Camino Day 6 ~ Meet Carmen, Luisa and Ireland

Portomarin was where we slumbered last night in Albergue Ultreia which is run by a charming woman named Carmen.  Carmen’s eyes sparkle and shine and she has a way of getting her message across with grand gestures of arms and hands.  She is a strong, hard working woman, grabbing two wet backpacks and hoisting them up a flight of stairs as though they were merely purses.

We settled in to our dorm room filled with about 10 bunk beds and were immediately invited into the kitchen area by a fun group of young Spaniards having happy hour before their home cooked meal.  They offered us shots of some kind of liquor that had a good “kick” to it, so that helped warm us up inside and out.  I’m guessing it’s the anise liquor made in Spain. Again, must have been too tired to take a picture.  You will meet them later, though.

We were lucky enough to have a washer and drier which is accessed by going outside to the upstairs balcony.  Carmen’s English speaking daughter, Luisa, is extremely helpful with everything from washing and drying clothes to planning our next day, day six.

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Thanks to Albergue Ultreia, our clothing has been washed and dried and our boots have been on little heaters all night.  The blisters on Randy’s feet catch the attention of one of the young Spanish girls staying at the hostal and she offers sympathy and blister salve, if he needed it. People on the Camino show such kindness to complete strangers, that it warms the heart and gives a positive outlook towards mankind.

Coffee machine in the kitchen brews me some delicious, hot java to get my groove on and we eat the rolls we had purchased the night before at the local grocery store. What a great way to start a new day!
Spain-1030715dmvWe are in the center of town so Lori is getting directions from Luisa.

Spain-1030714dmvDiane, Jane and Joan pose for a photo with our friend, Luisa.  Luisa is also a pharmicist along with helping her mother with the albergue.  We met Dad this morning when he was opening up the albergue for the day. Wonderful family.   I am wondering if the black and white photo on the wall is of the old Roman bridge that is now under water.

Spain-1030720dmvLuisa manned the camera, so this is one of the few photos I am in.  I notice the sidewalk is dry and no rain is falling ~ Hooray!

Spain-1030724dmvcrMeet our new friends from Ireland.  They are all turning 30 years old this year and are celebrating their birthdays together on the Camino.  They signed up with a travel tour that transports their luggage for them, so they only have smaller daypacks.  With or without bags, they will still get wet today. Rain gear is essential no matter what you are carrying.  From now on they will be referred to as Ireland.  Such as…

Did you see Ireland at the pub today?

Yes, I did see Ireland at the pub today!  No, wait… that’s tomorrow. 

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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.

Camino Day 4 ~ The road less traveled

Sometimes the road less traveled is less traveled for a reason. ~ Jerry Seinfeld

There is a spot in Villafranca del Bierzo where the path forks and Kathy, Lori and Jane are standing there contemplating which Camino arrow to follow.  They attempt to take the strenuous climb up the mountain, but 4 women (angels?) sternly send them down the path following the road.

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Meanwhile, Joan and Diane get bonus points for choosing the True Pilgrim route up the mountain instead of the “Camino Lite,” which goes along the highway you see in the distance.  Click on the True Pilgrim link to see a comparison elevation map so you can see how high they are really traveling today.

During medieval times the “Camino Lite” that the rest of us took along the main highway was extremely dangerous with murderous thieves.  However, those that chose the “True Pilgrim” route faced a financial mugging, too.  The Castle Auctares stood on the exit from Trabadelo and the lords supported themselves by taxing (eg extorting) the Pilgrims until King Alonso VI put a stop to the practice in 1072. ~ Eric the expat.blogspot.com

Nobody messes with us since we are such a tough looking group.  It helps to look homeless.

The True Pilgrim route is marked as strenuous on the map and involves a steep, muddy path. The constant rain continues to dampen spirits, while temps are getting colder and it starts to feel like it could snow.

Joan_1dmvTurn around, Diane!!   You are missing the beautiful, panoramic view.

Listen carefully and you may hear Diane humming a song by the Carpenters:

I’m on the top of the world lookin’ down on creation… 

Meanwhile, Randy and I are shlepping our feet along in the rain on the lower route and the miles to Vega de Valcarce seem to go on and on.

A taxi goes by with a passenger violently waving at us.  Wonder what that’s about?

We continue to walk and walk and walk some more until we see a hotel.  Better turn the radio on and try to make contact.  Nothing…

O.K., we keep going for, what seems like, forever. We go through town and we appear to be leaving the village.  This must not be right; better go back.  The rain, blisters, and the walk begin to wear us down as it takes all of our effort to put each heavy, soaked. foot in front of the other.

We eventually make radio contact and discover the mountain path meets up with our path at Trabadelos.  Joan and Diane had found a taxi to take them from Trabadelos to Vega de Valcarce, since they were exhausted from being real pilgrims.  So that’s who was waving…  We live on the South Dakota border where EVERYONE waves, so we are accustomed to friendly motorists.

Good news ~ they have found an albergue.  Yay!!  We describe our location and Joan estimates that we need to walk about 15 more minutes. Hoping our home for the night would be just around the corner, 15 more minutes of walking seems like completing a marathon.  Fifteen more minutes?!!  N-O-O-O-O-O-O-O-O!!!!!

Randy and I drag in last to find a nice albergue with 10 bunk beds, nice showers,  heaters, a little fireplace heater and a bar/restaurant a few short feet away from our beds.  Plus, we have the whole place to ourselves.  Bueno! 

I don’t take any pictures tonight or grab a business card, but my research tells me we may be at Albergue La Mochila.

Let’s just say we will sleep in the bar tonight.

Camino Day 4 ~ Every rock has a story

It is  Camino day four and we are just leaving the hilly vineyard region past Cacabelos and discover a touching memorial along the side of the path.

Spain-1030606dmv Another pilgrim must have passed away near the vineyards.

Spain-1030606-2dmvI hope his daughter was able to finish the Camino and fulfilled his dream, as well as her own.

Spain-1030628dmvI don’t have many photos in Villafranca del Bierzo due to the constant rain, but I just can’t resist strolling ladies.

In the Middle Ages, the town of Villafranca del Bierzo is first mentioned in 791. The origin of the modern town is connected to the Way of St. James as a rest place for the pilgrims which started to reach  Santiago de Compostela from the 9th century.  ~Wikipedia

Spain-1030630dmvcrIf you want clean clothes you need to do the laundry, rain or shine. It is going to take some time to dry if the weather stays like this in Trabadelo, Spain.  The village is in the region of El Bierzo and Galician is spoken here.  It is still the province of Leon but we are getting closer to Galicia.

Spain-1030641Our Spanish is limited and her English is, too.  We still managed to have a wonderful conversation.

Spain-1030639She has to be one of the cutest ladies I’ve seen.  Her twinkling eyes and warm smile can sure brighten up a dreary day.  “Buen camino!”  are her parting words.

Spain-1030642dmvThe 17th century Parish Church of San Nicolas is in the background. This simple church contains a small seated image of the Virgin with Child dating from the Middle Ages.

Our gang is now traveling in three groups.  Kathy, Lori and Jane are together;  Randy and Joyce are bringing up the rear; but where are Joan and Diane?  Are they pursuing an alternative camino experience?  Are they sitting in a bar somewhere, too exhausted to go another step?  Have they been abducted?

Hmmm…

Camino Day 4: I walk slowly but I never walk backward.

Quote by Abraham Lincoln
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I literally crawl out of bed since my leg muscles are protesting the previous day’s events.  Steps are especially painful, but coffee gives me the incentive to go down the two flights of stairs to breakfast. We devour a filling breakfast of tostados, fresh squeezed orange juice, cafe Americano for me and a cafe con leche (with milk)  for Randy .

A 73 year old mother from Germany and her 2 daughters, who are also walking the Camino, were our breakfast companions this morning.  We share Camino experiences with each other since we feel so experienced having 3 full days under our belts.  We could have visited longer, but the day is not going to wait for us and the rest of the gang has left without us (Even Kathy with the bum knee is speedier than me!).  We strap on the backpacks and step outside.  Overcast but not raining.  O.K., …so far so good.

Spain-1030598dmvWe dodge puddles as we stroll down the quiet, Sunday morning streets of Cacabelos, Spain. The legs feel stiff and sore but seem to work just fine.

Spain-1030594dmvYour guess is as good as mine as to the meaning of this mural we see along the narrow street.  My guess is the gorilla in the upper left has something to do with evolution, Christ with the crown of thorns is in the lower right, and the soldier on top of the largest human could be Christians dominating the Moors.  What do you think?

Spain-1030596dmvWe remind ourselves to not get so wrapped up in the surroundings that we forget to follow the yellow arrows.  Follow the seashells…follow the yellow arrows.  All are determined to walk today so no taxi is needed.

Spain-1030599dmvThe plan is to meet the rest of the gang in Vega.  Too bad the town doesn’t have an “s” at the end of its name.  I could have had fun with that!

Spain-1030600dmvOn our way out-of-town we pass by a woman mopping and cleaning in front of a church.  It is Sunday so I don’t think anything of it since they probably have mass this morning.

Spain-1030601dmvActually, it’s an albergue.  Locals call Albergue de Peregrinos de la Augustina de Cacabelos  the Old Church, since the albergue was built around the church. Yes, around.  The rooms form a ring around the church, with a courtyard in between.  It has modern facilities including showers.  As nice as the heaters and cozy room were last night, it would be so cool to stay here.  Bonus points for only costing 5 Euro per person.  My socks and boots are dry right now, so I guess that means bonus points for  last night’s lodging, Hostal Gallega.

Spain-1030617dmvThe path turns to dirt and we enter wine country with the wet, muddy path winding through expansive vineyards.

Spain-1030609dmvcrAs I gaze across and ponder this panoramic view, I feel more of a desire to do the Camino de Santiago again someday…in September during grape harvest.

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Oh, no… it’s raining AGAIN!!   AARRGGHH!! 

At least today will be a shorter day than yesterday.  

Really?  Are you sure?  

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…