Spain – Camino de Santiago

Leon to Sarria

Being eager to get back walking, Ian and I left Leon well before sunrise agreeing three days off the track was a tad too long. Roaming through the industrial area we found the walk out of the city painfully long. Relieved to walk into Trabajo and find a cafe in the main street we popped in along with many other walkers for the mid morning cuppa and pastry. Discussing whether to follow the main road which was shorter but carried alot of traffic or take the scenic route which added a few more kms, the scenic route won hands down.

A hot day, no shade and the pounding sun rays slowed our walking pace and had us stopping frequently for a rest and cool drinks at any cafe or shop that we passed by. To our delight the accommodation came into sight sooner than latter. Maximus and Mercedes welcomed us into their cool stone farmhouse which was built over a stream. Before retiring to our quarters we were served homemade treats and brewed tea, exactly what was needed to revive us after such a hot day. Once showered and settled in we lazed around in the garden chatting to others who also appreciated the hospitality and ambience of this place.

Gathering for dinner around the long dining table, everyone engaged in enthusiastic chatter sharing stories of Camino adventures whilst waiting patiently for dinner to be served. Mary from Brisbane was delighted to meet us as she had heard on the Camino grapevine ‘Ian and Bernadette from Australia’ were on the track. Eager to have her husband join her on hiking adventures Mary was interested to discover what made it possible for us to hike together. Our response was simple ‘we make it up as we go and hope for the best’. Unfortunately Mary’s Camino adventure was going to be ending in Hospital de Orbigo due to ongoing foot issues, she had arranged to catch a bus to Santiago de Compostella then fly home to Australia. We felt very lucky to be continuing on as many walkers had to finish up earlier than intended for a number of different reasons.

Regardless of being greeted by a cooler morning, Ian had us up early and ready for a fast getaway after breakfast!!! Walking the 5kms into Hospital de Orbigo with Mary we chatted about life in Perth and Brisbane. Entering the town we crossed over the medieval stone bridge which lead to the the jousting area where modern day jousting completions are held, a little less brutal one would hope. After visiting the cafe we bid Mary goodbye then continued on our way. We chatted about how despite the best laid plans and positive attitude stuff from left field can and does appear which changes the direction of your life journey.

Following the track over undulating terrain through forest and farmlands, we had a head wind to contend with. Then like an oasis in the distance the ‘LOVE’ wayside stop came into view. Many walkers were congregated around enjoying the refreshments and sharing the love. The cafe was self serve with a variety of drinks, fruits and breads to choose from, even a tube of Vegemite for us Aussies, now that was real love. There were hammocks to rest weary bodies, a meditation area, a stone labyrinth and a communal area.

Payment was simply to leave a deposit of your love for the next lot of walkers. The two hosts mingled and chatted to all ensuring everyone was loved up before continuing on. The husband of Spanish origin had walked the Camino many years ago and his wife from Australia felt so much love that on the completion of her Camino returned and married the Spaniard, as they say the rest is history and an endless supply of vegemite is guaranteed.

Never tiring of the views we paused momentarily before descending into Astorga where we stopped for refreshments and enjoyed the locals participating in a festival. Continuing on to the small village of Murias de Rechivalda being our destination for the day we were relieved we didn’t have to go searching in a back street for the accommodation. There appeared to be alot of locals wandering about, often in the villages walkers far out number the locals. Showered and laundry organized we finally collapsed on the comfy bed for a well earned shut eye before dinner.

We where joined for dinner in the hotel by Hans and Hannah who we had met a few days before, they were traveling well. Hans had a far more relaxed attitude to all this walking day after day whereas Hannah was like the drill master, she was on a mission. With dinner over it wasn’t long before our heads were nestled into the soft pillows as we recounted the events of the day before drifting off to sleep.

With a home cooked breakfast on board we stepped through the door to be greeted by a magnificent sunrise luring us to embrace another days walking. With a gradual ascent and a few small villages ahead of us we anticipated a relatively easy days walk into Foncebaden. With the movie release of  ‘The Way’ Foncabaden has grown in popularity as an overnight stop on the Camino.

It was a rather emotional day with much anticipation about reaching Crus de Ferro the next day. The tradition to lay a stone resembling personal burdens that one wished to leave behind awaited us. Many walkers had carried their stone from their home country. I distinctly remember walking along one day and being prompted to pick up a stone to be ‘the stone’ I would lay.

In the evening we dined at a medieval restaurant and  enjoyed a massive hamburger, certainly could have shared one between us. After mingling with other walkers and enjoying the musical talents of others we retired to our room.

With 30km to walk and a predicted hot day Ian suggested we make an early start. Entering the cafe at 5.30am for breakfast we weren’t the only ones making an early start. With Cruz de Ferro only 3kms up the track the atmosphere among the walkers was rather quiet and solemn. Silence dominated rather than the usual chatter between walkers. In a respectful atmosphere people gathered at the foot of the cross waiting in silence for their turn. Individuals prayed, pondered, meditated whilst some stood motionless before making the walk to the cross and laying their stone. No word could describe the raw honesty and emotion that filled the atmosphere. As people departed from the cross tears flowed from some whilst shrieks of sheer joy erupted from others, a  freeing moment as people felt the release of life long burdens.

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Steeply spiraling up over a rough rocky goats track the altitude peaked at 1535 mts and much to our relief there was a mobile cafe, oh how we loved the mobile cafes especially perched at the top of an ascent. Hans followed us towards the cafe all set up with outdoor tables and chairs but it wasn’t to be for him as Hannah summonsed him to continue on walking!!!

What was a cool start to the day soon merged into a very hot one as we descended down into the town of Molinaseca. Gathering with others on the lush green lawns by the river we enjoyed lunch and lulled about before tackling the last 10kms of the day into Ponferrada. As I was dawdling along through the vineyards Ian walked ahead eager to finish the days walking. On reaching the outskirts of town I needed to locate the accommodation so rather then self navigate which Ian encouraged me to do I asked a gentleman for directions. Not only did he give me directions but escorted me to the front door of the hotel where Ian was patiently waiting. I was greeted by Ian with a smirk and roll of the eye as once again I had avoided nutting out the directions for myself. We ended the day with plenty to chat about over a delicious Italian meal.

With another hot day on the cards we left in the cool of the morning following along the river through landscaped park lands stopping to watch a squirrel scurrying up and down the trees. We couldn’t resist the inner child urge to kick through the fallen autumn leaves, a few squeals of delight reverberated among the trees. Leaving the town the track lead us through vineyards, market gardens and many small villages. Taking a break we watched a guy making jewellery, he was doing a great trade with many walkers purchasing a souvenir.

In the afternoon heat with perspiration dripping from the brow we trudged our way into Villafranca. On reaching the accommodation we kicked off the boots and headed for the shower. Staying at the Parador, a convent converted into modern day accommodation was sheer luxury and we paid for it!!!

Wandering around the town centre we noted the old facades had been maintained but housed modern shops. The strong aroma of wine wafted through the air, it was pressing time for the grapes. The evening had cooled down enticing us to wander the streets and enjoy late dining.

With only 20kms to walk for the day and over relatively flat terrain we allowed ourselves a few extra zzzzs. Once on the track it was pleasant following along the valley floor with huge stone face mountains either side. Passing under the busy freeway to Madrid we appreciated the quiet and peaceful life we’d grown accustomed to but realized only too soon we would be rejoining the rat race of life.

Something I had been pondering, believe me there’s lots of opportunity to ponder as you walk, was even though life gets busy in the physical realm we need to master the skill in preventing the busyness spilling over into our emotional and psychological realm.

Walking through hamlet after hamlet it really was a delightful days walk stopping numerous times to enjoy refreshments and browse the shops. A guy was very busy making rosary beads. Having a catholic upbringing it was most intriguing watching the assembly of  the beads. Clearly a touristy region as many tour buses were parked up.

Walking on we were amused by signage offering horse hire for those not wishing to tackle the significant climb up and over O’Cebrerio. Not being familiar with horse riding we opted to continue on ‘shanks pony’. Dorothy and Ken, now a few days ahead of us had embarked on the horse riding adventure and thoroughly recommended the experience.

Our accommodation was the last hamlet on the outskirts of Ruitelan. A babbling brook trickling by that had Ian occupied for the afternoon watching the trout rising. The room was lovely with a cool breeze drifting in through the unscreened opened window as well as the resident cat drifting in and out. Not being a cat person I wasn’t impressed and couldn’t encourage the black moggy to move on.

Well rested we were eager to take on the climb up and over O’Cbrerio. Much to our surprise the ascent was not as savage as expected but the track was rough with large rocks to negotiate as we zig zagged our way up. On reaching the small village of Faba we weren’t walking past the cafe serving our favorite breakfast of tortille and fresh orange juice. Dining in the alfresco area we had tractors and cows make their way along the narrow cobblestone path. With some climbing still to do we continued on with a spring in our step knowing we’d conquered the steepest section of the climb.

Arriving at the highest point we were rewarded with a magnificent sunrise. The narrow rocky trail merged into a bitumen road then the tour buses came into view alerting us O’Cebreiro was near. Within a few more steps it was a tourist invasion. Wandering around the tourist precinct we both found it overwhelming being among the crowd. Souvenir shops and eateries were crowded with people eager to part with their money. After visiting the church we continued on leaving the hustle and bustle of people behind.

Continuing on, it was an emotional day with a few tears shed for whatever reason. Sometimes you don’t need to understand why there are tears but just let them flow freely.

The views of mountain ranges and valleys in the distance were breathtaking creating a splendid back drop. Heading into forest we seemed to be continuously ascending and then descending before dropping into a village with a well stocked shop and cafe. Finding a spot to perch it was pleasant to sit basking in the mild afternoon sunshine and gather ones thoughts and emotions.

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Heading off along a laneway we were joined by horsemen which had us walking in the gutters as the laneway wasn’t wide enough for both horse and walkers. Checking the guidebook Ian was relieved to say there was only 3 kms to go but what wasn’t expected was the steep pull up into Fonfria. We huffed and puffed our way up this short sharp ascent, stumbled into the cafe and sculled an ice cold orange juice. Feeling revived we joined those who had made the climb and cheered on others as they staggered up the brutal incline.

Walking through the village of Fonfria the odour of cows and fresh manure that dotted the path filled the air, certainly was not a fitting end to a wonderful days walk. Once inside the accommodation we stayed there to escape the pungent odour, not even being able to open the window. Being a Casa we were looking forward to our evening meal being home cooked. Relaxing in the lounge area we watched the host buzzing around preparing the evening meal. The best entertainment being the husband who had come in from farming duties and was seated in the middle of the dining room peeling potatoes, so many potatoes to peel. We weren’t disappointed, the meal hit the spot as did the comfy bed.

Waking early to the ‘clip clop’ of cows ambling along the cobblestone path for early morning milking we organized ourselves for the day ahead. Whilst sipping on hot tea we passed comment ‘surely all that food wasn’t for our breakfast’, yes it was. .

Feeling very full we waddled off for the day ascending and descending all the way. We took a breather at Biduedo where a Lanz tractor was prominently parked in the main street, actually it was the only street. Ian engaged in his broken Spanish with the owner in his broken English and discussed the tractor. In his growing up years Ian drove a Lanz tractor pulling a plough around the family farm.

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Arriving at Tricastella we settled into our accommodation before wandering off to enjoy a late lunch followed by browsing around the street market. We spent a lazy afternoon phoning family, sorting through our gear and catching up on replying to  messages and emails.

Leaving before light we opted for the scenic route to Sarri despite the guidebook citing it was a tad more challenging in comparison to the route along the motorway. On the outskirts of town we observed in the distance someone running towards us. He alerted us that the way ahead wasn’t the path to follow and that he was heading back to follow the more direct motorway path. Checking our guidebook we were fairly sure the path ahead would lead us to Sarria and decided to push on with a degree of confidence. During the time of deliberation a group of about 10 walkers appeared and they decided as we were Australians we would know our way and decided to tag along behind us. How they reached that conclusion I’ll never know. HAHAHA leaders of the pack!!!!

With dawn breaking we twisted our way  through laneways of small farming villages sharing the cobblestone paths with the dairy cows slowly wandering to the milking sheds. The clinking of the cow hooves and walking poles of the walkers on the cobblestone path were almost in harmony. Leaving our adopted posy of walkers in a village to enjoy coffee we made our way into the forest following the river before enjoying the views as we steadily climbed. It was just so peaceful and quiet as the two of us meandered our way along at a leisurely pace.

The highlight of today was stopping off at Samos to visit the historic monistory. With the significant history of Bishop Salvador being transferred from Samos in Spain to Western Australia in the 1800s where he established the monistory town of New Norcia, we were keen to visit his place of origin. As luck had it a tour was being organized just as we arrived and being the only two we were treated to a personal tour. The tour guide and Brother Michael were aware of Bishop Salvador and very interested to learn of his work at New Norcia. Modern day New Norcia is a museum displaying the history and well worth a visit. The full history of all of this is long and detailed and best googled. www.newnorcia.com.au

Wandering back into the village we sat outside at a cafe for awhile. A group of horse riders were saddling up but one horse wasn’t that eager, we were entertained watching the riders cohersing the horse to co-operate.

What was left for the rest of the day was simply walking into Sarri. Arriving at Sarri meant there was only 100kms to walk into Camino de Santiago. Goodness, how could we be within a 100kms, the days had just flown by. Many people start their walk at Sarri therefore we needed to be prepared for an influx of walkers. Walking into the large city was daunting and overwhelming as we negotiated busy roads and the hustle and bustle of locals, tourists and other walkers. Our accommodation was a self contained unit which allowed us to enjoy two days to relax, wander around the shops and get ourselves sorted for the haul into Santiago de Compostella.

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Bernadette and Ian

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‘at the end of a hike there’s always a yarn to share’

 

 

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