We have a system in place. The night before we read the weather and get our hiking clothes out and ready to throw on in the morning. We usually double check the forecast first thing in the morning to make sure we have enough layers on our bodies and then any extras that need to be packed in the most-likely-to-be-needed on the top of the backpack.
(The above is a lesson learned quickly when it starts to get cold, or misty, or you’re hungry and whatever it is you need is at the very bottom of the pack, which means you have unpack all the stuff at the top and set it most likely on dirt or rocks or ledges that have tiny, biting bugs that will decide to take up residence inside your pack and bite you later.)
The forecast for this day basically said cloudy, cold in the morning (no kidding—we were on top of the world in O’Cebriero— and then high 60s later.
When I say “cold in the morning” I mean the temp started with a 4. As in 47 degrees Fahrenheit. Hence our morning selfie was taken indoors whilst inside the lodging.
This was our longest, my hardest day EVER. We were leaving the wine country and heading up a river to the top of the world as we know it. The first 20K (12 or so miles) was mostly flat and followed the river. Gorgeous. The last 10K (6 miles) were essentially straight up rocky forest paths.
We arrived at the 20K town at 3 p.m. This is normally when we like to get to our final destination. Oh, no, not even close!
Today we head for the hills and valleys. The Bierzo Valley wine making district to be specific. Walking through a city is not our favorite thing, but Donna and I thoroughly enjoyed the vineyards. Until we “hit the wall” and were just ready to be done!
When we left our hotel in Astorga it was 47 degrees Fahrenheit. No rain, but brisk. We knew we had a steady uphill walk from our walking notes, and for a while looked forward to generating some body heat.
Except for the wind. Blowing right in our faces the whole way. Uphill.
The talk around the Peregrino table last night was who’s taking a taxi to the edge of Leon and who’s walking the whole way out of town. Walking through city streets is not our favorite thing to do, but Donna and I decided not to skip seeing the rest of the city.
We were excited to be heading to Leon, which is the last big city on the Camino. We have a day off planned for Day 10, Sept. 19, so we were also looking forward to sleeping in and giving our feet and backs a rest.
We realized as we were close to walking into our last night before the big city of Leon that neither one of us had taken many pictures. It was pretty much the same as the last few days on the Meseta. Crops, tree lined path along the road (for which are always grateful—shade).
We got an early (for us) start hoping to arrive at our destination by 4 p.m. which was when rain was predicted to start there. It had rained during the night, so the predicted 8 a.m. bout didn’t materialize as we walked out the door of our hostel.
A hostel, by the way that proved you can’t judge a book by its cover. When we arrived there yesterday, we looked at each other and said, “Really?”
OK, now we know why some people choose to bike or even skip the Meseta. I’m glad we didn’t, but it is, indeed, a long, hot stretch of nothing but crops, dust and flies. I am a big believer in the notion that you find what you’re looking for, so Donna and I made a point of looking for things that we could be grateful for.
Our walking notes warned us that this 20K section would be a straight shot along a highway, through vast fields of cut hay and dying sunflowers. Actually, the notes only mentioned the distance, the highway and “crops.” We would pass through three tiny villages called Campos de [Spanish word], and that would pretty much be the only break from crops and crops and highway.
I made a decision today, Sept. 12, 2019, aka Day 3 on the Camino. It was our longest day so far (big deal, we’ve been walking three days): 25km [15 miles]. We didn’t get to our lodging until 5:30 p.m. and I was frustrated because I had looked forward to having some down time between shower and dinner to write. Specifically, to write this blog. I was already a day behind, and I really wanted to post every day.
Wait just a dang minute. Sounds like stress to me. Felt like stress to me. Layer that on top of aching limbs, flaming feet, a drippy, sweaty face and still several miles to go before I’d see a rooftop, let alone the reception desk of our lodging—that’s when I made my decision.
Starting our Camino on my birthday, Sept. 10, 2019 was special, but purely accidental. When Donna and I planned the trip we looked at our calendars and worked backwards more than forwards. I remember saying at one point, “Oh, cool. Our first day of walking will be my birthday.” ‘Nuf said about that.
And then, this morning, we made our way to the breakfast buffet at our hotel in Burgos, gathered our favorite source of caffeine and food stuffs, then sat down at a table in the hotel’s dining room.
Donna puts a stack of envelopes and folded papers next to my plate. Birthday cards. I gulp, choke and almost sob an itty bit. This took advance planning and a decent amount of schlepping on Donna’s part.
You see, my mother spoiled me when it comes to birthdays. From as early as I can remember, the first words I would hear on my birthday were from her lips, “Happy Birthday!” She might have been waking me for school (in fourth grade my birthday was actually on the first day of school) or I could have been walking into the kitchen in search of a cup of tea on my way out the door to Cal State Long Beach.
This year, my 64th trip around the sun, this birthday is an exciting way to begin a new adventure in oh, so many ways.
Each day, or at least each day last time on the Portuguese Camino, Donna and I would take a morning selfie. Today, we handed the camera to the receptionist at the hotel.
Yesterday we found the Camino markers in the road outside our hotel and decided to take before and first day photos.
We were ahead of schedule. Alarm at 6 a.m. Check. Throw on the clothes we laid out the night before, call the bellman to bring down the luggage. Check. He arrived at 6:30 a.m. and asked if we needed a taxi. Yes, please.
We checked out 6:40 a.m. and were in the cab with time to spare for the 8 a.m. train departing Madrid’s Chamartin station.
At 7:10 a.m. we hop out of the cab, open the hatch, and I gasp. “Donde esta nuestra equipaje?” [Where is our luggage?]
“What luggage?” he said in Spanish. “Soloa mano.” [Only by hand, referring to our large purses.]
I managed to explain in Spanish that we needed to return to the hotel for our luggage, and did he think we would still have time to return and catch the 8 a.m. train. This was not the context in which I wanted to practice my Spanish, but I was grateful for every Pimsler lesson I listened to at that moment.
We landed in Madrid Saturday night, dropped our luggage off at the hotel and started walking through City Centre. We were on a mission for tapas and sangria.
The San Miguel Market, located behind Plaza Mayor, was the perfect spot. Something for everyone, including Padron peppers, which Donna and I discovered in Galicia on our previous Camino via the Portuguese coastal route.
One full day is not enough
Sunday morning we wanted to cover as much of the city as possible, given we only had this one full day to do so. (We leave Monday, Sept. 9 for Burgos at 8 a.m. via train.)