July 16, 2010 Vilavella to A Gudiña to As Eiras

This very challenging and frustrating day began with a nice breakfast at the Vilavella Hotel. Along with ordering a few croissants I had the waitress make a bocadillo to go. She made an enormous one of turkey, cheese and tomatoes. This would come in very handy later.

I left the hotel at 07:30, walked downhill through town and caught the camino at the base of the village. The next 14 kms were a delight as I passed farm after farm, nestled between creeks, with ancient stone walls separating them and huge, light brown cows watching my every move until I passed by. After 14 km the path veered out of the verdant area and joined the highway.

In about a km the town of A Gudina came into view. Since it was only 11:00 I was torn as to whether I’d continue on or stay in A Gudina as planned. I sat on the sidewalk and considered my options as I ate half my bocadillo. The next village with services would be Campobecerros, 23 kms away. It would take me 5-6 hours to walk and I’d be gambling that the town’s one hotel would have a room available. Still, it was only 11:00. Finally I decided to go for it, and I entered the town to get extra food and water. By noon I was on the road with fruit, more water, and two nice looking chocolate croissants.

After leaving A Gudina the camino joined a secondary road following a high ridge at 1000 meters +/- elevation. It would follow this road for about the next 12 kms, crossing tiny hamlets one by one. The gravel road then cut across a ridge and soon began a quick descent on loose shale to Campobecerros where I arrived at 18:00.

Exhausted, I stopped for a beer at a tiny bar, then found the hotel. I asked for a room and was told to sit and wait for a few minutes. Twenty minutes later, still no room. I asked what was going on and was told they had no rooms. By this time – 18:45 – I was getting concerned. I knew it was 14 km to the next town with services, Laza. That would take over 3 hours to walk, and I knew it would be too dark to walk by 22:00. I asked if they could call a taxi to take me to Laza, and they agreed. No answer from the taxi driver. Just wait a few more minutes they said. Got hold of the driver. He’ll be here in maybe 20 minutes. By now it was 19:15 and, frustrated, I decided to hit the road and use what little outdoor camping gear I had with me if I couldn’t get to Laza before nightfall. I wasn’t sure why it had been so difficult to communicate with the staff at the restaurant, but I chalked it up to the Spanish/Galego language difference.

I made it 8 km downhill before my body just could not go farther. At the town of As Eiras, 44.6 kms and 14 hrs after I began, I found a camino rest area with three covered picnic tables. I slept the night on the westernmost table with the sun’s last glow on the horizon and a crescent moon in the southwestern sky, typing a note to Gail on my iPhone in my sleeping bag atop my sleeping pad at 22:36 in the evening. Beautiful pine forest was around me here, with the tiny village seemingly deserted, at least from the vantage point of this tiny picnic area on the outskirts of town. Next village, Laza, is 6 km away. Too far that night for this tired body.

July 14-15, 2010 Puebla de Sanabria to Vilavella

July 14: My first day’s walk started well, had some rough patches, but ended well. I set out from the hotel, with the red dawn casting a pinkish glow on the castle above the city. After walking past the castle I search for yellow arrows and immediately was lost. I theorized that  I’d need to head down the river vally in a northwesterly direction, so I set out on roads that seemed to follow that general route. By the time I reached the main highway — the A-52 and its companion, the N-525 that would shadow this camino most all the way to Santiago — I found yellow arrows again and walked ahead with more confidence. I walked the first day through quiet farms and fields with the goal of reaching Lubián. This meant climbing the mountain to Padornelo.

The walk up toward the pass at Padornelo was one of those frustrating camino moments where a pilgrim wishes he’d used a map. The marked trail enters traverses a canyon of perhaps 2-3 km in length, but the highway and freeway bridges above cut right across the canyon, saving the long walk down and around the canyon. If I’d known enough to get on the N-525 road I could’ve walked the high bridge, gone through the tunnel after it and in 1/4 of the time made it to Padornelo on the other side of the tunnel. But all pilgrims complain about walking, even though that’s how we’ve chosen to travel. Anyway, I trudged around the canyon, climbing to an elevation above the bridges and tunnels, then came down the other side with the “town” of Padornelo there to reward me.

In reality, Padornelo is a large gas station and a hotel/restaurant. My thought had been to stay here for the night, but when I saw that it was likely empty of pilgrims and set right by a highway I instead decided to have a beer at the restaurant and keep on walking. My feet, not yet used to the abuse yet, weren’t happy about that plan. I took off my shoes, hung my socks on the chair, and put my feet up on the chair until the bartender looked askance at me. That was a good cue to move on, which I did, walking down the mountain, losing about 1000 ft in elevation over the next 6-7 kilometers.

After a couple of hours the trail turned into a narrow, one track affair and I was convinced I was still a long way from Lubián when quite suddenly I came upon an albergue right at the entry to a tiny village. There was no hospitalero in attendance, but the albergue’s 16 beds left only one vacancy — my bed for the night. I set our my things and headed out for some refreshment. Climbing into the main section of town, along the road, I came to a bar and who should I find there but my friend, Artur! Somehow my long day of walking had allowed me to catch up to him. After a shower we had a relaxing meal and continued our ongoing conversation about medieval history, theology, geopolitics, and the military.

That evening I tucked myself into my bunk, enjoying vistas out to the forest just beyond the stone walls of the albergue. I was glad to be a pilgrim again.

July 15: The following day I slept in while other pilgrims packed and headed out the door. I had mentioned to Artur my plan to walk a short day and stop at the destination spa/resort at Villavela. I enjoy modern architecture and I’d found the online photos of this hotel to be rather intriguing. That meant a short day of walking for me, and Artur held back because he wanted company along the way, though his plan was to walk farther.

We left Lubián, walking downhill toward the day’s lowest elevation, and then uphill toward the peak of another camino mountain, this one 300 meters above the valley floor. At the top, which marked the border into Galicia, we could look toward the west and see for perhaps 20 miles. We stood together next to one of the white, concrete markers with blue scallop shell that would accompany us, marking our mileage the rest of the way into Santiago.

We arrived at Vilavella after only about 12 km of walking. There we found Dick and Annika, who made a big deal out of the “ritziness” of the hotel, not knowing I was planning to stay there for the night. I had an enormous bocadillo (sandwich) with Artur, then wished him well on his way, after which I settled into my unusual, two-story room. This was certainly one of the most modern hotels in which I’d ever stayed. The fact that it was in a tiny farming community that smelled like cattle gave it an unusual charm. I bought some red swim trunks so I could enjoy the pool and I spent the rest of the day relaxing and enjoying my fine surroundings.

Here’s the note I wrote that night to my wife, Gail:

As I write this, I’ve walked nearly 50 km now in 2 days without any advance training and my legs are killing me. People say the 3rd day is worst…. The weather is perfect so far and I have a sunburn on the back of my neck since I´m walking mostly mornings going in a generally westerly direction.

This camino is practically deserted in comparison to the Camino Frances. And most of the pilgrims seem to be Italians. They understand Spanish very well, though. Wish my Spanish was better, though after another 2 quarters of college Spanish this year it’s definitely improving. If someone speaks slowly I can understand a fair amount. Now that we´re in Galicia all the printed material is in Gallego, but it´s pretty close to Spanish and for the most part understandable.