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Sunday, September 25, 2011

You Don´t Always Get What You Ask For !

Our group arrived in Santiago de Compostella on September 22 ina timely fashion; we were able to attend the Pilgrims Mass at Santiago Cathedral. I was feeling rather dazed when I entered the cathedral. I had just been to the Pilgrims Office to request my Pilgrim´s Certificate ...¨"Not the Compostella" I said ... I accompanied my friend, who was unable to walk,  from Arca in a cab. I went to Monte del Gozo and walked to Santiago from there."
The kind lady looked at my passport and my credential listing all the stamps from St.Jean Pied de Port to Santiago and asked if I had walked most of the way. Yes I said ... not mentioning the group´s occasional bus detours through the Meseta and up O´Cebreiro. Amazingly she issued me with a Compostella certificate not the other tourist credential!
"No!" I wanted to shout ... "I am a sham .. I am not as deserving as these other hard walking, sun-burned pilgrims with blistered feet and aching bones!"  The eager crowd of anxious pilgrims was pushing forward, breathing down my neck ... I thanked the official, took my Compostella and tearfully exited the building.
So I was already in a certain frame of mind when I entered the Cathedral ... too late to find a seat I stand while the nun with the voice of an angel leads the throng of worshippers in a rehearsal of the responses. Then the actual service starts and among the celebrants is the priest from the first pilgrims mass I attended in the tiny town of Rabanal del Camino. At the end of the service a surprise ! The bishop of El Salvador is there with a group and thay have paid for the great incense burner , the legendary Botafumerio to be lit and swung ... a rite usually reserved only for occasions of special religious significance. I feel altogether too blessed !
We all meet in the square in front of this magnificent cathedral and hug and kiss each other ... as do other pilgrims who have bonded along the way. We retire to our accomodations in the medieval monastery recently partly adapted as a modern hotel ... its small cell-like monks rooms ideally suited to pilgrims but whose grand lower rooms, once cloisters and refectories adding a touch of regal grandeur. We have two days in Santiago to adjust to not walking and to get used to the idea of returning home.  We shop for souvenirs and  eat at fine restaurants (The Casino certainly stands out for fine fare and exceptional, friendly service).
On Friday night, the entertainment in the streets turns the city from sacred to profane ... music, dancing, Galician pipers, medieval troubadors, flowing wine, cerveza and the mysterious flaming cauldron of liquer, spiced with coffee beans and orange peel around which witches chant their incantations! A true bacchanal ! What a town ... what memories!
On Saturday morning I leave early and catch a train to San Sebastian. I have said final farewells to Sylvia .. our wonderful angel who has guided us through the spiritual and physical ups and downs of this journey, to Bell ... a perfect room-mate in every way; little Bell the Gazelle, always energetic, well organized and ever cheerful;  also to our other South African companions .. Theresa, Zuretha, Jill and Janette who have joined us for the last two weeks ... strong, good natured and always there to help an exhausted companion carry a heavy bag up a flight of stairs or retrace steps to meet and encourage a faltering walker onward. Christine ... whose has been a vast source of knowledge and help with translation in times of dire need and who has also received her Compostella! YEAH!  has  already left. Alan , always an eager Tapas companion and curious about sampling new cuisine and exploring nooks and cranies of each new town and city has departed early as well.
On my long 11 hour journey I fly through some of the areas I have slowly walked over ... revisiting Astorga and turning north at Leon has we head over the Pyrenees to the coast. I can see from this vantage point why I spent all of the day walking to Roncevalles in a mist ... the mountains are perpetually covered in grey clouds. When I land in San Sebastian late at night it is lively and filled with fast cars and beautiful people. I see no sign of dirty, exhausted pilgrims. It is a bit of a shock ... all this fast paced activity.
But I will adjust and enjoy the warm sunshine and smooth beaches ... there is great beauty here too ... perhaps the greatest gift of this Camino has been to bring a greater appreciation of life in general. I feel I know my place in this universe a little better ... it´s not that I have experienced a monumental life-changing experience. If anything ... I am  more like myself than before ... with one difference. I know I have done something rather exceptional and I am pleased  ... very pleased and amazed. Everyone should try to do one exceptional thing outside their comfort zone ... and with companions like I have had on this journey, the outcome can only be positive. Ultreya dear friends!!  Judy ...The Pampered Pilgrim

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Santiago in the Mist

Friday 23rd September

We woke up to a misty Santiago with all the graniter and stones glistening with dew.  Christine was the first to leave us on her way back to Sweden. We were sad to see her go as she kept us smiling with her great sense of humour.  Christine was our senior lady and she shared  her wealth of knowledge about the Camino, and especially about Santiago, with us.  She speaks a number of languages and as such was a an angel to a Hungarian in distress who had to return home but couldn´t speak a word of English.  Christine speaks perfect Spanish and was able to help the pilgrim sort out his problem. 
We made an early start up the hill to the Market - a daily open market which supplies all of Santiago with fresh produce ranging from eggs, fish, meats, vegetables, fruit etc etc.  The girls were able to find a few souvenirs and t-shirts at the market as well.  Next stop was the flea-market, the internet cafe, the tourist office and lunch. 
Last night we had dinner at the Casino. The group surprised me with a gift of a lovely hand sewn bag that I had admired at the flea-market, plus a lovely silver cross from Angels, one of the best silver shops in town, and a box of chocolates.  I was very touched and thank them all again for their generosity.
Then we went to Bar Fuco-Luis for a queimada.  (Google the word - it is a fascinating incantation involving arujo, sugar, orange and lemons rinds, coffee beans and fire!) Pepe set the queimada bowl up on an outside table and we were soon whoopìng and ooohing and calling out to all the ´brujas´(witches) out there.  A Portuguese couple from Brazil joined us and a few Aussie pilgrims we´d met along the way joined in the at the end. When the last drop of cooled fire water was drunk we strolled down to the sqaure where Tunas (musicians in medieval minstrel garb) were entertaining a crowd of people.  We boogied a little, laughed a lot and took dozens of photos which I´ll try to add to the blog when we get home.

The End of the World

Our taxis came on time at 6:45pm and we arrived in Fistera at 8:15pm - about 15 minutes before the sun went down over the Atlantic Ocean.  What a sight!  There were lots of people milling about at the Faro (lighthouse) and we sat on the rocks watching the sky turn red and the seagulls soaring over the Costa del Morte. 
We had a picnic with cheese, olives, chorizo, grapes, biscuits, bread, crisps, nuts, wine, water, Fanta and Coke followed by Caprichos - almond meringue biscuits - and Santiago tart.  We got back to the hotel after 11pm.   If you have four people wanting to go to Finisterre at night it is worth sharing a taxi which costs €100 or €25 each. (The bus is €40)


We decided in Arca to leave early enough to reach Santiago in time for the 12 o'clock mass. At 7am we started walking through the dark forest, torches and headlights illuminating the path. After a marching pace we stopped briefly for a drink and pit-stop at Lavacolla and then forged on to Santiago. The last half hour is a tedious trek through the urban area of Santiago but once we passed through the Porta de Camino into the warren of narrow streets in the old quarter we all perked up. As we reached the stone steps that lead to the Obradoiro square under the archway a piper was playing his gaita so I did a little Highland twirl. A group of tourists clapped as we came down the stairs and there were a few tears in our group! As you know, we attended the pilgrims mass and saw the Botafumeiro. We checked into the Monastery San Martin and then went to the Casino for lunch. Bell and I collected our parcels from the Pension badlada and the Correos and carted them back to the hotel. Then we went shopping for the picnic to Finisterre.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Jill and Bell

Jill and Bell sitting at the base of a pillar in the cathedral.


The Botafumeiro.


We are sitting in the cathedral having walked from Arca this morning. The Botafumeiro is hanging above the altar so we assume that it will fly at mass in 25 minutes. As we arrived under the archway into the square a group of people started clapping. Jill asked if I'd hired 'Rent a crowd' to welcome us! It was quite an emotional moment. Waiting for mass. Will check into the Hospederia St Martin after mass and will then go to the pilgrims' office to collect our certificates.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

50kms to go - from Melide

Hola amigos! - from Judith,
Well, here I am sitting (finally) in an internet cafe with only 50 km to walk before arriving in Santiago de Compostella. We have entered the third section of the trip, from the town of Sarria to Santiago .... the critical 100 kms that one must walk before receiving one´s religious certificate or "Compostela."

Well ... I hate to admit it but I will be receiving a "tourista" certificate because I took a cab for part of the journey between Morgade and Portomarin. Both Christine and I will take that and Sylvia as well because she is a Buddhist and does not walk for "religious" reasons. hen I heard that I felt better. She has walked the Camino multiple times! 

And today, as I was walking I saw a blind man with a walking stick in one hand and a sweeping cane in the other and I thought to myself, "Yes, there are people who are truly deserving of this compostella. Their faith allows them to achieve miraculous things."
Christine is taking this very badly, but her health simply does not allow her to walk up to 25 kms a day. In Morgade, I stayed with her for moral support as she was very depressed. While we were waiting to call a cab, a Hungarian couple asked for her help in organizing their return home due to a death in the family.
Christine was the only one there able to speak three languages and get it all sorted for them. I thought to myself then that there is a reason for everything. In her own way she provided a minor miracle for this couple.
Prior to our arrival in Sarria we went as a group, by small bus up to the mountain top village of O Cebreiro ...
high above the clouds, to visit a 12th century church, resting place of The Holy Grail.  It is a remarkable village, only about 20 houses, many of Celtic origin, the round stone thatched Galician style. Altogether a bit of an Indiana Jones experience. Yes ... I did see the true grail (one of them .. the other is in Valencia !)
The bus dropped us off in Sarria in the afternoon and we walked 13 kms to Morgade (a hamlet of about 2 houses!) through very rural, very noxious smelling roads ... lots of cow dung and fields fertilized with pig manure and urine. In fact, the whole of this section has been primarily rural, with the paths running through farms and fields, sometimes shaded by large oak and chestnut trees.
 Sometimes I want to shout "The sky is falling! The sky is falling!" as the breezes knock down showers of acorns and chestnuts on to our heads!" The scenery would be very familiar to New Brunswickers ... it looks  like the land and hills around Hampton and Sussex . The South Africans are enchanted with this ... I am rather bored as it seems so familiar and I miss all the little towns. Most named places are simply hamlets with one or two farms.
Now that we are in Galicia and getting closer to the sea the temperatures are cooler. The next big city will be Santigo itself.
All in all I have enjoyed the larger Spanish cities most of all ... the architecture, historical churches, lively squares and noisy night life ... not to mention the tapas bars and the wine and food. Pamplona , Viana , Leon and Burgos certainly stand out.
 I haven´t been a terribly good correspondent because many days I was simply too tired after walking in 35 degree temperatures and not feeling up to hunting for an internet cafe.
A lot of my trip has sort of blurred into a single impression of hot, dry dusty roads with agonizingly brutal downhill stretches on rubbly roads and trails.
 There were certainly days when I wanted to pack it all in. However, I walked until I couldn´t walk any more and if it was possible I called for a cab to finish the last few kilometers.
 As a result my feet and knees are still in good condition. There were days however when I had no alternative but to walk on in my very slow manner until I got to my destination, sometimes after 12 hours ... worried about heat exhaustion and running out of water.
 Sadly, after all of this I seem to have shed very few pounds. The pilgrims fare is unusually starchy ... bread, cheese, smoked ham. Dry toast with coffee in the morning, an omellette on baguette for lunch and some sort of mixed salad or fish dish in the evening. Very few fresh vegetables.
 Today, as I am now in the Galician region renowned for its seafood I had octopus ,boiled and then chopped up and seasoned with a spiced olive oil, for lunch. "Interesting"! Bought a bottle of the areas famous white wine  Ribeiro to share with the others tonight.
Sylvia has done an excellent job in choosing our accomodations ... usually two to a room with an ensuite shower and sometimes a tub. So we haven´t really been roughing it by sharing accomodation in large albergues where there can be as many as 100 other pilgrims sleeping in bunks! So I really have been a Pampered Pilgrim and when I get home I hope to download my photos and compose a more descriptive blog with that title. Now , my time is about to run out and I must go . Will write agian from Santiago ...Judy

In great company

Using Syl´s login

Hi all

What a privilege and honour to be led on this walk by Sylvia Nilsen, author of Your Camino.
A huge congratulations to Syl for her book guiding Pilgrims to their journey!!

As we read her first review on Amazon yesterday, go and see for yourself, it truly echo´d who Sylvia Nilsen is in this arena. Syl is inspiring in every way. Many have published and tried, Syl, has gotten it right! Let her be your guide and inspiration to do your Camino your way.

Daily we are blown away not only by the path we´re on, but by Syl´s unbelievable knowledge of the routes, the history (wow! this route is steeped in history) the people and places - Syl truly is an unending font of knowledge and passion on all things Camino - the Camino Oracle. From our experience of google and the information we found online, it was nothing in comparison to what we have learnt on this trip from Sylvia.

We are reminded daily that this is our Camino, so at dinner, Syl informally briefs us on the day ahead, in order that we can take off on our own daily and walk our Camino our way - inevitably we stay close to the unending font of Camino knowledge and wisdom as Syl knows the better routes, the history so well and of course she is our Spanish interpreter too!

A woman of very many talents - she makes us laugh, she dances, she sings and she is a real good chef too! Syl, Bell, Judith what a great dinner - thank you :-)

Another gift is Syl´s graciousness - she is truly amazing - I doubt we would have had as many privileges along the way if we didn´t have Sylvia to smooth the way, be it the cheese woman at the market that practically through her cheese at you and had her hands in your wallet - hey Theresa! - lol

We would never have known there´s a Capetonian living on the Camino and get to have tea at his house en route.

With 3 days to go, we really wish it would never end and already we´re asking Syl about the next adventure. Japan, but maybe Portugal, Italy or wherever Syl might decide next - she´s got a fine following!!

Syl, thanks for your encouragement daily in reminding us this is our Camino and setting us up for a great adventure.

Syl, thank you, thank you, thank you!

Peregrinos - Jill, Theresa, Zuretha

el Camino de las Cafe-Bars

I have been really frustrated by our inability to get stamps -´sellos´ - from churches in our pilgrim passports. The majority of churches we pass by are closed. Of those that are open, there are very few with a pilgrim stamp on offer.  I think three churches on this trip have had someone sitting in the church offering a stamp to passing pilgrims. 
I remember reading somewhere that the pilgrim office doesn´t really like to find a credencial filled with stamps from bars and restaurants but if you do not stay in the albergues the only other places you can get stamps is cafe-bars, restaurants, hotels, tourism offices etc.
In some towns you read a notice on a church door directing to another church in the town for the ´sello´ When you get there that church is also closed.  In Melide the other day we walked an extra few hundred meters to the Parish Church to get a stamp in our passport.  We couldn´t find one but a rather irritated gemtleman sitting in the pews told us to go to the door on the right of the altar.  I knocked on the door and when I opened it, two angry men told us to go away in no uncertain terms.  "Sello?" I asked.  "No! No! No!" said one, shooing us away with his hands.  So, no church sello in Melide but we did get three from different bars on the way out of town.
Many cafe-bars have a stamp or stamp and pad on their counters so that pilgrims can just walk in and stamp their passports without even buying anything from the bar.  Surely churches can do the same thing?  If a church is open to visitors, they could chain a stamp to the table at the entrance that has their notices and booklets on it. Even if the church is closed it would be possible to have a small table outside somewhere with a stamp on the table for passing peregrinos.
The very enthusiastic priest who used to usher pilgrims into his little church in Furelos passed away about 2 years ago and now his church is also closed.  I remember being conned into entering his church in 2002, seated on the pew and having to listen to a half hour discourse on the history of the altar and pillars - all in Spanish - before we could make our escape. 
When I get to Santiago and offer them my credential I will forgive them for thinking that I have made a pilgrimage to the bars and cafes of Spain from St Jean pied de Port to Santiago - I just hope that they will forgive me!  There just weren´t any other opportunities to get stamps anywhere else.


Today was our penultimate walking day.  Coolish in the mornings (I have been wearing the South African flag arm warmers Tammy bought me) but soon have to moult the chill cheater and arm warmers as the day heats up.  We walked for two hours again before stopping. for a Cola Cao.  I had a banana so I bought a chunk of ´pan´and had a banana sandwich.  The path is quite busy.  Many more pilgrims left from Arzua this morning than have been leaving from the smaller places we´ve stayed in between.  Arzua is one of the stage stops in most guide books and it seems that many pilgrims religiously follow the Brierley guide (or other guides) and stay over at the places suggested in the books.  When we left Morgade, and Gonzar or even Casanova, there were far fewer pilgrims on the road early in the morning.
We covered the 20km in just under 5 hours and arrived at the Pension Maribel sign on the trees in the forest just before 12h30.  The sign says 500m to Pension Maribel.  After walking what seems like a km the next sign says 100m - then when you get to the next intersection another sign also says 100m.  We all booked in and I went to to the centre to get more time for my cell phone and to check out the restaurant where we will eat tonight.  It is the same little place we had a wonderful dinner in June so I´m looking forward to eating there again.
Some of us are planning on leaving early tomorrow so that we can make the 12 o´clock mass.  We will then wait in the square to meet the others as they walk in.  We are all looking forward to meeting old Santiago but are a little sad that our adventure is coming to an end.  We have booked two taxis to take us to Finisterre tomorrow night to watch the sun set over the Atlantic at the End of the World.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

In Arzua

We are in the Pension Arcano in Arzua, a very nice pension in a quiet road off the main Camino route that runs through the centre of the town.  They have an enclosed indoor ´terrace´ on the first floor with pot plants grown by the mother who was ironing linen when we arrived.  It is a long, airy room with three wrought iron cafe tables and chairs at one end, a vending machine with all the coffees and chocolates, and another with cold drinks and chocolates in the centre of the room and then a comfortable 12 seater leather curved sofa around a centre table.  On the far wall are washlines where all the linen is hanging to dry.  This internet facility is tucked into a corner with a screen around it.  We have bought salads, fruit and cheese and will have dinner in tonight.
Our stay at A Bolboreta in Mato Casanova was really wonderful.  It is 2km off the Camino trail but worth the walk for a comfortable night´s stay.  The dinner is €8 for a 4 course meal and breakfast is included in the room charge.  They put out a breakfast - for those wanting to leave early in the morning - with microwaves, toasters, breads, biscuits, jams etc. 
We made an early start this morning and walked through lovely forests and many small hamlets.  The first big town was Melide and we followed the yellow arrows to the parish church to get a stamp.  I was directed to a door at the side of the altar and when I knocked and opened the door, two men angrily chased us away telling us to ´Vamos´.  ¨No sello aqui?¨ I asked.  ¨No, no, no!¨they said.  ´This is a Camino de las Cafe-Bars´ I commented to Bell and Jill.  Most of the churches are closed when you pass by them.  Those that are open don´t have stamps and when one is directed to the parish church to get a sello you are chased away.  Nearly all of the stamps in my credencial are from bars, reaturants, pensions, hostals and albergues - very few churches. 
The next 11km were very hot so we were thankful for the shade of the forests.  From around Boente 6km from Melide, the terrain becomes hilly and undulating as you descend to many small rivers and climb out on the other side.  We stopped at Ribadiso da Baixo to have lunch at the cafe-bar next to the ancient San Anton hospice albergue.  The man in the cafe-bar recognized me and said that he remembered my ´hombre´who drank brandy and coke!  (That was Charles Mason on the last group walk so I hope someone reads this and passes on the message!  He has not been forgotten!)
The last three km to Arzua were undulating but they passed quickly.  We found our pension, checked in and then went out to buy food for supper. We will make Seville Ensalade - a salad with many different fruits, olives, cheeses and lettuce, tomatoes, onions etc.  Tomorrow is our penultimate walk and we are all a little sad that our Camino is coming to an end. 


This morning our bus arrived at 7;50am to take us back to Gonzar where we stopped walking yesterday. It seemed like an awfully long way - more than 25km. We walked for 2 hours before stopping for a Cola Cao (hot chocolate) and a pastry.
Then we stopped at Palas do Rei after getting a stamp in our credencials at the Information kiosk opposite the Cabanas where we stayed in June. There was a market in the square so we bought cheese and fruit for the next day. We have started walking through corridors of trees with mossy stone walls, passing through tiny hamlets and farms.

 On one path we had to stand aside whilst a small herd of dairy cows with huge, pendulous udders lumbered past followed by an Alsatian type dog and a farmer. Before we knew it we were in Casanova with just under 2km to walk to A Bolboreta.
We did the things all pilgrims do at the end of a day's walking - washed clothes, showered and sat in the sun discussing the day. There were two other pilgrims at dinner and we had another wonderful 4 course meal for €8. Butternut soup, salad, paella, meat and sauted potatoes and Tiramsu - served with jugs of wine, water and bread. Tomorrow we walk to Arzua.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

The last leg

The Amawalkers are going strong with the last 89 kms's to go. Like Syl says that's just a Comrades and Bruce Fordyce would do it in 5.5 hrs - well that's a different perspective to the one us walkers are feeling.
Fortunately its been overcast yesterday and today which has helped tremendously.
I was very grateful for the Vilacha seafood feast today, made it feel a bit like Sunday... definitely missed my St A's family today. Mom the lamb and veggies that accompanied our seafood dinner almost did make up for your Sunday roast I so missed earlier.

Tonight in Casanova was second best to the spontaneous street party a few nights back at Rabanel with Habier the sweet barman.
Tomorrow will be tough...

Its been great thus far, the accommodation has been real good and we re in the Camino rhythm of walking for 5-7 hrs, washing, washing clothes, dinner and sleep sometimes before dark.

My best morning was today... The start before dawn.

Family and friends miss u much. This is very good and also very different to what I expected - thanks to Syl, its a real 5 star experience steeped in history and a wonderful adventure.

Blessings and love


Since we've been in Spain I've only managed to post from one Internet Cafe which we found in Logrono. Hotels, Pensions, Hostals and even albegues now all offer WiFi (wee-fee in Spanish). Wifi is great if you have a laptop or notebook with you but for those with no computer devices it has become very difficult to find Internet facilities. I was hoping that our amaWalkers would all contribute to the blog but so far nobody has been able to find an internet to send their posts.

Morgade to Gonzar

We made an early start this morning. Sunrise is only at about 8am so we walked for a while with our headlamps and torches down the narrow paths that run between dry stone walls, and negotiated a few large granite blocks placed down the centre of torrent courses bringing water down from the hills. The places we passed through consist of little more than a few stone houses with a barn or dairy shed and the ever present horreos - maize storage structures.

After about 8km we reached Vilacha and rang the bell at Casa Banderas where ex-Capetonian Gordon Bell lives. He ivited us in for tea and coffee and after a short visit we continued to Portomarin. The river Mino is very low and the layout of the old submerged town was clearly visible.
After climbing seeply out of Portomarin we continued for 8km through oak woods and small farms to Gonzar. In the middle ages this stretch of the road was notorious as an open air brothel but we didn't come across any suspicious ladies - only a dear white haired pilgrim in her eighties from Barcelona, dressed in an elegant black outfit, walking with her husband and her son.

We stopped at the roadside cafe at Gonzar for lunch. Our bus arrived on time at 2pm and drove us to Mato Casanova where we checked into the Albergue A Bolboreta where we will stay for two nights. This is a tiny hamlet about 2km off the Camino trail with a few stone houses surrounded by fields and forests. Nearby is Pambre Castle, the best preserved military castle in Galicia. We hope to visit it tomorrow after we have trekked the 25km back to here from Gonzar. Our bus is fetching us at 7:50am to take us back to Gonzar.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Hello from Morgade

Great to hear from u having a great time only did eleven km today so lots of time for vino - bus trip to o Cebreiro - beautiful views: z had some feet problems but hopefully sorted if we win the lotto we get syl to take us all along miss u guys lov t z

Our hired bus callected us from Casa Mendez at 8:30am to take us to O Cebreiro. As we ascended the hill we drove into thick mist which completely shrouded the top of the Cebreiro mountain. We visited the church where Don Elias Valina Sampedro is buried, took photographs of the Hobbit-like Celtic pollozas and had a hot drink at the taberna. Before we left the mist cleared and on one side we could see surrounding farms and rolling hills but on the other it seemed that we were above the clouds and we were looking at a white sea with islands (mountain tops) protruding through. Magical sight.
Our bus took us to Sarria and we walked 11km from there, through the gentle Galician countryside to a stone house on the side of a narrow country road called Casa Morgade where we spent the night. The views from our upstairs windows were of cows in the pastures and surrounding woods of chestnuts and oaks. It is much cooler in Galicia and most of us wore fleece tops or jackets to dinner. Tomorrow we walk 19km to Gonzar where our bus will fetch us at 2pm to take us to Casanova which is another 25km away. On Monday morning it will take us back to Gonzar so that we can walk to Casanova. It'll be nice to spend two nights in one place for a change.

Ponferrada to Villafranca del Bierzo

Although this is a 24km day (or 22.4km - or 23km, depending on which guide book you believe!) It is one the easier days on this section. The first 10km is on a flat path through many little hamlets all with acres of vegetables and fruit on both sides of the road. There are places to stop for a coffee and small shops to buy fruit or drinks. After Cacabelos you enter the vineyards and the path becomes a little steeper and more undulating. By then it is also hotter and the dust from the path covers your boots and lower legs in a fine powder.
We saw workers harvesting grapes in all the vineyards. Some carry the grapes in large, black plastic buckets which they tip into the back of lorries. Others pack grapes into white plastic crates which are stacked onto trailers behind tractors. One gang gave us each a big bunch of grapes the colour of dark plums. sweet and juicy for thirsty pilgrims!

As we entered Villafranca we visited the church of Santiago with its Puerta del Perdon where medieval pilgrims who were too ill to continue to Santiago could earn the same forgiveness of sins and indulgences as they could in Santiago. The doors were locked so no 'get out of jail' early for the amaWalkers! We got a stamp at Ave Fenix and I popped in to see Hermoine at the La Puerta del Perdon where we stayed in June.

This time I'd booked rooms at Casa Mendez which is on the other side of town, across the river. There are week-long fiestas in town and last night was a parade of 'gigantes' - giant characters - and a music fest at 8:3pm and mid-night. We were pleased not to be staying anywhere near the square. If you plan on booking accommodation ahead here is a tip. In most towns and villages with 'old' towns, the Pensions and Hostals in the old centers are not modern or 5-star and cost less than upmarket, modern hotels . If you want more upmarket accommodation you have to stay outside the old town. I much prefer to stay in the cheaper accommodation in the old quarter. Secondly, if you want a good night's sleep don't book a place on the plaza mayor (central plaza)as it could be the noisiest place in town! Last night was very quiet next to the river.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Molinaseca & Ponferrada

Everyone was a bit pooped today from the long, hot, rocky trail from Rabanal. The 7 of us who walked all the way decided to walk the last 5km, from Riego de Ambros, on the road as we were weary of rocks and shale. It was hot but it was a relief to walk on a smooth surface and we think it was a little shorter than the trail.
Zuretha, Theresa and Janette - Rabanal
Bell and Jill
On the way to to the Cruz de Ferro
Bell, Janette, Theresa, Zuretha, Syl and Jill and the Cruz de Ferro

Rocky path to el Acebo
Ponferrada in the far distance
Memorial to a fallen peregrina outside el Acebo
We walked on the road for the last ± 5km to Molinaseca

Slate rooftops of Molinaseca

Peregrinos bridge into the little village

Site of the most important gold mining in the Roman Empire.  22km from Ponferrada

This morning our taxis collected 7 of us from Molinaseca and took us to Las Medulas - a spectacular landscape created during the most important gold mining era in the Roman Empire (2000 years ago) and now a World Heritage Site about 22km from Ponferrada. Two of our group decided to walk to Ponferrada instead.

We had a wonderful stay in an old palace - La Casa del Reloj - in Molinaseca last night.Before we left Molinaseca this morning Bell and I were lucky to be given a guided tour of the private part of the 'Palace' by our host. It was very grand. Tons of antiques, art works, statues, carpets, a private chapel - with her grandfather's embroidered vestments hanging in a cupboard - and a fabulous refectory which she called her Bodegas. She also owns the park across the road. Very special place to stay.

 We are now in Ponferrada (Pons Ferrata or Iron bridge) a town with a masssive fortified Templar castle .
We were dropped off at the Hotel Temple, a very smart, 4-star hotel about 10 minutes from the Templar Castle.
Ponferrada once boasted at least 10 pilgrim shelters. Now there is only one, the Albergue San Nicolas de Flue that sleeps 200 people.
Tomorrow we walk ± 22km - depending on which guide book you believe! - to Villafranca del Bierzo. We are all tanned and looking fit!