Canadians on the Camino, Day 27: Routine on the road 

Cool Sangria after a hot days's hike
Cool Sangria after a hot day’s hike

(September 30)

We have 58 kilometres remaining to our destination in Santiago. Today we walk from Portomarin to a town called Palas de Rei, a distance of 27 kilometres adjusted for the climb. When we begin at 8 a.m. there is a ground hugging mist that does not burn off until after 11 a.m. That makes it a comfortable day for walking but also one of limited visibility. Continue reading Canadians on the Camino, Day 27: Routine on the road 

Canadians on the Camino, Day 26: Gracious in Sarria

Our hosts in Sarria were friendly and gracious
Our hosts in Sarria were friendly and gracious

(September 29)

This morning we leave Sarria for Portomarin 22 kilometres down the road. Many pilgrims begin their journey at Sarria because one must hike this last distance of about 113 kilometres to have your pilgrimage officially recognized. As a consequence, there are noticeably more pilgrims on the trail today. At one point, I count 24 of them strung out along the road just ahead of us. Continue reading Canadians on the Camino, Day 26: Gracious in Sarria

Canadians on the Camino, Day 25: The monastery in Samos

Benedictine monastery at Samos, Spain
Benedictine monastery at Samos, Spain

(September 28)

I have a theory not shared by my partner Martha that indecision often works out for the best. We began this day in a town called Triacastella about 20 kilometres shy of a city called Sarria which has a population of 13,500.

We sleep in a bit this (Sunday) morning and I am awakened by the metallic sound of hiking poles clicking on the asphalt street outside of our window. Many pilgrims, including us, use walking sticks in some cases and in others the kind of poles similar to those used for cross country skiing. They help for balance in rough terrain and take the pressure off of your knees. You can easily outfit them with rubber tips, which you can slip on when walking on asphalt or cement – but many people don’t bother. The incessant clacking from the metallic points hitting the asphalt or concrete must drive the locals crazy. Continue reading Canadians on the Camino, Day 25: The monastery in Samos

Canadians on the Camino, Day 23: Shangri La in Galicia

O'Cebriero, mountain village in Galicia
O’Cebriero, mountain village in Galicia

(September 26)

We use a book called A Pilgrim’s Guide to the Camino de Santiago. Its author John Brierley claims that today’s walk of 36 kilometres, adjusted to include the ascent, is one of the most difficult on the Camino. It is. Continue reading Canadians on the Camino, Day 23: Shangri La in Galicia

Canadians on the Camino, Day 22: Matrimonial in Molinaseca

Hotel El Palacio in Molinaseca, we luck out
Hotel El Palacio in Molinaseca, we luck out

(September 25)

We are in the lovely mountain town of Villfranca this evening but I want to go back to yesterday in Molinaseca where we stayed in a hotel called El Palacio. There are a lot of people on the Camino this month so I have been calling ahead to arrange accommodation. I always tell the person to whom I am talking that I am booking for myself and my wife.

This is the easiest way for me to explain in Spanish that we can share one bed or occupy singles if there is no double bed available. Usually, I receive as a response something like, “Si, si, matrimonio.” It may be my imagination, but I think the matrimonio routine works to our advantage.  Continue reading Canadians on the Camino, Day 22: Matrimonial in Molinaseca

Canadians on the Camino, Day 21: La Cruz de la Ferro

Dropping a pebble of blessing or regret at La Cruz de Ferro
Dropping a pebble of blessing or regret at La Cruz de Ferro

(September 24)

We left the pleasant town of Astorga yesterday in the early morning darkness and headed toward the mountains, climbing from 900 to 1100 metres along the way. We ended the day in the tiny and hospitable village of Rabanal whose population is listed as being 60.

A long climb

We spent much of the day walking on a dedicated pilgrim track parallel to an asphalt road. The villages that we passed through were semi-deserted and poor, containing abandoned buildings with crumbling stone walls. A rundown church in one of those villages had a huge bird’s nest in its belfry. The look and feel here is one of remoteness yet the highway is quite nearby even though we can neither see it nor hear the traffic.

The distance from Astorga to Rabanal is only 21 kilometres but it feels like more. The climb is long and gradual and having a straight path running parallel to the road provides an illusion of greater distance. Then there were the grey clouds threatening a rain which did not materialize, at least at that point.

Back spasms

Martha had painful back spasms again for the last seven or eight kilometres and frequently she had to stop walking until they passed. She has concluded that it in addition to all of the walking we did to train for the Camino, we should also have done exercises aimed at strengthening core muscles in the abdomen and back. Yesterday I found that the muscles on the outside of my right shin began to feel sore and I feared that I might be developing the dreaded tendonitis which can incapacitate hikers. But good fortune was ours. Walking into Rabanal, we saw a sign advertising massage.

In Rabanal

We rented a private room in a house adjoining a lively albergue called Nuestra Senora de Pilar (that name again). We had just checked in and were lying down for a quick recuperative nap when the rain began to pelt down. We have lived a charmed weather life on this trip. The only real rain we have experienced has occurred in the afternoons or evenings when we have been safely under a dry roof.

There is a group of German Benedictine monks who have re-established a small monastery in Rabanal. They perform the Gregorian chant at Vespers each evening at 7:00 p.m., so we had an early dinner in a hotel on the village’s one main street and prepared to attend. When we arrived, however, we were told that the monks were having a silent retreat and would not be holding their public Vespers service.

A needed massage

We had discovered upon arrival in Rabanal that the massage therapist in town was actually working out of a small room at our albergue. Both of us booked appointments but he was so busy that he could not see us until after 9:00 p.m.  As we waited our turn, we met several people who were in pain due to bad backs, pulled muscles or tendinitis.

Martha and I each had 40 minutes with the therapist and he was excellent. In addition to the massages, he provided both of us with exercises that we can do to ward off the symptoms that have begun to bother both us, particularly Martha.

High point on the Camino  

After a good night’s sleep we left the Rabanal just before sunrise this morning and we are both feeling much fitter. Today we walk 26 kilometres, climbing 300 metres to the pass of Irago, the highest point on the entire Camino at 1500 metres. Then we have a long, steep and tiring descent into Molinaseca.

Despite that difficult walk down through rock strewn, shale gulleys, this is a wonderful day of hiking.  It is cool in the early morning and we wear fleece liners and our rain jackets in layers to keep warm. Later it becomes beautifully sunny although the temperature never rises above 20 Celsius.

The slopes in the valley below us are grassy and green and on the distant horizon the mountains appear as hazy blue. There are cattle grazing on the steep hillsides below us and we can hear the soft tinkling of cowbells as the animals move. The mountains here, as elsewhere on this journey, are home to many wind turbines. I stop walking at one point and count 41 of them on the horizon.

La Cruz de Ferro

Near the day’s highest summit stands the Cruz de Ferro, an iron cross mounted on a wooden pole not unlike those that support power lines carrying electricity. At its base there is a pile of pebbles and small stones about the size of a small hill. People walking the Camino drop the pebbles there as a token of love and blessing.

Martha says she dropped off a pebble of regret for something. I could summon no regrets today but drop a pebble in the hope that someone who I care about deeply might be able to improve upon his life and unhappy situation

Knee-jarring descent 

Once past the summit we descend about 700 metres over a distance of about 10 kilometres. Much of that walk is down steep rock-strewn gullies and it is jarring on our knees and pushes our toes against the front of our hiking shoes. We encounter people having great difficulty, including one older American woman who appeared to be semi-delirious and was practically being carried by her husband, who said that he did not need any help.

We arrive at our hotel destination by walking across a narrow river on a Roman bridge into Molinaseca, a pleasant village just a few kilometres outside of the city of Ponferrada, population 69,000.  We have now walked about 500 kilometres and have about 200 remaining to Santiago. We should be there in nine days.

Canadians on the Camino, Day 20: A brief history of The Way 

St. James the apostle as Moorslayer
St. James the apostle as Moorslayer

(September 23)

Pilgrims have been walking the Camino since at least the ninth century. There is a long history of pilgrimages in the Catholic Church but this one celebrating St. James (Santiago in Spanish) has its own unique set of drivers.  Continue reading Canadians on the Camino, Day 20: A brief history of The Way 

Canadians on the Camino, Day 19: Outback to Astorga

Basic lodging at Siervas de Maria hostel in Astorga
Basic lodging at Siervas de Maria hostel in Astorga

(September 22)

We begin today by taking a comfortable bus out of Leon for about 40 minutes to a town called Hospital Del Orbigo. We are dropped off at the highway and walk into the old town in search of the most famous of the surviving Roman bridges along the Camino. It spans the Rio Orbigo, has dozens of arches, and is a beauty.

The bridge was an important trade link in Roman times and has hosted a good number of battles over the centuries, including those between Christians and Moors and among knights themselves in the form of jousting tournaments. Legend has it that the bridge may also have served as an inspiration for the Castilian Cervantes and his novel Don Quixote. Continue reading Canadians on the Camino, Day 19: Outback to Astorga