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.

Meekness

This event occurred 3 days ago on April 17. It took a couple of days of reflection which aligned with some spiritual reading.

Consider the following. You are an experienced driver and have relocated temporarily to a new country for career reasons. You need to re-certify and re-test your driving skills. The authorities in the new country have an oral test as part of their certification process.

The scenario is that you are driving at the legal speed limit along a two lane country road. As you crest the top of the hill, and descend down the road, you spot two bicyclists riding side by side, occupying the entire lane you are in, as they cycle in the direction you are driving towards. The cyclists are clearly not following the laws in how they are riding. They are about 700 meters ahead of you.

The tester asks – What would you do as the driver? By the way, the roads are wet and there’s a slight drizzle/rain at this moment.

Let’s switch roles in this scenario. You are now a hiker walking alongside this country road. You can clearly see a possible bad situation developing.

You observe the driver of the vehicle does not slow down at all, as the brake lights are not illuminated. And never will be. In fact, the driver maintains the vehicle speed and comes up behind the cyclist. The driver horns loudly, the cyclists are startled and quickly get into single file to the side of the road. The driver overtakes, but does NOT move fully into mythe other lane despite there being no on-coming traffic.

As a Christian, as any normal person, it’s very difficult not to be judgmental about the driver in this scenario.

There were many options. The driver could have alerted the cyclists by horning way in advance. The driver could have slowed down. The driver could have driven fully on the other lane when over taking.

Perhaps the driver was very annoyed at the cyclists for not adhering to the laws of the road. Perhaps the irritation was compounded by some emotional disturbance earlier that’s totally un-related. Perhaps the driver wanted to convey a lesson in road rules and safety.

Perhaps………

I am reading Jacques Philip’s “The Eight Doors of the Kingdom”. It’s about the Beatitudes. In particular, the third Beatitude says, “Blessed are the Meek for they shall inherit the Earth”.

Jacques highlighted that Psalm 37 invites us not to let the wrong doing, the injustices, the evil, etc. invade and infest our hearts with impurities – resentment, anger, condemnation, etc. – else, we too become accomplices of that we detest.

How does this relate to the driving scenario?

Consider the driver as a lost or mis-guided soul, who on current trajectory, may also be hurting those closest to him/her. The rush to judge a person’s character (vs a one-off action or behavior) is now replaced by Compassion, if we seek to cultivate Meekness.

Meekness does not imply one does not stand up against wrong doing, injustice, evil, etc. Rather, stand up but guard one’s heart.

Meekness is Kindness, Tenderness and Benevolence.

Bercianos del Real Camino to Mansilla de Las Mulas

Apr 18. Day 23. 28km. Departed 0658 hours, arrived 1258 hours.

We are amazed we walked this in 6 hours! Basically non-stop at a steady pace with only a 10 minute rest stop. Having a good dinner the night before helped. The walk was mainly flat and the weather was overcast (with a drizzle the last 3 km into our destination).

Spanish meal portions are about half that of American meals. But we find that it suffices! We need to keep this in mind when we are back in USA!

Seattle-like fall weather. Walking in a light drizzle can be enjoyable!

Joon insisted on checking out Bar Elvis in Reliegos. Unfortunately, it was closed.

A sculpture of St. James in a small park.

An amazing sculpture monument when we arrived at Mansilla de Las Mulas.

On the other side, this was very moving.

I seldom do food pics and we had some excellent meals on this Camino. But….

This hamburger in Mansilla deserves highlighting. A sunny side egg, beef patty, slices of ham, lettuce and tomato for Euro 4.50! Plus fries. That was our main meal for the day!

Mansilla had a procession that evening but it was drizzling and we were just too tired. Some of the decorations in the homes lining the procession route.

One gets more contemplative as the Camino days goes by. For deeper spiritual posts, I categorize them under ‘Spiritual’.

There are insights every day. Events un-fold, and one can view them as random, devoid of any significance, or begin to interpret them as part of something larger.

During our walk today, we started discussing about the Last Supper, whether it took place on Wednesday or Thursday (today is Thursday). Joon then mentioned that what changed for the Apostles was Pentecost Sunday, when the Holy Spirit came over them.

Less than half an hour after this, we noticed a helicopter approaching us from the direction we were walking towards. It was flying slowly towards us and then turned to a parked BMW car off the road on our right. We could see the words written on the under belly of the helicopter that it was a Guardia Civil, i.e. oldest law enforcement agency for whole of Spain, under the Ministry of Interior and Ministry of Defence. Before we knew it, it flew lower down to check out the car and its license plate. We were the only pilgrims caught in its down draft. We literally had to turn our backs to the helicopter as leaves, dirt, dust was blowing around and towards us.

Was this a reminder to us of the presence of the Holy Spirit in our world today? Co-incidence?

Holy Week during our Camino Frances is becoming more and more special.

Post Script: We met an Irish man who does portions of the Camino Frances during Holy Week. This year, he was with his daughter. We were able to help him with directions to an albergue the next day as we had a data plan on our smartphone.

Terradillos of the Templars to Bercianos del Real Camino

Apr 17. Day 22. 24.0 km. Departed 0730 hours, arrived 1355 hours.

Our first 6km was through the countryside, after which it was primarily alongside roadways or country roads.What distinguished the day for us was the spiritual reflections we read earlier in the morning and a devotional on the trail (thanks to our data plan). That prompted us to spend more time in prayer at the Ermita de la Virgen del Puente (2 km outside Sahagun) and several churches and monasteries in Sahagun.Don’t rush through Sahagun – there’s much history here.

We caught a lovely morning sunrise colors as we left our lodgings.

It was an overcast day that didn’t rained nor drizzled.

The trails in the early morning walk.

We are walking on the original Roman roads.

As this sign says, these are not Hobbit homes but wine cellars.

Fatima runs this charming cafe with 9 rooms. She persuaded us to try her home baked delicacies, especially the tart-like that’s connected with Holy Week.

Fatima was originally from Zimbabwe. She speaks English very well.

This motivational hand made sign along the trail was just the tonic for some. Bless the artist’s heart.

A lovely chapel dedicated to the Virgin del Puente. Benches and tables nearby for a prayerful stop.

A couple of stone monuments signifying the spot of the geographical center of the Camino Frances.

Close up of the left monument.

Sahagun is a nice sized town with lots of historical buildings and monuments. We visited some of them.

The arch of San Benito as we were leaving Sahagun.

As we walked towards Bercianos del Real Camino, we came across these lovely fields.

Bridges with character.

Some of the homes in Bercianos were built with old mud plus thatched materials.

Post Script: Praying at the Chapel helped re-center our Camino.

TIP: We switched to using Correos for our luggage transfer. We could go online to detail the dates and destinations, and when one commits to 5 stages or more, it’s cheaper. For 9 stages, 2 backpacks, that comes up to a good penny. But one’s destination lodging must be on Correos list!

Carrion de Los Condes to Terradillos of the Templars***

Apr 16. Day 21. 28km. Departed 0713 hours, arrived 1345 hours.

How does a 17km stretch of walking through open countryside with nary a commercial establishment sound? This is undiluted, unadulterated, core essence of the Camino.

Leaving Carrion de Los Condes early morning.

View of the river as we passed by in the early morning hours.

The monk quarters of San Zoilo monastery have been converted into a 4 star luxury hotel!

Interesting road side plaques near the Monastery San Zoilo.

Now, we come to the 17 km section of today’s Camino.

Loved how the early sunrise colored the trees a golden brown

A camped pilgrim at a rest area in this lonely stretch!

A row of trees.

Cyclists, with their florescent jackets!

This picture epitomizes the expanse we encountered today. It was easy to let others pass so that we can have this ‘solitary’ experience!

Tilled ground contrasting the blue skies.

In the last 6km stretch into Temperadillo de Templars, we opted for the longer countryside route then along the freeway. This is what greeted us!

We stopped for a 10 minute rest and bite, during a six and a half hours walk today! A tremendous experience that required some internal fortitude.

We treated ourselves to a proper lunch and dinner at the albergue we are staying tonight!

Fromista to Carrion de Los Condes

Apr 15. Day 20. 19.8 km. Departed 0713 hours, arrived 1150 hours.

Weather forecast was for 50% chance of precipitation during thunderstorm at 11am. The Spirit smiled upon us as a brief downpour only happened at 1.45pm, after our check in (one of our earliest) and lunch!

We both are fully recovered from our respective colds and coughs. Our sleep is sound and deep after daily hours of walking.There was a decision to be made 3.5km after leaving Fromista, as one exits a smaller village of Poblacion de Campos. Taking the right detour takes one to a quieter walk, while the left over the bridge is alongside the roads and takes one through various towns. Since we had our guidebook, we confidently took the right detour. We saw about 6 pilgrims who were backtracking from this quiet detour route, perhaps they did not like how the initial stretch of the detour looked like and were unsure. How invaluable it is to be able to consult ‘x’ at crossroads.

A sculpture as one leaves Fromista.

Don’t miss the ‘cut out’ is showing one the way! It goes hand in hand with the first one!

Fromista in the sunrise

Why did this house hang no longer wanted music CDs? Chirp, chirp.

The family homes on the detour route immediately after Pablacion de Campos. Sized optimally.

Canals feeding water into a well to replenish groundwater? It seems there’s a meta-physical or spiritual equivalent of replenishing our interior reserves.

This tree is the lonely one outside the orchard. Was it planted there? Non-conforming? Not straight like its siblings? Hmm.

Santa Maria del Camino in Carrion de Los Condes.

The lighted up main altar.

One of the best lunch time meals under the Menu of the Day (Euro 11) at restaurant La Cerve. This entree is the cheeks of the pig! Lentil soup and cheesecake mousse too.

We were fortunate to witness a procession of the Jesus statue after evening mass on Holy Monday.

An evening stroll to the park.

Another memorable day to treasure.

Castrojeriz to Fromista***

Apr 14. Day 19. 25.5 km. Departed 0745 hours, arrived 1440 hours.

Today was a pleasurable blend of experiences. The hike up to the Alto de Mostelares (907m) was within the first 20 mins after leaving our lodging. The flat portion allowed us to stretch the legs before the climb. It was rated 12 degrees over 1050m. It seemed steeper when you are on it, but it was gentle when you aren’t carrying a full backpack. Both views (backwards and forwards) from the summit were stupendous. Thus, we were full of energy when we did this.

The walk through the Meseta plains, with its vast flatness, was soothing. For us, the tiredness comes in after 20km or so, when either our day packs begins to weigh on us or the feet begins to feel every stone or unevenness in the ground.

The final 5-6 km into Fromista was along a canal, which was on the right of the trail. To the immediate left of the trail was a line of trees, which gave some shade from the sun. A blissful tag teaming by canal and trees.

The sun rise as we were leaving Castrojeriz

Part of St Nicholas church as we reached the outskirts of town

We liked how the sun rays colored part of this clouds

Before reaching the base of the hills, we had to cross the San Miguel bridge, with some arches from the 12th century. It’s part of a Roman causeway (to cross the marshland).

San Miguel bridge

This was a second bridge. Scripture reference is thought provoking.

Part of the river and marshland, viewed from second bridge.

A helpful ascent sign. The descent sign showed a gradient of 18% over 350 m. And someone was jogging up when we were descending!

A view of pilgrims making their way up.

Selfie moment at Alto de Mostelares. There was a flat portion that we walked for 10-15 mins before descending.

The views of the wide valley expanse if the Meseta plains

Hopefully, this panaramic picture shows up well.

As we walked along the plains, the clouds and green fields were iconic.

These buildings are dovecotes, sheltering doves. There are no windows and one small entrance (for maintenance purposes). Just outside Boadilla del Camino.

Our first views of the canal as we approached the trails that ran alongside it for several km.

Another look at the canal.

Rides can be arranged when service is in season!

Today is Palm Sunday, the start of Holy Week.

We give thanks for all our blessings. And contemplate and work at internalizing the first Beatitude, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”