Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Triacastela to León

Triacastela to La Portela de Valcarce -
Thursday, September 8, 2011

We shared the taxi to O'Cebreiro and as luck would have it the Mochilla Taxi O'Rubio was there for morning pickup going west. I had met the driver last year so I asked him if he would take our backpacks to La Portela de Valcarce. At first he said no, but then I told him anytime was good for us, afternoon, evening, whenever he could get there. He said he would do it for €20 and I agreed.  This was great, we would get to walk down without packs.  The walk up and down O'Cebreiro (whichever way you go) is steep but without the pack weight it is delightful. I gave him a hug and double kiss that Veronica saw from the church entrance and she knew all was good.
They were setting up for a special market day in O'Cebreiro - the upcoming pilgrims will be overwhelmed.
Who uses this much garlic? I love garlic but .....
Breads, tarts, and other baked goods.
The grapes are sweet at this time of the year.
As I started down the hill the views were breathtaking. There was a skip in my step and a song in my heart, with this view it felt magical up on top of the mountain. It was a spectacular sunny day and by the time I was down in the valley the mist had lifted.
I am happy to be going down hill this year ......
Stony with a slight sandy path on the edges and middle - this is the camino.
It is rough riding down here as it is extremely bumpy and even has hairpin bends .... I watch the bikes bounce down and it takes a strong rider to hold the bike on the track.
... and it is worse for the bikers going uphill. They must be strong to push their bikes and panniers up hills like this.  They do have a choice of road or path but many opt for the path.
Here is where the choice is made. Continue on the road or go down to the river and up the path.  From this point O'Cebreiro is 8 kms away and the elevation goes up 800 meters.
The Valcarce Valley is green at most times of the year, except when snows in winter (then it would be white).  There were only a few cars on the road but many, many pilgrims.
A greeting to all who come along The Way.
I photographed this shed and washing machine in 2002, 2007 and 2009 so thought I would take it one more time.
Pilgrim washing (some of Veronica's) drying in the sun outside the Albergue El Peregrino in La Portela de Valcarce.  

I stopped for lunch in Herriás and had the best Tortilla con patatas (omelette with potato) at the new Hotel Casona del Nansa. I do not generally like ice-cream but I was so hot today had I had a Cornetto, it was so good but all it did was make me thirsty.

As I arrived at Albergue El Peregrino a woman asked what the village was like.  I was hot and tired and told her that I would come back to talk after checking in.  Later Marcella told me that she thought it strange but then she had never thought of a pilgrim doing the return journey. Along with Veronica we had dinner together and Marcella was thrilled to have experienced pilgrims to chat with. One thing we have noticed since 1999 (Veronica) and 2002 (me) is the Menu Peregrino (three course meal with wine/water) has increased in size, the portions at some restaurants have become huge.  I find this sad as it leads to waste.

La Portela de Valcarce to Cacabelos - 
Friday, September 9, 2011

I decided last night to clear my pack of miscellaneous things and send the package to Rolf in Germany.  In Sarria I bought a John Brierley guidebook because the one that I had downloaded to the kindle was useless.  A kindle is heavy with the cover/light but about the same as a JB guide. So the kindle was going to Germany. This meant a taxi to VF del Bierzo. I had tried to use the Correos (Post Office) in Triacastela but it was closed by 13:00. I wanted to be sure this stuff was GONE.  With big cities few and far between I knew VF del Bierzo had a Correos and I was not taking a chance of finding a closed mail center. I arrived at the Correos in minutes on what would have been a 2-3 hour walk for me. My pack is now 1.1 kilos (2.42 lbs) lighter and that should help.
I stayed at Albergue Ave Fenix in 2002, 2007, 2009 and was a hospitalera there August 2010. Jesús was not at the albergue when I stopped by, I waited thirty minutes and knew I should move on.  At the top of a hill I stopped in the shade for a pack break and I heard a car coming along the path. It was Jesús who had come to see me.  Loaded with grapes he gave me a bunch wanting me to take more ... but more grapes is more weight :)
I continued on for the short walk to Cacabelos. 
I always love this spot and today the little building was like a jewel in a sea of green.
Working at the vineyards under a cloudless sky these pickers must be hot.
The sculptures garden .... a piece of this artists work is in VF del Bierzo near the river.
How lazy can one get! A robotic lawnmower.
The Municipal Albergue in Cacabelos is built in a semi-circle around the church with rooms for two. I stayed at Hostal La Gallego because I have stayed there twice before and liked it.  The restaurant has friendly service and delicious food.

Cacabelos to Molinaseca - Saturday, September 10, 2011
216.2 kms SdC (134.3 miles)

It was strange to me this morning walking uphill out of Cacabelos. I did not remember the way until I came to the rest stop below. Looking down the hill was my memory, looking uphill was not, now I realize that I am confused.  I am finding it difficult to get the camino villages in order in my mind. Previously I knew the village names in order from SJPP to SdC. Now that I am on the retorno journey the village names are in reverse. When I talk with Veronica I get confused over something that I once knew so well.
Early morning and he is off to the vineyard where the pickers will fill the cart behind him.
The sun will wake them soon .... pilgrims camping in the field. Camping outside of camp grounds is discouraged but campers do it anyway.
Vino tinto (red wine) on the vine ... the Bierzo region produces excellent wines.
Pilgrims are asked not to do this but they do it anyway, very naughty pilgrims.

Walking through Camponaraya I noticed a pilgrim coming toward me with an Aussie flag patch on his hat.  I stopped him and we chatted for quite some time. I was carrying a Casa David card for the right pilgrim, he was the one, and very happy to receive it, we both left smiling. He reminded me so much of my 2007 buddy, Steve (UK). I continued on and realized there were no pilgrims and I had not seen any for quite some time.  I stopped at Bar Seiscentos (600) for lunch (zumo naranjaJamón y queso and Café con leche con hielo) and still no pilgrims passing by. I was not on the camino. Lost!
I hailed a taxi and whizzed through Ponferrada knowing there was a large Festa taking place today (the city was crowded).  On my many caminos I have spent over a week here so did I not need to visit the Templar Castle or the city. I was here last year when the Spanish beat The Netherlands for the World Cup.
Molinaseca is a pretty little stone village with a population of 750 - they make pilgrims and tourists feel welcome.
The corner store - the shopkeeper here is friendly and helpful.  When I asked if he served coffee (see the table and chairs) he went to the Bar across the street and came back with my coffee. Now that is service.
Veronica, yes it was cooler here and windy, autumn is on the way.
The Roman bridge over the Rio Meruelo (Meruelo River).

Before going to dinner I washed my clothes hanging the walking pants and shirt on hangers but placing my socks out on the window ledge. It rained, it was a nice soft rain and I did not think about the socks. Yep, they were very wet when I returned to the room. Pilgrim problem - wet laundry makes the backpack very heavy.

Molinaseca to Rabanal - Saturday, Sept. 10 2011
247.7 kms SdC (150.8 miles)

We called a taxi to Cruz de Fero to avoid those downhill pilgrims on a narrow track once again. Cruz de Fero is a very special place holding many special memories. The area from Astorga to Molinaseca seems to have special energy, I have always walked well here. Kees slept here on the night of a full moon in 2007. I wish that we had sent each other text messages. I would love to have been with him.

Not long after I started down to Rabanal I pass the Danish, there were many small pack people. Then along came a bus, Jacobs Cars, a catchy name, it was honking its horn to see if any of them wanted to give up and get back on the bus. Hundreds ... hundreds are doing the camino this way now. It was unheard of in 2002 - if you took a local bus then you were scorned and most of us did not know from where to take a bus. Bus times were not frequent or daily in 2002. I remember a bus passing Sheila and I on our way from Cacabelos and we remarked how good it would be on it. But that was just a comment that was not put into action.
Veronica leaves what she has at the base of the cross.
I leave the stone that I carried from Kees y Vicente's terrace and dedicated it to my dear friends and all those I love.
While sitting enjoying a picnic breakfast a tour bus arrived. The bus stopped and forty or so pilgrims alighted dressed in their uniform of walking gear, tiny packs, two sticks and probably perfumed. All but the last two did not look at the cross but hurriedly headed for the path down to Acebo.  It was unbelievable.  They were at a well known special place for pilgrims and did not acknowledge it, I was amazed. The only thing I thought at the time was, it is a heck of a walk down to Acebo. That down hill hurts but first they have to go up the hill to the highest point of the camino - it is not all easy for them and they probably did not know it.
Foncebadón from up the hill.  There was a section that I had been dreading here. Going the other way it is a very steep uphill onto the road, short but steep. I knew this time I was going down and going down hurts knees. My new knees have been working beautifully and I did not want an accident that could cause problems. No need to worry. Many changes have taken place along the camino which I guess was for Año Santo (2010). Now stairs have been built at that steep entrance/exit to the road.

I saw a large group coming up the hill, 30-40 people (later, Veronica counted 40). The leader was the locomotive with his two sticks, clonk, clonk, clonk, .... the group had fallen in behind him and all sticks moved together. There is usually a smooth path between the rocks and I was on it. The Swiss seemed disturbed that I would not get off their "train tracks".

A little later I looked down to see a couple coming uphill. As they approached I wanted to stop the man, his face was red to purple, he was sweating and looked exhausted. He was trying to walk the pace and keep up with the woman he was with. I thought to myself, that man is a heart attack waiting to happen and it could be sooner rather than later.
A tranquil scene. This scenery just makes me feel so good and is one of the reasons why I love being on the camino.
The retorno directional arrow. Whoever thought of this sign is brilliant and like my Louisiana friend Dawn, I love it. The arrow was not always along the camino, some sections have no arrows at all, but when spotted it is very reassuring.
More changes since 2009. Modern rest-stops have been built along the way in Castille-León giving shade from the sun or protection from wind and rain.
Rabanal - this is what the camino leaves you feeling like, exhausted, happy and legless!

Rabanal del Camino to Astorga - Monday, September 12, 2011
264 kms SdC (164 miles)

The breakfast toast at La Posada D Gaspar was so bad, it was the hardest toast in Spain.  Thank goodness for Vegemite it made the toast palatable.

About 2 kms from Rabanal there was Veronica, she was chatting with a group from Poland. The group were starting their pilgrimage today. They had arrived in Astorga around midnight and started walking to Rabanl at 02:00. They were tired and hungry so Veronica was telling them about the albergues and Bars coming up in Rabanal or Foncebadón. Albergues usually do not open until noon at the earliest.

The path down through the Holm Oaks is a lovely sandy path, at times rocky. Two women talked with me about my walking east. An English girl (Pam) in her 20's had only started that day and was fascinated that people came back again let alone walked the return journey. Pam was wearing dark navy blue shirt and pants so I suggested that in this heat she might want to wear a lighter color shirt in the hot sun. The next girl (also 20's) was German living in London, UK. With superb English and a beautiful speaking voice she told me she could certainly understand pilgrims coming back to the camino again and again. As she left me she said, "I wish you a beautiful journey". Thank you young lady.

I stopped at the Meson Cowboy (Cowboy Bar, another favorite) and the same couple have been there since 2002 (probably longer). I told them that each time I pass by (especially since living in Texas) I have wanted to bring them a Texas flag and that if they gave me their name and address I would send one. He did, I will.

Then in Santa Catalina I was having a café con leche when along came another eastbound pilgrim. I invited her to join me and she did. Her name is J (USA) and she has been on the camino for five months. J was laid off from her Civil Engineering job and decided that this was the time for her to walk the camino. She told me she was out of money so I bought her a coffee and something to eat. J will pop-up again .....
Veronica is on the path ahead of me but not for long. Pilgrims leave crosses on the fence.
Rainbow Camino. I love it! For my friends .....
This is an old rest stop that has been here for years and wonder of wonder is placed under a shade tree. Many older rest stops are out in full sunshine.
For my friend, Aida.
If they ever paint this door a different color this might not be such an iconic photograph.
Palacio Episcopla de Astorga (Gaudí). The view from my room at Hotel Gaudí where I have always stayed when in Astorga. This is one city that you can pamper yourself.

I was sitting at the café outside Hotel Gaudí when along comes J who told me she is going further looking for the free albergue. Looking at Palacio Episcopal she asked, "how did I miss this on my way to Santiago?". I don't know J, it is big and next to the cathedral AND on the camino. J said she is so happy to be on the camino to have her eyes opened but is bothered by how insular Americans are - those who do not travel, it was bugging her as she walked today. I told her she should really think of it as people who do not travel, not only Americans, but folks from anywhere, any country. I am beginning to be bugged by J.

Astorga to Hospital de Orbigo - Tuesday, September 13, 2011
280 kms SdC (173 miles)

One advantage of knowing the way is that you know what is coming up. One disadvantage of .... you get it.

This morning I took a taxi 3.5 kms to Cruceiro de Santo Toribio. Here I sat in 2002 for a long time looking at the hill down to the valley, across the valley, and then uphill to Astorga. The taxi driver told me "es imposible", it is impossible to drive to the cross.  I told him it was possible (sí posible).  When we were near I told him to take the dirt road, he did, and we were right beside the cross as the sun came up.

The pilgrims were having a picnic breakfast at a new (to me) picnic rest area. The moon was still up ... that is not a camera flaw.
The way is up and down hills on a rocky path today. I do not like rocky paths but sometimes they must be walked. Yes, I came up that hill as I am going in the other direction.
The wheat fields were red with poppies in 2002.  Each time I walk the camino it is different, it is never the same.
I took this photo and then came a busload of French pilgrims with a tour guide. The tour guide spent little time talking about the cross but a lot of time on the mock pilgrim.
The pilgrims sit and watch the French tour group and the cyclist did not move his bike for them.
I did not hang around to see if they walked or went back to their bus.
How horrible - as I got near I heard the word Ibuprofeno and looked, sure enough it has a packet of Ibuprofeno in its hand. Still, Ibuprofeno is the pilgrim drug of choice and Voltaren is the foot gel that works and does not smell like a sports rub. Both can be bought over the counter in all Farmacia's and are cheap in Spain.
J was right behind me at Santibañez and stopped at the same bar.  J went in to order her drink when alongs comes Veronica. Veronica told me she had met an American last night also on the return journey. I told Veronica that her name is J and she is inside. Veronica said she would tell me a story later.

Veronica gave me a pilgrim band for my wrist saying that she loved the angel on it. She found them in the pilgrim shop in Astorga. I was in that store yesterday and the man looked everywhere for an angel for me. Veronica had five more so sold me one for Charlotte, my camino angel.
 A rough path - ouch, ouch, ouch! Really an ouch path.
J stops for a break and I continue on.
I love this mural. The pilgrim washing shows where the albergue is for Villares de Órbigo. The last 3 kms of any day seems long and horrible. Today J caught me up and walked with me and she is a chatterbox. I do not like talking when I walk. It was hot but coming through Villares de Órbigo at least there was shade from the buildings. Between Villares and Hospital there is a poplar forest, here I saw deer in the early morning walking with Sheila in 2002. We took a rest break in the shade, just 1 km to go.
The longest Roman bridge in Spain. A joust took place here in 1434 and the Knight who called for the joust beat many opponents. The bridge is part of the ancient cattle trail, camino de la cañada. Veronica and I sat looking at this view from the bar of Hostal Don Suero de Quiñones enjoying eats and drinks.

At the western end of the bridge the Caballeros hospitalarios de San Juan (Knights of St. John) maintained a pigrim hospital. After dinner I went for a walk across the bridge, the sun was setting and the moon coming up .... it was beautiful.

Hospital de Órbigo to León - Wednesday, September 14, 2011
317.5 kms SdC (197.3 miles)

We thought it was going to be an easy day as we waited for the bus to León, wrong! While waiting, a man stopped and told us that the Parada de Autobús  (bus stop) to León was at the Gasolina (gas station). We discussed this for awhile because the hospitalero had told Veronica the bus stopped here.  Another man came from across the street with a timetable and from that we could see we had missed our 09:50 bus. Uncertain, we headed to the Gasolina and moments after we arrived a bus came along. Our bus was late ... all is well. We took the bus today because we both know that the path is on the Senda (footpath) alongside the busy road with no shade. The last 7 kms is through an industrial area and there are dangerous highways to cross. We have walked it before so no need to this year and we will not need to stay two nights to see this beautiful city.

I said to Veronica, "I always think of spiders when I see a house like this" and apparently I am not alone, she has the same thought.
This may be the best cathedral in Spain. The stained glass windows are wonderful and give a beautiful light to the stones inside.
Casa de Botines (Gaudí) is presently occupied by the Caja España (Savings Bank). The first floor and basement can be visited.
Plaza Mayor - when not in Spain I miss town squares like this with the many cafés and restaurantes where it is possible to sit for as long as you wish with one drink. This is the first time that I have been in León's Plaza Mayor. Every other time I have been in León I have had so many blisters that I wanted to rest my feet.
One of the many water fountains in this lovely city.

After dinner I was speaking with two Danish guys staying at an albergue. I told them to check for bed bugs. Veronica was going to the same albergue today until she met a pilgrim who stayed there and had many bites. Bed bugs are the nightmare of the camino and it would seem they are prevalent at this time of the year. They are carried from albergue to albergue and is one of the reasons I prefer to stay in a small hostel or Casa Rural.


  1. Anonymous8:26 AM CDT

    Good to hear from you. Excited to hear more! Will be waiting.

  2. There is Internet at this albergue .... but it is dinner time so I am only checking quickly. I hope all goes well for you and Danny.