Camino, Day 28, la Portela de Valcarce to Hospital, plus horses!

This was my horse, a 12 year old mare who slipped a few times on the rocks, but not nearly as many times as I would.
This was my horse, a 12 year old mare named Bonny, who slipped a few times on the rocks, but not nearly as many times as I would.

Day 28, la Portela de Valcarce to Hospital, 22k (10k on horseback)
April 28, 2016
This morning we were up early and out before 8am because we had an appointment about 7k down the road. We allowed enough time to stop for a quick breakfast (for those, unlike me, who can eat in the morning). We walked to Herrerias to meet Victor Echevarria at Al Paso stables. That’s right. Our preferred way of climbing O’Cebreio is on horseback! We were the envy of the Camino as we sat and let the horses climb the 3,000 feet into Galicia, our last Province. (35 Euros for the horse, 5 Euro for a taxi to take the backpack up).
The 2 hour climb would have taken me 5 or 6 on foot with a pack. Or more. We first followed an asphalt road, but quickly turned off onto an old Roman road, lined with chestnut trees, giant fern and wild primrose. Victor said the trees were planted by the Romans to help feed the slaves in a nearby gold mine. Victor and one of his helpers walked the entire way and rode the horses down. They do this twice most days!

The walk first thing in the morning.
The walk first thing in the morning.
One of the towns this morning had its own castle (in ruins) high on the hill. Can you see it?
One of the towns this morning had its own castle (in ruins) high on the hill. Can you see it?
Saddling up the horses.
Saddling up the horses.
This is what we climbed, about half way!
This is what we climbed, about half way!

After lunch at the top, we added another 5k to an albergue in Hospital.
Warning. WTMI (Way Too Much Information) I know I go on a variety of “adventures” but what most people don’t realize is the tole it takes on my body. This is not a walk in the park and though I enjoy backpacking, my body simply doesn’t. It’s showing the signs of rebellion. First was the morning retching. That started over a week ago. Then actual vomiting in the mornings, so that I can’t eat breakfast unless I want to see and taste it a second time. I can’t consume anything for breakfast except coffee and usually only have whole grain crackers before lunch. Next is mild diarrhea. That hit today. While I can take something for it, what I need to do is listen to my body and rest. Odds are, I’ll be able to jump ahead by bus tomorrow and take a day off while the group catches up.

Camino, Days 26 & 27

Pontaferada has a castle.
Pontaferada has a castle.

Day 26, Ponferrada to Pieros, 18k
April 26, 2016
Last night was one of the nicest group of hostel volunteers. Anne (from Ohio) joined us yesterday and we three shared a room.
I’m really showing signs of wearing down–too tired to eat dinner last night. I’ve gotten some chalky anti-acid tablets (Euro Tums) and using them to settle my stomach in the mornings. I also have a blister on the second toe on my right foot. I don’t know what was rubbing and didn’t even know it was there until I too off my sock. It looks like my toe is trying to grow another toe!
Linkin (from Denmark) joined us for this leg of the journey. We met her at an earlier hostel. We all four stayed at El Serbal y la Luna, and excellent albergue with very good vegetarian food. Since there was no wifi, I showered, hand washed a few items and took a two hour nap before dinner. Everyone seemed surprised, but I had no trouble falling asleep again after dinner.

Wisteria and lilacs are in bloom.
Wisteria and lilacs are in bloom.
Ponferrada castle was closed yesterday because it was Monday and we just couldn't wait 2hours for it to open.
Ponferrada castle was closed yesterday because it was Monday and we just couldn’t wait 2hours for it to open.

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More storks
More storks
Who knew bagpipes were one of the traditional instruments here?
Who knew bagpipes were one of the traditional instruments here?
Linkin and Tim at beer o'clock!
Linkin and Tim at beer o’clock!

Day 27, Pieros to la Portela de Valcarce, 21k
April 27, 2016
A tough day–mostly flat, but almost entirely road/sidewalk walking. Those hard surfaces really took it out on all off us and after our showers we are all flat on our backs. Anne got a private room. She is a light sleeper and suffering from a bad nighttime cough.

The grapevines are waking up!
The grapevines are waking up!

The first 7k this morning were especially beautiful with many vineyards. The grapevines are in perfect rows and the severely pruned plants are just beginning to show some green leaves. This is the Bierzo area, a micro-climate with excellent wines. The next 7 were completely along the highway, but had the advantage of being relatively flat, following a river that had cut a path between substantial hills. One of the alternative routes would have taken us straight up those hills. Not me! Did I mention that my original trail name was Flatlander? The last 5k began the assent of what will be out last major hill, O’Cebreiro, which we face tomorrow. It’s about a 1,000 meter climb (3,000feet) and I’m not looking forward to it!

The buen Camino burro!
The buen Camino burro!

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On the plus side, we’ve dropped below the 200k mark–a bit over 100miles left to do. Since I don’t have to be in Madrid until the week of May 15, that gives me plenty of time to get to Santiago and take a bus to see Finisterra.

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A castle that wasn't even on my map.
A castle that wasn’t even on my map.
We see a lot of wind and solar power as in this photo.
We see a lot of wind and solar power as in this photo.

Day 25, Acebo to Ponferrada

imageDay 25, Acebo to Ponferrada, 20k
April 25, 2016
The albergue we stayed in last night was part of a very new hotel complex. Probably on the the most comfortable so far Casa de Peregrino, 10 Euros). The pilgrims meal and breakfast (10 & 4 Euros) were also good choices. Or at least they were until I threw up breakfast less than 4K into today’s walk. This was a constant issue on the AT and it happened 2-3 days a week. I’ve felt sudden nausea the last few mornings, but this is the first morning on this hike where I saw my breakfast in reverse. I hope this will not be an issue every morning.
The walk was mostly downhill for the first half of the day, with sunny skies. I even got a small sunburn on my wrist where I’d forgotten to apply sunscreen!
Ponferrada is a larger town of about 68,000 people. They have an old Knights Templar castle, but since it’s Monday, it’s closed! Hate to miss it.
The donativo albergue is very nice and the two women who are volunteering here are extra funny and nice. We got here early enough to wash out a few items which are drying in the sun.

Tim and Ann in Molinaseca
Tim and Ann in Molinaseca

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The view from my albergue tonight.
The view from my albergue tonight.

Day 24, El Ganso to Acebo

imageDay 24, El Ganso to Asebo, 23.5k
April 24, 2016
The Italians were loud. It’s hard to imagine there could be so much to talk about. They were also opening hostile to us AND ate my yogurt. I hope we never see that group again!

We hiked to the highest point on the Camino today and the views were fantastic. From all sides we saw snow covered mountains. Today was basically 17k of (mostly) gradual assent of 500meters (1500 feet) some flat sections and about 3k of a (not at all gradual) 500meter decent. Very steep. I’m one tired hiker. The path today reminded me of the AT, and not in a good way. Despite sunshine, there was mud, washed out sections, rocks and often a stream running in what should have been trail. There were enough rocks that I wondered if I was back in Pennsylvania! But the weather made the hike a possibility. In fact, today is the first day that the weather has been what I expected for spring in Spain. All the locals say it’s the wettest, coldest spring on record. Still, I don’t think I could do this exposed hike in high summer!

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Camino: Days 22-23

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Camino Week 4
Day 22, Villadangoes del Paramo to San Justo de la Vega, 26k
April 22, 2016
It was an especially nice group of pilgrims in the hostel last night and we were lucky to run into them again today. Our guidebook suggested a 28.5k day, but we stopped short of that goal, mostly due to tired feet and heavy rain. We even hit thunder and lightening. It is a bit warmer and the wind has finally died down, but I’m tired of walking in mud, rain and getting soaked. My rain jacket doesn’t seem to keep me all that dry.

Tim in front of a mileage sign. Unfortunately the next town listed the remainder of the trail as over 300km. Anyway, roughly 200miles to go.
Tim in front of a mileage sign. Unfortunately the next town listed the remainder of the trail as over 300km. Anyway, roughly 200miles to go.

On the plus side, the fields are green and we heard cuokoo birds most of the day. It’s like hearing someone’s clock strike the hour.
My feet really hurt today–too many hard surfaces! So after my shower I simply lay in bed most of the rest of the evening. My feet were much better for it! In general the pilgrims hostels (albergues) are quite nice, better than almost any I stayed in on the AT. This night was an exception. Three bunk beds crammed into a single hotel room with barely room between the beds to climb to the top bunk. The bath was functional, but the whole place could use some attention. I usually snag a bottom bunk, but had a top bed this night.

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This display was in the middle of nowhere. Wonder who made it?
This display was in the middle of nowhere. Wonder who made it?
Tim isn't getting enough exercise just hiking! Seriously, he has a lot more energy than I do.
Tim isn’t getting enough exercise just hiking! Seriously, he has a lot more energy than I do.
Much of the trail looked like this today. No shade. It'd be awful in August.
Much of the trail looked like this today. No shade. It’d be awful in August.

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That's San Justo de las Vega below.
That’s San Justo de las Vega below.

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Day 23, San Justo de la Vega to El Ganso, 18k
April 23, 2016
I simply wasn’t into hiking today. Nothing is hurting, no blisters, just tired of walking in rain and dark skies. It was mostly an attitude problem, but the hostel didn’t help either. They didn’t get our laundry done last night and we couldn’t even dress until they opened the bar at 8a! When you do laundry, you wash pretty much everything except what you are wearing at the moment. I prefer to do my own laundry, but most places seem to want to do it for you. I have one pair of pants I hike in and one for town. I’ve a pair of shorts to sleep in, but it’s been too cold for that.
First we walked 2-3k to Astorga, the town we’d expected to stay in the night before. There was the most complicated pedestrian railroad crossing I’ve ever seen. It was almost half a kilometer long! In Astorga we stopped for coffee and breakfast. At the halfway point I would have taken a bus if one was available, but none was. There was heavy rain before lunch. Though we occasionally got a hint of sun, like yesterday, there were thunderstorms in the afternoon with a noticeable temperature drop. This is not the fun part.

The pedestrian overpass is overkill.
The pedestrian overpass is overkill.
Astorga
Astorga

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Astorga
Astorga
This building in Astorga was designed by Gaudi.
This building in Astorga was designed by Gaudi.

We stopped short of our goal of Rabanal del Camino and are in a surprisingly nice hostel in the middle of nowhere. It’s filled up since we arrived and based on the chatty Italian, it could be a noisy night. It was a gradual assent all day. According to the guidebook we will reach the highest point tomorrow. I keep seeing white capped mountains growing closer in front of us and I’m getting nervous.image

See? It's spring!
See? It’s spring!

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Look at that sky. The lightening started right after this photo.
Look at that sky. The lightening started right after this photo.
Waiting out the rain with new friends at the Cowboy Cafe.
Waiting out the rain with new friends at the Cowboy Cafe.

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