Stage 29: Triacastela to Sarria

10 Oct 2019

I’m up and out of Triacastela at 8:40, with clear skies and a bit chilly at 44F. I feel exhausted and my back is sore. I also have a new blister on my right big toe, probably due to all the descents, but I put a Compeed plaster on it and it feels OK.

All my clothes and boots dried real well overnight and I had a good breakfast that included bacon, eggs, and a banana. There will be no services available for the first 10 Kms of my 17 Km walk to Sarria.

As the day progressed, it became sunny and then went back to foggy and cold, prompting constant clothing changes. I finally arrived in Sarria at 1:30 with a nice sunny 65F, and encountered a super-steep stairway of about 60 steps to get up into town. Do you think that’s a medieval defense system? No one in armor (or even just a backpack) could dash up those steps and then fight. It’s what I’ve come to call the “last slap in the face” that ends so many of these stages.

I stayed at the lovely Aqua Rooms and, of course, found you-know-who at the nearest bar:

View of local church from my window. Note angle of street.
Christie, Ken (NYC), me, and Kerry

Sarria is 110 Kms from Santiago, the minimum distance the church has decreed that a pilgrim must travel in order to receive a Camino completion certificate. So this is where a lot of pilgrims start. It’s also where tour companies begin dropping off clients for the daily walking part of their “Glamino” package. Net effect for me: more pilgrims on the trail and in the bars and cafes.

The guidebooks warn that the number of Camino scammers (had to be some) will increase from here, too: people accosting you on the trail for “donations”, for your signature on petitions, and so forth. We’re advised to “just keep walking”.

Personally, Sarria means there’s just one week left before I arrive in Santiago. Holy cow – I can hardly believe it! I’m not sure what to feel: elation, pride, sadness. What will Life After the Camino be like? I’m not sure I can handle having eight pairs of underwear to choose from again.

Stage 28: O Cebriero to Triacastela

9 Oct 2019

I awoke in my warm attic room to wet and chilly conditions: 43F with fog (but not raining). After packing up, I met Jackie for breakfast downstairs before we set off.

Sorry, I didn’t take a single photo today!

My wet foggy start turned into a nice cool and sunny Fall day, with the trail moseying through little farm towns, often on cow poop-covered farm paths. Jackie is a faster walker and soon left me behind, a future reunion left to the whim of the Camino.

I ran into the Aussie couple with the nanny and 5 yr-old in a jogging stroller again – awesome people. Mrs. said she worries her daughter won’t remember the trip. I assured her she would.

The descent into Triacastela was long and steep but mostly on paved roads, so nothing like horror of descending into Zubiri in my first week. I arrived at 1:40 after a 20 Km walk. My room at Hotel Duerming Casa was new and nice, naturally I ran into Kerry and Christie for cocktails, and I finally found the razor blades I’d been looking for.

Tomorrow is significant: I arrive in Sarria, gateway to Santiago.

Stage 27: Trabadelo to O Cebriero

8 Oct 2019

I had high hopes when leaving Trabadelo, despite a forecast of rain, because there was no rain to be seen. The planned walk was 17 Kms and it was 50F at the start. In fact, I was with a small group of pilgrims and everyone was in a great mood. After all, Santiago was less than 180 Kms away now.

Not my boots

Sadly, as the morning progressed and we climbed into the mountains, clouds and other hints of what was coming appeared.

Still, the ascent and weather were tolerable, until the town of Vega de Valcarce. That’s were the on-and-off rain, fog, and poor path quality started. Let’s go to the graphic of the elevation changes:

As you know by now, suffocating rain gear + hard ascent = steam bath. My least-favorite state of affairs. Then the weather degraded in a hurry, even when the path surface improved temporarily.

The steam bath, weather, and sheer exercise of climbing for hours was really fatiguing. I was running on empty when the rain paused and I entered the little town of O Cebriero. The Wise Camino app describes it as having “grown from a small and ancient village of dairy farmers into a small and ancient village of large-scale tourism”. There’s nothing quite like a few tour buses disgorging folks at the top of the hill to make the agony of my last few hours seem pointless.

I stumbled onward, looking like I’d just emerged after having been thrown into a swimming pool, in search of my hostel. Who should I find at the nearby bar, looking calm and collected while enjoying a fresh beverage? Yes, folks, Kerry and Christie. Too tired to stop and chat, I stumbled on.

I finally found my accommodations at last and my hosts were very kind about my drowned-rat appearance. However, when they showed me the “stairs” to my attic room, I thought at first they were joking:

I really had to summon up some reserves to get my legs to take me up there.

After my rejuvenating pilgrim routine, including rigging a clothesline to dry everything, I went down to the bar part of the establishment. Jackie, an artist from Bristol, U.K., whom I’d met a few days earlier, walked in and we had dinner together. She’s a fascinating woman who, among other things, is a free-lance illustrator of children’s books. The good company and warm food did wonders for me.

The weather didn’t improve…
…and even got worse

Tucked away in my attic room, I was plenty warm that night and absolutely everything dried out. The forecast for my start the next day was for more of the same weather and a famously steep descent into Triacastela, so not that encouraging. Feet and legs were exhausted but not damaged. I was sooo tired I slept like a rock.

Stage 26: Cacabelos to Trabadelo

7 Oct 2019

Trabadelo is literally a one-street village backing a truck stop at a bend in the road. I set out from Cacabelos at 8:30 in 52F for my 18 Km walk to Trabadelo and arrived at 1:15.

Hooray! Only 200 Kms to Santiago!

As I mentioned in an earlier post, the Camino authorities occasionally toss in a new “alternate” route and that was the case today. I, however, took the traditional route which ran mostly along the highway and I was not alone. The day was absolutely gorgeous.

Always buid your church/fortress in a commanding spot

My walk took me along highways and underneath some amazing elevated super-highways. The Spanish are really good at building these overhead roadways through the mountains.

When I arrived in Trabadelo, after I checked into the Nova Ruta hostel and did the usual pilgrim routine, I popped over to the only bar in town:

Where I was greeted warmly by the bouncer:

And then Kerry and Christie showed up and Cocktail Hour commenced.

My walk tomorrow may be very hard – the ladies reported that there are supposedly some killer ascents and that rain in is the forecast. “Waiter! Another round!”

Stage 25: Ponferrado to Cacabelos

6 Oct 2019

I set out from Ponferrado at my now-usual 8:30 in 52F for my 16 Km walk to Cacabelos. My route would be flat, with a forecast of sun and high clouds, which is what we got:

As we’ve seen before, some jurisdictions use their own Camino way markers along the path, and this one was pretty interesting:

As were the Fall flowers and Roman-era embankment walls I passed along the way:

My walk was mercifully flat, letting my knees rest after yesterday’s hard descents. Cacabelos is an old town and a bit larger than I anticipated. They had a Sunday market going and a lot of townspeople strolling about, arm-in-arm, during the day.

My hostel, La Gallega, was really basic and not much in comparison to the luxury of Albergue Guiana last night, but it was OK and half the price. I ran into two Australian ladies, Kerry and Christie, whom I’d met weeks ago and we had cocktails. That’s how it goes on the Camino: you meet people, don’t see them for a while, and then they reappear.

I couldn’t resist trying a Spanish-style Donner Kebab for dinner and, as it so often turns out, it was not what I expected, but it was good. It has a salad side, with some kind of Ranch dressing, and a meat side, with some kind of barbecue sauce. I was going to take a photo of this interesting culinary specimen, but suddenly it was all gone, and… I couldn’t.

Stage 24: El Acebo to Ponferrado

5 Oct 2019

The delightful morning the next day, which had me leaving El Acebo at 8:30 and 51F for a 17 Km walk to Ponferrado, was soon marred by the hellish descent into Molinaseca, a continuation of yesterday’s awful, steep, rock-strewn paths – my knees were feeling it, despite using my trekking poles assiduously.

I saved a few Kms early on by taking the older Camino route, and was glad to have the Wise Camino app to help me find the way. In Molinesca, I found this Camino-related statue:

Saint ACL, the patron saint of destroyed knees

At 1:15, I made it to the Albergue Guiana in Ponferrado, where I had booked a private room, and found it to be a gem. It’s modern, spacious, and very well thought-out.

My awesome room!

The place had all sorts of special facilities for bicycles, too. Including a dedicated back door and freight elevator to take bikes down to the basement, which featured:

The bike washing bay
Bike storage area
and bike workbench

The laundry facilities were similarly complete. What a great place! I slept like a baby,

Stage 23: Rabanal to El Acebo

4 Oct 2019

Today’s 17 Km route promises to be mostly uphill and to visit two key features: Cruz Ferro (“the Iron Cross”) and the highest point in the Camino Frances, at 1,532 meters (5,026 feet).

I left Rabanal del Camino at 8:30 in dry, partly cloudy conditions and 50F. Climbing out of town, I was treated to views of fog in lower valleys, and even a fog rainbow:

The weather then went steadily downhill as I went uphill. This is the kind of situation I dislike the most, wet weather and me climbing hard uphill. If I put on rain gear, I’ll most likely sweat enough to be just as wet as if I didn’t.

I soon reached Cruz Ferro, where tradition has it that pilgrims leave a stone, or similar object, perhaps with something written on it, to symbolize the casting-off of some personal burden. After decades of this practice, the hill that the pole and cross stick out of has become fairly high. I was sorry to be visiting it on such a dreary day:

The Iron Cross
I left this, given to me 40+ years ago by someone I loved

Then I walked on, and the rain held off. The path wandered through fern forests, wild grasses, and low evergreens, a rocky, slate surface.

Loose footing, anyone?

Then the fun began: long, long stretches of steep descents. Not only are descents especially hard the knees, but on rocky paths you have to concentrate on placing each foot safely, for every step – it’s grueling.

The Camino Provides: a by-donation refreshment stand appeared in the middle of nowhere

Finally, the clouds cleared and the Camino emerged into El Acebo, and my hostel was right there.

The descending Camino is in the background

El Rosa del Aqua hostel is a small, 200 yr-old building, with nicely updated rooms and facilities, run by Mike, a transplanted Texan who fled a career as Fortune 100 accountant, and began running the inn this year. What a great guy! He’s a top-notch host, loads of fun to talk to, and will be very successful in his new endeavor. And, there was Cherri, booked into the room next to mine and already sipping a refreshing beverage when I arrived.

Stage 22: Astorga to Rabanal de Camino

3 Oct 2019

Today I started a slow, steady climb to the high point of the Camino Frances, which I’ll reach tomorrow.

It was 8:30am when I left Astorga and 44F, the start of a dry, beautiful day, with temps rising to 72 and no humidity. My 20 Km walk would put me in Rabanal de Camino by 2:30. The route provided a perfect arrangement of a town every 5 Kms, ideal for resting the feet and meal breaks.

In El Gonso (not kidding), I came upon the famous Cowboy Meson (Bar). There wasn’t much else to the town, nor the bar. It was just a bar with outdoor seating. Even the decor inside was not the inspired Texas homage I hoped for, no steer horns on the wall, no Longhorn beer on tap. They did have Willie on the sound system.

I did meet the lovely Cherri there, a pilgrim from Portland and a retired RN, born and raised in Salem, OR (take note, Lindsay Ingram). She was using no digital assistance (no apps, no maps) during her Camino, highly unusual.

In one of those weird Camino coincidences, for the next few days Cherri and I kept running into each other, even staying at the same albergues. She was a fast walker and always left me in the dust, but it was fun to have spent a few days with her.

One place we stayed, El Refugio Hosteria in Rabanal, served up THE best Pilgrim Menu 3-course dinner, and all for 10eu:

Salade mixta, with spiced ice cream!
Beef cheeks in wine sauce, with mashed potatoes
Carrot cake

Bread, wine, and water included. This one meal made up for many other crappy ones I’d had, and set a standard I didn’t expect to be reached again.

Stage 21: Hosp. de Orbigo to Astorga

2 Oct 2019

I had only 15 Kms planned today, so I decided not to rush out in the darkness with a headlamp and instead to sleep a little later, timing my departure to coincide with sun up (around 8:20). Much more civilized.

Later departure let me catch this in the sunlight

It turned out that that a lot of other pilgrims do the same, so it’s easy to find my way out of town on the Camino: just follow the crowd of backpacks. It was 44 F and dry, and a mostly sunny day was promised, going up to 72 F.

I stopped for my usual cafe con leche after a couple of hours and discovered a nice reminder of my college days in Charlottesville:

Within a couple of kilometers of starting to walk, I encountered an “alternate route” option. The Camino splits and the guide books and signage strongly urge you to take the new, alternate route, often because it’s “more scenic” or “rewarding”. I noticed that these new routes are also longer and harder (more ups and downs), and I wonder about the decision-making process leading to their creation. Safety is surely a concern: the classic or original routes are often next to (or sometimes, right on) busy highways. Not a problem for a single pilgrim like me, but I can imagine that a gaggle of pilgrims in the high season would be in danger.

And, of course, I’m sure there are political and economic reasons deciding for the Camino route; some little towns would simply die off without the flow of pilgrim euros. In general, I have chosen to take the shorter, easier original routes. Five or six extra Kms at the end of a long day is significant! I’ve found the original routes to be plenty scenic, too. Thank God for the Wise Camino app on my iPhone, though, which gives me real-time location positioning along the Camino; sometimes the way marking on the original routes has been neglected.

While I’m at it, I should mention that I’m also using the Camino de Santiago Maps book by Anna Dintaman and David Landis. While I sometimes disagree with their characterization of the trail sections, the maps are outstanding and the book is compact and lightweight compared to other guide books.

The morning passed by, along with many acres of grape vines, and I reached this cross (where an alternate route joined mine) and had a view down into Astorga. Heads up, Lauderdale brothers, nearby I saw this trashcan with its vandalized “Don’t Mess with Texas” sticker:

At the foot of the hill, I saw this statue celebrating the pilgrim and the region’s wine industry:

And, of course, someone’s always trying to horn in on the refreshments:

I wound my way into Astorga, got lost, had Google Maps tell me there was no way to get from where I was to my hotel, and eventually arrived by dead reckoning at the Hotel Spa Ciudad, a boutique, grossly overly-luxurious establishment for a pilgrim to stay at:

However, I did find a super deal on for it, and it was right across the street from the big cathedral:

And the Camino souvenir shop:

Tomorrow I’m off on a 20 Km walk to Rabanal del Camino, as the towns and cities go by on the road to Santiago.

Stage 20: Villadangos to Hospital de Orbigo

1 Oct 2019

I left Villadangos around 8:30 and it was 55 F and dry, partly cloudy. No desayuno (breakfast) was available at The Fly Cafe. The forecast says there’s a chance of a t-storm at 11am, so I’m rigged for rain today (meaning my poncho is readily at hand).

I was soon walking past acres of corn fields, on a nice, smooth, flat path. It turned into a beautiful day with no rain. I’ve started to see the huge stork nests that appear on top of many structures, like this church bell tower.

I made really good time today and my walk was just 15 Kms so I arrived fairly early, 11:30am, in Hospital de Orbigo, a town with medieval origins.

The Camino path usually goes right through the heart of these towns and so, then, do the pilgrims, with their Euros to spend. This town has a magnificently restored bridge leading into it, but no one likes walking on cobblestones with tired feet.

Although this pilgrim, with his horse and pack horse, probably didn’t care:

Yes, riding pilgrims are allowed but it must be difficult finding albergues that will stable your horses!

Here are two interesting things about my room that night, at the Hostal Don Suero de Quinones: yes, ladies and gentlemen, that is window screening in my room = no flies.

And this is the world’s smallest bathroom (seemed like it). The shower was only 4-feet wide:

I can’t believe it’s October already. I often lose track of what day of the week it is, but it’s interesting to find out we’re in a new month. Only 16 more days to Santiago…