23 December 2015

Camino de Santiago--From Leon to Santiago

23 OCT 2015

Today was kinda irritating--I was ready to leave at my usual, early time, but couldn't leave the hotel until really late because they had given half of my laundry to someone else, and it took a couple of hours to figure out to whom--the hotel had no idea!  That was the first time I've seen a hotel screw that up!  Anyway, I finally got it back and set out, but Ross and Satia were far ahead.

Leaving Leon is the beginning of the end of the camino--still about ten days to go, but by now you're over the hump.

After leaving Leon, the loose group I'd been travelling splintered again, and I didn't see many of them again until Santiago, and didn't see some of them at all...  Many people stayed behind another day or two in Leon because they were having fun.

My destination today was for Villar de Mazarife, about 21 km from Leon.  Supposedly the terrain starts getting hillier again after Leon, but it wasn't obvious from today's hike.  Here is a pic:
When I got to the town, I was by myself, no one was around, and it was nothing special.  I saw a big hostel off to the left and went up there and found California Kevin, so decided to stay there.  The place was kind of sketchy, apparently it is one of the "old school" Camino hostels.  Here are some pics:

The Alaskan girls also rolled up, so I drank wine with them and Kevin for a while after dinner.  For dinner had joined the Euro pilgrims (Andre, Aurelie, Herve, French Alex) over at another hostel.

Here is Kevin and the Alaskan girls:
I traded messages with Satia, she'd gotten lost somewhere and was staying in a creepy hostel...

Here is today's hike:

24 OCT 2015
Today's hike would be longer, about 32 km, to Astorga, another fairly biggish city.  It was generally a very nice hike today.  Here is a picture of the bridge at Hospital de Orbigo, which has a cool legend associated with it about a love-lorn knight challenging everyone who crossed it to a tourney (or something like that):
Apparently the knight told this woman he'd fallen in love with that to win her love, he would wear an iron collar and stay on the bridge until he had defeated 300 other knights. Unfortunately, when he had finally done so, she still wasn't interested.  IIRC the knight was killed years later by one of the opponents he'd defeated at the bridge, who had felt that he'd insulted him, and had nursed a grudge for all that time.  Not a lot of happy stories along the Camino...

Here are a couple more random pictures, nothing particularly interesting, but just to show what it looks like:

This cross overlooks Astorga:
Astorga was a pretty big city, and on the way in I bumped into Kevin sitting a table with a bunch of other pilgrims.  He joined me as we looked for the hostel, which was pretty big and not bad.

Astorga also has a big cathedral, here are some pix:



We walked all over town with Ross and Satia to find a restaurant with stuff that Satia could eat, but ended up with the same old stuff.

Here is today's camino:

25 OCT 2016
Today's hike would be to Foncebedon, up in the mountains, about 26 km from Astorga.  Today's stretch was where some Spanish nutjob kidnapped and killed an American female pilgrim earlier this year, really sad...  Apparently he lured pilgrims off the real Camino with fake signs and then killed this woman.  Weird...  In any event, during my Camino, there were always a lot of female pilgrims on the Camino, often by themselves, so that was cool.  But even Satia was spooked on this stretch, having heard all about the murdered pilgrim woman, so she tried to walk with someone else during this stretch.

Anyway, until its fairly recent revival as a Camino waystation, Foncebedon had fallen into ruins.  Now it is only half ruined...

Today was a very nice hike, but kinda long.  Here are some pix from along the way:







As you can see, the weather was pretty shit--cold and cloudy.  The town of Foncebedon is in kind of rough shape:




I found Ross and Satia in the second hostel I went to, but that hostel wouldn't let people get out of their bunks until 07:00 or something, which I thought was stupid, so I kept going to Albergue Cruz de Fierro, which is where the Europeans (Andre, Herve, Alex, and Aurelie) went as well.  Pretty soon we were all down at a bar for some drinks:

Here is the hike:

26 OCT 2016
Today's walk would be about 26 km to Ponferrada; we would also go by the "Cross of Iron", one of the big attractions of the Camino for many people.  As mentioned, the Camino is very old, much older than the 1,000 year old Catholic pilgrimage which it now is; and in its earliest days the site of the Cross of Iron was some sort of major pagan pilgrimage site in itself.  The cross is on top of some kind of little mountain, and the story is that you can relieve yourself of life's burdens by bringing something from your home and leaving it at the base of the cross to symbolize leaving your burden behind.  Today there is a mound of rocks and assorted junk (sunglasses, notes, phone bills (?)) that people have left behind.  Several people I met on the Camino seemed to take this pretty seriously, but I thought it was a barbaric, silly, tradition.

The weather was miserable this morning; cold, very foggy, and raining.  I didn't see any point in dawdling, however, so set off into the rain.  A Korean guy at the same hostel was also ready to go but seemed scared of the dark--he asked me if I was really leaving in this weather...  Anyway, it was so dark and foggy I was afraid I'd walk right by the Cross of Iron, but I found it as it was getting a bit light out;  here are some pics:


I told you it was kinda foggy...  After briefly communing with the Cross of Iron, I pulled out some kind of breakfast bar and went and sat under the roof of some nearby shack.  After about ten minutes Ross, Satia, and Steve showed up, so I joined them and we continued on.  For reasons unknown, Steve had taken a vow of silence so didn't say a word for the next couple of days.  Kinda weird, but people do lots of stuff like that on the Camino, so no biggie...

Anyway, after the cross, the hike was very nice, through some small mountains.  Here are some picks:







There is some kind of odd Spanish hermit guy who lives in a shack up here and gives coffee to pilgrims for donations, here is his setup:





Satia and Steve seemed to be in weird moods today and dropped back, so Ross and I went ahead; today was one of the few days I finished in front of the pack (OK, mainly because it was mainly downhill).  There was one point on the way down the hills, with lots of loose rocks, where I was flying down the hill, passing everyone--pretty much the first and last time on the Camino!  Here is a pick from the way down from the mountains:
The hostel in Ponferrada is pretty big and well-organized, and the town is pretty big.  Ross and I got to town and went for a pizza before going back to the hostel.  Ross and I shared a room with a couple of Korean guys, one of whom wore pink bunny eye shades to bed.  Nice....  Here are some pics of the Crusader castle in town:




Here is the hike:

27 OCT 2015
Today's hike was about 25 km to Villafranca de Bierza, a kind of cool town nestled in the hills.  The scenery was really nice, and the walk wasn't too long, so it was a nice day.

When we stopped for breakfast (Ross, Satia, and I), this little dog came up to us, and then followed us down the road for several kilometers.  It was a funny little dog, and just as we got attached to it, it disappeared.  Good thing, I guess, because we were having a hard time agreeing on a name (Satia said Chewie, I wanted Blackie, I forget Ross's vote).  Satia had already decided that she would adopt him and take him back to the UK for her mom, but then the sneaky little bastard disappeared.  Here he is:
Here is some of the nice scenery from today:




The town was pretty big, and I didn't know where anyone was staying (they were ahead of me again), so I decided to stay in the center and found Ross and Satia at a big hostel there.  I think this hostel was an old hospital, and rumor has it that there was a morgue in the basement, although I didn't see it!  Here is the hostel:

 Here is the hike:

28 OCT 2016
Today's hike would be the last big up day of the Camino--about 28 km to O Cebreiro, a little village on the top of a mountain.  As usual, the weather wasn't great, but it could have been worse.  Here are some shots from the hike:














I walked with Steve most of today; early afternoon there was a pretty brutal uphill stretch, but after that it got easier, even though still all uphill.  Near the top there was a little village, where Satia was, so Steve, Satia and I had some refreshments, courtesy of some of the French pilgrims we knew, as they were staying there and we were going to the very top.  By now it was raining a bit again.

So here are some pics from the walk into O Cebreiro:


Here is my favorite pic of me from the camino; Satia took it, I think it was here:
I only include this pic for the rare side shot of my backpack:
We got to the town, and there was only one hostel.  Ross had gotten there early and was crammed into a lower room full of people, but we were the first people let into a big new room.  Out of a hundred bunks, probably ten were occupied--nice!  While we were hanging out, Steve and I chatted with the beautiful tall Polish girl (Dusya or something) who had been on our track for the last few days (since Villafranca I think).  She was with a group of four guys and they generally moved at a very good pace, much faster than me.

We went out as a group for dinner, but it was kind of a disaster...  There weren't many places to eat, some of them had already closed their kitchens or were out of food, and Satia needed something gluten-free.  So we ended up splitting up; Steve, me, and Leo, an Italian guy, ate in one place, where I had another terrible Spanish steak (which had been highly recommended by a couple of other pilgrims.

Here is the hike:

29 OCT 2015
Well, supposedly today would be an easy day, about 21 km, all downhill, to Triacastella.  Turns out the day wasn't so great...it was raining pretty hard when we left O Cebreiro, and rained for a few hours.  Moreover, it turns out it wasn't all downhill, but there were some pretty big hills.  So it was kind of a short day, but not particularly easy or pleasant.  When we got to Triacastella, Ross and especially Satia wanted to continue on, but there were no more hostels for another 15 km or something.  Ultimately we all stayed in Triacastella and had a pretty average dinner somewhere.  We stayed in the same hostel with Leo and some of the other Italians.

No pictures today, but here is the hike:

30 OCT 2015
By now we were within a few days of Santiago, and everyone was anxious to get there.   32 km to Ferreiros...  Today was a pretty cool hike, but long.  Ferreiros was a tiny little town in the hills with one of the nicest and most modern hostels of the whole Camino--it had a lounge room with a great view over the hills, and a little bar across the street where I had the only undrinkable wine of the whole Camino--it tasted like vinegar.  But it was a nice place for a few beers and the obligatory potato chips.

Here are some pics from the day:



 The 100 km marker for Santiago--very exciting!!
Satia was walking by herself and got scared when she bumped into a couple of dope-smoking dudes with Halloween masks on their packs.  She didn't make the connection with Halloween being the next day and got kind of freaked out...

Here is the hike:

31 OCT 2015
Halloween!  One of my favorite holidays, but today it would go uncelebrated, because it was a brutal day and I was too exhausted to celebrate, and moreover didn't have anyone to celebrate with!

The hike started pretty well, with some of the cool Galician sunken roads and cool villages:


Some flowers:
Here is a cool town called Portomarin (actually on the way out of town); it was only about 15 km from where I started, but if I'd have known how the day would end up I might have stayed there...


I'd agreed to meet with Ross and Satia in some village along the way, maybe about 20 km away.  When I got there I got the message that both had moved on to Palais de Rei, another 15 km away!  I couldn't find the hostel in the town where we'd agreed to meet, and it was kind of a dump, so I decided to go the next town, which was in a few km and which had a cool hostel.

But I got there and couldn't find that hostel either, and the town wasn't great.  But a few more km down the road was another town with a really cool hostel.  But I got there, and it was closed.  And the hostel in the next town was closed.  By now I was kind of exhausted, but didn't have any choice but continue on to Palas de Rei, which by now was about 10 km away.

I got there about 19:30, and was completely wrecked for some reason.  At this point I was in a crappy mood and didn't want to see anybody, so found a pizzeria next to the hostel, had a pizza and a few beers, and went to bed.  Not the best Camino day!

Here is the day:

1 NOV 2015
Wow, October was gone, now very close to the end.  Everyone was pretty excited; the Camino had been great but everyone was ready to end it.

I'd read about a cool hostel right on a river about 26 km from Palas de Rei, in a tiny village called Rivadiso.  It sounded pretty cool, and I was looking forward to soaking my aching feet in a cold river!  I didn't see Ross and Satia today for the first time in a while; they were also in Palas de Rei, but in a different hostel or something.  Anyway, there were soon far ahead.  The walk was pretty nice:
Here is the bridge at Rivadiso, the hostel was right next to it and had a little concrete landing to sit on by the river.  It was super cool, but the water was ice cold and soon my feet were numb.  But I sat there for a while and watched pilgrims walk by, most were going to the next town, about 5-6 km down the road.

I knew Steve was behind me somewhere, but didn't know where, so I sat by the bridge waiting for him to come by.  After a while I gave up and went to do some laundry or something, and soon heard him coming into the hostel.  It was good to see a friendly face!

I traded messages with Ross and Satia, they had ended up another 10-15 km down the road, poised to enter Santiago tomorrow--lucky them!

Here is the map:

2 NOV 2015
So from Rivadiso it was 43 km to Santiago--too far for one day, so I planned to stay in O Pedrouzo, some town about halfway.  Some of the French pilgrims and Steve were planning to go to some town about 10 km from Santiago, for some sort of official pilgrim pit stop.

I didn't really have a definite plan and figured that I'd figure it out as I went.  Steve and I left as usual at about 7:00 and made good progress; we stopped for some drinks at about 11:00, and I was feeling pretty high-energy still.  We got to O Pedrouzo a couple of hours later, and I was unimpressed with the town, and moreoever, it was  too early to stop--I'd keep going.

At that point, I figured if I was going to keep going, I might as well go all the way, but Steve still wanted to stop in this town about 10 km out of Santiago (Lavacolla?).  Anyway, we kept walking.  Here is the only pic from the day's walk, we were too busy walking to take many pix!  This is (left to right) Yakub, Luise, and Zorin.  Yakub and Zorin were a couple of laid-back, super-cool German guys, and Luise was Danish.  Yakub and Zorin were a bit hippier than most people I know, but they were really cool guys, and were living on a budget of something like 5 euro a day, which meant that they generally slept in the open, and ate very cheaply.  More on them later....
So anyway, we got to Lavacolla, and there was no hostel there either, so we kept going.  Now there was only one more place to stop before Santiago--the hostel on top of the infamous Monte de Gozo (?), Spanish for "Mountain of Joy" (ie, people being so freaking happy that they could see Santiago from the top).  I was fairly beat by the time we got to Monte de Gozo (I couldn't even be bothered to walk the 30m up to the viewpoint over the city, so I didn't see it--no joy for me).  Anyway, Steve and I decided to push on into the city.

We finally made it at about 20:00...  It was pretty anti-climactic--no throngs of well-wishers or garlands of flowers thrown from balconies.  It got to the point where I started wishing myself "Buen Camino" ("good road" or something in Spanish, the traditional Camino greeting) during the final stretch.  Finally we staggered into town, found a place at a cheap, but excellent hostel (really a cheap hotel), the Hospidero (or something like that).  We went to the pilgrim office and had our credentials stamped, got our compostelas, and that was that!!

That done, Steve went to mass in the cathedral and I waited for him at a cafe on  the square outside with some wine, and soon Ross and Satia joined as well.  It felt really good!  We'd finally made it!

Here is a shot of the cathedral, from the cafe where we sat drinking wine:
Here is the map: