Camino Santiago – Mountain Climbers are We

Hello from Molinaseca, Spain!  It’s been awhile since I’ve had the opportunity to update the blog here. The only tech I brought with me on this adventure was my phone and the little bluetooth keyboard to type with.  And I’ve gotta say my phone has been letting me down. It’s pretty common to find places with WiFi (passwords for paying customers, of course) but for some reason my phone has not been very cooperative with the internet at large. Basically it allows me to connect to Instagram and that’s about it. No Facebook, no WordPress, no email, nothing but Instagram. Very weird. But tonight we have a solid connection and so I am taking advantage of it!

Since last writing (way back on Day 7) we have officially left the meseta and are firmly in the mountains. 

The rolling hills and forests begin. No longer the flat lands and wheat fields of the meseta!

We’ve been going up and out of the meseta since we left the big city of Leon 5 days ago, but starting yesterday it was no longer a gradual incline and instead a serious upward hike. Days 13 and 14 on the Camino de Santiago consisted of some legit mountain climbing.

Yesterday it was more of a slow and steady slog up until the very end of the day, which was when the real mountain climbing kicked in.  The path was winding and hot and full of rocks, which would be a pattern for the day to come. It was hard work.  For me, it was also a lot of fun. 

The path up the mountain. And this was a good section! So many rocks.

Okay, so I could have done with a little less rocks littering the entire path, but still. The climb up is hard hot work, but I like it. It’s a steady climb and I feel a concrete sense of accomplishment when I get to the top and can look back and see how far I’ve come. And the views are a definite reward.

The view from our albergue in Foncebadon.

We spent the night in Foncebadon, which was mostly ruins of a once thriving village until the Camino gained in popularity and people began to rebuild.  The village is now an interesting mix of a few albergues, reclaimed buildings such as the church, and old ruins.

Today, Day 14 for those keeping track, we woke early to continue our climb up the mountain. Our first big stop of the day was the Cruz de Ferro. It’s one of the more popular stops along this section of the Camino Frances. The tradition is that you bring a rock from home and place it at the base of the cross to symbolize leaving your burdens behind.

Placing my rock from Maine at the base of the Cruz de Ferro

Then it was off and down the mountain. Or so we thought. Little did we know that first we would go down a bit, then up, and up, and up some more.  The path was very nice, with a mix of shaded bits and very pretty views, but it was a lot more work than any of our party had thought was ahead of us that day. We were prepared for the down, but for some reason more up didn’t enter our minds.

Some highlights of the day included stopping to meet Tomas, the last of the Knights Templar, and wandering through the mountains with old ruins of villages. 

Then came the down. As much as I appreciate the challenge of an uphill hike, I dread the downhill path. It is killer on my sad knees, and it’s just plain boring hard work. I do not like the downs. And boy were these some crazy hard downward paths.

Rebecca and Joanne navigate the rocky path downwards

I don’t have many pictures of the downhill hike because I was too busy concentrating on not losing my footing, or having my knees give out, or not rolling down the mountain to my death… (Only a slight exagerration.)

The path drops off right at the edge where the yellow grass is. Pictures really don’t do it justice.

After a lifetime and what felt like the hottest afternoon in history, we finally made it (mostly) down the mountain to our current town of Molinaseca. 

Molinaseca

This town is very charming and has a damned up area in the river where you can swim. If we had the time I’d spend days here just swimming and wandering around, but alas we are on a schedule. So tomorrow it’s off early to Ponferrada and beyond!

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Week One Survived on the Camino de Santiago!

​Hola from Calzadilla De Los Hermanillo! We have officially finished week one on the Camino de Santiago. Go team!

At this point in our adventure I think we’ve worked out a pretty good routine. Of course we’re on the meseta right now which means long flat days of walking, things might change when we reach the mountains…

The meseta. Not a mountain in site. Also not in sight, shade.

But for now we’ve found what works. And we’ve all been very good about communicating when we need breaks, or doubts in the planned path, etc.  This is my first team adventure, and trekking with group is very different than when it’s just me and Anna.

The routine:

We wake up not-so-bright and early at around 5am to get our packs on and walking by 6 or 6:30.  Partly because we have been staying in albergues (Americans, think public hostels) and when the other peregrinos wake up and start getting ready, we all wake up and start getting ready.  People generally try and be as quiet as they can, but there’s only so little noise you can make when getting gear together in an open room with 50 other people. On the bright side, this means I never have to worry about setting my alarm!

Our albergue in Boadilla. (We chose the loft section)

Once we’re ready, we head out and start walking. This usually means before the sun is up and the heat hits. Which is the whole point of getting out early – to get as many miles in before the sun is up and baking.  Joanne and I do not do so well with the baking. Rebecca, I think, seems to come alive in the heat but she’s been very accomidating to her two New England bred companions.

After walking for a couple of hours we stop in a town and have breakfast. This usually includes either a croissant or a bocadillo (egg, potato, and sometimes cheese, on french bread), and always includes the precious cafe con leche. We sit and relax and eat for about an hour, then it’s back on the road. 

Our typical pilgrim breakfast

After breakfast we walk for a couple more hours, at least, and either take a break on the side of the trail in a bit of shade (if we can find any) or if we reach another town we’ll stop for a cold soda and maybe some fruit or snacks we’ve packed.  This break tends to be short – just a breather, then it’s back on the trail.

Sometimes we luck out and have both shade and picnic tables for our break.

Usually we plan it out so it’s just another couple of hours to our end destination. Which means we stroll into town around 2pm (or 14:00), which is plenty of time to make sure the local albergue still has enough beds open.  We drop our packs on our beds, shower, and relax until dinner time.

Then we sleep, wake up, and do it all over again. 

There are still a few quirks to work out – like how we tend to skip lunch and then curse ourselves later in the day when nothing is open and we have to wait until later to get dinner.  Minor stuff…

But honestly it’s going really well. We’ve all found our strides and every day we seem to be making better time and getting well into the groove of the Camino.  I think Joanne and Rebecca are nervous about the upcoming mountains, but I have complete confidence we’ll be fine. I might be singing a different tune by the end of next week, but we’ll see.

Buen Camino!