On the road again

It is now Wednesday, 1/16, and Robin and I are carefully threading our way down the ice encrusted streets of Ponferrada towards the bridge that will take us out of town and down the Camino Invierno. It is early (8:30) and the temperature is 28 F. It is a new beginning and we are simply enjoying it. The city, at this hour, is quite still. The residents seem to be opting for a few more minutes of pillow time rather than rushing out into the cold morning air. Pilgrims, on the other hand, just figure out the kit of the day and off they go, notwithstanding rain or shine or whatever might fall in between. And so we too follow suit. We are in the habit of carrying the bare minimum, at least as far as we understand it, and enjoy not being overstuffed. Walking any Camino forces you to mange your time and your stuff, and we just happen to like that pared down approach. So down we went quietly and gingerly picking our way through the odd patches of ice towards the river Sil, which will be our companion for the next several days as we move along the Camino Invierno to Santiago.

The cold, dry morning air encouraged us to set a good pace as we moved out of the city and into the countryside. We went up through vineyards, and more vineyards (not complaining, as vineyards hold a very special place in my heart). We were alone in our frosted world counting the crunch of footfalls into the rime frozen trail. We moved along step by step, and then kilometer by kilometer as we gained elevation towards the high ground of the Castillo Cornatel, the literal and figurative high ground for today’s stage. As we moved along it was easy to notice the stark contrast to last January’s walk. A year ago it was all brilliant sunshine and views to the horizon. Today it was more sepulchral. There was no wind so the many wood fires burning offered up lazy columns of smoke that rose into the low hanging clouds commingling their identities so that all one could sense was a softened light, free of shadows and boundaries, with a smokey trace weaving through it, a sort of indeterminate space, a perfect pilgrim place.

Onward we went, steadily climbing upward, enjoying every chilled moment of every kilometer we walked. We passed through many villages that seemed to be hanging on by threads. The many abandoned homes we saw testified to an economic shift that has left many rural families without a viable path forward, so they simply have moved on, not unlike many communities back home.

We walked along until we rejoined the highway, which we crossed and then set off uphill to the summit and the castle. On the way up you pass through the hamlet of Viilavieja. This is a work in progress. We saw one man stacking firewood, and a few buildings in the midst of resurrection, but that was all. It looks like it would be a perfect off the grid community for those drawn to that lifestyle. Just to note, the only building in town that looks good to go is a recently opened albergue. Give it a try. It’s in a quiet neighborhood.

The castle summit was now close at hand so we picked up the pace a bit and shortly thereafter we were passing by its gate. This is can be a very scenic view if the weather is cooperating. Today it was cloudy but with fairly good visibility underneath the cloud deck. We were now closing in on our destination for today, the small village of Borrenes where we arrived 45 minutes later. We have some Facebook friends Saturno and Marisol, who own a small bar and hotel here, and we are staying with them. It was a great first stage. We had a few aches and pains but at the end of the day we arrived in good shape and in high spirits. Now it is time for food and some fine Bierzo wine. Hasta mañana.

Days in a haze

We are now in Ponferrada after some long days traveling. We didn’t have any connection problems just some long hours underway. But, all in all, everything went well. The usual jet lag that has consigned us to a slightly altered universe for the last couple of days is starting to slacken its grip. We are now sleeping much better and enjoying some normal meals. We had a fun overnight in Bilbao enjoying some fine pintxos, vino, and a late stroll along the river up to the Guggenheim and back. A splendid welcome back to Spain.

The next morning we walked to the train station and caught the daily train to Ponferrada where we arrived 6.5 hours later. To our great surprise we were met at the station by an old friend from Portland, Kathy Kennerly. Kathy has been living in Spain (Ponferrada) for a few years now. We had planned to get together, but she had a little surprise ready for us and met us at the station to spring it on us. We taxied to our nearby hotel and upon checking in we were told by Kathy that she had the staff put some food and wine in our room. We all went up and sure enough a large salad with goat cheese, a platter of cured meat, and two bottles of wine sat there awaiting us. What a thoughtful gift, especially when you understand something of restaurant hours in Spain. So we all tucked in and enjoyed all that was set before us. What a fine meal it was. But, the day was not yet done. A Facebook friend of Robin’s, Lee Tolman, was just finishing up two weeks as hospitalera, at the San Nicolás de Flüe albergue, so we all went over and joined her and her co-worker, Javier, for more food and wine. It was a great party and it was nice to finally get to meet Lee.

We eventually made our goodbyes and set off uphill back to our hotel, but a copa de cava seemed in order before we called it a night. We huddled in the warmth of the hotel bar and enjoyed catching up with Kathy’s life in Spain. Yes, we did finally call it a night. Robin went up and I walked Kathy back to her apartment which is located just behind the hotel only a few minutes walk. So that was yesterday. Today, Tuesday, we ran a couple of errands which included shipping a suitcase to Santiago, and picking up a couple of SIM cards from the Vodafone store. It was in the upper 20’s (F) as we set out. I had on everything I will be wearing tomorrow when we set off on the Camino Invierno. I was okay, but just. With a backpack on and a few climbs thrown in my winter kit will be just fine. We are now back at the hotel getting our thoughts together for tomorrow’s walk. We will be meeting Kathy for lunch in about an hour. The feasting continues. What fun. Spain honestly feels like home to us.

Up she rises

This blog has been dormant for a year. My last postings covered our walk along the Camino Invierno in January, 2018. Oddly enough, we are heading to the Portland airport in a few hours to head back to Spain and walk the Invierno once again. It is a beautiful walk and it is short enough (260 kms) to fit nicely into our current schedule. So with rekindled excitement, as another Camino approaches, I have shaken the dust off my blog and will, once again, offer up some commentary as our journey progresses.

For those who are contemplating doing this Camino, here is how we are getting to Ponferrada. We are taking Delta non stop from Portland (PDX) to Amsterdam. We arrive at 8:35 am, and connect to KLM non stop to Bilbao at 2:30 pm the same day. A six hour layover is a drag, but we opted to pay for the use of the KLM Crown Lounge to more comfortably pass the time. We will spend one night in Bilbao and leave the following morning at 9:40 from the Bilbao-Abando train station for a 6.5 hour journey to Ponferrada. We have some friends in Ponferrada so we will spend a couple of nights there and then set out on the Camino Invierno on January 16th. We are planning on arriving in Santiago in 11-12 days. So, that is the morning briefing for today. More to come later once we arrive in Spain.

Journey’s end

Arrival day in Santiago creates a special kind of energy that allows any pilgrim to walk those final kilometers without restraint. Today we were feeling that energy as we departed our pension just outside of Ponte Ulla. We had roughly 21.5 kms to go to reach Santiago. Today’s weather was a carbon copy of yesterday’s, chilly in the morning and much warmer later in the day. The morning mist clung to the hillsides filtering the daylight that struggled to both illuminate and warm us. We made our way into the nearby eucalyptus forest enjoying its fragrance and started climbing towards Santiago. The day passed by as we wandered through and then out of the forest and then down into the outer suburbs of Santiago. It was a vigorous walk. Robin and I typically don’t take many (if any) breaks once we start walking, but today at the 5 km to go mark we threw in the towel and stopped for a coffee break. 15 minutes later we were back on the trail and climbing again. We finally crossed under a freeway that we viewed earlier from a great distance. Progress was being made. We had been in the grind out the kilometers mode for awhile. This mode is perhaps best described as just walking until you bump into the cathedral. But, this afternoon, before we bumped into the cathedral, we saw it over some rooftops. We were definitely in the home stretch.

We love this city with all its myriad pilgrim activities, and moss covered stonework. We have made some great friends and have discovered new promising paths that have directed  our faith journey. All while we have enjoyed the bounty of this beautiful country and the spirit of hospitality that generally abounds. What’s not to like about that.

So we arrived in front of the cathedral, snapped a photo and headed off to the Pilgrim Office to sort out our paperwork and receive our Compostelas (certificate of completion). We then stepped across the office entryway and into the pilgrim chapel where Robin and I offered our prayerful thanks for arriving safely. Immediately after that we walked a few steps up the street to find a plate of pulpo and two very cold beers.

We then checked into the Parador (our usual post camino indulgence), dashed off to the laundromat, met some Portland friends for a drink, did some shopping, arranged a lunch with other friends for tomorrow, and confirmed a lunch date for Thursday with our friend Kathy from Portland, who is now living in Ourense. We will attend the Pilgrim mass at the cathedral tomorrow at noon, and make sure we give St. James a big hug. We have much to be thankful for. So with a busy day behind us and some enjoyably busy days ahead, I think it is time to sign off from Santiago and try to get some sleep.

Peace be with you.

Once before and now, again

Our plans for today shifted while we were walking to Silleda. The weather was perfect, we felt rested and so the question rose, shall we forget about Silleda and just carry on to Ponte Ulla? A quick back of the napkin calculation confirmed that if we could leave Bandeira by 12:00 we could reach Ponte Ulla by 3:00 and still make lunch before everything closes around 4:00 pm.

We had been walking for two hours when we found a bar that was open just outside of Silleda. We dropped in for a quick coffee and caught a taxi from there to Bandeira. That put us back on the camino, ready to walk, at 11:30. So it was that we found ourselves, now in shirtsleeves, bound for Ponte Ulla, 13 kms ahead, hoping to make lunch at the Restaurante Villa Verde, a restaurant with a great reputation, and us with growing appetites.

We had walked this stage before in December, 2015, when we were finishing the Via de la Plata,  and remembered it as particularly nice. Full disclosure, in 2015, Robin had some serious pain in her right heel due to a bone spur. So her rememberances of this stage were colored by that. But today all was bliss. Our bodies were mostly pain free, the weather was clear and quite warm (65-70F), and a great restaurant awaited us. All we had to do was get there. Up and down we went until we found ourselves crossing the bridge at Ponte Ulla at 2:20, and ordering a cold beer at the Restaurante Villa Verde at 2:30.

It was a perfect day by any measure. An additional plus was that we were now going to arrive in Santiago one day earlier. A quick call ahead assured us that a room was available for an extra night at the Parador. So no worries. We will get on the track in the morning and God willing we will arrive in Santiago by early afternoon. This has been a challenging camino in many regards, but it has also been a blessing. We have much to process in the day’s and weeks and perhaps even months ahead. So for now we will just focus on one more day’s walk and then we will see how this remarkable journey settles out. Peace to all from a very warm room near Ponte Ulla.

On the road again

Today was just a road walk to the surprisingly busy town of Lalín. There wasn’t any remarkable scenery or any noteworthy historical sights to see. It was just a day of walking to get us just that much closer to Santiago our ultimate destination. So after the usual Spanish breakfast of coffee and toast we said goodbye to our hosts in Rodeiro and made our way out of town and onto the road to Lalín. One nice bit of good fortune was a service road we found that paralleled the main road pretty much all the way to Lalín. This made today’s walk a lot safer, and certainly more enjoyable.

We arrived in the center of Lalín at 1:30, and it was jammed with people. It seemed as though half the town must have been out enjoying the warm sunny weather or perhaps a Sunday afternoon lunch with friends and family or both. It certainly had a festive feel to it. Robin and I were following map directions to a restaurant that specializes in Cocido (mentioned in yesterday’s post). We must have looked a bit lost because a nice local guy offered his help and got us back on course. A couple of minutes later we were being seated in the dining room of the Restaurante Mouliño. We had a wonderful lunch and then took a taxi to our hotel, which was located just on the outside of town in the direction we would be traveling tomorrow. So once again, our camino day is done. Tomorrow it looks as though our next stage to Silleda might also be on the road. Robin and I are working through the route information and will decide later as to what is the best way to proceed. However it works out, it is all good. More tomorrow from Silleda. Buenas tardes from Lalín.

 

 

Windmill ridge

Ian, our host at CR San Estevo, agreed to drive us to Chantada. We had spent some long hours last night, after dinner, discussing world affairs with a young Spanish couple (he from Bilbao and she from Madrid) and our hosts Irene and Ian. Of course nothing got solved but the orujo bottles did suffer a plunge. We got to bed sometime after 1:00 am and woke up at 5:00 ready to go. Irene was up and about at breakfast while Ian was a little slow to answer the bell, but to his credit he had us in the car at 8:30 as promised, and off we all went through the ever present Galician mist that draped the hillsides as we set out.

Ian dropped us in Chantada right on the camino route. It was a Saturday and he cautioned us that some of the coffee bars might not be open at 9:00. But, luck was with us and we found a nice bar that was open and stepped in. The bartender was a helpful guy and before we knew it we had two coffee con leches sitting in front of us while he called a taxi to shift us along to the tiny village of Penasillas from where would start our climb up to Monte de Faro the highest elevation for today. We started our climb from Penasillas at 9:30. Almost immediately we were going up. We reached the summit an hour and ten minutes later. There was light snow at the summit and patches of mist and low clouds below us. It was also quite cold. My backpack thermometer read 37 F and we were walking into a 15 mph headwind so it felt a bit colder than that. Down we went following along a ridge filled with windmills. Their blades slowly carved through the overcast creating an other worldly appearance as we walked close by them for over an hour. Anyhow we walked along trading solitude for the whine of wind turbines. All we could do was to try and make the best of it, while we continued our descent. So down we went bundled up with almost all we were carrying watching the thermometer slowly inch its way upward. At last we parted company with windmill ridge and settled down into the much warmer valley below. Off came all the arctic gear and off we went through the emerald green fields of Galicia. We found ourselves at the door of the Hostal O Guerra in Rodeiros, our home for the night, at 1:40 pm.

We went in and inquired about our room. It was not ready and lunch was about to begin so could we just wait a bit until the staff got the lunch service underway. We decided to take advantage of this delay and have some lunch ourselves. We ordered from the daily menu and lingered on over our lunch until about 3:00 pm. At this point a flood of locals streamed in and filled up the dining room, and interestingly enough they all ate the same thing, cocido. Cocido is a generally applied name for a stew of meat and vegetables. When it is served the meat and vegetables come to the table on separate platters. The meat is frequently those hard to define bits that started out somewhere on our in a pig’s head. Nonetheless, it makes for a wonderfully festive meal. Judging by the number of platters being shuffled amongst the tables, it was a big hit. The restaurant servers put some serious effort into making sure that everyone was well fed and having a great time. Another hour and a half later we finally were shown to our room. Free drinks had been poured to assuage the delay. Despite the delay, the room was perfect and spotless. Robin and I are now in the unwinding part of our camino day. Tomorrow we off to Lalín. Once in Lalín, it will be just three more nights until we arrive in Santiago. Sadly our time in Spain is drawing to an end. But, not just yet. More tomorrow….