Day 41 (October 20, 2015) – 14.6 km., La Portela de Valcarce to O’Cebreiro

Here we are in the quaint “hobbit hamlet” of O’Cebreiro, perched on a high mountain ridge in Galicia, Spain. It is like being in a time-warp to an uncomplicated past, when people lived in stone houses with thatched roofs. O’Cebreiro is constantly pummeled by some of the most fierce weather in Spain, but we are fortunate to be enjoying glorious sunshine. Even though it is sunny, it is cold, so once again we are grateful for the warm jackets we bought in Astorga.

We knew that today’s climb would be one of the most strenuous of the whole journey, particularly the last 8 km. Whether or not we would get to enjoy the spectacular scenery depended completely on the weather. The mountains we would be climbing are the first thing that the westerly winds from the Atlantic hit, often resulting in rain showers and thick mountain fog. We encountered rain for the previous two days and didn’t want more of the same. We were in luck to wake up to clear skies. Continue reading

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Day 40 (October 19, 2015) – 15.5 km., Villafranca del Bierzo to La Portela de Valcarce

Today is a prelude to tomorrow, so there isn’t a whole lot to write about. There were three routes to choose from when leaving Villafranca. The Camino Dragonte is the longest, most arduous, and also the most spectacular. The Ruta Pradela is the recommended route because of the wonderful views back over Villafranca. The Ruta Carretera is the easiest one, snaking its way alongside the main road and following the river valley.

Because Dave’s back had been bothering him, he planned to take the easiest route, Ruta Carretera. I would take the more scenic Ruta Pradela. Dave and I would meet at Trabadelo, 11.7 km. from Villafranca. Our plans changed when we woke up to steady rain and mist. It would have been a wasted effort to take the Ruta Pradela, because there would be no wonderful views to enjoy. Continue reading

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Day 39 (October 18, 2015) – 23.4 km., Ponferrada to Villafranca del Bierzo

All the previous times we said “This was the hardest day ever!” weren’t true. THIS was the hardest! What possessed us to walk all the way to Villafranca del Bierzo when we could have walked just 15.5 km and stayed in Cacabelos?

Cacabelos was an important medieval pilgrim halt with five hospices founded for the care of pilgrims. We could have used their services and then, when we got our aches and pains healed, we could have checked out the town’s attractions. There is an archaeological museum with artifacts from nearby Roman settlements and a wine museum celebrating the increasingly popular wines from the Bierzo area. Checking out the vino tinto is one of our favourite things to do, and we passed it by. Drats! Another opportunity we missed was to take a detour to the Monasterio de San Salvador de Carrecedo located in a beautiful and very peaceful landscape just 3 km from Cacabelos. Continue reading

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Day 38 (October 17, 2015) – 17 km., Acebo to Ponferrada

Yesterday’s climb through the pass of Irago to the highest point of our journey, Cruz de Ferro, was easy. The sun was shining, the temperature was just right, and the mountain views across the Turienzo valley towards Monte El Teleno were spectacular. Red heather and purple crocuses were blooming and little blackberries were still good enough to eat, unlike the shrivelled ones at lower altitudes. Continue reading

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Day 37 (October 16, 2015) – 17 km., Rabanal del Camino to Acebo

If the Camino taught me anything today, it was about letting go of expectations. Today we headed out of Rabanal and through the pass of Irago to the highest point of our whole journey: Cruz de Ferro. “This majestic spot stands 1,504 meters above sea level. A simple iron cross stands atop a weathered pole that has become one of the abiding symbols of the Camino de Santiago. This is where traditionally people pause to reconnect with the purpose of their journey before adding a stone or other token of love and blessing to the great pile that is witnesses to our collective journeying.” That is what we read in the Camino guidebook and what I expected. Continue reading

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Day 36 (October 15, 2015) – 21.4 km., Astorga to Rabanal del Camino

Today’s walk was scenic and peaceful, so it was hard to believe something tragic took place here recently. It was and still might be dangerous. On April 4th a 41-year-old American woman, Denise Thiem, went missing when she was walking the Camino between Astorga and Rabanal del Camino. In the months following her disappearance, women were advised to be vigilant, to walk in pairs through this stretch, to stay on the main Camino trail, and to avoid the 4.8 km alternate route which leads through the village of Castrillo de los Polvazares. When we set out this morning, we didn’t know if the whereabouts of Denise or (the worst-case scenario – her body) had been discovered yet. Months ago I had written “DANGER” on the map for this section and knew we had to be cautious. Continue reading

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Day 35 (October 14, 2015) – 0 km., Astorga

Today we walked nowhere and instead spent the day preparing for the rest of our journey to Santiago. If we keep to our schedule, we will arrive there in 15 days – that is as long as Dave doesn’t try to fit himself into another four-foot bathtub again and cause another injury! Continue reading

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Day 34 (October 13, 2015) – 16.6 km., Hospital de Orbigo to Astorga

It isn’t an ordinary day when you can spend time at “The House of the Gods!” It is a little oasis before Astorga where you can help yourself to food and drink for free. You can drop a donation in a tin if you wish, but it isn’t necessary. It is another thing on our Camino bucket list that was checked off today. We had made a note to look for “The House of the Gods” after Astorga, something our daughter Tania recommended. We didn’t realize until talking to Suzie that this place and the one Tania told us about were one and the same. Continue reading

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Day 33 (October 12, 2013) – 14.6 km., Villar de Mazarife to Hospital de Orbigo

Today’s “Camino moment” could have been an opportunity for us to learn more about what makes us tick and fix it. At the very least, we could have improved our attitude; instead, all we wanted to do was escape. We definitely were not happy campers! Actually being “happy campers” in the literal sense might have been preferable. More about that later!

Last night’s dinner at the albergue in Villar de Mazarife (salad, gazpacho, vegetarian paella, crepes with whipping cream and a strawberry) followed by Pepe’s queimada ritual was one of the highlights of our journey so far. After Tania told us about the queimada ritual she experienced two years ago, we put it at the top of our Camino bucket list. We knew it would be by chance that we would get to experience it; it isn’t something you can plan on, make a reservation for, or order. Now the questions are: Can we bring Orujo Gallego (the primary ingredient) home? What are the prerequisites for learning the incantations to keep the evil spirits at bay? Do we have to be Spanish or will a Spanish name do? Continue reading

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Day 32 (October 11, 2015) – 22.2 km., Leon to Villar de Mazarife

The luxurious Hostal San Marcos in Leon was worth a splurge. Maybe next time! This stunning building was built in the 16th century as a convent, but the building also has a dark history. During Spain’s 1936-39 civil war, thousands of opponents of the future dictator Francisco Franco were imprisoned there and many were killed. This hotel might be better known as the one where Tom and his three friends stayed in the movie, “The Way.” As non-paying guests, we weren’t allowed to wander through the halls of the hotel, but we were able to have a quick peek at the impressive lobby, adjoining rooms, and beautiful stairway. Continue reading

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