First day for us both over, will our legs work again?

It’s hard to describe how we felt after completing 28 kms the day before. I do know we didn’t bound out of bed and set off with a spring in our steps.

The next stage started, again, climbing for about 5 kms. We left the comfort of the albergue at around 8 am. We used what I called “the Camino Shuffle” for the first few hundred yards before our legs got the circulation going again.

It’s funny but after a while the muscles seem to remember how to work again. The stiffness gives way and the legs begin to get into a pace. This pace needs to be learned on steep slopes. In my head I had a rhythm which seemed to be locked in for flat walking but when you got to steep laneways you had to change the tune.

I tried to convince AM that after 3 days it starts to get easier to recover in the mornings but I’m not sure she believed me.

She did great though, day two and she was back on the pace with me. We walked again for another 11 km or so for the first stage of the day.

We were coming across more and more Spanish schoolkids who seemed to be doing sections of the Camino with their teachers. We came across a few groups who were dropped off by coach at a couple of sections and they would really annoy us by running up hills while singing or even dancing as they went. Don’t you just hate young, fit people.

Our lunch break was at Portas, no more than a couple of buildings and a café. The café had some pretty modern sculptures of giant ants holding up the pergola structure. We had a welcome socks-off break and some food and drinks before setting off. I made a valiant effort to run alongside some of the youngsters. Gave up after a few steps. No point in embarrassing them with my agility.

The walk was taking its toll on my feet. Not so much blisters, although they were still needing treatment, but I have a problem with neuromas which are causing severe stabbing pains in my toes. I was taking painkillers but they were beginning to have no effect really. This problem has been the reason for my breaks and for me not tackling some of the tougher stages. I was starting to get worried. I wasn’t sure I could complete the walk. Depression was beginning to set in. Not clinical depression but a sort of depression for the fact that I would miss the peregrinos and also let AM down.

We walked into Palas De Rei, passing a football academy. When we got down the hill from here into the town my foot was killing me. AM convinced me to see a doctor. We asked the waitress where the nearest doctor was and she told us it was back up the hill at the football academy. I couldn’t make it back up there. We got a taxi.

The medical centre at this place was odd, very quiet, no patients in waiting rooms, although there was one lady in with the doctor.

The doctor was accompanied by, what looked like, a trainee and a lovely lady nurse – Olga. Their treatment and concern for me was wonderful. We had some problems with language but they did a great job. “No walking for a day or so” was the advice. I couldn’t really afford this break. AM and I had plans for the end of our trip.

San Xulian albergue hats

San Xulian albergue hats

We got a taxi on to our albergue in San Xulian after getting bandaged up and getting some antibiotics and more painkillers. The albergue was beautiful, weird, but beautiful. But my heart wasn’t really in it. Even after meeting Sabi, my Texan friend as we walked into the large dining area, my heart was sinking with every minute.

We had a drink before walking over to our accommodation – a renovated watermill. When I say walk over, I mean we had to walk through a field with cows in it to get to the room, but it was worth it.

We rested for a while before going back over to the dining room for our communal meal.
This as one of those meals where we all sat together and shared in whatever the hostelier had prepared. We weren’t disappointed. Three different soups, salad, spaghetti with meatballs and a creamy cake dessert along with wine. Over 30 people sat and talked and enjoyed the warmth of the other peregrinos. I tried my best but tomorrow was lingering on my mind. What was I going to do?

I tried my best to relax and enjoy. We met some lovely people. There was nothing I could do – I wasn’t going to be able to finish, was what was going through my head.

We finished our meal. I felt bad for AM that she wasn’t getting the best out of this meal. We walked back to the watermill.

We hadn’t planned transporting our rucksacks the next day as we had decided to move on by bus or taxi for a couple of days. I was gutted.

Not a great night’s sleep that night.

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We’re on our way.

The nerves that were with me yesterday for AM’s arrival have changed to nerves of anticipation that she will experience even just a fraction of what I have experienced.

Our joint Camino began around 8:30 am with a breakfast shared with a couple of Irish girls and an English girl who were also starting their Camino. I gave them some tips which I had gleaned during my past three weeks from other peregrinos and from my own experiences. You do tend to sound like a bit of an expert when talking to newbies but really there are no experts on this adventure. I haven’t seen anyone who has all the answers to all occasions.

We picked up our rucksack for the day having sent the main bags on to our next destination and opened the door to one of the most beautiful sunrises I have seen since the beginning of my Camino. I did tell AM I had organised it just for her but not sure she fell for that one. It was a great sign of things to come.


I had to introduce AM to Abdul in the tienda across the road so she could purchase walking poles. I had found these sticks invaluable even though they did take a little getting used to. When you are on unsafe, rocky or muddy slopes, either uphill or downhill, these can really make you feel a lot safer and can prevent ankle injuries due to slipping or tripping.

We took some obligatory photos of the start of AM’s Camino at the 108 km marker and we were away.

AM and I have a very similar pace when walking which is a great help. I have seen some couples with dramatically different paces who either tend to split up and have to wait for one another or try to change their paces which tends to tire you even quicker than normal.

The beautiful sunrise looked like a great omen for the journey even though AM’s induction on her very first day was a massive 28 km walk. We had discussed this and we were fairly sure we could manage this. We were splitting this into two parts. The first part would be a 13 km walk before stopping for a lunch break and then the remaining after lunch.

The morning walk was fantastic, we strode out sucking in all the beauty of the countryside and the fresh morning air. I picked apples from the trees, we took photos and we talked of my previous week’s walks. This was what I was looking forward to for so long. We were sharing the experience. I was really happy.

Along the way we stopped at a little café for a coffee and another stamp for our peregrino passports. You have to get a least two of these stamps a day from different places, three would be better. AM had got her first stamp in Sarria at the bus station café and her second at the little bar/café where I had met Peter from Dublin the day before. For today she had one from 108 to Santiago, one from Abdul in the tienda and now a third from this café. You can get as many as you like after the two compulsory ones.

This café was very popular, there was quite a crowd in the small shop and peregrinos were adjusting their footwear and stocking up with water and snacks.

I fought my way in and ordered two café con leches, coffee made with half water and half hot milk and a piece of tarta de almendra, my favourite almond cake.

We sat outside and had our coffee, AM got her passport stamped and we just chilled for a moment or two.

A couple of minutes went by and I could hear a muffled voice shouting something but couldn’t make out what was being said. We sat on chatting and then I heard the voice again. This time I heard it say, in a Spanish accent “Campbell Joseph, Campbell Joseph”. I asked AM had she heard someone calling my name and she said it was a guy standing at the front door of the shop calling “Campbell Joseph” and holding a wallet in the air. Ooops! I had left my wallet on the counter when I carried the coffees outside. I thanked the guy very much and he shared a smile with his friends at my kilt. I was heartened by the honesty of a fellow peregrino, wouldn’t have expected anything less really.

We finished our break and set off again.

The countryside was changing as we were heading west along the trail. The laneways and the pathways led through scenery which could have been from home. The atmosphere was definitely Irish, the colours came from the same palette, the people were my people.

As we came down from one of these lanes we came across a beautiful walled garden which hosted a little café and an albergue off to the side with a stunning view down a valley. We were stopping here for lunch. Empanada de atún for me – a kind of tuna pie and AM had a piece of Tortilla. I had the compulsory C&L, AM had a coffee.

We had taken our shoes off as it is a good idea to allow your feet to cool down as much as possible. I walked across the courtyard to the grassy field sloping down towards to valley. The ground was spongey beneath my feet and I curled my toes into the grass and enjoyed the coolness.

On again after about half an hour towards Portomarín, the next bigish town along the way. We weren’t stopping here though but heading on another 8 km to Gonzar.

The way into Portomarín was a major challenge for AM. A very high and long bridge with the walkway not particularly well closed in. She doesn’t really like heights so walked the complete length of the bridge with her hand over her eyes.

She made it to the other side and I could see the relief on her face. I had just walked in front of her and hadn’t realised she was having such a problem.

We didn’t go into Portomarín, we could skirt round the outside of it to continue on to Gonzar, which would save us a climb up the steep steps into the city.

The way out of Portomarín was exhausting. A steep climb at first then out onto a path beside the main road. Around 5 km of slow, hot exposed climb. At one point I think AM and I were ready to sit down and not get up again. It was very difficult, especially as AM’s first day and in the heat of the afternoon sun. It seemed never ending, tarmac hell that kept teasing you at each bend in the road.

Eventually we found Gonzar. One of the most welcoming albergues I think I had come across for a long time. It looked relatively new and had a marvellous bar area in the courtyard at the back. Three pints of C&L went down in quick succession. One almost instantly. Poor AM was suffering quite a bit but, after a drink and a sit down, we recovered enough to sit with some new peregrinos, have dinner and then sit talking to around 10:30 pm, laughing and exchanging stories and ailments.

These peregrinos we would meet again along the way and at the end of our journey.

Despite the agony of that last few kilometres to get here I think AM’s first day was spectacular and I hope she enjoyed the first chance to meet peregrinos in their natural habitat.

Goodbye Gonzar.

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Apologies to all for the pause in service.

The new series of Show Me The Camino will resume very shortly.

I returned home and we are relaxing a bit.

I promise I will start catching up tomorrow (Sunday).

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This day seems like a week.

I’ve waited so long to see her and now the minutes seem frozen.

I’ve done my peregrino watch from 7:30 am. Watched them come up the hill, wished them Buen Camino, watched them nip to the shop for that last minute scallop shell and photo opportunity, lose the yellow arrow, again, and disappear round the corner having been whistled at like I was herding sheep with a dog. “Come-bye, Shep” – That one nearly got away.

Check watch again. “What do you mean it’s only 10 seconds after the last time you looked”.

God this is killing me. Have another cup of coffee courtesy of the kind cleaner of the pension I’m staying at – 108 to Santiago. Named as it stands opposite the 108 km. marker to Santiago.

These markers would become our friends and our drill sergeants. “Only another 2 km. to go before lunch” or “Come on you horrible man, you’ve been on this hill for hours”. I hate the hills. Not all, but the ones you can see ahead of you, endlessly narrowing to the horizon.

Anyway, that’s killed only another 10 seconds.

The peregrinos begin to dwindle and I think to myself, how am I going to punch in the next 7 hours.

A couple of hours later and I’m chewing my toenails. Then Carlos, the pension owner, says he’s going into Sarria and would I like a lift.

It’s only around 2:30 pm but I can’t contain myself any longer. I say ok and we head off into the town.

Marcos stops at the bus station where AM will come in and wishes me well as he drives on to do his messages.

I need to check out the alberques in the area so AM can get her first stamp in Sarria.

I wander through a pretty desolate part of the town, can’t find any albergues here so decide to sit down for a while with a little drink and maybe a snack.

AM and I had decided on the phone earlier that we should wait to eat in Barbadelo when she arrived instead of Sarria. So I picked a little café/bar around the corner from the bus station.

Cape Canaveral, this is Sarria, begin countdown – T minus 3 hours.

I sat inside and asked the lady for some sort of savoury snack, Empańada de Atun washed down with sidre, the local stuff. Tasted beautiful. Got a piece of Tarta de Almendra.

They have a custom in Galicia of putting a little spirit on top if this almond sponge cake. “Spirit?” I hear you say, never touches my lips. They prick the cake with a fork and drizzle Aguardente, a strong clear spirit which tastes a little like poteen, over the top – perfecto.

I take the cake outside to sit at a table to have a smoke. Only smoke while doing caminos you know.

About 10 minutes go by and a young guy passes by. “Hola!” he says. “Hola!” I reply. He pauses at my table and turns and says “I recognise that accent, your Irish aren’t you”. For the purpose of the Camino and actually in my heart there is only one answer.

He asks to join me and I’m only too glad to have someone while away some time with me.

I’ve been told about the Camino angels before. I don’t mean in a religious way, necessarily, just at times when you’re at your lowest people say you will come across someone, or something that will help you. They say you can meet seven of these angels. Peter, from Dublin was one of my angels, I have had two already, Summer and the Frenchman. Peter would not be the last.

I can’t explain how it works. I can’t put in words how total strangers, you might call them, can meet you and in seconds share with you and you share with them the things in our lives that have brought us to this point.

It’s so open. It feels almost surreal.

We talked solidly for 3 hours. We shared, we cried, we laughed and we drank. This is an odd friendship. The time is irrelevant. Three hours, three years or thirty years, I couldn’t have been closer to another human being than at that moment. Peter, from Dublin you were one of my angels.

Before I knew it I had five minutes before AM would arrive. I had to say goodbye to an old friend. We hugged, after a little whiskey for the road, and shared our wishes for each other. I hope we meet again Peter.

Ran to the bus station for the eight o’clock arrival of my love.

Bus was late. Closer to 8:45 pm before the bus rounded the corner. Eagles soared in my heart this time, not butterflies.

Then she was there. Running down the steps of the bus and into my arms.

I’ve cried a lot on this Camino. Not bad tears, good emotional floods of tears. I wept in her arms while my head rested on her shoulder.

The Camino just got better.

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Waiting in Barbadelo is driving me nuts.

I’ve been holed up here for 3 days now, basically sitting watching the peregrinos walk past.

I sit like all the old local people you see at crossroads in all the villages you have been in while on holiday.

I envy some if those peregrinos. The ones who have walked 4 kms. out of Sarria and already look exhausted. I envy the fact that it will get worse for them for some time and then, almost as suddenly as you feel the relief when you remove that splinter of wood from your finger, you realise you have just walked twice that distance and feel ok.

Things start to get better and you feel bad when you don’t get to do your walk for the day.

I sit in a plastic chair looking back down the track at the steady stream of peregrinos, some novices only starting out on their Sarria to Santiago pilgrimage, others, seasoned veterans who started their Camino way back. For some this isn’t their first Camino either.

Pilgrims progress

Pilgrims progress

As I watch I try to decide which is which, how long will it take me, will they give themselves away easily our will they look like veterans only to make the schoolboy error of forgetting to look for the arrow showing them the way.

I sit like a wiseman, wishing Buen Camino and trying to trace the nationality. Abdul, in the little tienda across the road is a master at this.
He listens carefully as they come up the hill. Watches their movements, looks for the weakness.

Like a tiger he pounces. “Guten morgen!” Ooops, got it wrong there Abdul. Quick adjust, “Goedemorgen!” – Spot on, they fall like deer into the jaws of his shop. Once inside it’s a slaughter. Every trick in the book is used to extract the dinero from their purses. It’s bloody and brutal but it’s nature.

Occasionally he doesn’t even have to try. I call them the lesser spotted American Tiendanistas. You know the sort, husband alongside carrying the rucksack full of cash or cards. She spots the sign. “Oh my, look Stan, a quaint little shop with just the loveliest plastic gord which looks vaguely rude”.

Sorry, got a bit carried away with the old stereotyping there. They’re not all like that of course. I have met some fantastic, warm, funny Americans along my way. I wish they were here now to help me while away the last few hours while waiting to meet AM.

There were the ones who always gave the name of their town or city and the state – Austin Texas and there were others who just gave the state – Texas. When I spoke to Sabi from Austin Texas she told me only people from Austin do this because they think they are better than people from the rest of Texas. Funnily enough Brad from Texas agreed so I had to ask whereabouts he was from and he said Fort Worth.

The number of peregrinos is dwindling now as the morning moves into afternoon. It’s quiet, save for the multi-national music being used as another lure tactic by Abdul.

It’s still too early to go to the bus station to meet AM.

I’m wishing the day away.

Hopefully the next blog post I write will have a piece from her as an introduction to her Camino.

Rodar sobre ocho de esta noche.

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Into Sarria where my heart will be.

I’ve had some time off, I’ve moved ahead when necessary and I’ve taken time to recover, but this last stage means a lot to me.

I may be a few days early but the butterflies are starting again. The need to share this experience with AM is powerful.

They say you all do your own Camino. If you’re on your own, with a partner, or in a group of people. No two people can have the same experiences. We all may see the same thing, or be in the same place but everyone takes out of the Camino, or life for that matter, what is closest to them. Their heart tells them what that simple thing means to them. Could be a place our a person or a view.

I think you need to know yourself well to understand why these things mean so much to you. I have learned to know myself very well. I know every spark of a thought that flashes in my mind and its reason for being there. Sounds untrue? No.

Not sure if that is good or bad, but it is what it is.

The walk into Sarria is almost a sprint. Well as much of a sprint as I can muster.

The start of the day is as beautiful as any day. The early mountain dew, the chill in the air and the sun trying to burn holes in the tissue paper that is the veil of mist, like that pub game you used to be able to play when you smoked indoors. You know, you put a tissue stretched over a glass and put a coin on top of it and each person takes turns to burn a hole in it with their cigarette until finally the coin drops into the glass.

The mist lingers longer each day as the days of summer slip away.

As with the previous day I am still above the clouds drifting in the valleys below and I’m still bloody climbing. How can that be? I don’t seem to have descended as much as I’ve climbed.

Steep, rocky lanes lead away from A Balsa, the village where El Beso is. Dark, tree covered alley ways in the edge of hillside forests.

These paths are treacherous when wet and around every corner there seems to be another incline. If I can make it to the top of this one I’ll be fine – I kid myself. Round a bend and more again. More than one rest break required here.

Eventually I break out into open countryside again. On the side of a hill still in the shade.

The colours of the forest and fields across on the other mountain are of the same palette as at home.

Gone are the dry, burnt colours of The Meseta, around Leon. These are vegetable soup mix colours.

Some boring bits beside the road and then, in the distance, Sarria.

You’d think by the way I was talking I was coming into Santiago de Compostela. This means maybe more than Santiago to me. My heart aches for AM. This is where I begin again.

If I had to put a stone on every cruceiro along the way so far for the things I wanted to leave behind and forget, I’m not sure my rucksack would be big enough. So I carry just one stone with me. But it’s a big stone – not in size or weight, there is no way to measure this one.

So Sarria beckons.


At the outskirts of the town there is a sign, not an ornate sign, nothing religious our even spiritual. Under the name Sarria is an ad for a restaurant. Pizzas, bocodillos etc. – bit disappointing but I pose for a photo, taken for me by a Polish father and daughter. I have to reciprocate with their iPhones.

Everything now needs a photo.

I haven’t really taken a lot of pics but then I don’t need to. I can see every image when I close my eyes.

The beginning of the end.

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El Beso – The Kiss.

Said my goodbyes, again, and set off, renewed.

The morning was stunning. We were still relatively high in the mountains.

The morning sun came out strong, burnt off most if the early mist and warmed my back. When I had to round corners in the shadows it was still quite cold, but as I have always said, I would rather be too cold than too hot.

The welcome chill meant the effort of walking wasn’t causing me to sweat. It really is difficult to pick what to wear in these mornings. The fleece I had has, on numerous occasions, ended up absolutely soaked through my efforts while under the rainproof layer, whether coat or poncho.

This morning wasn’t too bad. I had the chance early on to bag my waterproof coat and, at times, open my fleece.

The mountains around rose out of the low cloud level as if slashing through a white silk sheet. The cloud level was a few hundred feet below me as I walked the dirt and stone paths, occasionally having to meet the modern world’s tarmac and cross like a fox moving from one part of its territory to another.

Quick check for traffic, break cover, cross without being seen and disappear into the undergrowth at the other side. The SAS survival training kicking in.

This was a beautiful section of the Camino. Not that the other parts hadn’t had their form of beauty but, again, this reminded me of home.

Small groups of buildings would crop up every now and again. I suppose we would call them hamlets or something like that. Dogs, mainly German shepherds, would invariably slink up to you, sniff you out for food, then turn and slink off again. These are big  dogs, generally trying to hump every other dog in the village. I’m glad they were only sniffing me for food – I think.

Came across this huge chestnut tree. Looked as though it had been split many times by lightning and reformed itself into this grotesque mal-formed creature.

knarled looking thing

knarled looking thing

I looked at it as I walked past before hearing a voice coming from the tree, as I thought. Kinga, the Hungarian who I had met before appeared from behind the tree. “Aren’t you going to look at the tree?” It’s a badly formed tree with a plaque on it, I thought. “Ok”, I said. “Let’s have a look and see what’s so special”, I said. As I thought – nothing. The plaque told us all about chestnut trees but nothing about this particular tree.

Kinga and I decided to walk together, there was a small village coming up and we both need refreshment and some cash.

Don’t ever get the impression you can get by without cash up here. You could actually get turned away from an albergue if you only had a credit card. Wonder if St. James found this? Maybe he had the same problem with “his Mastercard” – I know, I stretched that one a bit too far.

We sat and had a late breakfast together, walked to the end of the village and went our separate ways. Trina, who had had a problem with her knee, had limped into the village late, joined us for a while and then decided to stay the night there.

My next stop was an eco albergue. Generally that meant, hippies. I wasn’t wrong, but I was surprised. Surprised that I had such a wonderful time and didn’t eat meat for my stay there at all. Normally I would say “I didn’t climb to the top of the evolutionary tree to become a vegetarian”, but I was in the right place with the right people.

I had arrived first, taken my bunk, settled down with a bottle of organic cider – lovely, sit in an obviously reclaimed chair from an old three-piece suite someone had thrown out and chilled – man:-).

More peregrinos arrived, Chris, a German lady, Denise and Laurence, a French/Canadian mother and daughter and then, a sight for sore eyes – Mike, the English guy I had met a few times before.

We all sat at a rickety wooden table in the garden and then two more peregrinos arrived, Susie, a young German girl and Nirvana, an Australian girl.

We all chatted, ate apples from the trees, shared walnuts that Denise had foraged and generally got to know each other.

After a while I went up to an area above the house they called the terrace.

Here comes that word again – Wow!

It was like finding a secret garden. There was a huge piece of slate, about 7 feet long by about 4 feet wide, roughly shaped which was the table. This and the benches were propped up by old tree stumps or any bit of wood that fitted.

The view from here was stunning.

The late afternoon sun had warmed the slate and, when one of our hosts asked did we want to eat up there no-one refused.

We had a wonderful vegetarian meal, drank lots of organic wine and laughed with, and at, each other.

When the sun went down behind the mountain it was time to turn in.

I have to use this blog to apologise to Mike for taking two blankets and leaving him with none. It was Baltic that night. Sorry Mike.

Early start being set off with yoghurt and muesli. Hope the vegetables don’t kick in later up a mountain.

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Leaving Laguna with a slight hangover but with the early morning sun beginning to come up.

Left the albergue feeling a little fragile but it doesn’t take long for the fresh mountain air to take over, fill your lungs as you climb through the last of the steep climbs, and force out the last remnants of alcohol which may be left in your body. The sweat from your forehead must have some proof left in it.

Up and up and then, as the muscles begin to ease, you know you’re levelling off and then begin to descend.

The views are breathtaking. The sun, which is always on your back or left-hand side of your face, lights up the green fields and forests and my thoughts go back to home. Though we are in the mountains I get the feeling that I’ve been here before, it’s an odd feeling of peace and relaxation even though I’m working hard.
Photos don’t do this place justice.

When you set off to your next stopover you have no idea what you’re going to get. I know some people put things on blogs or on Facebook telling of their experiences but, much like Tripadvisor you can’t always rely on the third-hand review being accurate.

Believe me now when I say. STOP AT FONFRIA. Albergue Reboleira is outstanding. The albergue itself is beautiful but wait until you join in the communal peregrino meal.

“WOW!” is the only word you hear as each person enters the huge roundhouse where dinner will be served. Everyone uses that word, no matter the nationality, it is just “Wow!”.

The woodwork is magnificent, the woodburner very welcoming and the table – here comes that word again. The table, which holds around 50, curves around the back of the building in the perfect arc mirroring the outer wall of this, slightly African-looking house.

Tall pointed roof rises up, huge beams supporting a form of thatch. It’s just beautiful. Slate brickwork everywhere, huge pieces of wooden furniture and the warmth of the fire make it instantly welcoming.

We all take our places with our mouths and eyes wide open. Heads tilted back to look at the majesty of something so simple yet as intricate as the cathedrals I have seen. The cathedrals win in terms of being in awe of the man hours and fine detail taken to construct but this eating house wins in terms of bringing you back to basics. Two elements, stone and wood, brought together to create something which can match any cathedral in terms of honour to be given to the craftsmen.

The meal began with huge silver soup tureens filled with Galician soup – a sort of peasant style vegetable soup.

The diners were of multi nations.
The people opposite me were Italian, the Danish girl sat beside me. Oh forgot to tell you. On the Camino you say goodbye to people many times. Just like that episode of Father Ted when he gets trapped saying goodbye the a lady over and over again, I walked out of my room earlier and there she was, sitting with her feet up in the lounge area. Anyway, back to the table. On my left, an older German lady seemed to think I needed looking after. She ladled my soup for me, broke some bread and gave it to me. She topped up my soup and spoke in German.

Although I didn’t understand the words it felt like she was saying “come on, eat up your vegetables or you won’t grow up big and strong”. I missed my mum at that moment. I smiled at her and could almost see my mum’s face there in this stranger. I say stranger but I have heard many people say “my Camino brother” or “my Camino mother”. I think at that moment I found my Camino mother. Haven’t found my Camino brother yet – don’t think I will though.

As we all sat talking, as if in tongues, we all knew what each was saying. I hope I was that lady’s Camino son, if only for a moment of closeness to someone who wasn’t with her.

The night swept by all too quickly, the food was eaten with masses of gratitude to the cook/owner and her helpers.

One of the American ladies stood up and asked for a volunteer to go down and bring the staff up to show our appreciation.

She nodded at me and I was only too willing to make an idiot of myself as usual – I really don’t care though. These were my family at that moment and I have made a bigger fool of myself with my real family to worry about this.

The sound of the applause rose into the thatch but it couldn’t soak it in. Great cheers and whoops went up from everyone. It was indeed a memorable meal. I’ll not forget it for sure.

Like a warm Christmas party breaking up we all walked back up the hill to the albergue and off to bed to sleep with a smile on our lips, good food in our stomachs and hearts gladdened by the closeness of strangers.

Fonfria is in my heart.

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This next stage started really boringly, we peregrinos were competing with the huge road system which was carved out of the mountains.

They criss-crossed over our heads and towered above us for most of the way out if Villafranca.


It rained again just after I had set out but I had planned to have my bag sent on to La Portela de Valcarce, a sort of truckers pit stop area where I stopped and met with Trina again. We had a bite to eat and then decided to share a taxi on to Laguna de Castila.
This was a bit of a cop-out but the climb up to O’Cebreiro looked quite difficult and, with the rain would not have been pleasant.
Norbert, our German friend was also having a meal and he had suggested, instead of going to O’Cebreiro, we should stop at Laguna as O’Cebreiro was always very busy. We decided to take his advice and booked our taxi.
I say taxi but it just looked like a guy who was taking his father out for a drive and we were just petrol money for him.
We jumped in the taxi and immediately the old guy started to try to talk to me. Have no idea what he was saying but got the impression he was making some comment about me and Trina getting up to things along the way. His son was constantly trying to tell him to be quiet. I think Trina got a bit embarrassed, she said later on that she got the same impression.
The guy driving had obviously been given the wrong information by the girl in the pit stop but as we were pulling into O’Cebreiro I said we were supposed to be going to Laguna. As we were already there we decided to check for accommodation anyway.
The film “The Way” has really boosted the Camino all of a sudden. The numbers of Americans and Canadians who are here this year has apparently grown dramatically.
This purpose-built village was thronged with people.
If you can imagine a slate stone built village, immaculately designed to look ancient. There is an hotel, a pension and an albergue. All were full to bursting. Some people had even resorted to pitching a tent in a little bus-shelter like nook.
We headed back down the mountain to hopefully get a bed for the night. We were in luck. Hung our soaking wet coats and ponchos in a garage across from the albergue and ran through the rain to get our gear into the dorm.
The albergue in Laguna was built with the same stone and was quite nice inside. They had a fantastic washing and drying facility. Leave your washing and they will have it set on your bunk in two hours, dry and folded. Luxury.
I settled in for a jar and watched as the late peregrinos tried to get a bed for the night. They were tired and soaked to the skin. As they got turned away I felt really sorry for them having to go another 2 kms. or more to try to find accommodation just to get refused again. The next stops after that were another 3 and 5 kms. further on. I couldn’t have coped with that after climbing such a long climb up to the top of that hill.
Met Brian from Dublin who kept saying he had to go but then changed his mind and was actually there to the death, after meeting Norbert from Germany again and also Piers and Alfonso, a couple of guys who would remind you of the odd couple. We all had a great peregrino meal finished off with tarta almendra. Alfonso, from Santander, via Madrid introduced us to the delights of the drizzling on of a liquor akin to raki which was fantastic.
Had great discussions and sorted the world’s problems before wishing all a Buen Camino and retiring for the night.
Slumped into the bottom bunk in the 5 bed dorm after sorting my rucksack for transportation the following morning. This task is crucial and you also have to make sure you have enough change to put into the envelope for the payment of around €7 for 15 km.
Onwards and hopefully downwards.

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Had a good night’s sleep, ate breakfast alone and set off out of Camponaraya feeling great.

The walk was through the vineyards of the Bierzo region and, as I walked along picking grapes and apples and marvelling at the technology of the vine harvester, I was smiling as I walked.

The vines seemed to be planted two different ways. I presume there were some which were planted for mechanical harvesting and others looked as though a machine could not pick the grapes off as the vines were fairly randomly spaced, not like the neat rows on the other side of the road.

This was turning out to be a beautiful walk. I seemed to not even notice the kms. drop away.

In my happiness I remember thinking, “I could really do this you know”. Then as if someone had sent just a little annoyance down to let me know you always have to be on guard.

Can’t remember where I was but I spotted him a mile away. As I walked towards this crossroads I could see this guy get out of a car, cross the road to my side and stand waiting, tracts in hand. Can’t understand who he was trying to convert or to what religion but I wasn’t having any of it. Kept my head down, no eye contact and mutter the words “no entiendo”. Maybe I should try this at home.

Kept wondering when Villafranca would appear as I couldn’t see it anywhere in the mountains. Then, as I rounded a corner, there it was, sunken into the valley between two mountains, as if it didn’t want to be found.


It was a really lovely town spread over many different levels of cobbled streets with a couple of different plazas.

Unfortunately didn’t’ get too much time to look around as the rain was bouncing off the streets. Got really soaked and had to try took dry off in a café where I had my peregrino menú del dia with the usual side of C&L.

Bottle of red wine with the meal had to be shared with a couple from Canada and then on to find my accommodation for the night – La Casa de Leo.

Got settled in, chatted with the new peregrinos, mostly cyclists and then retired for the evening.

Tomorrow is another way.

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