O Cebreiro to Triacastela*

Apr 27. Day 31. 21.4 km. Departed 0800 hours, arrived 1355 hours.

O Cebreiro has historical significance. The Parish Priest of O Cebreiro, Father Elias Valina Sampedro was instrumental for the resurgence of the Camino. It was him that first painted the Yellow Arrows. A miracle happened too in the 14th century in the Parish Church, certified by Pope Innocent VIII.

Ideas, thoughts sometimes have to ferment before yielding its fruit. The idea of a Purer Version flittered in my mind this morning on the gorgeous walk.

I asked myself when was the last time I last felt ‘pure’, and it hit me. When I was a child of a certain age range.

Each day dawned as one full of promise. There was a carefree abandonment to and acceptance of everything that happened. There was no hankering to possess more of anything. Holding grudges or keeping ‘tally’ was an alien concept. Interactions were open and transparent. There was no judging. Wasn’t that a Pure version?

We had not prepared provisions for a DIY breakfast, and our lodging’s kitchen didn’t open till 9am. My thought was to walk until we find an open cafe. Lo and behold, as we exited our lodging, we met a German lady who was walking in the opposite direction to where we thought the way out should be. A short discussion revealed she was going to a cafe that opens at 6am! We followed her and thanked the Spirit’s timely intervention.

TIP: Check out the cafes that open early for breakfast in remote villages/hamlets the day before! We later came across others on the trails who were searching for open cafes. It’s likely they slept in lodgings that were further away from this specific cafe.

There were two uphill sections today, the first to Alto San Roque (1270m) with a statue of Santiago battling the wind. The second is to Alto do Poio (1335m). A final steep section of about 350-400m will pump your heart. Fortunately, there’s a cafe at the top of this climb.

After that, it’s relatively flat and downhill, hugging the mountainside for some stupendous views.

Some pictures around O Ceberiro.

Don’t miss this as you reach O Ceberiro! She’s waiting on a ledge by the road.

Joon outside the Church. A bust of Father Elias is on the right side of Church.

The cafe that opens at 6am. But like many businesses, there will only be one staff. P a t i e n c e is one of the virtues re-learned on the Camino.

A rest area as we were exiting O Ceberiro. A reminder of the snow they had.

Headwinds are part and parcel of a Camino.

One of the best parts of today’s walk is the wintery landscapes without the biting winds or cold temperatures. The air is sufficiently chilly to wake one up.

Yellow Scotch Broom flowers in foreground

It’s great to have the trails to oneself by letting others pass by. Solitude with one’s partner is therapeutic.

As one gets lower, the vibrant colors of the valley emerge.

The patch quilt on the mountain slopes was beguiling.

The bent and white tree trunks drew my eyes.

This old lady has been written about. She hands out pancakes, coated with some sugar. There’s no demand for payment, but most will give something in return.

We arrived at Triacastela. There was a mass at 6pm which we attended. Our lodging was literally next door to the Church. The Pastor invited peregrinos to come up and voice their special intentions. That was an unexpected and generous gesture.

After dinner, we caught this blue sky against a clump of trees as we walked back to our lodgings.

Ponteferrada to Villafranca del Bierzo

Apr 25. Day 29. 25 km. Departed 0740 hours, arrived 1415 hours.

Today’s post will be more about the Camino.

The reason is the walk out of Ponteferrada to Pieros (17.4km away) is along paved roads, sidewalks etc. Just after Pieros is a turn off into the countryside. Some pilgrims continued alongside the main roads. Yesterday’s descent on rocky and stony trails may have taken a toll. The uneven terrain and trying to control gravity forces exerts immense stress on one’s feet. Each foot comprises 28 bones, 30 joints and more than 100 muscles, tendons and ligaments which all have to seamlessly work together to provide support, balance and mobility.

We did spot some interesting religious and cultural highlights that interested us during this first 17.4km, which led to meaningful conversations.Many, if not all pilgrims, seek to gain something from their Camino experience. It could be something specific that they begin their Camino with. Or it could be nebulous and unknown, and left to unfold as their Camino progresses.

As one passes vineyards, it’s apparent the vineyard owners have to trim and prune their trees to stimulate growth. Is that a (hidden) learning for our Camino? Has the daily simplicity of Life on the Camino revealed what needs to be pruned from our pre-Camino lifestyles?

It’s amazing how this home owner had ‘molded’ this tree to conform to the decoration plan in mind.

If Man can mold living plants and trees to a design/plan, then, molding His thoughts, habits and actions is not insurmountable. If I can identify one or two changes that I already know deep inside, the battle is half won.

We saw this bird flying in a stationery position (not a humming bird). Birds know how to fly with and across the prevailing winds. What do you make of this bizarre flying?

As you saw near the end of the video clip, the bird started flying forwards and downwards. Breakfast perhaps?

We sometimes seem to struggle and not make any progress. This happens in nature too. But perseverance of effort will pay off in the end. Keep heart.

Ermitas or chapels are places where we pause. Clearly, there’s a history behind it. The lamb on top of the bell tower (spotted by Eagle-Eye Joon) was unusual. Further delights were revealed when we lingered at this Chapel of Santa Maria de Compostilla.

A mural of this Chapel’s name.

Two of several wall murals, behind iron fences. Very easy to miss when eyes are forward and walking speed is 5 km per hour or greater.

This post’s featured image of the Virgin Mary is from this Chapel.

The interior of this Iglesia Santa Maria was lovely.

The countryside trail led to a vast vineyards expanse. And a rural village. And more vineyards.

Note the color striations across the ground.

Mountains complement well with vineyards in pictures.

We take notice when home owners take pride in placing some unusual decorations.

I couldn’t help but imagine what it would be like to live in this home amidst this setting.

Our walk ends with a drizzle into Villafranca del Bierzo. We regard it as blessings from Heaven.

An early night as tomorrow’s walk is 28km.

Bon appetit (#2 on TripAdvisor list). No gambling, just eating!

Foncebadon to Pontferrada***

Apr 24. Day 28. 28 km. Departed 0806 hours, arrived 1634 hours.

Macho Day continued as it had snowed over night and was snowing quite heavily in the morning.

After checking with the innkeeper, we decided to proceed along the roads as the trail’s markings might not be visible. In addition, the distance by road or trail to Cruz de Ferro was about the same (2.3km). Four other damsels wanted to group up as it was safer walking in numbers on the roads in snowing conditions. Only one vehicle passed by that early in the morning before we reached Cruz de Ferro.

Cruz de Ferro is 1504 meters, and the Iron Cross marks the highest part of the mountain pass. Many peregrino carry a stone which they leave at the base of the Iron Cross. The symbolism of the stone and act is up to the individual – it could be grief, troubles, worries, hopes, dreams, special intentions, etc. The stone is typically from one’s home country. We left some stones from Seattle, from the Transfiguration Church in Jerusalem and a stone picked up from earlier in our Camino walk.

Interesting observation – the mound of stones must be cleared every so often as there’s always space.

After waiting our turn (a crowd 10-12 were there when we arrived), here’s our moment!

We walked down the road and had amazing views of the snow draped surrounding mountains. We eventually walked onto trails which skirted the mountain itself for more amazing views. The trails were very walkable, some parts muddy, some rocky downhill sections where extra care is required. But this was a walk, a stroll that was truly priceless. While it was snowing, it was absolutely still (no chirping birds too).

Our group eager to take on this snowy morning. Neither rain, snow or sleet will deter us!

Same flowers as yesterday’s post!

A merging of backgrounds.

They stand tall.

We are above the clouds!

Here’s a set of panoramic pictures that I hope shows up well in WordPress.

Note the sun beam(s) poking through the clouds!

If we could, we would have lingered longer. But we did our best to walk in the moment vs walk with our minds on the next destination. It was never our objective to be the fastest Camino pilgrims.

There was much less snow on the other side of the mountain as we descended. It rained rather than snowed.

Circumstances and a fortuitous weather pattern set today’s stage for an exceptional and unforgettable experience.

The Camino also has to lead to internal transformation as memory fades. Thus, it seemed natural that amidst all these beauty, that I was moved at one point to ask Joon, “How can I make our marriage happier?”. I encourage all husbands/partners to pose this question and listen. With two open ears, and one closed mouth!

After such a morning of exertion, we stopped for lunch at El Acebo. We met Elisa & Arturo, a Spanish couple doing the Camino. They live near Santiago, so, their Camino walk is really towards home!

I had to have this after seeing another diner. It’s ham, eggs and goat cheese on toasted bread.

Arturo pointed this poster in the restaurant out to me! Babies have got it made.

Molinaseca is a pretty town with this Roman bridge.

The 4 hours trek from El Acebo to Ponteferrada was one of perseverance. We did still see some beautiful landscapes. However, it wasn’t a matter of exhaustion as much as joint pain. After such an exhilarating mountain experience, a hot shower and a comfortable bed was something to look forward to.

The Templar castle.

So ends a day of wonder.

Post Script: To experience what we had would have meant a winter Camino, where the temperatures would be much colder and the snow piles higher! Isn’t today a miracle?

Astorga to Foncebadon*

April 23. Day 27. 25km. Departed 0755 hours, arrived 1525 hours. About an hour’s rest + lunch stops.

One star for the scenery, which is what’s rated in the Post Title. Second star for today’s weather and terrain (for those who really like a challenge). Third star for the personal contemplation and self-growth.

This is a day that started with the best breakfast spread seen on our Camino. We did not over indulge but I enjoyed the kiwi fruit, sliced oranges, squeezed OJ, salmon, yogurt, etc. The breakfast was part of the room rate at Hotel Via de la Plata SPA. We were not expecting it when we first booked, which made it extra special.

We stopped by the Ermita Ecce Homo several km outside Astorga. There was a volunteer who had opened it and was manning a table.

TIP: Buying your extra pilgrim credential/passport (if you run out of space) at such places is Euro 2. Buying in shops will cost more.

The weather didn’t seem promising as we were walking out of Astorga in the morning. Rain?

After several km, and with the wind direction, the weather outlook was more promising!

Clouds put on a daily performance for us. How often do we take advantage?

Can you spot an unusual anomaly in this picture?

When we first spotted it, it appeared to be clouds rolling down the mountain. There were ‘vertical walls’ of cloud that we could discern with our naked eyes. As we walked towards it and as seconds, minutes passed, the clouds seemed to retreat. The ‘block of clouds’ on the mountain slopes was no longer as distinguishable.

Our final cloud picture for this post. A panaramic picture.

One of our last (dry) pictures before we walked into the rain zone (the ground was quite wet, so it must have been raining for a bit).

The elevation gain from Astorga to Foncebadon is 560 meters (1,840 feet). With altitude, conditions change. The vegetation changes to scrub oak, Heather and eventually, only brush. The winds are also stronger.

I had pooh poohed a fellow pilgrim in San Martin del Camino who said snow was in the forecast for later in the week. I was to take back my words.

There were actual gullies we had to walk for a know or so. Stony rocky gullies where water had gushed down and left deep gashes in the ground. Boots will do much better than trainers in this environment.

First was the headwinds. On came the jackets. Then came the rains. As we climbed higher, the hail started. On came the rain pants. As we neared Foncebadon (600 meters), there snow joined in the fun.

Yup, if you are training for the triathlon, you will love this. Man against the elements. Macho day.

The rocky terrain, mixed with hail and cold headwinds.

We are happy with the 6.5 hours of walking in such conditions and terrain. This sets up an easier tomorrow.

Here’s the third star. My spiritual reading has been inspiring for me. The mental assimilation is immediate. I wholeheartedly resonate with the reading material from ‘The Eight Doors of the Kingdom’. But internalizing it is much harder. I fall and stumble on two key agreements. It took last night’s sleep and early waking up for my conscience, my inner voice and spirit to alert me. I rectified it in the early morning. I am at peace.

Good night.

San Martin del Camino to Astorga*

Apr 22. Day 26. 25km. Departed 0755 hours, arrived 1400 hours.

Equilibrium was restored today. After the first 6.8 km of roadside paths, we got out to the open countryside and small villages/towns.We passed a farm on the last 11km to Astorga, which is also the last of the flat Mesetas. While the forecast was for some rain, we got to Astorga dry. The country scenery was refreshing after the last two days of roadside paths. The absence of traffic noise is one of the sweetest silence.

Looking back at sunrise.

The small towns have doors with character!

I could not pass up on this opportunity to feed this cow with some hay.

Panaramic view.

Nature’s beauty.

A row of nine trees!

Three (four?) of the nine (ten?).

Astorga cathedral.

Main altar, designed by Gaspar Becerra. He is regarded as Spain’s Michelangelo! Note that some of the figures appear to be floating!

Close up to highlight the level of intricate detail.

The tour of the Cathedral is a must-do. There were so many other pictures not shared in this post.

This Cathedral charged pilgrims a lower rate after we had presented our credentials for stamping.

We did treat ourselves to a 4 star hotel in this town. And their affiliated restaurant offered a discounted pilgrim’s menu on showing the pilgrim credentials.

Love that this town treats pilgrims well.

Leon to San Martin del Camino

April 21 (Easter Sunday). Day 26. 25 km. Departed 0735 hours, arrived 1328 hours.

On the way out of Leon, we passed this sculpture in front of Convento de San Marcos, St. James the pilgrim.

Today’s walk was a good one for one to chat with one’s traveling companions. Or for contemplation, for praying, for being in one’s thoughts. 90% of the walk was near busy roads, large concrete buildings.

There was a short 500 meters or so section of wooded trails, about 6km from our final destination.

Today’s walk was a non-stop except for a 14 mins rest stop. Our pace is just steady, not fast, not slow.

We were fortunate that the weather forecast was wrong (again) as there wasn’t the slightest drop of rain at all.

Don’t miss the facade of the Basilica de la Virgen del Camino before you cross the busy road as you exit Leon. Turn around and look over your left shoulder. A miracle vision had taken place that led to this Basilica.

The Virgin Mary is flanked by the 12 Apostles, each statue had special significance tied to said apostle.

No rain clouds. Note the road parallel to trail.

A murder of crows had set up nests among these trees! They were extremely loud with their cawing.

We rested in our albergue, and had a great dinner with pilgrims from Canary Islands, Italy and Brazil.

Left to right: Ciba (Brazil), Maria Angela (Italy), Bel & Ramon (Canary Islands).

Leon – Rest Day

Apr 20. Day 25. 0 km because our bodies deserved it, and it prolongs our Camino!

Our 4th rest day. Leon is bigger than Burgos, and is possibly the 3rd largest, after Madrid and Pamplona. The conveniences available can be a boon especially if one is in need of specific medication, gear, etc. to continue one’s Camino.

However, the transition from a rural setting to a big city can jar or sidetrack one’s Camino ‘momentum’. Cities have distractions and temptations. You know yourself best. Use “guard trails” like in the bowling lanes to keep focused on the motivations that brought you to the Camino in the first place.We love the history, culture, artistic beauty that’s so richly manifested in many cultures. The works and passions of these artists, builders, sculptors, craft people etc. does move one’s spirit.

Our morning started with a 10am tour at the Basilica de San Isidoro with its Royal Mausoleum (aka Pantheon de los Reyes). Latter has a ‘Romanesque Sistine Chapel’ murals which really is a must-see as it’s original, never restored. The tour covers the library with 200 ancient manuscripts, with a 10th century Bible. There’s a 1st century chalice that may have healing capabilities. There are extraordinary carved ivory, wooden boxes and chests. Unfortunately, there’s no picture taking in the museum tour, but we bought some postcards.

The Leon Cathedral was our next stop just after 11am. This Cathedral is famed for the number of 125 stained windows, bringing tremendous light inside. The Gothic vaults design allowed for that as earlier cathedrals walls were all stone to hold the weight (consider the stained windows would eventually shatter if the weight borne had shifted). The audio guide is quite comprehensive.

We wandered around the Barrio Humedo, the Sat open market in Plaza Mayor, people watched in Plaza San Martin. Picking up cues of the local culture is both interesting and challenging (when on the receiving end!).

We had lunch and subsequently, met up with a Malaysian, Vivian, whom Joon had befriended on FB. Vivian chanced to be in Leon today before starting her own Camino in Sarria later in April. She generously gave us some cookies bought in Burgos.

Basilica de San Isidoro. Love the wide open pedestrian friendly squares. Shouldn’t all cities have this?

The Basilica‘s main altar.

The vaulted ceilings at the rear.

Illustration of the Nativity in a song sheet.

Chalice donated by Princess Donna Urraca, daughter of one of the Leon Kings.

The Romanesque Sistine Chapel’s ceiling murals traces the Life and Resurrection of Christ. It’s in a chamber that the Leon Kings had prepared for their burial sarcophagi.Angels announcing Christ’s birth to the shepherds. Note the range of animals depicted

The Last Supper.

Facade of Leon Cathedral.

View of part of Cathedral from the Cloisters.

Chapel accessible from Cloisters. The altar sculpture was in a vision.

Main altar of Leon Cathedral. The 5 largest panels are the remnants of a much larger set. Smaller panels came from other churches.

Stained windows above the main altar.

One of the stained windows just above eye level.

Rose window at side of Cathedral.

Unique statue of the Virgin Mary, who is depicted as pregnant with Jesus.

There was much to take in at the Cathedral. Above pictures are just a small sample of the grandeur.

Market at Plaza Mayor (Saturday).

Why aren’t balloons like these sold in USA? The kids will go crazy!

A flea market.

Love how the locals will just stand, have their drinks and tapas, and just chat. Sometimes, the alleyways are chock blocked with people standing with their drinks!

The third major must-see was the Convento de San Marcos, a church and museum. Parts of the old convent are being refurbished as a luxury hotel. This has happened in other towns and cities.

Panaramic photo of the Convento

Front entrance

Main altar

Ceiling.

Adjacent museum.

Unexpected.

Along a window frame.

Window frame.

It was a well spent day that we were happy with.