Tuesday, June 5, 2018

El Camino de Santiago 2018
We've returned to Spain to finish hiking El Camino de Santiago.  We are of the mind set to continue beyond Santiago until we reach the coast at Finistere (named by the Romans.)
In 2016 and 2017 we hiked in September because that's when the best airfare aligned with the most tolerable weather.  This year Michelle will be in class in September so we had come in June.
Flying from ATL to NYC to Madrid, we landed around 9:30 in the morning.  The first bathrooms we came to had such a long line that by the timne we got to the luggage belt, all of it had been removed.  At first we thought the luggage had not been. loaded yet, so we waited and waited.  Finally we found the lost luggage office and sure enough, they had our bags.  Then we found a place to buy a sim card with Orange, one of the local cell phone companies.  Then we found the train from the airport to the Chamartin station where we caught the train to Leon and then to Ponferrada.  It was rough for me (and consequently for Michelle on the flight from NYC).  So we werehaving a hard time keeping all our stuff together.  First my glasses fell on the floor in the bathroom and I walked away without realizing it until Michelle asked about them.  Fortunately nobody stepped on them.  Then we went throught the lost luggage scare describe3d above;  Then we left our train tickets at the Correos in Chamartin.  Correos turned them over to Renfe, who held them at the check-in booth for our train.   After that, we got to our hotel without any issues.

Sunday, May 6, 2018

El Camino de Santiago - 2017

Day 23: El Acebo de San Miguel to Ponferrada

Michelle wrote:
29 Sept. Friday
This has to be the best breakfast
we enjoyed on the Camino.

We had a breakfast of granola, yogurt, ham, cheese, toast and orange juice at the albergue and left Acebo at about 8:00 am.  Our friend Fuco was already walking up the trail from Ponferrada, so we had to hurry up and get going.  We passed through another quaint mountain village, Riego de Ambros.  The trail was not as difficult as the day before and we were grateful for that.  We met up with Fuco and what a happy reunion we had!  He is so full of love that he makes you feel like you are his favorite person in the world.  Walking with him to Molinaseca was very pleasant and the time passed quickly.  We had 2nd breakfast there then began our walk into Ponferrada.  We apparently took the longer option by mistake.  We should have looked at the map!  That brings up a dilemma.  Sometimes that camino route seems to be purposely taking the long way.  So, is it wrong or cheating if you use the GPS to find a more direct route to your destination???

We decided to walk to Fuco’s car first and drop off the backpacks and change our shoes.  What a relief to take off the boots and socks!  We moved the car closer to the Castillo de los Templarios, then we visited the castle.  It was very big, like I’d imagined a castle should be.  

The original Templar castle was built in the 12th century and was much smaller.  The Templars were disbanded 200 years later and the abandoned castle was enlarged by a duke.  It was fun to walk around and try to imagine what life might have been like in a castle.  It was fun to have my wish of seeing a castle finally fulfilled.

We left Ponferrada and drove to the remarkable site of an ancient Roman gold mine in sandstone cliffs that look a lot like Bryce Canyon in Utah.  They made an aqueduct that carried water from higher  mountains and used the water in the mining process.  Those Romans were an ambitious lot and they sure got around Europe developing civilization as they went!  

We drove 2 hours to A Coruna and picked Idoia up at her office (she works until 9:00 pm).  She is beautiful and loving, too.  She and Fuco had a Bienvenidos sign hanging in our room with peregrino pictures of Curtis and me.  It was a fun welcome.  We had a yummy Basque dinner that Idoia made, potatoes, green peas, eggs and a salad with olives, tomatoes, and queso fresco, and bread.  Very simple, but delicious.  Then we went to bed because we were all tired.

Curtis writes:
This day: arriving at Ponferrada, meeting up with a great friend, ending our trek for 2017... all of these were greatly yearned for during the painful, tiresome, hours of the previous 22 days.  These feelings were strongest around 2:00pm, before arriving at our albergue for the day and after walking 10 miles or more.
But in the mornings, with a fresh breeze blowing, with singing birds and the sun just coming over the horizon, and before the feet problems became painful... thoughts of this day were cheerless, saddening and bleak.
No matter what our feelings were, despite our eager anticipation or melancholy dread, day 23 arrived right on schedule.  And we arrived in Ponferrada.
While eating breakfast, we got a message from Fuco that he had started walking up the trail from Ponferrada.  We calculated that he would meet us somewhere between the communities of Riego de Ambrós and Molinaseca.  The breakfast at the alberque was THE BEST we had enjoyed on the Camino.  But the anticipation of meeting up with my buddy quickly overrode any desires to linger over breakfast and we hit the trail, moving at a good pace (OK, it was practically all down hill).  As before, we soon found ourselves hiking and conversing with other pilgrims from some other part of the world.  On this morning we hiked with pilgrims whose native language was Portuguese.
Fork in the road in Riego de Ambrós, looking over the shoulder of another pilgrim.
While the flowers on the balcony on the street to the left look interesting, our path is DOWN HILL to the right.

El Camino de Santiago crosses the road LE-142 about 1/3 of the way between Riego de Ambrós and Molinaseca.  As we were approaching the road I saw Fuco coming up the trail towards us.  I yelled his name and ran to a great abrazo.
Los Tres Amigos
 Here is where we met Fuco.

Fuco took Michelle's pack for this last section.

Molinaseca with Ponferrada beyond
About Molinaseca: I found it to be a charming town.  But maybe that's because of the phenomena that most of the towns we saw in the morning were interesting and the towns we went through in the afternoon - well, not so much.  In retrospect, it could be that the nicer homes in Molinaseca were inhabited by people who commuted to Ponferrada for work, prefering the small town ambiance over the city.
Community gardens in Molinaseca

The river front in Molinaseca was well developed, with trees and lawns.

Main pilgrim thoroughfare of Molinaseca

Approaching Ponferrada
About 20 minutes before this picture was taken, I made the decision to follow the yellow arrow indicating the path of the Camino rather than retrace Fuco's path to his parked car.  Sometimes the yellow arrows don't take you in the most direct path.  The purist in me wants to stick to the path; tired feet suggest otherwise.  Now I regret that we did not follow my friends suggestion to walk straight to his car.
Crossing into Ponferrada
After walking through the industrial outskirts of Ponferrada, we crossed Rio Bierzo over this pedestrian bridge that originated in the XVI century.  We stopped for a refresco in a bar in the first building you can see on the other side of the bridge.  Then, a little refreshed,  we continued a 1/2 km up the hill and to the right of where the paved bridge ends (in the picture above) to where Fuco had parked his car.
Without change there can be no butterflies
This mural was what we saw as we arrived at Fuco's car.  It's an appropriate statement for the end of our trek. In fact, it belongs at the beginning of the trek.

Does the catepillar know that it's destiny is to leave it's slow body and fly freely from flower to flower?   Consider this from a website about butterflies:

"The final stage of a butterfly is most wondrous! Scientists still struggle to understand all the details of this metamorphosis. The word metamorphosis comes for the Greek, to transform. And that’s exactly what happens inside the chrysalis. The caterpillar liquefies its structure and tissues changing into that of a butterfly. This transformation takes up to two weeks to complete, and then, out of the chrysalis emerges a beautiful butterfly!" https://www.gardenbuildingsdirect.co.uk

I wonder about the transformation asked of us as we leave the values of the world behind to focus on what we want to become eternally.  Historically the consequence of a pilgrimage to Santiago has been a changed life.  For me too.  In particular, the terrain covered this year was appropriate for long periods of introspection.  I've learned about myself and I've learned about Michelle.  The first thing that comes to mind about me is that I'm not as tough as I tend to think I am.  The first thing that comes to mind about Michelle is that she can lock in to an unpleasant task and focus on getting it done, and it's best not to interrupt or attempt to disuade her from her goal when she is in that mode.  She's tougher than you think.  As a child I went to an international school.  Many of my friends were from outside of the USA.  I knew then, and I've had it reconfirmed as an adult,  that there are people all over the world that think like me in many ways.

These are reflections on superficial characteristics.  Twenty three days of hiking has likely changed us in ways we don't recognize yet.  Twenty three days from today, we start hiking in Ponferrada again (June 5th).  (What a coincidence that today is the day I finish writing the story of last years' hike.)  The guy who hiked from Logroño to Ponferrada in 2017 is different from the guy who hiked from St. Jean Pied de Port to Logroño in 2016.  And the guy who will walk from Ponferrada to Finisterre will be even more different.  What changes will come during the 18 days and 184 miles between June 5th and June 22nd?
Post script:
While in Ponferrada, we toured the castle originating from the Knights Templar.  Below are a few images of the castle.

Flying home

El Camino de Santiago - 2017

Day 22: Rabanal del Camino to El Acebo de San Miguel

Michelle wrote:
28 Sept. Thursday
Dawn at Rabanal del Camino

We were woken up at 7:50 am by the maid coming into the house to start cleaning!  The shades make the room really dark and we could have kept on sleeping if she hadn’t come in.  So, up we got and left the albergue just as the sun was coming up.  We could see the meseta on the horizon as the sun rose.  It was very pretty.  It was nice to be up in the hills again where we could enjoy a nice big view.  
We began the 5.3 km climb to Foncebadon, an interesting mountain village.  We are beginning to see the use of slate now in their buildings.  The mountains are beautiful and some of the the trees are just beginning to change colors.  There are also pine trees here.  We stopped in Foncebadon for breakfast and Curtis was thrilled because the bar we stopped at (2nd bar, of course!) had corn flakes and muesli out on a table for breakfast.  It was very informal and relaxed.  Just help yourself to what you want and we’ll figure out how much it costs.  
Cold cereal for breakfast - the first since Logroño

We made it to the 2nd highest point on the camino (1505 m) and the Cruz de Ferro.  Everyone was happy to be there and it was very meaningful for some, for various reasons.  The tradition is that you leave a rock there that is symbolic or meaningful to you.  It can be an emotional experience for some pilgrims and it was nice to see the respect everyone gave to those who needed a private moment at the cross.  The cross is at a park at the top of the mountain and buses and cars come by.  It almost seemed like a popular tourist stop, which it probably is.  

The approach to Cruz de Fierro, the high point of the Camino this year.
Michelle at Cruz de Fierro

We met some more Canadians that were part of a tour group that came by bus.  They could get off the bus and walk or ride the bus when they got tired of walking.  They seemed to be enjoying themselves and their version of doing the camino.

We continued on the rocky path and passed the ruins of a village near the top of the mountain.  It was right on the edge of the road.  
Then we passed just below the top of the mountain, the highest on the camino, 1515 m.  It was lovely to see mountain after mountain and sometimes a glimpse of a village tucked into the side of a hill. 
Welcome to the mountains of Galicia
Then we began the descent on a very rocky and tricky path.  We had to watch where we placed our feet because of  loose rocks, slipping on sheets of slate or shale.  Even the powdery dirt was slippery. 
A smooth section on the walk
down to El Acebo de San Miguel

 We were able to stop and enjoy a beautiful view of the huge valley where Ponferrada lies.  
Ponferrada is somewhere down there, and beyond you can see the mountains we will be crossing in June 2018.
We came upon a woman that had fallen a few moments before on the tricky trail. Fortunately, there were already 3 other women there helping her.  We stopped to see if we could help and we were able to make use of the First Aid kit that we had with us.  One woman was a nurse and cleaned her scrapes with water and sprayed our Neosporin on them, but we couldn’t do a thorough job of cleaning.  She was in a lot of pain and we were afraid she may have injured a rib.  She was able to stand up and walk to the highway, which was just down the path a bit.  Curtis carried her backpack for her.  We all stopped where the camino crossed the highway and she was able to call her albergue and ask them to send a taxi to pick her up.  While she was talking to them a taxi showed up out of the blue!  Curtis explained the situation to the driver and he was able to take her and her sister to their albergue and maybe to a doctor.  We never saw her again.  She was very fortunate to have fallen so close to the road.  It would have been very difficult for her to walk the remaining 2 km to the nearest village.  That part of the camino was very rocky and slippery and was easy to fall on if you lost concentration and put your foot down wrong.
We made it into Acebo, a village on the side of the mountain, and stopped at the first albergue that had an available private room.  We were really tired from the strenuous trail and enjoyed taking showers and resting.  Even though we didn’t cover a really long distance (16 km), it was hot, about 74 degrees and there weren’t very many trees for shade.  Hot days drain your energy faster than cool ones.  Our albergue didn’t have laundry facilities so we had to go to the other end of town to their partner albergue, La Casa de Peregrinos.  This is a big new albergue with a beautiful view of the valley below.  It is quite the social place, too.  It  is nice to hear happy pilgrims reuniting and talking.  There is even a swimming pool!
We ate dinner with our 2 Canadian friends, Jim and Brenda, at our albergue.  They happened to be staying there, too!  They are very nice people and interesting and fun to talk with.  They live near Lesser Slave Lake in Alberta and used to live in Peace River when they were newlyweds.  Both of those towns are important places in one of my favorite books, Mrs. Mike. 

This was our last night on the camino for this year.  We were a little sad, a little relieved, and little happy.  We planned to meet Fuco somewhere on the trail to Ponferrada.  That was very comforting to know that we would soon have a ride to A Coruna!

Day 22, El Camino 2017
Good walking surface coming out of Rabanal del Camino
Tomorrow the walking ends for 2017. We reach Ponferrada, and Fuco Rei comes down from A Coruña to walk the last kilometers with us and then take us to his home.
The images today highlight the transition in terrain as we move into the mountains. There are a few trees changing color, but the orange in some of these pictures is from the ferns.

Looking back towards Astorga and the meseta beyond

Taking a break in the tall grass next to the spring. The trail
climbs through the trees in the background of this photo.

Look closely and you can see where the previous photo was taken from.
Today we hiked from Rabanal del Camino to the village of El Acebo de San Miguel. We passed the Cruz de Fierro at the highest point on the trail. From there it was down a very rough and rocky trail to Acebo. We could see Ponferrada in the distance before we could see any evidence of our destination (Acebo).
Approaching Foncebadon, the last village on this side of the mountains between Astorga and Ponferrada.
Looking back at Foncebadon.  Rabanal del Camino is further down the
mountain and Astorga in the far valley.  Neither are visible in this picture.
She's coming down;
We were going up.
She's wearing a bell because...
her horns don't work.
Coming down this rocky section an older woman from Australia fell and hurt herself. When we arrived, she had just fallen, landing on her side, scrapping her elbow and knee and possibly broken a rib. Along with her sister, three other women were there, two of which were nurses from Canada and none of which brought out any kind of first aid kit. What? So the nurses cleaned the wounds with our water and applied antiseptic from my 1st Aid kit. No bandages were needed. The big concern was the possible broken rib. We were fortunate to be within 200 ft of where the Camino crosses the road. She gingerly walked to that point. While trying to call a taxi, one drove up. We flagged it down and off she and her sister went to town.

El Acebo de San Miguel is a quaint little village on the side of the mountain.

Approaching San Miguel de Acebo

Today was the first time we walked into town with no pre-determined place to stay. Fortunatly the first place we asked had a nice private room for two.
Main thoroughfare of San Miguel de Acebo

Albergue La Casa del Peregrino.
Home Sweet Home for our last night on the Camino de Santiago 2017
While waiting for our clothes to dry, Roman and his handicapped daughter, Aurora (13), from Australia arrived. He said it was extremely difficult getting her cart down the rocky trail. I can imagine. My hat is off to him for doing this. It was heart warming to see Auroras reaction to the 'sister' pilgrims who fawned over her.
Aurora with her fan club
As we've been hiking, I've had to force my self not to resent being passed by faster hikers. I am not 'worse' than them just like I'm not 'better' than the folks we pass. In fact often we will pass a plodding hiker only to be passed by them while we take a break.
Similarly in life... some folks who I think have everything they need... are not able to do this hike, even though they want to. I struggle to find the balance between being satisfied with my lot in life, and the need for self improvement.

Sunday, April 29, 2018

El Camino de Santiago - 2017

Day 21: Astorga to Rabanal del Camino

Michelle wrote:
27 Sept. Wednesday
Leaving Astorga.  Our packs are
lighter than the pilgrim behind us.
We left the albergue in Astorga around 7:30 am and had a chilly walk through town, past the stores and cathedral and out through the newer suburbs.  Astorga was an interesting town with a lot of history - it was and is still a crossroads town.  Roman roads, pilgrim routes, market routes, all met in Astorga.  The walls are impressive, too. 

The walk was pretty easy even though we climbed from 900m to 1155m.  I was dreading that, but it turned out to be very easy.  We walked through scrub oaks and pines again, but they are bigger then on the meseta.  We finally saw and heard sheep!  We could see them going into some trees and heard the bells and we could also hear the shepherd whistling for the dog.  It was nice to see and watch some animals.  They’ve been scarce along the camino since Navarra.

Curtis’s toe was hurting again and the blister on my right foot was sore, so we took our time walking to Rabanal del Camino.  Rabanal is a nice village up on the mountain.  It was hot (72 deg) and we were tired, so we went straight to our albergue, Nuestra Senora del Pilar at 2 pm.  We had a beautiful private room in a separate building that appears to be a private house. They have rented out 3 bedrooms and one bathroom.  We have to do any cooking or laundry at the main albergue.  There were a lot of people sitting around in the courtyard of the albergue, so we were happy to be over in the house where it was nice and quiet.  

We had a frustrating afternoon trying to buy train tickets online to take us from A Coruna to Madrid.  The website was confusing, the customer support wasn’t terribly helpful and the wifi was better at the albergue than at the house.  So we sat outside near the bar for a couple of hours trying to get the tickets.  After a while we took a break and came back to the house because we were getting cold.  Curtis was finally successful in getting the train tickets for Monday, October 2nd!  That was a huge relief!  We always underestimate how difficult it is to get tickets and we wait too long to get them.  We need to remember this for next year!

We went to a nice cozy restaurant in the village and had a nice, simple dinner.  I had a salad and Curtis had soup.  It was just the right amount of food and it tasted good, too!  We saw our Canadian friends, the Yamkowys there. 

Curtis writes:
We left in the dark again, anticipating a challenging walk up the mountain to Rabanal del Camino.
As we were leaving town, we came across this mural that we had not noticed in our earlier ramblings.

On an earlier day, the wall looked like this.  You can check it out at on Google Maps, here.

The spires of La Catedral de Santa Maria de Astorga can be seen in the image below if you look carefully a little to the left of the trail (a dark protrusion just below the horizon).  The horizon is where we were yesterday around 10:30 a.m., taking a picture where the spires of the cathedral could barely be seen through the trees.
Astorga in the rear view mirror
On this days' trek we came across something we had not seen on the Camino to date.  In the village of El Ganso, parked along the trail was a nice van with a logo: Butterfield & Robinson.  Along with the van there were about 8 bikes like the one in the picture below.

I like the computer, the soft seat and most of all:
the electric motor (see the battery on the bar
just behind the front wheel).
At Butterfield.com I learned that they have tours all over the world.  The tour from Leon to Santiago de Compostela takes 6 days and 5 nights with the cost being around $4k.  Gotta pass on that.
The church in El Ganson has the common problem
of stork nests on the belfry

The umbrella shown here is designed to
be attached to the backpack.  I LIKE it:
Hands Free!

Finally: walking in the shade of trees.
 The last part of the trail that I remember going through the woods was before the meseta, before Burgos... between Villafranca Montes de Oca and Atapuerca.  Love the trees.

Here is where we thought we would spend the night.... but no.
Overall, the hike uphill to Rabanal del Camino was not painful.  We thoroughly enjoyed the change of scenery.  When we arrived at our albergue, we were greeted by a college age girl who spoke English perfectly and after processing our passport and fees, guided us to our room in a different building.  In fact our room was in a new home around the corner.
Home SWEET home in Rabanal del Camino
A very comfortable Normal bed
 We got a great deal, because I don't remember the cost of this place.  Had it been substantial, I would have looked for a different place.  You win some and you loose some.  This one was certainly a winner.
Michelle entering our room in Rabanal del Camino
The room was in a private home that seemed to be no older than 2 years.  The bathroom was very nicely furnished - and the bedrooms too.  We shared the bathroom with the guests who stayed in the bedroom across the hall.  Our schedules did not coincide, so we never met them.
We were late to dinner that day and missed the mass where the monks sang.  (We'll catch that next time).  But as we were entering the restaurant at Hostal El Refugio, we met the Yamkowys from Northern Canada.  We had first been introduced to them by the Sweenys while eating dinner in the plaza in Carrion de los Condes.  (See Day 12).  They were staying at El Refugio.  It was fun to talk with them and get their recommendations for the menu.
Dinner at El Refugio in Rabanal del Camino

Happy boy at dinner time

Delicious Salad

I chose the soup - it was good.
In conclusion, we really liked our stay at Rabanal del Camino.  We got a good nights sleep in eager anticipation of climbing over the mountain the next day and arriving in Ponferrada the day after.