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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New – Camino Society Ireland Photo Contest

Today, Camino Society Ireland launched its inaugural Photo Contest. It is open to all people who have walked the Camino, including the Celtic Camino. Those of you who read my blog would have taken many a photo while on Camino so now is your chance to submit a photo or two if you feel they are worthy.

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There are a number of criteria that the picture must meet before you enter. There are 5 categories to choose from before entering 1) Landscape / sights 2) Traditional Food and Drinks 3) Camino marking 4) Culture and 5) Buildings & Architecture and each entry will be judged by 3 highly respected photographers from Dublin.

Winners will have their entries held on display in an exhibition and there are a number of prizes to be awarded for each category.

The great thing about this is pilgrims from outside of Ireland can enter so why not root through your Camino photo collection and consider entering.

Keep an eye on Camino Society Ireland on instagram for further information. Full terms and conditions and how you can enter can be found at www.caminosociety.com/photo-contest.

Camino Frances 2017 – Day 3 – Boadilla del Camino to Carrion de los Condes

Camino 2017 – Day 3 – Boadilla del Camino to Carrion de los Condes – September 7th
A gentle breeze, a long senda and a blessing at night.

An amazing sleep was disturbed at 5pm by the zipping of sleeping bags. Another day on the Camino had started. I gathered up my things and headed for the bathroom. Breakfast was at 7am but I chose not to wait. I had some fruit and yoghurt from Day 1 left over. I looked out the door – darkness. I was not first on the trail this morning however. An Italian couple were up and ready and out by 5.30. I took it a little easier and started at 6am. It was still dark but I was used to it by this stage.

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Leaving Boadilla, I walked along the Canal de Castilla until Frómista, another 6km westward. It was an easy stroll, however my foot was still paining me after the previous day’s discovery of blister no. 1. My headlamp had failed me so I was using my phone to guide me while I waited for the sun to rise. All was quiet. I could hear small animals move in the reeds along the canal. My attention was then turned to the sky. It was clear. Not a cloud could be seen and the moon illuminated the sky. Ah..if only we could see the sky like this back in Dublin.

Frómista was within sight after an hour and I felt peckish. I stopped by Bar El Manchego and ordered a café con leche and a tostada con queso – my customary desayuno these days. It got cold as I was eating and I was eager to get moving again. Frómista is a large town but it is not one I have stayed in before. Boadilla has won my heart. When I had finished, I wished the bar owner a healthy Buenos Dias and gathered my hat and pole. Adelante!

It wasn’t long until I reached the main highway and crossroads. I became a little lost at this point, mainly due to the lack of light however once I saw the cut out statue on the overpass, I was sure of the right way. The sun was peaking over the horizon and it became brighter. I reached Poblacion del Camino and it was sleeping while I walked through. It was then that I met my old foe – the P-980 and the Senda del Peregrino. For the next 18kms, I would be walking along the side of a busy road. Hardly ideal, but you take the good with the bad. On the whole, the road was quiet but every so often, a large truck or lorry would speed by disturbing my train of thought. Peaceful, it wasn’t. I had the option of taking a diversion through Villovieco to Villalcazar de Sirga but this made the day longer. The road would be my companion for the day. I had not met any other pilgrims. no matter how slow I walked. My Buen Caminos were given to cyclists as they sped past. I had not decided where I was to stop this evening – Villalcazar de Sirga with it’s large church or the pilgrim town of Carrion de los Condes. Stopping at Villalcazar meant I had walked 19km while ending in Carrion made it a 26km day. My feet felt good and it was only 10.30. So I decided to leave the decision to Villalcazar and a cold glass of Coke, con hielo of course.

Arriving in Villalcazar brought back some good memories. I had stayed here in 2015 with some good people. I was really tempted to stop here so I had a drink and a think but ultimately decided it was too early.  I stopped by the Iglesia de Santa Maria la Blanca but it was closed. Onwards to Carrión de los Condes so.

I had 6kms more along the road before I reached the largest town on the Camino since Burgos. Carrion de los Condes has 3 large albergues – all run by religious orders. There are many pensions and hotels here as well. The Church of Santa Maria in Carrion could be seen from 3km outside the town. The albergue I was aiming for is conjoined to it and is normally run by nuns. However, the Albergue de Santa Maria’s nuns were on leave for the first 2 weeks of September and were replaced by volunteers. It was not open until midday and I arrived to a queue of backpacks at 11.30. I tried to sit down but it was futile. I wasn’t in pain, I just needed to stretch first. A group of Brazilians headed the queue, speaking Portuguese much to my dismay. Next in line was a Galician, who had worked for a number of Irish firms in Cork. He just didn’t know English. And after him was a pale sore Irishman – me. I was joined then by June from San Diego who offered me an apple that she bought in the local market. I would get to become friends with her over the next few days.

I knew others who arrived later – the German sister and brother, 2 friends from the US and a large Korean contingent. When checking in, the hospitalero told us that at 7pm we were invited to sing, at 8pm, we were invited to mass next door and finally at 9pm, there would be a community meal. We were asked to go to the supermarket and buy what we wished. The volunteers would then make a meal with what was provided. It was strange, but I was looking forward to it. I loved it here from the off.

While looking for an ATM machine, I met Jo-Jo again and asked how she was getting on. I saw one of the Swedish girls also who was staying in another albergue. She told me that her friend had caught a bus to Leon and was going home. It would be the last time I saw them. I remember fondly the fun we had in Boadilla. I went to the local Dia supermercado and bought a few odds and ends – anything nutritious for dinner. I then bought some lunch as I was in no mood to wait until 9pm for dinner! Back in the albergue, I managed to catch some rest and tend to my feet. I also saw Adam from my first day who arrived to a full albergue. He was granted a mattress on a floor. A lucky man, as the next town is 17km away.

7pm arrived and about 20 pilgrims gathered tentatively in the courtyard. One of the volunteers had a guitar while others had bongos and shakers. Handouts were given to each pilgrim with spanish and english lyrics of well known songs. The first song was sung and we were urged to clap to the chorus (below). We were then asked one by one to introduce ourselves and say why we are walking the Camino. Now..bear in mind that those of us sitting here spoke English, Spanish, Italian, Korean, Portuguese, German. You can imagine how long it took to translate! 🙂 It was a fun get together however and we got to know each other a little more. I got talking to Patricia from the US afterward. She had met an Irish man who wrote a Camino song to the tune of Molly Malone. At the time of talking to her, he had sung it in Orisson and Roncesvalles. I await for Patricia to complete her Camino when she will send me video of him singing it.

We attended mass shortly after, spoken in Spanish. My second mass of this Camino. At the end of the mass, the priest called all pilgrims to the altar, which is standard. He proceeded to ask if anyone was from Spain? from Italy? from USA? and so on. When I heard, “¿Hay alguien de Irlanda?”, my arm raised up slowly and I looked around to see if there were others. Unfortunately not. Adam, from the UK, was the nearest to my home. We all got a blessing and were given a small paper star given to symbolise our time in this albergue. I will cherish it. It was a pretty special few moments and I’ll make sure to visit this albergue next time. After mass, we attended dinner in the courtyard. I was taken aback by how much food was bought by those staying in the albergue. Pasta, meats, fish, tuna, fruits, wine, ice cream – it all made a filling meal.

It was 10pm and late for us pilgrims, I gathered my things and thought about the next day. June had asked me earlier if we could walk together. I said sure! She had no one place in mind but I was hoping to reach either Ledigos or Terradillos de los Templarios, which has very little evidence of the Templars left. A 24km or 27km day so. Today was a special day, I wonder if tomorrow would be the same.

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Camino Frances 2017 – Day 2 – Hontanas to Boadilla del Camino

Camino 2017 – Day 2 – Hontanas to Boadilla del Camino – September 6th
Still hot…and onto an oasis!

Most pilgrims don’t know where their day (or feet) will take them, but I knew from the off that today would lead me to a small town in the meseta called Boadilla del Camino. The town might not have much to offer but one of its albergues (En El Camino) is enough reason to walk a whole Camino. I’ve stayed there a few times before and Eduardo provides all you seek in a hospitalero. It is a mini-oasis.

But anyway..back to the start of the day. It was promised to be hot today so I woke early and gathered my things. It took a while to find the door in El Puntido but after much searching, I discovered it at the back of the albergue. After some fruit, juice and a breakfast snack, I was on my way. The albergue was starting to rise by the time I left, however I was the first to leave. This tended to be a common theme throughout this year’s Camino! This morning was cold as the sun was not up and my fleece and buff helped me warm up for a few hours. I said goodbye to Hontanas for another year and made my way off road, along a trail to the right of the road. It leads up a hill and away from the road but all I had was a torch to guide me. This would be my Way for the next hour or so. I didn’t meet a soul but I did see some lights flickering behind me – other pilgrims.

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The sky was clear and the moon was almost full. The moon hung in the sky like a pale disc showing me the right direction. GPS is over-rated, right? It wasn’t long before I was back on the road and approaching the ruins of the San Antón hospital. I have passed these ruins a number of times before and each time it was daylight. It was a pity that there was no light to see such beauty. A refugio has been re-opened in the last few years and I kept an eye out for Adam in the event that he stayed there the night previous. There was no movement, so I marched on to Castrojeriz, the next town. I might see him again somewhere down the Camino. Castrojeriz is another town that needs light to fully appreciate it, as it is based on the side of a hill. There were no cafes open as I passed through it, however many pilgrims were leaving their albergues. I took a rest and some water before leaving the town. The sun was peaking over the horizon so I threw my pack over my shoulder as I wanted to be at the top of the upcoming Alto de Mostalares to watch the sun rise over the town of Castrojeriz.

Leaving Castrojeriz, you can see the upcoming climb and it is not easy. Slow and steady is the advice given. I’ve made this climb twice before and you would think that I know this stretch inside-out. I do. However, the urge is there to push forward. I meet Jo-Jo from the US. She is taking her time after her stay in Castrojeriz. Surprised after hearing I started in Hontanas, she asks what I had for breakfast!!! Just some fruit and energy, I tell her jokingly. I stay with her until we reach the top. Every minute or so, we turn back to watch the sun rise behind us and above Castrojeriz. What a sight! Ahead of me are pilgrims from Korea, France, Spain and Holland, all starting their day from Castrojeriz. The Alto de Mostelares was conquered..eventually and I stop for a few minutes to gather my thoughts and chomp down a donativo banana lying on a table with other fruit and drinks.

I say “see you on the trail” to Jo-Jo and walk on, with renewed energy. Now is the gradual descent from the Alto. Not as tough as the incline but me and descents don’t see eye-to-eye! I’m back to walking solo for an hour or so as we come close to the province of Palencia. The sun has risen and the temperatures are climbing at this stage. Either side of me are fields of sun flowers, with the odd haystack. All I do is put the head down and walk on with a smile on my face.

I meet Susan from Oregon. She was walking super-slow and I saw this as a chance to bring the pace down. I hadn’t had a good conversation since meeting Adam the day previous. She had plenty of time ahead and was in no rush. It was still morning and we passed Itero de la Vega talking about our respective lives. She was fun and had a dry wit about her. She loved the Spanish people but it was good to speak to someone with good English. It wasn’t long before the old chestnut question was asked. “What has you out on the Camino?”. I usually give a short and simple answer to that question, but for some unknown reason, I told her what I was hoping to gain from this Camino. I mentioned that I had a disappointing year and I had a few questions that needed answering. I went on to talk to her about my epilepsy and the option of surgery had been put on the table. This filled me with a lot of fear naturally. I wanted to be pointed in the right direction. The great thing about the Camino is you will get a straightforward answer from any person you meet – without judgement. She gave her opinion and what I should do, which I truly appreciate and lifted a lot of weight from my shoulders. I talked to Susan for one hour and never saw her again. But I will remember her for her honesty and humour. Buen Camino Susan. It was now time to pick up the pace.

It was close to 10.30 at this point and a long straight path was ahead of me before reaching the next town – Boadilla del Camino. There was nothing out of the ordinary to see – the meseta is pretty monotonous but I had time on my hands and I kept walking westward. The path was difficult to walk on however, with many stones and it was far from level. I felt pain toward the side of my heel. Whatever it was, it could hold out until I reached Boadilla. This was probably a bad decision in retrospect. I arrived at my end point – Albergue En El Camino at 11.30. I was delighted to be here after 29km and see the hospitalero, Eduardo, again. From the outside, it doesn’t look welcoming, but inside, the pool, bar and great food are enough reasons to stay.

After settling in and getting my clothes washed, I checked my heel. As feared, there was a large blister after forming. Out with the needle and thread, germoline and plaster. I should know better hmmph! I had no other problems to contend with I was happy to say.

I met quite a few fellow peregrinos today – 2 Irish guys from Co. Carlow. Both were travelling separately but were remaining in contact through Whatsapp. I also met a couple from Perth in Australia, a German brother and sister, 2 Swedish girls and one Australian girl who cracked me up many a time. Laughter is the best medicine eh? I saw Jo-Jo again after our chat on the Alto de Mostelares. It was really the first day I got to know many peregrinos. A community dinner was served at 7pm and I headed to the sleeping bag shortly after.

I can’t say enough good things about our host, Eduardo. He is never still and always has a smile, no matter how busy or stressed he is. I managed to get a selfie with him toward the end of the night. I hope to see him again soon but I hope to see some of my new friends sooner. Tomorrow was approaching and I was left with 2 choices – Villalcazar de Sirga or Carrion de los Condes. I will let the feet decide when I wake tomorrow.

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Camino 2017 – Day 0 – Dublin to Burgos

September 4th 2017 – Day 0
Dublin to Burgos via Madrid

A beautiful day in which I passed through 2 large cities. My flight was to leave at 6.30am. Yawning, I woke at 4am with an eagerness I had not seen since last September. My pack was barely 7kg light and I was out the door after a quick breakfast and my last cup of tea for two weeks.

Dublin Airport Terminal 1 was bustling, even for this time of the morning. Many were still wearing GAA jerseys after the All Ireland Hurling final the evening before. I checked my pack in and headed for the gate, eager to get on the plane and reach Spain. My Camino had begun with gusto.

The flight took off and within 2 and a half hours I had arrived at Madrid Barajas Airport – a sprawling metropolis of 4 terminals compared to Dublin’s 2. I collected my baggage and headed for the feeder bus. This little nipper arrives every 5 minutes and carries passengers from Terminal 1 to 4 within 20 minutes. It’s a joy to ride on, compared to walking. I was in T4 in no time waiting for the Alsa bus for Burgos. Luckily enough, the bus station in T4 is just adjacent to a cafe (and a McDonalds). I had a quick snack while waiting for the bus arriving at 11.15 Spanish time. The sun was shining bright and I was glad to be in the shade while waiting.

The bus arrived on time and a gruff Spanish driver ticked my name off a rugged piece of paper. “Dahveed?”..”Si”, I replied, as he opened the baggage door at the side of the large bus. The bus was full in no time. Burgos was not it’s only stop today, as it would make it’s way for Irun. I sat beside the window hoping that I would sleep but before I knew it, a tall gentleman sat beside me. He was also wearing cargo-pants, instantly identifying himself as a pilgrim.

“Are you on the way the Camino?”, I asked.

“Yes indeed, Burgos”, he replied.

“Excellent!, where have you come from?”…I asked, keen to strike up a conversation with anyone headed to the French Way.

He had come from Salt Lake City, via Newark Airport. His accent gave his origin away to be fair but the question was the ideal icebreaker. Robert, was just retired from the military and was keen to experience at least 10 days from Burgos. We talked for the majority of the trip, mainly about trails in Ireland and in the US. He looked super-fit so I didn’t think the Camino would be a problem for him, however, he was going to take it slow and steady from the start. A wise decision. I had hoped to see Robert again, but this was to be the only time I would see him, and on reaching Burgos, I wished him a Buen Camino. I made the point of saying “I won’t say goodbye, but I’ll see you on the way”.

At 1.30pm, we reached the Estación de Autobuses in Burgos on Calle Miranda, about 5 minutes away from the Catedral de Burgos. I was glad to be here and walked to my hostel that I had booked – Hostal Evolución. At €35, it wasn’t bad for a one bed room, including shower. I had plans for the evening so I decided that 2 hours or so sleep would be wise. A friend of mine told me that he has a friend living in Burgos who would be happy to show me around and have some tapas. Now, I’m not going to say no to tapas! So, sleep, refresh and tapas…sounds like a good plan!

Later on, I met Patricia outside the hostal after 6pm, just when the town was waking up from siesta. We walked over the Río Arlanzón and under the Arco del Cid to reveal Burgos Cathedral standing tall. She looked better than I saw her last in 2015. We walked around it, past the Albergue and on to our first tapas bar. One vino de ribeiro and a tapa, por favor! After 7pm, Burgos turns into a rich tapestry of bars and restaurants. The Plaza Mayor was full of families and kids giving their best shot at being Messi or Ronaldo. It was a joy!

After our 3rd vino de ribeiro, Patricia saw her mother and we decided to take a seat at one of the many bars. I tried another tapa – some bread with an anchovy drenched in oil. Beautiful. Her mother had no English and I had little Spanish and it was funny as Patricia was translating our conversation. It took time!

But time flew and 8pm became 9pm. I wanted to make an early start the next morning so I said my goodbyes. It was a great evening and I promised to say hello to everyone the next time I was in Burgos. While walking back to the hostal, I bought a walking pole to keep me company for the 10 or so days. I arrived at the hostal and got ready for the next morning. I hoped to reach Hontanas, but it was promised to be warm.

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Home..but still on the Way..

My feet are in Dublin but my mind has been left somewhere between Leon and Astorga on the dusty trail.

Sigh!

All who I have met, broke bread and shared stories with are close to Santiago at this stage. How I wish I had continued my journey with them. But alas!, I must return to reality. I have heaps to write about and I hope to do so over the next few weeks. I also have made plans for May 2018 so my way is still being walked. More of that to come. I am blessed to live so close to a treasure that is the Camino. Every year it gives me time to think, to switch off, to have time alone and share conundrums with total strangers. No judgement is made or received. I made some difficult decisions over these few weeks which can be hard to make in the midst of the noise of everyday life.

It’s difficult to sum up in a sentence what this particular Camino meant to me. Each morning, I would start walking in the dark with only a torch to guide me. I would listen to music until the sun climbed over the horizon. One particular song hit home. It is called “Scare away the dark” by Passenger. I listened to this most mornings, maybe twice or three times. Listen yourself to the lyrics, the words struck a chord for me. We should all live and love without fear or consequence. Our time on this blue dot is not long. Keep it simple, treat everyone the same as you would like to be treated yourself and most of all, do what makes you happy.

La vida es un Camino!

 

 

The Countdown continues…

With 3 days before I board my flight to Madrid, I am filled with mixed emotions – happiness, trepidation, excitement – but this is all normal.

I have walked into Burgos twice before but have not had the chance to properly explore. This year I arrive between 1-2pm and I will make the most of this free time to not only visit the Cathedral but it’s Castle and the Museum of Human of Evolution. But all this may change. I remember in 2015 that I had very little energy on arriving at the albergue and skipped the opportunity of seeing the Cathedral – possibly the most beautiful one along the Camino, with the exception of Santiago.

Am I ready? Of course – I have been since September 2016. Am I prepared? – I hope I am. I will find out when I arrive. My pack weight is lighter than before at 7kg. The weather forecast has made me decide to carry a silk liner instead of a sleeping bag. New additions include rain pants and pacerpoles. I return to 1000 mile socks also.

This may be my last stroll on the Camino Frances for quite some time, as I have previously mentioned. A jaunt on the Celtic Camino from A Coruna has been planned in early May of 2018 with my younger brother. This will be first time I walk with a companion. He is a much faster walker to me – so I may still be walking alone. Either way, I look forward to this trip.

You can follow me on my meseta Camino from Monday on my Instagram and occasionally on my Facebook page. Please like both if you can. You won’t miss a footstep if you do.

Buen Camino!