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Sunday, 28 November 2010


Still walking…..

The next day instead of getting on the bus back to Santiago, I continued walking up the coast to the town of Muxia, the absolute ultimate end of the camino!!! From here I even turned around and started walking back, returning to Santiago, where finally I put down my stick and stopped walking. I felt it was time. Plus, my sister had arrived to meet me!
All in all I walked 1350km……it was a privilege and I loved every (almost) step.

end of the road.....again

Olveiroa – Finisterre

Very early morning, following the stars. First time this was a bit of a problem as the path by the river was narrow and overgrown and blocked out even the starlight and I couldn’t see a thing. Nearly turned back but glad I didn’t as the route around the mountain looked down on a huge river and, as soon as I could see where I was going, was beautiful. Passed lots of hunters arriving with their dogs for a day of stereotypical drinking and accidently shooting each other. Reaching the road I stopped for rest at the ‘last place for 15km’ café. I only wanted coffee but the owner did her very best to hustle money out of me. Every time someone walked in she made a huge fuss about being the ‘last place for 15km’….’no food’…..’you must buy food’….’there is nowhere’…… ‘nothing’. Now even a fairly novice walker would surely not be too perturbed on a sunny day about the lack of provision for the next, what, 3 hours?! As a seasoned peregrina I was quietly confident that I would not starve by 1pm. She did manage to convince 4 guys though who ordered 4 cans of coke, 4 bananas and one ham roll and then handed over 15 euros with an impressive calm considering they had clearly fallen pray to the modern day ‘camino bandito’ or bandita, as it were. Still, all the talk of barren wilderness had got me quite excited that I might be walking through a barren wilderness but in reality the path was never more than 500m from a road and never out of sight of houses, even if they were a long way off. By 1245 I had reached the coastal town of Cee and was pleased to find I had not starved to death despite not buying a 10 euro ham sandwich two and a half hours ago. It was quite momentous to reach the sea and signaled the end of my walk was in sight…..well, just out of sight, over the next headland. I reached Finisterre after a very long walk around a long long crescent beach. After signing in to the albergue which only took pilgrims on foot I left behind my backpack once again and took the final walk out to the lighthouse at ‘the end of the world’. This spot was incredibly similar to Lands End where this walk all began and I sat with Italian Francesca who had also made it out here and two other pilgrims who shared their wine as we huddled together keeping warm until the sun winked out behind the horizon and a great cheer rose from the exhausted peregrinos who had assembled there. Again, a perfect ending. Back at the albergue Francesca prepared pasta which, of course, was cooked to perfection!

ohoto shoot

Negreira – Olveiroa

Very long day today, made longer by my decision to stop for coffee break at a café clearly shown on my map and yet not anywhere in existence on the landscape. Served me right for choosing to indulge in such luxuries. Rested at a cross in a deserted village with the Spanish woman I met last night when I bumped into the Tall Danish Guy again after weeks. She had taken some kind of self development course organised by the company she worked for and had found it so enlightening she had discovered that she no longer wanted to work for the company that had financed the course. I found this quite ironic. The snap happy German and Mexican guys arrived but stayed behind to take photos. Psyched myself up for big climb over steep hill this afternoon but it never materialized due to a small ‘pilgrim diversion’ around the hill. This came out on high ground far above a huge reservoir lake and the scenery just got better and better. Olveiroa was a small hamlet which smelt strongly of cows, as did my laundry the next day after drying out on the line outside. The albergue was once again converted farm buildings with the same stable style doors painted in the same batch of blue paint as the albergue at Ribadiso. Had picnic down by the river with my legs in the freezing water. It’s good for the muscles!

back on the road again

Santiago de Compostela – Negreira

Up early and ready to get out there again. The first section on the path to the very end of the camino was the shortest section and would be followed by two pretty tough days so it was nice to take an easy day after having a day off. I had stocked up while I had the opportunity to get cheap supplies and carrying an additional week’s food the pack was super heavy this morning. I would have to start eating it soon! Quite up and down today but much smaller paths and no one about which was fantastic after the franticness of the last 100k. Halfway up a hill came upon a box of apples free for pilgrims….it was a bit Snow White maybe but I trusted most things on the camino by now, except my maps. I did meet a couple of pilgrims, a German guy with lots of badges on his hat who was walking with a Mexican doctor who spoke good English. They were taking hundreds of photos and I soon left them behind. They caught up with me again when I stopped for picnic by huge river at Ponte Maceiro, which had the obligatory picturesque stone arched bridge and little waterfalls. It was so gorgeous it was hard to leave but they got me involved in another photo session then eventually we started over the bridge. Halfway across they stopped to take more photos so I waved and left them to it. Arriving in Negreira I saw a huge supermarket and was so pleased I had just carried that 5 kilos of food for the last 25km!

the end of the road.....

Santa Irene – Santiago

Having resigned myself to walking into Santiago without seeing any of the old faces of the route today started with passing a French guy whom I vaguely recognized but did not remember, but he remembered seeing me in Roncesvalles all those km’s ago and we shared a kind of understanding which heartened me. This was followed when I later noticed someone walking toward me with their head bowed but something familiar in their gait. As the walker approached I saw a familiar green sleeping mat peeking out behind their backpack and realized it was CrazyFrench! I had not seen him since Leon and was overjoyed though I nearly had to rugby tackle him to get him to stop at my exclamations of Bonjour. When he recognized me his face lit up and we spent several minutes of hugging and back patting. He proudly showed off his new boots and told me he had arrived in Santiago two days before, spent a lot of time in the cathedral and was now hoping to walk back now to Toulouse to the house of his son, but again he never took it for granted that he would make it. Again he thanked me for my smile and we said farewells once more. This meeting had lifted me immensely and I joyously walked on towards Santiago. The surprises were not over yet though and I arrived at Monte de Gozo just outside the city from where the spires of the cathedral can be seen above the trees. I was sitting talking to a young guy with dog that was walking the camino over several months with little money. He was sleeping out and carried with him equipment to make items of jewellery which every so often he would stop and sell to keep him and his dog in chorizo. I heard someone shout my name and I looked up to see Veronika from Poland who was staying here with her parents til morning. She wished me well and I told her I would see them in the cathedral tomorrow and I happily set off into the city. Outside the old centre of the city I found an albergue with a very jovial owner who was planning a quemada at 10pm that evening. Whatever it was I wanted to see it but first I had to complete this part of the walk and leaving my pack behind I walked towards the cathedral. I was sitting in the sunny plaza in front of the cathedral as pilgrims flopped to the ground around me when I noticed another familiar face high on the steps of the cathedral looking out. I jumped up and started walking towards the waving Polish Cowboy, waving back. I hoped he was waving at me or it could have been a bit embarrassing. More hugs and congratulations followed and we stood looking out over the plaza for a while as he talked candidly to me about how the camino had affected him and what he had learned about himself. Not long after this I walked around by the pilgrim office and saw the French couple whom I had also not seen for a very long time. I was absolutely elated and once again they jabbered away in French to me amidst more back patting. I remained in Santiago for the following day to rest and during my time there I came upon most of the familiar faces from my time on the road and those I missed I saw again on my journey to Finisterre. It was poetic in a way and I couldn’t have wished for a more perfect ending. That evening I also got the scoop on the deal at the Hostal de Los Reyes, a luxury parador in the plaza. I had read stories about how this hotel was originally built for the sheltering of pilgrims by order of the King and when it later became a 5 star hotel the ancient decree meant they had to continue to make provision for pilgrims and fed them 3 times a day for 3 days after completion of the pilgrimage. I didn’t quite see how this could work now but it turned out that if you went to the car park entrance of the hotel at mealtime and if you were in the first 10 then you would be taken into the hotel for your complimentary meal. I did this for dinner and there were only 10 of us in total so no one missed out. We did indeed parade through the grand entrance of the hotel foyer and through the elegant courtyard which was being set for some canapé reception later. OK, so we didn’t eat in the restaurant and had to get a tray and fetch our food from the kitchen, but we had our own pilgrim dining room and were given a full three courses with several bottles of wine and we had an absolute ball. Early the next morning I went to the pilgrim office to get my compostela when who should walk up but one of Hot Spanish Guy’s gang. Sure enough he got on the phone and passed on the news and as I came out of the office with my latin certificate I fell into Hot Spanish Guys arms on the stairs. (there was nothing romantic in this before you get carried away, it is just standard procedure by now!). It was, in fact, wonderful to see them again and in true style I bumped into him all the rest of the day. In fact being in Santiago those two days was like being somewhere you had lived all your life. Around every corner you saw people who by now felt like your closest friends and even with the peregrinos you didn’t know you shared some kind of solidarity and understanding. It felt like a very special place indeed. Although most people were now heading home I was very pleased that my walk had not yet finished and I was keen to get on the road again. That evening back at the albergue our host put on the quemada display which was along the lines of creating a highly potent alcoholic ‘witches brew’ in a cauldron that burns in an immense display of rising flames and pouring fire while incantations are said. When it finally burned down we all drank the strong hot brew and toasted a safe arrival at the end of the camino. Life could not get better than this……slept sooooo well.

lipstick and earrings

Ribadiso – Santa Irene

It is said that pilgrims start to slow down as they approach Santiago as they do not wish the journey to be over. With the exception of yesterday I did not walk far on the the days since Sarria but much of this was to avoid the crowds. Didn’t sleep much due to Spanish girl in bed above me whose mobile phone kept going off in the early hours. The next morning she apologized, apparently it was her boyfriend keeping tabs on her. She said it annoyed her immensely. Yet I noticed she did not think to press the ‘off’ button after he had rung eight times between 11pm and 3am. I considered mentioning this but let it pass as it hardly mattered any more. Thought about having a coffee at the bar which was advertised as being ‘5 metres away’ before heading out but it was full of breakfasting peregrinos so I walked off into the peace and quiet of the early morning. Passed a memorial to Guillermo Watt, a 69 year old pilgrim who had died on the camino in 1993 and a pair of iron boots had been erected here in his memory. It was a long time since I had passed such a memorial, most of which seemed to have been closer to the Pyrenees and I thought how frustrated I’m sure Guillermo would have been to have fallen just a day from Santiago. Passed more and more pilgrims again, I was staggered in the bathrooms this morning to see a woman in tight jeans wearing big dangly earrings applying a third coat of mascara and lipstick. Where were the faces I knew, I had seen no one since the influx of weekenders in Sarria and wondered if they had not just given up in despair and gone home.

picture perfect

Hospital – Ribadiso

Drizzly day though lots more farmland and hamlets with guard dogs for cows, guard dogs for chickens (which impressed me) and even a guard dog sitting in a field presiding over a horse. I wondered if this level of livestock security was entirely necessary, was chicken rustling big in Galicia? Generally these dogs displayed nothing more than total indifference at my passing but I was curious as to how quickly they might jump to their feet and rip my arm off if I crossed some invisible boundary into their yard/field/veg patch etc….but I didn’t try it.
Passed Melide, which was famous for its ‘pulpo’ (octopus) which featured highly in Gallician cuisine. Every town had at least one ‘pulperia’ in this region, they had become more common than bakeries. I watched at the open window counter as the chef took the large bright purple cooked octopus and snipped up its tentacles onto a plate with a large pair of scissors. I wasn’t tempted. Stopped today at idyllic albergue on the banks on the archetypal babbling brook with little stone arched bridge through which horses splashed. The albergue was made up of converted farm buildings with bright blue stable doors into every building. I had always thought these doors attractive but I knew they were not for me after the first hour of trying to open and close them without smacking the top half into my face or trapping my fingers between the swinging sections. If I ever do build my house with my bare hands I will not be installing stable doors. I sat on the bank of the stream with a hot chocolate in my new cup as the weekend walkers continued on into the next town and the last warmth of the sun was gone.

dodgy showers and shiny kitchens

Barbadelo – Hospital de la Cruz

The mornings are now very noticeably darker, being still pitch black at 8am, though it’s still light quite late into the evening. I think a more productive use could be made of daylight saving time but the clocks are still not due to change for another couple of weeks. Reached the 100km stone marker post this morning which was adorned with flags and messages. From here the marker stones appeared regularly counting down the km’s to Santiago. The morning was bright and sunny but I could see a huge thick cloud filling the low valley below and this was were Portomarin was situated and into which I would have to walk. On lower ground just before the edge of the fog cloud I stopped in another barn where a guy was selling a few trinkets to passers by. He generously made me tea and gave me a hojaldre (a squidgy sticky sweet pastry) and we sat and chatted for a while. As it was Sunday which made it difficult to buy food outside of the bars as nowhere was open he also gave me a pack of chorizo to keep me going. By the time I left the mist cloud had even receded a little and not long after heading into it it began to break up and blue skies shone through again. Given the amount of people now on the path I decided not to stop for picnic but to carry on to Gonzar to bag a bed. I also decided to stay out of the main towns as I hoped this would avoid the crowds and would be where most people would stay. Gonzar however was very busy so I walked on to the next albergue which was excellent, had radiators which I could dry my clothes on when the hospitalera wasn’t looking. The showers were not built for modesty however and was interrupted several times by passers by and a troop of kids popping in to use the loo whilst I was trying to shower. The design of the bathroom also meant that each time the door was opened anyone in the building could see directly into the shower. I concluded that this was the Galician councils little joke – a bit like the state of the art unusable kitchens, of which there was also one here! I had beaten the latter problem though by picking up a stainless steel mug which I could heat up water in or make soup in on the hob….just had to remember to let it cool a little before drinking out of it! Only other people to arrive for the night were a Swiss couple who were walking from Sarria to Santiago and were not at all shy of the shower arrangements.

the last 100km!!

Samos – Barbadelo

It rained all night and was still dark and wet when I was wished farewell by the kind hospitalero. Walked through village called ‘Perros’ which was full of barking dogs! Met up again with Polish Cowboy guy when I stopped for coffee and the Portuguese girl also arrived and we all sat huddled trying to get warm while the owner shuffled in and out of her kitchen bringing us the best toast I have had. The Portuguese girl emptied out her supplies of biscuits, crackers, nutella, chocolate and cheeses onto the table and we all had a great breakfast. Soon after I reached Sarria and rejoined the main route. Sarria lies 114km from Santiago and so is a popular starting point for most pilgrims who just walk the 100km which is required to receive the compostela. As such this town marked a hugely noticeable and rather unwelcome change. Unknown to me this was also a holiday weekend and from nowhere there were suddenly lots of people with shiny new boots and small backpacks or no packs at all making lots of noise. A huge group of teenagers waving flags and playing music set on their way and I was so unbalanced by this change, particularly after the peace of the route to the monastery that I decided to stop early in a small place just past Sarria and let them all go on ahead. It was still early and I saw a few familiar faces as I sat outside. The French singing quarter passed by and the Polish Cowboy guy and then the Jolly Brazilian whom I had seen a few times before. Twenty minutes later he was back having decided that the next albergue was too far and we found a vending machine dispensing cold beers and spent a long time sitting on the hillside as the sun finally came out.

vespas with the monks

Hospital – Samos

Windy again but dry for now this morning. After a while I caught up with Marta and Pedro whose beds were empty by the time I woke up this morning. They had limited time off from work and were walking from Astorga to Santiago in two weeks. Today there was an option to take a scenic route via Samos where one of the oldest Benedictine monasteries in Spain was situated and it also took in pilgrims. This was were I was headed but it was quite a bit further than the direct route to Sarria so they would be taking the other way. I walked with them to the town which was the junction and chatted with Marta about their family and our respective travels. She spoke no English but it seemed to go well. We caught up with Pedro trying to climb a huge tree, took photos and said buen caminos and goodbyes and then took different directions. Ten minutes later I saw them again in the supermarket. Spent the afternoon walking again through very cornwall-esque scenery on the way to Samos. The monastery was a wonderful place to stay, simple but authentic with lots of atmosphere and plenty of monks in robes gliding through the cloisters. The Polish cowboy guy arrived and I was a little sad to hear that he was ready for his walk to be over and just wanted to get to Santiago now. He was also chorizo’ed out as that is pretty much all he had been eating. I had also started to think over the last couple of days that we were now getting close to Santiago but I was in no way ready to stop yet and was thankful of my plan to be continuing on to Finisterre. Having run out of food I decided to go to the bar across the road for a ‘menu peregrino’, the pilgrim menu which was available in most towns but which I hadn’t take yet partly as it was usually served at a time by which I was already in bed and partly due to my tight budget but for 8euros that night I was given an absolute feast. Firstly a giant serving bowl of Caldo Gallego or Gallician Stew was brought out to me which contain about four servings most of which I polished off with the mountain of bread alongside it. Then came roasted chicken with potatoes. This was followed up by cinnamon bread pudding and hot chocolate sauce and the whole meal was accompanied by a full bottle of red wine, from which I only drank two glasses to be polite and to avoid a bad head at 7am in the morning! Arrived ‘home’ at the monastery just in time for vespas which was held in the huge church inside the monastery and sung by the monks. The polish cowboy guy thanked the diminutive monk who was in charge for a wonderful mass, praise which he took very modestly and said “ah, well, it was much better yesterday”.

til the cows come home

Trabadelo – Hospital de la Condesa

The first 10km today passed through a beautiful river gorge which was slightly marred by the motorway built through it which usually ran half way up the hill sides but sometimes towered overhead on giant concrete legs. I was close to the border of Galicia now and the signage and place names were increasingly written in Gallego. In fact where signs were written in Spanish they were usually crossed out and graffitied in Gallego alongside, clearly the people of the region had strong feelings about this. There was a great pride in the identity of this region and an independent feeling from the rest of Spain. It was a little like being back in Cornwall and very soon the countryside also reminded of Cornwall on a daily basis, and the mud and rain was quite similar too. Stopped off in small farm hamlet at water fountain were I ran my arms under the fresh mountain water for an age to ease my itchy bites. Arrived at the historic and picturesque O Cebreiro with its round stone thatched houses and slate buildings. It was a popular spot but a bit touristy for me so I carried on over the hill to find somewhere to stay. A bit further on I passed a huge iron sculpture of a pilgrim in traditional garb on a mountain ridge. The figure was bent and leaning into the wind and holding onto his hat and I realized that this was the exact posture that I had been adopting for the last hour. Clearly the wind here was a common feature. I found a very tidy and smart municipal albergue on the edge of a small hamlet with views over the hills for miles. This place had a spotless new state of the art kitchen but not a single pan, plate or piece of cutlery in the building which was quite frustrating. Roberto the Italian and another Italian girl, Francesca arrived but given the kitchen arrangements decided to find somewhere else such was their eternal need to cook pasta and they wished me ciaos before disappearing back out into the howling wind. Marta and Pedro arrived late and we compared our ‘lanas’ that we were still wearing from Foncebadon. I sat and watched the rain clouds moving over the distant hills from the window ‘til the cows came home, literally, as a farmer and his wife and dog herded them back into the hamlet from the fields.

shaken but not stirred

Ponferrada – Trabadelo

Seemed to get bitten (a lot) during the night and this irritation revealed itself more and more as the day went on. Greeted Hot Spanish Guy this morning and let them go off ahead. Later I saw the familiar rucksack outside a café so decided to continue on to the next one. There were several towns on the route this morning and when I finally stopped for a coffee I was in a place that must have had a dozen bars. It was raining now and I hung my wet waterproof in a corner to dry and ordered my coffee. I stayed there a while sheltering from the rain and getting warmed up and just as I was getting ready to leave who should pop their head through the door???... of all the bars in all the camino…..
When I finally left and said goodbyes again I walked out and felt radiantly happy with the world. I did not see them again. I kept walking today not really knowing where to stop til it got quite late, I had walked a long way and somehow knew I had finally got well ahead of Hot Spanish Guy and the group and could forget about bumping into them all day.
Passed an old woman in the road collecting walnuts and later passed some men stirring a huge tub of walnuts to clean them. I picked three for myself and put them in my pocket along with the three almonds I had picked much earlier. Free food! Some French people in the albergue went out for dinner. They headed across the highway to the petrol station to microwave some shrink wrapped burgers so I threw some pasta in a packet soup and had a quiet evening in.

another english peregrina

Foncebadon – Ponferrada

After a communal breakfast we all headed out around 8am, wishing each other well on our way and waving off the cyclists. This morning we would pass the Cruz de Ferro which marked the highest point on the whole camino and was a shrine to pilgrim’s most personal reasons for walking to Santiago. Traditionally pilgrims would place a symbolic stone here to represent the shedding of the metaphorical weight on their shoulder or a letting go of the past and from this point they would move forward in their lives and be in some sense reborn. The stone pile was by now so high you had to climb it to reach the foot of the cross. There was a feeling of sadness mixed with hope amongst all the discarded trinkets. Some had left perhaps an old mobile phone as a symbol of their desire to break out of the rat race, many had written messages on large stones, there were lots of religious items but saddest of all were the many photos, stories that I would never know, but undoubtedly of loved ones lost and carried in the hearts of those walking, even memorials of lost children. Many pilgrims chose to make this journey after losing someone close to them. I spent some time reading the messages then found a shell and a stone placed by some pilgrims from Devon dated the day after I set off from Lands End so I placed my own stone, carried from Seaton beach on top of this stone and thought it would feel at home there. On the other side of the cross a few odd shoes and other walking paraphernalia had been left so I decided it would be OK to leave my dilapidated boots on this hill. They had brought me from Lands End to Leon and I had carried them for three further days with the idea of placing them at this very spot. After a few more minutes and one last look at my boots I moved on and felt instantly lighter, which was probably due to the shedding of the boots but I considered to be something far more profound.
A short way on I reached Manjarin (population:1). The road signs denoting the start and end of the town had been moved to sit either side of the sole inhabited building which was also adorned with flags and distance markers pointing off to the four corners of the globe and from which was emanating the smell of hot coffee, light classical music and the huddled bodies of a couple of pilgrims who were proving popular with the resident kittens. Tomas, the resident, was allegedly the last Templar Knight and provided accommodation and refreshment here for passing peregrinos. It was more basic than the small church in Foncebadon having no running water and only a long drop toilet way over the road but was yet another oasis in an unforgiving landscape. Tomas himself was quite a character, ringing his wall mounted bell quite often and without warning and signifying nobody knew what.
Took late lunch picnic under another stone bridge at the entrance to Molinaseca and was soon joined by Hot Spanish Guy. They were surprised that I was going on further today and I guessed they may stay in this town and that would be the end of that. However after quite a considerable further distance I arrived at the albergue in Ponferrada and my jaw dropped in astonishment to see one of the group sat in the garden. I really didn’t see how this was possible. Anyway, signed in and went through the usual routine of shower, laundry, food before setting out for a walk around the town. At the end of the road I saw a small huddle of people pointing in all directions and saw it was Hot Spanish Guy and the rest of the group. …oh, how we laughed…..again!!! I pointed them off in the right direction and continued my walk to town, where I bought a new ‘towel’ which measured 40cm by 20cm and was huge by my recent standards, this could probably cover a whole thigh at once. My previous towel had been a small flannel so you see what I mean.
That night I shared a room with the second English person I had met and she regaled me with flamboyant stories of her wayward adventures with a variety of men on her various travels. One time she had hooked up with a dive instructor in Asia but by the time she arrived at their arranged rendezvous point she was late and he had already met another girl so she had got together with a hammock salesman which apparently worked out really well as she was in the market for a new hammock and got a very good deal. In fact, it still hung in her garden today, five years later, such was the good quality. She even had her eye on a couple of peregrinos but didn’t want to pursue it as that was not why she was here and she feared it would ruin the whole dynamic of her camino. This I could relate to and let slip about my mini crush on Hot Spanish Guy and how it might start distracting me. She had divulged all this information quite matter of factly, without modesty and with far more colourful language and I liked her enormously.

The wild dogs of Foncebadon?

Astorga – Foncebadon

The albergue in Astorga provided the best breakfast I have come across on the whole journey so I was pretty gutted when I overslept til 7.30 and realized I had missed it. Made fast progress this morning as I wanted my breakfast, passing all of Hot Spanish guys’ group who were walking separately this morning. Finally allowed myself to stop in Santa Catalina where a local suggested that the “second bar” would be a good place for breakfast. “Not the first. But the second” he reminded me. The countryside was really making lovely walking now, into green hills and despite the chilly morning the day became sunny and glorious. Passed Hot Spanish guy and his crew a couple more times before arriving in Rabanal where I had planned to stop at the British run Confraternity of St James albergue but it was not open for a couple of hours so I decided to get a picnic and continue on to Foncebadon. I left my backpack at the top of the hill hoping it would still be there when I got back and walked back down to a café where I noticed they were selling hot chicken rolls and was quite excited about this. When I entered, of course, Hot Spanish Guys group were there. I passed some time with them while waiting for my roll and when I left I thought I am going to have to try to shake them off as it is becoming a bit of a distraction. Had fantastic picnic perched on a hillside above Rabanal with stunning views and the sun on my face, I could quite happily have dozed off, but the time came to put my boots back on and climb the remainder of the hill up to Foncebadon.

Foncebadon held some considerable fascination to me after the tales I had read of the dangerous wild dogs that occupy the abandoned ghost town shrouded in the hill fog. It has however gained a new lease of life recently and a few people have moved back in. There was smart private lodging near the entrance to the village and a new private albergue. Plus the sun was shining so it did not look at all ominous. There were, however, a motley band of feral dogs hanging around, one of which seemed to be almost leading me through the tumbledown houses most of which were without roofs and in a state of ruin. There was also no road, just a grassy, stony track leading up to the tiny church. This was run as a donativo and was currently in the process of being opened up for the day by a comfortably disorganized German volunteer who was running very late. She was quite in a flap but very friendly and welcoming. A few bunk beds were squeezed into the main body of the church and a separate room served as a communal dining area with kitchen facilities in the narrow corridor. It was basic and would be a cold night at this altitude but it was just perfect. As I put out my washed socks in what remained of the sun, the air was already getting very cold. I thought I must have shaken off Hot Spanish Guy now as I was sure they would not choose to stay here (based on the observations that they had taken a bus and walked on the ‘senda’). Shortly they arrived…ah, how we laughed…
As we started to prepare dinner an Italian couple and two Spanish cyclists arrived and we set the table for 10. The hospitalera made a chickpea ‘chilli’ which sent all the Spanish at the table reaching for the water jug and caused Hot Spanish Guy to start removing layers….steady on! I loved the Italian couple, Marta and Pedro, next to me and as the cyclists kept liberally dispensing the wine the evening descended into fits of giggles at jokes we couldn’t even remember and it was one of the best evenings I have ever had. On a slightly more serious note the hospitalera had some interesting party games planned which included the tying of ‘lanas’ (small strings like friendship bracelets) around the wrists of our fellow pilgrims with a wish for their journey on the camino. In days to come I would look out for these on other walkers to see if they too had stayed in Foncebadon.

Only 2 and a half more kilometres!

Mazarife – Astorga

After tucking into excellent breakfast of tea, coffee, juice, toast, churros and biscuits headed out into dark (very dark), wet and windy morning. As it was 7.45am and decidedly darker than usual my by now highly attuned natural instincts suggested there was a very heavy low cloud overhead which could mean a pretty miserable day of weather ahead. A few hours later after crossing beautiful old medieval bridge which must have been 400m long I decided to treat myself to a hot coffee but the waitress in the bar was so overwhelmed with the aftermath of the hotel breakfast crowds recent departure that it was impossible to get served so I headed on to the next place and was soon at the end of the town with nothing but fields ahead so sat awhile on the pavement against a wall sheltered form the driving wind and rain and ate a Danish pastry. A woman from Oregan joined me and we watched as passing pilgrims reached a fork in the road and made their decisions between taking the easy and direct ‘senda’ or the longer, bendier ‘el campo’ scenic route. Before my joints seized into place on the ground I hauled myself up and set off ‘el campo’, obviously. Despite the increasing howling wind and driving rain this choice was to be highly rewarded when in the middle of a long stretch through fields I came upon a large, slightly dilapidated barn. As I approached, a man, dressed slightly as if he might be backpacking through Thailand, only with the addition of a couple of jumpers, slid open the large metal door and beckoned me inside. Once the door slid shut and the wind and rain were outside I could see a couple of sofas occupied by 3 other peregrinos and a cart laid out with a vast array of drinks and snacks. David, our host lived here in this old barn for about 9 months of the year, dispensing refreshments to passing pilgrims for free or a small donation. Only in the bleak winter months did he leave. He had hung large plastic sheeting around the interior to block out some of the weather as much of the roof was gone, but at the front were we sat he had built a small room with new roof where he slept and put together a semi open air kitchen alongside this. He had a wealth of goodies on offer and I even tried almond milk which was completely new to me and I wondered whether I might find this in Sainsburys. David had no transport, not even a bike and carried all his supplies on foot from Astorga which was still some 8km away. If this included the gas bottles I was suitably impressed! Really had to force myself to leave and head back out into the wind and rain after a hug and a stamp for my credencial. In a small town before Astorga I was tempted to stop, soaked as I was but Roberto the Italian passed me and asked some locals how far to Astorga to which they replied 2 and a half kilometers. He beckoned me on, ‘only 2 and a half kilometers!!’ . It seemed to remain 2 and a half kilometers away for quite some time after that, not least because the yellow arrows seemed to be sending us in every direction apart from towards Astorga. But Roberto continually called out ‘only 2 and a half kilometres’ and we kept going. At a railway line we walked close to 2 and a half kilometers getting over a bridge which zig zagged up a ramp continually back and forth to a great height from where it crossed the railway line and then slowly zig zagged back down. It must have taken five good minutes to get to a point 5m from where we had started. Despite the fact we were incredibly soggy pilgrims it was still comedy…..just 2 and a half kilometers to go now. Just as it looked like we might finally be heading directly into Astorga the route veered sharply left and directed us on a tour of the outside of the city walls before finally entering the city at the furthest point away imaginable. Roberto had given up by this point and stomped off into the first albergue he saw. I decided, in for a penny so to speak, I might as well get across town and stay on the other side since I wasn’t going to be getting any wetter. As I finally got through the door dripping all over the flagstones who should be standing there but Hot Spanish Guy! Would you credit it?

Tuesday, 9 November 2010


Day 15 Spain León – Villar de Mazarife
Met Spanish lady with dodgy toes at breakfast who is now walking with her father whom she met up with in León. Exchanged a few words with Hot Spanish guy at breakfast table and resisted the urge to throw bits of baguette across the table at him for taking the bus. Very dark morning and very dark narrow, slightly seedy, slightly scary streets through the city. First time i´d not felt completely at ease and beyond threat. Serves us all right for getting up so bloody early!!! Lucky i had my amazingly acurate map (not) otherwise i doubt i would have found the right way out and may still be wandering around León, though it was a very nice city so i wouldn´t mind too much. If i didn´t know better i would say there was a bit of cheeky camino flirting going on this morning this morning as i passed Hot Spanish guy at first light but he soon caught back up with me, pretending to jog to keep up and then walking just in front of me leaving his group at the bottom of the hill. Anyway, i lost them at the Café Bombón place and that was that. The landscape had vastly improved since the meseta and much of what i walked through this morning reminded me of the African plains. In fact if you could find an area with no electricity wires running through it was possible to stare across the savannah like countryside and imagine that you might at any moment see giraffes on the ridge or black rhinos hiding amongst the clumps of trees…….(possibly i was potassium depleted but at a later time when i met Tall Danish guy again he said exactly the same thing.) Found great albergue with sunloungers in the garden…this was the ultimate height of luxury. Wandered around the village and bumped into Aussie girl who, over the course of a couple of café con leches told me she had discovered she was pregnant and i instantly forgave her for the taxi incident. Her whole camino would now, of course, have a new focus and it was becoming a very spiritual experience for her. I found I liked her much more than when we had first met.

Walking too far in a day....again

Spain day 14 Calzadillos – León
After morning stretch of super straight 17km before any hint of life….roman roads for you i caught up with the less scenic ´senda´ that i had deviated away from yesterday. Had bit of trouble with direction and new water channel this morning but i went with my instincts leaving two french guys walking off the other way and trying to tell me i was going the wrong way….later they caught up with me having realised the error of their way and retraced. This happens a few times but i always trust the map(foolhardy really)/ the arrows/ my instincts/ the sun?? and it always works to the good (so far). Down the hill to Mansillas de las Mulas i saw Tall Danish guy striding across the ridge shouting something along the lines of ´No, it´s this way´. But i was happy in my choice. That was the last time i saw him for a very long time.
Caught up with Hot Spanish guy again and was most disapointed that he was waiting by a bus stop with his small group. I had intended to stop in this town but it was not very nice, just a main road really so thought i would carry on til the next albergue but after seeing this was more determined to break my knees by walking on the whole way to León just to prove that it could be done without resorting to jumping on the bus. So, telling myself that i should stop as it had been quite a long day and i was tired, of course that was not what i did but strode on past the last albergue before León leaving myself no option but to walk on into the city – pig headed comes to mind. Boots now really giving up on me, full of red dust which had become a layer of red mud coating my sweaty socks…not ideal. Arriving in León i was overjoyed to see the French couple standing on a corner fiddling with a street map. After much salutation and shoulder patting i gleaned in my slightly improving french (since i met them at least) that there was indeed room at the inn….well, the convent. Signing in the hospitalero asked were i had set off from and tried to suggest i was slightly ´tonto´(a fool) for walking so far. I had to agree.
Went in search of new boots and despite very helpful woman disapearing off down the street for 10 minutes before returning laden with shoe boxes….the cheapest everyone had in my size, the price was still not encouraging. Later i did manage to find 30euro pair which i prayed would stay the distance. Wandering around the convent grounds (which had the required presence of nuns for authenticity) trying to break in my new boots in the space of 30minutes i saw a prone figure on the ground in the dusk doing some kind of execises…lo and behold it was CrazyFrench whom i hadn´t seen for a while. He once again offered me supplies from his camino larder, should i be in need of bread, cheese, salami all i had to do was say the word.
Getting into bed, i noticed Hot Spanish guy´s friend in the laundry room and then realised that the dorms were seperate for men and women. It seems strangely inconsistent that in some places it is wholly inappropriate for men and women to share the same dormitory and yet in others bunks are pushed together so you are, in effect, as good as sharing a double bed with a complete stranger who may be male/ female/ young/ old/fidgety etc, and in still others it is deemed perfectly acceptable for men and women to be sharing the same showers which, depending on the bathroom architect, can be quite a challenge for your modesty. Still, we are all pilgrims together and to be honest, generally you are so tired none of it is of any consequence…..except perhaps the fidgeter.

Taxis and Buses???????

Spain day 13 Tempranillos – Calzadillos de Hermanillos
Did i mention meeting hot spanish guy a couple of nights ago? He came to my bedside and whispered away to me, barely half of which i understood but that really was irrelevant. He was impressed by my speed and of course i tried to explain how i was now paying for my frivolous folly and he promised to lassoe me if i tried to walk too fast the next day…..i should be so lucky.
Saw other familiar faces today, Aussie girl and Liz the vet who was walking with very tall danish guy. Passed and repassed each other as the meseta spread on. Stopping off to purchase usual fare of lunchtime cheese and bread i saw Aussie girl jumping into a taxi….´hello´what´s going on here? She was not feeling well but there were places to stay where we were and my confusion was increased further as a little further on a handful of people were loitering by a bus stop, including the only english person i had met so far….well, i wouldn´t be speaking to him again!! I was very disapointed. Reached the donativo albergue in Calzadillos and was greeted by a very enthuisiastic Francisco. Lovely , quiet small village with a small park and two ponds brimming with frogs…as i walked around them (because this is what i do….go for a walk, not like i get enough walking all day!!) hundreds of frogs leapt out of my way and into the water. After a slow day on the meseta this qualifies as quality entertainment. After sharing more cheese and bread with Liz the Vet , Tall Danish guy and Italian Roberto we went out for ice creams…this is indeed the life.