Day 30 – Sarria to Gonzar – 30.2 km

I was up and on the road by 8.30am . It turned into a beautiful day , the sunniest and warmest of my trip so far. I walked alone initially and once again saw some old ladies collecting the sweet chestnuts into buckets. They are all over the roadside at the moment ( the chestnuts that is ) .

My guidebook had said to look out for the ” Horreos ” too and I saw plenty of these along the way. A lot of the farms have these structures ( in the past used to store corn ) which are rectangular and made of wood or stone. They are raised up on pillars to keep out rodents and keep the corn dry . Apparently these have been present since ancient times and are thought to be Celtic in origin. I have also posted a picture of the ” Berza” ( Rape Kale ) that seems to be grown in the vegetable garden of every farm or house in these parts. They use it in the stews and soups that are very typical of the Galician diet and having eaten the ” Caldo Gallega ” a couple of times now I can say it is really tasty.

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Day 29 – Fonfria to Sarria – 27.7 km

A bad night. The bunks in the Refugio were very close together. So much so that if I turned over in my sleep to my right side I would likely have ended up in bed with a not unattractive German lady. However if I had turned over to my left side then I would have had an early morning clinch with an elderly Korean gentleman. Notwithstanding the rude awakening the German lady would have received I am sure it was the thought of the latter possibility that was the major contributor to my latest bout of insomnia. That and the fact that he was extremely restless throughout the night and made some peculiar noises in his sleep , the like of which I hadn’t heard before. The joys of life in the Refugios.

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Day 28 – Ruitelan to Fonfria – 23km

It was a very cold night up here in the mountains and we all needed blankets over our sleeping bags. We were awoken to the sound of an Operatic version of ” Ave Marie ” followed by ” Nessun Dorma “. Fortified by a good breakfast we girded our loins for the steep climb up to O Cebreiro. The initial part of the ascent was through woodland on a rocky path and we quickly came into the pretty hillside village of La Faba. Situated there was another of those Refugios that was “vegetariano” and offered ” Masaje Oriental “. This one was run by a German chap who has spent a lot of time in India and we found big Felix already ensconced inside eating mushrooms that a lady was frying over an open fire. There was the usual statue of the Buddha and a similar feel to Mincho’s place back in Hospital de Orbigo. I didn’t hang around and continued the steep climb which soon gave some spectacular views over the valley. The sky was virtually cloudless and you could see the hilltops above the clouds .

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Day 27 – Pieros to Ruitelan – 24.9km

Apologies for the delay in updating the blog but I’m up in the mountains again and there is little in the way of any Wi-Fi in the villages.

We all had a great night’s sleep in the small and characterful Refugio in Pieros. It was cold first thing so on went the layers again. The 6km walk in the through vineyards in the morning sunshine to the town of Villafranca was one of the most beautiful sections of the whole Camino. I stopped in the town for a coffee and a think about which route to take for the afternoon section. Jack , Lou and ” double Felix ” had decided to take the more scenic but longer route over the mountains but I didn’t want to aggravate the tendonitis so I opted to take the alternative shorter route along the valley floor parallel to the road. This passed through a series of small villages , each of which contained Refugios and a bar or two. Forrest had opted for the same route and we caught up with each other outside one of the bars , bringing up the rear of the Pilgrim pack as per usual.

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Day 26 – Molinaseca to Pieros – 25.2km

A good night’s sleep in a nice Albergue in Molinaseca. Forrest had arrived late in the day so was only able to get a top bunk above another American guy. Now Forrest is a very big guy and when it came to him climbing the ladder to get into his bunk he very nearly pulled the whole bunk over onto its’ side. Roy , who was just going off to sleep , got a big fright and shouted out ” Jeez , I thought the whole thing was coming down ! ” , causing hilarity in the whole dormitory.

We walked about 6km into Ponferrada where we had the first pitstop of the day. We were all tempted by the ” Hot Chocolate and Churros ” advertised and so we had a collective sugar rush to set us up for the next stage. Before leaving the town I had a tour around El Castillo de Ponferrada , a well preserved Templar castle ( see photos ). Inside was a library displaying some 15th C books on subjects such as the history of the Crusades. There was also a copy of the original document ,written by Pope Clement , which decreed that all Templar property be confiscated and that the Knights be outlawed. This was copied from the original document held in the Vatican archives.

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Day 25 – Rabanal del Camino to Molinaseca – 26.5km

We reluctantly departed the very friendly and warm Albergue in Rabanal this morning as the day started cold and wet. I walked the first few km with Jolanta but she had developed an allergic rash and was feeling queasy so she stopped at the next village , Foncebadon.

There was then a steady climb for a few km until we arrived at one of the most famous symbols of The Camino , the Cruz de Ferro , where a simple iron cross stands at the top of a weathered pole. It’s tradition that the Pilgrims deposit a stone here that they have carried from home to either to ask for protection on the remainder of the journey or for some other intention. Today the cross stands on top of a 5m high pile of stones. I added a stone I had brought from our garden and another that Megan had asked me to place there ( one of the Aussie girls I’d met in the first week ). I wondered if there were any other stones from Wigan in the pile , a few I’d guess.

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Day 24 – Valdeviejas to Rabanal del Camino – 20.4km

I stayed in a very small Refugio last night just 1km past Astorga. There were only four of us staying there including Jolanta , who I hadn’t seen in a week or so , and a French Mother and daughter, Edith and Vida ( see photo ). I had a room to myself and had a good sleep though the place was freezing cold.

We woke to a cold morning with clouds and drizzly rain. The pain and swelling in my leg was certainly better after taking the Diclofenac and applying the gel last night so I’m hopeful that with some shorter days of walking I can manage it to Santiago. I am now 150 miles away.

We put a good shift in this morning stopping at El Ganso for lunch. I was really delighted to see Gus walk into the same place shortly afterwards and he joined us for lunch ( see photo holding stick ).He’d needed two days rest to recover from the stomach bug but he is now fit and putting good milages in each day.

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Day 23 – Hospital de Orbigo to Valdeviejas – 18.1 km

My stay in Hospital de Orbigo provided me with some interesting experiences. There were eight Pilgrims staying there last night , including two Italian guys who were both suffering tendonitis and had holed up there for 4 days in attempts to get better ( at least that’s what they said anyway ). There was also a young Aussie girl who had stayed an extra day as she had bites that she was convinced were caused by bed bugs so had hot washed all her kit. Later on two Pilgrims arrived carrying guitars , Neno and Hugo , the former Italian and the latter Portuguese.

We sat down to a meal of vegetarian pasta , cooked by one of the Italian guys , followed by Miso and Seaweed soup cooked by a Spanish lady. There was a salad to finish off with. I left the soup but gobbled up everything else. After dinner Mincho ( who seemed to be the guru of this albergue ) encouraged us to move to a corner where there were cushions and blankets lying around , overseen by a statue of the Buddha. I started to get worried then. There was some Eastern music playing and Mincho did some meditating for a spell . Then he started playing the bongo drums. At this point I was wishing I was back with the Nuns in Leon. Thankfully Neno and Hugo came to the rescue by pulling out their guitars and starting a sing song. Not to be outdone , Mincho then pulled out his guitar and joined in. Then various other percussion instruments appeared and I found a pair of maracas in my hands. I then proceeded to shake the maracas in all the wrong places and got some funny looks from Mincho. All this carried on until Midnight. We all trooped off to bed and Mincho reminded us there would be a Yoga class before breakfast.

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Day 22 – Leon to Hospital de Orbigo – 32.8km

An uneventful day spent walking on probably the least appealing part of The Camino so far. It was mostly long , flat stretches of roadside ” senda “. We’re now on the last part of The Meseta and after Astorga ( our next stop ) we start climbing the next range of mountains , the Montes de Leon.

Whilst walking this morning I met a German guy who has become a bit of a Camino legend in that he is currently walking the Camino once a month for the whole of 2012 ,  starting his walk from Roncesvalles. I’m told he normally spends half of each year volunteering as a ” Hospitalero ” at the Refugios. A diagnosis of ” OCD ” springs to mind.

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Day 21 – Leon – rest day

My fears were justified. You put fifty men in one room and it’s not exactly going to be ” lullaby baby “. I have never heard such a cacophony of nocturnal noises. I will list them – snoring of every description , sighing , yawning , farting , groaning , scratching  coughing , sneezing , snorting , peeing and talking ( whilst asleep ). I lay there listening to all this and actually started to laugh as it was like something out of a cartoon. I stuffed the earplugs in until they were nearly meeting in the middle but it made not a jot of difference. I had been debating whether to take another rest day and this made my mind up.

The usual suspects were away by 6.30am but I stayed for breakfast. This usually consists of bread and jam with coffee. Sometimes you pay a couple of euros but in this case it was a ” Donativo ” situation. We were all out by 8.00am as usual and I noticed it was significantly cooler than it has been up to this point. I found a small hotel , booked a room and jumped into bed to catch up with some sleep.

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