After second breakfast we decided to take the more challenging path up the mountain to see the views we missed in the rain yesterday. The path was steep but the million dollar view of the valley and castle below made it worth every step. The tall snowy mountains that we walked toward for so long are now far behind. We only take a step at a time but somehow the world passes by and we make progress.
At the top of the mountain we stopped in a tiny town for a drink. We had to ring a bell to call the bartender to open up the bar for us. The path down the mountain was brutal and we were very tired at the end. The rest of the afternoon consisted of a lunch that we think might have been food at a truck stop and a long walk along a road. Not the prettiest part of the Camino but I did find this lovely stream toward the end.
We chose an Albergue with a good home cooked dinner.
The ancient stone building had been nicely renovated. The host took us up a narrow stairway— barely wider than my shoulders to an attic room with old ceiling beams and stone walls. My bunk was in the corner and I could hear baby birds chirping under the eves.
The dinner was wonderful, carrot soup, salad and pasta with pudding for dessert. The long table of pilgrims were so happy and at the end sang pilgrim songs to celebrate. Such fun after a long hard day walking.
The rooster woke me up for this beautiful sunrise. I took my coffee outside and enjoyed the morning light.
At 8 we turned the mattress room back to a yoga room and practiced yoga, chanted and meditated in the barnyard on a mountain in rural Spain.
It was just a short walk through the morning mist to the highest point on the Camino and an important pilgrim milestone–the Crux de Ferro.
This spot has been sacred since pre-Celtic times and was originally dedicated to Mercury. The tradition is to carry a rock from home and leave it at the cross signifying the emotional and spiritual burdens that the pilgrim no longer wants to carry. It is and emotional moment for pilgrims and one of great reverence. There are memorials to friends and family, rocks with names, flowers and other small tokens covering the mound. Alexandra and I added our stones from home, one for a friend and two from Egypt. I walked the small stone labyrinth near the cross. We met some young men carrying a giant white teddy bear to Santiago to raise money for charity.
A drizzly rain fell for the next few miles and the fog kept us from seeing the views but the path was beautiful with low flowering bushes. Since we had made it to the top of the mountain it meant that today was all downhill and one of the most difficult walking days on the Camino. We took our time on the slippery, rocky path and were happy to take a big break for lunch.
After lunch the rain stopped and we dried out a bit. The path was still very steep and rocky but the mountains sage and other flowers mixed with the cool breeze to make incense almost like frankincense. I stopped frequently to let my tired legs rest and just enjoy the smell and the beauty.
We finally got to our destination which was a picture postcard village of Molinaseca with balconies and flowers along an enchanting central street. A much deserved dinner and drink with other tired pilgrims and then bedtime. There is rarely any trouble sleeping after a long day of walking unless you get a bunk next to a world class snorer.
The morning was perfect, flat path, not too cold and several little towns to stop and have coffee. For lunch we had pasta and veggies and saw our first piece of broccoli in a month. Since Leon there has been an improvement in the food selection and albergues.
After lunch the path got steeper but it was so beautiful climbing to the highest point on the Camino.
The narrow path was lined with shrubby bushes full of yellow or purple or white flowers. I stopped often to look at the mountains and the open land. I live where there are so many trees and so I love the wide open spaces and vistas.
We stopped for the night in the tiny hamlet of Foncebadon that was mostly collapsed ancient stone houses. The Albergue had a “hippie” vibe with lots of objects from India and very laid back. A sign said “no wi-fi, talk to each other”. Since we were on the late side we got beds in the overflow room.
We were taken through the barnyard, past the chickens and goats to a large room with mattresses on the floor. It was the yoga room and had all the usual pictures of the Buddha and Hindu gods. The bathroom was upstairs and included a stand-up toilet. Was I in Spain or an ashram in India, I wasn’t sure. But since I’d like to go to an ashram I was perfectly happy.
I spent the afternoon chasing chickens, petting dogs, milking goats (yes I got to milk a goat!!!) and talking to my pilgrim friends. Supper was this giant pan of paella and homemade yogurt with crystalized honey for dessert.
I settled in for the night on my mattress in the ashram and later someone came and built a fire in the wood stove so we were comfy and warm in the barnyard, on a mountain in rural Spain.
After our usual breakfast of toast and coffee we headed into more rolling, scrubby farm land. The first job of the day was to play with calves. The farmer gave us the ok and we spent a good bit of time petting and watching them awkwardly bounce around their pens. It was so much fun. Nothing cuter in the world than a baby animal and we have been so happy to see babies everywhere on our journey.
The path meandered up and down and finally came to this man selling refreshments. We had watermelon and a cookie. Good thing because the walk into Astorga was much longer and harder than it looked and I had yet another cathedral to see before lunch.
Alexandra and I were the only one in the Astorga Cathedral. If you look closely you can see her hugging the pillar. They are massive, reminding me of the great pillars at Karnak in Egypt. The Retalbo was beautiful with several smaller ones in the surrounding chapels, gold, gold and more gold.
After a quick snack we went to see the Gaudi Castle next door to the cathedral. Gaudi, the famed Spanish architect, designed it to be a house for the Bishop but was never lived in and other designers finished it. Whimsical inside and out, it has a beautiful chapel and Camino artifacts.
Finally it was time for lunch and we wanted pasta and salad. That was a lot of walking and sightseeing on our tiny breakfast and snack. The portions were so big that we took the leftovers with us for supper. Then to the local chocolate and pasty shop where we were gifted some extra treats because we were on our way to Santiago.
Another nice but cold Albergue was only 6km down the road. It had a washer and dryer and one room with real heat. Alexandra went to bed early in all her clothes, sleeping bag and two heavy blankets, warm at last.
Just two more weeks and 300 Km left to go before the grand finale in Santiago. Both of us agree that it has gone by so fast. So we will savor all the adventures we have left. I’m sure it will involve more baby animals if Alexandra has her way and I’m ready for more churches.
First thing in the morning I was greeted by the tiniest sliver of a crescent moon and Venus above a pink sunrise and I knew it was going to be a lovely day.
The breakfast was wonderful and gave us courage for a very chilly morning. We are on the last part of the flat Meseta, now we are headed to the mountains. A very tall snow covered mountain was our guide all day.
We had mid-morning coffee and croissant with other fellow pilgrims. Pilgrims are so friendly with one another and the languages mix easy. English is mainly the common language of the pilgrims but I can understand a lot of French and a bit of Spanish now.
Down the road we met a Spanish pilgrim on horseback. Most people walk, some ride bikes and a rare one rides a horse. This horse was magnificent, very tall and very soft. Alexandra is 6 feet tall and this horse towered over her.
We talked to some cows and listened to the frogs and admired the storks.
After lunch we crossed this beautiful stream. It looks like the setting for a pre-Raphaelite painting. We expected to see Ophelia or the Lady of Shallot any moment.
We like to stay in the tiny towns and the Albergue we chose for the night was wonderful. Bright, airy rooms with a central courtyard and porch with a comfy couch. Just a few friendly pilgrims made lovely company and our host made a delicious salad and spicy potato and sausage stew. It was a true Camino family meal. We sat around the table until 9 and sharing our lives and our Camino experience.
It is cold at night so we bundle up in our sleeping bags and the albergues
have extra blankets so we are warm enough and tired enough to sleep very well after a day of walking.
We were a day behind schedule so the best way to make up some time was to skip the difficult industrial walk into Leon. There was a cathedral waiting for me so we got an early morning taxi just in time to hear the organ playing the recessional from Sunday Mass in the Leon Cathedral.
The Leon Cathedral is magnificent, not as much gold as the other Spanish churches but stunning stained glass windows. The sun was high enough that the light streamed through the thousands of square feet of glass.
The lovely side chapels had quiet Gregorian chant playing on the speakers giving a sacred moment even more joy. One of the chapels was for St Therese of Avila, pen in hand ready to write about her visions.
I went to the museum next door while Alexandra sat with our packs enjoying the morning. I was taken through the cloisters to the museum and the locked in to wander by myself through a beautiful collection of sacred art. Then unlocked and relocked into another section. It was a bit unnerving being locked in alone, that would have scared Alexandra.
We had lunch in an “American” restaurant, the food was close enough that Alexandra was happy, she is a bit tired of the limited choices in rural Spain.
My next mission was to see The Holy Grail at the Basilica of St Isidore. The museum had an amazing library of ancient books and other relics and fresco paintings. Once again we were locked in and out of rooms. The final room held The Chalice of Agates. We gasped as we walked in, the golden, jeweled chalice glowed in the dark room. It was a grand sight, definitely a pilgrim moment.
We headed to our final destination for the night, Villar de Mazarife. There was a lovely new Albergue with a lawn to enjoy and a women’s only bathroom, a nice change from the coed ones.
The pilgrim’s meal in the basement was the best we have had with nice green salad, pumpkin soup, paella and a crepe for dessert. A happy ending to a very memorable day.
Alexandra had almost an IHOP breakfast of fried eggs, bacon, OJ and croissant and it made her very happy. We had 14 miles to go today with no towns for breaks.
The weather was perfect, cool with a light breeze. Just out of town we came to the old Roman road that went straight through the flat farm land. In the distance were tall snow capped mountains.
With no pilgrims in front or behind the quiet road became a meditation. Just me and the land.
Alexandra and I took a few breaks to rest and have the snack I bought the day before. It was after 2 before we finally came to a small town for a ham omelette sandwich and ice cream.
The last few miles were on a tree lined path parallel to the road. We were happy to finally get to the town of Manzilla de la Mulas which once had a big Mule market.
We found our Canadian friend and made plans for the next day and got some supplies and food for supper.
We stayed in the recommended Albergue in the center of town. The host was friendly and the courtyard full of clothes drying and relaxed people.
The Camino has become very popular over the last few years and although there is still a spiritual aspect much of it is more like adventure travel. I can best describe it as: a mobile international adult summer camp where drinking is allowed.
You make the Camino your own and it gives you what you came for and what you need. I have been very happy with the gifts I’ve received.