Camino Postcard 26: Astorga to Santa Catalina de Somoza

6.5.19
Today, we were unashamedly lazy – we did not leave the Hostal Coruña until after eleven o’clock in the morning. We were very comfortable in our hotel room and did not want to leave!

Such a late departure time would not have been possible in an albergue: there, pilgrims are required to leave by 8:30 or nine o’clock: the hospitaleros have to get the beds ready for the pilgrims who will be arriving later on. At a hotel, though, the rules are different, and we were happy to obey them.

After hauling ourselves out of bed, we trotted downstairs to the little hotel café for breakfast. I nearly left without paying but the vigilant hotelier was wise to my games. She probably knew that I had form for nonsense. I once left a pub in Primrose Hill without paying for my food – the barman had to chase me outside. In Siena, I left my wallet on the seat after paying and the waiter had to chase after me to let me know.

After paying up, we headed out of Astorga. The walk today was mostly along the roadside or within a close distance of it. Snow peaked mountains dominated the horizon ahead of us and it was another hot day.

At Murias de Rechivaldo the Camino path split. The left hand path turned away from the road, while the righthand path continued to follow it. I cannot remember at all which one we took. In my journal, I have noted that it was possibly today that Ellena met another dog – friendly, of course, because she knew it’s language and was a friend to it.

I say possibly because, of course, I wrote today’s diary entry a few days later and sometimes events shift around in one’s memory.

We arrived in Santa Catalina de Somoza whenever it was that we arrived – probably in the mid-afternoon given our late departure time from Astorga and its distance from the same (10 km).

After walking down a side street or two with high walls and bushes, past a church with a by now very familiar arched top, we stopped at an albergue for a beer and to decide where to stay the night. Why not here? Well, indeed, why not; so, we did. Here was the Albergue El Caminante. It was a lovely albergue with the café and dining area and dormitories being set around a central courtyard, which had a flower filled fountain at its centre (Photo above). We decided to stay at the El Caminante mainly because we were there. I imagine it’s prices were not too different to the albergue up the road as well. At least, I hope so.

We checked in. Carolin went to sleep. Ellena and I returned to our table. Not long later, we heard an interesting chattering sound. At first, we couldn’t locate its source but before long the owner was revealed to be two storks who had taken up residence on top of the church opposite the albergue. It was lovely listening to them speak to one another.

It was a windy afternoon and while we sat at our table – I used the time to drink beer and write notes for my Nicola Fixx book – the breeze blew over the parasol on someone’s table, which was diverting for all concerned: especially the people at the affected table.

Pals

At six o’clock in the evening, we ate the pilgrim’s meal in the dining room. We were rather blessed as other people who turned up to eat not long after us were turned away until seven o’clock. Like most pilgrim meals, this one was much of a muchness. The best that can be said about it is that it was food to keep you going rather than to admire, which, for a pilgrim, is really about as much as he can – or probably should – ask for.

To round the day off: I hung my clothes up to dry in the back yard on a line next to a very rustic looking rear exit from the albergue. I met the albergue cat and unsuccessfully tried to photograph him. A helicopter – or aeroplane? – flew overhead. That was notable because it was very rare to see or hear either on the Camino. Before we arrived in Santiago (via the airport) the only other occasion I remember seeing anything other than a bird flying above us was a small plane flying across some fields of the meseta.

Our dorm was tightly packed with bunks so there wasn’t much room for our backpacks. I put mine against the wall and hoped for the best (which happened; it didn’t get in anyone’s way). The place was packed with pilgrims so I had to wait outside the bathroom to make sure I got to the one shower before anyone else. That evening, we relaxed, and then rested. It was good.

Camino Postcard 25: Santibañez de Valdeiglesia to Astorga

5.5.19
Today was, I think, the first day on the Camino that we did no walking whatsoever. Ellena was unwell so the hospitalero in Santibañez kindly called a taxi to take us to Astorga.

While we waited for it to arrive, we said goodbye to Tony – he was heading on by foot. We didn’t know it at the time but this would be the last occasion that we saw him on the Camino.

Astorga was ten or so kilometres away – a morning’s walk on foot but less than an hour by car. Before we knew it, therefore, we were sitting in the seating area of a rather ornate hotel drinking coffee, looking up albergues on-line.

The Palacio Episcopal in Astorga

In the end, we decided to stay at a nearby cheap hotel – the Hostal Coruña on the av. de Ponferrada – nearby was important so that Ellena didn’t have to walk too far. We also wanted a little extra privacy.

We checked in and found our room. Ellena and Carolin settled down to rest. I went in search of food, and a cash machine. Surely there would be one in this town?

Off I went, enjoying the sight of the countryside and distant mountains until I turned left and found a church, which I decided to pop into. There, I found Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament exposed. That was a bit of a treat, so I knelt down and prayed before Him. I prayed for Ellena and, yes, a cash machine. Laugh when you have gone three days on the Camino without money and have had to rely on the kindness of people with not much more than you. I also gave some thanks because twice during this Camino when I had run out of money and not been able to find a cash machine, including at Santibañez, Tony had lent me some of his.

After saying my prayers, I left the church to resume my search. Along the way, I ran into Lillian. I told her about my quest and she offered to lend me some money as well. The miracle of the Camino: being so kind to people you barely know. Lillian and Tony were very kind indeed. Thanks to Tony in Santibañez, however, I didn’t need any more money at the moment, but I told Lillian I would let her know if no cash machine was forthcoming.

Off I went, and not long later – a cash machine! Two cash machines! Three! Hold on, there’s a fourth!! All within spitting distance of each another. Wow.

I withdrew as much money as the machine would let me then went in search of my second target: a supermarket. Today was a Sunday so many of the shops were closed; Lillian, however, had found one and gave me directions to it. As much by accident as by design – remember I am Malcolm the Bad Navigator – I found it and bought some supplies for the afternoon.

After returning to the hotel, it was my turn to rest for a while. Later, we watched The Fugitive in Spanish, and in the evening, I went to a local pizza restaurant to buy our tea.

The pizzas that we ate on the Camino were generally okay to good; I think there were only two or three had were really good. I’m sorry I didn’t write down where I ate them – another reason to do the Camino Francés again!

After finishing our food, we settled down for the evening. Rest was the order of the day; rest, and recuperation.

Camino Postcard 24: San Martin del Camino to Santibañez de Valdeiglesia

4.5.19
Today was a hot day and a short day – we were on the road for less than three hours. I can’t remember why we stopped so early but illness or the desire for a break are the most probable answers.

The highlight of today’s walk was a very long medieval bridge that took us from one end of Hospital De Órbigo to the other.

By the way, just in case you were thinking ‘That MJM, he’s a good chap’, I did intend to text message my family and say ‘I am in Hospital… de Orbigo.’. And not only once but on the two or so occasions that we came to a town with that name. I never did but that was only because I forgot (or God had mercy and clouded my memory).

Anyway, the long bridge was called the Puente de Órbigo. According to Brierley, it was built in the 1200s. Here it is:

I’m guessing that in the Middle Ages, the rio Órbigo stretched from where I stood to take this photograph to the buildings at the far end. Or maybe the field existed then and the bridge also functioned as a kind of grandstand for any tournaments happening there? Or maybe it was a working field and I’m completely wrong. The latter is most likely.

Anyway, at the other end of the bridge, immediately on the left, was a hotel called Don Suero de Quiñones; we stopped at its café-bar for a break. There was a plug in the wall next to our table, which was a great mercy as I needed to recharge my portable phone battery.

In Praise of Portable Phone Batteries
There are people who say that you shouldn’t take your ‘phone with you on the Camino. But if you do, and it is a smartphone, I thoroughly recommend taking a portable battery as well. It is extra weight but it is also piece of mind. I found that on the Camino my phone used up its battery with alacrity. That may have been because it was nearly two years old. Or because – unbeknownst to me apps were running in the background. Or because it was forever trying to find a signal in the countryside. Whatever the reason, the portable battery ensured that if I needed the phone for an emergency or, as happened, to plan the way ahead or find an albergue, the phone would be there for me.

We sat down in the Don Suero with Lillian, with whom we had been walking. When we got up again, I kept a look out for a cash machine – I still hadn’t found one. I didn’t have to wait long: a few seconds up the road, one magically appeared out of the mist, like the sword in the lake—

Okay, it was a hot day and there was no mist, but come on. I strode over to the cash machine like a knight about to fight a duel only to find that my adversary refused to fight me. Which is another way of saying that the cash machine had no money in it. Severely disappointed in the Spanish banking system, I withdrew with such dignity as I still had in me.

A statue and an Ellena in Villares de Órbigo

We kept moving. Possibly in Villares de Órbigo we bought pizza slices. I say we, I mean Ellena and Carolin. Ellena kindly bought me one and I happily and appreciatively nommed my way through it.

Minutes later, we were back in the countryside. Our path took us up a gentle incline. I remember feeling wary when we passed a motorbike rider who had stopped ahead of us to drink from a fountain. There was something about him I didn’t like. More likely, though, is that I had taken an irrational dislike to him and now feared him. Silly, really. We passed him without bother and went on our way. May God’s peace and protection from irrational idiots like me rest upon him.

We walked along a gravel path that had a golden hue under the bright blue sky. Presently, we rejoined the road, and began walking up a hill. It didn’t last long, however, and soon the path began to slope. Along the way, another motorbike rider stopped just ahead of us and disappeared into his house.

Funnily enough, I didn’t fear this man. And actually, I immediately fell in love with his motorbike. There is something about the kind of motorbikes where you sit back with your legs forward that – now I think about it – I find very attractive. Maybe it’s the rider’s posture which makes him look laid back and carefree; in short, cool? Or maybe it’s a mixture of the gleam of the sun on the bike’s muscular metal body, his sitting position, his leathers and sunglasses which give him an air of power, strength, nobility, purpose and sexiness?

Whatever the answer, I inevitably thought of Bon Jovi’s reference to steel horses in Wanted Dead or Alive. This also upped the bike’s, and it’s owner’s, cool rating.

Reluctantly, I left the bike behind and caught up with Ellena and Carolin. Not long later, we arrived in Santibañez. Our first choice albergue had not yet opened. Too disappointed to simply wait for it to do so, we went back down the road to another one that had a café. There, we drank beer in the sun. At some point, Tony arrived and joined us. As always, he brought new life to our group.

The albergue we stayed at was called the Albergue Camino Francés and was a pretty nice place. The café was on the ground floor, the dorms on the first – they were quite small without being too small. Ours had about six bunks and plenty of space in the centre of the room to walk about (not always the case). I think we had our own plugs, too (also not always the case).

Best of all, the albergue had its own knight.

Imagine riding your steel horse in that armour!

Camino Postcard 23: Valverde to San Martin del Camino

3.5.19
Before writing this post, I consulted my journal to remind myself of what happened today. My entry is eight lines long and was written nine days after the event.

Unfortunately, it is the beginning of the end for my journal, for after catching up with the entries from 3rd to 9th May, I stopped writing it. We arrived in Santiago on 16th May so the last week’s blog posts will have to be written from memory and using Instagram, which I managed to update for the duration of the Camino.

***

Today, we took our leave of Valverde and set off down the road (side). We walked for just under three hours before arriving in San Martin del Camino where we decided to stop.

The journey to San Martin was unspectacular – our path was sandwiched between the road and fields with hardly any variation. I don’t say this from memory but the witness of my photographs. After the first few days of the Camino, I started to take more and more; the only days when I didn’t was if the path was monotonous. Today, I only took 15 photos, relatively few for me, so that tells me that there wasn’t much to see. The storks in the photograph below were an exception. It was always heart raising to see them in their nests, built on tall ruins or atop churches.

I regret very much not keeping up with my journal – I’m pretty sure that when we set out, we didn’t intend to stop at San Martin but I can’t remember where our original destination was meant to be: Hospital del Orbigo and Santibanez de Valdeigleisia are in my mind but why?

Actually, Santibanez is where we walked to tomorrow so that’s probably why – did we mean to go there today, though, but were waylaid by illness or the heat?

The weather was very hot and when we arrived in San Martin, the albergue had a little swimming pool. Unfortunately, it was too early in the year to use it.

Not to worry, quoth I, a shower will do.

Yeeeah. About the shower. Naturally, you would expect the men’s and women’s showers to be behind closed doors. At this albergue, though, there were no doors. Once you stepped out of the shower unit, anyone walking down the corridor could see you. While this was not ideal, there was – at least – room in the shower to hang one’s towel and clothes up away from the shower tap and so dry off and get dressed before stepping out into full view of passers-by.

If the albergue showers were a bit of a let down, the albergue cat was not. He wandered about at will and was happy to accept strokes from Ellena. Our dorm was a small one with four bunk beds, all of which were taken. We thought we would have trouble with one woman who had starey eyes and asked with a bit too much purpose if the lights would come on at six o’clock tomorrow morning but in the end she didn’t turn them on and left before everyone else with admirable quietness.

The only other thing of note to happen today is that I ran out of money. Ellena and I went in search of a cash machine in San Martin but found nothing. The Camino is a cash economy so I was very fortunate that Ellena paid for me until I was able to refund her – either directly or, as usually happened, by paying for things for her.

Oh yes, I just remembered one other thing: Ellena thought she lost her I.D. card (or was it her pilgrim’s passport?); either way, a frantic search followed that led to the miscreant’s discovery. I can’t tell you how scary it was whenever you couldn’t find your passport (or I.D.) or credencial. In different ways, losing them were potential Camino killers. I mislaid my wallet and pilgrim’s passport once or twice and had my heart in my mouth until I found them again.

Camino Postcard 22: León to Valverde

2.5.19
On our way out of León, we met a tired pilgrim. Despite his condition, he was kind enough to pose for a photograph with Ellena and Carolin,

I asked him if he liked any sports, and to my surprise he said he was a fan of cricket. Who wouldn’t be? The pilgrim took my hat:

As for León, it took us into Trabajo del Camino. Here, we passed through an ugly industrial estate and on into La Virgen del Camino. In La Vergen, I had to stop due to back ache on my left side; actually, the muscles there were stiffening up, making turning my back a little awkward. Ellena once more proved her quality (just like Faramir) and lightened my load by taking my sleeping bag.

You would be forgiven for thinking that the loss of a sleeping bag would not change things very much as it is very light but on this day it really did make the difference. Mine was not one of those light sleeping bags that some pilgrims carry. My back would not get better again until I came home (and no longer had to carry a backpack) but while it would never be quite well again, so’s to speak, I was able to manage it – and carry the sleeping bag.

It was another hot day as we passed a bunch of cyclists taking a drinks break. We met a Canadian man who was walking the Camino with his wife. Alas, she wasn’t with him – injury had forced her to take a bus to their next destination. Fortunately, though, she would get better and we’d meet them both not long after leaving Sarria. We also met an excited group of guard dogs, and their altogether calmer mother; Ellena made friends with one of the dogs who licked her happily.

How did they get up there?

Presently, we came to an albergue just outside Valverde. It was on the side of the road but had a lovely garden with hammocks, a round table and even a bed. Inside, the dining-living room was very rustic and homely. This albergue was on the more expensive end of the scale, being 10 or 15 euros to stay at but the bed was comfortable, the food was good, and at the end of lunch and tea, they gave us shots. Shots!

Did I say shots?

not even remotely sorry

At lunch I had a grappa. Pure joy. In the evening, I gave my liver a break and had one of the gentler spirits.

Ha – ‘giving my liver a break’ – drinks another shot.

Anyway, at one of the meals I happened to say that I had finished drinking alcohol and was ‘going back to agua’. Ellena and Carolin started laughing. Why? Why?? They told me to think about about what I had said. I repeated it to myself slowly. Nope. I could find no puns. But they had – Ellena thought I had said I was going ‘back to viagra‘.

wut

someone doth
too much

I am a strong, confident man; I do not need viagra.

protest

In the afternoon, we enjoyed a nice rest in the hammocks. I hung my clothes up to dry and tried to walk across pebbles in bare feet. Ouch! A quick retreat followed. In the evening, we retired to the dorm. One poor pilgrim would sleep in the living room that night due to a nasty cough that she had acquired.

Camino Postcard 21: Calzada del Coto to León

1.5.19
Ninth and last day on the Meseta

Actually, we probably left the meseta days ago but I haven’t yet got round to finding out where it officially ends. I’ll try and do that anon.

When we left Calzada del Coto, the sun was rising in the east. My attempt, below, to photograph it is much too dark. Perhaps I was trying to take a chiaroscuro picture. Or maybe I just don’t know how to adjust the iPhone’s photograph settings. You decide.

By the way – the iPhone. Suck it up, Apple.

We got walking, but not very far – Ellena was unwell. At the first opportunity, we stopped and called a taxi to take us to León.

How far did we walk? About five kilometres – from Calzada del Coto to an albergue just outside the town of Bercianos del Real Camino. It would have been better had we been able to stop earlier, but there was nowhere to do so: the path took us either through the countryside or along the roadside, away from anywhere that we could stop.

Unfortunately, I can’t remember the name of the albergue that we stopped at. That’s a shame, because the barman there was very kind in calling the taxi for us. In fact, all the people who called taxis for us along the way were really kind. I ask God for His blessing upon them.

We had a brief breakfast at the albergue while we waited for the taxi to arrive. I also took a photograph the lovely decoration, above. Scallop shells were a very comforting sight on the Camino. Actually, they remain so today. They are a sign of something different and better. Thank you, St. James.

The taxi arrived and whizzed us to León. Our drive removed two stages of the Camino Francés and so eased our muscles, money and time worries considerably. It helped us, therefore, in a very substantial way, to finish the whole journey.

At León, we stopped for a coffee and set about finding an albergue. It wasn’t easy. The two closest to us were both closed – yes, it was still early, but I wonder if May Day played a role. So we wandered about, passing a pilgrim paying for their way by busking, passed the city’s beautiful cathedral, a square where a rock band was getting ready to play, and sundry bars and cafés before stopping to eat outside another bar. There, we went online and found another albergue down a side street. Better than nothing.

We used Google Maps to find the side street. If I am ever given an epithet, it will never be Malcolm the Navigator. Malcolm the Bad Navigator, perhaps, because if there is a way to misread the map, I will find it. Despite this, we eventually came to the albergue.

Hand to the door, and pu— no! The door’s locked! Damnit. Will we ever find somewhere to stay? But hold on, what is Ellena saying? She’s looking through the window and can see someone sitting at a desk. A woman. The hospitalera? Who’s going to knock and get her attention? Rap rap rap. Time to play hapless pilgrim!

The woman came to the door. And the very first thing she did was point to the doorbell. Well, thank you, lady, but as you’ll see there are several doorbells and ALL OF THEM ARE UNMARKED.

No, I didn’t say that – I didn’t even think it until later. It was, however an inauspicious beginning. Fortunately, things got better – much better – very quickly. We wanted a private room: the lady gave us a four bed room and promised that she wouldn’t give the fourth bed to anyone else. She also gave us a little map of the city and showed us various places where we could eat. In so doing, she told us about the Spanish tradition (?) of giving customers free tapas when they buy a drink.

We took our room, dumped our backpacks, showered and rested. After a couple of hours, I was ready to go and take a few photographs. Ellena came with me.

RULE BRITANNIA etc etc

We wended our way round the tight León streets until somehow, magically, we ended up at a Kentucky Fried Chicken. The fact that we had seen this one on the way into town and that Ellena is fond of eating there back home is purely coincidental. I have instructed my lawyers to take action against anyone who says otherwise.

I never eat at KFC so this visit was quite an experience for me. I have to say, I rather enjoyed it.

Manynoms and good conversation but eventually a return home.

It was just as well we ate at KFC because we tried and failed to find a bar to eat a pilgrim’s meal later on. It wasn’t that they weren’t there but we timed our search badly – we looked too early when a lot of the bars were not yet open. Thanks to a newsagents, we managed to pick up some snacks and so we took these back to the albergue. In the evening, we relaxed with clips of The Hobbit on You Tube. I saw the first of the three Hobbit films in the cinema and disliked it intensely. Watching the clips, however, melted my heart somewhat. The best clip, however, was this, er, deleted scene:

Since coming home, I have watched the first two Hobbit pictures and – although they are not in the same league as The Lord of the Rings trilogy – enjoyed them much more than I expected.

Camino Postcard 20: Moratinos to Calzada del Coto

30.4.19
Day Eight on the Meseta

This morning we walked along the roadside and came across a possibly fake quotation from Socrates (below).

Further on, we met two doggos taking a stroll down the road – literally. It’s a good job it was empty. One was Very Large and the other Moderately So. Very Large Doggo was mum, and Moderately So her son.

If I remember correctly, mum had an injury – unfortunately, I can’t remember if it was a current or past one; hopefully, Ellena will mention it on her blog here.

If you have read the previous entries in this series, you will know that Ellena understands the language of dogs. She was able, therefore, to gain mother dog’s trust and pet her.

After enjoying Ellena’s company for a few minutes the dogs moved on to – who knows where? Hopefully nowhere near the work men that were shooing them on just before they joined us. Spain is a funny country like that: she loves her canines but we saw quite a few strays and injured dogs along the way.

Speaking of the dogs, just as they joined us, we were passed by another pilgrim who had a dog phobia. She used us as a shield before moving swiftly on! If only she had watched Ellena, though, she would have seen that if you treat dogs in the right way, there is really nothing to worry about.

***

Today, we reached the official halfway point of the Camino Francés – Sahagun. We entered the city in the company of another pilgrim who cleared up the question of whether or not river water is safe to drink: in short, no; it may have been polluted by animals. It’s a good job I didn’t give in to temptation on the Valcarlos route. If I had walked the Napoleon route, however, and eaten the snow, that would have been fine.

Statue on the way into Sahagun (there was another like it behind me)

In Sahagun we made our way to the Monasterio y Museo de Santa Cruz where we received our halfway compostelas (below). We had to pay a few euros for these but given the quality of the ink and paper it seemed a fair deal.

What to say about the monasterio y museo? We saw much of the latter but little of the former. The church was entirely given over to the exhibition within; I assumed then, and believe now, that it must have been deconsecrated.

As for the exhibition – it was a real curate’s egg. I imagine there are people who would have been impressed by the indictment of Man’s behaviour in the full-on photographs of people around the world suffering from man made and natural disasters, and the mummified body, and contemporary art but I wasn’t. There were old books on display which were nice to look at but on the whole I was glad to leave the place.

We left Sahagun and made our way down a roadside path out of town. It was another hot day. As a result, we only walked a few more kilometres to Calzada del Coto. Here, we stayed at a donativo albergue. This meant that there was no set price for our beds but just what we could afford to give. I took the opportunity to get rid of all my spare change, which amounted to five or six euros.

Bull fighting mementos in the bar where we ate dinner

There was one dorm, which was stuffed to the rafters with bunk beds. My bed was very stiff, which raised fears in me that it would hurt my back (when I was 18, I visited my relatives in Canada and we had to cut short a visit to a friend’s house there after their stiff bed hurt my back so badly after one night). Fortunately, however, all would be well this time round.

I slept on the bottom bunk, underneath a woman who couldn’t stop moving and then told us to shh later on. I made sure I spoke louder for a few minutes after that.

Camino Postcard 19: Calzadilla de la Cueza to Moratinos

29.4.19
Day Seven on the Meseta

For a few kilometres after leaving Calzadilla de la Cueza today, we were silent pilgrims. Perhaps Ellena was still feeling the effects of last night’s pain. As she was the glue that held the group together, we were fractured without her.

We kept walking. ln my journal, I have noted that although we were still on the meseta the path was a bit more varied than yesterday. I then spoil the effect somewhat by adding ‘Well, there were a couple of elevations, anyway’. Insert facepalming emoji here.

We came to a little town named Ledigos. There, we saw a sign that said ‘373,870 Kms a Santiago’. After what seemed a very long time, we were now less than 400 kilometres away from our ultimate destination! This knowledge was a great psychological boost. And what it also meant was that we were now definitely over half-way there. Sahagun may be the official half-way point, but we had now walked over half of the Camino.

We stopped at a café for breakfast. Not long after our arrival, Colleen walked in, as did Tony – he had stayed behind at Calzadilla this morning to tend to his blistered foot.

After we left Ledigos, the group spread out. Ellena walked ahead with Tony. I tried to keep up with them but could not. My leg was feeling better after yesterday but was not up to matching Tony’s pace. I remembered some wise advice that Colleen had given me about walking the Camino at my own pace and started to do just that. The day immediately got better.

Along the way, I saw an albergue named after Jacques de Morlay, the last Grand Master of the Templar Knights. As well as winning (and losing) the Holy Land, the Templars also provided places of refuge and rest for pilgrims to Santiago so he has a good place in my books.

Carolin and I also saw a cat on the prowl, which was a very neat sight.

As we walked, we also saw a very strange sight – doors appearing in the side of mounds. What were these – hobbit holes?

A concrete path took us into Moratinos. Embedded in it were, of course, paw prints. A lovely, funny sight!

Ahead of us and to the left, at the bottom of the incline was our albergue. Well, not ours yet – we neither owned nor had pre-booked it – but it was the one where we would soon decide to stay for the rest of the day and overnight. Ahead of us and to the right was a hill with more doors running around their side.

Fortunately, they did not look evil (moor doors > Mordors > Mordor – geddit? I’m here all week)

After checking in and relaxing with a beer, Ellena and I investigated the hill more closely. Here is the sign we saw:

We both laughed. I was, and remain, impressed at the extent of Tolkien’s cultural influence.

During the course of the afternoon, we met up with Lillian again. Tony, who had walked with us from Ledigos, decided to keep going. The albergue dorm was very small – there were just three bunk beds in our room. As Moratinos was not the end of the stage, relatively few pilgrims stayed here overnight; as a result, Ellena, Carolin and I almost had the room to ourselves. The only other person to share it with us was Lillian.

Today, I received good news from home – my friend E. who suffered two serious bouts of bad health last year sent me a text to say that he had just received a promotion. He is a police officer, and had to sit the promotion exam just after the second bout, when I and others were telling him to forget about it and relax. After spending all summer revising? he said, No way! I was ever so pleased for him as he is a natural police officer and the Met need people like him as high up as possible.

Back at Moratinos, Carolin and I ate dinner while Ellena rested – she was not feeling well enough to eat a full meal; we took her something to eat and drink later. As Carolin was not a confident English speaker, and I couldn’t speak German, we used Google Translate to speak to each other. It was every bit as cheesy as you might think but funny all the same.

Camino Postcard 18: Carrión de los Condes to Calzadilla de la Cueza

28.4.19
Day Six on the Meseta

This was a tough day to walk, and is a tough day to talk about. The two key words for it are sore and monotonous.

I was sore; or rather, my right leg was. I should have taken ibuprofen for it but didn’t. That was a mistake and robbed me of such enjoyment as I could have taken from the monotonous walk.

So, about that. The path cut a straight line through the fields of the meseta. As far as I remember, deviations only occurred when it sometimes dipped or rose according to the contours of the land.

With all that said, however, the morning – for we arrived in Calzadilla de la Cueza around midday – was not without its charm.

As we walked through Carrión at the start of the day, we stopped for a quick second breakfast. We ate doughnuts that we had bought yesterday. This led to much posing like Kate Winslet in Titanic on the sitting stones nearby.

Won’t you draw me like one of your French pilgrims

mmmm you sexy beast.

Ahem.

Moving swiftly on – one reason we bought the doughnuts was to insure ourselves against failure to find anywhere to eat later on. Fortunately, however, we found two cafés along the meseta path. One was a van-café, and the other a stand next to a crumbly shed. We stopped here.

While we ate, Ellena played with a dog the size of a very big dog that I would never have dreamed of going near in case it bit my whole leg off. She, of course, had no fear about playing with this mighty beast. And no wonder, it was very well behaved and frankly a bit of a goofball.

As you can see from the photograph above, we saw mountains in the distance today. Well, not just today, but anyway – Someone asked us if they were the Pyrenees. Woe to us if they had been as it would have meant that we had managed to walk in a circle over the last two weeks.

It’s funny, though, how – in the absence of a map – our sense of place can suffer so badly. Did you know that when Alexander the Great was in Afghanistan, he thought he was not far from Europe?

But let me not laugh at the person who thought these mountains were the Pyrenees as I have to admit I have no idea what this mountain range is called. Please leave a comment if you know.

We left the lovely, goofy Huge Dog behind and continued walking – straight on, under the sun, no cover, drinking our water,

slog

slog

slog

until we walked over a crest and saw a hamlet ahead of us – Calzadilla de la Cueza. It was a blessed sight.

Calzadilla ahoy

Two albergues greeted us as soon as we entered the hamlet. We picked one, dumped our backpacks and joined our friends outside for a beer.

Later on, a photograph was taken of me sleeping. I look very silly in it – yes, even more than normal, thank you for saying – and so the photograph has been deposited in a bank vault for all eternity. I took a photograph of Lillian and Tony looking like mafiosi. It’s one of my favourite Camino pictures as you could not meet two more unmafiosi like people. What can I say, but that I like a cheeky juxtaposition from time to time.

Our albergue didn’t make meals so in the evening we all descended upon a hotel dining room to eat. I met Colleen from Montana again, who rescued me on the first day with a bottle of water, and Alex from Bavaria who I think I also met that day with another German fellow – the latter had since left his company. One pilgrim went missing halfway through their meal, never to be seen again (that night, anyway, and only by me, as far as I remember) and the rest of us had a very pleasant time. Well, to a point (Lord Copper): Ellena was struck by pain later on and another part of my dodgy front tooth broke off today. The larger part of it remained intact but would the rest survive the rest of the pilgrimage? (Narrator: Yes, it did).

Wait. What. How did this get here???

Camino Postcard 17: Población de Campos to Carrión de los Condes

27.4.19
Day Five on the Meseta

We left La Finca behind and began walking. It was another hot day, and Población was another sleepy Spanish town. Spaniards simply do not do mornings.

Further up the road, we stopped at a café-albergue that promised ‘Paradise Without WiFi’. I’d love to be able to speak approvingly of this, of how good it was to be freed from the chains of communication but I’m neither a hipster or a hippie and love my WiFi so can’t.

This café-albergue was certainly a paradise for hippies and hipsters – it has very ramshackle, had a farm attached (I saw some cute asses there; now let’s talk about the donkeys frnarrrrrr) and the rooms were tents. They weren’t called tents but had a particular hippy name that I can’t remember.

Anyway, it was also a very friendly environment. Inside the café itself, pilgrims were encouraged to leave messages on the side of the counter or on the wall. Many had done so. So did I. I could have written an appropriately inspirational message but instead chose to write something facetious about Alexander the Great that nobody but me would understand and which thankfully I forgot to photograph.

While at the café, we met George from Seattle. He was in good spirits despite the fact that his husband had given up on the Camino and returned home – walking was not for him.

Tony had left La Finca ahead of us so at this point, and indeed until we arrived in Carrión, it was just Ellena, Carolin and myself together.

We left Paradise Without WiFi and continued up the road. The Meseta continued to roll by. Our path took us along the roadside and we saw a sign saying ‘Santiago 464 [km]’ which meant that we had now walked about half distance from St Jean Pied de Port to Santiago. As I think I mentioned before, despite being called the French Route, the start of this particular Way is regarded by the Spanish as being at Roncesvalles, which meant that we would not receive our halfway compostelas until we arrived in the town of Sahagun in three days time.

Upon a moment we arrived in Carrión de los Condes, and there we checked in at an albergue in a former (?) covent. The dorms at the Espiritu Santo were named after the continents and contained single beds – no bunks again, which sore legs greatly appreciated. I slept under a beautiful wood icon of Our Lady (below), which more than made up for the cheesier Catholic artworks in the vicinity.

To its credit, the Espiritu Santo had a chapel, although it was no more than an altar and cushions. However, the Blessed Sacrament was reserved there, which immediately made it the most important place in the building.

After ditching our backpacks and showering down, we went out for a beer. I lost over a stone walking the Camino yet still drank beer every day. No wonder I enjoyed myself so much.

To celebrate the fact that we had, or were about to, walk half distance we took a stroll into town to buy a congratulatory present for ourselves. Ellena and Carolin chose matching bracelets. I bought the necklace that you can see below in imitation of the one that Martin Sheen’s character wears at the end of The Way.

While in Carrión we met Tony again. On his recommendation, we ate tea/dinner at a fish restaurant. On the way there, he had to make a pitstop at the local pharmacy to get help for his poor blistered foot. Tony is a powerful walker but it’s amazing that he could walk at all on that foot. The blister was huge and, of course, open.

Afterwards, we strolled happily back to the Espiritu Santo. In the large courtyard there we met a certain someone smoking a joint. Well, I suppose a religious house is a place for ecstasies.