Monday, 31 August 2009

Day 33 - Photos

Pilgrim statue on the way out of Palas de Rei

Spot the dog!

I´m not sure what this is, but it was in the middle of a little village

Crossing one of the six rivers

Another curious cow

My dorm at Ribadiso

Ancient bridge over the Rio Iso - how many pilgrims have passed this way in the last thousand years?

Pilgrims sitting by the river

Day 33 - Palas de Rei to Ribadiso - 27km

I was woken early, about sixish, by pilgrims (there´s no escaping them!) leaving the albergue over the road. After enjoying a little lie-in I went over for a coffee, came back and packed in a leisurely manner and was still on my way before eight despite there being no chucking-out time for my room. I guess old habits die hard. All my washing had dried except for my fleece which was still a little damp, but luckily it looked as if it wasn´t going to be needed that day.

Most of the route ahead would be paths through woods while crossing six river valleys, so I knew it was going to be rather demanding with lots of up and downhill walking. I started off slowly as there were a couple of lads ahead of me listening to a radio as they went along, which I found irritating. The path was good underfoot and the surroundings were very pleasant although the steep bits were steep. After a while I felt a twinge in my left shin halfway between ankle and knee, a niggling little pain as if I´d banged it against something. I slowed down and it wore off.

There were a lot of little villages along the way, in one of which I caught up with Kari and Sandi and we had some coffee and cake together. Somehow, without planning, we seemed to meet up at every break for the rest of the day although we all walked at a different pace. In Melide I decided not to try the spiced octopus in wine as my stomach was still a little queasy from my meal the previous evening. This was a shame because the town is famous for this dish and I had meant to try it.

By the time I reached Boente my leg was becoming quite painful and I stopped for a tonic and to rub on some of the gel I had bought for my foot. I also had my credential stamped by the priest in the church there (he stamped the wrong page!) as from Sarria onwards you need two stamps per day in order to qualify for your compostela, not just the one from the albergue where you sleep. I think this is for the church authorities to ensure you are a genuine pilgrim. The gel seemed to ease the pain somewhat, and I came to the conclusion that the steep hills the previous day must have strained something. If this were the case I was in for it as the hills today seemed even worse.

I set off from there with Kari, where we foolishly ignored the advice of an old lady and went down the road instead of detouring round the houses in the village. On my map it looked as if the path crossed the road shortly afterwards. What we didn´t realise was the road was a busy highway with no footpath and after going down and round a long steep bend on the hard shoulder there was no sign of our path, while the highway went over a long bridge. We didn´t fancy struggling back up the hill and were wondering what to do when Kari thought she saw an overgrown path the other side of the highway. We scooted across, ploughed down through some bushes and she was right, we came out on the Camino again. Relief all round!

By this time my back was hurting as well as my leg, and the sun was hot. I carried on slowly while Kari went ahead as she had further to go, having arranged to meet Sandi in Arzúa while I intended to stop a couple of kilometres before in Ribadiso. This proved to be an excellent choice on my part as Ribadiso was a delightful spot. I still had some steep bits to negotiate before arriving, though, and it was a hot tired pilgrim who eventually got there.

Ribadiso is a tiny hamlet and the albergue is in a converted medieval pilgrim hospital by a river. The old stone buildings have been made into comfortable dorms, toilets and shower blocks surrounded by lawns. Nearby were fields where I could see a kestrel hovering and swooping over a newly mown area. To one side flows the Rio Iso where you can swim or sit on steps leading down to the water and soak your feet. There were people sunbathing on the grass, sitting with their feet in the water or paddling, and generally relaxing after a good day´s walk. I think this was one of my favourite albergues, especially as there was a good restaurant next door where I went for Santiago tart and later had an excellent pilgrim dinner (salad, eggs, bacon and chips followed by ice cream - very Spanish!) and plenty of wine to ease the pain in my leg...

Marcel and the Danish lady with the sore knees were here, but no other familiar faces. We had a companionable moan about our aches and pains and I tried to rest my leg as much as possible after applying more gel in the hope it would be back to normal next day. I sat by the river and watched what looked like a butterfly mating dance over the crystal clear water, and then saw a snake swimming towards the opposite bank with a six-inch fish in its mouth. I tried to get a photo but it swam away too quickly. After dinner it was such a pleasant evening that I sat on the steps by the river again and had a nice long chat with a German pilgrim. Tomorrow I hope to reach Arca do Pino although I don´t really want to stay in the municipal albergue there. According to my guidebook it has mixed showers in open cubicles - not my idea of fun!

Sunday, 30 August 2009

Day 32 - Photo

My lovely peaceful room

Day 32 - Portomarin to Palas de Rei - 26km

I was part of a busy Pilgrim March out of town when I set off as there were now more and more people on the Camino as we drew near to Santiago. The path started by crossing the river and then there was a long steep climb up through some woods. The day was overcast and misty, and very close as if there were a storm coming. It was two hours to the first cafe where I stopped for a much-needed break. In the cafe I saw loads of familiar faces including the German chap Marcel whom I´d left behind long ago nursing his poorly feet in the albergue on doctor´s orders. It was great to see he had actually recovered enough to continue his Camino. He said his feet were fine now after buying new footwear, and he must have been going fairly well to have caught me up.

Amongst the familiar faces was Wilma, a Canadian, and her daughter. Wilma had suffered a nasty accident some time previously and cut a tendon in her hand, which had involved a hospital stay, but she was still soldiering on, cast and all. With them was another Canadian, a nurse who worked with the Inuit. The fascinating thing about the Camino is that you meet people from all over the world, all ages and from the most varied backgrounds and occupations. My German friend was also there and we had a coffee together before I set off again.

The route followed the road for most of the day and there were rather a lot of ascents and descents. By now I could cope with these fairly well as my legs felt pretty strong and I marched up and down the hills with scarcely a pause. Maybe I should have paused more, although I didn´t know it I was about to start having problems. I passed the Danish lady with the knee supports from the previous day and also saw Sandi when I stopped for a bikkie break, but Kari was behind somewhere and never caught me up. The day continued muggy as well as misty until early afternoon and by the time I reached Palas de Rei I was pretty tired.

After the crowded albergue and stale air from the previous night I decided I deserved a break. For the first and only time I treated myself to a room with private bath in a hostal. This was unimagined luxury, a room with no-one else in it, my own bathroom, sheets, towels and endless hot water! After a quick snack for lunch I had a wonderful long shower then washed virtually all the clothes I had with me except those I was wearing. When I finished my lovely bathroom looked like a Chinese laundry.

I had a nice long snooze, reorganized my rucksack as I finally had enough space to spread everything out, then went out to dinner. I had originally planned to have a hamburger for a change but saw a place which had a nice-sounding pilgrim menu so I went there instead. The meal was the worst I had the entire trip. The famous Galician soup which I finally decided to try was like a watery and tasteless cabbage soup (I´m sure it´s really good elsewhere) while the casseroled lamb was very dry and accompanied by cold greasy chips. I left most of it but couldn´t face the hassle of complaining, what little I did eat sat uneasily for the rest of the night.

I went back to my room and had a pleasant quiet time doing sudoku in bed before a peaceful night - no snoring, no wind breakers, no creaking bunk beds. In fact it was so quiet I kept waking up. I probably missed all the noise and the cosy confinement of my sleeping bag.

Friday, 28 August 2009

Day 31 - Photos

Leaving Barbadelo in the morning mist

My favourite photo

Reunion with Gunter at the 100km milestone

Heading upstream via these slabs was a little tricky

An "hórreo" near Portomarin

Curious cow

The town of Portomarin and the bridge leading to it

A steep flight of steps at the end of the bridge over the reservoir

The new and very large albergue in Portomarin

Day 31 - Barbadelo to Portomarin - 19km

I took my time in the morning, having a leisurely coffee and apple tart in the catering caravan and chatting to an American, Kevin and his wife before leaving. I was planning on a shorter day and according to my map the route sounded ideal, being on quiet country roads, through woods and then on natural pathways. I knew my Camino was coming to an end, just a few days to go, and I wanted to appreciate every minute of it. By hanging back until the albergue was empty I avoided both having company and walking near chattering couples so that I could enjoy the birdsong and beautiful surroundings in peace.

It was misty and cool when I finally set off just before 8 and the half-visible trees looked wonderful and mysterious. I took what turned out to be my favourite picture of the whole trip there. It was a beautiful walk through fields and woods and I savoured every minute of it. After a break for coffee and Santiago tart in a spic and span modern cafe (nice change) I carried on, now enjoying great views as the mist had burnt off. The track was good underfoot and although undulated, not strenuous. What with the birds singing and passing through such lovely countryside it was a real joy to be walking.

I stopped to take a photo at the celebrated 100km milestone (only 100km to go!), and to my surprise and delight my friend Gunter turned up. It was great to see him again, but a pity he´d lost touch with Annette. That is what happens on the Camino, though. Our paths kept crossing for the rest of the day which was nice. I was walking slower than usual and pausing frequently to look around, and I couldn´t help noticing an elderly rather overweight gentleman who seemed to be really struggling to get along. I assumed he must have started in Sarria, and therefore was a "new" pilgrim going through the initial difficulties. I felt somewhat concerned as he looked like the ideal candidate for a heart attack. He plodded slowly along, grim faced, as we kept passing and re passing each other, and that night when I saw him at the albergue I was relieved to see he had made it. The route was getting rather crowded now as the early morning starters from Sarria caught me up but I still managed to walk alone most of the time, hanging back to allow noisy groups of teenagers pass out of earshot.

The path was very attractive with features such as stepping stones to cross streams and at one point going up a stream where you step on stone slabs to keep out of the water, a bit of a balancing act but having a stick helped. The day was heating up by then but there were plenty of shady trees along the way, except for the last downhill part which was a long hot road walk. I met a Danish lady using knee supports who was having a hard time and we walked together for a while. She´d been photographing one of the strange little buildings which I´d noticed in quite a few gardens and farms and I´d stopped to ask if she knew what they were. Apparently they are called "horreos" and are for drying and storing grain out of reach of rodents.

The road went past and through farms where curious cows came to watch me having a quick break in what little shade I could find, then in the distance I eventually caught sight of the reservoir and bridge I would have to cross to reach Portomarin. At the end of the bridge there was a long steep flight of steps up to the road, just what I didn´t need at that point, followed by a steep walk up into town. I found the albergue, and a long queue to get in but managed my usual bottom bunk. The albergue was new and very large (160 beds) and very busy. The town is also new as it was built when the old one was covered by the reservoir. The church of St Nicolás in the main square is of the original stone, dismantled and rebuilt in its present spot.

After dumping my stuff I went out for a tonic and a pizza for lunch and saw several familiar faces, including my German friend with whom I chatted for a while. She is in the same albergue but a different dorm. After a short snooze I was going to go shopping when I spotted my long-lost Canadian friends, Kari and Sandi, across the square just as they spotted me. After much shouting, waving and hugs we sat and caught up with each other´s news. It was so good to see them again after such a long time. Kari had been laid up with foot problems and they´d been behind me by a couple of days. They were with a Spanish friend and invited me to join them for a tour and dinner but I reluctantly decided not to go as the albergue closed at 10 and I didn´t want to make them shorten their evening just because I had a curfew. It was a great day for meeting old friends as later while shopping I also saw Mark and Shana who had given me the soap and we had dinner in the albergue.

My dorm must have had 50 or more people in it and I knew it was probably going to be a noisy night. I went to bed about 9:30 but didn´t get off to sleep for ages due to all the activity around me. I woke about 5:30 in the morning because of the snoring and decided to get up and see if I could get out and check on the weather as it had looked like a change was on the way. I went out of the sleeping albergue and sat outside for a bit, admiring the night sky and hoping the clouds didn´t signify rain for the following day. When I went back into my dorm the smell of stale air nearly bowled me over. It was as if there was no more oxygen left and there was an underlying odour of dirty socks and too many bodies. Luckily the cafe over the way had just switched its lights on and I went over for a coffee, their first customer, before returning to pack up and set off.

Wednesday, 26 August 2009

Day 30 - Photos

One of many very muddy stretches

Nice spot for some water and chocolate biscuits

Going through Sarria, note the house sign on the right

The Xunta albergue in Barbadelo

View from the albergue patio

Day 30 - Samos to Barbadelo - 23km

The dorm was noisy with snorers during the night so it wasn´t difficult to be up and off by the specified time. Luckily the bar over the road from the monastery was open and by 7:30 I was enjoying coffee and a snack. The route out of Samos followed the road initially then was signposted up a steep track, which did not agree with my map where the route continued along the road then followed a river. I decided to trust the yellow arrows while my German friend intended to stick to the road.

There then followed a strenuous and tiring stretch where the track wound up and down steeply past little farms and sheds where it was very muddy and full of cow dung. The places I passed through were not on my map although yellow arrows continued to appear and I saw the occasional confused pilgrim ahead of or behind me. Eventually the path improved after a very bewildering stretch and headed down to the river. I was following two Spanish pilgrims at this point, hoping they knew where they were going, and it appeared we were now on the right track. We found this out by stepping into the middle of the road in a small village to stop a bakers van and ask where we were. Although the path underfoot was now much improved there were still some very stiff climbs in and out of tiny hamlets where there was not a soul in sight as usual and there were large dogs loose, but thankfully no problem.

I stopped for a break perching on a tree stump, where I had some water and biscuits, then set off again. While swinging The Beast onto my back I managed somehow to rick my neck, which was a nuisance as I had to keep stretching it to stop it from stiffening up. The path eventually came out at a small cafe in a village 3km away from where it should have been (the path, not the village!). Here I enjoyed a much needed coffee and saw several familiar faces including my German friend. How she got there by a different route I don´t know. The rest of the way to Sarria followed the road, thank goodness and was very straightforward. I now had company for the rest of the day, a change as I preferred to walk alone at my own pace, but I tried to feel positive about it.

Sarria is the traditional town where many pilgrims start their pilgrimage. This is because in order to qualify for a "compostela" you must walk at least 100km to Santiago and Sarria is 117km away. This makes it a favourite starting point for people with less time, school parties and groups. This also means that there is a lot of competition for beds at the albergues from then on, the Camino is busier and some of the peace and tranquillity lost.

In Sarria I found a cyber cafe and checked that all was well on the home front (father OK but dog crying a lot - I´ll have to make it up to him when I get back) before continuing into town for my favourite toasted "mixto" and a tonic while my friend had the local speciality of Galician soup. I decided to carry on through town to a village 5km further on as it was still fairly early. The path was good but there were some more steep climbs and it was now also very hot. The albergue was in the countryside just past a small village, in a delightful setting with a nice view. It was my first official Xunta albergue, where they hand out disposable pillow and mattress covers and only charge 3 euros per night. It was small (22 beds) and clean, but the hot water had been used up so I had to have a cold shower.

There was a stationary catering caravan nearby under some magnificent trees and a marquee where you could sit in the shade so after my chores I enjoyed an ice-cream there before some sightseeing. Actually there wasn´t much to see apart from an old church dedicated to Santiago which was shut, so I went back to the albergue and had a snooze before having an evening snack in the caravan. I was accompanied the whole time and while trying to be charitable I was beginning to feel a bit cramped while at the same time I was feeling mean about my reaction to the situation. Having a stiff neck didn´t help so an early night seemed the order for the day.

Monday, 24 August 2009

Day 29 - Photos

A lovely view after the mist had cleared

Not quite the bull run in Pamplona, but it felt like it from where I was standing

The Benedictine monastery at Samos

The beautifully decorated dorm at Samos

These bunk beds mean you could sleep cheek by jowl with a total stranger

Did medieval pilgrims bathe their feet in this idyllic spot?

Even the footbridges have a scallop shell motif

Day 29 - Alto de Poio to Samos - 22km

I was on my way in the morning by 7:30 after a quick coffee, to find I was walking in thick mist with occasional glimpses of the sun. The first 3km were by road which was just as well under those conditions as at least I couldn't get lost. When I did eventually leave the road the path was good underfoot and the mist was lifting. I managed to reach an albergue just before it closed and had a quick coffee. If I'd carried on for another hour the previous day this is where I would have stayed, a much nicer option I later heard.

As the mist cleared there were lovely views since I was still quite high up, reminding me once again of the Lake District in England where I cut my eyeteeth as a walker in another lifetime. The path was now dropping down but thankfully not as steeply as I had feared. It went through several small villages where the mud on the track was enriched with cow pats, making a nice gooey mixture you had to plod through for yards at a time while inhaling the farmyard odours. The mire stuck to my trainers and in the worst parts was deep enough to seep in and wet my socks. In one hamlet just before Triacastela I saw a cow coming towards me rather quickly down the very narrow street and managed to step into a doorway just in time as it was followed by the rest of the herd all moving at a fast trot, horns waving! While on the subject of animals, many villages and farms had large dogs wandering loose, a cause for some concern as they were big. My stick gave me confidence, but I always approached carefully walking slowly but steadily, as far away from their territory as space allowed, and I never looked them in the eye or looked back. This seemed to work as I didn't have any trouble despite a few hairy moments. I heard of other pilgrims who fared worse.

At Triacastela I decided to take the Samos route to Sarria as I fancied staying in an albergue in a monastery. This route was longer but sounded much nicer as it followed a river valley all the way. Before leaving Triacastela I chatted with a German pilgrim who had been in the next bunk to mine the previous night and she said she was also heading to Samos. I should have stopped to eat something there as I was feeling hungry, but there was a cafe further on according to my map so I thought I'd wait. It was a very pleasant 12km walk by the River Ouribio although the path tended to join the road now and then up and down some very steep stretches. The miserable weather from the previous day had vanished as if it had never been and it was sunny and getting quite hot as I went along.

I reached the cafe I was aiming for, but it was so grubby I didn't dare have a coffee let alone eat anything, so I settled for a lukewarm tonic water. The German lady and I kept passing each other during the afternoon as one or the other took a break and I could see she was really feeling the heat. For the last kilometre I decided to stick to the road as the climbs up and down seemed rather pointless and I was also getting tired at this point. The albergue was nearly empty when I arrived and I got my usual bottom bunk in a wonderfully decorated dormitory, with all sorts of figures painted on the walls. I dumped my stuff and went for a bite to eat before the usual chores including washing my smelly socks. The washing line was over the other side of a busy road which made for interesting trips with dripping clothes.

The Benedictine monastery in Samos is one of the oldest in Spain. It is an impressive sight, enormous and imposing in its setting by the river. There are half hour tours but I didn't go on one and later heard that you didn't get to see that much of it. Instead I went shopping and bought some much-needed deodorant to replace the one I'd inadvertently left behind in Cacabelos. When I got back to the albergue the German pilgrim had arrived and also an elderly gentleman who kept trying to have long conversations with me in German despite my efforts to convince him I didn't speak the language. I escaped over the road for a pilgrim dinner which started with such a large seafood salad I couldn't finish it all, followed by some skewered meat and chips and rounded off with Santiago tart ( a delicious almond tart with the Santiago cross dusted onto it in sugar). I was also given a bottle of wine, all for eight euros. After consuming that lot (I didn't finish the bottle of wine!) and saying goodbye to the Swiss couple I'd been chatting to, I went for a stroll in a lovely area by the river before having an early night as at this albergue we had be packed and out by 7:30 in the morning.

Friday, 21 August 2009

Day 28 - Photos

Approaching O´Cebreiro - I think the face says it all...

You can see enough to wish for more

Clearest view of the day

The mist comes down again

The Posada Alto do Poio, barely visible

Day 28 - Vega de Valcarce to Alto do Poio - 22km

From Vega de Valcarce to O'Cebreiro it is uphill all the way, climbing 700m in 12km. There is a choice of road or track, the former being recommended in wet misty weather and the one I chose because it was precisely that. I set off at about 8 after coffee and biscuits and although the road was steep I made good going. I think by now my legs were pretty fit and going uphill however steeply at a steady pace was no longer so difficult. The road climbed through dripping woods and I caught occasional glimpses of beautiful scenery whenever the mist lifted. It was quite frustrating not to be able to see the view properly. At the back of my mind was a newspaper report I had read some months previously about a full-grown bear that was hit and killed around here by a car. The tune to ''Teddybear's Picnic'' kept running through my mind and I hoped there weren't any about.

The rain continued and because of my exertions I was perspiring so much that my poncho was wet inside and and out, a rather uncomfortable sensation. I stopped in Herrerías for a second coffee break and when I left to continue on the road an old lady stuck her head out of a window and was most insistent that I was going the wrong way and kept pointing up the track. She was getting so upset that I weakly gave in and followed her pointing finger. Underfoot it was now muddy, rocky and very hard going so I was thankful to stop again at another village for a tonic water, unable to face yet another coffee. This place was rather unfriendly as I got shouted at for thoughtlessly coming in still wearing my poncho and was chased by a mop-wielding woman. Galicia is known for its rain so they should have been used to wet pilgrims in that bar, a place to hang wet waterproofs outside would have been useful.

Further on I reached the boundary marker showing that I was entering Galicia. I was hungry by now but the track wound round the mountainside through fields with dripping hedges and there was nowhere to sit, so I stood and ate a sandwich in the rain by the side of the path. A group of elderly tourists were shepherded past me at this point by their two guides. One of the guides told me they were on a day trip and that the clients were dropped off from their coach at different distances along the way according to their walking abilities. A nice idea but a bit amusing to someone who had just walked over 600km...

I reached the top, at the village of O'Cebreiro, shortly after. It looked a small, picturesque spot with little stone cottages, restaurants and shops, rather like the Lake District . Also, like the Lake District in high season, it was heaving with day trippers and school parties wandering around in the perpetual drizzle. I sheltered on a stone wall by the church and ate some cherries (I do like them!) then decided to leave without looking around. I was feeling cold and damp by then as well as tired after the long hard climb and it was another 5.5km to the albergue I was aiming for.

The problem was finding my way out of the village. According to my map the route now followed a road, and there were yellow arrows pointing in this direction. At the same time there were also yellow arrows pointing up a track. The whole situation was not helped by the thick mist which now descended, accompanied by wind and continuing drizzle. A couple set off up the track and a lone pilgrim set off down the road, his waterproof snapping smartly in the wind. I decided to go for the road, which was actually more of a highway, but thankfully with very little traffic. The pilgrim ahead of me disappeared very quickly in the mist and after a couple of kilometres downhill I was having serious doubts about whether I was on the right road. I debated going back to O'Cebreiro but couldn't face the long steep hill back up. The mist was still thick despite the wind and visibility was poor, so I hadn't a clue where I was but I decided to keep going.

Thankfully after another kilometre or so I reached Liñares and realised I was on the right road after all, which was an enormous relief. The road climbed after this and I passed a well known and much photographed pilgrim monument which I couldn't see properly because of the mist, so I didn't pause but just carried on, by now on a very muddy track through some woods. When I finally reached Hospital de la Condessa it was a real blow to be told the albergue was closed due to building works. The next one was over 3km away, up a steep hill. I ignored signs showing an off-road track and kept plodding along up the never-ending slope until I finally reached Alto do Poio Pousada. It wasn't an albergue but as well as rooms there was a dorm with some bunk beds in the attic. The arrangements were rather makeshift and there was only one grubby shower/toilet for all but at this point in the proceedings I would have taken anything. They charged 18 euros but this did include an evening meal. My trainers were wet and muddy, my clothes were damp, my rucksack was damp, even my map was damp. I took my trainers off and crawled into my bunk damp clothes and all, pulled up a heavy blanket and was dead to the world for a couple of hours. Dinner was very good, by the way.

Thursday, 20 August 2009

Day 27 - Photos

Stacked timber in the woods, one of the few photos I took on a rainy day

The Brazilian albergue in Villafranca

Pilgrims and hospitaleira in the albergue

Day 27 - Cacabelos to Vega de Valcarce - 27km

It was raining in the morning and I was not in a hurry to leave, waiting to see if it would stop or ease up. While I was hanging about Mark, the American, asked if I wanted a bar of soap which by coincidence was something I'd run out of. He'd had to buy a packet of three bars and didn't want to carry the extra weight. Lucky me! I left about eight although it was still raining as that is the time they throw you out of albergues. The route led initially along a quiet minor road then branched off onto a dirt track which went through small villages and vineyards. It was a bit hilly in places but nothing too demanding and it was nice to be out in the countryside again despite the rain on and off.

My foot was fine (did that gel really help?) and I was looking forward to staying in a Brazilian albergue that night. Jan overtook me and we walked into Villafranca del Bierzo together, a most interesting looking place that really deserved a full day's visit but where we only stopped for a coffee. After Villafranca there is a choice of three routes, the high, strenuous, long Pradela (which Jan chose), the very long, remote and poorly marked Dragonte, and the N-VI route along the former highway (which I chose). I was really pleased with my choice as there was a yellow(!) concrete track for pilgrims alongside the road with a crash barrier to protect you from the very occasional traffic, most of which now used the new motorway. The route ran through a beautiful river gorge with towering cliffs on either side and I wondered how Jan was getting on up there - I later found he'd had second thoughts about tackling the strenuous option and was behind me on the same route.

Every now and then the path left the road to meander through little villages and back again to the road, going through splendid chestnut woods where there were huge stacks of cut timber drying off. The villages were ideal places to have little breaks, a coffee in one (very nice bar just like a pub) and sharing a cheese sandwich with a cat on a bench in another. I was still going strong when I finally reached Vega de Valcarce despite the distance I'd covered. Here I found the Brazilian albergue which I'd been looking forward to as a bit of ''home from home''.

They gave me a warm welcome but I was disappointed to find that they charged almost double the going rate for meals, so I only paid for my bunk and had a scratch evening meal by myself later on after doing some shopping in the village. It wasn't so much that I didn't want to spend the money, I could afford it after all, but I felt it was a bit of a rip-off. I have to say that they had the best showers on the entire Camino, though. In some places the showers are cold or lukewarm at best, with not much more than a trickle coming out overhead, or from a hand held spray. Then there are those with a timer, a button you have to keep pushing every few seconds as the water cuts out before it even has time to reach a decent temperature. And of course the difficulty of dressing and undressing in a wet cubicle in a mixed bathroom. Here there was a ladies toilet/bathroom with somewhere to leave your clothes outside the cubicle and lashings of nice hot water from a strong overhead spray - heaven!

It was rather chilly in the reception/sitting/dining area which was all one room, and I had hoped they'd light the fire as it was still raining and rather gloomy in there, but no luck. Towards the end of my meal, when I was polishing off a pound of cherries, I was joined by a young Japanese cyclist who was most interesting to talk to. Keise had left Japan by bike about one year previously and had been cycling ever since, including passing through Tibet during the Olympic protests. He intended to cycle to Portugal after Santiago and fly home from Lisbon, bringing his marathon journey to an end. His tales were quite fascinating and I could have listened to him for hours, but I was feeling too cold and went to bed to try and get warm although it was only 8:30. An early night was a good idea as the following day I was going to face the dreaded O'Cebreiro, supposedly one of the hardest climbs on the Camino.

Wednesday, 19 August 2009

Day 26 - Photos

Changeable weather first thing in the morning

No cafes or bars on the way to Ponferrada, but nice little houses

A field of poppies on the outskirts of a village

Storks will nest anywhere...

Sitting on the bed in my cubicle

View of the motel-like two bedded rooms around the courtyard

Day 26 - Molinaseca to Cacabelos - 25km

As I was leaving next morning I saw that one of the German lads had slept outside the church where there was a row of bunk beds down the side to take any overflow of pilgrims. These were without mattresses and he was sound asleep in his bag on a foam mat on the stone floor. I'd chatted briefly to him and his friend the previous evening when he shown me the face he had carved on his wooden walking stick. I didn't envy him sleeping outside, it must have been very cold.

The 6km to Ponferrada went through villages and suburbs, with not a single cafe or bar open so I was more than ready for some food and coffee when I reached town. There was a bar with outside tables in a square near the beautiful Castillo de los Templarios, a Crusader castle, and while I sat there enjoying my breakfast more and more friends and familiar faces turned up. Leaving there was a long tramp through suburbs at first, not particularly interesting and a bit difficult to find the way. I was grateful for the occasional glimpse of other pilgrims to make sure I was on the right track.

It was another cold, windy day and I was feeling tired from my exertions of yesterday so I was going fairly slowly. My left foot was also painful from the strain of coming down over all those loose rocks hour after hour. I hadn't twisted or sprained it and was hoping it would get better quickly. The pain was in a strange place, on top of my foot, what I think is called the bridge - the bit under the laces, anyway! After eventually leaving the suburbs there were a couple of villages and then a nice stretch through some vineyards before arriving in Cacabelos, where I was disappointed to see the albergue was once again right through and out the other side of town. I actually found it in the end by following the two German lads.

This albergue had a strange motel-style layout. Accommodation was in twin bedded rooms like cubicles, running around a central area where there were tables and benches covered by a roof but not enclosed. There were showers but no kitchen. I initially had a room to myself but was joined by a Canadian girl shortly after. I showered and did some washing although I knew it wouldn't dry properly even hanging under shelter as it was still raining and damp. Whenever my washing didn't dry properly I carried it sealed in a ziplock bag to the next albergue and hung it up again. By then it would usually dry well enough hanging over the end of my bunk.

Later I managed to check my e-mails and was relieved to find my father was recovering from his health problems, so chores done I went into town to buy some food and some soothing gel for my foot. In the early stages of the Camino I'd noticed that the dorms at night positively reeked of liniment and embrocations as weary pilgrims massaged their tired legs and feet. I found the strong menthol smell very pleasant and was probably just looking for an excuse to buy some for myself. I didn't know what it was called but the chemist kindly let me smell some tubes until I found the right one!

Eating and drinking was forbidden in the rooms, but the only place to sit was at a table outside, exposed to the elements - and it was still raining - so I had a discreet picnic perched on my bed. My roommate went out and came back very late so I spent some time chatting to the two German lads who were in the next cubicle. It turned out one of them was a paramedic ambulance driver, which taught me not to judge people by their appearance - I'd taken them for a pair of carefree students out walking for a lark.

Tuesday, 18 August 2009

Day 25 - Photos

Wildflowers by the side of the path

Standing by the Cruz de Ferro after placing my crystal there

The strange refuge in Manjarín

Beginning of the long long way down

Traditional old house in a hamlet, I think this one was was still occupied

Now, which bunk did the Pope sleep in?

The albergue in a converted medieval church in Molinaseca