Day 23 : Pieros to La Faba

Steve : As feared Jen’s foot and leg are in a very painful state. She seems to have done something to her toe, and in an attempt to compensate for that, she has done something to her leg.  The upshot is that she’s not able to walk today.

Hamish gets up at 6am and is out on the road. I’ll keep Jen company and we’ll meet him in La Faba this evening. We’ve had another good sleep with no snorers (either we’ve got the hang of this or snorers don’t go to hippy veggie albergues).

Jen and I have a leisurely breakfast with the hospitaleros and late departers…

…and catch the 8:30 (ish – it is Spain…) bus to Villafranca del Bierzo.

Villafranca del Bierzo

We find a bank, get more cash, and wait until 10am for the tourist office to open so we can figure out how to get a bus further up the valley.  Sadly it turns out that there are no buses today, so we admit defeat and spend 20 euros on a cab journey to Herrerias, the last town before the steep climb to La Faba.

Herrerias and horse

We are nearly in Galicia now and the landscape is changing yet again.  This really does look like Scotland now. Rolling hills with big peaks in the distance.

We stroll slowly up the hill to La Faba. It’s only 3.4 km but it’s hot hot hot and by the time we get there I’ve lost pints in sweat. We come upon a Catholic albergue with a fountain in the courtyard. A group of Americans, 4 siblings and a cousin, are cooling off with their feet in the cold water. They invite us to join them and it feels marvellous.

We pass a very entertaining couple of hours talking about life in the US and Europe. They are a fun group of young folks.

The fountain once everyone had departed

Hamish rolls up around 12:30. He’s set an incredible pace, averaging nearly 6km / hour. Impressive. We extract ourselves from the cold fountain and book into the veggie ‘El Refugio’ albergue.

The bunk room looks like something straight out of ‘The Hobbit’. There are about a dozen beds and mine is half way up a 6m wall, accessible by a big wooden ladder. The bathroom is built into the wall and is a work of art.  It’s very small but functional. Sadly there’s not enough sound proofing and I’m sleeping right next to it (and a German chap has, ahem, digestive issues and is a frequent visitor throughout the night…).

I skip the wash cycle and fall very much asleep for hours and hours.  Possibly a mistake as I struggle to sleep that night. I then read “The Martian” and wait for tea.

A small wander through the village, back to the other albergue and the old church.

1000 year old restored church

I come upon the American family and we get into discussion about education and jobs. It turns out that the cousin is studying geo-physics and astro-physics and has already been involved in getting a project on the International Space Station. I’m very impressed.  She talks of becoming an astronaut. We swap emails and I shall follow her career with interest.

Dinner is served at 8 to an enthusiastic crowd of some 20 peregrinos. It was an excellent meal, announced with great flair by the cook, who shouted, via a loud-hailer, the various courses. We ate well and discussed astro-physics. A splendid evening.

Off to bed…

It took me ages to go to sleep.  What with the lack of soundproofing in the loo and the aforementioned gentleman’s gut issues….  I listened to six ‘Jon Ronson On…’ episodes and eventually fell asleep around 2:30am.

Day 22 : Ponferrada to Pieros

Steve : Up and out from Ponferrada at 6am. Good nights sleep, very tired after yesterday We had a small room with just four people in it and no snorers. Bliss.

Jen has discovered a kitten that lives in the bushes of the albergue.

Calling all cats…

She went to the supermarket last night and bought tuna and lactose-free milk. She fed the kitten this morning and put the rest in the fridge with a note to future peregrinos giving instructions as to where to leave the food. You can be sure that the future peregrinos would oblige.

Ponferrada at 6am is quite picturesque.

Albergue San Nicolas de Flue at 6am
Peregrino rush hour

We pass a castle which seems to have something to do with The Knights Templar. And here we have an example of the Camino bubble. We are passing though Spain at a very slow speed and we should be able to take part in the culture of the towns through which we pass. But we seldom do. The life of the peregrino is so focused on getting from A to B and then recovering from that effort. The towns through which we pass are nothing other than placeholders on a map. Everything is about getting to the albergue as soon as possible to get out of the infernal sun, or at least that’s the case for me.

If I were to walk this way again, and I suspect I will, I would walk more slowly and at a cooler time of year. Walk 15k rather than 25, and stop off to actually see something. I would get out of the pilgrim bubble.

But, we head on out of town along a very minor road according to the map. The minor road was, sadly, very busy and we spent a long time just avoiding cars.

Perspective…

Jen has a sore leg and I’m struggling to recover from the heat exhaustion of yesterday. It is a difficult walk. At one point Jen’s leg is giving her such trouble that we try and call a taxi for her, but we give up in frustration when we cannot make our location clear to the taxi service. Our Spanish isn’t good enough. So she trudges on.

The landscape is changing. There are vineyards on all sides and it’s getting hilly.

We walk through some woods and come upon a popup cafe with a large dog, whom Jen befriends.

Time for tea…
… and a scratch

Jen and I are cross! My muscles hurt from yesterday. The big descent from La Cruz de Ferro was fine. The path was rough but it was basically the same as a descent from a Scottish hill. It was the 6k along the roadside from Molinaseca to Ponferrada in the 35 deg C heat that did me in.

We have a pasta lunch in Cacabelos and trek out up the hill to Pieros. We are booked in to another hippy albergue, El Serbal y La Luna, from the Vegetarian Way, one that Jen stayed in last year.

We arrive around 2pm and are the first in. The place is lovely and cold and dark. Both Jen and I pass out for a good few hours in the blessed cool. Hamish made his way upstairs to the ‘yoga room’ and fell asleep there instead. This is a very old building and decidedly quirky. The yoga room has two big French doors onto a balcony, both doors are open. Then I realise that there are two bird’s nests in the wooden ceiling of the room. As I sit there a mother bird flits in and out feeding a nest of youngsters. Unbelievably there’s no mess at all on the carpet. Not sure how they manage that…

Our host is a Californian and the other residents are a German chap from a very small town and an American girl from New York State. We have interesting conversations.

We’re here fairly early so the long afternoon is spent sleeping and reading. I’m well into ‘The Martian’ by Andy Weir. It’s a good read and an example of ‘hard’ sci-fi in that he expends a lot of words on real science. Nothing too metaphysical. It seems almost wrong to read such a book in such a hippy albergue…

Dinner is served at 8pm and we fall into bed at 9:30. Jen is very cocerned about her leg. If it still hurts in the morning she and I will get on the bus and give her leg a full rest day.

The albergue bedroom is cool and quiet and we sleep well. For only the second time on the trip I reach for a blanket in the middle of the night.

Roof gutter pipe. Can’t buy that at B&Q…

Day 21 : Foncebadon to Ponferrada

Last night was noisy, but at least, at this altitude, it was cooler than we’ve become used to. We are up at dawn and gather outside the albergue.

We met up last night with a French-Canadian couple with whom we shared dinner a week or so ago.  They were fitter than us and were averaging 35-40km per day so we were surprised to find them behind us. It turns out that Jean was having a major Camino event – he’d taken a day out from walking to find some reliable wifi and resign from his job and join a new start-up company.  This made him very happy…

Jean, the Happy Canadian

I’m must say we were all a bit jealous.  The very happy Jean is one of my favourite Camino memories…

Off we trek up the road into the hills. Today we will pass the second great Camino monument, La Cruz de Ferro (The Iron Cross). This is a simple 5m wooden pole atop which is an iron cross. It marks one of the highest points on the Camino (1505m) but it has come to mean much more than a simple waypoint.

We arrive not long after dawn.

La Cruz de Ferro, in the distance
The cross, surrounded by stones

The idea is simple. You bring something, often a stone, from your home and you place it at the foot of the cross and then you turn and walk away, leaving it behind.

For Christians the symbolism is obvious, for others the emotional weight of this place is just as clear.

A huge mound of rocks and stones and photos, bits of paper, detritus from thousands of peregrinos over the years surrounds the pole. Jen, Hamish and myself have each carried small stone from home to here and now it is time to leave it and walk away.

We are early today so, thankfully, the cross is quiet.  We place our stones in silence.  We do not ask each other any questions.

Again, I am struck by the enormous symbolism of the Camino.  The Way carries its religious heritage lightly. Yes, you are on what was originally (probably) a Catholic pilgrimage but you largely pick that up by osmosis.  There is no prosletyzing.  And yet…

Every now and then something sneaks up on you – the albergue in Bericanos, the first great pilgrim monument outside Pamplona and you feel the presence of a millenium of fellow travellers and of something greater than the simple sum-of-the-parts.

This is one of the those places.

Jen leaves her stone
Jean, the French Canadian, who had just resigned from his job…

We spend maybe 30 minutes here, looking at what others have left behind, and thinking of our own passage to this time and this place.

We head off, over the hills…

After a few km we come to Manjarin in which a collection of eccentrics are doing something (not entirely clear what) related to the Knights Templar.

We vist their ‘compound’ and Hamish tries the toilet facilities which he reckons are original and much to be avoided.  Somewhat bemused we move on.

The scenery is getting more dramatic as we descend from Manjarin down into the village of Molinaseca

A second breakfast is had along the way at Acebo and we wander on through dilapidated villages…

It’s getting very hot by the time we arrive in Molinaseca.

This is a very different town. It seems to be a holiday spot for Spaniards and, unlike most of the small towns through which we pass, isn’t entirely reliant on peregrino traffic for its survival.

We’ve run out of money again so spent 30 mins trying, unsuccessfully, to find a cash machine. So we blow our remaining euros on some ice cream and Jen and Hamish go for a swim in the river.

We’d love to stop here, as we’ve done some 20km today and it is now extremely hot.  But we’re broke, so we stride on out to Ponferrada, a much bigger town, in the hope of finding an ATM.

We pass beautiful modern villas guarded by BMWs and Range Rovers.  This is a wealthy town and something of a shock considering the apparent poverty of where we started this morning.

It’s only 6km to Ponferrada but it’s 2pm and it must be 40 deg C in the shade.  These 6 km are the hardest I’ve walked thus far.  It’s flat and the walking is easy but the heat is finishing me off.

We were thinking of staying at another veggie albergue but when we finally found it we decided against it and carried on.

Choice #2 looked like a modern hotel and had thick glass and AIR-CONDITIONING!!! but was, sadly, full.

So we ended up at Albergue St Nicolas de Flue, a donativo.  A good choice, it was excellent.  We were in a 4 bed room with a lady from Mexico.

In retrospect we should have rested up and done as little as possible in an attempt to recover from the heat.  But, Ponferrada is a historic town so off we went to be tourists.

We pass a castle of some description but, frankly, we are all now delirous with the heat and I’m getting a little worried about myself.

We find an ATM, get some cash, and retire to a smoothie shop that has air-con, a great rarity.  We sit for as long as possible and try to make a plan through the heat haze in our brains. We eventually head next door to an excellent little cafe and eat lots of salty eggs and chips and drink lemonade.  By 7:30pm the heat has reduced a little and our heads are clearing.

We retire to the albergue where Jen finds a kitten to play with and H and I read books.

Today was dramatic.  La Cruz de Ferro was deeply affecting, the scenery was immense and the sun is still trying to kill us.

Day 20 : Murias de Rechivaldo to Foncebadon

Steve : a good night’s sleep was had by all and we stirred ourselves for the 5:30 rise and out by 6. Keen to beat the sun.

The dread sun rises

The road headed directly west and we headed up into the hills.

The countryside is changing again, we’re rising up into some proper rolling countryside. Looks a little like Scotland.

Then on through the villages of Santa Catalina, breakfast, and El Ganso.

Storks inhabit most churches

Today has been a lot cooler and we’re all very grateful. Around 9:30am at Rabanal del Camino, exactly as predicted by Google, a rainstorm hits us.

We hide out in a cafe and wait for it to pass. Rabanal is a very beautiful town. Brierley has it as the end of the day’s walk but we want to go further in order to break up the two 30k days that are coming up.

Successfully avoided the rain

We reach Foncebadon at 12:30 and book into the albergue Monte Irago.

Jen, Hamish and Anne-Marie, a Canadian friend and fellow peregrino

This is a strange town. I’ve seen photos of hostels on the path up to Everest base camp and this looks like that.

I also sense a certain hardening of attitudes towards the peregrinos. The albergues seem to be very competitive (and there’s nothing in this town except albergues). The Monte Irago is mentioned in the Vegetarian Way so we live in hope for dinner. But after yesterday’s utterly splendid albergue we prepare for disappointment.

Following the washing cycle we all fell asleep for hours.

Washerwoman Jen

We’re quite high up here (tomorrow we climb to 1500+ metres) and the valley has disappeared in mist. A thunderstorm has cleared the air and dropped the temperature. Excellent.

This is a slightly odd albergue. It has decided hippy aspirations – lots of Tibetan prayer flags and Hindu god imagery. One shouldn’t be unkind but it does all look a bit bolted on. The sort of place that plays 1970s rock music just a bit too loud the whole time. It felt fake.

Our dinner companions

Serious peregrinos want to go to bed early and get up well before the dawn to get the day started before the heat hits. This albergue was turning away people who wanted to be up before 6am. And there seemed to be some drumming session going on that lasted until 11pm. As a result no sleep was had until at least midnight. Avoid.

But we did find more quality graffiti…

Winter is coming? I think not…

Day 19 : Hospital de Orbigo to Murias de Rechivaldo

Steve : Up at 6 after a literally infernal night (see yesterday’s post). Haven’t felt this tired since we tried to give away Jen to Homerton Children’s Hospital at 2:30am one morning when she was 18 months old. “Here, take this child, we haven’t slept for months, thank you, bye…”.

Anyway… the hospitalero tells us over breakfast that it’s around 10 deg C hotter this year than last. Oh dear.

I plaster my feet with some fake Spanish Vaseline (someone recommended it and I’ll now try anything) and stagger out the door.

Across some scrub and up a hill – finally the path was diverging from the main road. Took lots of photos of half abandoned Spanish villages…

The evil sun was up and doing it’s thing but I thought it wasn’t as bad as yesterday. Maybe this peely-wally Scotsman was finally getting used to the orange orb thing in the sky?

An impromptu cross and peregrino monument

After a couple of hours rambling through some nice countryside I came upon what can only be described as an oasis.

A couple of locals had set up a stall, with covered sitting areas and interesting bits and pieces.

The stall was piled high with fruit, fruit juices, coffee, a huge variety of teas and they even had a pizza oven. A large sign said in several languages “Free, help yourself”. And it really was. I filled up on fruit, coffee and a took a couple of boiled eggs. I tried to wash my cup and our benefactor insisted that I let him do it. There was a small box marked ‘donativo’ but there really truly was no sense of any expectation. All our host wanted was to hug everyone as they left and wish them Buen Camino. I put a few euro in the box and left, thinking that some folk really do make the world a better place.

Back to the trail along the roadside, unfortunately, as I approached Astorga.  The roadside trail may be boring but the graffiti isn’t.  Camino graffiti is definitely of a higher standard…

Something big was happening in Astorga – the main square had a religious statue in it and it looked like a procession might be happening.

A Gaudi church

But peregrinos can’t hang about. We had decided to aim for a vegetarian albergue in Murias, so after two more breakfasts, one in each end of the town, I headed out into the midday heat to get the last 5k done before melting time.

Another roadside monument

I arrived at the very splendid Albergue Casa las Aguedas around 1pm and checked us all in.

Then rinse, lather, repeat of self and clothes and the lounging around can begin….

J and H didn’t show up until late afternoon after an epic 35km hike in the heat of the day. Thankfully today’s heat of the day wasn’t as bad as yesterday but nonetheless – much respect!

This albergue is very quiet and plays Windham Hill type music at subdued volume throughout. Very tranquil.

Dinner was served at 7pm and set a new high standard. Gazpacho soup, couscous with grilled vegetables and poached apples and pears for dessert. Incredible value for 10 euros.

Gazpacho #1
Gazpacho #2
Gazpacho #3

We went to bed not long after 8pm. H was asleep immediately and didn’t stir until 6am the next day. I was too hot, again, and it took me a good while to get to sleep. But no snorers….

Best albergue yet, I think.

Day 18 : Leon to Vilar de Mazarife/ Hospital de Orbigo 

Jen and Hamish walking to Vilar de Mazarife. Steve on the bus to Hospital de Orbigo.

Steve : I took advantage of my new plan and didn’t get up until 8, a full 2 hours after the walkers had left. I had another shower (the luxury!!) and spent 20 mins spent trying to sort out my feet and socks and shoes.

TOWELS!!!

Then off to wander around Leon until my 1pm bus.

Leon is a rather pretty city, if you ignore the outskirts. The cathedral is magnificent and I paid my 6 euros and spent an hour or so soaking in the atmosphere.

Cathedral plus a random collection of Leon building materials
Beautiful stained glass of which Leon is rightly proud.

The audio guide said that in the 13th century, when the cathedral was built, the town was a mere 5000 people. That’s smaller than my home town in Scotland. I’m never entirely sure if this is a genuine sacrificial act of  community worship or some feudal game of “who has the best cathedral” played by the ruling classes, whilst the peasants would really rather just have some more food. I suspect the latter but I suppose we’ll never know. In any case the cathedral is magnificent.

I had breakfast in an upmarket cafe overlooking the cathedral. And, in spite of everything, I genuinely missed the tortilla and coffee of the real peregrino and envied J and H.

I had a dodgy lunch in a dodgy cafe near the bus station (why are cafes near stations always a bit suspect?) and guiltily got on the 13:00 bus. Three euros and 15 cents gets me out of a day and a half of walking.

Camino trail from the bus

I arrive in Hospital de Orbigo after 40 minutes and check in to the very splendid San Miguel albergue. It comes complete with paints, brushes and an easel should you feel the need to get creative. The entire place is lined with peregrino artworks. Lovely.

Albergue San Miguel
Take a canvas and some paints…
..and if the hospitalero likes it on the wall it goes.

I get in to a small room with four beds and, for the first time, I’m on a top bunk. Not sure how that will play out…

This is a beautiful town and this is a particularly fine albergue. The hospitalero is from Venezuela and has lined the entire building with art works created by peregrinos. He provides a canvas, an easel and some paint and away you go….

I read and slept most of the afternoon and evening as the mercury rose. Dinner was a generic veg paella in an air conditioned restaurant. I spent the rest of the evening talking to some of the younger walkers. The other midddle aged couple in my room were a bit miserable and seemed to take my arrival as a personal insult but never mind.

To bed at 9:30. Trouble was it was so hot. The pharmacia sign said 35 deg C at 8:30. I lay there listening to podcast after podcast. I recall looking at my watch at 2:30am. I think all four of us were awake in the room. I don’t think I’ve ever been so hot. At one point I thought about getting up and going out to the garden just to avoid hallucinating. The next thing I knew it was 4 am and the miserable couple’s alarm had gone off. They really were bad room mates. Good practice is to put your alarm (usually your phone) under your pillow and thus not annoy anyone else. But no, the alarm goes off, some yawning and stretching happen, and then the alarm is silenced. Thanks for that…

Day 18 : Stats

Steve: Leon to Hospital de Orbigo, by bus. As I’m the one wearing the Fitbit all stats are mine. Even though it was supposed to be a rest day for me I still managed to exceed my 10k steps

Steps 12,709

Distance covered, according to Brierley

  • 32.6 by bus

Other Fitbit stats for Steve

  • 11.44 km walked (based on 0.9m stride length)
  • 103 ‘active’ minutes
  • 3,121 cals burned

Jan and Hamish did some 22km walking

Day 17 : Reliegos to Leon

Steve : Up early again.

Rumour is that today is to be the hottest yet. Keen to get the 24k to Leon done before we melt.

Spain builds excellent roads. We cross an unfinished highway…

…and watch the construction vehicles come out from Leon. There are dozens of them. Every now and then a truck comes past spreading water to damp down the dust.

We’d run out of cash yesterday so the first requirement of the day was a cash machine. This we found in the village of Mansillas de las Mulas. Which is a bit of an ugly town. And, for the first time on the trip, we could find no open cafes. So now we had money but nowhere to spend it. We’d done 6k without breakfast and we were kept going by visions of strong coffee and tortillas. Eventually we found a tired old place on the main square and had strange cake for breakfast.

Thankfully the next small town had some excellent cafes so we were up and running.

Right, there’s no way to sugar coat this. Today’s walk is just plain boring. The entire day is spend walking alongside the N-120, a busy road with trucks and all sorts of things that aren’t fun if you’re a walker.

We decide on the topic of the day’s conversation. Let’s get an old truck and convert it for driving around the world. This proved a fruitful topic and the kilometres fairly flew by.

But as we got within a few km of Leon my feet were really suffering. Everything else was working fine, but my feet were falling apart. I was getting concerned.

I was greatly looking forward to our prebooked hotel in Leon. As with all major Spanish cities on the Camino the approach to Leon was long and hot and definitely a trudge.

A nice moment was found as we approached the old city walls we came upon a table staffed by local volunteers handing out maps and boiled sweets. We made it into central Leon and our hotel around 1pm.

It was GLORIOUS to have our own rooms. I unpacked everything and deliberately made a mess as I showered and cleaned up.

We went for a small stroll around the cathedral but my feet were in such a state that every step hurt. So we retired to our rooms where the youngsters slept and the old man did techy things and sat with his feet up.

At 6 Jen did a blister removal operation on my feet and we limped out in Leon to find a pizza place that Jen remembers from her last visit, last year. We found it and had three enormous pizzas and several pints of Perrier.

We also made a plan. I’m getting properly concerned about my left foot and I think I need to rest up. So J and H will set off tomorrow to Villarreal de Mazarife on the optional (according to Brierley) ‘scenic route’. Which has the huge advantage of not running along the roadside. I would get on a bus to Hospital de Orbigo, about 30km along the trail. The plan is that on Sunday I’ll start walking again and do a short 15km day to Astoria where I’ll meet up with J and H.

Plan made, we went shopping for sunglasses and soap for Jen.

I say, Jen, are those new sunglasses?

Albergues have a fairly strict 10pm shut-up policy. Unfortunately the Real World doesn’t and, as you have to have all the windows open in order not to melt, it took some time to get to sleep.

Day 17 : Stats

Reliegos to Leon

Steps 41,022

Distance covered, according to Brierley

  • 24.3 km direct, 24.8 km actual walking
  • 312.3 km to go

Other Fitbit stats

  • 36.92 km walked (based on 0.9m stride length)
  • 336 ‘active’ minutes
  • 4,969 cals burned

Slow Camino

Steve : I’ve been taking some video along the way and I thought I’d post a couple of examples.

Here’s some Slow TV of walking across the meseta

Spain is very fond of wind turbines (as am I). Here’s an early morning dance, also taken on the meseta…

Day 16 : Bercianos del Real Camino to Reliegos

Steve : Bercianos has a strict no-getting-up-before-6:00am policy, which, on the whole, was adhered to. The promised snorefest (see yesterdays post) didn’t really happen. But sleep was slow to arrive because of the sweltering heat.

We looked at the ‘Vegetarian Way’ poster and decided to stop a few km before normal today in the tiny town of Reliegos, 6km before Mansillas, the usual stop. This will give us 24km to do to Leon tomorrow but that’s ok. We’ve booked hotel rooms in Leon so we can sleep in glorious solitude and use real TOWELS! Oh, the luxury.

Sunrise, again, run it’s out to get you…

The route today was hot and dry, and ran alongside the road.

After yesterday’s blisterfest I wore my sandals with thick socks, which might seem counterintuitive but seems to work for me – trading off coolness (in the thermodynamic sense, coolness in the fashion session having been abandoned long ago) and support. Frankly this part of the trail is a little boring.

H, J and I spent the walk discussing how to declutter ones wardrobe (capsule wardrobe, apparently), scuba diving and flying lessons (to the great surprise of J and me, H doesn’t actually know how to fly a plane. However he does seem to be able to do pretty much everything else…).

Breakfast was in El Burgo Ranero.

Do I really want to know?

Impromptu roadside library

By 10:30 the heat was getting problematic so we were very pleased to stumble upon Reliegos as we rounded a bend over a hill and we found the Ada Albergue in no time. We were the first in.

Wash, rinse, leather, repeat, etc and done.

This is a very nice albergue. Highly recommended. Our hospitalero was from Wales and volunteers here for a few weeks every year. The above photo shows him serenading the locals.

Now, cash is in short supply and we were down to our last 12 euros. No cash machine until Mansillas, 6 k into tomorrow, and Spanish shops don’t do credit cards. We tried to pay with a MasterCard in the breakfast cafe and you’d think the lady had never seen one before. She had a look of “why are you showing me a piece of pink plastic?”

Just after getting settled in H got the dreaded email from Edinburgh University informing him that his final degree grade had been posted. J and I stole his iPad and login whilst he looked on in pain. No worries. Let me introduce Mr Hamish Hutchings, BSc Hons, Upper Second. Oh yes…  we were sadly too broke to celebrate.

Following our bread and cheese lunch J got the same email. We stole her phone and we’re delighted to inform her that we were now in the presence of Ms Jennifer Logan MA Hons, Upper Second.

By now we had a mere 2 euros and 12 cents to our name so celebrations were restricted to a carton of fruit juice and a KitKat. Living it large.

Dinner was splendid. Pedro, the albergue owner, is an excellent cook and we had the best meal of the trip so far. Pedro provided a free bottle of wine and toasted the future of the new graduates. Very pleasant evening.

Pedro in the kitchen

There were only 8 of us in that evening. No snorers!

Early to bed. Tomorrow is the trudge to Leon alongside a busy road.

Day 16 : Stats

Bercianos del Real Camino to Reliegos

Steps 31,683

Distance covered, according to Brierley

  • 21.5 km direct, 21.5 km actual walking
  • 325.6 km to go

Other Fitbit stats

  • 28.51 km walked (based on 0.9m stride length)
  • 281 ‘active’ minutes
  • 4,797 cals burned

Day 15 : Moratinos to Bercianos de Real Camino

Steve : Up late today. Breakfast was served from 6:30 and we made it around 7am. There had been a big rain storm in the night and I woke at one point to the sound of huge rain pellets hammering a corrugated metal roof. A lovely noise.

Leaving Alburgue San Bruno

We were all a little low on enthusiasm when we set off, but we’d only got 20k to do today so… head down and get on with it.

Still a long way to go…

We’d walked a whole 2.5 km before we came upon a sign advertising a veggie cafe serving healthy breakfasts.

Real food, perhaps?

We felt obliged to stop. We eat huge bowls of fruit salad and drink proper cappuccinos to the accompaniment of Johnny Cash blasting out over the town square.

An hour later, with very full bellies, and much improved moods, we were off.

J and I had an enthusiastic discussion as to whether Paul Simon was our favourite songwriter (dear reader, I have raised her in the way she should go…) which got us to Sahagun around 11am. It was getting hot.

Sahagun in the distance

Sahagun was taking down the bull barriers that lined the town streets. Apparently we’d just missed another bull running thing.

Bull barriers

The casual animal torture that passes for cultural entertainment in northern Spain is baffling to us animal loving Brits. Maybe it’s a national blind spot – Americans have loony gun laws, Germans have no speed limits and we Brits have the House of Lords…

More Coke Zeros in Sahagun and we set off on the afternoon trudge long the roadside to Bercianos. Not a pleasant walk and far too hot.

Hot hot hot

An, ahem, inspirational message on the back of a road sign

Let’s put a carrot in the works…

My blisters are driving me nuts but, being a stubborn sort, my solution is just to keep going. We arrive at 1:25pm and the albergue opens at 1:30.

Bercianos donative, the best fun albergue so far

We join the queue and I have a small blood sugar related almost-collapse. We check in to this truly splendid albergue and do the shower thing. We stagger into the only bar we can find and each eat a large pizza. I feel much better. Back to the albergue for a sleep. I drift off listening to ‘The Big Sleep’, another BBC Radio 4 play. I wake up at random moments and realise I have no idea what’s going on. You cannot fall asleep during a Raymond Chandler story…

It’s so incredibly hot that we return to the bar, which for reasons we can’t determine, is quite cool and pleasant. We watch the Simpsons dubbed in Spanish and zone out.

This albergue is a donativo, run by volunteers on an entirely free basis. It really is a lovely old building and seems quite popular with the seasoned Camino veterans.

As with most donativos there is a communal meal in the evening.  A veggie option is provided and all us veggies sit together to make life easier for the hospitaleros. The table is an eclectic group, us Scots, an Austrian, three Germans, a Canadian, a Spaniard, an Italian and a young lady from England – who was doing the Camino following a 2 year stint in South Sudan with Save The Children Fund and a bicycle trip from London to Hong Kong. Like you do…

The delight of communal dinners is that you are forced to meet your fellow travellers.  The albergue sensibly has no WiFi and the hospitaleros go to some efforts to make the peregrinos talk to one another.

Following dinner we all gather in the back garden in a big circle and join hands.  The lead hospitalero asks us to go around the circle, give our names, and, if we want, state why we’re on the Camino.

I say that I want to prove I’m not dead yet and I want to do something with my daughter, and I add, with a lump in my throat, that I want to remember my infirm son back home.  Definitely another CALS* moment…

Others give diverse reasons, others stay quiet.  The circle completes and our leader instructs us to hug each other in a meaningful manner. Yes, I know it sounds corny, but written down on a screen, so does every other significant moment in your life… I loved it.

They specialise in spectacular sunsets around here, and, in fact, the main photo atop this blog was taken at this very albergue last year on Jen’s first Camino trip.

So, around 10pm we go to the highest point in the village to watch the sun set. We sit next to some splendid Australian ladies who are celebrating their retirement with a Camino walk.

That same sun, that only a few hours ago was trying to kill us, finally hits the horizon.

The best albergue experience so far…

*Camino Adjusted Lachrymosity Syndrome

Day 15 : Stats

Moratinos to Bercianos del Real Camino

Steps 32,311

Distance covered, according to Brierley

  • 20.2 km direct, 20.2 km actual walking
  • 357.1 km to go

Other Fitbit stats

  • 29.08 km walked (based on 0.9m stride length)
  • 296 ‘active’ minutes
  • 4,649 cals burned