Monday, September 30, 2013. Waking up this morning was easier than I expected, and really not much different from the mornings after I’ve walked 20 km, rather than 30 km. Down in the kitchen, Alberto is serving breakfast . . . the typical Camino starter . . . cafe con leche, orange juice, toast, butter, marmalade. Christel and I eat because we should, and gather our things. It’s very soupy outside, and I hesitate for a moment. I was willing to backtrack through the town so I could capture this magnificent bridge in the early morning sunlight. The trouble is that it’s past early morning and there is no sunlight. There is hardly light at all, and I’m not sure I could see the bridge if I were standing on it. We are socked in. So I sigh at the lost photo-op and head west instead of east.
Begoña has made reservations for two “baja” camas (beds) in Murias de Rechivalda, about 22 km from here, and I’m actually looking forward to this “short” walk today! The mist might not do much for a bridge but it does do wonderful things to trees ahead on the path. I posted this one on Facebook, but must do it again, in context.
This mist dissipates slowly, luxuriously, so I can hold on to some of it throughout the morning. As the landscape reveals more of itself, the mountains, the cloud formations, and the trees continue to paint themselves into pictures for the eyes of the dedicated pilgrims.
We are headed to Murias, yes, but on the way, we will pass Astorga, a bigger town with another Gaudi building, several old, old churches with character, and a very wide central plaza with shops selling chocolate here and there.
But even before that, my book says quietly “Cantina” at about 10 km past Orbigo. I am never sure what that means. This time, in the middle of nowhere, there is a food and drink cart, as well as a sort of hut with little things to sell . . . necklaces, rosaries, etc.
A donation box is on the cart. So strange to see this welcome thing in the middle of a dry patch of track.
Whoever this little cantina angel, he or she has equipped the cart with teas of all sorts, soy and other substitute milks, apples, oranges, bananas, cartons of apple, melocoton (a sort of peach), and orange juice. H0t coffee and of course water for the teas. And the dangly little jewelry, all with donation box for our generosity in repayment for the cantina owner’s thoughtfulness. I will come across another strange little oasis of a different sort tomorrow. But that will wait for now.
As I approach Astorga, someone offers to take a photo of me, so here it is . . .
Astorga even rolls out the Camino carpet, literally, on a ramp next to one of the corner churches. Coffee time, and Christel is waiting for me. We settle into chairs around a patio table in the main square, and of course who do we see strolling by but Yves and Janice again. They are hand in hand and it’s always fun to run into them. They head for the chocolate shop across the Plaza and yell back that they might just stay here for another day. We are still headed for Murias de Rechivaldo.
Onward I go. I am wearing the Teva sandals, hiking sticks alternating in my hands, nearly dancing to the tunes on my iPod, and as I near Murias, a man with a huge grin on his face passes me, laughs and points to my feet. I say, “What?” And he laughs again, gives me a thumbs up, and walks past me. When I get to the albergue in Murias, he is sitting at an outside table having a beer. I ask him what was so funny, and he just shakes his head. “Those sandals work well for you?” “Better than my boots at this point . . . ” and he shakes his head again. He should see my mint green Croc rubber shower sandals if he thinks these hiking sandals are funny. I was walking in those for the first two weeks of my trip.
Christel and I check into our two lower bunks and investigate the laundry situation. This place has washers AND dryers, so we arrange to do a shared load. I still have plenty of food for part of a dinner, but not quite enough. Still, we don’t want to buy two “menu del dia” set-ups, so I negotiate with the owner/wife/cook to get one meal. I love soup and Christel does not. She will have the chicken and mashed potatoes while I open the jar of pate and spread it on my fresh baguette. We’ll share the dessert.
The table has a dozen pilgrims, mostly from Canada and America, and some of them start talking about what I’m writing. I give my card to a few of them, and they discuss whether this bunch of rambling will ever be a book. I say, “Perhaps . . . ” and we move on to other topics. Most of us will head for La Cruz de Ferro in two stages, since it’s quite a climb in one day. That was one of the reasons I chose the towns for last night and tonight. Tomorrow I can make the partial climb and stay in Foncebadon, and have only a very short uphill to the Iron Cross. If you have seen The Way, you will remember that this is the place each pilgrim throws a stone, dedicated to whatever he or she chooses.
At any rate, when our main course is served, the wife/cook encourages me to take some chicken as well as what Christel is having. I say, “No, we have only paid for one meal.” I don’t want to take advantage of her flexibility, but she insists. She points to how much food there is and lets me know she can surely spare a chicken leg without payment for an entire meal. Christel whispers, “She probably thinks ‘these two older women, too poor to pay for two meals . . . ‘ ”
By the time dinner is finished, so is our laundry, and it has begun to pour outside. Pour. I surely hope this ends before the morning, because I have been dreading the possibility of walking all day in a downpour. We’ll see. And it will be what it will be.
Tuesday, October 1, 2013. Well, it’s wet outside this morning, but it isn’t raining . . . a good sign. Today’s walk will take me to Foncebadon, the village just before Cruz de Ferro. I know I will also walk through several smaller villages, including El Ganso. Guy Thatcher’s book, A Journey of Days, talks about this, and though the town name means “The Goose”, someone decided it needed a cowboy bar. I can hardly wait.
Though Christel and I are targeting the same towns for the past few days, she is now walking faster than I am, her swollen feet and ankles healed from the slow pace she allowed herself for a week, so she is waiting in the next town, Santa Catalina de Somozo for me. And for cafe con leche. Tomorrow she will stop sooner than my planned destination, and we will catch up here and there over the next week or two.
At this point, the villages are beginning to change in construction, with very old stone buildings, many of them only two partial walls with what was the roof now in the middle as a rubble pile. Reminds me of the time Neil and I looked at Italian “real estate” in LeMarche, much of which used to be houses, but were now rubble piles, ready to be reconstructed with their original materials.
I’m such a sucker for old stone houses (evidence my Stone Walls retreat property in Vermont), and I try to imagine who might have lived in these falling down buildings, and who still lives in the ones that are intact, some with newly painted window trim and doors.
I will see this type of building in every village until perhaps Molinaseca (tomorrow’s destination), and then again in slightly different form once I get into Galicia by the end of the week. But for now . . . ta da! El Ganso!
Brierly calls this town a hauntingly crumbling village, evoking “a sense of loss or perhaps a reminder of a less hurried time.” The Cowboy Bar owner speaks in Spanish, but then in Italian and says he is really from Italy. I cannot imagine what brought him here and how he has a cowboy connection, but the inside of the building is full of cowboy hats of all sizes, colors and styles, a foosball table (seriously) that is collapsed in the middle, and long tables for cowboy drinking.
Another cafe con leche here, of course, because we have to say we drank in the cowboy bar in the middle of the Camino de Santiago. I wonder what St. James would have made of that. Hey, he was supposed to be a cool Apostle, so he probably would have a beer.
Then onward to Foncebadon. We are climbing today to save us from much of one tomorrow morning, and I am pleased to find that I am ready for this one. It is a steady climb, with what has become my favorite dog-on-the-road following us for awhile, then lying in the road again. You’ve seen this one before, in my Walking Across A Country post, but here she is again. The other detail I can’t avoid is the type of flower that sprouts out of the ground all along the pathway. First I decide not to take a photo, because it isn’t such a big deal, but then I come around a corner to see a field of these purple things, with no green stem or leaves. They seem to just peek out of the ground fully formed. No buds, no supporting stalk. Just these lovely lavenders. Okay, I think. I get it . . . take the picture! If anyone knows what they are, I’d love to have a name for them.
We pass two really well-constructed, rectangle fountain/pools, though I’m not sure whether the water is potable. I have plenty of water, so I won’t take a chance. On the meseta . . . well, I might have at that point. Fountains and spontaneous lilac petals on the ground. Lovely to look at. And at the rise just before Foncebadon, I think, “Well, that hill wasn’t much at all, was it?” I see by my map that I started the day at 900 meters of altitude, climbed a bit to 1000 meters at the Cowboy bar, and then another climb to Foncebadon at about 1425 meters. It doesn’t seem like much, and I’m pleased about my developing strength and/or endurance.
Cruz de Ferro will be the highest point of our journey, at 1505 meters, but tomorrow’s map also shows a downhill to 600 meters again in Molinaseca, with one of those warning marks (!) in red. Treacherous, and I hope the path will at least be fairly smooth. Hahahahaha. I will make the full descent tomorrow, while Christel will opt for a mid-way stopping point in Acebo, to take care of her knees.
Arriving in Foncebadon to stay for the night at the Albergue Monte Irago, I’m not surprised to find a crabby host when we arrive, because already this morning he had barked at Christel on the telephone, wondering why she had called so early for a reservation for tonight. He even asked her how old she was, but I now find that this may have been because in some albergues, we oldsters get a bigger break in the cost. So our beds are 5 Euro each, not extraordinarily inexpensive for a bunk slot, but for a private albergue, a bit less than many. The guy is a real grouch to me, but we see some familiar faces, and they are all drinking wine, eating some half-shelled nuts, of which there seem to be an abundance, and generally having a grand time. In the center of all the fun (why am I not surprised?) are Yves and Janice, and two of the people who had been asking about my writing last night.
I settle my belongings into my little cama space, and then go looking for the open tienda that is advertised on a sign just outside the albergue door, to get some bug spray (the flies are incredibly irritating on the pathways . . . something I tried to avoid mentioning here for the past month) and perhaps some of the delicious tomatoes two of the pilgrims are already eating at the albergue. So I walk a block or two up the street and though the store has no bug spray and the tomatoes are all gone, the packaged trail mixes and nuts are tempting, so I choose two packs and a banana and walk back to the albergue. On the way, I see Judy, the American (or Canadian) from Carrion, and she asks whether I have gotten a wi-fi password. I have not. She tells me that the albergue owner won’t give it to her because he says, “Pilgrims should be talking to one another.” Yes, that’s probably true, but who appointed him the parental conversation god? I can’t help her, and apparently none of the other places can either. Perhaps in this only recently unabandoned village there is no wi-fi (or wee-fee, as they pronounce it in Spain).
I get back to the Monte Irago and see several groups of people congregating at the outside tables in front, right on the road. The two I recognize from last night shout to me, “Joannah! You missed a story for your book!” “My book?” I’m still thinking about passwords and tomatoes and flies. The couple points across the street. “A building just fell down in front of our very eyes . . . and you missed it!”
Ah, yes, so sad, missed it and there weren’t even any tomatoes at the tienda. Apparently there were some peregrinos standing directly in front of this sort-of building/wall who screeched and jumped out of the way when it fell. Since I can do nothing about my personal missed opportunity, I take a photo of the two eye-witnesses as well as one of the wall itself, in a tumbled pile of, yes, rubble.
Though it looks just like any other rubble pile I passed during the day, and would continue to pass for another day or two, this is a newly unconstructed pile, sort of hot off the presses, if you will. I doubt my story would be much different if I had been there, but one never knows.
As disappointing as my host is, (and his wife and children are delightful) the dinnertime is quite special. Christel and I are at a table with four other people we haven’t yet met on the Camino. Kevin from LA, cancer survivor, heroin survivor and quite a fun guy in his mid-late 40’s, looking like someone my kids’ ages. Still wears the baseball cap backward on his head. Ria from Germany, a no-nonsense conversationalist, someone you just want to know better. Sven and Zabrina from Germany, on bicycles but taking it easy. They are young, but it’s always hard to tell ages. Adorable. She with the blond dread locks tied neatly up on top of her head. He with shorter hair and a cap. The six of us stay at the table long past the time the paella is consumed. Maybe that albergue owner has a point, not giving us the password to the wee-fee. And I will meet these people here and there, one, then another, for the rest of my Camino. Kevin. Sven and Zabrina. Ria. New names that will float in and out along with Christel, Yves and Janice, Larry, Neal, and new others I meet each day.
Apparently I can have my cake and eat it too. I can walk in solitude and choose to connect with other pilgrims who seem of like mind in one way or another, from all countries, at all ages, for many reasons or none at all.