Camino de Santiago (San Mamede do Camino to Ferreiros)

We had to work hard to maintain a good attitude today even though it was a shorter day. 

When we left this morning, there were a few other pilgrims passing us, but it was relatively quiet. That only lasted for the first 4 kilometers. As soon as we hit Sarria, we found ourselves in the midst of a flood of people. We passed a couple dozen on the outskirts, and over the next several hours found ourselves being passed by well over 100 people. They were loud and talkative (Andy pointed out that they hadn’t had a month to run out of things to say to each other) and jarring to us all after over a month of relative quiet. 

We were determined not to let seeing more people in a day than we had in a month (or so it seemed) disturb our Camino. Because we’re so slow, eventually we did get left behind and things quieted back down. It helped that we weren’t staying at the major stops. By the time we reached Ferreiros the flood had slowed to a minor river and at our albergue we were the first in the room. 

Before showering, we headed down to the bar for a small lunch. Andy and Dad split some pimientos de padrón, and all of us split an empanada gallega and some soft cheese from Arzúa. Andy and Dad both also had some Galician beer. It was all delicious! We came back to the room to find some more people had arrived, but the timing was right and the showers were all free. 

There was a lounge with tables and chairs in the albergue so we settled in to finish the game of canasta we started weeks ago. Needless to say, Andy won. Being the gracious loser that I am, I insisted we start another game. In between hands, we also dealt with our laundry. 

We quit the new game after a few hands to bring in the dry laundry and move out to the lawn chairs. I had to dance across the lawn from the clothesline because the pokey grass kept striking at my feet. Dad dragged the chairs into the shade and we all sat and tried to keep cool in the heat of the afternoon. I’ll be glad when this heat wave ends. 

Eventually our stomachs won out over our laziness and we headed down to the bar for dinner. We all showed great lack of creativity and ordered the exact same thing: pasta and beef. (We did get different desserts.) The bar also had some fruit and granola bars for sale, so we got breakfast as well since they don’t open until 7:00. 

Tomorrow we have a longer walk, but we’re still not ending at a major stop so the albergue shouldn’t be full when we get there. Unfortunately that is a concern for these last few days as hundreds of new pilgrims are joining us on the Camino. 

Camino de Santiago (Fonfría to San Mamede do Camino)

Another long day, but it had its great moments. 

We started walking at our normal time, but sunrise is getting later so we spent the first bit of the morning in the predawn light. As the sun rose (along with the terrain) we were rewarded with a view of an ocean of fog in the valleys, with mountaintops rising above it. Andy and I kept backtracking to find a good photo spot, with no success. Eventually the trail itself took us to some good viewpoints. 

After descending through some of the fog, the trail climbed up again for a while. Once we left Triacastela, one of the first few towns we passed, we had a choice of two paths. We opted for the shorter one, which led us up along tree lined trails that often were not too different from the kind I would hike on at home. Even when we were on open roads under the sun the temperature wasn’t too bad thanks to frequent shady spots and some nice breezes.  

We had few villages between Triacastela and our destination, and those we passed we didn’t stop in. So it was with great relief that we arrived at our albergue. We were the first in our room so we had a choice of beds and full access to the showers. Later we were joined by Stephanie, a woman from Germany we’d seen in the morning after not having seen her since before León. There is a pool in the albergue’s yard, but we bypassed it (it was in full sun) to occupy the hammocks under the willow trees. There were three set up in a triangle—perfect for us. We had some small snacks while resting, in lieu of lunch, since we hadn’t wanted to stop in earlier towns with bars and the albergue doesn’t sell food other than their communal dinner and a few vending machine items. 

Andy and Dad eventually left the hammocks to get some beer, but I had pretty much moved into mine. I did ask them to get me an ice cream to round out my nutritious lunch. A few others came and went from other hammocks, but mine might as well have had my name sewn into it. I spent most of the time reading and conversing with Gail, from Michigan, about books, writing, and various things nerdy (on my part, not hers).

At 7:00, the dinner bell rang and we all filed into the dining room for our gazpacho, rice and vegetables, quiche, Spanish tortilla, and salad. The albergues that offer a communal dinner always have an amazing spread. 

As the evening is winding down, so is my phone battery, so I will stop writing for today. Less than a week until Santiago!

Camino de Santiago (Las Herrerías to Fonfría)

We started today with a big climb, not as bad as the Pyrenees, of course, but steep and tiring. And Andy and I had made a slight miscalculation in our plan, so today was not as short as expected. 

Dad’s foot was bothering him, so the climb, and indeed the entire day, really wore on him. We stopped to rest in each little town on the way up, which helped, as did the cool morning temperatures and the breeze. Andy got a lot more rest than Dad and I did since he always got to the top first. But we eventually made it to O Cebreiro, where we stopped for pineapple juice (and Cola Cao for Andy, so he could see why Dad and I like it).

For the past few days our paths have run the same as another group, Nina, Maura, and Nick. On the climb and in the town, we ran into Nina and Maura (along with Sandra from last night), so we sat with them in the town for a little bit while we rested. They had to stay in O Cebreiro to wait for their bags, which they’d sent ahead in anticipation of the climb, so we left before them. 

Although we’d already reached the top of our initial climb, the path continued to rise and fall as we followed the mountains. We wound through three more towns before reaching Fonfría. To compensate for all the climbing, we got some spectacular views; we crossed into Galicia this morning, which is one of the prettiest parts of this walk. It’s rolling green hills (or mountains really) and…cow/horse poop. It’s everywhere on the path! We had to do some fancy footwork to avoid it at times. 

It was hot by the time we reached our albergue. Andy and I arrived first and waited for Dad, checking out the menu for what we wanted for lunch. After we checked in and chose our beds, we had one of our best lunches yet: homemade cheese drizzled with honey. It was a perfectly portioned, perfectly cool and refreshing, and perfectly delicious. 

In the afternoon, Maura arrived, followed an hour later by Sandra. They’d had to wait two hours after we left to get their bags; and Maura still made it to the albergue only an hour after us! Either she’s fast, or we’re really slow (or more likely, both). Shortly after Sandra arrived, Nina showed up! I was glad to see them all—it makes me happy to run into people we’ve spent time walking with and talking to.

Dad took advantage of the foot massage machine while we waited for dinner, which helped his foot some; hopefully a good night’s rest will see him pain free tomorrow. I spent the time talking with Maura, learning a bit about German politics. 

Dinner was across the street from the albergue, and was delicious. We all ate at the same table, so we got to talk with people from all over. The food was amazing: a potato and vegetable soup, steak with peppers and rice (something I expressed a desire for just a day or so ago!), and tarta de Santiago. 

It’s past 8:00 now, so that means it must be bedtime. Hopefully tomorrow holds fewer hills!

Camino de Santiago (Villafranca del Bierzo to Las Herrerías)

Today we climbed a mountain by choice, instead of taking the easy route. 

After leaving our albergue, we crossed the river and immediately had to make a decision. Choice one: along the highway, the shortest route. Choice two: steeply up and the steeply down again, but with spectacular views. Choice three: a long, lonely, poorly marked route, which the book warned might require some instinctual choices and a good sense of direction (not really one we considered).

We chose two, and were rewarded with amazing views and a cool but tough walk. The first 10 kilometers of our day were the up and down of this route, but we’ve apparently grown stronger, as while the up took a while for Dad and me, we handled the down well. We moved quickly and Dad’s knees weren’t screaming at him at the end (although they did still hurt).

At the town at the base of the mountain, we stopped for some pineapple juice/coffee. The walk after that did follow the road, which had patches of shade that were a relief to all of us as the temperature and the sun climbed. Eventually we got into a more minor road that followed the river, which was much more pleasant. We stopped in a small store a few towns before our destination to get some lunch food, so when we finally arrived, hot and sweaty and tired, we didn’t have to go searching for food.

We ate on the porch outside the rooms, then showered and handed our laundry over to be washed before relaxing in the bar/salon area downstairs. Andy and Dad got beers, and I lived it up with sangria. We enjoyed the shade and the breeze for a while before checking out the river and scoping out the restaurants (both of them) for the best dinner option. Then we brought in our laundry and lazed (and possibly napped) in the room a bit. 

We had dinner in the bar below the albergue, joined by Sandra from Montreal, who was with us last night. I ordered meatballs, which for once weren’t smothered in tomato sauce but were instead more like Swedish meatballs (and equally as yummy). As usual, about halfway through the meal I got very sleepy, so as soon as we pay, it’s bedtime for me. 

Tomorrow, we go up and up a mountain, but we plan to make it a short day so we should be fine. 

Camino de Santiago (Columbrianos to Villafranca del Bierzo)

Even though today was shorter, it seemed to drag on for a while, simply because the heat wave is back. It’s not as bad, but it sapped my energy. 

We left early this morning, since we had only cereal bars for breakfast. It was dark for a little while and we found no breakfast in the first town. In the second town, we got our Cola Cao/café and some magdalenas; we also stopped at an ATM before leaving so we could afford to stay in albergues and eat!

The rest of the route was hot and sunny with intermittent shade. We began climbing toward Villafranca, but it seemed for every up we had a down again. Eventually we did make it into town, but our albergue was at the very bottom of town, close to the exit. It was worth the extra walk, and not just because it means less walking tomorrow.

When we arrived, the hospitalera immediately gave us water. She carried Dad’s bag to our room and gave us a map to help us find the supermarket and the river swimming hole. We hit the supermarket before showering so we could get some lunch (salads again!). 

After showering, we sat down with some fellow pilgrims to chat. We wound up spending a while in the inner courtyard, before Andy, Dad, I, and Sandra from Montreal set out to find restaurants for dinner and then the swimming hole. Sandra stayed to take a swim while we headed back to get a few other pilgrims and find dinner. 

We ended up having 7 people at a restaurant with a good number of choices for the menu. While we are, we saw several other pilgrims we knew, including Betsy who had stayed an extra day in León but who obviously walks faster than us. I’m hoping we’ll find a few other people we left behind in various cities as the days progress. 

Dinner ended late for us, so now we’re back in the albergue with just a bit of time to get ready for bed and a steep climb tomorrow. We need an early start to beat the heat. 

Camino de Santiago (El Acebo to Columbrianos)

Today was hot again—not like the beginning, but enough to be unpleasant—so I’m glad we stopped after about 21 kilometers. 

Our albergue last night had breakfast at 6:30 this morning, so we allowed ourselves to sleep in. The breakfast was as worth its price as dinner; we had coffee/hot chocolate, toast, yogurt and granola, and orange juice (plus cold cuts and cheese for Dad and Andy). Because we were up in the mountains, we got to see the sun painting them pretty colors as we left around 7:00. 

We came to the first town fairly quickly, after some more steep descents. We had to go down steeply again to get to the next town, and even after we reached the “bottom” we still had some ups and downs as we made our way to Ponferrada. 

We stopped outside the Templar castle in Ponferrada for some pineapple juice, and were given some “pinchitos” to go with them (bread and ham). After a bit of a rest, we walked through the town, under the clock tower and then down to take a riverside path out of the city. 

The last few kilometers to our town alternated between delightfully shaded and open and sunny suburban neighborhood streets. We were the first to arrive at the albergue, so we took advantage of that to shower and refresh ourselves before finding lunch. 

We had lunch at a bar we’d passed on the way into town, where we got normalish sandwiches (regular bread!) and Dad and Andy had beers. A lot of pilgrims showed up while we were there to rest in the heat, and within half an hour of our leaving there, most of them checked into our albergue—it’s just too hot to keep going. 

As the heat of the afternoon increased, Dad and I had some ice cream at the bar below the albergue. We sat there for a while, sometimes chatting with other pilgrims, sometimes reading. Andy joined us after a bit, and we stayed until dinner. Dinner was small for a change, as no one nearby has a pilgrim menu. So we had lasagna (Dad and Andy) and spaghetti (me)—no bread, only one drink apiece, no dessert. For once, we only had a normal amount of food in the course of a day!

By the end of dinner the temperature had dropped slightly thanks to the shade. We headed away from the bar into the small lawn for a while. The wifi here is strong, so we were able to get on FaceTime (please, if you intend to call us, remember the time difference!).

The evenings are so nice and sunsets so late that it’s hard to make ourselves go to bed instead of staying out to enjoy them. But with a 5:30 wake up time, we have to tear ourselves away from the fresh air eventually. 

Camino de Santiago (El Ganso to El Acebo)

We dawdled our way through this morning and were slow in the afternoon, so we arrived at our destination later than we have in weeks!

This morning we got off to an early start, but we stopped in the first town to linger over chocolate con churros. In the second town, we took some time at the small market to buy lunch food (ensaladilla rusa for Dad and Andy, and yogurt and a hard boiled egg for me).

Our next stop was the Cruz de Ferro, where we waited forever so I could take a picture I had planned. Then we walked up and left our stones. I left an extra for someone I met last Camino who passed away recently. Another pilgrim took some (or more like 25) pictures of the three of us, including action shots of us climbing. After leaving our stones, we had a picnic lunch. 

The next stretch was the hardest of the day, as after the cross we climbed to the high point and had to begin the steep descent. This was complicated by the loose rocks all over the trail; many times I slipped and was only saved from a fall by my hiking poles. Dad also found the path challenging, and we were all grateful to arrive at El Acebo. Unfortunately, the albergue we were aiming for was on the far edge of the town. 

The albergue was worth the extra walking. The reception feels like a hotel, it has a bar/restaurant and several lounging areas, there’s a pool and a mini market, and the woman at reception spoke at least four languages in my hearing. The beds are standard bunks and the showers are typically small, but that would be the case at pretty much any albergue we stay in so the extras make this place stand out. 

We dropped our laundry off to be washed, then had pineapple juices and beer at the bar (any guesses who had what?). When our laundry was ready, we hung it out to dry and then had to keep fixing it. My 14 clothes pins were not enough, given the wind. Fortunately, that same wind also meant things dried quickly. 

We had dinner at the albergue, and it was worth every euro. The spaghetti starter had a cheese sauce and the chicken came with caramelized onions. The dessert was real chocolate ice cream with chocolate chunks, not something prepackaged. Definitely one of our best meals.

The rest of the evening was uneventful—putting away clean laundry, getting things ready for tomorrow. We’ll have a later morning since we plan to have the breakfast here at 6:30 and we only have about 21 km to go. Still, we’re all tired, so it’s an effort to stay up much past 8:30!