Day 26 – Villafranca del Bierzo to O’Cebreiro

Can you believe I woke up this morning at 6am decided it was far too early so had another half an hour lying in bed and when I looked up I was the only person left in the albergue. 

Pitch black outside and very windy which made the wind chill factor very cold.  Had the gloves scarf, earmuffs, hat everything on but only shorts as I set off over the mountain today.  

As I said earlier on there ain’t no mountain high enough and I can climb every mountain!! And today was the day.

Pretty uninteresting walk to start with as a lot of it was on the side of the road. The only saving grace was the beautiful Rio Valcarce which flowed beside me all day with the lovely sound of running water and very green and lush on one side and road on the other side.
Walked for quite a long way this morning before I stopped for my brekky.  No tortillas this morning so settled for a croissant.  

As I was walking this morning saw some amazing bridges so if anyone is reading this from the office I am putting up a photo to show our bridge department. Huge spans across valleys

Looking at my trusty map once I got past La Herrieria it was all uphill.  

The Very rocky ascent of 265m over 2.5kms.  Sweating and heart racing up a very steep long hill but guess what at the top of the hill when I reached La Raba there was a bar in the shade with freezing beers on tap.  It was rest time!!!!

I love all the al fresco lifestyle here in Spain even the smallest cafe/bars have chairs and tables outside even if they are across the road.  This is how it was when I reached the top of the hill at La Faba.  Big cerveza in the shade as even though the morning was cold the day became very hot.  

Of course that first part of the hill just lulled you into a false sense of security as when I left town there was more in fact it turned out to be 6kms of uphill (mountain) on rocky uneven steep tracks that wound up the side of the mountain.  By this stage I was feeling like a mountain goat!

When I left this morning I thought I would just see how the day pans out as to how far I walked so when I got up to Laguna de Castilla and saw it was only another 2.5kms to O’Cebreiro I thought- ha I can do that!!!  It was here that I saw the sign 154 to Santiago. Can’t believe only that much to go! Not only that but crossed over into Galacia today. 

Well my heart was racing I was breathing very heavily, it was extremely steep and the sun was relentless but the views were unbelievable.  One hell of a mountain to climb but worth it.  My little iPhone didn’t do it justice.  

Came over the last hill and around the last corner and I was at the top of the mountain and just amazing. Worth the blood, sweat and tears to get there.  

So I am sitting at the top of the mountain in the glorious sunshine having a vino Tinto and just had a plate of pulpo which is the Galacian delicacy- octopus. 

I don’t think I have ever had a more delicious dish of octopus in my life.

Again a very tiring day.  I showered, washed and wandered around town.  No wifi here. 

We are so high up and the views from both sides of the mountain are spectacular. 

Of course today I officially passed over into Galacia and the countryside is spectacular 

O’Cebreiro dates back to the 9th century.  This town is another significant gateway on the Camino and has ministered to pilgrims since the twilight of the first millennium   

There is also the church Iglesia de Santa Maria Real Which marks the final resting place of Don Elias Valina Sanpedro the priest in this town who did so much during his lifetime to preserve the integrity of the Camino. It was his idea to mark the route with the yellow arrow and it was largely as a result of his efforts that I am walking the Way today.

So now I am sitting in the sun with a vino Tinto. I have just run into Csubbi and Anna so we will have a drink and catch up later. 

In the mountains this evening so a little chilly.  Still in shorts though!!!

Tired little amigo tonight after all those mountains I conquered today so buenos noches. 

Day 25 – Ponferrada to Villafranca del Bierzo

Only 24kms today as I was still a little tired from yesterday’s effort.  

Cannot believe for autumn how hot it is. Have now had 2 days in a row of over 30 degrees and now being back in mountainous countryside it is very hard on the old Bod!

I think I have mentioned before how incredibly kind and lovely the Spanish people are. This morning I left Ponferrada at about 7.15 and it was dark. Met up with csubba my Hungarian friend and we walked out of town together.  We missed an arrow and we’re heading down the wrong street when we heard this big whistle and a oi in Spanish and here was a lovely old gentleman out the front of his house telling us we had taken the wrong road for the Camino so he then walked us out of town to make sure we got out safely and on the right track.  

The other week I was in Burgos a little lost standing on a street corner with my map in hand and a little old lady with absolutely no English came over and offered to help me and show me which way to go.  

The same in Astorga I was again standing on a street corner with my map and not only did a little old lady with no English but a man pushing another man in a wheelchair all came up to help me find where I was going.  Not one word of English was spoken but I have to say my Spanish has improved somewhat and with hand signals and a few words I understood I was able to find my way.  

Apparently the pilgrimage to Santiago has now become so popular (450 people left St Jean Pied de Port the same day as I did to walk the Camino) that a lot of towns that were becoming almost ghost towns are now experiencing a huge rebirth with the amount of pilgrims passing through their villages and needing an albergue to stay in.  

The town of Foncebadon that I stayed in the night before last, 4 years ago was almost non existent but now there are new albergue’s and supermarket all for pilgrims and businesses are booming.  I am extremely happy to be contributing to the Spanish economy as they are so friendly.  You walk through their villages or even the big towns and they all say Hola, buenos dias and buen Camino all with a huge smile on their faces.  

The countryside has changed yet again and now back into mountainous countryside with grape vines everywhere.  

I know over the last few days I have been going on about seeing UFOs but today I think I passed a witches house.  Yes there was a huge cauldron hanging outside the house

I have also seen new Camino signs

I walked with Csubbi (pronounced Chubby) for a few kms, stopped in Fuentes Nuevas for my usual brekky of grande cafe con leche, zumo de naranjo y tortilla – yes I am pretty fluent now!!!!

Got to Camonaraya and Csubbi had to do some shopping so I walked on and yet another glorious day.  

Even though it is still really hot the autumn tones are now starting to show and it is really beautiful.  That is one thing we don’t really see in sydney is the turning of the leaves. Unless you are in the blue mountains or the southern highlands

I had been told that the Way from Astorga to Santiago was the most beautiful and of course I am not there yet but it certainly is stunning.  I don’t want to compare though because every part of The Way has been beautiful in its own unique way.  

The villages I think are changing a little bit and some of them look a little Swiss or German. I just love the pots of geraniums and petunias out the front of everyone’s houses. 

I am now less than 200kms to Santiago which means I am now in Galicia another beautiful part of Spain. 

Got into Villafranca del Bierzo at about 1.30 and my body said STOP!  I have been walking 7 days a week between 6-7 hours a day and suddenly my feet are tired.  I noticed a few days ago when I decided to wash a bit of dust off my boots that the soles of my shoes that were like tire treads when I left and very new are now worn away at the heels and am hoping they make it to Santiago. This may contribute to my sore feet or I am just hot and tired!  Only time will tell.  

Villafranca is a very pretty town nestled in the hills with a river running through it. My fist sight of the town was of course the big church which is the first thing you see in every town in Spain. 

The church here is a 12th century Romanesque church with its north door being the ‘Door of Forgiveness’. This is where medieval pilgrims unable to continue to Santiago received absolution and a compostella.  In this account Villafranca was sometimes referred to as ‘little Santiago’.  This town started to develop in the 11th century. 

Found my albergue for the night and there were only 2 other people who checked in at the same time so after we had our showers and done our washing Frances from Barcelona and Kristina from Slovakia asked me if I would like to join them for lunch.  So lovely and friendly. We found a nice up market restaurant and went in and they had a pilgrims menu which was delicious. Mixed salad and bread, I had local trout from the river which was delicious and rice pudding. Of course together with the mandatory bottle of red wine all for €11.

So after a quiet afternoon of resting my body another pilgrim I have met, Joanna from Melbourne arrived and we decided to go into town for a sangria.  

Met Frances on the way and we wandered into the plaza for drinks and dinner.  

Of course once you get to a central area you run into so many other pilgrims you have met on the way.  

So Joanna, Frances and I were sitting enjoying a drink – amazing sangria 

And along comes my 2 boys Oswin and Kian who stopped for a chat then off to have dinner and then Pierre from Quebec joined us but he went off for a meal then Frances had to leave but Kristina from lunch joined us and then Raphael from Brazil that I had met on the way and then to top it off here was my lovely friend Gil from Brazil and we started the walk together in St Jean. So we all sat down and had drinks, meals, conversations and lots of laughs

Here are a few extras from the day

Joanna and I doing a selfie looking back over the bridge at Villafranca 

The mandatory pilgrim and the sign of the Way beside him (the shell)

And as a final good night my feet with the sign of the Way

So until mañana buenos noches. 

Day 24 – Foncebadon to Ponferrada 

26.4kms today and all those muscles I thought I had found and lost again reared their ugly heads as I walked up and down mountains today.  Mainly downhill and very rough

My day started very early with breakfast included in the price so for the first time I had muesli for breakfast.  

The mad csubba that I partied with last night had a massive hangover this morning but we left to walk back up to the lookout to see the sun rise.  The trouble was that we got there at 7.10am and the sun doesn’t come up until 8.27am by 8.10am I was cold and itching to walk so I left but it was quite beautiful 

I left him with his go-pro, camera and iPhone and headed off.

Passed Le Cruz de Ferro which was the cross on the hill we visited last night and of course by this time it was packed with pilgrims taking photos.  The story behind the cross is that you carry a stone or something from your life and leave it at the cross and all your problems will go away.  

Today I am back into beautiful mountains and green.  Have missed that after the very dry flat meseta

I then headed up the hill to the highest part of the Camino at 1515 metres and then I had to walk down the other side and it was rocky, uneven, and extremely hard on the legs and it was all downhill and there was no respite for over 20kms. 

What I am loving about this walk is that in the middle of nowhere there will be a caravan with a person selling coffee fruit drinks snacks.  Very enterprising as there are tables and chairs for the pilgrims to sit down and rest at. 

As you can see at the side of the photo I ran into my German friends Oswin and Kian and we walked together for the rest of the day. 

Today was extremely hot again and the walk down hill was particularly trying.  

Lots and lots of lovely old villages to pass through

We eventually got down the hill and into Molinesca and I was thinking I should stop as I was extremely tired due to the downhill walk today but after a grande cerveza I was sufficiently rejuvenated to carry on.  

Big mistake as I said it was really hot and we had another 6kms to walk. By the time we had left town my feet were burning but only tired not blistered or anything bad. Sheer guts and determination got me up the hill and down the next one into Ponferrada and what an amazing town. 

In the middle is a heritage listed knights Templar medieval castle

It had a moat around it and was amazing

Today visiting the castle was free so off we went but it was so hot we couldn’t take to much of it.  Well over 30 today.   

It was time to sit down as my feet were really tired.  The boys and I found a bar in the plaza and before we knew it we were joined by 2 other pilgrims we had walked with today then Celia my danish friend and Anna and Cecile also from Denmark and we had dinner and it was just good fun to talk and laugh, talk about the day and enjoy all the new found friendships. 

No pilgrims menu for me tonight.  Most people did as all restaurants serve a pilgrim menu but I had paella washed down with a few rose’s and I was ready for my bed so I am sitting in the foyer of our albergue madly finishing this so I can go and rest my weary body.  

Buenos Noches me Amigos 

Day 23 – Astorga to Foncebadon

26kms today from Astorga and I am almost at the highest point on the way.  Tomorrow I will climb to 1,515m and I intend to be up there to see the sun rise tomorrow morning.  

Most people stopped at Rabunal but I got there and it was only 11am and felt I had a few more kms in me so set off up the hill for Foncebadon.
Had an interesting encounter on my way this morning.  Turned a corner to head towards Rabanul and here was a man dressed in medieval gear with this beautiful falcon

He had a inlaid box on the table with a sign in all different languages telling you to open the box to see the most beautiful thing in the world.  I opened it and guess what. It was a mirror hahaha. Very charming man!

The countryside has changed yet again and starting to do a few hills

It is still really hot. Averaging about 26-28 degrees everyday and not much shade.  I do not know how anyone could walk this way in the summer.  

Got to Rabanal and even though it was only 11am I had to have a beer as I was very hot.  

Took it outside and sat with some lovely people.  Everyone you meet on the way is lovely.  I met about 4 English people who were cycling the way.  Don’t envy the hills on he bikes. I also met a father and son who were from Denmark and they were cycling as well.  Yet again we sat in the shade and discussed the problems of the world and how we could fix them.  As we were all leaving I asked them why they were cycling and not walking as it is a pilgrimage the son turned to me and told me he had walked it 7 times!!! 

Don’t know whether I could do that!

I only had another 6kms to Foncebadon but it was all uphill and very steep and rocky path 

Wandered into Foncebadon at about 1.30 and that was it for me 

I have been walking with a lovely German guy over the last couple of days, Rolf, and we hit town together so I followed him into the albergue.  Well I want you all to know this is my lucky night.  I am the only woman in the albergue and I am tonight sleeping with 8 men!!!

After all the washing and showering was done sitting in the courtyard with another lovely Hungarian called Chubba.  Spelt csuba. We are going to walk 2 kms this evening to the top of the hill to see the sun set from the highest point on the Camino.  

So I am sitting here with my jug of sangria

Surrounded by men and enjoying life to the fullest.  

Well what a fun night I have had.  Tomorrow I reach the highest part of the Camino and as it is only 2kms out of town a few of us – me and the boys – took a bottle of wine after dinner and walked up to the spot and took photos as the sun was setting and then went and sat in the park opposite and had our wine, laughed ourselves silly and all with an almost full moon above us 

There is stefan from Texas, csubba from Hungary, Rolf from Germany and Barry from Murwillumbah.  

So now a really late night – it is after 10 and we are home in our beds and will be up in the morning to return to see the sun come up on our way to Ponferrada.

Buenos noches señors y senoras 

Day 22 – Villavante to Astorga 

Hola from hot, sunny, beautiful Spain.  I fall more and more in love with this country everyday.  

Today started with the most beautiful sunrise.  I had to keep turning around to see it as the sun comes up behind me in the northern hemisphere

As I was walking out of town this morning I saw another UFO only this time it turned out to be a train.

Had a lovely group at the albergue last night from all over the world.  

As I had done a big walk yesterday I decided I would only go as far as Astorga today and that was far enough.  Another very hot day but now I am pleased to say the countryside has changed and I am back into green rolling hills and a few big hills to climb.  

Walked into Hospital de Orbigo for breakfast and what a lovely town. This has one of the longest and best preserved medieval bridges in Spain dating back to the 13th century and built over an earlier roman bridge which formed one of the great historical landmarks on the Camino.   This bridge was also the the place of famous jousting competitions that took place in the Holy Year 1434. Apparently was the inspiration for Cervantes Don Quixote and also witnessed the battle of 452 when the Visigoths slaughtered the Swabians. Now there is a bit of history for you!!!

When I left hospital de Orbigo It was out into hilly countryside and greenery 

I have to defer here and relate a little story. About a month prior to me coming away my friend Barbara from the central coast rang me and said there was a documentary on at the Avoca cinema about the Camino.  To cut a long story short I went up and spent the weekend and we went to see the movie.  It was about different people and how the Camino had affected them. There was this group of guys who decided to stay and set up camp in a disused adobe hut on the Camino just out of Astorga. Well would you believe walking along today and here they were. Providing fruit and drinks for pilgrims for a donation 

It was then down the road a bit further to the wonderful city of Astorga 

Astorga was originally a powerful asturian community and equally an important roman city because it was the junction of several major routes.

The convergence of routes gave rise to over 20 pilgrim hospitals in medieval times.  

Astorga was amazing from a distance with the cathedral in the distance very prominent 

When I arrived in Astorga the plaza’s and the gaudi palace were amazing.  

The Gaudi palace reminded me of fantasyland from Disneyland 

I met Alison in town today and we are now sitting in the plaza having the Astorga delicacy of Stew

I also met a lovely Swedish couple as I walked into town today and we have had a few beers in the plaza together this evening and no doubt will walk with them again over the next couple of days 

So it is the end of a very hot day I have had a lovely dinner with Alison drinks with Anna and Leonard and would you believe ran into Oswin, Kiam and Celia as well

So me amigos it is buenos noches from me and hasta mañana 

M xx

Day 21 –  Leon to Villavante

It was Saturday night in Leon and the fiesta didn’t end outside our window until 5.30 this morning so a few cross people this morning.  Didn’t worry me I am totally in another space now and little upsets me.  My head is in a totally different space. 

So as I left town this morning at 7.15am I was witness to all the young people of Leon spilling out of clubs and going home.  They were all sober and as I followed a couple of them down dark streets I did wonder how it would turn out but they all said buenos Diaz and carried on.  Hate to say this but wouldn’t happen in sydney!!

It was quite a walk out of town and eventually made it to La Virgen Del Camino and who should be sitting at the cafe but Alison.  I decided it was too early for me to stop so kept going. 

The last week or so have been travelling through the meseta and very flat and right beside the road which is pretty draining. Well today there was an alternative path that took me out of La Virgen Del Camino and headed into the countryside away from the main road.  It was still marked as the Camino but took you right away from the highway.  Through Fresno del Camino and on to Oncina where a man was waiting on his bicycle to take us, if we wanted to, to his little ‘cafe’. He had set it up in the front of his house and there was a dome tent sort of on one side that was the toilet and another one on the other side for your wifi and then in the middle he had tables and chairs and he then proceeded to pour you fresh orange juice, coffee (best I have had to date) and a little muffin/cake. The fun bit was this

The lovely man only asked for a donation for all his hospitality so a few coins in the jar and I was off.  

I am still in the heart of the wheat and corn growing area of Spain so again very flat.  A little overcast today which gave a well needed respite from the sun as not much shade.

Made my way into Vilar de Mazarife and thought I would stay there for the night but it was only 11.30 and felt like I had a few more kms in me so after sitting on a bench in the street and eating a nectarine and taking my shoes off and giving my feet a bit of love I headed off out of town

Well big mistake.  I thought I wasn’t going to make it.  It was another 14kms down the road and there was nothing in between.   My feet started to hurt and I could feel the pain.  

But what could I do – grin and bear it as there were no taxis, buses or transport of any kind where I was.   

I eventually got to Villavante and virtually threw myself in the door of the albergue and collapsed on my bed. 

It is amazing how you are so tired and yet you take your shoes and socks off and have a shower and you instantly feel rejuvenated.  

Once I had my house in order it was down to the bar for the mandatory cerveza.  I had passed and chatted to a South African, Peter and a Scotsman, Tom who I had met before and when I told them I was off to the pub they immediately followed me down and the 3 of us sat in the front bar and solved the problems of the world.  

Thank goodness out pilgrim meal was early tonight – 6pm as I was hungry and tired.

It is now 8.00pm and I am in bed.  How exciting am I!!! 

I am putting this picture up on my blog so you can get an idea of what the walk will be like over the next couple of weeks as I get very close to Santiago.   

I am actually on day 23 tomorrow as I will be passing through Astorga so you can see the next week will be some very big hills to climb.  I am quite used to climbing hills now but coming down the other side is a killer on your knees. Thank goodness for walking poles.  

I see you all got daylight saving last night which means I am now 9 hours behind you all.  

Enjoy your day off tomorrow and think of me as I wander across the Camino a world away from you all. 

Buenos noches

The Day 20 – Puente Villarente to Leon

I made it. It took 3 weeks to get here but I am sitting in the sun in a bustling cathedral plaza having a cerveza and it is market day. 

 The whole plaza is taken up with fruit and vegetable stalls, caravans selling meat and sausage, fish and cheese.  

Then around on the side entrance to the cathedral amongst all the market sellers there is a wedding. It is so vibrant and alive this place. Great atmosphere. 

In every plaza in town, and there are a few, there is a market. This main one for food another one for ceramics another one for tools and old wares and another one for jewellery and that is only 4 I have walked through.  

This photo reminded me of Mexico. 

UIt started as an overcast day but the sun is out, it is Saturday and everyone is out.  

Leon is a huge town of approx 130,000 people which may be small in our eyes but it is really spread out and lots of little streets off streets.  

It was a very easy 12km walk into Leon this morning. Stopped at the first cafe for brekky and all they had was coffee. Very disappointing but met a fellow Australian while I was there.  
Walked on into Leon and as always the way took me right to the old part of town.  

Great cafe on the sidewalk so I could eat my regular breakfast and people watch.  

Followed the arrows and the Camino sign and came around the corner into the main square with the amazing cathedral. 

I had to find accommodation and dump the pack as I ran into a few people from the walk and they were telling me everything was full. I asked a few people for directions to the albergue and ended up back where I started from when I first walked into town. Must have passed it twice but I am staying in the monastery albergue for €8 and the pilgrims meal is €8. They have prayers at 7pm and a pilgrims blessing at 8 when the nuns come and take you away for reflection. I won’t be able to attend as I will be meeting a friend for a drink at that time.  

Leon was a roman military garrison and base for its VIIth Legion hence the name Leon from Legion. It later became the capital of the old kingdoms of Asturias and Leon. 

Underneath the cathedral there are ruins of Roman baths and roman gates into the city. I went down to have a look. They were from the first century. I just stood there with my mouth open. So old and I was in awe of such history.  

I was a bit tempted to buy a few things at a couple of the markets today but with a little backpack I cannot carry it.  

As it was Saturday there was fiestas and all sorts of things happening in town today.  There was some sort of medieval festival

But it was a glorious day so I wandered all around this fabulous town and took it all in. 

Went into the cathedral which took only 50 years to build and mostly stained glass windows. 

Then went into the museum behind the cathedral and OMG. They had taken a lot of the original statues from the church and put them in the  cloisters because of deterioration. There was a bible written in 920.

So I wandered some more and had a sangria and was sitting having my pilgrims meal in town, most restaurants serve a pilgrims meal, when who should wander by but Alison from my work

All in all a wonderful day in Leon and tomorrow I head closer to Santiago.

Hasta mañana me Amigos