Camino Postcard 27: Santa Catalina de Somoza to Foncebadón

7.5.19
We woke up feeling capable and ready. Today, we would walk to the famous Cruz de Fierro, and then onwards to Acebo – 28 kilometres from start to finish.

Why Acebo? Tony was ahead of us and had sent a text message to say that the new albergue there was worth staying at.

As you might imagine, though, things didn’t quite work out as we had planned; Ellena wasn’t feeling great and my leg and back hurt. When we reached Foncebadón, I was given the choice of whether to continue or stop. My heart really wanted to continue, to walk through the pain and see the Cruz de Fierro and get a serious amount of kilometres under our belts. My head, however, was quite the opposite ‘Dude,’ he said to me, because yes, my head is from California, ‘come on; listen to yourself – literally; specifically, your leg. He needs a rest. And so does your back. Take it. Take it.’

Yes, my head speaks to me in Californian and bold. And a good job, too, because it made me take notice. I listened, and we stopped. And, dear reader, as you will find out tomorrow, it was just as well we did.

But let’s go back to the beginning of the day. We left Santa Catalina bright and early. Happily, a stretch of flat ground lay ahead. To get to the Cruz de Ferro, we would need to climb four hundred metres but that section of the path would not begin until we had passed Ganso, five kilometres down the road. Plenty of time to mentally and physically prepare for it.

I don’t remember much about the weather today, but I know that it was either damp or rained as my backpack is under its bright green waterproof cover in one of the photographs taken of me today. Because putting it on was such a higgledy-piggeldy operation, I only did so if I was absolutely sure that it was going to rain. Or if it had already started doing so.

Speaking of rain, did I tell you about my most awkward – and hence only – experience during the Camino of putting water proof trousers on?

Let me do so here. It was early on the first day, as I trudged along the Valcarlos route through the Pyrenees. The rain had started and was getting heavier so I decided to put the water proofs on. To do so, I stopped in the forecourt of someone’s farm house.

After making sure that no one was around, I pulled my wet proof trousers out of the backpack. At first, I tried to put them on without taking my boots off. Duh. All I managed to do there was make the inside of the water proofs dirty. So, I took each boot off and stood on one leg so that my sock didn’t get wet. The self-recrimination began. Why did I not do this earlier? It’s raining much too heavily now.

After pulling the water proof trousers on, I knelt down to lace my boots up again. I had trodden on one of them but despite that and the rain I had avoided getting my socks too wet, thank goodness. All’s well that ended well – just about.

Do you know this quotation? Let me know!

I was also relieved to be on my way because during the whole operation, I had been worried that the farmer would come out and tell me off for being on his property. Thankfully, though, he never did. Despite that, this had been an anxious and time consuming exercise. It convinced me that it shouldn’t be done again: the water proofs either had to come on at the start of the day if it was or looked like raining or not at all.

In Zubiri, I decided the latter should be the case and left them behind. My regular trousers were made for hiking. They should be able to deal with any rain.

This digression has given Ellena, Carolin and I time to walk through the countryside, past a very angry bull in the field on the opposite side of the road and an equally chilled out bull in the field on our side. It has given us time to arrive at a nice café where we threw off our backpacks and stopped for a break. The sky was still cloudy but now, thank goodness, no rain was forthcoming.

We walked through Rabanal where we saw a pilgrim with a beautiful service dog called Buddy. The buildings here, as so often in Spain, had really beautiful stonework.

Presently, we climbed a hill and came to the one street town of Foncebadón. Here, Ellena let me decide whether we should continue or stop. After I had decided on the latter, we checked in at a rustic albergue named the Monte Irago.

Our first choice of albergue at Foncebadón was a little too rustic even for us

As with one or two albergues before it, the Monte Irago’s dining room was in what would in a hotel be the reception area. There were three or four long-ish tables where the pilgrims could all sit together. I don’t recall seeing a dryer so after showering, I put my clothes out on a stone fence to dry. By now the sun had come out. It was also very breezy but there were plenty of stones lying about to put on top of the clothes. I just hoped that no opportunists would seize the moment.

There were only two down sides to the Monte Irago; one was that the bunk beds were fairly tightly packed together so moving around wasn’t as easy as it could have been. The other is that while the showers were blocked off from the dorm by a door, the door couldn’t be locked. If you stepped out of the shower to dry off, therefore, you were liable to have an unexpected and unwanted visitor. Unfortunately, the showers were not of a size to make drying yourself inside them very easy. With that said, it could be done, and if I was passing through Foncebadón again, I would definitely go back to this albergue.

Another place in Foncebadón that I would go back to is its one pizzeria – L’isola Che Non C’e: Neverland. The pizzas were absolutely mmmm! Delicious! As the pizzeria’s name suggests, the owners were big fans of Peter Pan. His imagery appeared inside:

and out:

The second star to the right

The two guys who ran the place were also very friendly. I highly recommend it to you.

We ate our pizzas just a couple of hours or so before tea time and so were still pretty full up when the hospitalera served tea at the Monte Irago. Carolin skipped the meal altogether and Ellena stayed only for a little while. I remained at table but did not try to eat too much. I did, however, have a lovely conversation with a Frenchman who, if I remember correctly, was walking the Camino in stages having started at a place called Le Puy.

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.