El Camino, Day 23: to Gonzar

Day 23: Sarria – Gonzar:  19 miles

Sunday,  October 2, 2016:  Departed:  8:45am,  Arrived 4:45pm

Kim read our guide book out loud last night, warning us about the stage ahead.  The warning was not one about the conditions of the Camino, but the condition of our attitudes.  It warned us not to be condescending nor snobby about “our” Camino as we walked alongside the increased numbers of weeklong pilgrims and package groups who start the Camino in Sarria to complete the minimal requisite 100k.  It was a fair warning.  Since we had the private room, and a breakfast included, we slept comfortably in, ate, and were on our way later than normal.  This meant we were behind the surge of pilgrims, and upon rejoining the Camino, and walking at our quick pace (we estimate around 3 mph) we were promptly passing them in droves.  img_4906We’d get ahead of a cluster of them, thinking we might be in the clear, only to find more clusters of them.  When I needed to pee, it was a challenge to find a private gap in the procession to do so.  On most other parts of the Camino outside of towns, I just look ahead and behind to make sure there’s a comfortable distance, and step off to the side and do my business.  There was really nothing wrong with this new swarm of pilgrims; they chatted pleasantly among each other or kept respectful in the silent procession, so I commend them for making this their vacation, but the increased number of them, along with some of the villages pandering to them in more touristy ways, did make it feel like we were on a different Camino.  I scanned the faces, hoping to see a familiar one in the crowd, to help link us to where we’d come from, but there were none.

At least the Camino in this stretch was very scenic, not so much in distant views, but how it wound along stone walls and ancient trees through pastoral villages.  A sense of mystery was added by a lingering mist all morning.  img_4916We hopped off the Camino to go get lunch Portomarin.  Nearly every day, we’ve gotten for dinner the “pilgrim’s menu” or “menu del dia” – A set price meal that comes with a choice of first course, second course, desert, and bread and wine, for usually around 10 euro.  Feeling hungry, we did the menu for lunch.  Most other days we had only gotten tapas, snacks or small quick plates for our lunch, so we can keep moving, and save dinner for our big meal.  But feeling that we, particularly me, were not nourishing ourselves properly during the day, we’ve been trying to eat more solid lunches lately.  So today we did the “menu” for lunch.  Portomarin is pilgrim hub town where many stop walking and stay the night.  We got back on the Camino to continue to an intermediate town and cover more miles.  This 5 mile stretch in the afternoon had much less pilgrims on it, which was refreshing.

img_4922We arrived to Gonzar and promptly secured bunk beds in a large, but very clean, rustic dorm at Casa Garcia.  We promptly showered and did a load of laundry and hung them on the line to dry in the remaining sunlight.  It felt kind of good to be back in an albergue – while it’s full of pilgrims, I wouldn’t call it the impersonal pilgrim factory, and the pilgrims staying there were of the type we’ve seen before – individuals, couples and friends doing the Camino, more self-sufficiently, not part of a packaged group.  We were also pleased to finally see a familiar face – a young German guy who we met only a few days ago, but who started the same day we did in Saint Jean.  And then to our even greater pleasure, we found our friends Magnus and Roxanna in this same small town (staying at the Municipal Albergue) and for the third night in a row, had dinner together (another “pilgrim’s menu”).  We laughed about the oddness of the day among the hordes – we were probably only minutes apart the whole day.  They also started in Saint Jean the day we did, but first met them the 2nd day, and overlapped with them since.  It looks like we’ll be finishing in Santiago the same day as us, so we look forward to crossing paths again and hopefully seeing them among the even greater bustle at the end.

El Camino, Day 22: to Sarria

Day 22: O’Cebreiro – Sarria:  24.5 miles

Saturday,  October 1, 2016:  Departed:  7:00am,  Arrived 5:00pm

img_4834 My morning started with discovering a fresh round of bedbug bites on my shoulder and forehead (I think the albergue pillow was the culprit).  Just when I felt like the blisters and sore spots on my feet were healed, and I was getting over my cold, this pest has turned up again.  It seems you can count on some ailment or physical nuisance every day.  Despite that, our journey on the Camino today, in terms of weather and scenery was my favorite thus far, after the beautiful trek over the Pyrenees on Day 1.  We started in the dark, and in a mist, from the high mountain ridge, and as we hiked progressively down, a mix of ups and downs, the sun came out and started to clear the mist away, but left it in valley pockets through mid-morning.  It made for spectacular views.  If I’m not mistaken, this region Galicia has a name derived from the Gauls, much like the Gaelic (Scotch – Irish) driven to the further reaches of the Roman Empire.  The region does feel “Irish” not just in the abundant use of stone in the architecture, but in the landscape which is much greener and moister than previous Camino regions.  We descended into the valleys below throughout the morning, bottoming out at Triacastela, and enjoying a very nice sit-down lunch stop, something we haven’t done much of since we’ve often done short stops or grab and go snacks.

img_4880We continued in the afternoon up and around some tributary valleys with a mix a fields devoted to either cattle or crops.  While the villages were nothing spectacular, apart from the extensive use of natural stone, I enjoyed that they felt much more “lived in” than some of seemingly vacated villages we passed earlier in the Camino.  Locals were about various chores; the streets scattered with fresh manure, tractors were running.  This was a nice stretch of the Camino that was largely quiet backroads and entrenched dirt roads, sheltered from direct sun by a canopy of flanking trees and stone walls, so it made for a tranquil walk, made even more tranquil by the absence of other pilgrims doing our longer than average walk.  We actually hadn’t planned on going so far today.  We had our sights set on an albergue that a friend had recommended in the country, but when we showed up, it was closed / booked up for private wedding party.  So we were forced to walk another several miles to Sarria to find lodging.  So we ended up doing 2 of the guide book stages back to back in one day.

img_4888On the way into Sarria, we ran into our friends Magnus and Roxanna and walked into town together and ended up getting lodging in the same Hostal Escalinata, and going out to dinner on the main street for the Pilgrim’s menu.  We ended up getting a private room (shared bath) as we’re both ready for a solid night’s sleep without the distractions of other pilgrims, who we both delight in and distance ourselves from, depending what quantity you find them in.  One of the reasons we favored the private room tonight is Sarria is the last place on the Camino that you can walk it and still get the Credencial certificate of doing the Camino (it’s just over 100 kilometeres away from Santiago).  So Sarria is where many of the “one week” pilgrims come and start the Camino, and where you’re more apt to see package tour groups doing the Camino.  We’re reminding ourselves not to become Camino snobs who look down on other pilgrims who aren’t doing “our” Camino, or walking slower, in big groups, staying in hotels and having their bags shuttle to each stop.  We should appreciate each person’s Camino they are able to do, but for tonight, a little bit of privacy is nice before we get mixed into their masses.

While we’ve encountered a few bus groups on segments of the Camino, so far it has been almost exclusively an independent endeavor of individuals, couples, or small groups of friends and family.  I’m very happy to be doing it with Kim, to have someone to share the experience with, and to continue to reflect on it together once it’s over.  Although, if I were single, it would still be very fun and perhaps even more of an adventure meeting people.  Last night over dinner, several of us were recounting when we had seen couples showing public displays of affection (holding hands, cuddling).  The initial assumption was they were an established couple, but upon talking with them, we learn they from different countries and met on the Camino, and maybe aren’t even walking the same pace from day to day.  So we figured, “new love” is more public than old love.  Around the table, we were asked how we met our significant other, and when Kim and I said we’d been together for a year and half, they said we were still “new” enough to show love on the Camino.  We have held hands while walking a number of times, often initiated by Kim.  But for the last weeks, she has watched me pee on the side of the trail and innumerable times do the “farmer’s blow” and fling snot from my nose with my bare fingers, with nowhere to wash them.  So she hasn’t been so keen on holding hands lately.  But we try to remind ourselves to show affection and touch, which actually has not been that natural thing on the Camino:  We’re walking all day in public, maintaining each other’s personal space, pace, and bodily emissions.  Navigating that together is probably a greater expression of love than outward public affections.img_4854

El Camino, Day 21: into Galicia

Day 21: Villafranca del Bierzo – O’Cebreiro:  18 miles

Friday,  September 30, 2016:  Departed:  7:30am,  Arrived 3:00pm

img_4745 We crossed the tall bridge over the Rio Burbia along with a steady stream of pilgrims in the pre-dawn darkness, all of our minds set on the long uphill stage ahead.  Most of today’s stage stayed along a local highway flanking the Rio Pereje, heading gradually uphill, but we knew that the latter third of the stage, departed the highway for more local roads, often dirt, that climbed more steeply toward high ridgeline pass.  So we stopped several times for two breakfasts and a lunch in some of the villages to fortify ourselves for the final climb.  The scenery along the way often looked very similar to Western North Carolina – mountain valleys covered with hardwood forests and split by clear tumbling streams.

img_4818When we reached the “difficult” ups, it wasn’t actually too bad since the steepness and openness of the higher elevation afforded increasingly spectacular views.  We hammered it out, officially crossing the border into the region of Galicia, and were rewarded with our overnight destination when we reached the pass:  O’Cebreiro.  It is a beautiful town of natural hard stones, and it straddles a high mountain pass such that you can look for miles over valleys in both directions:  Where we came from and where we are headed.  While the town is one of the more scenic we’ve stayed in, it has more of a manicured tourist feel.  All of the buildings are either lodging, restaurants, or gift shops – often a mix of all of the above.  I have to wonder who the locals actually are, if any.  Many of the towns we pass through have pilgrim themed tourist shops, but this is the first one where I actually felt like I was in Camino Disneyland.

img_4808Still, the town was genuinely beautiful, and our large municipal albergue sits just at the edge of town with a picnic hill above.  We arrived early enough and secured beds, that after a shower, we had time to just chill, so I walked up to the hill above to enjoy the views and take a nap in the grass.  The albergue sleeps over a 100 people, so it’s more of the type that we like to call “pilgrim factory” where everything is more professional and efficient, but less communal.  Despite the big impersonal tendency of such large albergues, there was a kind of camaraderie among the pilgrims since they had all come up from below on a long stage.  On the way up, we encountered many of the friends we’ve made along the way, and the town being so small, we found each other and agreed to go get the pilgrim’s menu together at one of the restaurants.  So we were able to create our own “community vibe” over a very fun dinner.  Joining Kim and I were, Magnus & Roxanna, Eric the Dutchman, and ? the chatty Canadian.  I hope we continue to cross paths.  When we left the restaurant for the short walk back to the albergue, we got an amazing sunset through the rain clouds to the west.  There are rumors of rain tomorrow.  We’ve been so fortunate with weather thus far, after a few drizzly days the first week, we’ve not had a lick of rain the last two weeks, and the days and nights have been a moderate balance.  I suppose we’re due for some rain, considering we’ve hiked into a much greener part of the country.img_4820

El Camino, Day 20: to Villafranca

Day 20: Molinaseca – Villafranca del Bierzo:  19 miles

Thursday,  September 29, 2016:  Departed:  7:30am,  Arrived 4:00pm

img_4710  Today is perhaps the first day that we’ve followed the guide books recommended start and end towns.  This is the same guide book that nearly every other pilgrim has, and it averages between 13-17 miles a day, so typically we’ve been doing longer days, and staying in alternate towns, and mixing up our pilgrim mingling beyond the book’s breakdown.  But since the book’s “day” was a big 19 mile stage, we stuck with the “plan”.  The book actually had the smaller town of Molinaseca as its overnight hub, but a much larger city was just up ahead, and we walked in to Ponferrada a little after sunrise.  The Camino largely avoided the city bustle, but did pass by an impressive 13th Century castle above the junction of two rivers, built by the Knights Templar who protected the Camino early on.

img_4723We got breakfast and later a snack in the outlying towns as the Camino slowly crept up hill, approaching the next range of mountains.  We’ve officially re-entered wine country, I’m happy to say, as the hillsides are cultivated and covered with vineyards and bodegas.  It is a scenery that we’ve been missing since the earlier stages of the Camino.  But something is different this time.  Earlier we were struck my how quiet and vacant the landscape and villages were.  The fields were obviously cultivated, but there were no farm workers, tractors, nor even farm houses.  It was as if the whole land were in a siesta.  We heard when we passed through the region of Rioja, that it was the start of a week of wine festivals.  I guess now the festivals are over, because now the wine harvest is beginning.  This time there are workers in the vineyards, and the villages show the life of people moving and working about.

img_4730Our overnight town is Villafranca, a very beautiful town of sloped streets along a hillside leading down to a river.  We secured two bunk beds at the Albergue Leo, one of the better we’ve seen – extremely clean, organized, with attentive family member managers, former pilgrims, who helped us treat our sore feet and ongoing ailments.  I also like that they have a family dog on site, and there’s a couple of guitars sitting in the lounge.  Although one of the downsides of the Camino is while there’s a fairly natural camaraderie among pilgrims, most of them just use the albergues as places to rest up, clean up and move on.  There’s not much creative time “hanging out” or socializing that happens, unless there’s a communal dinner on site, and everyone is generally in bed by 10pm with lights out.  Granted, Kim and I have been doing long days, so like today, we got in with just enough time to shower, hand wash and sun dry laundry, take a nap, check emails, before it’s time to eat and go to bed.  Even writing this blog is pushing me beyond bedtime.  We did at least, when we went out to dinner, see another couple from the albergue in the plaza, so I invited them to join us for dinner, so we had a good conversation.  But beyond that, we didn’t have a lot of hang out time, and though I’ve fantasized about it, there’s been no impromptu gathering of pilgrims in the lounge passing the guitar around singing songs from their home countries.  I’ve got a few Appalachian songs ready when the time comes.

El Camino, Day 19: to Molinaseca

Day 19: El Ganso – Molinaseca:  20 miles

Wednesday,  September 28, 2016:  Departed:  7:30am,  Arrived 4:15pm

img_4632Upon waking up, we had some tea and biscuits for more of a “snack” breakfast, so when we reached Foncebadón, we sat down for a more hearty breakfast, and I changed from my Chacos to my hiking shoes for the trail ahead.  Today was our return to the mountains proper; the climbs increasing through the morning.  It made for perhaps a tougher day on the trail, but our spirits were aptly compensated by the scenery.  In addition the pattern of increasingly charming villages seemed to increase with mountains.

img_4638We soon summited at Iron Cross, a place we had been anticipating for a long time, but it caught us off guard because we did not know when we would come upon it, and we were not expecting it so soon.  It is a pole, with a small iron cross atop, and a base of stones like a little hill.  This is the place where every pilgrim leaves a stone, and perhaps a note or other memento to commemorate their own journey, or perhaps in honor of a loved one.  While such an “everybody does it” place could feel campy, I was actually moved by it, seeing other pilgrims praying or crying atop the mound.  I thought about how beneath my feet, were thousands of stones, that got there by way of someone’s personal story and journey.  The mound was perhaps 20 feet high, but it was literally a Denali of individual aspirations, burdens, and love.

img_4634Kim and I came with our own stones from home.  She places several small stones in honor of her family members.  I had brought a single stone.  Prior to the trip, I had selected it from the soil on my property in Asheville.  When I moved to Asheville 10 years ago, it was a priority for me to own land – I’m not talking a ranch, but a few acres.  I’m not sure why since I didn’t have any ambitions toward farming or land development.  I guess “land” more so than a house represented “possibility” in my mind.  For the record, I ended up with 2.8 acres where I live now.  While I’ve done some landscaping and projects on the property and my house, I still feel like I’m meant to do more – something creative and an extension and enhancement of community in Asheville.  I’ve talked about it a lot, but have been in a bog in terms of action.  Anyway, as it relates to the Camino, I did not want to walk with my “intention” being one burdened by deeds and obligations.  My intention is to “savor serendipity”, so I have not given much meditative thought to responsibilities back home, but at the same time, when I say that it is an “honor to leave sacred footprints” I did not merely mean footprints on the Camino, I mean throughout life.  In terms of environmental and resource usage, the term “footprint” refers to impacts that should be minimized.  But when I think about my home and property as something that will outlive me, I think I should look to “enlarge” my footprint, in terms of how it will impact community.  I trust that serendipity and the pilgrimage of life will guide me in what this will look like.  And so I have carried a stone, a little piece of my own Smoky Mountain earth, with me in this journey till now, and now I have left it at the mound of a million aspirations at the Iron Cross.

After continuing a bit over the mountain range, and reaching nearly 5,000 feet, the tougher part of the Camino was the long descent, often steep an over rocky and lose trail.  Despite the elevation, it felt like one of the hottest days we’ve been walking.  A cold beer, and some chairs in the shade at Acebo, helped us complete the rest of the day.  I barreled ahead of Kim for much of this stretch since I like to make bounding strides on such terrain, and she, like most females, likes to take more careful deliberate steps, especially with a sensitive ankle.  Upon bottoming out in the broad valley, we were rewarded with one of the finest village towns we’ve stayed at on the Camino.  img_4695Molinaseca is accessed via an old stone bridge over a cold and clear river into a grid of narrow charming streets.  While not listed in our book or papers, we found the new Albergue Compostela.  After securing beds and dropping off our stuff, I went for a cold, but refreshing swim in the river.  After drying off in the sun, we got a jar of sangria and sat by the river, where we were happy to cross paths with our friends Mangus and Roxanna, probably the people we’ve overlapped with the most on the Camino – first meeting them on our 2nd day.  We had a nice paella dinner with other pilgrims at our albergue, and after a blue light stroll of the town, retreated to our beds.  It’s been a long and rewarding day.

El Camino, Day 18: to El Ganso

Day 18: Hospital del Orbigo – El Ganso:  19 miles

Tuesday,  September 27, 2016:  Departed:  7:30am,  Arrived 4:00pm

img_4577Even though we’re still in the recovery stages of our sickness, we felt rejuvenated at the start of this day by a bright sunrise and beginning the transition into hills and changes in elevation that made for a more scenic walk.  The Camino stayed largely on gravel paths away from the highways.  I found myself speaking more with other pilgrims.  It seemed like no time, we were arriving into Astorga, a beautiful town built upon elevated ground.

img_4613We happened upon a big flea market that was happening in the central plaza and surrounding streets.  We grabbed a late breakfast / early lunch at an adjacent café.  Kim had to catch up on some home business while on wifi, while I ate and checked out the market. So many of the towns we’ve passed through have seemed devoid of social or economic activity, apart from serving the pilgrims.  Maybe we just hit them at a bad time, or during siesta.  But it was nice in Astorga to see street life full of activity and bustle.  Apart from the city life, I enjoyed seeing some of its impressive architecture.  Most cities / towns we have passed through mid-day, we only stay long enough for a snack and keep moving, but we ended up spending more than 2 hours in Astorga before moving on.

img_4614It has been my travel pattern of late to bring things with me that I intentionally “retire” during my trip, and don’t bring back home.  Already on this trip, I’ve gotten rid of several items that had served their time, and even this morning left behind a favored silk shirt whose holes grew too large to maintain.  But today I rather abruptly got rid of an item that I felt connected to, such that I couldn’t just unceremoniously leave it in rubbish bin.  Something that has been on my person more consistently than any other item I own:  my wallet.  I think I’ve had the same one for 12 years, and bought it in Argentina.  It has some holes in it and has been losing coins, so I took advantage of the flea market to buy a new one.  I transferred all my ID, money and credit cards to the new wallet, but I felt a sense of attachment and loss as I looked at the old empty one, now no longer needed.  I thought of all the places it went with me, and how it was constant routine to check that it was safely on me.  I carried it with me through the town, unable to throw it away.  All along the Camino, there are little shrines and memorials where people leave stones and mementos.  When I got outside the city, we came upon one labeled Peregrino Identes.  I left my old wallet there, and said good-bye while feeling the new one, bulky and awkward in my back pocket.  I wondered how soon we all might be getting rid of our wallets, as they go the way of watches and cameras, becoming absorbed into our phones, making such things as paper money, ID’s, credit cards, and memberships a redundant hassle.

img_4624We continued up in elevation into the hillsides under a hot sun.  While it had seemed to me that the architectural charm of the villages we first encountered on the Camino gave way to less charming, dilapidated towns in the dry plains, it seemed to me that the charm was returning in a way unique to the region we were entering: natural rugged stone, that looks charming even in the abandoned crumbling structures.  We chose for our town of rest El Ganso, a small village with an old west vibe, and at the Gabino Albergue secured a double bed under the stairwell of the dorm – a cozy nook in an otherwise large common area.  We continue to be surprised by the uniqueness of each lodging situation we encounter at the end of the day.  After showers, we went for a drink at the “cowboy bar” full of western décor, showing old American movies dubbed in Spanish on the tele.  Later we got the pilgrim’s menu at the adjacent restaurant.  Small towns and small albergues naturally lend themselves to natural conversation to those around you.  I like that very much.  Now we and the other pilgrims are retiring for the night; it’s not quite 10pm.

El Camino, Day 17: to Hospital del Orbigo

Day 17: León – Hospital del Orbigo:  22 miles

Monday,  September 26, 2016:  Departed:  7:15am,  Arrived 4:00pm

img_4558The first part of our day was winding through the suburbs of Leon, including passing the fancy pilgrim albergue San Marcos, where I think they filmed part of the film “The Way”.  As we got out of the suburbs, we encountered an optional route.  When I first researched the Camino, I learned there are many “ways” throughout Spain, and it’s neighboring countries.  The most popular route, called the Camino Frances, is the one we are doing, but even it has alternate paths that leave and rejoin the main path.  Today we decided to leave the main path and take the alternate path, which instead of going alongside the highway, goes more into the country side and smaller villages.  The last several days have had a lot of highway walking, so we enjoyed the diversion into agricultural fields, and even some land that seemed untended at all.  The diversion only added maybe less than a kilometer to our day.

img_4560As I approached the town of Villar de Mazarife, I passed an elderly local man and greeted him, and in Spanish asked if he was from the town.  He said he was.  I said we enjoyed the town and countryside away from the highway, and that we were glad we took the alternative path.  To this, he responded that he did not agree with that “alternative” designation.  He told me that this was indeed the original path, but when they built the highway and the hotel, they diverted the “normal” path that way.  I think his expression was more than just “town pride” but perhaps some economic indignation at the Camino diverting pilgrims away from the town.  Many of the towns that the Camino passes through are small and show little signs of economic or social life (often depending the time of day you pass through), but with hundreds of pilgrims passing through each day looking for either lodging or food, it’s quite an economic stimulus to the community.  I sometimes wonder if the local residents are grateful or annoyed by the daily influx of pilgrims coming through, but by the regular greetings and “buen camono”s I receive and the monuments to pilgrims, I think they are happy to see us in their town.

img_4563We rejoined the main Camino as we entered the town of Hospital de Orbiga to finish off a long day.  We chose Albergue San Miguel for our lodging – a tidy and artsy place of stone and hardwood.  They do not do a pilgrim’s meal here, but they have one of the better stocked kitchen’s I’ve seen.  Kim and I went and bought groceries and cooked a stir-fry with rice.  Though we cooked our own meal, it still turned out to be a little “pilgrim’s dinner” as there was an Irishman and an Israeli couple cooking in there too, so we got some fellowship to close out a day that was fairly non-social otherwise.

El Camino, Day 16: to León

Day 16: Reliegos – León:  15 miles

Sunday,  September 25, 2016:  Departed:  7:00am,  Arrived 12:30pm

img_4486Apart from a quick breakfast stop at Mansilla de las Mullas, today’s walk was uneventful and un-scenic as we made our way into Leon, the primary focus of our day.  Like Pamplona and Burgos before, we had strategized to do a shorter day arriving into León around lunch time, in order to give us a good amount of a day to get to know the city.  Upon arriving, we scouted out a few different hostales (preferring to treat ourselves again to a private room rather than the albergue dormitories) and settled on Rincon del Leon.  Aptly named, for 39 euro, a small but immaculate room, located in a little alley of bars pretty much in the middle of everything.

img_4487After washing up, we got a nice lunch in the local plaza near our room, and then navigated around the different plazas and historic architecture of the city.  Several of the museum sites were already closed for Sunday afternoon, so after strolling about, we decided to take advantage of our central room, and go back for naps.  For late afternoon, I went to check out the interior of the impressive gothic Cathedral, while Kim journaled at a nearby café.  As the night began to set in, we hopped around to the different plazas again, trying to catch them in the ideal light for photography, when the buildings are flood-lit, with a transitional indigo sky in the background.  We got some drinks and tapas on one of the main bustling alleys, and then rather than hop around to more tapas bars, we went to a market and bought guacamole, chips, and cava (champagne) and made of a dinner of that as we sat on a bench in the quiet Cathedral square.  We debated among ourselves which we preferred more:  Burgos or Leon.  We liked them both a lot:  beautiful cities with great architecture and plazas and streets geared toward pedestrian friendly socializing.  Not sure why, but I think we favor Burgos more, but they’re both great cities, and a welcome change of pace from some of the sleepy villages and albergues we’ve been staying at on the Camino.  It also makes me wish Asheville had pedestrian only streets lined with mingling cafes and bars, even it’s not able to replicate the depth of history.  We also appreciate the affordability.  Eating and drinking among such splendor and history, you’d expect high prices, but we’re continually impressed how budget-friendly Spain is for food and drinks and lodging.  Sometimes I think it’s more expensive to stay home than it is to travel.


El Camino, Day 15: to Reliegos

Day 15: Sahagún – Reliegos:  19.5 miles

Saturday,  September 24, 2016:  Departed:  7:20am,  Arrived 3:00pm

After a day of being sick and feeling bad, we both slept a solid night’s sleep, and probably could have slept in more, but decided to make an early start so as to avoid more walking during the hotter afternoon hours.  We ate our breakfast of miscellaneous snacks and were on our way as it was starting to get light out.  I am so happy that we, especially me, were feeling better.  I am definitely still sick with a cold and congested, but I was over the hump of the initial stuffy headache and general awful feeling, such that other than needing to blow my nose here and there, I felt good and could walk without the headache distraction.

img_4462Kim and I both discussed our feelings about the Camino during this current stretch – how it was starting to feel more like a chore (“just keep moving and get it done”) than the privilege that it is.  Apart from going through a spell of sickness, I imagine that many other pilgrims are feeling the same during these middle stretches.  The scenery is flat and bland, the villages are not nearly as charming and manicured as the ones in the first week in Basque country, and the Camino is flanking highways with little shelter.  Fortunately, today’s stage, the flanking highway is little used by cars, and they have planted trees along the whole stretch of the Camino to provide some shade.  Also fortunately, the days have been nearly perfect – with cold overnights and highs in the mid-70’s, and no rain.  I think it would be very brutal to walk these stretches we’ve done over the last several days during hot summer.  So, in these seemingly dull, long stretches over the plains, we look little surprises to make the day special, and remind us to be grateful to to be where we are.

img_4470We chose for our sleep town Reliegos, and the Gil Albergue – small and clean.  After showering, we took naps and walked the small town.  We got a drink at Elvis’s bar, which had an anti-establishment vibe.  We ate the pilgrim’s menu at our Albergue and invited Jorge to join us.  There’s certain people that we’ve come to know without talking to.  After several days, you see their faces in the albergues, on the street, and the cafes, and in passing on the Camino and you realize that they are walking roughly the same pace, so finally you stop and ask their name.  Like several people we’ve encountered, when we first see them alone, they come across as cold or indifferent on their own path, but after crossing paths over several days, there seems to be a softening and an unspoken camaraderie, and when we finally break the ice and talk to them, you find they are friendly and kind and very interesting.  Such is the case with Jorge, a big guy who people may assume toughness, but is gentle and curious.  He is also from Mexico, which I enjoyed learning.  To my great surprise, I have met very few people from Spanish-speaking America.  There are lots and lots of Brazilians, perhaps due to their famous author Paolo Coehlo who wrote about the Camino, but hardly any people of the old Spanish colonies in the New World:  for example Mexico, Argentina, Colombia, etc.  So, it was good to meet Jorge, not just to break the silence of passing glances from town to town, but to share in some “Americano” camaraderie and learn another fascinating story of what brought them to be on the Camino with you.

El Camino, Day 14: to Sahagún

Day 14: Calzadilla de la Cueza – Sahagún:  14 miles

Friday,  September 23, 2016:  Departed:  8:30am,  Arrived 2:30pm

img_4449Today was noteworthy for good and bad – the “good” that this morning we passed the unofficial “halfway” mark between St. Jean and Santiago, which coincides with the end of today being our “halfway” date, now having completed two full weeks on the Camino, and since we hope to do it in four, that means we are on target.  It has gone by fast!

The “bad” is that as I suspected the night before, I have come down with a nasty sinus cold.  Kim also woke up with a sore throat, so in the aftermath of our longest day yet, and feeling that our “feet” were getting into their groove, and the bed bug bites were behind us, our heads have succumbed to some bug.  Fortunately, we were already in position to make today’s stretch a shorter one and we were the last pilgrims to leave the albergue having slept in a little, but the day felt pretty miserable with a stuffy, aching head, and constantly dripping nose.  The legs did their dutiful job and just kept moving, and I barely recall which towns we went through, and took few pictures.

img_4455We chose Sahagún as our stop town, and furthermore decided to get ourselves a private room in a central hotel (for all of 40 euro) so that we could nurse and rest our sick bodies, and not spread our germs to other pilgrims.  We also had already worn all our cleans clothes, most of them twice, so we hand-washed laundry in the terrace sink and hung our clothes to dry.  We tried walking around the town, but we just felt lousy.  We bought some medicine at a pharmacy and some junk food at a market and retreated back to our rooms.  We rested and napped some more, and though we didn’t feel like it, we forced ourselves out to get a proper dinner.  It actually settled well on us, and though a Friday night with some nice local life in the plazas, we promptly went back to our room to retire early.  Here’s hoping for a restful night, and improved conditions tomorrow.