July 8th Cacabelos - Villafranca (8 km)
Because of Tim´s tendonitis (since arriving in Manjarín) and my knee pain (since arriving in Ponferrada), we stopped walking at 10:00 after only 8 kilometers. As we came into town we stopped for café con leche at the albergue and sought shelter from the showers that had been plaguing us all morning. Despite the frequent rain recently, we walked through a town today suffering from a lack of water! There were notices posted to use water for domestic use only and the crops were clearly suffering. Burbias was the only of the towns in the area suffering from this problem. Curiously, this town was not on our maps, despite it being larger than several nearby towns that were marked. In Villafranca today we are staying in a hotel and have enjoyed two naps, several meals, hot and cold soaks of the feet and legs, hot showers, and a trip to the Pharmacy for muscle ointment.
July 7th Ponferrada - Cacabelos (16 km)
We took our time walking and went through some beautiful suburbs of Ponferrada with English-style stone country houses. We passed through an aggricultural region after that, and spent mujch of the afternoon dodging cars and tractors on back roads. As the day progressed, the sky cleared and we got an excellent view of the mountains we had traversed yesterday. In the final kilometers before arriving at Cacabelos we saw an interesting style of Spanish-alpine architecture with sloped rooves and wooden balconies, but Spanish colors. Upon arriving at the albergue we discovered that though it had walls and a roof, the two did not meet; thus it was not much different from sleeping in the out-of-doors. It rained off and on throught the afternoon and night, so we were greatful for the roof even if the wind raged inside almost as much as out. It was so chilly in fact, that I (Meg) had to buy a second pair of pants because the pair that I had brought were soaked from the rain and I could not bear to wear a skirt in such weather.
July 6th Manjarín - Ponferrada (25 km)
Today was difficult, we started by going up-mountain for 3 or 4 km and spent most of the rest of the day going down-mountainS. By the end of the day my (Meg´s) kinees and Tim´s ankles were quite tender. To add insult to injury, there was a 3 km unneccessary detour before entering the city, which we then had to cross to get to the albergue, resulting in our having to back-track tomorrow. However, the views were fantastic (see fotos). We had beautiful clear views of beautiful mountain scenery.
July 5th Murias - Manjarín (25.5 km)
We are in the mountains, staying at a small albergue. The temperature changes in the two hours since we´ve been here have been dramatic. cold - warm - cold & rainy - warm. It will be VERY COLD tonight no doubt. THere are flies everywhere here, four dogs, five puppies, at least three cats, less than ten people, a goose and huge numbers of cows across the street. There is a film crew here, they are doing a documentary about the Camino. They brought food and gave dinner to the few pilgrims staying here, which was kind of them.
July 4 Hospital de Órbigo - Murias (21 km)
This morning we were still sore from yesterday´s walk, so we took our time. For most of the morning we did not see other pilgrims, which is quite unusual, but when we stopped in a bar for our morning ´café con leche´ many other pilgims straggled in as we were leaving. As most pilgrims rise at 6am, and most cafés / bars open at 8am, the first few hours of walking can be rather tedious. We passed through the small city of Astorga today. It is famous for some well-preserved roman ruins and a museum of the Caminos in a building by the famous Catalan architect Gaudí. Tonight we are staying about 4km outside of Astorga in a recently restored albergue with mostly Ikea furniture, kitchen counters remarkably similar to those in our new kitchen and an internet connection due to which we are able to post this message. We will also try to upload recent photos in addition to this message on www.niiler.com/camino which also houses updates and photos from last year´s travels.
July 3 Virgen del Camino - Hospital de Órbigo (28.6 km)
Today felt like the Camino again. Within the first kilometer we had a choice of walking along the highway or taking a longer route through the contryside. As yesterday´s walk was quite urban, we chose the countryside. We met many friendly people along the way, including an old man fishing for frogs. We passed one major town en route, Villandangos, and were fortunate to enjoy mostly flat walking with unobstructed views of the scenery. The countryside in this part of Spain consists of fields of grain, small hills, patches of forrest and quite a bit of dry grass with sporadic flowers. The churches here also have a different style from in other parts of Spain; they are mostly one-story, and instead of a bell tower, have a second-story façade with space for a bell, much like what we think of in the states as a Mexican church (think Taco Bell sign). Before entering Hospital de Órbigo (the town name, not a hospital) we crossed the Puente de (Bridge of) Órbigo on which a knight, don Suero de Quiñones, challenged and bested about 300 knights in one month. In the tradition of courtley love, he did this to prove his love for a woman who did not fancy him. Unfortunately, he had vowed to kill more knights that he was able to in a month and so he made a pilgrimage to Santiago. We stayed in an albergue (a hostal for pilgrims) 500 meters off the Camino through a poplar forrest. It was very tranquil and we had a 4-bed room all to ourselves, which was quite nice considering that we were tired and sore from a long day on the trail.
July 2 León - Virgen del Camino (8 km)
We arrived in León by bus from Madrid at noon. After obtaining the pilgrim´s credential we decided to begin walking, although we had not planned to start until the 3rd. So, it´s our first day on the trail and we are already half a day ahead of schedule! The town we have stopped in, Virgen del Camino, has no albergues, but plenty of hostals and a hotel, where we are staying. As usual, it is impossible to get dinner or see a menu before 8pm, which makes choosing a restaurant difficult. Before leaving León we returned to the San Isodoro church where we finished our hike last year. We met a kind nun and an old man there who were traveling the Camino by bus with a tour group. They exuded enthusiasm for the pilgrim´s life, and perhaps a little envy on the part of the old man that we were able to walk the Camino and they were not. On the whole, it was an uneventful first day. No injuries, so-so views interrupted by power lines and several construction sites. However, from our hotel room balcony there is a view of the cathedral in León 8 km away.
25th June, 2004 - West Chester, PA
Today is our final day of preparation before we leave. Whereas last year we were packing up all of our belongings from Westtown and then heading out, this year we are dealing with the installation of a new kitchen and the disasters that entails. That is yet another quest worth recounting, but this is not the venue. The plan is to head up to New York City and train with Henry (my Sifu) for the next couple of days. Then we will head to JFK and fly out to Madrid on June 29th. After a day in the city, we will take a bus north to León where we will pick up the trail from where we left it.
29th June, 2003 - San Juan to Burgos We got up super early again today, 5 am or so and were again out walking in the dark at the start of the day, which was made even darker by the forrest of oaks we were walking through. It was a little creepy but also very beautiful once our eyes got used to the darkness. We reached the next town, Atapuerca near sunrise and stopped to have breakfast and coffee. There is currently an anthropological dig going on near Atapuerca involving neanderthol remains. Today was our first day of ¨meseta¨ walking. Mesetas are flat plains at a high elevation and much of central Spain is meseta. At a diverging of Caminos (at times you have two options to get to the same place, like where we chose to walk along the highway) we took the arrow to the right, the path less taken that goes along the top of the meseta instead of going through valleys. Our route was significantly shorter than the other way and so we were able to get ahead of Jean-Luc, Allein, Manuel and Sonya, who had passed us in the madrugada (insanely early morning) in the forrest of oaks. We mentioned Jean-Luc and Allein before, they are the nice French men we met. Manuel was born in Spain to Spanish parents, but his family moved to France when he was two, so he speaks French as well as Spanish. Sonya is a French Canadian, who of course speaks French and also English. It was always fun having conversations with Manuel and Sonya because 3 of us spoke English, 3 French and 2 Spanish, but we did not have one language in common for all of us, so we were continually switching languages. Because the meseta was so flat and for the first time in a long while we did not have mountains obstructing our view, Burgos could be seen from miles away and it got closer VERY slowly as we walked. The area right before the city was very industrial and ugly. We passed an abandonded military base, an airfield and several factories. Upon arrivin in Burgos we took a room at the first hotel we found and enjoyed a long, hot bath. Baths and hot water in general are hard to find along the Camino, and feeling clean is also a luxury not often available to pilgrims.
28th June, 2003 - Belorado - San Juan de Ortega While we are covering Spanish lessons... there is a verb in Spanish (madrugar) which means to get up in the very early morning. When we left Belorado it was still dark. We traversed mountains covered with oak forrests as the sun became brighter and by the time we reached the ridge on which we would walk for much of the day, the sun was quite strong and hot. Our guidebook said that this stretch of Camino would have ¨no shade despite the trees¨ which we found very confusing upon reading, but when we reached the ridge we came to understand why. The Camino is in a wide cleared area with forrests on either side about 10 meters off through high grass interspersed with prickly plants. We got good tans during this part of the walk :-) Before descending from the ridge we met a frequent walker of the Camino. He has been known to walk the Camino as a form of political protest in addition to just for the fulfilment of the walk. He is depicted on many Camino T-shirts and other memorabilia as the typical pilgrim.27th June, 2003 - Santo Domingo - Belorado Today we left Rioja and entered Burgos (county) within Castilla y León (state.) We cut 1.4 kilometers from our walk today by traveling on the side of a highway in the early morning. We quickly discoverd that it was not an especially good idea, as the wind from the few trucks that were on the road was still quite strong. We arrived at our destination (Belorado) in time for lunch on the main plaza at a restaurant that our guidebook recommended. It was quite good, although there were only 2 vegetarian options. Ah, have we told you yet about pilgrim´s menus? Along the Camino there are various restaurants that offer pilgim´s specials, they generally involve 2 courses, a drink and a dessert for an amazingly low price (generally between 5 and 8 dollars.) Now, the ¨drink¨ for one person might be a bottle of wine or a 1 liter bottle of water. Since there are two of us, one generally asks for water and the other for wine, and then we split both. So, when there are only two vegetarian options, we each get both options. The people at the albergue tonight were all very social. The dining room was large enough for all of us to spread out and eat dinner and/or hang out in the same space at the same time. Tim and I made a stirfry of mushrooms and cucumbers... vegetables are hard to come by in Spain and sometimes you have to make do with what you can find. Besides, when you are hungry things taste a lot better. There is a saying in Spanish ¨Hunger is the best sauce.¨ 26th June, 2003 - Nájera to Santo Domingo de la Calzada Here we saw the first storks of the trip near Azofra and passed a ¨rollo¨ which was used to hang criminals and has since been converted into a cross. We ate a snack by the rollo and continued the day´s walk. We walked part of the day with Jean-Luc and Allain who we had met the day before. They are two kind French men with whom Tim is able to communicate - Allain and I tend to mime at each other and have ¨conversations¨ in which I speak Spanish slowly to him and he responds slowly in French. Upon leaving Cirueña we saw hops for the first and only time during our walk, Allain knew what the towering vines were and was able to explain to us and a Korean pilgrim. We stopped for the night in Santo Domingo de la Calzada, famous for its Saint who was a hermit who did a lot of work to better the Camino and also for a miracle involving a pilgrim who was falsely accused of theft and sentenced to death. After the death sentence the boy´s parents continued their pilgrimage to Santiago without him, and on their way home passed through the village to find the boy still alive and still hanging by the neck, the Saint was under the boy holding him up. The happy parents went to the mayor to insist that their son be released, and found him eating lunch and not wanting to be disturbed. The mayor said that if the boy was indeed inocent that the chicken he was eating would get up and crow... which it then did. The boy was released and now two chickens are kept at the entrance to the church in town to remind people of the miracle. 25th June, 2003 - Logroño to Nájera Totalling 30 km this was our longest day on the trail. We got an early start, feeling particularly refreshed after a night in a hotel bed. Along the way we passed a town called Navarette known for its pottery. On our way out of town we met a 68 year old retired potter, who spends his days standing on the same corner talking to passers by. We filled our water bottles in the town fountain while we talked to him, as during the next 16 km to Nájera we would not have access to water. Toward the beginning of the second half of the walk, cairns (stacks of rocks) tyipical along the camino suddenly appeared en mass to allert pilgrims to the beginning of the ascent to Alto de San Antón. On our entrance to Nájera there was a greeting painted on the side of a house by the Camino ¨Peregrino: en Nájera najerino¨ meaning ¨Pilgrim, while in Nájera, you are najerian¨ Showing the accepting and loving attitude that most Spaniards along the Camino have for pilgrims. 24th June, 2003 - Viana - Logroño We left Viana reasonably early and reached Logroño before midday. Our plan was to continue to Navarette after a brief stop by an internet café and a post office in Logroño, but we were foiled at every turn and ended up spending the night in Logroño. After not finding any internet café where the internet connection and/or computers worked until the 7th café we visited, dealing with a bank card that refused to work (causing slight panic about how we would get enough money to finish the trip) and trapsing through the city in search of the Post Office, it was too late and we were too mentally exhausted to continue on the trail. Logroño is the first city in La Rioja, a region in Spain (in case you forgot where we were) famous for its wine. When we arrived in the city we were greeted by the site of the River Ebro, one of the 5 major rivers of Spain and the first river we´ve seen on the Camino, despite promises from our guide book of ¨rivers¨ which all ended up being dried riverbeds. After our Camino experience thus far, we had decided that we should mail home our long-sleeved shirts and all but 1 jacket each, as temperatures were approaching 100 degrees daily and the extra gear was taking up space and weight in our packs. 14 June, 2003 - West Chester