Camino Day 5 …and the beat goes on…

The best thing one can do when it’s raining is to let it rain.  ~ Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Spain-1030694dmvThe challenging path continues to be flooded in areas and muddy at best.  I think all of us are beginning to wonder what we’ve gotten ourselves into and what may lie ahead.  Water-soaked boots are heavy weights and pull on our tired, sore leg muscles as we schlepp along.

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We are now in Galicia and the scenery has blossomed into the emerald green of spring as we weave through woods and dale.  We crossed into Galicia on day four before crossing the snowy mountain and the village of  O  Cebreiro sits near the top.  I must have missed the sign.  (Better go back and hike that mountain so I can see the Galician border sign.)   I’ve read that in the Galician language,  O replaces El.  Our final destination, Santiago de Compostella, is the capitol of Galicia.

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Two languages are official and widely used today in Galicia; the native Galician, a Romance language closely related to Portuguese with which it shares the common Galician-Portugal medieval literature, and the Spanish language, usually known locally as Castilian. 56.4% of the Galician population always speaks in Galician or speaks more in Galician than in Castilian, while 42.5% speaks always in Castilian or more in Castilian than in Galician. ~ Wikipedia

Spain-1030704dmvOur path continues through a muddy, hilly wooded area and we come across a colorful, although tacky, looking memorial made of cast-off clothing, snack garbage, socks, hats…  It appears as though it is the  pilgrim dump.  I am not impressed with this area since it contrasts so starkly with the quiet, remote woods,  farmlands and small villages.  The site does kind of remind me of Jamaica with its bright colors.  Randy would like to take home that nice jacket on the lower right, but it’s not his size.

Spain-1030705dmvI have no idea what the pine cones are all about.  Any ideas?

Spain-1030707dmvcrRomanesque stone walls border our path as we cross through pasture areas, working our way down to the city of Portomarin.  The slimy mud pulls on our boots and the path is also mixed with  sweet smelling cow manure ~ Watch your step!   The farmer is getting the herd adjusted to their new pasture grounds using a stick and his dog.

Spain-1030712dmvRomanesque walls border the path and pasture and makes for an interesting cattle fence.

Portomarin bridgeThis long bridge over the rushing waters of the Mino River is the only thing between us and our destination for the day, Portomarin, Spain.  I hang tightly onto my walking poles as the strong gusts of wind push, tug and pull on me as if playing the old playground game, King of the Hill.    ~ Photo from Google images.

Portomarin is tucked in amongst the hills of Monte do Cristo and the river intersects the village.  During medieval times people lived on the right bank of the river, in an enclave (territory surrounded by another territory) by the Camino de Santiago.

The Portomarin we see today dates mostly from the middle of the 20th century with much of the old town now below the waters of the Miño.  In the 1950’s Franco decided he wanted to build a hydro-electric dam 40 kilometres down river and in doing so would flood the town of Portomarín.  The townspeople wanted to save some of their most important monuments and transported these stone by stone up to their new home, high above the river, which you see in the photo above.   Now, that would require some heavy lifting!  Parts of the old town resurface in the fall when the water level gets low.

As we first come across the new bridge, we pull our tired bodies up some steps to an arch where we see the Iglesia de Santa Maria de las Nieves, built on the site of a former pilgrim hospital.  The staircase is actually the sole remaining part of the original 2nd century Roman bridge, which was destroyed by Doña Urraca.   I would have taken a photo but it was raining.  Go figure…

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Wet, tired, stiff, sore, hungry… A-h-h-h-h…. home, sweet, home.

Camino Day 5 ~ Angels among us

All God’s angels come to us disguised. ~James Russell Lowell
camino-frances-26O CebreiroWe eat our normal breakfast of tostados with coffee or tea and hop in the taxi  at 8:00 a.m.  We are fast forwarding the mountain from Vega de Valcarce, and will go  about 30 miles to Sarria due to the weather conditions. The van is  large enough to hold all seven of us, plus the driver.Spain-1030656dmvThe treacherous roads are full of slushy snow and it is sleeting. The taxi driver is carefully maneuvering through the icy mountain roads and we are quiet, so we don’t disturb his concentration.  It would not be a pretty sight if we slip off the mountain road. We don’t see any other vehicles going over the mountain this morning.

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After about an hour, we arrive in Sarria and begin our 14 mile trek to Portomarin.  We tip our driver since he did such a wonderful job and did not charge as much as we had expected.  He keeps trying to return the tip.  No es necesario!  We finally convince him to keep the tip since he is very deserving and is well worth it.

Spain-1030668dmvWe begin our march through Sarria and grab a quick beverage and snacks for the road.

Spain-1030663dmvcrFollow the arrows and you can’t go wrong.  Rats!!  It’s starting to rain again.

We look ahead and see that our path has been washed out and fast, deep water is rushing across.  (It seems much deeper than the photo depicts and we don’t see the grassy area on the other side of the rocks, yet.)  I hear a gasp and discover it came out of my mouth.  How are we going to cross this mess?

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Listen… Do I hear angels singing?

Yes, I do!   Singing Spanish angels have appeared out of nowhere to save the day.  Randy goes ahead to crawl over the rocks and is ready to help the rest up and through to a grassy patch that wasn’t so deep.  The Spanish Angels take over the middle and rear to help us up and over the rocks.

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Now that we are all safely across, they proceed to splish, splash down the water-filled trail singing their happy Spanish camino songs.  Buen camino!

I wonder if we’ll see them again?

Spain-1030688dmv Stepping stones help us get through this flooded area.  The walking sticks are valuable to help keep balance with all the water rushing by.

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Kathy gets the prize for the most waterproof boots, but even her feet are wet now.

The cold rain continues to fall.  This is going to be another long day.

Longest Day EVER!

camino-frances-24Day 3 continues…

After a quick lunch break at a cafe, we attempt to wind our way out of Ponferrada.  It is a busy city so we step lively as we cross streets to follow the Camino path.  Follow the sea shells, follow the arrows… and, if all else fails, ask someone.  It is obvious to the locals that we are walking the Camino de Santiago, so they are helpful if we appear lost.  Muchas gracias!

We walk and we walk and we walk…

Ponferrada is one of the larger cities we pass through on our walk with a population of  68,736 according to the GeoNames geographical database.

We walk and we walk and we walk…

We exit Ponferrada without getting lost.

We walk and we walk and we walk…

IMG_6595to ponferrada

This stage of the Camino is a good section to make up time due to the relatively flat terrain, but the rain does not help our cause.  It starts raining at the edge of Ponferrada and continues to rain thoughout the rest of the day.  (Which is also why I have very few photos today since the camera stayed dry inside my pouch).  Our rain ponchos keep us relatively dry, but water starts seeping into the boots.  The lotion/vaseline between my toes will only do so much to prevent blisters.  We can feel the hot spots on our feet as the blisters threaten to inflict their pain.

…and then we walk some more. 

It is 6:30 p.m. and we finally drag our wet, exhausted bodies and blistered feet into the town of Cacabelos, a city which dates back to the 10th century.

Am I dreaming? Do I really see a hotel?  We stop to inquire about hotel rooms and discover they do not have enough beds for us.  We must look quite sad and pathetic as the hotel clerk offers us free samples of wine and snacks.  She is such a wonderful person and recommends a hostal and even offers to call them for us.  They do have vacancies.  Hooray!  Away we go in search of Hostal La Gallega. Click on the link for more photos and info about our hostal tonight.

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After close to 12 hours of walking our prayers are answered.  Hostal, restaurant and bar are all inside under one roof for 17 Euro each.   Hallelujah!!  Praise the Lord!  God sure knows what we need at the end of a tough day.  Now it’s time to start drying our boots and socks while we hydrate and refuel our bodies for another day.  The hostal even has a pulperia which means a small grocery store.

Spain-1030590dmvMeet our neighbors.  (Backyard view from our hostal balcony)

Oh, my sore feet and stiff legs! 

Time to say our prayers and go to bed after walking over 20 miles today.

Maybe it won’t rain tomorrow… z-z-z-z-z-z-z-z-z

El Acebo is far enough ~ Injury on the trail

Really?  This is STILL day two?

After a long and challenging descent we finally see a town. El Acebo lies ahead and we plan to stop for a short rest and continue on to Molinaseca.
Spain-1030503dmvThe grueling downhill descent has taken its toll on a member of our group as Kathy’s knee has flared up and she is struggling to make it down the hill.  Being a positive thinking problem solver, she gets down a steep hill by crab walking on her backside.  Whatever gets the job done, right Kathy?  This appears to put a wrinkle in her plan of completing the Camino.

Randy and I get to El Acebo and sit in front of a building called La Rosa del Agua to wait for the rest of the group.  A cute young couple run the hostal and she brings us delicious, hot coffee to sip on while we attempt to visit with our limited language skills.  We each have just enough skill to get the information we need.  She is hoping we decide to stay tonight and they are ready to provide lodging. Meanwhile we discover we have another 10 kilometers downhill until Molinaseca, it is after 4:00 p.m. and one swelled knee will go no further today.  La Rosa del Agua will be our new home tonight.  I don’t know why I didn’t take a photo of the front of the hostal so you’ll have to click on the link and it will take you to their website with photos and information.

Spain-1030508 Notice stage 25 on the elevation map to the left.  I told you it was steep!

The menu del dia (menu of the day) tonight included trucha (trout) complete with the eyes.

Spain-1030510Fish is not a favorite of Lori’s but she did pull it together long  enough to pose for a photo.  Good to the last bone!  Or, should I say, good to the last eyeball!

A man that claims to live on the Camino joins us tonight at the restaurant and, after enough wine, is quite politically outspoken. I’m afraid we don’t share the same conviction he has so we excuse ourselves and head back to the hostal to settle in for the night. Little did we know he would also be at our hostal and he is not a quiet sleeper!

Spain-1030513dmvWe shouldn’t misplace this key.

Spain-1030514dmvWe waken to find a delicious breakfast waiting for us in this cute little kitchen. Granola, fruit, muffins, toast, milk, juice and, most important of all, hot coffee.

Spain-1030517dmvOur host mom leaves us a nice little note in English to cheer us on and get our day started on the right foot.

Spain-1030521dmvOn the cover of this book is the stamp they put in our Camino Pilgrim Passports and inside we are to write comments and greetings.  Of course, I write a positive message since I’m “Minnesota Nice.”.

Kathy’s knee is swollen and very sore so our hostal mom helps arrange a taxi service to take her  down the mountain along with my sister, Joan, for moral support.  It rained quite hard during the night, but the sun is now shining brightly with just a few clouds.  Hooray for no rain!!  We are going to attempt to make up time from the short day yesterday and plan to meet up with the two that took the “fast forward” in the main plaza of Ponferrada.  We’ll see how well our two-way radios work today.

La Rosa del Agua gets bonus points for the wonderful heaters with drying racks so our soaking wet boots, socks, clothing, etc. are nice and dry this morning as we begin our walk.  You really learn to appreciate dry feet!

Now to continue the descent… ugh, the legs are a little stiff this morning.

Manjarin, Spain ~ Commerce on the Mountain

camino-frances-23_Rabanal to MolinasecaDay two continued…

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A short walk of about 2.5 kilometers downhill from Cruz Ferro, we find the closest thing to a shopping mall for pilgrims in the deserted looking village of Manjarin.

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There are signs of Roman mining activity in this area, but the city of Manjarin has its origins linked to the 9th century.  The Manjarin economy was based for centuries on the livestock, the benefits of trade due to road and subsistence agriculture. During the mid 20th century, like many other mountain villages, the city was depopulated, until in 1993 a hermit named Tomas Martinez, resumed the work of “hospitaleros” Camino de Santiago.  ~ Wikipedia

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I’m assuming Tomas is in the photo above.  One of the Camino Forum posts said this, “It is said to be about the most basic albergue on the Camino. No showers, only cold water from the fountain outside, and you sleep on some boards which are more or less loosely just above the main room. There were some foam pieces, not really mattresses.”   Another post mentioned there was no plumbing so you use an outhouse, which would be quite inconvenient when you need to climb a ladder down from the upstairs of the shed.

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We donate to the cause and pour a cup of hot coffee, look around to absorb the rustic ambiance. Randy does consider buying a shell but decides he doesn’t want to carry it and will wait until the end.

Spain-1030478dmvAnother customer (India) is contemplating his purchase.

Spain-1030475dmvcr Disappointed that it is too early in the day to find lodging, we finish our break and move on with only 222 kilometers to go…

Spain-1030490dmvWe leave Manjarin and find our path to be quite muddy going down the mountain.  (Note to self ~ waterproof spray the boots next time.)

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The path may be muddy but the views are spectacular today!

Spain-1030492kpWe often find crosses in random places.  Did another unfortunate pilgrim die here?

Spain-1030498dmvGoing down the mountain proves to be treacherous as we carefully place each foot forward, trying not to cause an injury.  The above image shows our path as it snakes its way down and we get a glimpse of what is ahead. Our goal is still Molinaseca, but it is taking longer getting down the mountain than anticipated.  We soon find that the mountain descent threatens to claim a victim among the members of our group.

Camino de Santiago Day Two ~ We’re movin’ on up…

The elevation map below shows our climb so far since beginning our walk in Astorga.
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It’s 6 a.m. and our hostel is dark and quiet except for the quiet buzz of a person snoring nearby. We think about getting an early start today but it may be rude to make noise and shine our flashlights while trying to locate our belongings. O.K., just lie here a little longer until someone else makes a move. Finally, the lights go on and it was all systems go as everyone starts bustling around to pack up.

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Today’s hike will take us to the highest point of our journey so we fuel our bodies with a 3 Euro breakfast prepared by Isabella, our hostel mom this morning. She has a ready smile that speaks for itself in any language.

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Our tostadas with jam and coffee/tea hit the spot.

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All of us receive a hug and kiss before we leave and her departing words are, “Buen Camino!” to which we reply, “Muchas gracias!”  Isabella is a gem and one of those people you can’t help but love.

Spain-1030393dmvThe old stone walls continue to border our road until we reach the edge of Rabanal where we now can see the mountains in the distance.  Our terrain and vegetation will change as we leave the plains behind us.

Spain-1030408kppop50crIt was a beautiful day for walking and the temperatures are on the cool side. The terrain is more difficult, but the change of scenery today makes the views more interesting.

Spain-1030405popThe damp climate provides plenty of moisture for moss type growths on these trees.

Spain-1030411dmvcrWe discover part of our group taking a break at a rest area.  You can see the dirt path behind them.

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We are still in the province of Leon. The village of Foncebadon flourished during the Middle Ages, offering shelter and hospitality to the pilgrims that passed through on their way to Santiago.  According to local tradition, the village was granted a tax exemption in return for planting 800 stakes in the ground to mark the path.   ~ Wikipedia

Spain-1030419dmvcrAs we walk into Foncebadon, Randy visits with a  friend we met yesterday who was also at the hostal last night. He is from India and is walking the Camino with a friend from Poland.  We tend to name people based on their country, so we refer to the couple as India and Poland.

Spain-1030422dmvRandy finds out that India is in the Air Force of India so they immediately have something in common.  They talk airplanes and bombers since India can speak English quite well and knows what Randy’s Air Force job involved as an air frame repair specialist. What a nice guy. People like this wander in and out of our lives during the walk and we never know if we’ll encounter them again.

Spain-1030424dmvFoncebadon is a rustic little village and I notice that the building in the background has quite colorful patches on its roof. The sign under the cross is telling us not to leave stones on this cross.  Save your rock, you’ll need it later.

Spain-1030427Even in the most remote village we find a tavern. As usual, Randy is patiently waiting for me to take a picture.  I often drop my poles to change camera angles.

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Cocina casera means home cooking and I see that they also have the Pilgrim recommendation seal of approval.  The tavern was open and India and Poland went in and were joined later by the rest of our group who stopped there for coffee.  It is too early in the day for us, so we plod on by without stopping. Too bad it isn’t later in the day since I’m curious and would like to  try their home cooking… Oh, well.

Spain-1030431dmvcrRoad work ahead.  The man with the wheelbarrow is patching holes in the village street since summer will soon be here and the number of pilgrims will greatly increase.

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We continue to climb in elevation toward Cruz de Ferro which means Iron Cross.

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After leaving Foncebadon we look back and see this scenic view overlooking the town. We are now making our way to the highest point in elevation of our journey and our legs are feeling the strain. C’mon legs, keep walking.  I begin to feel like the train engine in the book by Watty Piper (which was a pen name of Arnold Munk), The Little Engine that Could which is used to teach optimism and hard work to young children.   I think I can.  I think I can.  I think I can…

Meet the Most Eligible Bachelor in Spain

It’s around 6 p.m. after day #1 of hiking the Camino de Santiago and we decide we are in desperate need of something to relax and medicate our sore, aching bodies and warm our wandering souls.  We find a stone building that houses a tavern and see some customers that are just leaving.  Don’t they say that a sign of a good establishment is one that has customers? Plus, Taberna del Pueblo is Spanish for village tavern so that may be just what the doctor ordered.

Spain-1030359dmvBonus points for having a broom parked outside to show that they care enough about their business to sweep. This should be worth checking out…

Spain-1030356dmvO.K., so the regulars don’t exactly greet us with shouts of joy and welcome us with open arms.  It is dry and warm in here so we decide to at least have a beverage.

Spain-1030349dmvI’ve seen some interesting bar decor in my day but this takes the cake.  This leg of a pig is featured front and center on the bar and our new friend, Damian, shaves some meat off, arranges the meat on a plate and we are offered some delicious, succulent ham as tapas to go with our drinks  (What we would call appetizers, the Spanish call tapas).  Tapas may be cheese, meats, olives, bread, etc. to snack on with your beverage of wine or beer and the first plate of tapas is often provided free with the purchase of drinks.

I’m guessing, from my research, that we were eating Jamon Serrano,  meaning literally “mountain ham.”  It is aged in the fresh mountain air of Spain for a minimum of 18 months with only natural Mediterranean Sea salt.  Most Serrano ham is made from Landrace breed pigs, or a mix of Duroc breed, Large White and Landrace. In Spain, Serrano ham is a part of life, served in bars, restaurants and found in virtually every home.  ~D’Arttagnan.com

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This member of our group is involved with the pork industry in Minnesota and is so intrigued by the pig leg adorning the counter of the bar that she soon makes herself at home and decides to try her hand at carving.  Our new friend, Damian, must be equally intrigued by this bold American and does allow her to wield a knife.  However, he does appear somewhat unsure of what he has gotten himself into tonight. Gloves and a hair net would be required to do such work at home, but when in Spain do as the Spaniards!

Spain-1030364crdmvDamian has some personal items of interest on display.  I wish I had asked if that was an old photograph of his family since we could have o-o-o-ed and ah-ah-ah-ah-ed ~  El es un nino lindo (He is a cute little boy).  On the far right are books that a friend of his has written and he was selling them in the bar in case we wanted some reading material in the albergue.  It also looks like Santa visits Damian at Christmas time, too!

Spain-1030357dmvBuen Camino!!  We raise a toast to day one.  It appears that Damian likes old movies judging by the posters on the wall.  I am standing by the bar while I take this photo so you can see that it is a very small establishment.

Spain-1030376dmvAs the evening progresses we become even more acquainted with Damian and Damian continues to be amused by this group of Americans.  He has become endeared to our hearts and I think  he was amazed that we found him to be such a cutie pie!  He may have received more than the normal amount of admiration typical of a Thursday night in the tavern.  He reveals to us that he is single, so I feel as though I need to do my part and spread the word across the world that we have discovered the most eligible bachelor in Spain.

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O.K., ladies, I know where he is so I can point the way to Damian of Rabanal, Spain!

Time to eat supper and go back to the hostel to rest up for day two of walking.  A chorus of snoring may be lulling us to sleep tonight and I hope I am in the choir and not part of the audience.