Thursday, May 28, 2015

O´Cebreiro and onwards to Triacastela, Sarria and to Portomarin

There is less than 100 kilometres to Santiago and the end of this Camino. I have loved getting lost in time: I have no idea what day it is unless I check my iPhone. Time is not important and really neither is one's destination. It´s about the journey and setting one foot in front of the next and walking. That is the central activity of the day. Get up early in the morning and walk. I love stopping for my Cafe Solo and love stopping for meals. I have also loved sharing experiences with people along the way.

Several nights ago in Vega de Valcarce, I decided to pay for a hotel rather than stay in a Refugio in shared accommodation. It is nice to have that for a change. The hotel was 28 Euros which seemed a rather good price. However, you really do get what you pay for. The electrical light switch in my room was taped over and I felt obliged to check for bedbugs before settling in.  The bathroom was down the hallway and seemed to have no hot water in the men´s facilities and only scalding hot water for the women.One could hear the squeals of pain coming from each place.

The hotel manager closely resembled Pancho Villas and had several important teeth missing. He asked me to join him in a game of Poker in which I have neither skills or interest. In any case, I suspect that he would easily outdraw me in a gun fight.

As you know, I tend to dwell on the positives of any experience: the Camino is a spiritual experience and I suppose therefore that one is lucky to have a towel in the washroom that clearly resembled the "Shroud of Turin" and might even have been the misplaced original.

Tomorrow on to Palas de Rei and only 68 kilometres to Santiago de Compostela.

Walled herb garden of the Refugio at Rabanal

Another piece of Santiago tart for anyone?

Approaching La Cruz de Ferro

Sophie, Alan and me at Ponferrada

Villafranca del Bierzo

Shiatsu therapy clinic in San Xulian near Palas de Rei

Brothers Andy and Mike from London

Gunnar, Aly and Matt

Monday, May 25, 2015

To Astorga, Castrillo de Polvazares, to Rabanal del Camino and beyond

I have been disappointed that I was unable to post photographs to my blog during my walk because the images are worth a thousand words. I content myself with the thought that a thousand images are worth one Zen moment.

Antoni Gaudi's Episcopal Palace in Astorga

Cathedral in Astorga

Some wanted company

Refugio and Benedictine monastery

Tea is served every afternoon at 5 p.m. - very civilised

Whereas, I was feeling tired while crossing the Meseta, the prospect of crossing another mountain range has energised me. I am not sure whether this is in my imagination, but the colours of the landscape seem to me much more vibrant and alive. I have also loved the pathway strewn with thyme and lavender.

Even when I am spending time with Alan and Sophie, my richest moments are when I am walking alone. I enjoy their company and our shared humour but love the solitude. They tend to walk at a faster pace than my own. My pace is the pace at which I can derive the most benefit from my Camino. Walking with Alan and Sophie has brought out my frivolous and silly side, never very far from the surface anyway.

Yesterday I walked across the mountain from Rabanal to Molinaseca. Five years ago, this journey was accompanied by physical discomfort. This time it has been almost effortless, partly because I will take breaks in my walk when necessary.

Today I have been walking through Ponferrada and on to Cacabelos.  It is in Ponferrada that Sophie will be leaving to return to France and eventually back to England. Tomorrow I will be passing Villafranca del Bierzo and onward to Vega de Valcarce before tackling the third mountain range of O´Cebreiro. I am loving this journey.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Leon to Hospital de Orbigo

I decided to stay another night in a hotel in Leon and use that time for relaxation and visits to restaurants. I have loved having a hotel room to myself. Now the problem is getting motivated to walk again.

Another view from my hotel room

streets of Leon

Cathedral of Leon

By architect Antoni Gaudi

Today´s walk has been just under thirty kilometers. I am at the end of the flat land of the Meseta and in the next couple of days will be moving on to the second range of mountains of this Camino. I have enjoyed the experience of forever looking towards the horizon. It has not been easy and I have lost all track of time. It has been an exercise in taking one step at a time and trying not wishing to be somewhere else. It can be attractive just longing to be at my destination for the night with the comforts of a shower, a meal and a bed. That would detract from the experience of enjoying the present moment.

The weather is slightly on the cold side which is good for walking. I still have no major aches and pains and for that I am grateful. Have walked 31.6 kilometers today.

I have discovered that I like best walking on my own and that to walk with others will only lead to injuries. If I lengthen my stride to keep up, I may end up with shin splints. My rhythm for walking is an inseparable part of who I am.

Arriving in Hospital de Orbigo

With Sophie

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Fromista to Carrion de Los Condes and another four days to Leon

 I discovered an alternative route to Carrion de Los Condes that does not parallel the road. It passes through some grassland and often offers shade beside the path. Either way, I am carrying enough water to stay hydrated.

through wooded areas en route to Carrion de Los Condes  
Irrigation systems introduced into Spain by the Moors

Sophie and Alan

In Carrion de las Condes, I am staying at a Refugio run by Augustinian nuns. One of them is probably about twenty-eight and has a singing voice that borders on the angelic, along with great proficiency on keyboards and guitar. We are asked as a group by the sisters why we are walking the Camino. At my turn, I explain that this is my second Camino - the first was to celebrate 60 and this present journey to celebrate 65. I further elaborate that the Camino has allowed me to appreciate the gifts in my life and that the gift for today was to hear the voice of this sister. She blushes but she is clearly blessed with a gift. I can understand how one can fall in love with a voice, even if it does belong to a nun.

The next four days of the Camino are crossing the entirely flat land with very few places in which to stop for food and water. There is something magic in being able to look into the far distance with very little to break the continuity and bring contrast. It´s an appreciation of the vastness of the universe. At the same time, I am feeling overwhelmed by tiredness. It´s extreme - no pain in the joints, no blisters, just fatigue. I could just lie down and rest forever. One of the Augustinian sisters had said that there may come a time when we feel that we cannot go on. Just a recognition of this has given me the strength to continue.

Terradillos de Los Templarios (26.8 km), Bercianos del Real Camino (23.5 km) Mansilla de las Mulas (26.7 km) and 18.1 km today to Leon all on flatland and the fatigue is biting. I appreciate that there has been a slight cooling in temperature so the journey has not been as extreme as it would be in the height of the summer.

follow the yellow arrows

Traffic jam on the Camino

More Refugio accommodation

He was travelling with his donkey from Bilbao to Santiago and then back home: 1120 kilometers

Paella for dinner tonight

Charcuterie at a Refugio

Walls of the town of Mansilla de las Mulas

View from my hotel room in Leon

One step at a time for the past four days has been the only way to get to my destination.This last day of travel I have decided to reward myself by booking a luxury hotel in which to stay in Leon. Looking forward to a room of my own has made this last day of comparatively easy travel more difficult. The anticipation perhaps leaves me less in the present moment.

Arrival at the hotel was superbly gratifying, and my first act was to pour a hot bath. Within ten minutes, I am asleep in the tub.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Castrojerez to Fromista

Descents from the heights above Castrojerez towards Fromista in the far distance

Directions: Just follow your shadow....or the little yellow arrows

Canal de Castilla

The forecast for today is a little cooler. I have 25 kilometers to walk today and start at 6.00 a.m. while it is still dark. Walking in the dark seems to develop different sensibilities and I enjoy the quiet of the streets of Castrojerez. Since the last time that I walked the Camino five years ago, there are many more people on this route so my quiet may be disturbed at any moment now. This will be another day of walking alone and certainly, at this time, I feel inclined not to travel with other people because then the journey becomes a compromise. I don´t want to be asked about my journey: I just want to be immersed in the walk without looking for a cerebral answer.

I have decided to walk the first ten kilometers before having breakfast. It is something for which I can look forward. At Itero de la Vega, I take a breakfast of a cafe solo along with my spontaneous slightly unusual choice of eggs and bacon. That provides me with enough fuel to reach Fromista by 2.p.m. where I will be staying for the night.

Why am I walking the Camino again? This seems to be a question that I am always asked. All I can reply is that I obviously didn´t learn whatever I was meant to learn the first time. Perhaps the answer is that I crave the simple life of walking every day. Walking is the central event of the day and human interaction, along with mealtimes, take on a level of importance that intense. Actually, it's addictive. The whole Camino is addictive.

There is now an upward incline to about 900 meters followed by an equally sharp descent to the flat plains of the Meseta, which will now continue for another five days. In the far distance, I can see a central light on the hundreds of wind turbines, majestic and powerful, that dot the countryside of Spain.

The young people often have difficulty with the flat plains because they are forced to look inwards, and that can be frightening. Who knows, this might be painful for me too. I develop a slow walking pace which for me seems natural. Invariably, I am being continually overtaken by others who have a faster natural rhythm.

I really have nowhere I have to get to today and, unlike others, I have chosen not to make reservations for lodging space for the night. I want to trust in the universe and not be bothered with the mundane.

As I look at the countryside I realise that I sometimes slip into the habit of not fully breathing. For me, this seems to reduce the intensity of what I am seeing to something surreal. By breathing, I notice more the intricate and minute details of nature. My sister-in-law asks what is wrong with living in a state of surrealism? She's a painter. That's alright for her to say that but, for now, I want to be fully present.

The flat land extends as far as the eyes can see and I just continue one step at a time. It´s gentler and meditative.

I am in the library in Fromista and, even with the help of the librarian, I am having problems posting photos. That is the problem of using public computers. They are rightfully afraid of allowing downloads of anything that might result in an infected computer. You may not hear from me for the next four or five days because I am certainly entering even more of a backwater. However, surprises can happen, even on the Camino.