that until we approached it. We feel we are in fat city.  They do laundry. Both for a cost, of course, but after a few days of staying in rooms too damp for clothes to dry, the price is right.  Also, for the first time all trip, we have heat in our bedroom. That has been sorely lacking lately.  Tomorrow–promised fruit for breakfast–we will eat here too. Again at a higher cost than we normally pay.

It’s 8:30 and we are snug in our beds. “Matrimonials” usually mean two single beds pushed together.

 

 

October 11–part 2

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Instead of three posts, there will be two for October 11–still some internet issues.

We left O’Cebreiro just as the sun was coming up. Photo 1–see the mist in the valley below.  Photo 2 I took at ten o’clock which gives you an idea of the constant mists in Galicia and why it is so green. No rain after our trek up to O’Cebreiro–I forgot to mention that in the previous post. We had pretty heavy rain for the last 5 kilometers. On the 10th, we walked to the small, small village of Pintin which is about 10 kilometers beyond the usual place to stop on this stage.  The last part was hard because we were tired.  We took the road for a while rather than the path to avoid a steep hill. That added kilometers but required less energy. We almost missed the turnoff to Pintin because the sign had been graffitied to make the name almost unreadable.  Painting over road signs is common enough here–it is a sort of act of rebellion by Galicians toward Spain.

The guidebook talks about how poor Galicia is.  The beautiful scenery obscures that. And the crops: we still see corn and sugar beets and occasionally tomatoes. There are lots of cows in the pastures.  But we see almost no economic activity except the farms and the Camino-related businesses.  As we walk, we come to clusters of three or four houses, but no real towns. Here, there is an occasional bar/cafe or albergue along the road but they are rarely part of the cluster of houses.  Photo 3 is the kind of “nice” house we see but many are in need of serious repair.  Photo 4 is of Bob at a lovely donativo/rest spot we came to late in the day.

Today, the 11th, we walked from Pintin to Portmarin.  Some uphills that look steeper on the elevation chart than in reality.  The last 2 kilometers were a killer though.  To enter the town, you have to cross a long bridge, walk up about 80 steep steps, and then walk up into the town center.

 

 

 

October 11–part 1

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Lots of problems with internet access for blogs. I will divide this post into three parts.

We left Villafranca on the ninth, before sunrise. As we were leaving our hotel, an older French woman, Monique,  asked if she could walk with us because the way out of the town is a bit confusing.  You cross the bridge, take an immediate right, and immediately start a steep climb.  Bob’s pace left both Monique and me winded so I took the lead and the hike got more comfortable, actually quite comfortable. Photo 1 was taken about an hour into the hike, looking back on the moonlit town.

Photo 2 gives an idea of the fall colors.

About 12 kilometers into the walk, you enter Galicia, a totally green world. Lots of streams, lots of mist to keep it green. We walked along the Valcarce Valley for about 12 killometers. Then we started the dreaded climb up to O’Cebreiro which is about 8 kilometers long. That climb goes steadily uphill in three stages or humps. The first hump is the hardest and was made even harder by the recent rain that turned dirt to mud and pushed rocks all over the trail.  About two-thirds of the way through it, I hit the wall, had to stop and take off my backpack, rest, eat cookies and drink water, and get my strength back. I continued slowly after that and made it to a cafe/bar to rest again.  Many walkers decided to stay at that rest stop for the night. The next two humps were not nearly as bad and we made it to our hotel with enough energy to shower, wash underwear, and eat.  O’Cebreiro is quite high so the weather is cold there at this time. We piled blankets on (that weigh about as much as X-ray blankets) and went to sleep.

 

October 8

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This was a day of rain, threats of rain, rain. When we left Ponferrada this morning it was raining so we put on our backpack covers and our rain jackets. Within 30 minutes, no rain so we took off the jackets. Within 5 minutes, rain again.  And that’s how it went until noon. I think we put on/took off the jackets six times. The problem with the jackets is that they keep body heat inside which makes hiking uncomfortably hot.

Mainly this was a gray, dark gray, day–as you can see from the two photos. Only for a brief period in the early afternoon did the sun break through the clouds.

We are still in Leon-Castillo province. The area is Bierzo and is known for its wine. The first photo shows some vineyards which we are seeing more and more often.

The rain today wasn’t heavy. The Irish might call it a “soft” day. But about an hour after we arrived in Villafranca,  the rain hit hard for about 30 minutes. Rain is scheduled for the next day or two. The rain doesn’t bother us but the muddy roads caused by the rain do.  Tomorrow we will walk nearly 19 miles which the guidebook describes as a “strenuous day’s walk that leads us up into Galicia.”  The book goes on to say that the climb is the steepest on the Camino but rewards walkers with great views.  The last 10 kilometer stretch  has a gain of 2000 feet. We remember this section vividly.  Send us good karma!

Finally, in the middle of last night I woke up and finished the sixth book in the Harry Potter series. Why didn’t I know Dumbledore was going to die? I was/am devastated. I start book 7 tonight.

 

 

October 7

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Last night we spent in Foncebadon, a town our guide describes as “this semi-abandoned village is now stirring back to life with the reawakening of the Camino.” This is the second time we have spent the night in this hamlet, but neither time did we see many signs of reawakening.  Photo 1 shows Bob on the main/only road in the town–covered with rocks and ruts. Many houses in the town are falling down.  No houses or albergues in the place have internet.  This time we stayed in a different albergue which was worse than last year’s place.  Last year we had a room for two, this year a room for 13.  But we did have a good time at dinner with walkers from Australia, Poland, Ireland, and South Korea.

Photo 2 shows a part of the road we walked yesterday. Green and uphill. There was a ribbon of walkers on the road yesterday. But no sense of rush. It is as if we all have our pace now and we know where we fit in the parade.

Today we left our auberge at 7:30 and walked two kilometers with our headlamps on.  We arrived at Cruz de Ferro (iron cross) at dawn. It is a major stop on the Camino, but a bit of a let down. The iron pole is really big but the cross is small.  When we were leaving, a South Korean pilgrim arrived and said, “Is this it?” The photo of us isn’t very good but gives a sense of the scene.  The sky gives a sense of the weather.

For at least two hours today, we walked through heavy fog. We wore our raincoats and covered our packs because the moisture was pretty dense. After a while, the mist dissipated and the sun came out. Lovely scenery.  photo 4. Much of the afternoon involved going downhill on shale. Sometimes the shale is pretty–like a gray blue water cascade–but most of the time shale makes for difficult walking. We passed through some lovely small towns with pretty old bridges and red and pink geraniums pots on balconies.  Photo 5 is a photo of the footpath of a bridge leading into a town.

We are now in Ponferrada which has a lovely old part but ugly graffiti on lots of buildings leading into the old part.

A few things:

Every day people wish us “buen camino.”  Walkers and bicyclists greet us, drivers wave, trunk drivers on major roads honk and wave.  Today as we were entering a small town, a young man called out to us. “Where are from?” We walked over to talk to him and to see what he was doing.  His grandmother, mother, sister/wife, and he were all preparing red peppers for canning.  We talked briefly and moved on, feeling totally welcomed.

In small towns that don’t have bakeries, a bread truck (white panel truck) arrives, blares its horn long and loud every few streets and people come out to buy bread.

Our dinner companions last night are reflective of the international flavor of the walkers.  We are seeing people from all over Europe, Canada,  Australia, some from Mexico, a few from South America, lots from Japan, and a big number from South Korea.  At first we saw quite a few from the US but we haven’t seen them in the last few days.  The mix makes for good conversations at dinner time. Another thing about the walkers: a big percentage of them are individual women, all ages, all nationalities.

Time to explore this city.

 

October 5–more photos

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Photo 1–women dancers in the Leon fiesta.

Photo 2–“dug-out houses” on the outskirts of Leon. Notice the electricity connection.

Photo 3–three stork nests in the church tower in Villar de Mazarife.

Photo 4–the donativo host.

photo 5–our first view of Astorga and surrounding towns

 

October 5

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Two days of bad internet connections.

On the morning of October 3rd, we left Mansilla de las Mullas before sunrise and could see–far far in the distance–the city of Leon. Eleven plus miles later, we were in the city.  We had booked a hotel in the Plaza de Isidoro which was perfect because that was a major place for celebrating the feast of San Froilan [Fro-ee-LAN]. The city was two days into a five-day fiesta. Lots of food tents and booths selling crafts.  We parked our stuff at the hotel and headed out to see the festivities. The first thing we bought was a large pocket of freshly-made potato chips. The BEST potato chips we have ever eaten. From there we made our way to the main cathedral but didn’t pay to go in since we did that last year and have issues about paying to get into churches. We did find the restaurant where we had eaten a great vegetarian paella last time and ordered the same dish again.  Food over church?  For this paella, yes. We returned to our hotel, showered, read, and headed out again–to see more of the fiesta, go to a Mass for peregrinos, and eat dinner in the plaza and watch musicians, dancers, magicians, and locals. Photos 1, 2.

The next day we headed out of Leon for Villar de Mazarife.  The terrain is changing.  Photo 4. It reminds us of up-country Kenya with its trees and red earth. Bob says he can imagine giraffes running in the background and warthogs racing through the brush, tails high.  There are some hills now as we make our way toward the mountains.

Last night we stayed in a hotel we avoided last time. This morning when he woke up, Bob checked the college football scores and at breakfast shared them with the US walkers. Today we walked 19.4 miles. The highlight was coming upon a donativo we visited last year. Last time two Italian musicians were playing when we arrived. I had taped it and so I played it for the donativo host. When we left today, he hugged us both.

We are now in Astorga, a lovely city marked by Gaudi buildings.  Photo 3. When I stopped to take this photo, a US pilgrim said, “There should be Disney princesses in that.”