Sunday, 24 January 2016

Camino Frances Day 4

I occupied the second bed from the farthest end of the room, a bottom bunk as always. Come to think of I don’t think I have ever occupied a top bunk during this Camino.

The albergue was great except that it had limited number of sockets and the ones available are near the entrance, far from my bed. I know that pilgrims are good people but still I had to check once in a while that my phone was still there while it’s being charged.

My toenails had grown long enough to cause pain from the constant pressure against my rubber shoes. Fortunately a Japanese lady in the room had a nailcutter and I summoned the courage to borrow it.

The guy who occupied the bed beside the wall noticed me grimacing in pain every time I shifted my legs. He told me he also experienced the same pain on his leg in the early part of his Camino. (He started at St. Jean Pied De Port). He assured me that the pain would go away but I should proceed at my own pace and not to be in a rush.

I wanted to start a bit late because I knew that the path for the day would take us to the highest point of the walk. (At least it would be the highest elevation from my starting point, Leon to Santiago de Compostela)  I wanted the sun to be a bit up so the temperature will not be too harsh. I was worried because I brought only a leather jacket.

The other day I received news that snow was still seen on the highest point of the walk. I was actually regretting at that time why I did not bring a much thicker jacket.

My agreement with Robi the night before was that we would leave Rabanal together at 8 am.

But Robbie messaged me that he and the other pilgrims in the donativo albergue wanted to catch the sunrise at the highest peak. This would require them to leave much earlier, 4 am.

Four am was an ungodly hour for me. It would be too dark and too cold so I just proposed to Robi that we would meet up at the end of the day at the next recommended stop - Ponferrada.

There was this handy app called the Camino Pilgrim which I had been using for the past 2 days. It gave the distances between stops as well as other important establishments in the locality such as albergues, pharmacies, banks or bars. This app was extremely useful to a clueless pilgrim like me. I learned about this app from an American lady I chatted in the municipal albergue of Villadangas. Based on the app Ponferrada would be about 30 kilometers away.

I left the albergue at 8am. Most of the pilgrims were early risers because there were only 4 people left when I started my trek.

The church of Rabanal was rather striking in the background I paused to take a shot of it a few meters off.

There was something liberating in walking alone because my right leg was getting more painful and I could slow down my pace accordingly and take as many stops as I could.

I normally rest after every hour but the pain made me pause every half-hour or so.

The view was somehow impressive because the foliage was more in the shade of red.

A lonely bench beside a water source just before a steep ascent prodded me to make an unscheduled stop. I recall eating “Filipinos “biscuit, and chugging almost half the contents of my water bottle. For some reason I thought about my dad on this part of the walk. I can’t recall now what made me think about him. I somehow just felt his presence like he was peering from one of the shrubs in the distance.

It started to get foggy and I thought of horror movies particularly the one with a masked guy holding a machete with the signature eerie sound in the background. I couldn’t resist taking a pose with an anxious look on my face. It’s all for show of course.

Visibility was almost zero by the time I entered the area of Foncebadon. I knew I was on an elevated area and I was worried that I might miss a turn and head off to an edge of a cliff. At this point the howling of the winds from the background was growing louder. It was really getting creepy.

Fortunately an imposing man-made structure appeared out of the fog and I thought of taking a break from the cold.

A blast of warm air greeted me when I opened the door of the bar. I ordered a hot Colacao and lingered longer than usual. I would have expected the place to be cut off from the rest of the world yet surprisingly it had internet. The barman was pleased to know that I came from the Philippines. He said in his entire life he only met 2 Filipinos. He told me that in the future should there be a Filipino wanting to brush up his Spanish he could always apply as an intern in his bar. When I left he gave me a warm hug and a small pin. He told me he would pray me that I get reach Santiago safely.

I do hope to meet him again should I walk again the path to Santiago.

At this part of the walk I recall seeing a blond girl heading back. She somehow looked familiar like I met her perhaps a few days back or stayed at one of my albergues. She told me left something behind.

I shuddered at the thought of leaving something behind. The thought of retracing my steps with a painful leg was not my idea of fun.

To my surprise after an hour of walking I finally got to see the famed Cruz de Hierro. This is the point where pilgrims leave behind the stone they carried at the start of their journey. I left the pebble I carried. The act signified the atonement of one’s sins like the whole burden is unloaded.

I lingered for a while to admire the surroundings. I must admit I was slightly disappointed because I thought of a big cross on a summit of steep mountain. Nonetheless I was relieved that the highest point of the walk was not at all that cold. Surely my jacket would be enough to keep me warm for the rest of the journey.

After an hour of waking I was at the boundary of Manjarin. I heard the clanging of bells from a distance.  It came from a makeshift roadside shack that offered free food and water to Pilgrims. Another donativo stand. I was impressed with the altruism that I gave a pack of biscuits to the owner to be shared to other pilgrims who will be passing by.

I continued on with my journey not realizing that the next stop would be 7 kilometers away.

I came upon this bench that offered a majestic view of the mountain side.  I think this was easily one of the most picturesque spots I have encountered during the camino.

A scene like this made me pause and revel in the present. For a moment I forgot about the throbbing pain on my leg, the hundred kilometers I still needed to walk. I just sat there and relished the view.

I recall seeing a guy fixing his bike. The usual “Buen Camino” greetings were exchanged.

Occasionally I would see a sign of taxi service hung on a mossy trunk of a tree. This was a chicken out option for trekkers who no longer had the will to continue on for the day. I thought of it as cheating. I wondered if I would reach a point where I would give up and just call a cab.

Further on I saw a landmark with a hastily scrawled graffiti that said “ You had all the keys, but I never kept my door locked”. I pondered upon this peregrine words wisdom if only to forget about my painful leg.

From the woods, the path led me to a concrete road. After a foggy morning, and a rainy day the past day I was so glad to see the sun shining, so clear my shadow was distinct.  I thought of it as my companion for the walk.

The path was on top of the mountains where the wind was surprisingly strong. I saw this caution sign for cyclists. The English translation was a bit awkward and funny though.

I overheard some voices on the other side of the concrete road so I transferred. It was a dirt road and I figured this was actually meant for the pilgrims.  Three bikers passed by and asked if I could take their photos. I gladly acceded and in exchange I had my shot taken as well.

By now my stomach was grumbling and I asked where the next café was. To my dismay they pointed to an area far below the mountains. In hindsight had I paid more attention to the Camino app I would have realized that the next stop after Manjarin is a relatively long 7 kilometers.

Under normal circumstance, 7 kilometers would have been an easy trek. But the pain in my right leg has gotten so unbearable that I stopped by at this landmark.

I pounded on my right led which has swollen already at this point. A pilgrim passed by and asked if I were ok.  I told him I was fine. (Although I was really hoping that the next stop would just be nearby).

By the time I was descending a hill, the pain was really really unbearable, I was already hobbling.

 I vowed that I would take a stop at the next available albergue.

I saw a sign that the nearest albergue was 800 meters away.

It was the longest and most painful 800 meters I walked.

But I finally made it. 

That stop was in El Acebo. I just walked 17.1 kilometers from Rabanal.

Later that evening I received a message from Robi that he arrived at Ponferrada. He was 15.8  kilometers farther on.

I just told him that I would catch up with him in the next 3 days or so.

My walk would suffice for the day.

Sunday, 17 January 2016

Camino Frances Day 3

Robi and I slept in the room with two other guys. As we were the first ones to check in, we managed to get the bottom bunks. The guy occupying the top bunk of my bed caught my attention because he had books in his backpack. It made sense when I learned he started his trek from Paris. His walk was the longest for anyone I have encountered during this trip. He had been walking for the past two months, the books must have kept him company in a number of stops where he had not much to do. His name was Florent.

I can't recall much about our room but I took a photo of it before Robi and I started the trek on Day 3. It was already 7 am when we stepped out of the albergue but it was still dark.

It was such a pity that I was so tired when I arrived at Astorga the day before because I never had the chance to explore the city which I was pretty sure had magnificent landmarks based on the pamphlets  scattered in the lounge area of the albergue. Oh well, perhaps someday I will go back again to this town and get more intimate with it.

My power bank had a flashlight which I had been using to light our path. I turned it off by the time we were leaving Valdeviejas. I remember seeing the red sign slashed across town name. I still had not figured out what it meant at this point of the walk. (I eventually figured the red mark meant you were already going outside the boundary of the town)

The path led us to a bridge. It was not much picture-worthy but with the sun rising I thought it gave a good glow in the background.  Like some sort of hope or a promise of a new day, of possibilities.

My right leg was limping  but my pace was manageable.  Though slightly better than it was the evening before, I was worried that I was slowing down Robi. He did not mind he said. Still at that time I wished I were travelling solo.

Don’t get me wrong. I loved the company of Robi but there was much more freedom in travelling alone, knowing you can adjust your speed or stop wherever you want without worrying about someone’s else’s opinion.

And if your leg was hurting a bit, how much you long for this flexibility

Looking back at it now I think I was travelling myself much faster than usual despite the slight pain because I did not want to be much of hassle to Robi.

The route would lead us to a path that cut through a field. There was not much to see on either side, nothing that was worth noting. I surmise the path was not something the locals would use doing their daily routine. It was mainly built for the pilgrims, the shortest path between two towns.

Every kilometer or so a landmark or a  road sign would appear with a shell on it. A shell that now has been a mark woven into the fabric of our peripatetic lives. The mark of St. James.

A few meters before the next town the highest structure of the place would pop ahead in the distance. It would serve as a symbol of hope that yes weary traveller, you are fast approaching a good place to stop. 

This one was quite memorable for me because we had walked for about 8 kilometers  before hitting this place. Finally.

A refuge, a haven to give a break to your sore muscles, to fill your tummies or simply to renew your will that indeed the walk was worth finishing.

We stopped at the first bar that we encountered. There was actually a guy strategically standing 50 meters before the town entrance who promoted another bar further on. Any other day I would have tried his recommendation but at that time my mind was on autopilot. I just felt like resting my aching body on the first available bar.

We stopped at the first one we saw which was on the right side. It was one of those typical bars that offered the usual coffee, colacao, fruit and other bite-sized energy boosters. Of course it had Wifi. World changing events could happen during the time we were walking so I had to check my most reliable source of up to date news… my fb news feeds.

After having a well deserved break and having our passports stamped we trudged on, our backpacks seemingly getting heavier by the minute. We were at Santa Catalina de Gomoza. Nothing really worth noting at this stop except that I bought a walking cane at this place. It was 4 euros for a piece of thick stick that was smoothened, a bit pricey but I thought that I was helping the old lady who was selling it on her doorstep make a living.

I was also hoping the stick would alleviate the pain on my right leg, which would get abnormally painful for a few minutes whenever I pause for a long break.

We passed by a sign that said 249 kilometers to go. I posed beside it jokingly putting on my dismayed face. Jokes were half meant. Despite the humour of it all there was a growing concern in me if I would make it leisurely to the end now that my leg was beginning to be more than a just a mere nuisance.

Robi and I agreed to follow the "for every 4- one" rule. This meant that for every 4 kilometres or so we would stop for 5-10 minutes to massage our feet. It quite helped eased the pain a bit

On the way to El Ganso to brighten the mood Robi and I sang songs along the way. Most of the time he was just humming the tune because he was not much familiar with the lyicrs. But when I played the song "It's my life" by Bon Jovi on my phone, all hell broke loose.

For that span of time it's as if we were in a music festival singing at the top of our lungs. It was a reminder for me that this walk was supposed to be fun.

But it started to rain heavily when we reached El Ganso. (Maybe the gods were not pleased with our singing voices?). We had no choice but to take a break at another bar. At this point my leg was really aching so much that it was Robi who entered the bar and ordered for my colacao (a Spanish chocolate drink). While I know I would look hideous in this selfie I had to capture that moment of weariness and desperation.

We continued on after the rain petered out. The next stop Rabanal del Camino was about 7 kilometres away. It started to rain again as we were turning left of the path. Good thing I had my umbrella. Robi brought out his rain coat. This stalled him for a while. I told him I would go ahead because at the pace I was going he would still catch me up.

I recall seeing what looked like a cemetery on my right. I suddenly had some weird thoughts. What if my father (who died a year ago) was watching just beyond the clearing? I offered a silent prayer to him. And one for me as well that I would have the strength to finish the walk for the day.

I stopped and waited for Robi at this part of the walk because I wasn't seeing  yellow arrow signs anymore. Intuitively we just thought of going straight ahead.

I had to choose between options : walk on the muddy road which would give more cushion to my feet but wet ( my shoes were not waterproof and my socks were getting damp) or the concrete road which offered no cushion but dry. In the end I chose the road.

Our path eventually led us to the dirt road. Fortunately it did not rain much on this part so the path was still tolerably dry. I recall this part because Robi and I were talking more about personal stuff about our lives and what our plans were after the walk. Rob quit his job so he can spend time for the Camino. He would look for another job when he gets back to Austria. My future was not certain as well. After the walk I would head home and start all over again. I must admit it scared me a bit thinking of how the future would unfold. But I reminded myself to live in the moment and enjoy every single second of the walk.

We came upon this clearing which provided a change of scenery. It led us to another path which was close by the road.

There were wooden crosses hung on the fence. It looked a bit creepy to me and reminded me of the Blair Witch project. It would really be scary to walk here around dusk.

I knew we were finally headed for civilisation when I saw a church steeple from beyond the mist. Rob stopped and picked some mushrooms. He told me they were edible and was planning to cook them for dinner. I did not want to take the risk actually.

Because I turned on the music earlier, my phone battery ran out already by the time we hit Rabanal del Camino. Our stop was supposedly Foncebadon which was still 5.6 kilometers away, but because it was starting to rain again and there was a donativo albergue in the area Robi finally agreed that we will spend the night at that place.

As were registering in the albergue that was donative, a British guy who was a volunteer in the albergue offended me. He was really rude. Which was a pity because he was a volunteer and was supposed to be courteous.

I do not want to elaborate the details here anymore. Robi did not know anything about it at that time. I just made up an excuse that I wanted to stay in another albergue because I needed to have Wifi.

And so Robi and I slept at different albergues. I just messaged him in WhatsApp that I will catch up with him the following day.

A Spanish guy in the pace where I stayed saw how I hobbled and lent me his spray liniment to soothe the pain. It helped a bit.

I thought I could travel at the same rate on Day 4.

Oh no. I was dead wrong. The most painful walk would happen on Day 4.