Camino Frances 2017 – Day 9 – Villavante to Santibañez de Valdeiglesias

Camino 2017 – Day 9 – Villavante to Santibañez de Valdeiglesias – September 13th
Penultimate day from one small town to another..

Second to last day of walking. It would be a short day as well. I had already began thinking of returning to work, which is a no-no while on Camino. Sigh. Anyway, moving on. I had yet to reach one of my favourite towns, Astorga, and of course, make my journey to Santiago.

The evening before I had no idea where the following day would end. Hospital de Orbigo was only 5km away. The next town after, Villares de Órbigo is just 8km while Astorga is a whopping 24km. Note my sarcasm there 🙂 So I would walk until my feet told me not to.

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I woke in Santa Lucia at 6.30am…a late start for me! I left the albergue at 7am, after some breakfast. Last night’s sleep was poor. I woke a number of times and at one stage, someone had the cheek to pinch my 5th toe, possibly due to my snoring. The one toe that had a blister on it! The blister didn’t cause me any bother walking however. I was joined by a German couple on leaving the albergue and despite their lack of English (or my lack of German) we still managed a conversation. The sun was rising as we left the small village and aimed for Hospital de Orbigo. En route to Orbigo, you cross train tracks, walk over a motorway before seeing the water tower at the entrance of the town. It was quiet enough at this time of the morning, however. I said goodbye to the German couple here as I wanted to see more of the town. Nothing was open, as expected. Even Albergue Verde, one place that was on my list of must-sees. Another time. I crossed the bridge and moved through the town. It is one long road but seems to go on forever. I’ve walked through here on three occasions; 2012, 2015 and this year. It never changes, that’s the beauty of it.

I arrived at the exit of Orbigo and saw Robert from Germany who I first met in Arcahueja. It was a surprise to see him again however I knew he was having shin-splint problems. I was quite happy to walk at his pace for the day. We chose to take the road to the right, avoiding the main road. Now, we were back on a meseta-type trail until arriving at Astorga. We arrived at Villares de Órbigo at 8.30am and were greeted by a Danish lady who had started her Camino in St Jean. All three of us continued slowly to Santibañez and arrived at 9am. We stopped for a cafe con leche and took in the morning until Robert and our new friend parted company. Their destination this day was Astorga. My destination would be the albergue attached to this bar I was resting at – Albergue Camino Frances, with 14 beds. €20 with 3 course meal included. It wouldn’t open until 11am however so I had another hour to spare. It made sense to stop here. If I continued to Astorga, I would need to find a bed for an extra night as my bus to Santiago was to leave the following day.

This albergue was one of the smaller albergues I have stayed in, but well run. It looked like it was family-run. While waiting for it to open, Riley from the US and her friend from South Africa passed by. I was delighted to see them again. They were also aiming for Astorga and were looking forward to the change of scenery after the meseta.

Checking in was quick and I had my clothes washed and hung out to dry in no time. With temps of 25c, it was a perfect time for it. Dinner was at 7pm and I ate by myself, although I had been keeping in touch with a number of pilgrim friends by email. I was looked forward to moving on the following day.

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Camino Frances 2017 – Day 8 – León to Villavante

Camino 2017 – Day 8 – León to Villavante – September 12th
One last long day..and walking by myself again.

I had a good sleep in Hostal Madriguera. It’s somewhere I recommend if you want a good rest, and I did. The owner, Alba, who has walked the Camino, is very helpful and the hostel is situated pretty close to the main square. Give it a look-up. However, that said, I should have stopped by the albergue. The previous day would be the last time I would see the majority of those I had met. I would walk alone the next day. But that’s not a bad thing sometimes. I know most of whom I had met were aiming for Hospital de Orbigo, a 30+km day. If I could manage it, well and good – I would see my pilgrim buddies again. If not, so be it. There were plenty of pilgrims on the trail…even in mid-September.

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In 2015, I stayed in Albergue Santa Lucia in Villavante and fell in love with it. The hospitality, the owner going out of her way for you, but I need to mention Coco the parrot! She would put a smile on your face if she squawked while you washed your dirty clothes. I remember not being allowed to take photos so that was a little disappointing. So..I would aim for Orbigo but if all else fails, Villavante was there to welcome me. This means taking the less travelled alternative route on leaving León. You have two options: walk along the road passing through small towns en route to Orbigo, or walk on a meseta-type trail through two towns. This was my meseta-Camino, so I’d do what I could to draw it out. Not many walk the alternative route, but I encourage it. It’s quiet, there is a town to stop after 21km – Vilar de Mazarife with it’s 3 albergues and if you feel up to it, there is Villavante after 30km. I felt up to it today. Being alone, I wanted to record some video, and I did (below)

I left León after 5.30am. The darkness engulfed the city, just the way I like it. I stood in front of the cathedral saying my goodbyes knowing that it would be some time before I saw it again. I walked on..alone. It was cold this morning and predictions of rain abounded, but it was dry for the time being. I felt good but thoughts of an ending Camino weren’t too far away. It would be 2 further days before I arrived in Astorga, only hop-skip and jump down the road. I was going to stretch these two final days out – records will be broken. But first, one last long day.

There is nothing interesting to see as you leave León however you climb for a bit and reach a number of bodegas at Trobajo del Camino. Make sure you turn back here and watch the sun rise over the city behind you. I said my goodbyes and moved on into the new morning. The locals were waking up and going to work, I wished each a Buenos Días as I passed. There was no music today, just me and my thoughts. Thinking – it can be bad, but it can be good. Too much of it is a bad thing – I’d argue against that if you are on the Camino. Promises can be made and there were a few promises I made to myself since I left Burgos. I won’t go into them now. I reached Virgen del Camino and stopped for a breakfast coffee and tostado – a regular occurrence at this stage. The cafe was just opening and I chatted in broken Spanish to the owner. A few metres down the main road is the church – Santuario De La Virgen Del Camino. I spent a few minutes here to enjoy its design before I crossed the road and found the start of the alternative route.

It was still dark by 7am. My phone’s torch was brought to the rescue as I worked out where was where. Once I saw an arrow I was where I needed to be. I made my way across a main road and I was on meseta-like trail again. Perfect walking ground. I seemed to pass Chozas de Abajo and Oncina in no time. I arrived at Vilar de Mazarife at 9.30am. There was nothing open, as I expected. I didn’t seem to mind. I took off my pack and found a seat to lie back on. Fruit, a yoghurt and a drink – heaven! Simple pleasures. I had two choices – stay here for an hour or so until the albergue opened or walk 8km to Villavante. The answer was plain to me. Villavante it was.

The 8km walk was slow but not arduous. There was a deliberate lack of pace. I mean, I could aim for Orbigo, but what’s the point? It would make my next two days even more difficult 🙂 I kept looking behind me for pilgrims, but I didn’t see one. This is a great alternative to the busy road after Virgen del Camino. I enjoyed it. Many wouldn’t. I arrived at Villavante at 11am. I took a bottom bunk beside the window and waited for company. It wasn’t long before I was joined by Ian, from New Zealand. He was closely followed by two girls from the US and South Africa. We had dinner at 7pm and a drink after. The parrot got the last laugh however as my request for a photograph was again denied. Hmmph!

I had no idea what I would do the following day. Orbigo maybe? 5km? Records will again be broken.

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Camino Frances 2017 – Day 7 – Arcahueja to Leon

Camino 2017 – Day 7 – Arcahueja to Leon – September 11th
A short stroll to Leon

The shortest day I have walked on any Camino. Barely 8 km was walked before we reached the walls of Leon. But I wasn’t alone. Aga and the Australian women strolled along with me, and boy! did we take our time.

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We left Albergue La Torre just before 7am. The sun was rising behind us as we sauntered into the city. We started to climb for a kilometre or two before it was all descent into Leon. We reached a large bridge and on crossing, you can see the cathedral in the city. We kind of knew that it wasn’t long before we reached the town.

The main albergue wasn’t due to open until 10.30am however I had arranged to stay in La Madriguera hostel about 5 minutes from the Cathedral. We had plenty of time on our hands so we decided on having some breakfast before parting ways. The Australian women were so much fun. I had met them initially in Boadilla del Camino but had bumped into them on and off until the previous night. I got to know them a little bit better over the evening beforehand. Aga, I had met in Boadilla also and it wouldn’t be the last I would see of her.

On reaching Leon, it was 10am, and the church bells were ringing from the Cathedral. We took in the atmosphere and aimed for Cafe Valor. I ordered Churros and Chocolate and it was delicious. Along came June also, who received my message that we had arrived. She was staying in the municipal albergue and was allowed to stay for one more night. We also met Robert and Rosa from the previous night in Arcahueja and a number of others who had met along the way. It was a great morning and plenty of hugs were exchanged.

11am came and some decided to make way to the Albergue. It is a popular albergue and fills up quick. I had received an email that my bed would not be ready until midday so I stuck around with Robert and Rosa who had decided to walk to La Virgen del Camino, the next town. June stayed also. I wanted to buy a few bits and pieces for lunch back in the hostel and went to shop across from Cafe Valor.

12am came and I decided to walk across to the hostal. I realised that I wouldn’t see many again, but I didn’t say goodbye. I simply said “See you on the trail”. I would email June later in the day to see if she would like to walk the following day.

La Madriguera is a fine hostel and I was greeted by Alba who has previously walked the Camino Frances to Finistere. Proof is hanging on the wall upstairs. She has the interests of pilgrims at heart so I would recommend this hostel if you would like a private room.

The rest of the day was spent sleeping and debating where I would stop the following day. I didn’t have alot of kms to walk before Astorga however I had a good few days.

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Camino Portugués – May 2018

On arriving back to Ireland in September, my thoughts turned to next year. This is natural for me!! I had many different routes on my mind, including walking from A Coruna on the Celtic Camino however I settled on the Camino Portugués. I am walking with my brother next May from A Guarda at the Portuguese border and over the course of 10 days, we will walk to Santiago.

I was mindful that this is his first Camino and I wanted to choose a handy stretch for him, and one where he will gain a compostela. The Camino Frances is at the back of my mind for a few years to come. So I hope to walk along the Coastal route from A Guarda – Oia – Baiona – Vigo and into the Central at Redondela. Then we will walk to Santiago.

I don’t know much about this route but I have both Brierley’s and Wise Pilgrim’s guides to read over. Now to get my brother organised with a backpack and some gear!

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Camino Frances 2017 – Day 6 – El Burgo Ranero to Arcahueja

Camino 2017 – Day 6 – El Burgo Ranero to Arcahueja – September 10th
A long straight walk, another goodbye and a meeting of new friends…

Another day on the meseta, although we were nearing the end. Many of our fellow pilgrims were talking of walking a big walk today to reach Leon. Many whom I had met had walked longer days previously. From then on in, the terrain gets a little more varied. For me however, I was coming to the end of my Camino for this year and wanted to make the most of my time until I reached Astorga, my end point.

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It was an early morning and before leaving the albergue in El Burgo Ranero, June had made some lunch to keep us going for the day ahead. You genuinely meet good people on the Camino. June was one of them. To start the day, we had a 12 km walk to the next town, Reliegos, but we were in good spirits and we talked about what we would do on reaching Leon. That said, I didn’t think I would make it that far but chose to keep that to myself. 39km is a little too much for one day and I was in no rush. June on the other hand was eager to reach Santiago in 10 days. We were different in some ways. The walk out of El Burgo is long and straight and there is no much to inspire you. We chose to walk on the road rather than on the uneven senda, however the odd car would pass at speed. We were careful however deciding to use our torches on our phones to make the drivers aware of our existence. Within 2 and a half hours we had reached Reliegos, a small town close to Leon. I had stayed here in 2015 but there is not much to write home about, however Bar Elvis is still here. It was closed as we passed, choosing to stop for a few moments to take a photo. I told June about his quirkiness and his liking of Elvis music. A quirky man for a quirky town. A lot of pilgrims tend to walk on by here and aim for the much larger Mansilla de las Mulas. And we did too.

It was getting brighter and I felt good. The sun had made its daily appearance and I felt it on my head, having lost my cap a few days ago. I also lost my buff the previous day. I still had my wooden pole however, but I had lost the metal tip at the base of the pole. I grew to like its company over the days, no matter how battered it was. It is the small things that give you joy on the Camino. Another 6 km to Mansilla de las Mulas and you could sense that you were leaving the meseta…a motorway, more junctions, cars, industrial estates, it was busier. We stopped off at the first albergue in Mansilla for some breakfast..”El Jardin”. June wanted to buy me cafe. We had our sandwiches that she had made and just took in the morning. Mansilla was quiet. The albergue were opening up and we were met by many cyclists taking a pitstop.

The statue of the weary pilgrims is across the street before you enter the town of Mansilla. It is well known to those who have walked the Camino and depicts three tired pilgrims having clearly walked more than they can manage. We rested for a while and took a few photos. Walking through a lane brings you into the town. It is large and there were many locals wearing t shirts with the town’s name across it. There were also streamers hanging from buildings as if there was a fiesta due. I later learned that that evening there was a fiesta that continued to the early hours of the next day! Leaving the town, you can see signs of Mansilla’s Roman history. It was a walled town and the majority of the wall is still there. Keep an eye out for it as you pass through.

I told June that I wouldn’t be able to walk to Leon and would stay in either of the next two towns – Villarente or Arcahueja. Both are tiny, blink-and-you-will-miss-them, towns. June was determined to reach Leon and I knew she would make it, she is such a strong walker. My memory didn’t serve me well as I knew little about these two towns, but from my 2015 Camino, I passed an albergue in Arcahueja, a tiny town 8 kms from Leon. I decided to aim for here. I had no idea now good / bad / indifferent it was – I didn’t care. But we had another 5 kms to go before arriving there. Villarente was busy. I told June of the unfortunate death on the main road and the decision to re-route the Camino around the town as a result. The Camino enters a wood for a km or so before you are brought back on the main road. We stopped at Albergue Delfin for a cold drink and a rest before veering off the main road and aiming for Arcahueja. I arrived at Albergue La Torre at 1pm. I had walked 30km and I needed to rest. The sun had made it a harder day than usual.

It would be the last day that I walked with June. I chose not to say goodbye to her as she would be taking a rest day in Leon. We promised to meet up the following day and I wished her well for her remaining 8 km. Albergue La Torre didn’t look eye-catching and usually I would walk by a town like this. Arriving outside, the owners were busy serving lunch and said the rooms are being cleaned. I had no problem waiting. I had another drink and at 2pm, I was invited in. It’s a smashing little albergue and I was pleasantly surprised and how I was treated. Dinner was at 7pm so I had some lunch and before long I was greeted by Aga from Poland and the 2 Australian women. I had company. I also met Robert from Germany and Rosa from Mexico. Robert was suffering in a bad way with tendonitis and wasn’t walking a great deal each day. Slow and steady wins the race however. We all had a few drinks outside in the terrace sharing stories under the sun and waited for dinner.

It was a great night and we looked forward to the 8km walk into Leon the following morning.

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Your Stories, Your Camino – Bozidar & Marjanca from Slovenia

During my recent Camino, I received an email from Bozidar & Marjanca who wished to tell their story about their Camino. Thank you for getting in touch!

I don’t remember when I first heard about Camino de Santiago – but since then, I very much wished to walk the Way. My dream came true in the summer of 2013, when my wife and I walked from León to Santiago de Compostela. The following year we walked from Saint Jean Pied de Port to León. We returned in 2016 and walked to the end of the world, to Cape Finisterre. Those summers still hold the most beautiful memories for us.

Before we left for our first Camino, we thought we were prepared, because we walked on many trails and hills around our home town, but on the Way we got blisters, as many others did. It was easier to handle them as the way leads you through beautiful landscapes, many beautiful villages and cities with rich history. However, the Camino sometimes takes you through industrial suburbs and abandoned villages, and of course sometimes blisters and muscles also hurt more. Many people say that Camino is a lot like life: it not only includes happiness and beautiful things, but also pain and tough times. There are many opportunities for conversation along the Way, but also time for silence and reflection.

During the walk we can recall already forgotten events, beautiful moments as well as sad memories. On the other hand, we started thinking about plans for the future. Many people also say that Camino does not only purify the body while walking but also the soul. As a result, our feelings were not only wonderful when we arrived at the cathedral in Santiago de Compostela – at the same time we were sad, because the journey was over… and we realise that the best thing we can do after our Camino is that we try to continue our Camino each day of our lives.

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Bozidar and Marjanca Rustja, Slovenia

Camino Frances 2017 – Day 5 – Terradillos de los Templarios to El Burgo Ranero

Camino 2017 – Day 4 – Terradillos de los Templarios to El Burgo Ranero – September 9th
A song at the start of the day, a donativo and a last supper…

Another early start. I was used to it at this stage and gathered my pack and left through the back door. The albergue was still sleeping as I left. I was hoping that I would meet my friend June again but she was 2 towns ahead, so the hope was small. It was dark but the sky was lit by the large moon still hanging in the sky. I enjoyed my stay in Terradillos and met some new pilgrims, some of which I would meet again.

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On leaving the albergue, the Camino takes you along the main road until you reach the town of Terradillos. The town was quiet and as it was also dark, I struggled to find any arrow or sign to lead me in the right direction. I use the Wise Pilgrim app and I am on my way soon after. The 2nd albergue in Terradillos, St Jacque de Molay, which is based in the town itself, is quiet. I have another 2 or so kms until I arrive at Moratinos, a small town, however it holds 2 large albergues. I’m walking along back roads now, my phone’s torch guiding me. I reach Moratinos and see some familiar pilgrims who had stayed the night in the main albergue here. They were lost and were looking for a way out of the town. My phone app came to the rescue and before long we were walking out of the town, their walking poles breaking the silence. One pilgrim was Irish and I laughed on hearing his words of greeting…”oh not this Dublin lad again!”. People from rural Ireland have a thing with us from Dublin!. It was all a private joke however, and we marched on together, Santiago-bound.

I felt good this morning. My feet were in good stead and I was eager to meet new pilgrims. If I met June, it would be a bonus! I had no particular town in mind to set up base however I had good memories of Bercianos del Real Camino. It was home to a donativo Parochial albergue and my time there in 2013 was special. However, I wouldn’t rule out walking an extra 5kms to the next town, El Burgo Ranero. I decided to say goodbye to my fellow Irish pilgrim and his friends, preferring to walk unafraid into the dark.

I have another 8 km before Sahagun, a large town along the Camino. The evening before, there was much discussion between fellow pilgrims that Sahagun marked the halfway point to Santiago. There is a monument erected at the Ermita de Virgen del Puente just before Sahagun that states this. But many pilgrims have pointed out that they had passed the halfway point before arriving at Terradillos. However over dinner the evening before, I noted out that the monument marks the halfway point from the French border and not from St. Jean Pied de Port. I was glad to clear this argument up!

I hadn’t listened to music in quite a while since I arrived. I felt no need to. I had company, or I needed to concentrate on my footing without getting lost. This morning felt like a good time to turn on some music. One song that I kept playing was “Scare away the dark” by Passenger. The lyrics below seem to hit home and made me replay the song once finished. I felt unbreakable on hearing those words. There are times when, sitting in front of a screen in an office, you just want to pick up your coat and walk out. There is so much more to achieve in life and I have so much more to give. I kept asking myself the question “what’s holding me back??”. Fear, possibly.

We should run through the forests
We should swim in the streams
We should laugh, we should cry
We should love, we should dream
We should stare at the stars and not just the screens
You should hear what I’m saying and know what it means

To sing, sing at the top of your voice
Love without fear in your heart
Feel, feel like you still have a choice
If we all light up we can scare away the dark

The sun rose as I entered Sahagun and I met an American lady called Denise. She was leaving a cafe and was lost. I had also taken a wrong turn and was temporarily lost, but on seeing a yellow arrow, we both found our way. Onwards! I turned another corner only to see June. I was delighted and marched on westward out of Sahagun. We had another 10km to Bercianos del Real Camino, I felt good and the day was young. It was close to 8am at this point and I had walked 12km already. I topped up my water bottle before moving on. June had stayed in San Nicolás del Real Camino the evening before. She mentioned that the 2 large albergues in Moratinos were completo when she passed them however Albergue Laganares was less than half full. This morning, she had walked around 8km. I had a feeling she would walk further than me so I was preparing for her departure at some stage.

The walk from Sahagun to Bercianos del Real Camino is on a senda along a main road. You have, of course, the option to walk the Roman road via Calzadilla de los Hermanillos and join the Camino Frances in Mansilla de las Mulas. I had decided to avoid this however I was still confused by the sign posting advising pilgrims of which was the right way to Bercianos. After much thinking and reminiscing, I chose the correct road and we were back on track. We met an English pilgrim at various stages and said Buen Camino to him more than once. We would see him further on again. We also saw two German girls who had wanted to walk the Roman road but had missed the turn-off. Slightly disappointed, they made do with the 2nd option and kept walking.

I asked June had she seen some pilgrims that I had met previously. A number had stayed in the 2nd albergue in Terradillos. A few others had stayed in Moratinos and others had ventured as far as Sahagun. The chain was getting longer and longer but somehow we were keeping in touch. I was keeping in touch with Patti after meeting her first in Carrion de los Condes and I was meeting my fellow Irish pilgrim and his friends the odd time. I had seen Carol and her friend from Australia a number of times and Aga from Poland. We all had our own ways of walking but we managed to see each other or receive news of how we all are from other pilgrims. June was planning ahead and had a date in mind when she would reach Santiago. I thought “wow!”. I reminded her to enjoy each moment and not walk too fast because she will pick up an injury or whatever!

The 10kms seem to go by in no time. During the few hours, we started talking about American healthcare and politics, something I try to avoid while on Camino. Anything but politics!! I changed the subject quickly and talked about the hills of León and O Cebreiro. Most of the pilgrims I had talked to were getting bored of the monotony of the meseta and were crying out for an ascent….something more varied I guess. They wouldn’t have long to wait as León approached within 2-3 days.

Bercianos was approaching. Not too long beforehand, we passed the Ermita de Nuestra Señora de Perales, a church no longer in use. Bercianos greeted us with a new cafe “Bercianos 1900”. We decided to stop here for a drink and a rest. My feet were starting to play up on me again and I took some Ibuprofen to ease the pain. I met our old English pilgrim friend again. I asked him how he was getting on today and where he intends to stay when he is finished walking. He was thinking about staying in Hostal Rivero, another relatively new albergue in Bercianos, however he may walk the extra 7km to El Burgo Ranero. He mentioned..”when you walk from Paris, where you end each day is a trivial matter!”…From Paris?!…I asked him how far does he typically walk each day. “10-15km each day”. Wow…so why so little?? “Well when I finish I need to start painting the house when I return home to London. Well he does have a point!

We said goodbye to John, the UK pilgrim and moved on. We had 7km of straight road ahead of us, with blue skies and a gentle wind. It was 10.30am and we had plenty of time. For most of the remainder of the morning, there were no other pilgrims in sight. Cyclists passed us by shouting Buen Camino and we returned the compliment. There were periods of silence also when myself and June just walked. June, by far the faster, led the way and I followed. It wasn’t long before we reached El Burgo Ranero, a small hamlet with a number of albergues and pensions. It is chosen as an end stage in Brierley’s book, however, it has a well respected donativo, “Domenico Laffi”. It opens at midday and already there were people lined up outside. I walked through the town to see if there were other albergues opened, however, all 3 others had a midday opening. I saw a group of Irish walkers with tiny bags leave a cafe after a pitstop. It seemed that they were from the west of Ireland. I asked them how they were getting on? One said “All good, we are walking the Camino a different way”. He went to great lengths to note the differences in how I and their group walk their Camino. Not to worry. We are all pilgrims. I venture back to the albergue, noting where the shop was. The hospitalero had opened up for us before midday.

I showered, washed my clothes before June and myself decided to go to the shop to buy some food for lunch. In a gesture of real kindness, June told me to come back in 45 minutes and she will have lunch ready. So I went off for a snooze and left her to her own devices. From what we had bought, I was expecting a meal fit for royalty. We had wine too. It was something special also and I was full for the day. All I could do afterwards was wash up! Later on, I met the UK pilgrim – he was staying in another albergue in the same village. I also met Adam from the UK, my fellow Irish friend with his friends who were in the same albergue. Today I had walked 30km. I had 88 km left to walk in 5 days. The next 5 days were going to be slow and short. June wanted to walk to Leon the next day (38km) and asked if I would join her. I said I would start the day with her but I wouldn’t walk to Leon. This evening was a special one. We finished the bottle of wine with other pilgrims.

Tonight would be the start of the goodbyes.

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