Homer's Travels: Camino De Santiago - Astorga To Foncebadón

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Camino De Santiago - Astorga To Foncebadón

This was going to be a long stage so I paced myself.  My blister and ankle felt fine since my treatment, my education in Mansillas de las Mulas, and my rest on the bus.

Outside of Astoga I stopped at a small chapel that was, to my surprise, open so early in the morning. The Chapel of the Ecce Homo had a small water fountain outside for the pilgrims labeled in nine languages with the phrase "The faith, fountain of health."  Inside the 17th century chapel a little elderly lady stamped your pilgrim's credential and asked you to sign the chapel's log book.  I received a card with a prayer as a parting gift though I got the wrong one - I got the one with the female Virgen Pilgrim on it.

At the one third spot I reached the town of Santa Catalina de Somoza.  I sat down at a table outside of a bar.  I forced myself to rest here as I ate an apple and a little bit of the dark chocolate bar I'd bought in Astorga.  A flea bitten dog was circling warily as I ate.  I tried to feed her some apple but she wouldn't come close enough.

The next town was El Ganso (The Goose) home of the famous Mesón COWBOY.  The little bar was filled with western paraphernalia ... not necessarily western American but it was close.  There was a crowd in the bar as everyone was stopping for their morning coffees and shots of something the bar tender was handing out.  I failed to get a stamp here, an oversight on my part, but I did buy my earliest ice cream here (9:30 AM - my rule was ice cream only after 10:00 AM).  This is where I first saw the Spaniard (not the same Spaniard from Roncesvalles ... I was in Spain so there were lots of Spaniards).  He was travelling with a couple friends (I know the name of one of his friends, PB, but not that of the Spaniard himself).  I would meet the Spaniard for most of the rest of the way to Santiago de Compostela.

At the two thirds spot there was no real place to rest.  I ended up sitting on a guard rail as I ate another apple and some more dark chocolate.  This turned out to be a good place to rest as the Camino left the road it had been following since El Ganzo and went up a dirt trail - emphasis on the 'up'.  A chain link fence separated the Camino from farm land.  Like in the Logroño to Navarrete stage people had filled the fence with crosses and in one case a nice representation of the shell.

The next town was Rabanal del Camino.  This is where many pilgrims stop.  There is an albergue run by the English here.  I know this because AL and JT once volunteered to be hospitaleros here and he'd told me all about it.  My destination was still 3.73 miles (6 km) away.

Rabanal del Camino was built on a hill and that pretty much set the pace for the rest of the day.  The Camino really started going up after you left town.  To my surprise I felt great.  I didn't need to stop once as I walked up the hill humming to myself.  I was a hill climbing machine. Passed by the rest area (similar to the one on the desert) without stopping except to take a picture of where I'd been and where I was going.

This stage has nearly as much up as the first day in the Pyrenees but most people don't mention this fact.  I think it's because, by the time you reach this hill, you are in much better shape.

Up ahead I saw the puddle.  It looked wet and it filled the entire Camino.  I tried to avoid it but couldn't.  Both feet sunk up to the bottom of the laces.  My first concern was that all my hard earned Camino dust would be washed away but as it dried it made my boots look totally awesome.  It also helped that my boots were water proof and my feet stayed dry.

I reached the top of the hill and saw my destination.  It was on an even higher hill about a mile up ahead.  By the time I got there, hill climbing machine or not, I was tired.  There isn't much in Foncebadón.  Much of the town looks like it's in ruins.  There are three albergues in Foncebadón, a tiny municipal, a small private, and a larger private located in an old convent.  I suspect that the population of the town triples when the albergues are full.

I ended up in the small private albergue run by, what I would characterize as, hippies.  The inside was covered in Buddhist literature and pictures.  The hospitaleros were nice enough  and they cooked dinner for everyone at the albergue.  There were bunk beds on the second floor but they were all taken by people who had reserved ahead (you can reserve beds in private albergues).  The third floor was more an attic with mattresses on the floor.  I picked one in the corner, bought a ham sandwich for lunch from the hospitaleros, and went out to wait in the sun for GV who arrived about an hour or so after I did.

The albergue had a small store as there wasn't anything in the town.   I bought some fruit for the next day but was disappointed when they did not have principe cookies.  GV felt sorry for me and gave me a tube of Oreos that she'd bought and hadn't eaten.

The albergue put on a pretty good communal meal.  I met a few more people including three more Canadians (they're everywhere).   I ended up talking to an Australian lady, JN, who was on her second Camino.  She'd done it last year with her husband but he got sick and held her back so she was repeating it without him this year.  She said that 2011 was just as busy as 2010 which had been a holy year.  Usually the volume of pilgrims goes up during holy years and then drops back down.  Not this time apparently.  We talked about how the Camino changed people.  She suggested that the change doesn't happen on the Camino but happens in the weeks and months after you finish when you've had time to contemplate on your experiences.  Based on what I have been feeling over the last few months I think she is right.  I'm still trying to figure out what has changed in me.

Later RN and MO showed up to check out our albergue (They were in the convent.)  MO didn't seem as friendly as she was in Zubiri.  I suppose the miles can wear on you.

That night I went to sleep at the normal 9:00 PM.  A guy (who referred to the women he traveled with as his "harem" - that kind of guy) was talking to a woman.  He'd found a lighter along the Camino. *flick*  He didn't know if it worked or not. *flick* *flick* *flick* *flick* He didn't think it worked *flick* *flick* *flick* *flick* *flick* *flick* *flick* *flick* *flick* *flick* *flick* *flick* *flick*  Finally, without moving my head or raising my voice I said "It doesn't F***ing work." He said "Oh, yeah" and stopped.  GV and a couple pilgrims near me held back their laughter - all I could see was their sleeping bags shaking.

Day twenty-five ended well.  My feet felt awesome and my aching leg (which would not go away during my stay in Spain and persists to this day) was managed with pilgrim candy.  Without the pain my mood did a 180 and ... my adventure continued.

Total Distance: 16.44 Miles (26.46 km)
Total Time: 6 hours 29 minutes
Total Elevation Up: 4,397 ft (1,340.21 m)
Total Elevation Down: 2,643 ft ( 805.59 m)

[Click on map for a larger version]


  1. OH it WAS a Camino-related ache. Should've read this first.

    I'm really glad that things are going so much better by this time on the trip. You sound like you're enjoying your time there more. And it's NEVER too early for ice cream! Never, ever, ever.

  2. MMC: Yes it was. Everyone keeps telling me that's it's never too early but i feel like I'm doing something wrong when I eat ice cream in the morning.

  3. But you do agree with me that cookies are acceptable for breakfast right?

  4. MMC: I have done that before but I tend to save my sweets until afternoon or evening.

  5. "Flick, flick"! Annoying little lighter, isn't it? :) What did she mean by "holy year"?

  6. Gany: Each catholic saint has a day dedicated to him/her (often based on the date he/she died). When that day falls on a Sunday it is designated a holy or Jubilee year for that saint. Saint James' day is July 25 which fell on a Sunday in 2010. The next holy year for Saint James will be in 2021. In the past the number of pilgrims would increase 10x during holy years but since the Camino is become more secular the holy year seems to be less significant.