June 11, 2011 Samos to Mercadoiro

Jacqueline, a blur from behind, as I usually saw her. Walking the "Austrian pace."

Left the Samos monastery albergue and had toast for breakfast across the street. Then walked without yellow arrows from memory out of Samos. Somehow many of the directions from/to Samos have been intentionally obscured by someone. Met Oussie of Hungary at the option (i.e. the fork in the camino) and she suggested the longer route via woods and farms to Sarria. She gave a four-leaf clover she had found as remembrance. Very sweet girl; one of those camino people I wished I’d spent more time with.

I took her route and enjoyed the beauty of green. Many ups and downs, though. Then finally hit road to Sarria. Met the older Brazilian couple at coffee (remembered them from Foncebadon) who mentioned that Alexandre was behind them. Continued to Sarria and met mother/son duo — Deirdre and Patrick of Ireland. Patrick is moving to Seattle in October to work for Microsoft. Debating about living in Redmond, Bellevue, or Kirkland. Asked at albergue at top of stairs for cell phone store to recharge phone with money and waited at Movistar store for probably an hour during lunchtime to be helped. Put 30€ on the phone.

Left Sarria and walked with So. African man, part of a larger So. African group, to Barbadello where I was delighted to meet Jacqueline. Walked with her to Mercadoiro, just shy of Portomarin. Opted to stay at Mercadoiro for total kms of 32.5 that day. Nice dinner with Sven and Britta of Germany, then drinks with Heidi, Beata and a Dane. Lots of laughter, with Beata constantly apologizing for her German and me teasing Dane for actually being Dutch. This is a nice albergue, with a sort of ramshackle layout but rooms no larger than 5-6 beds, each room with stone walls.

June 10, 2011 O Cebreiro to Samos

Out the door of my room at a private home at 07:30; had breakfast at the same restaurant as last night’s dinner, and off on long walk to Samos. Walked down to Triacastela by myself. This downhill stretch is definitely a challenge. Then met Rosemary of San Diego and walked with her part of way to Samos. Met Karl of Ventura CA at Alto de Poio and revealed my new plan to follow through on my idea to write a camino murder mystery. Central figure would be a Catholic priest struggling with his vocation who walks the camino. First day out of St. Jean 2 Israeli hikers killed by hanging — using sailing knots. Group including priest and German firefighter and German school teacher try to solve mystery that hinges on who among 10 people that passed through cabin at top of Route Napoleon is the actual killer. Thought long through the day of Catholic priests’ inner struggles made harder when he meets his alter ego — a good looking Methodist minister/camino regular who seems to have it all under control.

Arrived Samos to stay at albergue in monastery. Albergue 1/2 full in basement of monastery. Spanish tour of the monastery at 17:30 then Vespers with loud pipe organ at 19:30. Kurt from Ventura there as well as Mishael — otherwise no one I knew. So no need to socialize which is a little bit of a relief after so much visiting over so many days. Instead checked email and got an early start to bed. Cold showers as the albergue had run out of water some time, maybe years ago. Paintings on the wall are primitive, but somehow it feels nice to fall asleep in a monastery.

June 9, 2011 Villafranca del Bierzo to O Cebreiro

Up at 07:00 for 07:30 breakfast at hotel. Felt weird to be a relatively ragged pilgrim in the midst of beautiful Spanish businessmen and businesswomen who are nicely dressed for a day’s work. My dirty clothes from yesterday have been transformed into nice-smelling, machine-washed laundry.

Out the door at 8:30 and up long hill to O Cebreiro. Decided that since I’d done the Camino Duro (the upper path above the road out of Villafranca) back in 2008 there was no need to do it this time. So I walked along the road, which was very quiet and had a much easier grade. Walked alone for first bit, then with Stefan of Quebec, Steve of Australia, and John of NY. Then caught up to Andreas followed by Nikki. Long talk with Daniel who turns out to be former Catholic priest, also with his friend Paula, a Russian from Australia. Had long talk about meaning of the camino.

Walked more with Andreas, then Mishael of Israel. Thought for sure he was Italian and indeed he is of Italian background. Hope to see him again and talk more Israeli politics. At La Faba caught up with Alexandre and arrived 16:30 with him at O Cebreiro. Went to pulperia and found Joy and Karl Heinz there. Room at home of owners, shower and quick bowl of Caldo Gallego prior to meeting Joy and Karl Heinz for dinner.

Dinner with them and their Swedish friend but before met 2 Bostonians — Christina and Margarita — here with their small guitars to make music. Christina’s Spanish reminds me how far I’ve come with my own.

Back to room for sleep, trying to stay warm. Fortunately 2 blankets in closet. Slept straight from 20:00 to next morning at 07:00. Would discover later that Sebastian and Catia were in town at the albergue, but totally missed them overnight and wouldn’t see them until Palas de Rei.

June 8, 2011 Ponferrada to Villafranca del Bierzo

Left giant Ponferrada albergue to very cold but dry weather and headed on long sidewalk along street with closed shops for several kilometers. Some streets with vacation-looking homes and many cars to avoid, then more long sidewalks to Cacabelos.

Met Joy and Karl who told said that Rocky was in Ponferrada last night. She is now doing camino by car apparently and perhaps will hang out with Joan of Vancouver BC for remainder of camino.

Stopped for tastes of wine at a winery along the road outside Cacabelos. The guidebooks say that if you’re nice the wine and tapas are free, but none of our group apparently qualified. The wine was tasty, though, and this was a welcome stop in the hot sun.

Finished walk to Villafranca and got lost getting to restaurant plaza. Am writing this note in the blowing and cold plaza so may soon move inside. Andreas and Alex are planning to cook at the municipal albergue. Sebastian and Catia at the albergue across the river. I’m at the Parador where Gail and I stayed in 2008.

Sebastian and Catia later join me for dinner, along with Nikki (who ordered a large burger, first we’d seen on a menu). Then joined by Hannes and Pieter of Germany and Austria and enjoyed shots together of arujo. Back to the comfy Parador and an old Paul Newman movie and room service of bocadillo before bed at 23:00.

June 7, 2011 Foncebadón to Ponferrada

Awoke to cold Foncebadon parochial albergue chapel and hurried to get dressed in the chill air. Breakfast with Sebastian and woman from Quebec and young man from Belgium. Off to walk, mostly uphill until Cruce de Ferro.

At Cruce de Ferro watched Sebastian, Bea and others have their private, quiet time.

Long and grueling downhill to Manjarin where man kicked dog and everything smells of cat/dog piss/poop. Very disturbing scene and can’t imagine ever wanting to spend any time there, much less an overnight.

Further downhill to delightful town of El Acebo where met Daniel of U.S. on his eighth camino. Daniel had been with Danish man who died outside Estella. Told him I would connect him with family of man who died.

Onward downhill to Molinaseca and cervesa on grass near river. Continued out of town with pilgrim family as Ponferrada gradually began to appear. We all put our things in the giant, municipal albergue and went to see the Templar castle which was open but unfortunately too expensive at 6€ each. No pilgrim discount. Along with others decided to bag castle and instead went grocery shopping for dinner — my first pilgrim-cooked albergue meal. Glorious meal of spaghetti with goat cheese/vegetable sauce — three helpings. Had to shoo four women out of the men’s bathroom where they were doing their laundry. They didn’t seem to mind the idea of us showering while they washed clothes, but somehow it seemed like the women should use their own ample bathroom or the outdoor laundry sinks like everyone else. Another pilgrim party with group games under patio arbor. Bed at 22:00 in vast, basement dormitory with no windows.

June 6, 2011 Murias to Foncebadón

Met Nikki and Andreas as well as Alexandre at albergue door in morning and walked with them past Santa Catalina de Somosa to Rabanal where met Sebastian, who was very happy to see us. Many hugs, then brief coffee to Beatles tunes and long walk to Rabanal. Stopped at Rabanal albergue to pay my bill from 2008. Hospitalero did not want to accept my money, but I convinced him and he said he would put it to special use. Felt very good.

Group continued on, very merry, to Foncebadon. Under threatening skies built rock cairn to memorialize our walk and our togetherness. Great group project and many photos and smiles.

Arrived at cold Foncebadon about 13:30 and found parroquial albergue where Andreas hoped to stay. They had 2 beds left for 5 of us, bu agreed to allow us to sleep on mats on unheated church floor. Very cold here and am delaying shower and laundry hoping to get warm. Nikki help make dinner. Sitting in comedor with others, including Andreas, who are writing in their diaries.

Dinner with the warm Finns in the freezing albergue at Foncebadon

Dinner delicious. Filled with attempted conversation with Finns and Germans. Party with our pilgrim family afterward of Sebastian, Catia, Nikki, Andreas, Alexandre, Bea. Cold night of sleeping in chapel.

June 5, 2011 Hospital de Orbigo to Astorga

Woke, had quick breakfast and readied to leave with Bea, Catia, Sebastian and Andreas — our developing camino family. Walked to Santibanez de Valdiglesias, but was feeling very blue because of news from church back home (staff issues). Allowed others to pass, then rejoined them, but was clearly having a bad day, preoccupied with news from home and not interested in much pilgrim company. Stopped at cafe and heard church bells ringing. Decided a mass might help cheer me up, so stayed for 11:00 mass. Nothing unusual here, but after mass heard English from another pilgrim and met Carol Waud of Seattle. We know many people in common, so a taste of home cheered me up. She is leaving the camino in Astorga, so has told people she is “walking home.” This metaphor cheered me as I realized home is getting closer. Recognized too that Jesus is ultimately my home and I too am walking to home in his arms.

Finally caught Andreas and we walked together to Astorga. There we had delicious roasted chicken dinner on recommendation of Joy and Joan. Truly great lunch, split evenly between Andreas and me. Then walked with Andreas to Murias, expecting to see Sebastian, Catia and Bea. Learned instead they had split up, leaving Catia and Bea in Astorga and Sebastian ahead with a Hungarian name Sophie. Slept without the group at the private albergue in Murias and enjoyed company of Nikki and Andreas in early evening. Agreed to walk together in the morning. Our camino family had begun to develop, but now was spread between Astorga and Rabanal.

June 4, 2011 León to Hospital de Órbigo

Up at 07:00 and walked with Sebastian and Catia to Hospital de Órbigo. Great fun walking together, but added element of mortal terror as lightning closed in on us from the north. Got wet but no electrocution today.

Stopped briefly in Mazarife for lunch and learned from other pilgrims that Rocky was in an albergue here. We searched each of the albergues and finally found her at the last one, about 1 km backwards on our trip. Rocky was all smiles, walking again and healing up from her blisters. She was doing laundry on the grassy lawn in the sun and obviously was precisely in her element. It filled me with joy to see Rocky having a good time and I hoped this meant her camino was back on track.

Arrived Hospital de Órbigo during Medieval Fair after 37k walk. Town jammed with people in medieval garb with many vendors of crafts and food. Giant platters of cake, etc. Had 2 falafels with Sebastian and ate with Bea, Catia, and Bea’s new friend, Walter. Slept well, in spite of very full albergue with medieval fair visitors giving selves tours through the building.

June 2, 2011 León Rest Day

Woke early and downstairs to hotel dining room, leaving Sebastian in room. Realizing now that Luke is involved, Rocky is suffering from blisters and Gail is busy with work and not writing much from home. Feeling lonely and a little sorry for myself. At breakfast met American woman, Laurie, who has walked many caminos and who invited me to consider walking the Camino Invierno with her to Santiago. This camino begins at Ponferrada and follows a river valley toward Ponte Ulla, then picks up the Via de la Plata, approaching Santiago from the south. Told Laurie I might join her, depending on how our camino family developed.

As day wore on waited on Calle Ancha and enjoyed reunions with many pilgrims from previous days. Sat with Sebastian much of the day and many other people. Learned late in the day that Rocky had left earlier that day. Saw Stefan of South Africa in the afternoon (from 2008 camino) and as always he pretty well took over — in a good way, full of humor, laughter, bawdy talk, and conspiracies. He was soon making moves on Catia and every other girl and they were on to him. In late afternoon saw Monique, then in very late afternoon heard that Luke, Gal and Lila were in town. Planned a meeting with Sebastian at 19:00 for supplies and dinner with everyone at 20:00 with Stefan in the lead. Sad goodbye to Andreas as he went on ahead.

Our group for dinner ended up as Sebastian, Catia, Martin, Monique, Luke, Gal, Lila and Stefan. First stop was dinner, then bar for shot of absinthe, followed by golden tequila for others. Then to next bar for mojitos. Best mojito ever. Left bar at about 01:00 for bed. Stefan and Sebastian closed the bars down later and I proved once again that I’m a true party wimp.

June 2, 2011 Mansilla de las Mulas to León

Left albergue with Sebastian, joined for breakfast at a cafe near the albergue by Martin, then off to León via busy highways. Grim walk on shoulder of highway with cars zooming past. Then on dirt track next to freeway and across freeway on new, blue pedestrian bridge. Followed yellow arrows and ended up at youth albergue without signs of how to continue. Asked directions multiple times and ended up at large fountain on main road with plentiful yellow arrows. Found Posada Regia, one of my favorite camino hotels due to its medieval character and proximity to the cathedral, and settled in to shared room with Sebastian.

Off to lunch at cafe on camino and saw many, many pilgrims. Agreed to meet Joy at 17:00 to shop for backpacks, then meet Andreas, Bea, Catia and a German economist, Robert, for tapas. Finally found dinner restaurant and got Andreas off to his albergue before closing, then on to bar#1 for whiskey, bar#2 for wine, bar#3 for margaritas. Left Robert/Bea and Sebastian/Catia alone and headed for bed.