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 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?  

The Road is Long…

The road is long
With many a winding turn
That leads us to who knows where
Who knows when…     ~ Rufus Wainwright

Thus, begins day 3 of the Camino de Santiago.

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Although the day begins with pleasant weather, the path is not so pleasant.  Not only is it a steep descent, it is extremely rocky and water is running across the trail in several areas.  At one point I lose my footing and land smack dab on my back.  Luckily, the backpack makes a wonderful cushion and the fall on the wet, rocky path is not painful.  Getting up isn’t a pretty sight, but I eventually make it to an upright position.  O.K., let’s try this again.  It was challenging enough to stay upright so the photo above is borrowed from another blog site (Thank you diegoapereda.wordpress.com), but it shows how rocky the path is this morning.  Now just imagine cooler temps with rushing water running though the wet, slippery rocks.

Spain-1030522dmvThe path improves and we stay to the left just as the Way marker says.  We pass a dead sheep that my experienced sheep farmer husband determined had recently died.  This is a long stretch of downhill mountain road.

Spain-1030524dmvTaxi?  Call Luis.  You can find his number on signs, benches or whatever was handy to write on.  We did see a taxi go up the mountain and later saw it go back down with hands waving at us.  Hmmm… Do we know you?

Spain-1030531dmvThe path finally arrives at Molinaseca which is in the region of El Bierzo and still the province of Leon.  The steeple is San Nicolás church and was built in the 17th century.

Spain-1030535dmvWe pass many gardens and flowering trees on our way into town.

Spain-1030543dmvThe creek is rapidly flowing today as we cross an old, Roman bridge.

Spain-1030548dmvAseos, por fa vor?  A-a-a-a-h-h-h…  Gracias!  Bathroom stop and we purchase bread, nuts and water for the road at a shop in Molinaseca

Molinaseca_puente_romanoAs early as the Roman era Molinaseca served as a checkpoint on the way to the gold mines. ~ urcamino.com 

Spain-1030557dmvWe leave Molinaseca and find flowering trees and new growth of grass that appear to be nudging the vineyard out of its winter slumber.

Spain-1030563kpWe pass a memorial to a former pilgrim.  This man would have been 78 when he died.  I’m assuming he met his demise while at this spot on the Way of St. James.  He almost made it to Ponferrada.

Ponferrada lies on the Sil River, a tributary of the river Miño, in the El Bierzo valley, completely surrounded by mountains. It is the last major town along the French route of the Way of St. James (Camino de Santiago) before it reaches its destination of Santiago.  ~ Wikipedia.  Yup, surrounded by mountains.  They aren’t kidding, either!

It is generally cloudy now as we approach the outskirts of town and we turn the 2 way radios on.  Hot Cross Buns to Joan…  Do you read me?  (Pause… blip…)  Hola!  We hear the welcome reply and they are waiting for us in the town plaza.  Hooray for the radios!!

Spain-1030572dmvcrWe find many gardeners out today as we continue on through town.

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We cross another old Roman-style bridge as we enter into the busy city of Ponferrada.

See the steeple in the distance on the left side of the photo above?  We assume that is where Joan and Kathy are perched as they wait for our happy feet to approach the plaza.

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We continue on through the narrow streets as we get closer to the city center.

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Kids are kids the world around ~ always curious and will play with whatever is available.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe first records of Ponferrada are as a former citadel in Roman times. From the 11th century, the rise in pilgrimages to Santiago de Compostela spurred the appearance of the hamlet of Pons Ferrata, located on the Pilgrim’s Route to Santiago de Compostela and named in this way because of the building of a bridge reinforced with iron. In 1178, the King Fernando II of León placed this flourishing settlement under the custody of the Order of the Temple. The Knights Templar used the site of a primitive Roman fortress to build a castle in which they settled and which, at the same time, protected the passing pilgrims. This favored demographic growth and led to the commercial development of the area. ~ http://www.spain.info

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I notice that Joan is clutching the 2 way radio.  What a slick way of communication on the trail and she does NOT want to lose the radio.

Spain-1030588dmvJane, a member of our group with an interesting Boston accent, is ordering a lunch-time snack. Being  a native of Minnesota  (pronounced Min ~ uh ~ soh ~ Duh), I just love listening to her speak.  She is the Energizer Bunny of the group because she can just go and go and go without seeming tired, while the rest of us are ready to drop from exhaustion.  A wealth of information is stored inside her head and she was the one that alerted me to the historic importance of the Knights Templar to the Camino de Santiago.

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The clock says 12:36 p.m. and we have a lot of ground left to cover today.  Kathy is determined to NOT let the trail beat her so she is hoisting the backpack onto her back and it feels like an old friend.  Down the path we go, and Randy and the Hot Cross Buns are all pedestrians again.  Destination is Cacabalos which is another 15 kilometers.

Click, Click, Click… our sticks resume their rhythmic cadence.

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.

It’s Photo Friday ~ Panasonic Lumix FZ 150 Review

My (new to me) travel camera purchased on Ebay was put to the big test the past couple of weeks.   Panasonic Lumix FZ 150 with 24x optical zoom and image stabilization.  I found the controls and features easy and quick to access with dials and buttons right on the camera.  No fumbling deep into the menu to change settings.  I was able to switch between aperture priority, shutter priority and manual quickly and efficiently.  Its compact size made it easy to pack and carry in a fanny pack even with carrying a 16 pound backpack. It handled cold, wet conditions well and the battery was long-lasting even with heavy use. I was able to shoot in raw format and was pleased with the noise level of images at 3200 ISO which is the highest ISO of this camera. Image stabilization worked well as I had sharp images even down to 1/20 of a second, hand held, while zoomed in.   I’d recommend this camera to anyone looking for a good travel camera with professional features.

Eye above the altar in the Santiago Cathedral.

Eye above the altar in the Santiago Cathedral.

Above image shot at 3200 ISO / Aperture 3.8 / Shutter 1/320 of a second.

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The above image of the nun leading singing during the Pigrims’ Mass was shot at 1600 ISO / Aperture 3.5 / Shutter 1/20 of a second.

Birds nesting at the top of a church in Segovia, Spain.

Birds nesting at the top of a church in Segovia, Spain.

Birds nesting in the above image really tested the zoom and image stabilization.  I was fully zoomed to the 24x .  Shot at 200 ISO / Aperture 6.3 / Shutter 1/1600 of a second.

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Completed 130 miles of the Camino de Santiago (135 if you count detours!) and this image was taken at the end of our walking/hiking experience. March is a cold, rainy month to attempt the Camino but that was the time that worked out with our occupations. Wonderful experience since we were able to meet people from all around the world tackling this amazing journey in a parallel realm.  A huge thank you goes out to my sister, the travel organizer extraordinaire.