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 2015 – Day 11 – Villavante to Astorga

May 16th 2015 – Day 11
Villavante to Astorga, 22km

I had enjoyed my stay in Villavante and had no problems sleeping, however I was back on the top bunk again! Mustn’t grumble though! Today was due to be a shorter walk compared to the last few days but it was forecast to be pretty warm. I aimed to get up early and planned accordingly. The next morning, I didn’t need an alarm clock as there were others leaving with me. Hmm…I’m usually the first out! I said goodbye to the parrot and walked on.

It was pitch black again but I could see the sun peak over the horizon. Leaving Villavante, there is a 6km straight walk ahead to Hospital de Orbigo. The sun was fully up before I reached the town’s large water tower. The other route from Leon meets at this points so I saw a number of other pilgrims coming from that direction. Still, I was quite happy with the route I took. Two American girls who kept to themselves walked ahead of me. They mustn’t want to talk, or maybe it’s too early? Otherwise, I have music in my ears while taking in the scenes. I’m coming to the end of the “meseta”..once I reach Astorga, I will start on a climb to the Leon mountains. But I will leave that until I get there. I’ve enjoyed the walk through the meseta thoroughly and it is still by far my favourite part of the Camino.

I arrive at Hospital de Orbigo, with it’s long bridge. I passed here in 2012 when it was being repaired. The town can be deceiving as it looks small from a map, but it is big when you pass through it. Most of the cafes were not open when I passed through, in fact, the town was asleep. I had a look around for Albergue Verde to see if I could spot Judith from the previous day. Unfortunately, that was the last I saw of her. I hope she had an enjoyable Camino! I took my time passing through Orbigo. I had wanted to stay there but it wasn’t to be..so I moved on once I drank a morning coffee.

On leaving the town, you have two options. Going straight brings you on to the main road and can be a little mundane, while taking a sharp right leads you to country rounds and dirt tracks. It is 2-3km longer and there are a number of small towns to pass through before you reach Astorga. I chose the 2nd option. What is it with me and making my Caminos longer??

But I made the right choice. It was a fab walk this day. I passed through Villares de Orbigo a few kms later and stopped for a second breakfast. The town may as well not be there it is so small. It was definitely busier on the Camino now and most people I met were new to me. However, I was still greeted with a smile. I reckon most had started in Leon and were on their way to Santiago. The crowd I had been walking with from Burgos were well ahead of me now…but I had hope of meeting Tom, Caroline and the gang again. Maybe in Astorga.

I passed through Santaibanez de Valdeiglesias and had a rest stop. Most of the terrain was on the flat but there were sections that proved challenging. A highlight for me was meeting David again at Casa de los Dios. David is from Barcelona who, after walking the Camino, decided to help pilgrims. He lives in an abandoned warehouse and offers drinks and fruit for a donation to passing walkers. I said hello and mentioned that his home looked much better since I passed in 2012. I received a hug and he wished me a Buen Camino. Nice guy! I would love to do what he has done.

It wasn’t long before I was back on concrete by the cross at Santo Toribo. I was greeted by a Spanish singer with an acoustic guitar. Although he sang the same song over and over, he knew how to entertain! Check him out here.

After a long walk through the suburb of San Justo de la Vega, I arrived at Astorga just before the Association albergue was opening at 11.30am. I was 5th or so in line behind some German men who I had not met before. I don’t bother with pleasantries with Germans. I’m sure they are nice people, but I’m not sure they have a sense of humour. A few moments later, Samuel arrives in and grabs a top bunk. It was great to see him despite to language barrier. We understood enough to talk in simple English. I grabbed a shower, looked after my washing and went for some food with Samuel.

Astorga is a fine city. I have stayed here before but in another albergue further down the Camino. It is a good walk from the albergue to the main plaza, to the museum, the Cathedral and the Gaudi Palace but it is worthwhile checking these out if you are staying there. I was happy to eat out as a result, so I had dinner in the plaza mayor with Des and Josephine from Australia. They had stayed in Villavante. On completing the Camino, they were to visit Ireland so I told them where to go and where to avoid, but they had an idea already.

I wasn’t sure where I wanted to walk to the next day..Rabanal del Camino or Foncebadon. All I knew was the next day would be the start of a progressive climb. My leg had started to bother me again so I promised myself I would go easy. I was thinking Rabanal but I would decide in the morning.

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Camino 2015 – Day 10 – Leon to Villavante

May 15th 2015 – Day 10
Leon to Villavante, 30km

I’ve learned over the years to make as little plans as possible while on the Camino, so I can be as flexible as possible. Before I left Dublin, I was mulling over skipping Leon and staying in La Virgen as I have been in Leon before. That didn’t happen. I also wanted to stay in Bercianos again due to the albergue’s hospitality in 2013 but things didn’t quite work out. There was one thing I wanted to do this year that I couldn’t do before and it would involve me leaving the traditional Camino.

I woke earlier than usual, spending time putting on my shoes. Blasted blister..I thought to myself. I was quite lucky though. Many people get a lot more and in more awkward places. I took some more paracetamol just in case my leg acts up. Funnily enough, it hadn’t caused me any grief the evening before. Things could be looking up. I made sure I left the hostal with everything, including my euros. I had no intention in leaving them behind. I left the keys in the main hall and signed my name before leaving. The guys talked briefly the evening before about stopping off in Villavante, a one-horse town 5km short of Hospital de Orbigo on the alternative route. I had my heart set on Hospital de Orbigo itself as I had never stayed there and heard lots about it. Do I stay there? The feet felt good but we are talking about 35km here. I may as well see how I feel as the day goes on.

I left Leon in the dark, passing the Cathedral, San Marcos and over the Rio Bernesga. I got lost a few times as there are few arrows to guide you. Keep your eyes peeled for gold shells in the ground instead! Leon was still alive with people going home from bars and clubs. I learned later on that there are no closing times in Spain. Once you cross the Rio, you enter Trabajo del Camino, an industrial area. It is quite the opposite of the meseta, but you take the good with the bad. I walked past workers as they made they way to work. I didn’t spot other pilgrims however, I must have been pretty early. On passing Trabajo del Camino, you arrive at a collection of hobbit-like houses, which are in fact bodegas. I stopped here for ten minutes or so looking down on Leon. From here, I walked on to the main road before stopping for some breakfast at a cafe along the road.

La Virgen del Camino is the first town I passed through. It’s a small suburb of Leon with amazing church, Santuario Virgen del Camino and it’s albergue which is on the opposite side of the road. I had hoped to stay here rather than Leon before I arrived on the Camino but as I said earlier, plans always change! The Camino divides into two at this stage until Orbigo so it depends what scenery you like. You can walk along the main road via Villadangos del Paramo and San Martin or take a left and walk away from the road. I saw the first arrow and lept for the diversion. I was glad to get away from the main road which I walked along since Mansilla de las Mulas. As soon as I took the diversion, I heard someone shouting at me, telling me that I was going the wrong way. I didn’t think so..and I carried on.

This alternative is pretty barren, but that’s just what I was looking for. It was getting warm also, so I stopped for a bit and put on some sun cream. It was at this stage I met two women whom I hadn’t met before. One was having extreme difficulty walking and the other was helping her along. I walked with them for a while before the woman who was in difficulty said that she was fine. I walked on with my new walking buddy through Oncina de la Valdoncina. Judith was from Belgium and had stayed in La Virgen the night before. The other lady was Scottish and had multiple blisters. She didn’t have walking poles either. I felt her pain! I really enjoyed talking with Judith who was walking to Santiago and meeting her husband there before spending time in Porto. She had a good pace too.

But we didn’t want to rush through the day. We both stopped for second breakfast at Chozas de Arriba. The towns we passed through had a handful of houses but it is better than hugging the road, I reckon. There were far less pilgrims on this option also, I met less than 20. One thing that struck me also was that someone had defaced the Camino sign at Fresno del Camino, the first village on this alternative route. Someone clearly doesn’t want people to walk this way.

We moved on. I haven’t heard from my friends at this stage and it was looking like I wouldn’t see them this evening. Not to worry, there is always Astorga. The next town was Villar de Mazarife which is reached another hour after Chozas. The roads are dusty and to be honest, I wouldn’t call them roads. My shoes were brown on reaching Mazarife. We again stopped for a cafe con leche here in Albergue Tio Pepe. Judith had walked the camino before and had stayed here. It’s a fine place but I just wasn’t ready to stop. Villavante was another 9km away…the feet were fine..the blister wasn’t acting up…I had water..I decided to go! She had made her mind on aiming for Hospital de Orbigo and Albergue Verde, a further 5km, but I knew I was happy to reach Villavante. Albergue Verde is an albergue renowned for serving vegetarian food and encourages you to stay for more than one night. One for the note book I reckon!

We reach Villavante in just under 2 hours and one of the first buildings we see is Albergue Santa Lucia. It’s pretty big. Before I check in I order some lunch and eat outside with the sun blazing down on us. I say goodbye to Judith afterwards..well, it was more “see you later”..as I hoped to see her in the morning. I checked in to the albergue and learned that I had taken one of the last bunks available. Most were booked in advance…part and parcel of the Camino nowadays I guess. I met a few new people here..Daniel from Denmark, he was part of a huge Camino family that were younger than me. He had blister problems however and lost track of them. And Samuel from Germany via Italy. The three of us ate a pilgrims meal which was included in the price of the bunk.

The albergue has a parrot also but don’t try take a photo with flash as you may be asked to leave 🙂 I had an early enough night after a few drinks with new friends. I had plans to aim for Astorga the next day..some 22km away..but I would be back on familiar territory.

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