Tag Archives: Camino Frances

Fumigated!

Santiago de Compostela
Thursday 4 December

A nice sleep in. A leisurely breakfast. Then I had to check out of my luxury palace. Thanks again to my Brother, great birthday present. I didn’t have far to carry my backpack today, as recommended by my older American friend, I checked into the San Martin Pinaro Monastery, next door. Equally as historic as my five star hotel, first built in the ninth century, however my monks cell was a little more austere. I did have my own very modern bathroom, and a comfortable bed. Several other pilgrims I had met were also staying there, including my Dutch friend. He was leaving for Finisterre today, so we had a final coffee before he left.

I then rushed off to the Pilgrim’s mass at the cathedral where they announce all the pilgrims who have arrived in the last twenty four hours, well your country anyway. I believe they also say where you start and by what method (walking, cycling, horse, other.) but it was all in Spanish, so I don’t know. I did hear ‘Australia’. A lot of the mass was sung and it was lovely.

Santiago de Compostella Cathedral is famous for the Botafumerio, a huge incense burner that is swung high across the cathedral on Fridays (I had also heard the day was Sunday) and special occasions. It was neither Friday, nor Sunday, nor as I was aware a special occasion. As the mass was finishing there was a kerfuffle in the aisles down the front, and I realised the famous ‘fumigation of the pilgrims’ had begun. The weighty
Botafumerio swung high and low, driven by a series of wheels and pulleys propelled by a large group of men in crimson robes. The smokey incense filled the air. It was quite a spectacle as it swung higher and higher, the crowds gathering around to try and capture the moment on film. I felt very privileged to have witnessed it, as I really wasn’t expecting to see it. Apparently you can pay a large sum of Euros to have it swung on non allotted days. Perhaps my brother added an extra birthday present? Yet another wonderful Camino moment.

I had planned to have a wander around the city, and visit some museums, but first I had to book a flight back to Paris. I visited the contemporary art museum, and a museum next door to that that had an amazing Escher like staircase. Three intertwining spiral staircases that you could step from one to another between floors. The museum had exhibitions of early Spanish technology and a platform that lead into an ancient church that was being renovated where you could view the process from high. It was interesting, if not a rather eclectic museum. I then visited the cathedral museum that housed many treasures, but soon tired. I’d had enough for the day.

I had arranged to meet my Camino angel for dinner, and we ran into German friend of hers on the way who joined us. Her friend had a resturant in mind, that when we arrived seemed more like a wine bar. There was no ‘menu’ with ‘free wine’, so we ordered a bottle. I order the pulpo (octopus), the ubiquitous dish in this region. This was a rather upmarket version, with prices to match. Instead of the usual boiled octopus with chunks of boiled potatoes, oil, salt and smoked paprika, this had a potato purée to which the spices and oil had been added. It was nice, but I think I prefer the more rustic version. The German woman had arranged to meet her French friends, so said goodbye. We had arranged to meet the other group at nine thirty, so also departed, however, when we arrived a little late they were not there. We thought they may have gone to another bar, so decide to wander the town to find them. We passed a bar with the German woman, and her French friends were also people we had met, and hadn’t seen since Pamplona! We joined them for more wine, and another lovely long night with new friends.

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SANTIAGO!

Lavacolla to Santiago de Compostela
Wednesday 3 December

I didn’t start as early as planned. I was beginning to get tired. I only had twelve kilometers to walk, and was hoping to make the twelve o’clock pilgrim’s mass at the cathedral. I climbed Monte de Gozo and was able to view the sprawling suburbs of Santiago. I soon joined the city traffic. On the outskirts was a large sign announcing my arrival in Santiago de Compostela. I started to tear up. I was surprised at my reaction, I still had several kilometers to go, so pulled myself together.

I was walking in a daze, almost hesitating at arriving at the cathedral. The city became busier with people going about their daily business. I couldn’t see any pilgrims, but continued along the yellow arrows, getting harder to find in the city. I felt I was walking in slow motion. Slow emotion. The weight of history, of my own Camino. I couldn’t tell if the people around me were frozen in time or speeding past me, it was a very filmic experience. I could see the angels from ‘Wings of Desire’ atop the surrounding buildings. Their whispering and flaps of their wings drowned out any other noise. My steps were heavy. Getting closer, I slowed. An old man stopped and pointed my way. Again. I felt tears steaming down my face.

I arrived at the arch at the entrance to the plaza. A man in traditional Galician costume was playing the bagpipes. Haunting. Overcome. I slowly stepped down through the archway, entering the plaza below. The main face of the cathedral was in front of me, unfortunately covered in scaffolding for renovations, but that didn’t hide the overwhelming experience for me. There were no other pilgrims, in fact there was hardly anyone in the plaza. I needed to sit down and cry. Although long, the Camino wasn’t a difficult walk, but I guess my emotional response was more due to the whole experience of the Camino, not just the physical. It surprised me, but I couldn’t stop sobbing.

I looked up and saw another pilgrim approaching. I raised my hand in greeting. I didn’t know her, but she came over and threw her arms around me. She was on her way to Finesterra and had been in Santiago for a few days. She had met my Irish and Italian friends, and pulled out a T-shirt for me to sign that already had their messages. She said it was her dream to travel to Indonesia, so asked for my contact. That’s the Camino, she said. She took my photo in front of the cathedral. We hugged again, and she was off to the end of the world.

Even though I had arrived in time, I was now too late for the pilgrims mass. The magnificent and historic Parador Hostal de Los Reyes Catolicos was behind me, at the side of the plaza. Built in the fifteenth century, and said to be the oldest continuously operating hotel in the world. My brother had given me a birthday gift of a night in its five star luxury, so I went to check in. Apparently in the past pilgrims could stay here for five nights in winter with medical and priest services on call for free. Five nights would be nice.

I then went to collect my Compostela, the traditional ‘certificate’ of completion of the Camino de Santiago. I don’t really need proof, as my Camino will hopefully remain with me, but it’s a nice piece of paper with a Latin inscription stating that I have arrived to honor Saint James.

Mass had finished, so I thought I would go into the Cathedral. The main entrance was blocked because of the renovations, and unfortunately the famous carved stone front door, the Portico de Gloria, was covered. I climbed back up the stairs through the arch, to the pilgrim’s entrance. Coming out of the cathedral was the group from the other evening, they had risen very early to make it for the mass. Inside, the cathedral smelt like I had imagined churches in Spain to smell. This was the first one that matched my imaginings. Centuries of incense. I again was overcome with emotion, and fell to my knees, not something I do often in a church.

After leaving the Cathedral, more earthy things were on my mind, lunch. I had arranged to meet my Dutch friend in a cafe. Miss Venezuela and My Camino angel had gone to Finesterra by bus for the day. It was nice to see him and hear his Camino stories. After lunch we went to my hotel for a tour, as I was a guest I had free roam. Four large cloisters, of which my room overlooked one, endless corridors with sitting rooms filled with art and antiques, exquisite details and luxury. When I am a rich old lady who lives out her days in a hotel, this is the hotel I want to do it in.

My Dutch friend left, and I went to enquire about a tour of the cathedral roof that he had told me about. They said it would only be in Spanish, and would start in half an hour. I said I would come later, as I wanted to go to the nearby Franciscan church as I was told they were issuing special compostelas to pilgrims as it was a six hundred year anniversary. I returned to the cathedral for the tour, and the only other people were a French couple who also had no Spanish. The guide said she would do the tour in English and French. We climbed the stairs high up to the roof. The light was fading, and colours filled the sky. The roof was stepped granite, and easy to walk across. The views were stunning, an angel’s eye view. The architectural and historic explanations were fascinating. A wonderful experience.

I wandered around the city some more, still feeing dazed and overwhelmed. I had made a half hearted arrangement to meet my Dutch friend and Miss Venezuela for dinner, but I hadn’t heard from them, so decide to return to the hotel to perhaps eat in one of the restaurants. As I walked through the arch to descend the staircase into the plaza, a new busker had replaced the bagpiper, and on a melodica was playing Hallelujah by Leonard Coen, a song I love. Again, haunting.

Returning to my room, I received a message from my Dutch friend, the three of us met, and went in search of food. Later, when we were returning, we again ran into the other group of pilgrims, so joined them for a drink. I was not in the mood for crowds, and wanted to make the most of my five star experience so soon returned to my room for a bath.

Airport Hotel Happiness

Ribadiso to Lavacolla
Tuesday 2 December

That Liquor No. 43 was not a good idea. I did not feel my best this morning, but was keen to hit the road. Could I make it to Santiago today? I was keen to try, and would walk as far as I could. There is an alburgue twenty kilometers before Santiago, and another four kilometers before. Too short or too far. There are some hotels near the airport, about twelve kilometers out of town that seemed a reasonable distance. We shall see.

It was a three kilometer walk until coffee this morning. As usual, I needed coffee. I saw a garage, crossed the road and in my daze bought a chocolate milk, and was flicking through a magazine left on the counter. The English musician arrived and commented that I was looking at men’s farm porn… I started to focus, and realised he was correct. The magazine was a tractor catalogue.

I continued to the next bar, a mere thirty meters ahead, and had coffee and a proper breakfast. Several others from the previous evening arrived… But I was on my way.

Today I happily walked alone, having had a fix of company. At first my pace was slow. The landscape was mostly eucalyptus. Give me a home among the gum trees. I then began to speed up to my now regular faster pace. Soon I was thinking of lunch. I didn’t want to linger, as had a later start, so thought a sandwich would do. Rounding a bend, the Korean from last night’s group, jumped out yelling my name, insisting I stop. There was a bar in the middle of nowhere, just when I needed it. And what a great bar. The ceiling was covered in hanging T-shirts – Camino cast offs and souvenirs, graffiti, and a very friendly host. It seemed it was party time again. Shots of a golden liquid were being poured, that looked suspiciously like No. 43, except this was homemade. I declined. I ordered a cheese sandwich. More people arrived. Another round of homemade drinks, this time a coffee liquor, so I tried it. Sweet nectar. The others had settled in for the afternoon, as their destination was not so far, but I had places to go. When I went to pay, the barmaid said the drinks were on the house, and made a small drawing in my credential as my stamp. Nice.

I continued walking, but as the afternoon faded, my big night was starting to catch up with me. I had passed the airport, but hadn’t seen any hotels and was getting tired. I found a hotel, but it was closed for winter. I had another fifteen or more kilometers to Santiago, but was too tired to walk that far. I saw another hotel from the back entrance, so was hard to see if it was open. I saw a light which looked promising, and happily it was open. It was a little more than I had planned to pay even with the pilgrims discount, but I was tired, so checked in. The room was large, well heated, and had a bathtub! Yes, a hot bath.

The hotel had a large, but almost empty Resturant. The pilgrim’s menu was a bit more expensive than usual. I wasn’t holding my breath that the food would be good. To my surprise, it was possibly the best meal I’ve had in Spain. Scollops for entrée, a paella, overflowing with fresh seafood, and the now ubiquitous Santiago cake, an almond tart. This was homemade, moist, and delicious. They also served cheese, and a very good bottle of wine. Full, tired and content, I retired to bed.

The Little Lame Boy

Eirexe to Ribadiso
Monday 1 December

Alone in my alburgue. I was beginning to feel like the little lame boy who was left behind in the Pied Piper. Please wait for me. I received messages that my Irish friend and Italian friend were already in Santiago. My Dutch friend, Miss Venezuela, and my Camino Angel would all be there in a day. Please wait for me. I had been walking alone for a few days. Hardly seeing any other walkers. I do enjoy walking alone, but had missed their company.

As well as checking my daily horoscope, I’d now taken to online Tarrot card reading. One of the cards I chose today was the hermit. Alone. Loneliness.

I walked through Palis de Rie and was pleased to see the Spanish girl who had made the magic potion. Another person I recognised! She invited me to have a coffee, but I’d just had one… I would continue walking. Alone. I was starting to get hungry. I’d only had toast for breakfast. I really need protein to start my day. I was beginning to get antsy. Low blood sugar. I need to eat. I saw a sign for Melide, the next large town where I’d planned to have lunch, but the town seemed far in the distance. Six kilometers I guessed. It seemed longer as I walked. I need to eat now. I followed the path into the centre of town, and eventually found somewhere to eat.

I was tired today, and my pace had slowed. After lunch I was feeling sad. Thinking of motherless children, and childless mothers, I began to cry. I asked Siri to play ‘Let it Be’, instead she played ‘Let it Snow’, which made me laugh, and lightened my mood.

I soon came to a small fruit stall that was unmanned with an honesty box. I chose a punnet of raspberries, and as I was getting out my money heard voices behind me. I turned around, and a group of five pilgrims I had walked with previously arrived, a young Canadian, a Korean, and three Spaniards. I was happy to see them and have some company for the rest of the afternoon.

Along the way were many mushrooms on this part of the walk. One of the Spanish men knew his mushrooms, and was making a small collection for dinner. He showed one that was quite orange in colour, but when picked quickly turned blue. Nature is amazing!

We walked together to the small village of Ribadiso, arriving at the lovely stone alburgue beside a crystal clear river. The English Musician was already there, and they were expecting some of the others from their Camino family. I had walked with most of them on and off, as they had all started walking the Camino the day after me. More people arrived, several whom I had met. I began to feel better, that I would not be walking to Santiago alone.

I showered and headed out to a local bar with a few of the group. We met the others and ordered a soup for dinner. After dinner one of our Spanish friends suggested we order a local liquor, Liquor No 43. An almost fluro yellow sweet vanilla and citrus flavored concoction. The barmaid said we were the first to order this for fifteen years. Between the seven of us, we finished the bottle. The Spanish pour is very generous. In hindsight, regrettably.

As we were about to leave, another group arrived, including the young German I had walked with, the Spanish magic potion girl, and a young Estonian man whose birthday was today. They had planned on cooking a feast and had carried ten bottles of wine. Party night!

We returned to the alburgue, and the cooking began in the well equipped kitchen. Strangely well equipped, it had ten sinks. Ten. Four stoves, but ten sinks. I had already had too much to drink, but bugger moderation, there was more wine!

The food took several hours to cook, and by one thirty, was ready to serve. There were very few plates, less than there were sinks, so it was dished up on cardboard. No one cared, as we had already consumed copious amounts of alcohol. The party continued, but I was past my prime, so excused myself and went to bed.

Power Angel

Barbadelo to Eirexe
Sunday 30 November

The days are getting shorter. It was still dark when I had to leave to alburgue at eight. There was no street lighting in this tiny village, so I searched for my headlamp and found my fluro reflective vest from my cycle trip. It was windy, but not cold. I needed coffee. My head was full of cotton wool, I hadn’t had the best nights sleep. Eight kilometers to coffee. I trudged on. To my surprise and delight, I saw a bar open only half an hour along the route. Coffee.

As I was leaving a Spanish couple who had been the only other guests at the alburgue arrived, they were soaking wet. It was raining. I put on my rain gear, and ventured out. It wasn’t heavy, and only lasted ten minuites before it warmed up again. I was feeling much better after something to eat. I had my day mapped out. I would stop again in an hour and a half for second breakfast, then should arrive around lunch time in Portomarine. I had decided I would have a big lunch today, as it seems to give me energy for the afternoon’s walk, and then I don’t need a big dinner. Portomarine sounded like a large town, so should have some restaurants open.

I passed a marker – only one hundred kilometers to Saintiago! It seemed too soon. I arrived in Ferreiros just as church was finishing. The bar next door was crowed with the faithful. They were all keen to wish me Buen Camino. I ordered a coffee, but they had no food. Not far further on was a small shop, they had a selection of homemade tarts. It was hard to choose. I selected an almond and apricot one and wolfed it down. Perfect.

The walk was mostly uphill today, then a steep decent to cross the Large Mino River, climbing again into Portomarine. I looked for a Resturant facing the river, and was in luck. High on the cliff, with a magnificent view, was a glassed in dining room. I ordered the Menu del dia. Steamed mussels with salsa, trout, and creme caramel. The sun shone through the window. The food was excellent, except for the dessert, which came presented in the Nestle plastic cup. They could have at least pretended it was homemade. Oh well, I had had my delicious dessert earlier.

I had planned to stay in a village called Hospital in another twelve kilometers. It was all uphill, but after my big lunch, my pace had increased. I was making good time. Soon I had caught up with a German man, the only other person I had encountered walking today. Strange, the last one hundred kilometers are supposed to get busier. He said he was trying to walk fifty kilometers today, and was feeling a bit tired. I had inspired him to continue, he called me his Power Angel. He said he needed a Coke, but I would work just as well, and help him speed up. We arrived in Hospital sooner than I had planned, and I still wanted to walk. He was continuing to Palas de Rei, but I didn’t want to walk in the dark. I said I would continue to the next open alburgue. He had done the Camino before, but came back every year to walk the last one hundred kilometers. He said he wanted to do it in three days. He told me how Germany was the best country in the world to live, as they have lots of rules. He has two young daughters, and has their careers mapped out for them. One is going to be an architect, the other a dentist. I asked was that their choice? He said no, that is what he has decided. He was very German. We walked for another five kilometers to Eirexe. The light was fading and the alburgue was open. I said I would stop for the day. Before he continued we went to the bar so he could have a Coke, a replacement for his Power Angel.

The Wrong Path is the Right Path

Triacastela to Barbadelo
Saturday 29 November

Out of Triacastela there were two routes, one via Samos, and the other six kilometers shorter, and supposedly more rural. I had decided on the shorter route, as I had planned to walk to Ferredios which was about thirty two kilometers the shorter way. I turned right at the turn off, as instructed, but after a while was following the river. The other route follows the river. The walk was lovely, along a narrow leaf strewn muddy path. Delightfully soft underfoot. Gnarled twisted trees, covered in mosses and lichen, dappled sun through the almost bare branches. The cool clear river crisscrossing my path. I soon passed a town that I reccognised from the map that was on the other route. I was definitely on the wrong path. However it seemed right for today. I wasn’t going the turn back, via Samos it was to be. Vamos to Samos, as the graffiti read.

As I approached the town of Samos, I could see the huge Benedictine Monastery in the valley below through the mist. It looked eerie and spectacular. Yes, I had chosen the right wrong path. I continued down the steep road, entering the town. I circled the monastery, to see if I could see beyond the walls. There was a door open, and I saw a couple of pilgrims. I entered a small shop, and asked if I could go inside. There was a tour starting in ten minutes. I waited the required time, then the lady closed the shop and led me through the large double wooden doors. I was the only person on the tour, and she spoke good English. She led me through the two large cloisters, and upstairs into the church. Explaining the history, and many details. There are now only fourteen monks living here. Upstairs one elderly monk approached us and asked if I spoke Spanish. He then spoke to my guide who explained that he had been talking about the young monk in the garden below who was picking the last of the persimmons from the many trees, and doing some pruning – apparently he was ‘doing it wrong’. Young monks, like young people anywhere.

The tour finished and I went in search of coffee. Another pilgrim I had previously met was in the bar, so I joined him for a sandwich and a glass of vino. My quick stop extended to two hours, I better get a move on. The afternoon’s path continued to delight.

The fools in my head were presenting all sorts of possibilities today. I was unsure of whether to believe them, and asked for a sign. I hadn’t noticed any reference to owls for a few days, which seems to have become a totem of late, and thought that I might see one along the path. I came across a house, with all sorts of strange dolls and objects around the garden. I pulled out my camera, then noticed it right in the middle – a large cement owl staring right at me. Perhaps the wrong path is the right path.

Later I saw a flock of sheep, and a sheep dog sitting in a nearby car. Dogs don’t usually faze me, so I said hola, and he jumped out of the car. I though he was coming over for a sniff, but he circled me, then gave me a nip on the leg. I was more shocked than anything, and concerned about rabies. I pulled up my leggings, but it hadn’t really drawn blood, just scratched the surface, more like a bruise. I applied Bettadine, and will keep an eye on it.

Moving on, I thought I saw the man I had had lunch with earlier, but as I approached realised that it was not. This man had all sorts of anti abortion posters and information hanging from his pack. There was prolife graffiti all along the path today, perhaps he was responsible. I quickly moved past, not wanting to engage.

I arrived in Sarria later than expected, and I was getting tired. I didn’t want to stay in this large town of thirteen thousand. I wasn’t sure I had the energy to make it another twelve kilometers before it got dark. There was another small town about one hour away, hopefully they would have an alburgue open.

It was five o’clock by the time I arrived in Barbadelo. I walked through the town, but couldn’t find a alburgue open. I would have to trudge on for another two hours. Luckily it wasn’t raining. As I left the town, I noticed an alburgue and went to see if it was open. To my delight it was. They said they had no food, but there was a nearby Resturant that would open at seven. I settled in for the night.

A Walk in the Park

Ruitelan to Triacastela
Friday 28 November

Rain. Wetting rain as my mother would say. That constant light drizzle that wets to the bone. I walked with my American friend in the cold and wet until O’Cebreiro where she wanted to stay the night. We stopped at the historic ninth century church, then went for a hot chocolate. I said goodbye and wished her Buen Camino. I had enjoyed her company for the last few days, particularly our little detour, but I needed to be moving on a little more quickly. Unfortunately my flight back to Indonesia isn’t changeable.

I continued along the way, the drizzle cleared, and the fog moved in. Eventually the sun began to shine, and the landscape opened to rolling hills. I still can’t get over how rugged and rural this part of Spain is. I was enjoying the quicker pace, as I was feeling the lack of exercise of the last few days. It’s nice to move everyday. I feel I have gained physical strength doing the camino (and perhaps mental strength). I won’t be running any marathons soon, but walking thirty kilometers is a walk in the park. A long park.

Still wishing for snow, I was looking hopefully at the grey clouds in the distance, but to my disappointment, the temperature seemed to get warmer.

The final six kilometers into Triacastela were muddy and earthy. There was a small grader clearing the path, and the smell of freshly turned soil permeated the air. The ground was soft under foot and, although still light, the moon had risen. The path ran between green fields. I was keen to get to my destination, but slowed my pace to enjoy the surroundings, and inhale the cool earthy aroma.

I was tired and hungry when I arrived in Triacastela, so showered and headed out to a bar to eat.

Camino Family Update

Villafranca del Bierzo to Ruitelan
Thursday 27 November

The heating was turned up high overnight in our little hotel, I woke in an almost tropical sweat. Outside it wasn’t so steamy. However, it wasn’t as cold as it had been a few days previously. It seems my dreams of snow on the Camino my be thwarted.

I was pleased to be walking again today, as felt a little slothenly having had a couple of detour days. I was enjoying the company of my American friend, but her timeline is longer than mine. I was starting to feel I need to move on, but was happy to walk with her today and spend another evening together. I think tomorrow I will try and speed up a little.

The walk today followed the river out of Villafranca, twisting through a carpet of autumn leaves. It’s getting later in the season now, and most of the trees are now bare. The sun was shinning. The sky was blue. We shared anecdotes, and laughed the day away.

At our first coffee stop, we met a young American girl who had news of my Brazilian friend. She had walked with him for a few days, and was planning to meet up with him again this evening, in a town past the one we had planned to stay at. I also had had news from my older Canadian friend, unfortunately he had fallen ill, and had returned to Canada. He was recovering. My Dutch friend had stayed in the same alburgue I was in tonight the previous evening, he was now one day ahead of me. My Camino angel is two days ahead. My Irish, and Italian friends are speeding ahead, almost in Santiago more than seventy kilometers ahead of me.

I passed a sign today saying I was only 190 kilometers to Santiago. It seems too close. But I have now planned to walk on to Muxia if I have time, another day past Finisterra. This walking thing is certainly addictive.

There’s Gold in Them Thar Hills

Salas de Barrios to Villafranca del Bierzo
Wednesday 26 November

Rising from a comfortable sleep in our fifteenth century mansion alburgue, our charming and passionate host was preparing breakfast in the warm and ancient kitchen. Fruit smoothies, wholesome bread with homemade conserves, coffee. Conversation flowed, we could have stayed all day, but we had sights to see.

We first toured several small mountain villages. Our host had grown up in the area, and knew the ancient history as well as telling stories of his personal history. I was born here, my uncle lives there, a king owned this, this family is famous for that. He is an architect by trade, so could explain some of the ancient building techniques, illustrating the colourful stories from the area. Fascinating.

We ventured down to Ponferrada, walking around the twelfth century Templar castle. It looked like something Walt Disney would have dreamt up, the stuff of fairy tales. I searched for dragons. Our host pointed out a small hole and told tales of when he was a child crawling through that very hole to explore. I suddenly realised my necklace had broken, and I had lost my pendant. It’s a Balinese Hindu symbol, that I’ve had for several years, and am very fond of. I had recently added a small Camino symbol to the chain, however that had remained. I didn’t feel panicky or particularly upset, as I thought I might, but felt I would find it. We searched the surrounding area, and retraced our steps, then searched the car, but it was not to be found. I thought perhaps it had fallen off back at the alburgue. I was almost pleased that I would have an excuse or visit our host again.

We next drove to Las Medulas, the ancient Roman, UNESCO listed gold mines, and the reason for our Camino detour. We parked near a wooden platform on the edge of the cliff. Our view was obscured, until we climbed the platform. My jaw dropped. Giant red ancient anthills. A once towering mountain, now desolate, almost completely carved away. Spectacular barren landscape. We were then able to enter one of the Roman tunnels, but first we had to don hard hats. We descended into the dimly lit red passage. The first few meters were wide, but not very tall, so we had to duck. It then opened up, and we were able to stand. The shaft branched out into several tunnels, we followed one until the end, then backtracked along another. I marveled at the centuries old technology that had managed to carve out this mountain. Continuing through the tunnel system, it opened to a large abyss on the side of the mountain, through which we could view the anthill-like forms. My jaw dropped again.

It was time to go, and we were all a little hungry. We drove to Villafranca to look for a resturant. As I was getting out of the car, I saw something shinny wedged between the seats, it was my pendant! I will have to find another excuse to visit Salas de Barrios again. My American friend and I had planned to walk from near Ponferrada to Villafranca today, but as we were already there, we decided to forgo our Camino for another day it was getting late. She said the municipal Albergue would be too much of a shock for us after our luxurious mansion, so suggested a small hotel she knew. It was very reasonable and included breakfast in the price, so basically the cost of an alburgue, as we split the cost of a room.

The Magnificent Mountains

El Acebo to Salas de Barrios
Tuesday 25 November

Another very short walking day today. I was leaving the official Camino for my planned detour. My American friend and I set out early, stopping for breakfast at the end of the town, where I again saw my Dutch friend. I wished him Buen Camino, as he left. I hope we will meet again, but I get the feeling it won’t be for some days. However, we do have our planned dinner date to compensate for the dreadful meal in Astroga.

My American friend wanted to walk on the road again, while I continued along the Camino path. We had planned to meet up in Molinseca. I caught up with an English girl and her American friend, walking together for a while. We talked of arranged marriages, and the western perception of love. The Camino often presents stimulating conversation. We parted and I waited for my friend. When she arrived we stopped for a quick second breakfast before continuing to Campo, where it had been arranged that we meet the Spanish man from the previous evening who owned the alburgue.

He picked us up in his car. I couldn’t help feeling I was cheating. I haven’t been in a car for weeks. I did forgive myself, as I was officially leaving the Camino for a day. He dropped us at the alburgue, a rambling homely stone mansion full of antiques, crystal chandeliers and art. We had a choice of rooms, a simple one for ten euros, or one with a magnificent view, and an attached bathroom with bath for fifteen. A small splurge was in order.

Our host left, and said he would return later, so we went in search of lunch. There was a small Resturant under the house, a separate business, but we thought we would look around the town first to see if there was a small bar. The tour of the town took only a few minutes, and there was nothing, so we returned to the resturant. We were unprepared for the magnificent cellar room. A huge stone vault with long tables, almost medieval. We asked for something without meat, and it seemed we were going to have fried eggs and chips. I was prepared to be disappointed. The food took a very long time for such a simple dish, but soon a wonderful salad arrived with quince jelly, goats cheese and nuts. The best salad I’ve had in Spain. Then the egg and chips were presented in a casserole dish with roasted green chilies. I never knew egg and chips could be such a gourmet meal. Dessert was a layered chocolate torte. One of the better meals.

Upstairs our host had retuned, and explained our tour for the afternoon. We would leave visiting the gold mine until tomorrow, but would visit a remote monastery ruin, and some small mountain villages this afternoon. We drove up the mountain winding our way along the narrow pass, passing small stoney villages. The steep cliffs appeared inflamed by the autumn leaves. A small stream flowed by the road. The colours glowed as the late afternoon light dimmed. We climbed higher and higher, twisting and turning. We could see the huge Montes de Valdezda monastery in the distance. As the light was fading we arrived to find the structure engulfed, Angkor-like, in tree roots. I half expected to see Lara Croft. We wandered around the outside, then returned to the car for our next destination.

Climbing even further up the mountain, my ears popped and my water bottle started hissing from the pressure. We must be high. It was now dark, but we could still make out the magnificent scenery in the moonlight. We entered the next village and parked the car. The air was cold, and we could see snow not too far in the distance. The village created the impression that it had organically grown out of the ground. It was completely made of stone, the paved roads, the houses, the slate roofs. It was remote and almost deserted. Romantic in its isolation. I began to fantasize of buying one of the several houses for sale and hibernating for the winter. It would have to have good internet.

Back in the car, we climbed and climbed the fog surrounded and it was hard to make out the road. At one point we lost the road completely, we were on grass. Our host had to get out of the car to look for the road again. We began our descent, stopping at a small apple orchard. Behind the orchard was a huge old tree. Centuries old. Magnificent. We circled it three times for luck. We returned to our mansion alburgue, agreeing that it had been an incredible afternoon. Our host promised that it would be better tomorrow.