Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Jan 30, 2013 Portomarin to Palas de Rei: Another day closer

Heading out of Portomarin
As we we the only guests in our hotel, breakfast was a good, but solitary affair. We shuffled off to the Camino about 9:00. It was a warm cloudy morning that threatened rain. Temps were in the mid 50's and were not forecasted to move much from there. We kept our ponchos at the ready, but knowing that we had about 3 hours of climbing we opted to walk without them (at least for the moment). Robin and I felt good this morning and our pace reflected that. We climbed easily and steadily all morning arriving at Eirexe around 1:00. We found a bar open and stopped for lunch. Not surprisingly, there were a handful of other pilgrims there as well. Up until this point the rain had left us alone. Just as soon as I assured Robin we would make it to Palas de Rei without donning our ponchos the mist gathered and turned into rain.
Looking back downhill
No complaints as we had already completed most of our climbing for the day. It seems we got underway again around 1:30 and eventually walked into Palas de Rei, in steady moderate rain, at about 3:30. We found, I believe, the only pension (or any other alternative accommodation to the municipal albergue) open in town, the Pension Casa Curro. We booked in, and started drying things out. We will eat here as well and avoid dealing with rain any further (at least for today). Tomorrow the weather is forecast to dry out for a day, so our walk to Arzua should be in better conditions. So, at the end of this day we are another day closer to Santiago, and to the end of this journey. We plan to continue on to Finisterre, and Muxia. We also are considering walking the Camino Ingles from Ferrol to Santiago. We have enough time. Let's see how our energy holds up. As always, when Santiago draws close thoughts, invariably, turn to post Camino lives. We are not quite ready to let go, and hope that the walking we have planned beyond Santiago will provide a nice transition back to the world that will eventually reclaim us. How do we better reach accommodation with that world, and live in it, post pilgrimage, is a question many people consider. We honestly don't know. However, walking as pilgrims of faith we believe that the Holy Spirit is always at work, guiding our lives, so that wherever our life's journey takes us we eventually find our peace walking the Way home to God.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Jan 29, 2013 Sarria to Portomarin: Who would know?

Leaving Sarria

As it turned out we had eight in the albergue last night, 3 Spaniards, 2 Koreans, and 3 Americans. Tonight Robin and I are staying at the Hotel Posada de Portmarin, and are the only guests. It is a beautiful room, with a covered deck, and a great view. We are paying 55 Euros, breakfast included, for a double room. We have found that private double accommodation runs about 50 Euros (mas o menos). Breakfast is a variable, and might cost extra. We paid this in Triacastela for a very small room, and have paid about the same for ultra modern large rooms in new hotels. In general, I have been impressed with the value for hotel rooms in Spain.

We spent a moderately restful night at the albergue. The two young Korean guys both had those foil space blankets, which crinkled and crackled all night. These things might be great for a moon shot, but in an albergue with a heated floor, and very mild weather, what's the point. IMHO they are noisy and excessive for the Camino. Enough said. We bailed out of the albergue at 7:30 and walked up the street to a bar we knew would be open. Coffee, eggs, and toast fueled us for today's walk. We departed Sarria about 8:45, and headed west. It was an easy couple of kms and then we started climbing, nothing excessive, but more or less continuous for most of the day, until we started our descent into Portomarin.


The weather was fine and dry with partly cloudy skies, and temps around 43F. We enjoyed the cool freshness of the morning as body heat built up as we climbed. We spent a very enjoyable day in the Galician countryside passing through rural villages and enjoying picture perfect pastoral scenes as the kilometers slipped by. We pulled over for lunch at a bar in a hamlet named Ferrerios. There were some other pilgrims already there enjoying lunch. We ordered Caldo Gallego soup, and coffee. It was wonderful. I have to admit that I have developed a penchant for the occasional carrajillo. So, today I ordered one and got a chemistry lesson as well. Usually the process involves making a shot of espresso and then adding in the rocket fuel.

Cooking the rocket fuel

In this bar the process was a bit more substantial. As I was picking up Robin's coffee I saw a fairly large container (8-12 ozs.) aflame on the bar. I had seen this done once before at Foncebadon, but this portion seemed a bit much for one person. I held back and enjoyed the blue flame flickering atop the metal pot. The lady at the bar indicated that my drink would take about ten minutes. I have also discovered that, in some cases, the rocket fuel portion of the drink would be better left to rockets. The trick apparently is that if the alcoholic beverage is a bit too potent (I don't know what official body makes this call) you pour it into a fireproof container and set it on fire. After a carefully measured period of time the alcohol content, now reduced due by the inferno, is deemed fit for human consumption. Who would know? In any event when a large coffee cup was set in front of me, holding a small shot of espresso, I thought well, perhaps they ran out of small cups, but no. The bar lady then whipped around with the towering inferno and topped off the cup. Okay, she is putting me to the test. I nodded my satisfaction and thought there must be six ounces of, who knows what in there, along with a lonely ounce of coffee. I tackled the soup and sipped my carrajillo. When we finally settled up there was still 5 ozs left. Lesson learned, beware of the fire pot.

Having narrowly avoided the necessity of a stretcher service, Robin and I, set out for the last couple of hours of our walk. It turned out to be a wonderful conclusion to a beautiful day. I had forgotten how scenic this stage is. Using last night's space blanket attack as a rationale, we sought a room at a local hotel, and discovered that they had a room, but they had this renovation work going on. The lady at the reception assured us that the work work would stop for the day at 7:00, so we became their sole guests for tonight. So far, no problems. One oddity worth mentioning was I noticed that the water supply to the toilet was hot water, not cold. When I mentioned this to the lady who checked us in she said it was better for the winter. Who could disagree, and off we went to dinner, secretly wondering about a toilet that actually steams when flushed. What other wonders shall we encounter on this amazing journey. Stay tuned.


Monday, January 28, 2013

Jan 28, 2013 Triacastela to Sarria: What a difference a day makes

Climbing out of Triacastela

We spent last night at the Casa David, a pension in Triacastela. We needed a washer, dryer and a chance to dry everything out (that means heat). The town was quiet with only three pilgrims, Robin and I, and James, from New York. He opted for the pension as well. When we walked past the municipal albergue it looked very quiet (make that empty). A interesting note was that the municipal albergue here in Sarria had 24 pilgrims registered yesterday. We know that there were not that many pilgrims ahead of us so I am estimating that about half those people were starting from Sarria. This is not breaking news, but it might be worth noting that weekends in Sarria are probably very popular start days for Spaniards as they wrap the weekend into their Camino plans. So far today, Robin and I are the only pilgrims at the municipal albergue, but that will surely change.

Robin still climbing

But, back to today's walk. As the post title suggests today was a much better day. For a start it was dry. We pushed away from our coffee and tostadas, settled the bill, and set out for Sarria. It was 9:15, 40 F, and cloudy. The last time we passed this way we walked via Samos. Today we took the more direct route to Sarria (18 kms). Leaving Triacastela we very soon were climbing. I quickly peeled off my jacket and was comfortable climbing in a t shirt and mid weight base layer. A hour later we were at San Xil, thanking God for the dry, mild, weather. We kept on, crested the summit and then carefully negotiated the descent. We kept looking for places where we might stop for a coffee break, but none were open.

From whence we came

So, Robin and I, and a bar of chocolate walked straight thought to Sarria, arriving at the municipal albergue at about 1:45. We were tired, but elated to be this close to Santiago. Even though we walked without a break, we enjoyed the scenery, and marveled at Camino life without drenching rain. During the second half of today's walk the sun beat back the clouds, and nudged temperatures to the mid 50's. I can't describe this parallel universe we have found ourselves in, but it is as close to heaven as we might hope to find today. We are finishing our lunch at the Meson O Tapas bar, and will use their WiFi to send this post (a little later on). We're finding that WiFi availability is much more widespread than two years ago. I don't see anyone using those coin operated Internet computers that were in high demand the last time we walked in 2010. We are using an iPad mini for all our posting and it is working out just fine. I also use Blogsy, for creating and editing posts. Blogger just doesn't make it as a stand alone blogging app. The balance of today will be devoted to cleaning up, going to 7:30 pm mass, and then catching dinner after that. It is a simple life that we have slipped into for these past several weeks. It has not always been an easy journey (beware of those who tell you it is), but it certainly is always a transforming experience.

Camino path blockage...backtrack
Sarria in the distance


Sunday, January 27, 2013

Jan 27, 2013 O'Cebreiro to Triacastela: Waterworld

Leaving the albergue

The albergue was quiet last night, only four of us, and the hospitalero did not try to rush us out at 8:00, so our day began rather leisurely as we gathered our gear and waited for daylight. We finally got out the door at 9:15. The weather was going to be an issue today, and early indications of rain proved more than accurate. We left with our ponchos on, in what might be considered heavy mist, and fog. The wind at the moment was leaving us alone (but not for long). We set out to walk the road to Alto do Poio, 8.8 kms away. Our plan was to stop there for something to eat, and check the on condition of he Camino path to see if we should join it or stay on the road. Off we went into the mists. Very shortly we could hear the wind raking the ridges above us, but for some topographic quirk the wind couldn't locate us, at least not yet. We pushed on towards our break point, as the rain and wind finally found us. Today was a thoroughly miserable day, full stop. The winds settled into a pattern of 30-35 mph and thank God swung into the south to southwest. This allowed us to take the brunt of today's weather on our left side instead of head on. The rain went from moderate to heavy, and stayed there. As we dropped down in altitude, the snow gradually dissipated, but the rain and wind held steady. We carried on to Biduedo where we had a chance to rejoin the Camino path. We were constantly being rocked off our feet with the gusting winds. We were tired, wet, and dreaming of a hot shower in Triacastela. We decided that we were far enough below the snow level to chance walking the Camino again. We peeled off the road and started down the Camino once again. Very soon we realized that the road still might have been a better option. We dropped down through the snow line, expecting easier going, but to our dismay our world became a study in watercourses. Welcome to Galicia. Suffice it to say, it rained and rained and the water flowed and flowed. We slowly, ever so slowly, made our way carefully down the Camino towards Triacastela. The sounds of moving water dominated everything. Water was flowing down from every imaginable source, merging with other streams, creating deltas, waterfalls, diversions, all things liquid. We splashed, squished, rock hopped, and occasionally plunged our way down the Camino and finally, totally sodden, arrived in Triacastela. Once again, it was a reasonably short day mileage wise (21 kms), but the physical exertion required was disproportionate to the distance covered. We have completed our ablutions, done the laundry, got everything dried, and with a bit of late lunch and the assistance of a bottle of wine, the weather is finally improving (actually I think it is still raining). We are bedded down at the pension Casa David, and licking our wounds after a very challenging day. Off to Sarria tomorrow. Robin assures me that the weather will improve. Peace at last. Eyes are now drooping and the engine is losing steam. Sleep time once gain. A luego.

P.S. Sorry for the lack of photos today, but we were pretty much rigged for heavy weather all day long.


Jan 26, 2013 Villafranca to O'Cebreiro: An opportune weather window

Leaving Villafranca

We checked the weather at breakfast in Villafranca, and much to our surprise saw a high at O'Cebreiro of 50 F, and no rain. We filed that away, and set about getting prepared for today's walk. Ruitelan was our destination for now. We eased out the door of our hotel at 9:00 into quiet (dry) streets, and blue sky. The temp was 40F. We ran into a French couple we met at Foncebadon as we crossed the bridge out of town. It seems as though there are a lot of towns, cities, on the Camino where bridges are involved in exiting. We always enjoy starting a day in dry, clear conditions. Today was no exception. Our step was a little quicker and the world just seemed right (at least for us). We made our way up the Valcarce river valley following the road in and out of a variety of villages, enjoying the good weather and an occasional coffee here and there. We kept a good pace and arrived in Ruitelan at about 1:30. Robin and I looked at each other, and considering rain was a done deal for tomorrow, we decided to push on for the summit 10 kms away.

We felt strong and moved easily amongst the villages that lead you to the steep part of the ascent. We made the turn and started the steep climb at 2:15. The heavy snow of a couple of days ago was long gone at this elevation. We pushed on thankful for dry ground and good footing. Up we went, not like a rocket, but making good steady progress. At La Faba we talked to a German girl who said the Camino was impassible just yesterday, due to snow drifts. Today's warm weather helped clear the path, but not entirely. As we pushed past La Faba, en route to the small hamlet of Laguna de Castilla (2.5 kms from O'Cebreiro, the summit), we encountered thigh deep wet snow drifts that clogged the Camino. At this point we were committed, and slowly tried to find bottom in the deep snow. This made for very slow going and deeply carved into our energy reserves that were dropping as the long climb continued. We would go for 25 yards in deep snow and then find some bare dirt. We continued in and out of these drifts until we could almost touch Laguna. At this point there was about 75 yards of the wet deep stuff and we had had enough. Robin spotted a break that led into a bare pasture. We went for that, scampering over stone walls, to get free from the snow. This diversion dropped us off directly onto a clear path to Laguna. We gave thanks for this and slogged on.

The plot thickened

As we moved out of Laguna it became immediately clear that the Camino path was still clogged with snow. Fortuitously a paved road from Laguna to the top had been previously plowed and was now bare pavement. We could see that it parallel the Camino to the top. No further discussion, we were off. We still had 2.5 kms to go but the bare pavement lifted our spirits and carried us to the top where we arrived at 4:00. We were not prepared for what we saw. The recent heavy snow, and now cleared roads, had brought out hundreds of families with kids to play in the snow. O'Cebreiro looked like Times Square at New Years. The streets were all jammed with cars parked in any place they could find, the open fields were transformed into winter playgrounds, and the tiny village was simply stuffed with people looking for a away to enjoy Saturday in the snow. Robin and I walked into the midst of this after a 30 km climb, looking not unlike a casting call for an apocalypse movie, and numbly made our way through the crowds to the junta albergue. After a shower, a semblance of humanity surfaced. We went to mass at O'Cebreiro's beautiful Catholic Church, Santa Maria Real. The priest spotted us as pilgrims, and nipped back to the sacristy for a pilgrim blessing just before the closing prayer. Exhausted, starved, but full, of God's grace. We left the church, thankful for all that we were able to do not only today, but throughout this Camino. We were on autopilot as we made our way to a bar that had advertised caldo Gallego, a wonderful Galician soup. As we walks in a local folk group was whipping up the crowd with bagpipes and drums. The Celtic influence in Galicia is significant. Robin and I had a very hearty meal, a bottle of wine, and a shot of Pacharan, and eased back across the snow and ice to the albergue. There are two other guys here, a slow night, but good for sleeping. We are off, down the mountain, to Triacastela tomorrow 21kms away. Sleep time. Zzzzzzzzzz. What a day.

Traffic in Ruitelan
Beam me up
Robin still on medications?
The road to the top
The top at last


Friday, January 25, 2013

Jan 25, 2013 Ponferrada to Villafranca del Bierzo: Aching legs and low hanging mist

Leaving Ponferrada

Today was not supposed to be a very hard day, about 22 kms. There were a few hills to climb, but nothing serious. Our early morning weather check in Ponferrada revealed damp, but not wet streets. Rain was in the forecast, but none was falling. We enjoyed our hotel stay and set off for Villafranca about 8:30. The morning temps were around 40F (and never got above 45F). Robin and I both had hard shell jackets on over t shirts, and mid weight base layers. Once we had walked a few blocks I shed my jacket. I had my poncho at the ready, but the mist never quite got heavy enough for me to put it on. Robin swapped out her hard shell for her poncho and wore it all day. I have found that unless it is actually raining, by that I mean steady rain not occasional sprinkles, I prefer having air flow and walk without my poncho. Exertion in the poncho (at least in the Altus poncho) causes as much dampness as a good bit of mist without it. So that's my take on that. Our packs have waterproof liners so the mist doesn't cause a problem with our gear. The t shirts and base layers both dry very quickly so I never felt chilled. So from Ponferrada we plugged along stopping for coffee at Fuentes Nuevas, a snack at Componaraya, and another coffee and pincho at Cacabelos.

Gray day

We kept a steady pace, but walked a little more slowly as our legs kept reminding us of yesterday's long descent from Cruz de Ferro. Our sore legs seemed to have added another 10 kms today's walk. On the plus side, the rain held off until we were walking through the streets of Villafranca, at about 3:00. Perfect timing. We have opted for another hotel stay, and have found a room at the Hotel Las Donas del Portazgo, which is on the Camino, quite close to the bridge leading out of town. Very nice. Tomorrow we will stay in Ruitelan, and O'Cebreiro after that. We took two days to do this stage on our previous Camino, and found that worked quite well. Aside from sore legs, no other issues. We are doing fine, and are looking forward to entering Galicia on Sunday. I am not sure of available WiFi for the next couple of days, but we will update our blog asap. Bye for now.


Arrival Villafranca


Thursday, January 24, 2013

Jan 24, 2013 Foncebadon to Ponferrada: Deliverance from the storm

Last night at Monte Irago was great fun. Walking into that peaceful haven in the gathering gloom of a winter's storm was blessing enough, but more was yet to follow. We all performed the usual daily pilgrim rituals and then gathered by the fireplace for a couple of glasses of wine. Filipe, our hospitalero, was preparing dinner. Robin showed him a picture, from two years ago, of us and him at this very albergue. He was very happy to have us back. Our crew for the night are a French couple who have been walking from Le Puy, a German, and James, the American we me at Rabanal. Filipe also has an Austrian girl helping out, as well as David, a delightful Spaniard from Toledo.

We eased into dinner and then the discussion turned to orujo, Spanish grappa. Felipe prepared a nightcap for us all using orujo blanco, lemon, apple, and coffee beans. He put this mixture in a saucepan and set it alight. He burned off about half the alcohol in the normal orujo blanco, and pronounced it ready for consumption. He then ladled his handiwork into the awaiting glasses. It had a wonderfully unique flavor and still enough punch to ensure a quiet night's sleep.

We all seemed to choose 7:30 as a wake up time. The dormitory lights went on and all hands started preparations for today's walk. Filipe is a yogi and encourages pilgrims to join him in his morning practice. So Robin, James, and I joined Filipe and his staff for an hour of yoga stretches. This put us a bit behind our normal departure time, but it was worth it. My body needs some serious loosening up in the morning. It was great way to prepare for our day which still loomed ahead of us. I couldn't help but notice the wind working over the mountain top as we stretched in the albergue attic.

Departing Foncebadon

At 9:30 we made our goodbyes and reluctantly stepped out into the freezing cold. A few shards of blue sky amongst the predominant gray encouraged us as we made our way back through the alley we had entered the night before, and out onto the road to Ponferrada. Temps were in the upper 20's but the 30-35 mph headwinds dropped the windchill even more. Cruz del Ferro, the highest point on the Camino, was 2 kms away. We inched our way upward, carefully searching for traction in the ice and snow. We crested Cruz del Ferro in a rare patch of blue, added our offerings and prayers, and moved on anxious to get off the mountain, and into better weather. Fortunately, snow plows were now on the road and that made our work a lot easier. Two hours after leaving Cruz del Ferro, Robin and I were having lunch at a bar in Acebo, the first village down from the top as you head westward. We were thrilled with the improving weather. Fueled with lunch, we set out to continue the long walk down the roadway to Ponferrada. A couple of kilometers later we descended through the cloud deck into brilliant sunshine, and spectacular views all the way down to Ponferrada still many hours walking ahead. The rest of the day was spent descending in glorious weather. We stopped in Molinaseca for a coffee and then pushed on to Ponferrada. We arrived safely and are luxuriating at the Hotel Aroi Bierzo Plaza. All is well. It was a long tiring day but we are now safely off the mountain. Only one more mountain to go. More tomorrow from Villafranca del Bierzo, the launch pad for our climb over O'Cebreiro, the gateway to the hills of Galicia, and to Santiago de Compostela that patiently awaits us.

Cruz del Ferro
The road to Ponferrada
Just emerging from the cloud deck


Robin going for a stretch
Ponferrada in the distance
Looking better from down here
On the way down to Molinaseca


Jan 23, 2013 Castrillo to Foncebadon: A true winter's day

We had a good rest at our Casa Rural in Castrillo. Shortly after rising we glanced out to check the weather, just as a heavy snow shower was unloading over Castrillo. Well, we thought, this is going to be a fun day. When we went out the door at about 9:30, the sun was peaking through and the snow had stopped. Or first stop was at Santa Catalina, for a coffee (make that a carrajillo). This was only about 2.5 kms away. We started out on the Camino our boots crunching with each footfall in the 4-5 inches of dry snow as we negotiated the easy climb to Santa Catalina. After our beak there we pushed off for Rabanal, where we thought we might spend the night.

The weather was always threatening, but the snow hung well off in the distance veiling the hills we were walking towards. We walked mostly on the Camino path at first, then later in the day we were forced onto the road due to heavy snow drifts. We moved fairly well over the uneven terrain. Robin broke trail and I tucked into her slipstream as the morning slid by. As we approached El Ganso the wind was having its way with the open fields. Little cyclones whirled about in the fields bordering the Camino gathering light snow into stinging clouds that lashed us eventually giving up their harvest into the awaiting arms of swaying campos scrub to leeward. And so it went through the morning and the early afternoon. We overtook a peleton of pilgrims inching towards Rabanal as the snow finally found us. We gingerly made our way up the main street in Rabanal searching for safe footing in 1 1/2 feet of snow that had drifted in the street. We stopped for lunch and met up with another American, James, who was heading to Foncebadon, the next village 6 kms to the west. The weather looked reasonable, and we had enough daylight so Robin and I decided to join him. We set out climbing steadily into a rising wind, darkening sky and more snow. The Camino was out of the question as snow was thigh deep. We walked the road which was only partly plowed. It was slow going as we slip slided our way up the road.

We arrived at the albergue Monte Irago in Foncebadon at 4:15 under conditions that could best be described as menacing. The road into town was buried under thigh deep snow so we carried on a bit more and found a side alley, that had avoided the majority of the drifting. We squeezed through winding up close to the front door of the albergue. We are now cozy and warm, the gathering menace is now held at bay (at least for the moment). This has been a very challenging day and we are very aware, and thankful, for all God's blessings that have led us to this safe mountain refuge. BTW, a nice vino tinto is now being served. All is well. Tomorrow is anyone's guess. We shall just have to wait and see what the weather decides to do. At the very best we might be able to continue walking the road off the mountain and down Into Molinaseca. If we can do that it will be another long tiring day. Robin, did extremely well today as we reenacted scenes from the movie Lost Horizon. This is new and somewhat scary weather for us on this Camino. Robin has shown amazing resiliency and courage as we shouldered our way through gusty adverse winds and heavy snow. Que valiente! Even as we are safe and joyous inside Monte Irago, arcs of soft yellow fire light continue to fan out, through snow shadowed windows, probing the gathering darkness, a beacon to those few others, on this lonely part of the Camino, seeking shelter from the storm.

On the road to Foncebadon
Robin probing a drift outside of Foncebadon