Day 25: Casanova to Pedrouzo (… 20km to go to Santiago)

Another pretty boring walk. After some healthy conversation last night with a German and a Slovenian fellow pilgrim I was restless all night. Cause was clearly a pretty oversized French man I believe that pretty much looked and sounded like a pig. Concerto a la Pavarotti all night long. The only time to sleep was from 6.30 to 7.30 or so when he was silent / awake. Both fellow pilgrims from last night made use of the same window of opportunity it seemed.

Figure of St James

At 7.45 or so I got going. The initial trek continued through forest and wasn’t too bad. It started drizzling and light rain gear was in order. I covered a good amount of ground (c10km) come breakfast time in Melide at 9.30 or so.

Not a pretty city really apart from the little bit of old town as you arrive on the Camino. However, I could finally buy some tablets for my toothache and a new toothbrush (these are not related to each other ;o).

After a little more walking I bumped into Julia from Germany at a bar. We briefly spoke yesterday when I bought ice cream for team Belgium 2 and myself. She is from Bochum and just decided to change from studying law to doing a degree in teaching German & English.

She hasn’t been hiking much before, but seemed to like travelling with rucksack (waking aside ;o) and plans to backpack Thailand next. She started in Leon. We walked together until lunchtime (chicken & salad! Hurrah!) where her German friend caught up with her and I left them there to walk to their hostel not too far away.


I continued in the rain and pretty unspectacular scenery by Camino standards to pedrouzo. another 42km in the bag. On the way I met another German couple that just joined the Camino Franco today having been walking the Camino Norte (North aide along the sea side) before. The sheer amount of people was very unusual for them (usually no more than one or two other pilgrims per day), but likewise the Albergo infrastructure is much denser. They stay in a tent anyway (so everyone prey it doesn’t rain in the morning … really sucks when you have to put together your tent etc!).

todays journey

The Albergo is pretty nice be it that the location is 1km off the Camino. Now I am only 20km from Santiago. HArd to believe really! Most fellow pilgrims feel the same judging by what they chat about and how their faces look. More than 760km and so many memories lie behind me. Next stop Santiago de Compostella! At noon is pilgrims mass and I don’t want to miss it! So let get up early.

Approximate journey so far … at 100 calories per km = 72,000 total by now
Eucalyptus forest

















Update Guelane: unfortunately not as much progress as I had hoped having seen his Facebook check in at the 100km mark yesterday midday or earlier. He is still 73km away and the leg got worse again. Apparently he will get a professional massage tonight. Fingers crossed it will help! Get well soon mate!

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Day 24: Portomarin to Casanova

After the long day yesterday and a surprisingly good sleep aided by the large window (that no idiot decided to close!), we slept well and long. We hit eventually hit the road at around 8.15am.

Team Belgium 2 had breakfast immediately, which consisted of two slices of pizza leftovers each. I saved mine for later ;o)

Already now one issue because very apparent – tourigrinos! That name applies to people only walking the last 100km to get a compostella / certificate. It really made me angry to see these wannabe pilgrims clocking up the camino and basically destroying the atmosphere on the final stretch to Santiago.

also important!
no one likes TOURIGRINOS!

Overcrowded bars that by now are just pure money collecting units in exchange for the same old food (spanish kitchen lacks depth a lot!). Some guys walking with iPads, some carrying their stuff in plastic bags, people in cotton shirts & office trousers, most don’t carry bags (using delivery service even for such short distance). Really ruins the camino feeling. Arghhhh ..

great present this snake
Mathias. Bedankt!

 

Belgian interpretation of ’69 km’ marker

Aside from the strange crowd, the trek itself was boring. Mostly alongside roads, sometimes with little shade and short bits in the forest. But overall one of the worst bits of the camino.

Positive highlights of the day include another 30km done (team Belgium 2 even went on to do 38km), meeting the first pilgrim with a donkey (2month on the road from Bordeaux, France) and plenty of fun chat again with Mathias & Jorre.

A toothache led me to look for a pharmacy (unsuccessfully on a Domingo in Spain!) and so I parted with team Belgium. While I technically wanted to push on melide (9km further) as well, my legs told me to take it easy and I checked into the Alberto in Casanova – a ten people village. Not much more o do than to relax really, but at least the facilities are great and if no further pilgrims drop in I will enjoy a double bunk bed experience (upper level) tonight.

So there are some 60km left to Santiago. Lets do it! Guelane also passed the 100km mark today and should have about 85km left roughly. Buen Camino!

siesta!

Day 23: Fonfria to Portomarin (a new record)

My night was little restless again and not helped by rubber coated mattresses that made me sweat. Well, at least no bed bugs or so. As team Belgium 2 (Jorge & Matthias) got ready to go around 5ish, I decided to get up too. So stuff packed up, refreshed & go.

When I left the hostel, the guys were still outside having breakfast and playing with a white cat. Their mission today was a 52km march to portomarin. Mine was a much less ambitious 40km – enough to get me to Santiago by about Tuesday.

 

800 year old sweet chestnut

The hike started rather mysterious. It was still dark and One had to look carefully to stay on the right path. Nonetheless it was beautiful to walk under a blazing full moon and above the fog that covered the entire valley (remember our starting point was 1300m altitude). Really amazing.

At 7.30 it was time for the first breakfast. Coffee and an as usual supersized pain-o-chocolate! They are really monstrous over here (same for croissants). As we continued to walk downhill we got an extra wake up call as a dog decided to chase us. Good I have my gandalf walking stick!

Daylight revealed the full beauty of Galicia once more. Green landscape everywhere, forests and romantic (and mostly tiny) villages. By lunchtime we arrived in Sarria. This is the usual starting point for compostella tourists (mostly spanish) that only hike the last 100km just to obtain a certificate (and stick it as key achievement into their CV ;o). I got some cash (finally a bank), said bye go team Belgium 2 and had lunch. Pasta & caprese salad (though of poor quality as so often with foreign good in Spain).

After lunch the heat picked up. No clouds to cover this time. Thanks god the walk still took me through shaded areas, but there was a distinct lack of fountains. Some stage I actually run out of water and no fountain or bar was to be found … Until that tiny bar where two Belgians were relaxing over two beers to celebrate having less than 100km to go to Santiago.

We had some food and I joined them on their way to portomarin. Didn’t feel too tired and legs still working. So I got my first (and probably only) 52km march done too.

To get to portomarin one has to cross a long bridge. Nice views from there, but given we approached 8.30pm it was rather time to find a hostel. 14hours was enough walking for a day.

The hostel was nice, we had some great food together and my best night sleep yet on the whole camino. Only 93km left to Santiago. Should be there Tuesday morning!

Physical update: no doubt I have been losing down weight. Some from beer belly, but also muscles. You just can’t eat as much as you burn (100 calories per 1km walking). Otherwise feeling pretty good.

View from Portomarin bridge

Guelane update: stayed c4km before sarria and is hence about 25km behind me. Best guess is he will arrive a day after me on Wednesday. I shall be waiting with a cold drink for him! His leg has improved.

111km (+3km) to go ;o)

 

Message board near ‘donativo’

 

 

Mathias likes animals

 

Day 22: Trabadelo to Fonfria (Galicia here we are!)

Nice day out today. Some 32km done amidst amazing scenery though also with plenty of climbing involved. Initially the route took me still along the highway, before finally wilderness took over.

Population Cebreiro …

The first stop for me was Las Herrerias to relax over orange juice and tortilla after the initial climb. Then on to O Cebreiro – a posterchild historical village of the region marked by round houses of made of stone and thatched roofs.

I walked mostly alone with brief stints with an Austrian girl and very briefly with the Singaporian guy I convinced to also have a noodle ramen yesterday. The story of O Cebreiro is similar to the whole Galician region and marked by a large decline in population since its hey days many a year ago.

Afterwards the continued up and downhill towards a village called Hospital where I enjoyed another Pilgrims meal with lentil soup, chicken & potato, yoghurt and water. I decided to continue for another 10km to Fonfria while enjoying the deep and wide views across the Galician countryside. Stunning.

At the hostel in Fonfria I expected team Canada (helen & leah … just to get the name issue sorted) and wasn’t disappointed. Already in sunbathing mode.

One of them apparently bumped into Guelane this morning (before cheating a little on transport options). Apparently he has been to see the doctor who told him to take it easy for a while. anyway, guelane says the leg is already better and less swollen.

He made it within 8km of O Cebreiro by lunchtime and decided this will be his destination of the day. Fonfria would be pushing it a little. His personal comment: A day towards renewal. Reaching the top of the hill after almost 8k was like a deliverance. Burden of the past just left my soul. A new chapter of my life is shaping out.


Aim is still to reach Santiago by next Tuesday. Means 4 days left for 140km or 35km average/day. Thanks god that it is downhill to flat from here and not as boring as the Mesetas have been. So sounds doable. If not, one day more won’t hurt anyone.

For dinner pilgrims meal a la Galicia was on the menu in one of the cute round houses. Most pilgrims appeared and it turned out really good value (€9 each) & quality. Galician soup, rice/meat/veg & Santiago tart together with plenty of water and wine. Delicious. Galician food is already better than what we had before. Seems to be consensus!

To young guys, Matthias & Jorre, next to me were pretty interesting having walked from Belgium in the past 62 days. That means they have already some 2000km under their belt. Respect guys! Thanks for sharing your experience. DONT STOP WALKING! Here is Jorre’s blog (Flamish) for the interested: jorredockx.wordpress.com

On the left (front of pic to back):
couple from Mallorca, Helen, Leah
On the right: Matthias, Jorre

Disappointment of the day: First time foot massage is offered in a hostel and I dont have enough cash & their is no bank here. I will put it into the suffering – box.

Pilgrims lunch meal

Day 21: Ponferrada to Trabadelo

Templar castle in the a.m.

Quick update on Guelane: He enjoyed his first joint dinner last night together with his Italian camino friends. They cooked together (not sure what Guelane cooked as of time of writing). Seemed he liked the experience very much.

My day didn’t start overly early at c7am. One Italian couple was already busy packing, the other slept in and may even have stayed another day owing to leg issues of the female companion. quick cafe con leche and an avocado I had left from yesterday. off we go.
The camino led one last time past the miraculous templar castle and then out of town. I bumped into a swedish couple that I first met leaving Leon. One judge, the other court clerk on their annual leave. nice discussion for the first 9km. then  I took a break for the second breakfast.
Leaving Ponferrada
Villafranca del Bierzo

some familiar faces. the polish guy (also from way out of leon) that was about to leave and an older Irish guy (first met in Terradillos before mass). The latter is on his second full camino, but he has been here often for individual sections.

he mentioned how the number of hostels and bars (read small restaurants / kiosks) has grown a lot over the years. not surprising looking at the rise in visitors (240k in 2014, 70k in 2005). This year, as I have just learned, numbers are on a 6y low according to estimates of some. i guess I can consider myself lucky.

pilgrim target ads!

in general the camino is getting ever more touristic as one approaches santiago. but who am I to complain being one of the spiritual pilgrims (as so many) rather than religious and equipped with a full (rather than empty) wallet. its a business (my earlier estimate of EUR1bn GDP p.a. is probably too low) and who wouldn’t do the same. still, some prices etc are just over the top at 2-3x super market prices for water and fruit in smaller shops and also overpriced pilgrim meals.

Jupi @ work
Not so nice camino

by lunch i had covered 25km and arrived in villafranca del Bierzo, which even included a brief chat with Jupi ( german exile who switched from stone mason to wood carver … that wooden shell he did was an easy buy for me!). unofficially the capital of the Bierzo region. It hosts a number of churches including the Iglesia de Santiago where sick and injured are granted the same indulgence as in Santiago. I had the pilgrims meal consisting of russian salad (Olivier like, not quite the same) and grilled salmon.

with new strength I decided to continue to Trabadelo. at least i would be more rested for the last mountain stage to o cebreiro tomorrow. the way to trabadelo was pretty horrible and essentially all the 9km alongside the A-6 highway. at least it was walled off and safe. during the last bit of the walk I was under constant fly attack (smelly me!) and i was very glad to check into an empty municipal hostel. shower, clothes washing, little rest. also met a viper on the way in!

Not so nice v2
Steep stuff: a graveyard
for dinner there was only one option. on my way through the village I passed by a gastro pub offering south korean ramen soup. a winner! I had been looking for asian food for quite some time as I am bored and sick of tortilla & jamon. there is simply not diversity in Spanish village food and even in cities one has to look closely for non-spanish food options. so much – it was spicy & delicious and I owe thanks to the dutch lady that runs the place.

the church service at 7pm as advertised in the albergo proved elusive as did the swimming pool that was on the big signpost before the village entrance. according to Facebook i might pass by this natural pool tomorrow, but doubt i will feel the same desire to swim again. on the other, i finally did meet some familiar faces. two canadian women (helen & … i forgot again … but thanks for the peppermint tea!) that we met over paella in  El Burgo and Peter (Belgium).

First BBQ spot on camino!

Really nice conversation about the camino & general views on religion amongst a host of other topics (mobile data charges, pros of having your own well, do compede’s help or not [apparently not for pressure induced blisters] etc). then it was time to head home, check laundry and get some rest for tomorrow’s climb – advertised as one (if not the) most beautiful stage on the way.

Cheaters (or just petrol pilgrims?)

 

update on progress: 170km to go … piece of cake ;o)

update on guelane: still 8-9km behind. stayed in nice albergo in Villafranca. Doing well.

 

Catch of the day!
Home of first Asian food!
Asp Viper: 4% of untreated cases fatal