Day 5 Pictures: Ponferrada

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Journal Day 4: Rabanal

Pilgrims en route to Rabanal27 May 2013
21.4 km – 13.3 miles

Actually slept through the night last night, and slept in a bit this morning.

Note: I am actually curious as to what time I “slept in” until, since I can’t remember at this point.  I have a picture (taken as I am leaving Astorga) that is time stamped for 7:00 am. Which means, I had to be up by 6:00 am, because I had breakfast that morning and it took me an hour to get out pretty much every morning, so…… I MUST have awoken earlier than 6:00 am.  And how that constitutes for sleeping in, I do not know.  OR the time stamp on my camera was lying. OR I must have been really tired when I was writing in my journal in Rabanal. End note.
 

 Breakfast was great!  Toast, fruit, little packaged pastries, cereal, juice, coffee, and all for only €3!  I ate my fill and grabbed a pastry and a piece of fruit for the road.

The morning was cool and a little overcast, but no rain.  Lots of us pilgrims started out together, and we were spread out along the road out of Astorga. I also saw a lot of runners out for their morning run.  I missed running.  I made a mental note to try and start up again once I recovered from my Camino.

Today’s goal was to try for Foncebadon. Last night Alison and Marishka talked about adjusting the stopping points to even out the daily distances a bit better.  Some days would be longer and some shorter, but the goal was to try and eliminate some of the 18 and 19 mile days.  This sounded wonderful to me, so I thought I would give it a try.  Even if it meant that today’s distance would be a bit longer.

The towns with cafe’s were a little further apart, so I made a point of stopping to grab a quick snack to try and keep the energy up and to give the feet a little rest.

As the day progressed, this routine certainly helped with the energy, but only a little with the feet, and I did not make it to Foncebadon.

Today’s walk was quite nice.  The weather was sunny and warm with a light breeze.  The breeze was nice, since there was very little cover for shade.  The elevation chart in the guidebook shows that the walk was all uphill, but the incline was so gradual, it was hardly noticeable.  The pathways were mostly dirt, which was nice for my feet.  One section was rough with a lot of rocks, but it was short.  I was grateful for my walking poles.

As I came upon Rabanal, my feet were begging me to stop.  The town looked cute and quaint, and I read that there was an albergue run by English speakers.  How could I not stop?

I ran in to Cody (one of the Missouri kids) on my way in to town, and was very confused how he could have beat me there.  I remembered pretty clearly leaving Astorga before them, and was pretty sure I would have seen them pass me.

“We took a taxi,” he told me.  Becca’s foot was still giving her problems, so he joined her on the taxi ride to Rabanal.

The group was also (and again) staying in the same albergue I was, and Becca and I chatted as we waited in line for the albergue worker to check us in.

The albergue Gaucelmo, run by the London based Confraternity of St. James, offered basic amenities, but they had a huge beautiful backyard and an herb garden.  One of the workers was even a woman from Portland, OR!  She, too, chatted with Becca and I while we waited in line.  Another gentleman was the albergue blister doctor, and helped a long line of folks with their blisters.  A third guy led a group of us in some stretching exercises, which felt delicious.  Those of us who attended swore we would do this every morning for the rest of our Camino.

Note: hahahahahahahahahahaha!  yeah…that didn’t happen. End note.
 

In the afternoon, tapas and wine were provided and everyone in the albergue snacked and chatted with each other. Sharing stories and enjoying each others company.  I actually somehow missed this.  I don’t know why I did, and I don’t know where I was.  Rabanal is a bit of a fog.  I think I remember being really tired.

I can’t remember when I met them, but I did meet the nicest couple from New Jersey.  They were walking the Camino to celebrate their 35th wedding anniversary.  They were adorable.  It was wonderful to see a couple enjoy each other the way they did.  While they were walking the Camino, their son was also hiking the Appelachian trail, and they were looking forward to comparing stories with him when they got home.  Sadly, I never saw them again after Rabanal.  I would have loved to see them again once more, though, to chat with them again.

The Missouri kids enfolded me in to their group, and I was grateful for their friendliness and company.  I liked these kids.  They invited me to join them for dinner again, which was going to be pizza at one of the town’s small bars.  However, when we arrived we discovered that the pizza was basically a frozen store bought pizza cooked in the microwave.

This would not do.

I was starving, and needed some real sustenance.  I graciously thanked the group for the invite, but stated that I would look for another place for dinner.

Frozen microwave cooked pizza, apparently wasn’t appetizing for Chris, the group’s leader, so he asked if he could join me for dinner.  I was exhausted and let him know up front that I was not going to be good for much conversation, but he was welcome to join me.

Thankfully he was fine with that.

We found a restaurant across from the albergue, and wrote in our journals while waiting for our food.  We did some light chatting during dinner though.

After dinner, while walking back to the albergue, I could see that the weather was starting to cool and change.  The sky was cloudy and showing signs of rain.  I hoped it wouldn’t rain the following day.  I was enjoying the sunny weather.

The next day was a 26 km/16 mi day.  I seriously considered not walking the full way.  The feet had spoken, and they seemed to prefer the 13 mile distance.

Check out the pictures from Day 4!

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Day 4 Pictures: Rabanal

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Journal Day 3: Astorga

Cruceiro de Santo Toribio26 May 2013
31.2 km – 19.4 ml

Oh, thank goodness, I was able to get a decent amount of sleep the night before.  Since there were only 4 of us, the room was much quieter.   Although I still woke up every few hours, the sleep in between that time was good.  Our little room seemed to be the first up at 5:30, so we had the bathroom all to ourselves. (We shared it with two other rooms, which also held about 4 people each.)

The Swiss woman and the Canadian siblings were up, dressed, packed, and ready to go at a speed that would impress any Indy 500 pit crew. I reassure myself that I was a Camino newbie, and would soon be able to pack and be ready to go just as quickly.

(ha! ha! ha! ha! ha! ha! ha! Oh how young and naive I was.)
 

I snacked on a muffin and a banana before heading out, and was on the road by about 6:40 am.

It was a beautiful morning!  The sun was just starting to rise, the moon was still high in the sky, and the birds were singing their morning songs.

This day was a long day.  19.4 miles.  All I was concerned about (at this stage of the day) was getting to Astorga in time to get a bed.  (By the end of the day, this will change to being able to walk in to the city, and not crawl in on my hands and knees.)

According to my guidebook, there were no cafe’s in the first 9.6 kilometers of this part of the walk, but it was saying that there was a small cafe in the town of Villavante.

This was a terrible lie.

(Or maybe I just missed it?  Nah.)
 

Upon reaching the town of Villavante, the first conundrum of directionality was faced.  According to the book, and some confusing yellow arrows that were drawn and then x’d out, I was supposed to wind my way through the town where I would come across said cafe.

Or I could go straight, on the same dirt path I had been walking on.

There were other pilgrims who were walking on the dirt path, and they seemed to be going the right way.  But what if this path only looked like it was part of the Camino?  Would I be taking some fantastical detour that would lead me far off path?

(No, I would do that later on another day.  Story to be told then.)

I stood there for a few minutes trying to figure out what to do, when a mother and son came up, and found themselves in the same position.

I heard them talk to each other (in English) about what to do, and since I could communicate intelligently with them, I offered my thoughts.

We all decided to follow the book and walk through the town, with the hopes of finding the cafe to have a coffee.

As we made our way through the town we talked and got to know each other a bit. Their names were Thayer and Jono. They were from New York, and they too started their Camino in León.  Jono, was a senior at Louisiana State, studying History. Thayer worked as an administrator for her church.  She had known about the Camino for years and had always wanted to do it, so she invited her son along, and here they were.

(These two would become what I call my “constants”.  We kept a similar pace and followed the same schedule.  Although we didn’t walk together very much, we would see each other at cafe stops, and stay in the same towns all along the Camino. We would always stop to chat when we saw each other, occasionally sharing a meal or coffee. The few times where we didn’t see each other for a few days, when we did encounter each other, it was a joyous reunion. It was a small comfort whenever I saw them. My constants.) 

(And now they know. Dear Thayer and Jono – I hope this isn’t horribly creepy.)

As we wound our way through Villavante, we did NOT find our cafe.  I silently questioned whether or not anyone even lived in this town.  It was quiet, and no one was around except for the group of Missouri kids I met in Mazarife. Eventually we rejoined the dirt path we were on before.

It was only 4.5 kilometers to the next town of Hospital de Órbigo, which seemed to have plenty of cafe’s (according to the book anyway), so Jono and I sadly held out a little longer for our morning coffee.

The time passed quickly as I talked and walked with my new friends, and before we knew it we arrived at Hospital de Órbigo.  We stopped at the first cafe, and ran in to the Canadian brother, Steve, whom Thayer and Jono also knew. As we were enjoying our coffee and pastries, Chris, Hanna, and Cody (the Missouri kids) arrived, and joined us in our morning break.  Chris came over and asked if I could help him find a bus for Becca, one of their teammates, who was suffering horribly from a hurt foot and couldn’t walk.

Thrilled to help and practice some Spanish, I went over to the cafe owner and asked if there were any buses that went to Astorga.  The owner replied that since it was Sunday, there were no buses, but we could call a taxi.

The owner’s wife happily volunteered to call the taxi service for us, and with a short 15 – 20 minute wait, Becca would be on her way.

Thayer, Jono, and Steve all went on their way, and I chose to stick around until Becca left. Just to be sure nothing else was needed.  I enjoyed hanging out and talking with the Missouri kids.  The guys were perfect gentlemen, and the girls were innocent and sweet.  Their youthful company was fun to be around.

When the taxi came for Becca and Cody (he was a Nursing major and wanted to stick close to help her out), nothing else was needed from me, so I went on my way, crossing the well preserved medieval bridge, Puente de Órbigo.

The trail from here to Astorga was a mix of road and dirt. I walked through small towns, cow farms, and open countryside.  The weather was warm and sunny and glorious.  It had rained A LOT the last few months in Santiago, and I was loving the warm sunshine.

For about 6.6 kilometers there was nothing but countryside, farmland, rocks, and The Cantina.

The Cantina is a random, middle of nowhere stop, run by an Italian(?) gentleman who lives on this small patch of land and provides simple food and beverage for the pilgrims who walk by.  This is his call in life.  He seems to live off of the donations and the land, and loved meeting every pilgrim.  I do not know how long this guy has been there, but the food and beverage he provided was a wonderful break.

Physically, I was feeling good until I hit the long stretch that started at Santibanez de Valdeiglesia.  From there on out, my body and feet reminded me (quite clearly and loudly) just how old and out of shape I was.

The good news was that nothing was crippling, but my sore feet and calf muscle pains were enough to make the rest of the journey not so fun.  By the time I was just outside Astorga, I was literally hobbling, chanting, and praying, “Just a little farther, you can make it, one foot in front of the other.  God…please help me get there.  Just get me there.”

When I arrived in Astorga, I wound my way through the city to my albergue, San Javier. I also happily discovered that the Missouri kids, Thayer, and Jono were staying here too.  I was placed in a medium sized all female room, promptly took my shower, and washed my clothes before heading out to find something to eat.

Of course, it was Sunday and around siesta time, so there weren’t many restaurants open, and the cafe’s were only serving beverages.  I grabbed a coffee and delicious pastry and sat in the square until it was time for the restaurants to open.

Then the rains came.  You could see each droplet as it fell on the stone plaza.  I felt sorry for any pilgrim who might still have been out there.

I found a place to eat dinner and then went back to the albergue to hang out and warm up.  The main floor had a cool, pit-like seating area, with a wood stove.  A small group of us were lounging on the mattresses and talking, getting to know each other, and enjoying the warmth of the wood stove.

Here I met Alison and Marishka.  Alison is a 30-something from L.A. who started her Camino in St. Jean. She had been working on different television shows and was in-between jobs.  She really wanted to try and find a job at a company that had more of a “purpose”, and was using her time on the Camino to figure out what she wanted to do next.

I liked Alison right away.  She was hilarious, had a wonderful sense of humor, and laughed at everything.  She was contemplating moving to Toronto, which is how she and Marishka bonded.

Marishka was from Toronto, and (I think) she started from St. Jean too.  Unfortunately, I can’t remember everything else we talked about, and this was the only time I saw her on the Camino.  She chose to change up her walking schedule, i.e. not follow the John Brierly book, and we fell out of synch.

I did, however, and to my utter delight, see Alison again, but much later.

We all talked until one by one, everyone turned in for the night.  For whatever reason, I was not tired and stayed up reading until about 10 pm, which is VERY late for most pilgrims.  I also used this time to charge my Kindle Fire while I was reading.  The charger I brought had a connector for both my Kindle and ipod ports.

As I was charging, a Spanish fellow came over and motioned if he could use my ipod port to charge his iphone.  I nodded my agreement and he left his phone with me while I sat and read.  He did not go far, he was in the same room, but I found it interesting that this guy would trust me, a complete stranger, with his iphone.

The next day was a “shorter” day of 13 miles, and the beginning of the climb in to the Montes de León.  I hope my feet will be able to manage.

Check out pictures from Day 3!

Have questions or comments about this post? I would love to hear them!

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Day 3 Pictures: Astorga

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Journal Day 2: Villar de Mazarife

Marker_Boots_Mazarife25 May 2013
22.2 km – 13.8 ml

Once again, it wasn’t too difficult to wake up this morning.  Unfortunately, it wasn’t out of excitement but because I didn’t get any sleep.  It was an interesting and eventful night that I will briefly bullet point below.

1) Sleeping next to the bathroom door that was used ALL night and did not have one of those nice hinges that helps a door to close quietly.  No, the door had a spring that would *slam* shut if the closer was not careful to close it quietly.

2) Outside voices.  Somehow the voices out in the small plaza next to the albergue carried through as if the people were standing in the bathroom.

  1. This was especially disconcerting, while being half asleep and hearing the clear voices of men talking next door.
    Anne’s head: “Men? What are men doing in the women’s bathroom?  How did they get in there?!”
  2. I wish I had known the song of the group of people who stopped at the square to sing, as I would have been happy to join in since I wasn’t sleeping anyway.
    Anne’s head: “Spanish song I don’t know…la la la la la….more Spanish words I don’t know…..la la la la la……yay for your team (or whomever)….la la la la la.”
  3. Children playing.  This was truly throwing because it was o-dark-morning, and NOT a time when one hears children playing.  I did hear correctly, though, because as I met other pilgrims along the way, they too commented about the children playing in the middle of the night at this albergue.
    Anne’s head: “Children?  What are….are they…playing?!   What are they doing UP at this hour?  Where are their parents?”

Thus, at 5:30 a.m., I joined the others and started to get ready for the day.  I took advantage of the free breakfast of coffee and bread, and was out the door by 7:00.  There weren’t many other pilgrims out walking yet, but the few I saw, I kept within eyesight so I wouldn’t get lost.  Although, I know I am supposed to follow the arrows, I was not sure how many there would be or if they would be difficult to find. (As I would soon find out, this was NOT an issue.)

The first 8.5 kilometers wound through the industrial section of León, and as I walked I came across more pilgrims.  Although I mostly walked on my own, I was never “alone”.  There were always pilgrims somewhere in front or behind me, and many passing me by. How do they walk so fast?! I was a little tempted to try to keep up, but didn’t want to wear myself out.  I hadn’t really “trained” for walking the Camino and didn’t want to do any damage at this point.

Not too far after the 8.5 kilometer mark, I realized I needed some sustenance.  Coffee.  Thankfully there was a small cafe not too far ahead.  As I sat and rested, I realized that I needed to plan for my breaks a little better.  Not every albergue will provide a breakfast, and I need to eat something within the first 5 or so kilometers.

The path was a combination of road and earth, and the scenery a combination of fields and ghost towns.

The day was beautiful.  Sunny and warm, without a cloud in the sky!  A perfect beginning to my Camino journey.

On one of the long roads, Juliet, one of the Irish ladies I met at the restaurant, recognized me and stopped to say hello.  It seemed she and her friends got off to a good start, but she lost track of them somewhere when they decided to follow a group of cyclists and she chose to follow the yellow arrows.  She figures they will meet up eventually, or at the very least, in Astorga where they were planning to stay the night.  Juliet was feeling good for her first day of riding.  She, too, enjoying the beautiful scenery and weather.

I was so flattered that she stopped to chat for a few minutes.  That she even recognized me! Most cyclists don’t really do that.  I am also a little sad that I won’t ever see her again, but enjoyed her brief and kind company while I had it.

I arrived in Mazarife around Noon, tired and ready to be done for the day.  I decided to stay at the Albergue Jesus, and hoped I could get a room (again…I would soon find out that this was not that much of a problem), but I was a newbie and just beginning to learn the Camino ropes.

A small group of us had gathered in the small dining area, where the woman running the albergue was checking everyone in.  A brother and sister from Canada, and a Swiss woman was in front of me, and the woman who ran the albergue asked if we wouldn’t mind sharing a room.  None of us minded.

We were placed in a small room with two bunk beds, the brother and sister taking one set, the Swiss woman and I the other.  Since I was the “younger”, I took the top bunk.  The walls of the room were decorated with handwritten messages and pictures drawn by pilgrims before us.  Some of the artwork was quite good and the messages heartwarming…others…well…not.

I headed down to the town store to pick-up some food for lunch, and returned to the albergue’s kitchen already bustling with other pilgrims preparing their meals.  Some of the meals being cooked looked amazing. One woman was making a huge salad with onions, lettuce, peppers, and tomato’s.  Another gentleman was cooking two huge pork or chicken legs on the stove. Another gentleman had just finished creating some sort of homemade stew.

Even at home I don’t cook like this!  I swallowed my pride, accepted my non-existent cooking skills, and began boiling water for my pack of noodles.

Everyone in the kitchen was incredibly nice and helpful, as about three different meals were being cooked. When I tried to strain my noodles with the lid of a pan, one of the gentlemen saw my plight, and handed me the pasta strainer.  The one I had unsuccessfully tried to locate a few minutes before.  Then, to my surprise, he also handed me some bread and chorizo he was snacking on while cooking the meal for he and his friend.  Unfortunately, he was Spanish and since my language skills rival that of a two year old, I smiled gratefully and simply said, “Gracias, esto es muy bien!” (Thank you, this is very good!).

The kitchen was very small, so I sat out in the little patio area and ate my lunch of noodles, cheese, and chorizo.  Soon after, a group of college-age kids came in and sat near me, trying to find a good wifi connection for their phones.  I knew that this was what they were trying to do, because they spoke English.  (You can’t really help it when you are in another country. When you hear your mother tongue, you are instantly drawn to it.) 

I can’t remember who initiated introductions first, but somehow we all realized we spoke English and began getting to know each other. I found out that they (Cody, Nick, Hanna, and Becca) were from a college in Missouri, and that they were on a mission trip walking the Camino.  They, too, started in León, and their desire was to try and make connections with pilgrims, with the hope of being able to share the Gospel.  Later I met the leader of their group, Chris, who sat and talked with me a while about support raising, the Spanish culture, my experience living in Spain, and the work with the Pilgrim House.  As a thank you, he invited me to dinner with the group that evening in the albergue, which I happily accepted.

The rest of the afternoon I relaxed, read my book, and chatted with another woman (Susan) from Washington (Yakima) and her friend (Kyle).  The albergue had a little bar inside, so everyone stuck around and sat outside, enjoying the sun and warmth.  It was incredible seeing so many different people and nationalities come together in this small community.  I loved it!

Dinner was homemade paella, and it was delicious! The Missouri kids and I shared it with two other women, one from France and the other from Denmark.  The French woman had quite the interesting life, and spent a good part of dinner telling us all about it.

Later that evening, when I went to my room to get ready for bed, I found the Canadian brother (Steve…was his name as I later found out), knitting socks!  How cool is that?!  He said he liked it because it helped him to relax in the evenings.  It was still fairly light outside (it didn’t get dark until about 10:30 p.m.), so we chatted until his sister and the Swiss woman came in to bed.

We all agreed that we wanted an early start, and decided to wake up around 5:30.  It was nice to know that we would all be waking up at the same time.  This would make it easier to get ready in the morning, and for me to wake up.  I am NOT a morning person, and waking up at 5:30 is just….unpleasant.

Tomorrow is a long day.  19 miles.  I hope I make it.

Day 2 Pictures.

(As the days would progress I would find that it would NOT be a problem for me to wake up at 5:30 a.m.  I never even had to set an alarm. Ever. It was crazy. However if you ask me to do this now, I would very much so have a problem.)
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Day 2 Pictures: Villar de Mazarife

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