Saturday, September 30, 2023

Goodbye Meseta


Day 58 - Astorga

    What a treat, scrambled eggs for breakfast.  Ham,  toast and and an Americano con leche completed the meal. We were ready for the day.  This was our last day on the Meseta.  As the day progressed, we saw cornfields replace with pine and oak forests.  The terrain started to get a little hilly and tomorrow we will enter the foothills of the Leon mountains.

     We enjoyed some architectural interests today.  The town of Hospital de Orbigo has a quarter mile bridge from the 13th century.  It was also the site of some famous jousting.  We ended our walk in the small city of Astorga.  Besides another magnificent cathedral,  Anoni Gaudi designed a magnificent palace next to the cathedral.  We toured the inside which was amazing with every floor featuring columns and arched ceilings.

     While visiting a church in one of the smaller towns, I noticed some sculptures of the risen Christ.  Almost all church carvings are of Christ’s passion and death.  Very rarely are there depictions of the resurrected Christ unless He is on the judgment throne.  The fourth movement of St. Ignatius’ spiritual disciplines is a focus on experiencing the joy of the resurrected Christ, so I was glad to find the sculptures.

     We enjoyed our evening in Astorga.  There was an Audi car show in town, so there were a lot of people.  We had dinner with Duane, Kirina and Peter from Harvard.  We still need to work on our Spanish.  Esther thought she was ordering nachos, but got a hot dog instead.

Friday, September 29, 2023

Tight Quarters

 Day 57 - San Martin del Camino

      The Spanish cities are such a contrast to the many villages along the Camino.  The villages and towns are almost completely void of human activity outside the pilgrims and meeting their needs.  The cities are very lively.  Last night the lively partying didn’t stop in the street below until 6:00 in the morning.  As we exited our apartment, we had one painful chore to attend to: discarding Esther’s Hoka tennis shoes.  They were hardly used because they gave her blisters, but we lugged them around for 800 miles. With her new shoes, it would be pretty silly to pack them along.  We wished that we could have dropped them at a donation center, but we hadn’t a clue where to find one.  Into the dumpster they went.  

     We found ourselves walking against the flow again, as students, commuters and delivery services poured into the city as the pilgrims filed out. The scenery went back to the monotonous Meseta, though the distant approaching mountains promise a change of scenery, but with a price.  Esther’s new shoes are doing great. She walked ten miles in them before switching back to sandals the last five miles.

    Yesterday, after we took the opportunity to wash all our clothes, we decided to spread out everything that we are carrying on the bed and document it by a photo. My inventory consists of a shirt bag: three short sleeves, one long sleeve, a fleece vest, a windbreaker and a gortrx jacket (yet to be used); a bag of pants: three shorts and one long; an underwear ba, a sock bag, an electronic bag, a toiletry bag, a supply bag, sandals for the hostels, two sleeping bags and one of Esther’s Hoka tennis shoes (until today 😊)  a medical kit and various other small items.  My pack weighs approximately twenty-two pounds without water and food which some days can add five pounds.  Esther’s pack weighs eighteen pounds before water and food.

     Tonight we are in a newly built albergue, which is very clean and has nice facilities, except we are crammed into a tight room with less than two feet between bunks.

Thursday, September 28, 2023

Lying around in Leon


  Day 56 - The city of Leon is a historical and cultural gem.  It was a perfect fit for our much needed day off from walking.  We took the opportunity to sleep in a little and actually enjoyed making our own coffee in a tiny percolator.  The first sight seeing we did was the magnificent cathedral.  Built in the 12th century, it was one the prominent cathedral in Europe, featuring the exterior buttresses supporting the giant walls of stained glass.  I was impressed with the thematic sequence of windows with the natural light. The front of the cathedral faces east as they all do. The rising sun shines through the nativity family, the southern exposure features the brightness of the gospels and early church.  The shadowy northern wall features the prophet’s foreshadowing Christ.  The altarpiece is a panel of paintings rather than the gaudy golden building of most altarpieces.

     Next we peaked into the Casa Botine Gaudi, which is one the masterpieces of Antonio Guadi of Barcelona Cathedral fame.  Then it was off to a museum featuring the original Roman fortress that preceded the city.  Interestingly, the name Leon does not come from the king of the beasts, which all of the city’s insignia suggests, but from an adaptation of the’legion’.of the Roman army that settled here before the time of Christ. Some of the ancient wall winds through the modern city.

    Since Leon is a favorite rest spot for weary Camino pilgrims, we met several ‘Camino friend’s’ that we hadn’t seen for a while.  Chiefly among them was the Australian gang we had met in Pamplona.  We had a great dinner with them along with the Canadian couple, Roy and Nicole. We also did some shopping and Esther got new sunglasses and a new pair of shoes.  The sandals are not working well on rocky surfaces. Her Hoka shoes which we have been dragging around for five hundred miles will be donated to the pilgrim grab bag at the local hostel. Tomorrow it is back on the trail with backpacks full of clean clothes and fresh legs.


Wednesday, September 27, 2023

Slugging it out in Spain

 Day 55 - Leon

      Debriefing an incident from last night brought some excitement to our morning.  As we were crawling into our beds in the loft room with 6 others, we heard the screaming voice of the feisty young matron on the floor below us. It sounded like she was berating some pilgrim guests.  Since it was in Spanish, we weren’t sure what was going on.  We assumed someone had stolen something or disobeyed one of her house rules. There was a lot of yelling, but you could only hear her yelling in anger. The commotion carried on for about half an hour as it seemed to move to the lobby entrance. In the morning, we talked to couple who were in the room and witnessed it all.  Evidently, a group of four German guests were upset about their dinner service. One of the German men and the matron got into a shouting match.  Then the kitchen server, who was the matron’s brother got in a slugging match with the man and ended up breaking his nose.  The police and ambulance were called and they took the man and his girlfriend to the medical facility.  When the German was released in the middle of the night, they just started walking the Camino rather than go back to the albergue . You don’t mess with the albergue matrons on the Camino.

    It was a 15 mile walk to the city of Leon. The sunrise was spectacular and the weather was pleasant.  There was no breakfast in the town we slept in, so we had to walk 5 miles before we got our morning coffee, along with some great ham on toast with fresh tomato salsa. An interesting custom in France and Spain is the use of china dishes.  It doesn’t matter what kind of a fast food bar or even stand that you buy food from, you are always served with china and silverware.  Coffee is always in a cup with saucer spoon and sugar packet.  Every piece of bread has its own plate.  There is nothing disposable.

    As we approached the city, we passed through several small towns, many with adobe walled buildings, which we have not seen yet on our journey.  We arrived exhausted into Leon, and with a little bit of phone and texting work, we were able to find our studio apartment in the heart of the vibrant city. We are staying two nights and will enjoy our third rest day of the journey.  We even have a wash machine and can do some serious laundry.

     In the evening we met a journalist from Washington DC who just got here and is going to start her walk tomorrow.  We sounded like seasoned veterans as she pumped us with questions.  We also met with long Camino friends, Duane and Carina again.  The five of us had pizza in one of the many crowded plazas in the city.

Tuesday, September 26, 2023

Storks and Cellars

 Day 54 - Reliegos

    The daylight hours here in Spain are messing with our seasonal minds.  Sunrise is 8:15 a.m. and sunset is 8:15 p.m.  When we start our mornings, it’s still dark until 8 and temps are in the 40’s.  We are bundled up and it feels like mid autumn.  However, in the evenings, it stays light until 8:30 and temps are in the mid 70’s, making it feel like mid summer.

     We continued our trek across the flat Meseta.  The scenery has not changed much.  Most all of our walk today was on a frontage path next to a narrow deserted highway.  Since Esther’s sandals are more comfortable on pavement than a rocky path, we often walked on the highway.  We had to have our ears sensitive to any approaching vehicle, because they race by at top speed. 

     The monotonous way is broken occasionally by small villages of maybe fifty homes with narrow streets.  Some are so quiet, you can walk all the way through town and not hear one person, let alone a barking dog. Other villages have street cafes and small plush hotels.  We were fortunate to come across an impressive coffee bar with modern industrial design that could have been in Seattle.  In fact, the barista who didn’t know a word in English had a ‘Seattle’ shirt on.

      Our night stop is a sleepy village with a nice alberge where we are sharing a sleeping loft with six strangers. At least there are no bunk beds.  On the outskirts of the village are some unique clay mounds with vents sticking out and tunnel entries.  It turns out that they are private wine cellars.  Some looked ancient and no longer functional; while others looked like Fort Knox.  Another interesting feature in town are huge stork nests on the church steeple.

Monday, September 25, 2023

Marathon on the Meseta

 Day 53 - Sahagun

     Because of the long distances between towns on the Meseta and our desire to move on to new landscape, we decided to pull out the stops and go for what I am sure will be the longest day of our Camino.  We walked 25 miles or 40 kilometers which our minds are more familiar with these days.  For breakfast we ate tortillas (Spanish tortillas are like a potato quiche) in our room which we had purchased the night before, and used our last Starbucks powdered coffee in hotel cups.  Then out into the dark morning to start our marathon walk.  

     We start our mornings now pretty bundled up, but shed the layers as the day warms up. The endless agriculture continues to be our constant view.  We have noticed a marked difference between agriculture landscape here compared to the US.  Here there are no houses and farm buildings scattered among the fields.  The farmers all live in the small villages.  They drive their tractors out to their fields which can be miles away.  They keep the machinery in the small towns and sometimes in their garages.  It reminds me of medieval times when peasants lived in the towns for protection, and then went out to the fields during the day.  I am curious whether the current practices here are because of long held traditions or if there are strict zoning laws.

     We made two stops today. One was the first town after ten miles of nothing. Another tortilla and a caramelized banana cake with coffee con leche.  The next stop was after another eight miles.  We stopped at an albergue in a tiny village and found many of our acquaintances settled in for the remainder of the day.  We refueled and had great conversation.  There were two other men named Peter which was a little unusual. One of them was a chef instructor who worked at the Seahawk’s training camp for twenty years.  It was very interesting to hear him describe how Pete Carroll engaged with people. 

     It was hard to pull ourselves away from our new Camino friends and grind on for another seven miles to our destination.  Our private room was booked through and it did not disappoint.  After cleaning up and resting, we enjoyed pizza and veal steak for a very reasonable price.


Sunday, September 24, 2023

Roadside Ramblings

 Day 52 - Carrion de Los Condes

     We left the hostel at 7:00 because we had a long day of walking ahead of us.  Because there were no services in town, we entered the dark morning with no coffee or food.  After 2 miles we entered a deserted town where the pilgrims had already left.  There were no cafes in town.  We were so desperate, we ducked into an empty alberge dining room to see if there was any coffee left in the carafe.  No luck; we had to look longingly at the empty cups and imagine the happy caffeinated pilgrims in front of us.  We trudged on into the dawn and had to wait until the next town to finally enjoy two cafe con leches and some yogurt cake.

     Fueled up for a few hours, we spent most the morning walking with a young lady from London. The trail today was probably the least inspiring of the trip, miles and miles beside a straight highway.  Fortunately, there was not much traffic. The fields were either sun flowers, alfalfa or plowed for the coming winter.

     Our long day of walking (21.4 miles) ended at 4:00 as we entered  a large bustling town and headed to the hostel where we had reserved a private room.  On the way in to town we met Carina and Duane and made a dinner date. You never know exactly what you’re getting when you try to reserve lodging.  Sometimes you win and sometimes you lose. Tonight we won; we have a nice private room overlooking the town for 30 euros. We were able to connect with Calvin and Sassa on FaceTime and plan their time with us on the Camino.