Yesterday we crossed over from the region of Castilla Y Leon to Galicia,
cold, windy, rugged, beautiful mountain kingdom of the Wretched Stones and last section of the Camino de Santiago. Though maybe the name should be changed from the Camino de Santiago to The Race To Santiago, since that's what this journey seems to become for many pilgrims.
Now, not every pilgrim walks the whole Camino Francés from St. Jean Pied-de-Port to Santiago; many walk a shorter Camino, starting at a point closer to Santiago, and many Europeans do the Camino over a number of years, walking a section a year until they've completed the whole Way.
But for those waking the whole Camino Francés, the one Tom and I are walking, our guide book lays out a 33-day schedule for finishing the 774-kilometer route from St. Jean-Pied-Port to Santiago. Walking that distance in 33 days requires walking at a fast pace and completing many 26-to-30-kilometer days. And yet I'd venture to say that most pilgrims walking the whole Camino Francés are doing so, or attempting to do so in 30 days or less. This is because many people have only so much vacation time and/or expendable income..
However there are also pilgrims for whom time and money are not an issue but who just like to walk fast. In any case, there is a lot of - especially among the male pilgrims of all ages - "kilometer bragging" about who does how many kilometers every day.
And so these pilgrims whizz along the Camino, burning up the kilometers, 30, 34, 40 k's a day,. "No time for sight-seeing," quipped one middle-aged pilgrim when I asked him how he managed his 40 kilometers a day. Then at night in the albergues they all, young and old, nurse their hurting feet, ankles, and knees, their achilles tendonitis, shin splints, and blisters the size of twinkies.
"Why don't you take a few days off,". I suggested to a young American pilgrim who had only 22 days to complete the Camino and whose feet were killing him, "stay in a hostel, give your feet a few days to heal," I said, " then take a bus to a town closer to Santiago and do a shorter, slower Camino."
But he was determed to walk every step of the Camino in his short alloted time, no matter the cost to his feet.
One boy whose feet were a mess of blisters lamented, "I ought to slow down but I can't; I'm German and I need to achieve."
Then there was the middle-aged American man walking the Camino who held that pain was a necessary part of the repentance process.
To each their.own Camino.
Yesterday we walked 14.4 kilometers from Laguna de Castilla to Fonfria over some steep. rocky paths but also along side some beautiful mountain views.
We stopped for lunch at a bar in the village of Hospital de la Condesa.
I asked the bar keeper what she had to eat and she said they had potato soup and sandwiches, so we had huge bowls of potato soup and cheese sandwiches.
The soup was okay, warm and filling though, truthfully, not as good as my potato soup.
Later in the afternoon we had a quite steep and rocky climb to conquer.
Some clever entrepreneur built his cafe right at the summit,
...so all of us pilgrims were all huffing and puffing away, eyes upward, drawn like moths to a flame to the refreshment promised by those umbrellas and chairs.
In the village of Fonfria,
We stayed at the beautiful albergue A Reboleira, where we had the option, which we took, of having for 29€ our own 2-bed dorm with our own bathroom.
...which we really liked and from where we had a fine view of the town's activities.
The evening's 9€ pilgrim meal was served in community at a building down the path from the albergue..
The food was wonderful, as was the companionship.
After dinner, all warm inside, we headed back to the albergue, crawled into bed and tucked ourselves in for the night.
It's not ucommon on the Camino to see messages of encouragement to pilgrims written on stones, walls and posts along the way. But yesterday I saw this one:
Yesterday we walked 16 kilometers from Trabadelo to Laguna de Castilla. We walked along the valley though villages and meadows,
....until we reached the town of Hererías,
....which is at the foot the steep, rocky mountain that rises up 4265 feet and leads to the region of Galicia.
Hererías is also where pilgrims who would like to ride the Camino on horseback can rent a horse. Theoretically a pilgrim can do the whole Camino on horseback - on foot, bike, or horseback are the three permissible ways to do the Camino - but, thankfully, nobody does the whole thing on a horse. Those pilgrims who would like to experience the Camino on horseback can, for 20€, rent a horse and ride in a group with a guide the two-hour trip from Hererías up to the mountain-top town of O'Cebreiro, while the rest of us foot-pilgrims have to slog up the steep path that's been transformed by the horses' hooves into a muddy, rutted, horse poopy, fly-possessed mess
Real pilgrims don't ride horses on the Camino.
Except that sometimes they do.
But anyway, we made it over the rocks and the horse mess to the tiny village of Laguna de Castilla where we stayed in the town's only albergue, La Escuela
.....a lovely albergue where the dorm rooms have been completely rebuilt and modernized since we were there two years ago..
Our nice, spacious room. and the modern new bathroom.
But the very best improvement to the Albergue La Escuela was that the steep, steep concrete hill we had to climb last time to get to the dorm,
....has been replaced with:
And our best moment in La Escuela came during dinner when we looked out the window and saw
....the cattle being herded up the street.
My friend Marianne wondered if the young pilgrim who is doing the Camino in silence is missing a good part of the Camino experience.
I would venture to say no, she isn't. I would venture to say that there is no one Camino Experience, that not everyone is looking for the same thing, that everyone walks their own Camino and that everyone's experience is unique unto themselves.
One day back on the Meseta I walked and talked for a while with a young Australian pilgrim who was on the verge of making a major life change and had come to the Camino for some deep thinking and soul-searching. I met up with her again a few days later and she was now walking in silence, which I expect better suited her purpose. As I mentioned before, on the Camino one can find as much sociability or solitude as one desires.
Yesterday we walked about 19 kilometers - about 11.5 miles - from Cacabelos to Trabadelo. In the morning we again saw the lovely illusion of cloud islands that's created when the clouds float below the mountain tops, which look like islands in a white-capped sea.
We walked for about 9.5 k's across the countryside and through small towns,
...until we reached Villafranca de Bierzo, where we stopped for lunch.
Villafranca de Bierzo is a pretty tourist town,
...where people come to stroll through the streets or along the river and sit on the cafe terraces to have tapas and drinks,
We had lunch at a little kebab shop that advertised a special of a kebab, fries and a drink for 5€..
In fact we weren't quite sure what a kebab was, but it turned out to be like a pita except that the bread was more the consistency of a hamburger bun, soft and warm and filled with shaved chicken and beef, lettuce, onions,and tomatoes and topped with a tasty white dressing.
It was really good and and the fries were hot and crispy.
After lunch we walked another 9.5 k's along a highway around a mountain,
A water fountain, always a welcome sight.
...until we reached the town of Trabadelo
....where we stayed at the albergue La Crispeta and had a nice, roomy dorm room and, thankfully, bottom bunks.
And where Tom made a friend.
Yesterday sometime in the wee hours I lay sleeping in my bunk bed dreaming that a male voice was chanting over and over:,
Buongiorno, Buenos Dias, Señores.....Buongiorno, Buenos Dias, Señores...
The voice was getting closer and louder, and I woke up just a moment before the door to our dorm room opened and a hand reached inside and flipped on the light. Then the chanting voice, Buongiorno, Buenos Dias, Señores, continued down the hall. It was one of our helpful Italian hospitalieros giving us a friendly 6:10 am wake-up call. I'm glad he did. Otherwise I don't know how long I'd have slept in yesterday morning.
We walked 17 kilometers yesterday from Ponferrada to Cacabelos.
We saw a new style of Camino marker along the way,
...along with the good old ones.
The high point of our walk today, something we'd been looking forward to for days now, was a visit to the pastry shop in the village of Columbrianos. We happened to discover this wonderful little spot on our last Camino and decided it had the best pastries on the Camino if not in all Spain, or maybe even the whole world, the pastries we had there were that good. Now we were looking forward to reliving the moment. And we did.
The pastry shop at Columbrianos.
It was hard to choose from among all the yummy possibilities, though we settled on cream puffs and a vanilla éclaire - a vanilla eclaire, what a concept! - to share.
We ate our pastries on a bench in a little square across from the shop. The Camino passed by our bench, so we told every pilgrim who passed by about the best pastries on the Camino in the little shop on the square. We sent that shop at least six pilgrim customers.
After we finished our first round of pastries we decided that we needed one more vanilla éclaire to share, so back to the shop I went to procure us another.
'Twas a little taste of heaven.
As we approached the town of Cacabelos we began seeing advertisement signs for a hostel called La Gallega with albergue beds as well for 10€ each, which is on the pricey side for an albergue bed, but then usually albergues tacked on to hostels or hotels have really nice dorm rooms and facilities, plus this place advertised a bar and restaurant as well, so we decided to try La Gallega.
The reception and restaurant/bar area of the place looked nice, so we paid our 20€ for which we ended up stuck on the top bunks in the smallest, most cramped and squished-in dorm room, I swear, on the Camino.
I'd venture to say that this room was built as a single hostel room, with a private bathroom, into which three bunk beds were later shoe-horned.
Now, it's hard explain why a common bathroom out int the hall with two shower stalls, two toilet stalls and two sinks works better for 20 people than one all-in-one bathroom attached to a room works for six, but it does.
But to give credit where it's due, the beds were comfy, the food at the restaurant was good,
...and our laundry came out dry.
Yesterday morning, as there was no water at the albergue in Acebo with which to brush teeth, wash up, or do much of anything else one usually does in the morning, we were back out on the Camino before 7 am. In this part of Spain at this time of the year the sun doesn't rise until 8 am, and then the sky brightens up quickly, click by click.
But at 7 o,clock it was still pitch dark outside, and as we were deep in the mountains and far from any city lights the sky was black and filled with the most and brightest stars I ever remember seeing.
But walking on the Camino in the dark by the light of one's flashlight is dangerous. Luckily during the darkest time we were walking along a road and it wasn't until well after sun up that we encountered for the first time on this trip my old nemesis, the Wretched Stones.
But these were far from the worst Wretched Stones we'll encounter on the Caminio; the worst are yet to come when we reach the mountains of Galicia.
We spent about 3 1/2 hours descending the mountain and negotiating the stones until we reached the pretty valley town of Molinaseca,
...where we finally stopped for breakfast.
In the bar where we stopped we met two young pilgrims, a German boy and an Israeli girl, who'd also spent the evening before in Acebo but at an albergue in a room in the town church. When we told them our alberge in Acebo had no water during the night or early morning they said that their albergue had had no water during that time either and that there was a sign in their albergue explaining that the water was turned off in the town from 11 pm every night until, well whatever time they turn it back on.
So I guess the Albergue Meson El Acebo is off the hook for turning off the water.
But at least they could have let us know
After breakfast we walked along the highway and through small towns,
,..a total of 17 kilometers for the day, to the city of Ponferrada,
...where we stayed at the Albergue San Nicolas de Flüe, a big, lovely albergue sponsored by a religious order and run by a group of devoted Italian volunteer hospitalieros.
The albergue had a nice big kitchen and dining room so at dinner time many of the young pilgrims bought food and cooked and ate dinner together.
We were put into a nice but crowded room with 2 bunk beds that we shared with a Canadian girl who'd taken a vow of silence while on the Camino and a friendly middle-aged Spaniard with a loud, booming voice who was so portly and tall that he took up most of the space in our small room.
After we were settled in, showered, and had given our clothes to the laundry service we were craving some nourishment so we walked to a bar in town where we ordered salads to tide us over and whiled away a couple of hours. Then it was time for dinner so we left the bar to go search out a restaurant.
Now, I've come to a conclusion about the Spanish people: they're not so much into chowing down as they are into snacking on tapas -little snacks - which may be why thery're so slim and trim. I think this must be especially true of the Ponferradans, as we walked up one block and down another in search of a restaurant and all we could find was one tapas bar after another.
We were on the verge of giving up our quest for a hearty meal when we finally came upon a restaurant which turned out to be sort of a Spanish version of Chuck E. Cheese, with a big play room full of toys, art supplies, cartoons, one of those cages full of little plastic balls, and, of course, children. It delightful being around all these little ones and we found ourselves thinking of our two little grand daughters and how much they would love this place.
I don't think Chuck E. Cheese serves wine, though.
After dinner we walked through the city back to the albergue.
Though Ponferrada is famous for its magnificent castle built during the Middle Ages by the Knights Templar,
.....this city has a serious graffiti problem. It's everywhere, and there's hardly a building, structure, or wall that isn't marred by spray paint, which gives what would otherwise be a beautiful city a run-down look and a sinister feel.
Of course, as s true of any city infected with spray-paint graffiti, Ponferrasa's defacement can only be a symptom of some deep and serious social problems.
Yesterday we walked 16.5 kilometers from Rabanal del Camino to Acebo. It was a day of steep rocky paths,
...and beautiful mountain vistas.
It was late, close to 6 pm when we arrived in Acebo, and we worried over whether at that hour we'd still be able to find beds. We did, at the Meson El Acebo.
But unfortunately by the time we arrived all that was left in the close, crowded dorm room were a couple of 7€ top bunks.
Now, I've slept in albergue top bunks before, but the one I got was so close to the next bed that if I'd weighed one pound more I wouldn't have been able to squash myself between the beds and squeeze up the ladder.
Still, crowded bunk beds was the least problem at the Meson El Acebo. Sometime before 12:30 am, when I got up to use the bathroom, the water had been turned off in the albergue. It was still off when I woke up this morning at 5.50 am, my usual wake-up time. I shook Tom awake and asked him whether he wanted to wait around and see if the water came back on or leave in case the water didn't come back before the rest of the pilgrims woke up. We decided to bolt.
Later this morning on the Camino we met up with some other pilgrims who'd been at our albergue. and they said the water was still off when they left at 7:30.
I'd say the Meson El Acebo has some 'splainin' to do.
But yesterday, though we covered only 16.5 k's, was a long day, and not only because of the rough trail; it was because we spent so much time stopping to converse with people along the way.
Our first long stop came before we even left Rabanal del Camino and evolved over breakfast at the bar next to the albergue, Posada El Tesin, where we'd eaten dinner the night before..
We got into a conversation with the friendly, hard-working young barkeepers, Alba, whose parents own the bar, and her fiancé Hector.
Hector and Alba.
Alba told us that she and Hector are close to their dream of opening their own hostel in town. They have their location and their plan - their hostel will be handicapped-acessible - but Alba had one concern for which she solicited our opinion. She and Hector want to call their hostel Tierra Salvage - Wild Earth - but were wondering if we thought that was a good name, as her parents didn't think it was. A young Austrailian pilgrim in the bar thought it was a wonderful name and said that she would choose their hostel on the basis of its lovely name alone.
I told Alba that she and Hector should follow their hearts on naming their hostel, and if Tierra Salvage called to their hearts, well, they should go for it. Besides, I added, it wouldn't really matter to their guests what the name of their hostel was; if people enjoyed their stayther then they'd spread a good word, the hostel would get a good reputation and they would succeed.
In the meantime here's the information Alba gave me on their hopefully soon up-and-running new rural hostel:
Tierra Salvage (maybe)
Calle Del Medio, 4
Rabanal del Camino
I wish Alba and Hector the best.
Though we were now an hour behind schedule we ended up taking another extra-long rest stop, which happened when we stopped for lunch in a cafe in the town of Foncebadon,
....where we got into several interesting discussions of history and politics with several German pilgrims.
After lunch, now two hours behind, we continued our climb up the mountain path that would bring us to the highest point on the Camino, Punto Alto, at 4,970 feet.
But a few kilometers before Punto Alto we reached La Cruz de Ferro, an iron cross on a high wooden pole that sits atop a hill of stones
Some pilgrims carry with them along the Camino a stone representing a special prayer or intention, and when they reach La Cruz de Ferro they place their stone on the hill with the rest of the prayer-stones.
I didn't carry a stone with me - though sometimes it feels as though I'm carrying a whole backpack full - but I picked up 9 stones from the from the ground around the hill: one for each of my four children, one for each of my three sons-in-law, one for each of my two grandchildren. I then added my stones to the hill beneath the cross with a prayer for well-being and peace of mind for each of my loved ones
Then I saw on the ground a stone in the shape of a heart..
I added it to others with a prayer for my mate and me.
We had one more stop along the way, but this time a brief one. We had to spend a few minutes in Manjarin, a colorful Camino town with a population of 1..
The guide book said that there was a pilgrim albergue in the town. I managed to meet the town's sole resident, a hippy-looking gent around my age. When I asked him if he owned the albergue he told me that it wasn't an albergue, it was a redugio, a refuge, and that he was a Templar, a protector of pilgrims. He explained that he ran his refugio on pilgrim donations. The money he received from today's pilgrims he would use to provide food for tomorrow's.
And I thought, now there was a person who'd found his life's calling.
So, we survived yesterday's wet-laundry drama, our clothes dried well enough pinned to our backs as we walked in the sun, and we made it across the 20 kilometers and up the mountainside from Astorga to Rabanal del Camino.
The remnants of an ancient pilgrim hospital
At the hillside town of Rabanal del Camino we stayed at the pretty little albergue La Senda.
....where for 7€ each we shared a bright, cheery room
....with 3 Spaniards and a lovely, lively university professor of biochemistry from Rio de Janiero who spoke impeccable conversational and technical English. She was biking the Camino before going to Lisbon next week where she'll be on the faculty selection committee at the university there.
The albergue living room was warm and homey, with a fire in the fireplace and bowls of lucious local grapes on the table for the pilgrims to munch on.
We had dinner in the bar next door,
...with our Brazilian room mate and an American girl who taught World History in an inner city high school in San Francisco. We all hit it off so well that we talked and laughed for almost two hours. Tom and I were wishing that we could have these two pilgrims as our dinner companions every night. There's a chance we may meet up with the young high school teacher again some time down the road, but our university professor friend is a biker, and so has already left us walking pilgrims far behind.
After dinner Tom and I returned to our albergue where we joined some of our fellow pilgrims who'd gathered in the living room to sit around the warm fire, chat, and munch on grapes.
It was really nice.
But, alas, I fear we may have run into a patch of bad Laundry Karma, for that night the clothes that I'd given to the hospitaliero to wash and dry came back damp. But in the end it was all good, since we had all night for them to dry.
Yesterday we walked about 17 kilometers -about 10 miles - from Hospital de Órbigo to Astorga through intermittent rain and sun,..
....and copious mud
After we left our albergue we walked a few blocks through Hospital de Órbigo until we found a place open for breakfast, the bar of the hostel Don Suero de Quiñones.
It was a cute place,
...but for our breakfast of two slices of toast each with butter and jam, a coffee, a tea, and two OJ's our bill was 12€-about $13.80! Talk about high Way robbery!
Now and then on the Camino one comes across pilgrim graffiti. Today we saw this:
Though there are pilgrims who choose to walk a silent day once in a while, I wouldn't say that real pilgrims walk in silence. However real pilgrims don't sing or whistle while on the Camino, or play their music so loud that other people can hear it, or walk in big yakking, singing groups with their fellow bus tourists.
Except that once in a while they do.
But most of the time the Camino is a quiet enough place where one can find as much solitude or sociability as one wishes.
On the hill above the city of Astorga we met a couple of friendly Spanish biker dudes from Granada who took our picture for us and we took theirs as well.
Pilgrims place rocks that they've picked up and carried along the way and place them at the foot of the cross with a prayer or special intention.
When we arrived in Astorga, a city known for its cathedral,
....and its Neo-Gothic architecture of its Bishop's Residence,
...we headed for the albergue San Xavier.
...a cute, cozy rustic-looking place with a pretty court yard,
....and a summer-camp kind of feel.
The sink, shower, and commode facilities were co-ed but plentiful,
..though the shower was the kind where you press a button and get a 15 seconds of water - cold - then you have to press the button again for 15 more seconds of cold water.
But no matter, we were happy campers.
Until the laundry crisis.
After we'd showered and settled in I'd handed our dirty clothes and 8€ to the young hospitalero to wash and dry for us. Actually, 8€ was a bit on the expensive side, as most albergue laundry services run about 6€. In fact this albergue was a bit on the high side, 9€ per bed, for as basic as it was. But it was all good.
After a great 3-course dinner with wine for 10€ each at a little bar we found called El Salvadore,
I ...we returned around 9 pm to the albergue.
On the way to our dorm I swung by reception to pick up our laundry. It wasn't done yet. As lights-out was at 10 pm I returned to reception at 9:55 and asked the young hospitaliero if my laundry was ready. An aw, shoot! expression flashed across his face and he told me not to worry, as soon as my laundry was done he'd bring it to my room and set it next to my bed.
When I woke up this morning my laundry was not sitting next to my bed. I returned to reception but there was no one there. I grabbed my flashlight and went outside into the dark courtyard, wandering in the direction I'd seen the hospitaliero taking the laundry the day before. In the corner of the courtyard I saw a washer and dryer. On top of the dryer was my laundry bag and inside the dryer was my wet laundry. I pressed the "start" button on the dryer and by the light of my flashlight noticed a plastic tub full of wet laundry on top of the washer, presumably the clothes of the poor pilgrim whose wash was next in line to be dried after mine.
I went back inside the albergue and after about 20 minutes I returned to the courtyard to check on my laundry. Another young hospitaliero, a different youngster than the one who'd been on duty yesterday, was loading the next batch of wet laundry into the dryer, while mine was now in my laundry bag. It was still wet.
"No, it's not wet," said the hospitaliero, "It's just cold from being outside."
However he capitulated to my insistence that my laundry was still wet, pulled the other pilgrim's laundry from the dryer and put mine back in.
I went back inside the albergue, paced around for about 10 minutes, then wandered back out into the courtyard. My wet laundry was back in my bag and the next load was in the dryer.
This time I capitulated and brought my laundry into the albergue, hanging our clothes over chairs in the common room, as if I thought they'd dry in the brief time we had before we'd have to be out and on our way.
The pilgrim whose clothes were now in the dryer asked me how my clothes were. "Still wet," I told her.
"I'm not leaving here until my clothes are dry," she declared. When we left 45 minutes later she was still there.
Tom, whose anxiety level was now about a degree and a half lower than mine, suggested that we let the clothes dry in the room for a little while. "Pull out your laptop and work on your blog," he suggested.
So I pulled out my laptop and tried to work, but I was anxious, distracted, stopping every three minutes to check if our clothes were any dryer than they'd been three minutes earlier.
Finally it was getting so late that we couldn't hang around any longer waiting for our clothes to dry, so we just started pinning out wet clothes to the outside of our backpacks. Though it was well past "pilgrim be gone!" time at the albergue, the young hospitaliero wasn't rushing us. I kind of felt sorry for him, this whole laundry mess wasn't his fault, after all, and he was just trying to make the best of the situation. So before we left Tom and I said good-bye to him and thanked him, and, despite the laundry drama, we parted on good terms.
Which in retrospect was probably fortunate as a few moments after we left the hospitaliero came hurrying after us.
"Is this yours?" he asked, holding up my laptop, which, in my distraction over the laundry, I'd left in the common room.
So, an hour late, we headed off, 20 kilometers and a steep mountain climb ahead of us, our wet laundry pinned to our backs, and me with a mild case of PTSD over my laundry saga and my near-laptop-castastrophe.
But it was a cool, sunny, beautiful day on the Camino.
Breathe, I reminded myself.
Doug commented yesterday that, inspired by the photos of all the sweets on the Camino, he's become a regular at Panera. That's good. Somebody has to keep the Panera sweets department in business while I'm away.
Doug also mentioned that he watched the Martin Sheen movie about the Camino, "The Way". About "The Way" I'd just like to add that, though that movie really captures the spirit of the Camino, the grief and personal issues many pilgrims have come to the Camino to try and work out, and the way that Camino families bond, still the movie leaves out how hard the hike can be and doesn't address all the blisters, foot and knee problems and aches and pains people develop along the way The movie also plays fast and loose with the Camino landscape and locations. But it's still a lovely movie.
Yesterday we started out the day with a beautiful breakfast set out for us at the San Anton de Padua
....of tostadas with butter, jam and cheese, muffins and croissants, cereal, fruit, orange juice, coffee, tea, hot chocolate and warm, yummy churros.
I thought that churros and hot chocolate was a Mexican specialty, but it's a very popular combo in Spain, as well.
Then after breakfast we put our rain gear and still-wet from-yesterday boots back on and headed back out into the rain, being careful of all the little snail families out for a walk on the Camino.
There are two basic pilgrim rain-gear fashion styles:
First, there's what I call the Camino Rocket Man look,
....which consists of a rain suit and water-proof back-pack cover and is Tom's choice.
The other basic look, christened by myself as The Camino Tortoise look.,
....involves a poncho over rain pants, or, my preference, knee-high water-proof gaiters.
We all end up with wet feet after a while, though.
We walked 14.5 kilometers - about 8.7 miles - in the on-and-off rain and blow-you-over wind from Vilar de Mazarife to Hospital de Órbigo.
Hospital de Órbigo is famous being the location of one of the longest, oldest, medieval bridges in Spain
The bridge was also the site of a famous jousting match in 1434, at which time Christopher Columbus's grandpa was probably not yet knee-high to a knicker.
We stayed at an albergue called La Encina built onto the back of a bar/restaurant where we stayed last time and really liked.
One can get a bed in a 4-bed dorm room for 9.50€ each or there are private-room options. We went for the dorm option,
....though we ended up having the room - and bathroom - to ourselves. And the door even had a key, so we could lock it, just like a hotel room. It was great., especially since we were able to put put boots on the radiator to dry out.
After we settled into our quarters, took our showers, handed our gross-as-usual clothes to the hospitaliero who washed and dried them for us for 5€, and rested up for a while, we headed down to the bar in front of the albergue,
...to while away a couple of hours before dinner.
Tom had a couple of glasses of red wine, I had a couple of cups of hot tea, we had some snacks, and basically sat around and watched the rain fall.
I said to Tom, "Can you imagine back home sitting around for hours with nothing to do, no work or obligations,, no entertainment, no books to read (except our guide book), no TV? We'd be bored and antsy like crazy."
Here on the Camino it feels just right.
Julia made an interesting comment yesterday that during her genealogical research in Europe she came across some of the old Camino routes and that there is an effort to keep these routes marked, but that there aren't many albergues along these routes. I expect that's because these days most pilgrims take one of the more established Camino routes that start in France, Spain, or Portugal. I have met a few European pilgrims who started their Caminos by walking out their front door, but I never thought to ask them how they found their way or where they stayed at night before they reached a more well-traveled route. I guess if I ever again meet another of these pilgrims who started walking where they live, I'll ask them about it.
Yesterday morning as we were leaving Leon at dawn's early light we passed by a pilgrim monument in San Marcos square. On a concrete block at the base of the monument there sat a life-sized bronze statue of an ancient pilgrim. Next to his bandaged feet were a pair of worn sandals that looked as though they'd been kicked off. This bronze pilgrim leaned back against the base of the monument in a posture of exhaustion with his eyes closed. The expression on his face seemed to say, Oy, my feet are KILLING me!
Change the clothes on this pilgrim and put a backpack next to him and hiking boots instead of sandals he could be a modern-day pilgrim.
Yesterday we hiked 21.8 kilometers - about 13 miles - in the rain and wind from Leon to Villar de Mazarife.. I shouldn't complain, though, as by this time on our last Camino we'd already had many days of rain. Last time it rained every day on the Meseta and while in Galicia, which is yet to come, it poured sheets of rain for 9 days straight. There's two more days of rain predicted according to the pilgrim weather-watchers I guess you have to get your ration of rainy days on the Camino.
The first few hours of our walk yesterday was through urban Leon. Just before we left the outskirts of the city we stopped for brunch at a warm, cozy cafe full of pilgrims and run by two cheerful, hospitable ladies.
It was so nice to be out of the rain and the pilgrims were all so sociable that we ended up staying there for an hour and continuing to order one item after another - eggs, tostadas, pastries, drinks - until we'd rung up a bill of 22€ - about $25.30.
Then it was back out onto the Camino, which eventually took us back to the countryside in all it's rainy, muddy glory..
Hours later we reached the village of Villar de Mazarife where we were hoping to get, and, happily, were able to get, beds at the place we stayed at last time - another of our most favorite albergues - Albergue San Anton de Padua.
The San Anton de Padua is owned by a nice, nice gentleman named Pepe who runs his albergue with his staff, a sweet family of .hospitalieros, a husband and wife with their teen-aged daughter.
Pepe, on the right, and his staff stirring the awesome paella they made for our dinner.
Pepe and his hospitaliero family are dedicated to the spirit of the Camino and to offering pilgrims a warm welcome and good food.
Saying the food was good is an vast understatement.
We ordered the package deal, 21€ -about $23 - each for a bed, breakfast, and dinner.
And what a dinner!
The pilgrim meal was served in communityat a beautiful and lovingly set table in the cozy dining room
The first course, set out when we arrived at the table, was a salad, the plate decorated with a line of delicious home-made fig dressing.
Next came a bowl of out-of -this-world gazpacho,
...next came the wonderfully tasty paella scooped from the pan, a vegetarian version, as the staff at The San Anton de Padua believe the pilgrims don't get enough vegetables on the Camino (they're right).
Dessert was a chocolate-topped crepe which everyone raved over but, not being a chocoholic, I gave mine to Tom.
It was a wonderful pilgrim meal, but less for the delicious food than for the love with which it was served and shared.
A romantic comedy of errors.
Lots and lots of errors.
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