After a good night’s sleep in my luxurious room, I was ready to go, and I joined the tide of departing pilgrims at 8:15. The path took us through the center of town (of course) and then through a nice riverside park, past the Museum of Energy and some interesting public art.
I passed quickly through the Ponferrada suburbs, on nice, flat paths of packed dirt and gravel. Very pleasant walking!
An hour and a half later, I arrived in Fuentes Nuevas, my halfway point and 30-minute break. Another cafe con leche topped me up.
I’ve seen, and mentioned previously, some of the interesting modes of Camino transport I’ve seen. For example, the guy with the unicycle. Today I saw a handicapped guy in a wheelchair created from a Segway! Remember the Segway? The two-wheeled, self balancing, scooter-like device, that was going to replace walking? Well, this guy was in one fitted out as a wheelchair. It looked so weird because there were no front wheels. The guy just zoomed along in it. I wish I’d taken a picture.
Let’s talk about storks for a moment. They build big, unsightly nests on tall objects. Almost always on church bell towers here:
However, the town of Camponaraya did a smart thing to protect their churches: they gave the storks another option:
The days and kilometers are going by. Only ten more days until my Camino is over.
I’m not sure how I feel at the moment. I’m kind of ready to see my Camino end. Spending a week on the couch sounds pretty good. But, who knows what the next week will bring.
Tomorrow is a long 20 Kms into a narrow valley, with some gentle climbs. It’s a set up for Thursday’s killer climb into the mountains. Cheers.
No taxis were involved today, but the first half of my day involved more of the incredibly difficult, toe-banging descents of yesterday. I shouted out “Hallelujah” when it was finally over.
I remember this stretch of the Camino from 2019 and not fondly. There were a lot more level areas and areas of packed dirt today than yesterday, but the concentration required to pick my way down the steep descents was the same.
I slept really well las night, due to fatigue from yesterday and a good mattress, in a hotel that listed numerous amenities online: a swimming pool, a steam room, a massage service. Well, yes, and no. The hotel was at one end of the village and, at the other end and half a kilometer away down a pretty good hill, was a brand new albergue owned by the same company. The pool, steam room, etc. were all downthere, and hotel guests were welcome to go use them. Right. No one wants to walk down there and then walk back. How do you say “bait and switch” in Spanish?
I’m meeting more Camino veterans this time, people who have walked it multiple times, like me. For example, I met a nurse from Toronto the other night who was on her fourth Camino. She said, “some people go to their beach house every summer, I go on the Camino”. Doesn’t seem quite the same to me, but okay if it works for her. Sadly, I think this increased frequency of vets relates to the large number of Camino know-it-alls I’ve encountered. I see these folks pontificating and remind myself again not to be one of them.
The term Buen Camino (have a good [walk on the] way) is the universal pilgrim greeting, regardless of your nationality. It’s the polite thing to say when you pass another pilgrim or get passed. As an effort at good PR, I make a point of saying hello to every single local person out for a stroll that I encounter, and 99% of them have wished me a buen camino in return.
I finally made it to Ponferrada, and it only took me four hours. That was pretty good considering my snail’s pace down the descents and a 25-minute halfway point break in Molinaseca. Some of the stuff I’m remembering from 2019 as hard or long is turning out to be easier and shorter, and that’s a nice result.
I’m in a very nice hostal, with a great private room. My bathroom is huge and the shower has nozzles at all sorts of heights. In addition, there’s a great laundry room in the basement. Yes, I stayed here in 2019 and it was too good not to come back.
Tomorrow, I have a relatively short day of 14 Kms, and a fairly flat route to Cacabelos. That will let my feet and legs rest and recover. The weather continues to be what we’d call Indian Summer back in Virginia: clear and cool in the morning, sunny and 70 by midday. Only 11 more days to go.
Rabanal del Camino to El Acebo – 17 Kms, 24,247 steps
I’m not having a good Camino day. My walk today took me over the highest point in the whole Camino and down some really awful descents. In the middle of one descent from Hell, I was cursing the idiots who administer this segment of the path and think it’s acceptable. It’s not, and I wonder how many foot and knee injuries happen here as a result. Shame on them!
The day started cool and sunny, and warmed up quickly; I was in shirt sleeves within an hour. That was good because I had a lot of climbing to do. Here’s today’s height profile:
After the initial climb to Foncebadon, I took this photo back over the valley behind me:
The Cruz de Ferro is where pilgrims leave a stone they bring from home, representing something they want to remember, or to forget.
My halfway point break was at a nice food truck, featuring homemade coffee cake and Irish/Galacian music. Cows across the road contributed to the ambiance.
Then came the descents from Hell. Loose rocks and steep descents that demanded I pay 100% attention to where my boots and hiking pole tips were going, for 35 minutes. Forget the scenery, forget taking photos, just look down and try to avoid stumbling and falling! Really bad stuff. I can’t imagine anyone negotiating this in the rain.
And then, near El Acebo two idiots on bicycles come down the path, barely in control, nearly hitting me. Twenty yards on, they had to dismount and walk their bikes. What were they thinking!? They should have followed the road, which is the bicycle route.
I’m safely in a nice hostel now, washed and fed. Tomorrow is supposed to be more of the same! Taxi, anyone?
Astorga to Rabanal del Camino – 21 Kms, 27,347 steps
I said farewell to Astorga at 8:00 AM and joined several others heading down the Camino to the city limits. Sunrise occurred about 20 minutes later. It was a chilly 44 F and I was layered up. The walking was smooth and easy, however.
Before long, I had passed through several small towns and arrived at my halfway point, Santa Catalina de Somoza, and I stopped for breakfast at a cafe I recognized from 2019. How I managed 10 Kms without coffee (there was nothing open in Astorga) is a mystery.
The guidebook says that Santa Catalina de Somoza is the only town on the Camino named for a woman! She’s Saint Catherine of Alexandria, and apparently the “de Somoza” part means “of the foothills”. At any rate, I’m glad to have spent a nice 30 minutes there, getting my caffeine fix and shedding layers to better match the warming weather.
There are a lot of pilgrims out on the Camino now, more than I remember seeing at this point in 2019. Sometimes it seems crowded, other times it’s nice to be able to see where others are going up ahead when the path zigs and zags. I wonder what this means it will be like when I get to Sarria, where the short-distance folks traditionally join in and swell the pilgrim headcount.
My next stop was the town of El Ganso, whose name makes me think of “Gonzo”, Hunter S. Thompson’s wacky type of journalism. The town is the home of the famous Cowboy Cafe, which I think might please Thompson:
It’s more hype than substance, though. For example, there’s Willie Nelson on the sound sysem, but no Lone Star in the taps. Of course, if you’re going to have Cowboy Cafe, then you need:
Yes, an albergue that houses you in teepees. I think Hollywood needs to look into filming a new series of westerns here – the community is obviously into it already.
I was in Rabanal de Camino in no time after that and I’m now checked in and unpacked at El Refugio Hosteria, a really nice hostal. In 2019, I ate a fantastic dinner here, featuring a salad with a scoop of spiced ice cream, and a main dish of beef cheeks in red wine sauce. It was absolutely the best meal of that Camino, so I’m looking forward to seeing what is on offer this evening.
Tomorrow, I’m off to El Acebo. It’s only 17 Kms but, as I recall, there are some steep sections with treacherous footing. The weather forecast is for more of the same, which is great. Cheers.
Hospital de Orbigo to Astorga – 17 Kms, 27,634 steps
My night at the albergue was not that great. Lots of noisy folks making a racket right up to lights out at 10 PM, couldn’t get my sleeping bag to behave, early wake-up call. Breakfast was served from 6 – 7 AM, then we had to be out the door by 8 AM. No lingering over coffee! And sunrise was not until 8:20, so I found myself in the dark at the edge of town, 44 F, navigating with my headlamp. The stars were pretty but I’m not really a fan of walking by lamp light.
It’s Fall and I’m experiencing typical Fall weather: crisp and cool, breezy, sunnny, and clear. As long as I put on all the layers in the morning, it’s really nice.
I walked for hours on some of the worst path surface yet: rocky and difficult and without a worn tire track to spare the feet. At about the halfway point, I pulled into what I call a “hippie rest area donativo”. A well-tanned fellow named David occupies some ruins alongside the Camino and provides food, drink, hammocks, seats, and conversation, in exchange for donations. He told me he was there “in service to God”. I was grateful for coffee at that point, but the general level of hygiene was so bad that I passed on everything else he had on offer.
I finally arrived at the point where there’s a cross commemorating a 5th century bishop, with a view of Astorga ahead. So close, yet it would be another hour before I got there. I was keeping my eye out, however, for two things I remembered from 2019:
I also re-experienced the steep climb up into Astorga when the time came. This is an old medieval town with ancient walls, built on the high ground for protection. I found my hotel without any difficulty and got settled in.
Astorga packs its 12,000 residents in tightly and offers everything a pilgrim might need. Next to its large cathedral is the Bishop’s Palace, designed by our old friend Gaudi. He sure was prolific.
Tomorrow, I have a bit longer walk, 21 Kms, to Rabanal del Camino. I’m staying in the same hostal that I stayed in last time, specifically because they served the best gourmet pilgrim meal. I’m looking forward to seeing what they have on offer this year. Only 14 more days left before Santiago.
Villadangos del Paramo to Hospital de Orbigo – 11 Kms, 19,873 steps
There’s nothing quite like waking up knowing you have a short walking day ahead of you. Unless, of course, it’s a rest day ahead of you. Today, I had just 11 Kms to walk to get to my next destination, Hospital de Orbigo, and the weather forecast said there might be rain but not unitl after 2:00, so I could take it very easy. It was chilly and there was a pretty good wind, so layers, buff, and gloves were required setting out.
I couldn’t check-in at my next albergue until noon, so I adjusted my pace to one I like to call “moseying”. The route, once out of town, was almost all senda, a track or farm road beside the N-120 highway.
For some reason, the socks I hand-washed yesterday did not dry completely overnight, so I pinned them to my backpack to air-dry as I walked along this morning. I have a pair of 5”-long safety pins for this purpose.
I quickly passed through my halfway point at San Martin and didn’t even stop for coffee. The cafe con leche and pastry I had for breakfast in Villadangos was enough to keep me going. And I knew I only had another 90 minutes to my destination for the day.
The weather quickly improved and I was soon shedding layers. This despite the fact that the distant sky looked dark gray and ominous. The path surface was pretty nice, pavement through the towns and packed sand and gravel in between.
Despite my efforts to dawdle, I arrived in Hospital de Orbigo at 11:00 AM, an hour before my albergue opened. I had coffee at a local bar and perused the headlines online. I mentioned earlier, I think, that I’m using an “eSIM” in my iPhone and the Airalo cell data service and it has been fantastic. I signed up for 50 GBs of data and have barely used 12 so far. Service has always been available, wherever I’ve been. So when the albergue WiFi sucks, I know I can still make these blog posts via cellular.
Just as I was about to present myself at my albergue, who should come walking down the street but my Australian friends Dennis and Ginny! You may remember that they detoured to a scenic route Camino branch yesterday and now here they were. We chatted a bit and they went off to have some lunch before continuing on towards Astorga. I went to the albergue to check-in.
My albergue is, well, an albergue. So my “private room” is actually a private room with two bunk beds, i.e. a room for four persons. The San Miguel albergue is famous for the wall-to-wall paintings that decorate every wall and it absolutely reeked of patchouli incense.
My private room did not come with a private bathroom this time, so I’m using the communal one. As far as I can tell, there are beds for 32 people and dividing by sex, that’s 16 men. We share one toilet and two showers. Really? One toilet for 16 people? This should be interesting, first thing in the morning.
I’m glad brought along a few John Buddy bags, though I haven’t used one yet. What are they? These are lunch bag-sized bags with a few ounces of powder in them. You urinate into them, the powder becomes a gel that absorbs all the liquid and odor, and you discard them in the trash. I was the first male pilgrim through the door today, so I was ahead of the crowd for shaving, showering, etc. Nonetheless, I think the facilities-to-pilgrim ratio is poor here.
Tomorrow, I’ve got a 17km walk into a larger city, Astorga. I’m staying in a nice hotel there, so there’ll be no need for John Buddy bags. I just had to dash outside and rescue my laundry from the clothes line and a passing shower. I hope the hotel will have actual washing machines available – handwashing is okay but I doubt it gets clothes all that clean. I’m enjoying remembering my 2019 Camino, as I remember this part of the Camino more clearly and recognize many sights. Cheers!
Leon to Villadangos del Paramo – 21 Kms, 26,170 steps
I left my hotel in Leon about 15 minutes before dawn this morning and took a direct route to meet up with the Camino, at the point where it emerges from meandering through town past every religious site.
I’ve mentioned my Aussie friends, Dennis, Ginny, and Heather, before. I enjoy their company and have run into them repeatedly during my walk. This morning was no different: at the exact moment I was crossing a major Leon intersection to join the official Camino path, the three of the were doing the same thing from a different direction. That’s another one of those happy “Camino coincidences”. I hadn’t seen them in several days, even though we all had a Leon rest day, and bingo! here they were right in front of me this morning. Amazing!
So, we walked together all morning. Or rather Dennis and I walked together, with Ginny, and then finally Heather catching up with us when we took a break. It was fairly cold out and I had layered up with both a short- and long-sleeve tee-shirt, my fleece, and my windbreaker. My neck Buff and a warm gloves finished my Fall ensemble for today. Not only was it in the 40s F but there was a chilling breeze, too, and it was cloudy all day. I usually plan on shedding layers by mid-morning as the sun warms things up but that was not to be today; I kept it all on, all the way.
Dennis is a retired boat-builder from the Sydney area and we have some nice conversations as we walk. He, Ginny, and Heather are all Camino veterans, so we have that in common, too. They’ve invited me to get in touch if I’m ever in Australia; maybe this is why (Camino-wise) I’ve met them. Perhaps a trip “down under” is in my future.
The town of La Virgen del Camino marks the end of the suburban sprawl and industrial zone to the west of Leon. Many pilgrims choose to taxi from Leon to here; we walked it, of course, and arrived round 10 AM.
Shortly afterwards, the Aussies took an optional southern Camino branch to Mazarife, so we parted company. I’m certain I’ll see them again.
The real Camino wanders alongside the N-120 roadway, similar to, but with a much more varied landscape than, the Meseta. I stopped in Valverde (my halfway point today) for coffee, a slice of the proprietor’s wife’s excellent pound cake, and 20 minutes of “boots off” time, then went on to pass through San Miguel. In another 90 minutes, I was in Villadangos and my hostal was in view.
The last time I stayed in Villadangos, I was in a hostal right in town, over what I dubbed the “fly cafe” due to a prodigious number of the winged pests, and I wasn’t interested in staying there again. The current place is something of a truck stop and half a kilometer outside of town, but it has very nice rooms and a very good kitchen (hardly a fly to be seen). I had their Menu of the Day for lunch.
The Menestre de Verduras (vegetable stew) starter was the best I’ve had so far, and I think the fact that it had vegetarian unfriendly chorizo in it was one reason it was so good.
I feel pretty good today, even after 21Kms, and I think that’s down to my rest day yesterday. I’ve got a mix of short and long days in my final two plus weeks, which I hope will turn out to be a good strategy. Tomorrow, for example, my walk to Hospital de Orbigo is only 11 Kms. However, the temperature is forecast to be much like today was, so layers are ensured, and there’s a chance of rain, as much as 50% at times. I’d prefer to stay dry, thanks. Onward to Santiago!
I made maximum use of my day of rest by sleeping in and enjoying the hotel breakfast buffet. I spent an hour doing online administrivia and then took a cab to the local Decathlon store. This is a chain of big box sporting goods stores, similar to Dick’s in the U.S.
The Leon store was really big and really well-stocked but not with hiking gear. It had more space devoted to bicycles, rollerblades, and women’s clothing than I’ve seen at other Decathlons. Nonetheless, I was able to get most of the stuff I wanted, such as replacement socks.
I did my laundry and then, in the afternoon, went to a restaurant, El Capricho, recommended by my friend Sergio for lunch. Boy, was that a great tenderloin steak! I may not need to eat any protein for days. Thanks, Sergio!
Yesterday, I decided to clean out my backpack and was horrified to find a plastic bag at the very bottom containing the moldy remains of a breakfast-to-go (baguette, orange, other stuff). I think I got it about three weeks ago, and it must have fallen down beneath my backpack liner, to be totally forgotten. Yuck. What a surprise to find it! Luckily, the food wrapping was intact so there was nothing gross in contact with my pack.
I mentioned the crowds of the fiesta of Los Pendones in my last post. I noticed a lot of temporary tents and bleachers being put up yesterday, so I asked around and it turns out this year’s parading of the flags is this coming Sunday. I am really glad I will not be here for the crowds!
After a day away from the pilgrim routine, I’m happy to be back on it this afternoon. I’ve showered and done laundry, had lunch, and after I’m done with this blog entry, I’ll be reviewing the weather and route for tomorrow’s 21 Km walk. It appears I’m staying at what might be another truck stop! If so, I hope it’s as nice as the last one.
Two Fridays after this coming Friday I will walk into Santiago. I wonder how it easy it will be this time to go back to Real Life once this is over. In 2019, it took me about a month to “recover” from the Camino.
Mansilla de las Mulas to Leon – 18 Kms, 29,870 steps
I had a pretty good sleep, although it was cold outside and the pension manager didn’t seem to think that meant that the heat should be turned on inside. It’s the old “it’s not November, we don’t turn on the heat until November” philosophy that ignores the realities of the temperature right now. I had a comforter and was warm enough in bed; but, boy, that marble floor in the bathroom was cold.
It was, in fact, around 39 F again at dawn and I could see my breath in the air. I layered up and was quite comfortable as I joined a gaggle of other pilgrims and exited Mansilla.
I walked along the senda beside the highway for several hours, then went through the small towns of Puente Villarente and Arcahueja before finally reaching the outskirts of Leon, after five total hours of walking.
Despite warnings in the guidebook about it, I found the Camino route through urban Leon to be exceedingly well marked, with brass pavement shells and plenty of the popular yellow arrows.
I found my nice hotel and checked in around 1:00 PM. My room is quite nice and has a big bathtub! A half-hour soak in a hot tub this afternoon really did wonders for my legs and feet. I may do it again tomorrow.
The Camino is just a few blocks away and, after six blocks, it empties into the plaza right in front of the Cathedral. Here’s a view up that street:
The last time I was on this street, in 2019, it was wall-to-wall people watching the Pendones parade. This was the hours-long parading of flags by regional groups and it was something to see (see my Camino 2019 blog for the details of this event). The street was filled with the parade and the sidewalks were jammed with people. The difference now is so striking that it took me a while to recognize where I was.
Similarly, the plaza in front of the Cathedral, which was the destination of all the pendones flags last time and filled with people, was wide-open today. It was much nicer to be there today!
As you can see in these pictures, the weather is gorgeous but a little cool. I enjoyed it by sitting outside for lunch, on the Camino route for maximum people-watching, and had a really nice meal:
Inquiring Minds Want to Know: What are you using to do blog posts?
Tomorrow is a Rest Day here! Yay! I plan to do some errands to get preprared for the last few weeks of my Camino, such as buying a replacement pair of socks, etc. I would like to print my absentee voting ballot and send it in while I’m here but that may be a challenge – the hotel doesn’t have a “Business Center” so I don’t have access to a computer and printer. My iPhone doesn’t have a USB connector, which might simplify things. So, I’ll need to do some research. Do “Internet Cafes” still exist? Stay tuned and see you tomorrow.
El Burgo Ranero to Mansilla de la Mulas – 19 Kms, 29,470 steps
After a very pleasant night in the truck stop hotel, I realized it was 39 F outside at 7:30 AM and broke out the cold weather gear. Lots of layers were involved and I was plenty warm when I headed out just before dawn. Of course, this is the time of the year when, within an hour or two, most of those layers will be shed as it warms up. However, the next few days are forecast to have cold mornings so it was good practice. How cold was it?
It was a cool sunny day and eveyone seemed to be looking foward to leaving The Meseta tomorrow. I met up with my two of the Australian pilgrim trio I seem to encounter a lot, and discovered that one of them had taken the train to Leon to rest her Achilles tendon.
I started thinking today, as I shed layers, what I would do with my clothing and gear once this Camino is over. Right now, I don’t think I’ll do the Camino again, so why should I keep the gear? That led to thinking about donating or trashing some of it right in Santiago, rather than hauling it back to Paris or Virginia, only to dump it there.
Inquiring Minds Want to Know: What’s Your Favorite Piece of Gear?
This little battery-powered fan, which uses the same USB charger as my iPhone, has been great at providing night time airflow in stuffy rooms and even a breeze for drying clothes. It was a last-minute $20 Amazon purchase and worth every penny.
I took my halfway point break at the town of Reliegos where, this being Sunday, nearly everything was closed. The one bar open at 11:00 AM was very popular with pilgrims! There were endless calls for cafe con leche.
Eventually Mansilla de las Mulas came into view on the horizon, then a few hours of walking later, it was in front of me. Once again, because it’s Sunday, the place was a ghost town. Luckily, my pension was open and receiving.
After showering and doing my laundry, I managed to find the only open bar in town and had lunch there. I have taken a liking lately to Radler, which you may know as “beer with lemon”. This despite the not-at-all-fond memories I have of horrible hangovers in my youth from drinking a product called Hop’n Gator, a kind of malt liquor/gatorade mix. Ugh! Radler is usually available on tap and Amstel bottles it, but this bar today had neither of those. Instead the bartender simply added some lemon soda to a half pint of draft San Miguel beer, in a Guinness glass. It tasted fine but I’m sure the good folks in Dublin would be appalled.
Tomorrow, it’s 18Kms into Leon and I’m looking forward to it. I have a list of errands to run in Leon on my day off, getting myself ready for the last few weeks of the Camino. Cheers!