Monthly Archives: April 2014

Day 34: Vilcha to Eirexe

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Sandy had an interesting observation.  Since crossing over the mountains into Galicia we have not been through a single “typical” Spanish town.  From our first days in Spain the typical village was centered on church in a plaza.  If you needed anything, look for Plaza Mayor first.  Now, we mostly see tiny storybook villages absent of plazas or in most cases a church.  Other than big city Sarria,  we have not even seen a mercado.   These folks in Galicia are pretty much self sufficient with their abundant gardens, livestock and chickens.  I guess that is part of what makes this part of the world so special. It is atypical.  Spanish, but not spanish.

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This was the view out of our albergue’s bedroom window last night. Note the milk cows in the barn. A few days ago, one of our fellow peregrinos from Denmark asked a local farmer for a liter of milk. The farmer proudly provided the milk yet asked him not to tell anyone.  I was told the milk, fresh from the cow, was great. 

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The Galician’s have this very tasty soup. They love their soup here as the cold, wet weather patterns make one  beg for hot soup.  Our host last night provided us with a really nice communal dinner.  The first course was called Lacónis Grelos. This may be the most famous dish of Galicia. Lacónis is boiled meat from the front leg of a pig. Grelos are the leaves of turnips. The lacón and grelos are are then boiled together and served with sausage and potatoes. It was the same soup the bar provided us to warm up on the frigid mountain top earlier in our camino. It is delicious and does warm you up quite nicely.

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Over the past 400+ miles we have seen our share of discarded clothes on the camino.  They were thrown away by pilgrims trying anything to lighten their load. More frequently now we are seeing many failed boots, usually deposited on the kilometer posts. Some “high end boots” which look brand new on top have totally lost their bottoms.  I have to say that Sandy’s Zamberlan and my Vasque boots are in great shape.  They both have about 700 miles on them and I honestly believe they both have at least another camino left in them. Your boots are the most important thing you have on the camino. My advice is get the best – they will pay you back in the long run.

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Right after starting we had a very steep downgrade on asphalt.  I don’t know about you, but descents are always harder on the knees than assents. Sandy has been experiencing some daily knee pain which is can become more severe after big downhill sections.  This downhill would prove to be especially difficult.

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We continued down toward the whitewashed lakeside town of Portomarin.

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We then crossed the longest bridge yet on the camino.  Unfortunately, Sandy’s knee was really hurting her by now.

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Upon crossing we were faced with this obstacle to get into the city.  Luckily we had another option.  Sandy noted that peregrinos were seen coming down to the lakeshore again (onto the rim road) just around the bend.  We headed left, joined the camino and avoided the stairs. Thank you God for making this little detour possible!

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At our next rest stop we met Jorgen, Lene and Gisele.  Lene gave Sandy some Advil, Jorgen gave Sandy his roll of sports tape, a pilgrim from Germany had sizzors and Gisele used her skills as a physical therapist to apply the tape. This seemed to help a bit as Sandy continued on without complaint.

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We hiked for the rest of the day under ominous clouds.   It finally rained around 1300 for about an hour.  With our Scotch Guard purchase having already been applied in Sarria, I was actually looking forward to see the difference.  The rain gear worked quite well and we stayed nice and dry.

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Along the way we spotted this old donkey cart in front of a farm.  I thought the wheels were pretty neat.

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There was a short section of the way which was the narrowest yet.  It was like walking down a steep, rocky hallway.

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Later in the day we found an albergue in a small village with a restaurant across the street.  While eating, a local farmer brought in his cows from pasture.  They obviously knew the routine as they ran to the old watering trough right in front of the restaurant.   One by one they sucked up their share of water while peregrinos dined outside just a few feet away.  Only on the camino!

Sandy finished the day feeling quite a bit better.  We are praying and hopefully tomorrow will be a good day for her.

Buen Camino!

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Day 33: Sarria to Vilcha

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One of the things you must understand while on the camino is that everyone’s camino is their own experience.  At our hostel this morning we saw many new peregrinos on the camino who travel with lots of luggage. They left carrying tiny backpacks.  Their big bags are shipped by the many camino taxi services to their next night stay.  We have hiked with other folks who take busses over the mountains to hike only the flatlands.  Some bus services transport pilgrims daily to the camino from a 4 star hotel. After their daily hike, they are picked up and transported back to the same hotel. To each their own.

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As expected, the numbers on the camino have increased significantly.  We had a huge bus pass us up a big hill just west of Sarria. Once at the top, a load of peregrinos exited and readied themselves for today’s hike.  After hiking 700 km it is human nature to be a bit resentful toward them, but they are experiencing the camino in their own way, so God bless them.

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So, we took the advice of one of our albergue hosts who told us when you are surrounded by lots of noisy peregrinos just stop for a few minutes and they will walk their way out of your camino. It worked quite nicely today.

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This was an interesting water crossing.  The stream flows down from the left in the background, flows alongside the trail then flows back to the left again in the foreground.

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We are under 100 km from Santiago!

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I think these are cherry blossoms.

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In this part of Galicia they have these interesting little storage sheds they keep well off the ground. Every farm has at least one.  I asked tonight’s host in our albergue what they were all about.  I was told this is what the local farmers use to dry out their harvested corn.  It is elevated to keep the rats and mice from ruining the crop.

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Turned a corner and was face to face with an ostrich.  Again, it’s the camino so anything is possible.

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Took a panoramic photo of this viewpoint. No rain today, it was quite cool, so hiking was nice.

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I thought this tiny and tightly compacted village was amazing.

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Almost walked past this little guy sunning himself on a rock wall.

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I had to take this photo right before we checked into our albergue.  It was the first time all day we saw any blue sky.

Our albergue tonight is a converted old farmhouse.  We are all sitting by a wood stove in the old cow quarters, which was nicely converted into a big family room.  Oh, and look who arrived shortly after we did…

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Our old camino friends Lene and Jorgen from Amsterdam.

We hiked 19.5 km today (12 miles) and are 5 days away from Santiago.

Buen Camino! 

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Day 32: Pintin to Sarria

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We have been removing the pages from our camino guide book every day. The day’s pages go in a cargo pants pocket to alleviate having to pull out the book at every decision point.   At days end the pages are discarded.  So, this is what the book looks like this morning, with just a little over 100 km from Santiago. It is getting pretty thin!

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We are using today as a rest day from hiking and a day to get some other things accomplished.  We therefore did not hit the trail until about 0815 and took the leisurely 5.5 km (3.2 mile) stroll mostly downhill to Sarria.

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Although short, the route was still very picturesque.

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A neat little grove of trees which the camino winds its way through.

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The scallop shell is a prominent part of the city’s official crest.

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The monastery is the most visited location in the city. It is located at the city’s high point.  We walked up the hill and had their stamp placed on our camino passport. 

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The interior veranda has a beautifully patterened stone floor. 

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The monastery’s courtyard complete with a water well

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Young children were on a field trip there. They obviously have been studying the Camino de Santiago as all had staffs, scallop shells and little backpacks.  When they saw us a few of them pointed and said, “Peregrinos!”

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We also took the down time to take care of a few things. I got a haircut and noted a lot more use of the scissors and straight razor than an American barbershop. We also went to a super mercado and bought some Scotch Guard for our boots and jackets.  We also got our clothes washed in a real washer machine. All things we have been wanting to do for several days.

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We wandered through the town and found an Italian restaurant for lunch where we shared a ensalada mixta and a pizza.  The cerveza was mine but looked too good not to photograph before drinking. 

Tomorrow we begin our final week on the way.

Buen Camino!

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Day 31: Alto do Poio to Pintin

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We woke up this morning in our high altitude respite to temperatures in the upper 30’s and heavy clouds. It certaintly made us hike briskly to help warm us up. The Galician hillsides and vistas were simply magnificent.

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Today’s hike included a big descent into a valley, followed by a couple of nice climbs as we drop out of the foothills.  We are in milk cow country.  Being cow people ourselves, it kinda made us feel a bit closer to home.

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Cows love peregrinos!  They see so many folks hiking along their pastures they become curious if you stop.  Most every ranch here has these brown cows.  Also a German Shepherd.  All the dogs along the camino have been well behaved and most live in the barn with the livestock.

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There are lots of these on the trail. They are up to 4 inches long. Big snail looking for a shell or leeches? Send me your comments…Inquiring minds want to know!

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The way was mostly off of the highway today on thickly vegitated trails. In this part of the world that means cattle and tractor trails.  Very beautiful cow trails.  As a result of yesterday’s heavy rains, we hiked through a mixture of mud and cow dung on numerous portions of the trail.  When we arrived at our pension our boots went immediately outside.

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Everything grows big in Galicia.  This is the trunk of a tree.  A really, really big tree. 

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The locals use the slate for everything. Thicker stone for sidewalls and thin for their roofs.  Slate neatly stacked two wide make their pasture dividers/fences. The architecture here is like something you would see in a fairy tale.

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This is what the typical camino looked like today.  It was unbelievably beautiful.

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Sandy entering the “forest of no return.”

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This may be the absolute greenest place on earth.

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Just before stopping at our little village for the night we had to cross this old and simple little bridge.  Who and how many people have crossed this over the years?

As we stepped out of our pension’s front door, a huge Holstein milk cow was walking by.  She stopped and just looked at us for a few seconds. Then she continued walking up the narrow lane. We watched as a ranch woman led and eight other cows followed her up the road. They were followed by her mother, stick in hand spanking the slowest cow lagging behind.  It was neat to see the locals go about their daily routine, oblivious of our presence.

Later, a group of horseback riders clip clopped down the camino.  It just goes to prove, “You’ll never know what you will see next on the Camino.”

Today’s trek was a long and hard 24.7 km (15.3 miles). Our aching knees are telling us tomorrow will include a very short hike to Sarria where we will spend a rest day. Sarria is a bigger town (13,000 population) and is 100 km from Santiago. It is the closest point one can start the camino and still receive a compostela.  Consequently, the camino becomes quite crowded from here on in to Santiago.

Buen Camino!

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Day 30: Vega de Valcarce to Alto do Poio

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It rained all night long and into the morning which may explain why at 0700 we were the only ones up in our albergue.  Usually by 0700 everyone is gone or at least preparing their gear. Today when we left everyone else, including our host was sleeping. We hit the camino at 0800 to a steady rain.  

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We hiked through the village this Saturday morning and besides us, these cows were the only things moving.

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Today was set to be one of the most difficult days on the camino as we were climbing 700 meters (2,302 feet) over a distance of 20.4 km (12.6 miles).  This was now complicated by the camino looking more like a mountain stream than a pilgrimage route. The temperatures hovered around 40 degrees, the humidity was 100% and it was windy too. The steepness of portions of the camino, the weather and trail conditions made this the most difficult portion of the camino so far.

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This rock wall illustrates the climate here is pretty darn wet.

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The rain and trail went from bad to worse as we worked our way up the mountain.  Our rain gear prevented most of the rain from getting in.  However, it was a driving rain directly in our faces so our necks and chests eventually did get pretty wet.  Also, our increased body temperatures and the humidity caused our inner clothes to get sweaty soaked. The tops of our boots were also wet and sides were caked with mud. I will be honest, there were times during the four to five hours of pouring rain when we both questioned why we were subjecting ourselves to such conditions.

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We stopped at a small village bar 1/4 way up to try and warm up. Our rain gear was steaming on these chairs in front of the fireplace. It was difficult to leave, but we did.

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We reached the border of Galicia. About halfway through today’s hike.  The mountains of Galicia are the first object in 5000 km that the westerly winds hit when coming from across the Atlantic. This accounts for all the moisture in the region.

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The region also has some unique structures and the landscape looks just like western Ireland. We had lunch in O’Cebreiro. The barmaid noted our condition and promptly made us some soup. It really warmed us up. We took off our drenched outerwear and placed them on their wall heaters. We used their restroom to change into dry inner wear.  Finally, some warmth.

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After lunch the incessant rain finally stopped and we were excited to be hiking with some sunshine.  We started drying out as we hiked higher.  The fog/clouds also lifted exposing beautiful mountain meadows, most filled with cows dinging their bells.

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Still climbing over this point toward our albergue.

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Our stop for the night is located at the top of this mountain.  The final 500 meter climb was at least a 40% grade.

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I must say Sandy was amazing during today’s hike. She led the way and showed a tremendous level of determination and fitness.  There were a number of times where it was raining so hard and it was so steep that I was silently begging for a rest stop – but she kept moving.

Our bodies tonight are reminding us
that we are not spring chickens.  Hopefully by morning we will be recovered enough to start working our way down the other side of this mountain. 

Buen Camino!

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Day 29: Valtuille de Arriba to Vega de Valcarce

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Today’s trek on the camino took us through more beautiful spanish wine country. It was partly sunny in the morning but clouded up again in the afternoon.

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It has been raining for the past three days and some of the way looks more like a 4WD mud pit than a pilgrimage route.  Our boots and poles were a bit caked with mud.

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Breathtakingly beautiful sights today.

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The Castillo Palacios de los Marquess is a 15th century castle complete with turrets, some of which were partially destroyed in the Peninsular war of 1808.

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Looking back on the city of Villafranca as we climbed upward through the mountain pass the entire day.

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As we get closer to Santiago the climate gets wetter. Most of the trees are covered with moss.

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Speaking of moss. I was taking a picture of this slate roof with moss and out of nowhere this cat appears in my view – just running across the roof. 

It was cold today – in the mid 40’s and it rained most of the afternoon.  We happily checked into our albergue around 1520. 

We met our German friend Luther at the town’s restaurant.  He started the camino on the same day we did in SJPdP. It was neat to see him again and share stories.

All tolled we hiked 22 km (13.7 miles) entirely uphill and in pretty foul weather. Not a bad day. Never a bad day on the camino.

Buen Camino.

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Day 28: Ponferrada to Valtuille de Arriba

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We departed Ponferrada this morning at 0740 heading up into the foothills.  The trek was not steep but had several portions that included long uphill climbs.  There were a number of religious artifacts along this portion of the way.

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This photo shows that the camino travels through not only desolate,  isolated areas, but through everyday neighborhoods. We routinely encounter residents going about their daily life.  All welcome us with hola, buenos dias, or most often – buen camino. Truck drivers honk their horns when we cross above the super highways. One day we were resting on a town’s Plaza Mayor bench when  we were greeted by a curious 5 year old. We spoke to him in Spanish, then in English.  He turned to his mom and exclaimed, “American English.”  His two word comment (in perfect English) cracked us up.

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Sandy was wishing to see fields of poppies this entire vacation. We are finally starting to see them in this area of Spain.

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We are hiking through another popular Spanish wine region. Today we saw some huge vineyards.

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…and the vines now even have leaves.

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We stopped at the local wine coop for a tasting and tapas.  Great wine and a nice break from the hiking all for €1.50.

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We stopped for lunch at a bar in a village called Cacabelos. We had a couple cafe con leche and they came with azúcar – camino style.

We finished lunch just as a rainstorm hit. We then suited up in our foul weather gear and hiked 5 km uphill in a steady rain until we reached our destination in a tiny village called Valtuille.

Today’s hike was 19.7 km (12.5 miles).  Tomorrows trek will take us to the base of a high mesa.

Buen Camino!

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