Day 28 – Rabanal del Camino to Ponferrada

This was one the toughest walking days so far! Started from Rabanal under cloudy skies but the weather deteriorated getting foggy, rainy and cold as I climbed to the “alto” at over 1,500 meters.

At the first peak, I found the Cruz de Ferro (Iron Cross) in a thick fog bank. The cross stands on a large pile of stones left by pilgrims past each one representing a blessing, prayer, or remembrance for lost loved one.

Beyond this point there was one more peak before navigating a steep descent over 6 miles down to the pleasant village of Molinaseca. Met Dennis from Atlanta on the way down. He is a fellow about my age who had an interesting career that included nursing and bioterrorism consulting! He mentioned that he had been offered a gig to play Santa for the month of December (he could pass for St. Nick), but he is really a dead ringer for Jerry Garcia. 🙂

Once at the bottom, the air cleared and warmed up. I ran into Rosemarie – our paths have been crossing since Day 12 in San Juan – and we walked together to Ponferrada which made those last tough miles go quickly.

All told my Fitbit recorded over 24 miles with lots of up and down. BY day’s end, I only had the energy to walk across the street for dinner. That turned out to be a fortunate move; I was pleasantly surprised with an incredible dinner including some of the region’s botillo sausage and Bierzo white wine!

Day 27 – Astorga to Rabanal del Camino

My walk today to Rabanal del Camino took place under sun, light rain, sun, and heavy rain. Thankfully the overall distance was a relatively short 13 miles.

I am now heading into the foot hills of another mountain range that will involve more elevation and lower temperatures over the coming days.  The land has a mixture of pines, heather, and lavender that produce some stunning visuals.

Rabanal del Camino is a delightful small, old village that seems almost entirely focused on serving pilgrims on Camino. I have a nice room in a hostel that also has a great pub/restaurant that has a decidedly Celtic feel to it. A small, cave-like church is right across the street run by a Bavarian order of monks. I attended the daily Vespers  service this evening in which the monks chant psalms in Latin – very beautiful and peaceful as well.

I have a very long walk tomorrow that will bring me to a high point early in the day dominated by a large cross around which pilgrims have placed a massive mound of stones…more on that tomorrow.


Day 26 – Vilar de Mazarife to Astorga

What a beautiful day for walking the Camino! I began at 7AM today because I knew the hike today was going to be a long one. I continue to walk through the paramo scrub land with its rolling hills and dry rocky trails winding through a number of small villages.

The highlight of the day was passing through the town of Hospital de Orbigo around 11AM. It’s a well-preserved Medieval village with an incredibly long bridge that spans a river and massive flood plain. It was my good fortune to be passing through during the town’s week-end long festival celebrating its Medieval roots with jousting, street food, crafts, and even a marching band with bag pipes and drums! I lingered as long as I could – I was not yet halfway to my destination – and then moved on. Sadly, the roasting pig was not quite ready to eat. ;-(

I finally arrive in Astorga after over 7 hours of walking and 21 miles according to my Fitbit which I believe is a record for my Camino to date. No energy to explore this town originally founded by the Romans. It’s Sunday so many thing are closed in any case.



Day 25 – Leon to Vilar de Mazarife

Before I leave the topic of Leon, I want to say a few words about the custom of siesta in Spain. Whether large town or small hamlet, Spain basically shuts down for a period of time in late afternoon. Cafes are still open, but almost everything else…shops, public buildings, and services…close down for at least a couple of hours. I noticed that even the impressive fountain in Leon’s Plaza de San Domingo shut down for siesta! Things come back to life in late afternoon with dinner served very late in the day.

The weather was beautiful for today’s walk with warm sun but fairly cool temperatures. The flat meseta is now behind me and I am walking through wide open scrub land called “paramo” with some rolling hills and dotted with occasional small villages. My destination, Vilar de Mazarife, is a very small town, but I am fortunate to have a very nice room in a lodging that is part albergue and part hostel.


Enjoyed a nice surprise in Vilar de Mazarife. The town held an all out fiesta for the feast of Corpus Christi. The event started with some nice traditional Spanish dancing and lots of families with children attending. Later in the evening, a stage band took over with popular music for the younger set. I heard the music on and off all through the night from my hostel several blocks away, and saw the remnants of the hard core partiers this morning when I walked out of town at 7AM! I’ve included several pictures below.

Off to Astorga on Sunday for what is billed as an 18+ mile walk.

Day 24 – Leon

I had a nice day of rest in Leon today. Spent the early part of the day relaxing and reading. As the day wore on, the sun came out, and that motivated me to do some sight-seeing.

Did a tram ride around the town center to get my bearings and then visited the Leon Museum which did a nice job describing the region from prehistory to present times.    I explored the old town’s narrow streets full of shops and cafes, and checked out a quaint fair with locals selling their crafts. I finished the day with the pilgrim’s mass at the Basilica of Saint Isadore which is a wonderful old Romanesque church near the Roman walls.

I am back on the road tomorrow feeling ready to take on the remaining Camino!

Day 23 – Mansilla de las Mulas to Leon

Today was another one of those walks along busy roads and through the urban ring around Leon. I made the time pass quickly by listening to podcasts on my iphone. Coming into Leon proper I encountered some familiar touchstones of US culture…fast food restaurants! I broke down and visited Burger King for a Whopper – a nice change from the very repetitive fare on the Camino.

I am now in Leon which is quite a large city, but one that has retained a substantial core that goes back to medieval times. In fact, the bones of the city actually go back to the Roman era with protective walls and gates still in place.

Did a little sight-seeing yesterday afternoon including a quick look at the two primary churches, a Gaudi designed municipal building, and the Plaza Mayor.

The day ended with a nice dinner with a number of other pilgrims who I have been seeing along the trail for the past two weeks including Hans who was the very first pilgrim I met on Day 1 in St. Jean!

Tomorrow is a day of rest which I plan to spend exploring Leon and relaxing a bit.

Day 22 – El Burgo Ranero to Mansilla de las Mulas

I had dinner with a group of fellow pilgrims from Germany, Netherlands and Switzerland last evening, and we ended up touching on the diversity topic that I addressed in one of my first blog updates. However, we realized that diversity alone is not what makes the Camino unique. Rather, the unique aspect is that people of all nationalities, ages, gender, economic status, and interests find common ground in the suffering and fellowship of the Camino. We were hard pressed as a group to think of another activity or event that had the same power to create such a powerful common denominator.

Another uneventful walk today to Mansilla de las Mulas. This is a medium-size village that has some interesting qualities. First, it is a point of convergence for two different Camino paths. I am walking what is referred to as the French Way, but there are several other paths that all end up at Santiago de Compostela. Mansilla de las Mulas is the point at which the French Way and Roman Way converge. As you can see from the pictures below, Mansilla de las Mulas also has a substantial protective wall around much of the town. The wall dates back to the 12th century and is largely intact along with its portals and towers. If you look at the pictures closely, you can see that the stones used to construct these walls are no larger than a bowling ball, yet the walls are 10 feet thick at the base!

I’m off to a large city, Leon, tomorrow where I will take an extra day to enjoy the very nice old town and rest up.

Day 21 – Sahagun to El Burgo Ranero

My walk today was unremarkable since I am still traveling through the flat meseta. Rain earlier in the day changed to beautiful clear skies for my stay in the very small village of El Burgo Ranero.

Crossed a bridge at the beginning of the day that dates back to Roman times spanning a fast-moving river. Also, I am seeing more of the mud/straw brick construction that I mentioned on Day 20. In fact, the albergue (dormitory style lodging used by budget-minded pilgrims) across from my hotel is completely constructed of mud/straw bricks. I met a fellow who is staying there and he confirmed that the inside walls are also mud/straw. Only the showers are tiled over to keep the water from eroding the walls, and getting pilgrims more dirty than they were before showering!

Not much else to report today. I have two more days walking the meseta before I arrive in Leon where I will spend an extra day for rest and sight seeing. From that point on I will be on more familiar ground. I cycled from Leon to Santiago de Compostela five years ago with my XU friends, Pete and John.

Day 20 – Calzadilla de la Cueva to Sahagun

My walk today to Sahagun done in overcast, windy, but dry conditions was significant as I am now more than halfway toward my goal of Santiago de Compostela! Feels good to have made it this far in good physical shape and good spirits.

Along the route today, I passed through several small villages and noticed that many of the buildings are made out of mud. I am traveling through a grain-growing area, and it appears that mud is mixed with the chaff left over from the grain harvests to make bricks. Once the mud brick walls are put up, they are sometimes smeared over with mortar to make them more waterproof.

Also passed by “bodegas” which are burrowed into the side of hills. Originally used in the wine making process, the bodegas are now used like root cellars. I’ve included a picture and you will notice what appear to be chimneys and antennae which makes me think that some of these bodegas have been turned into real man caves. 😉

Day 19 – Carrión de Los Condes to Calzadilla de la Cueza

The guitar concert in Carrión de Los Condes was an unexpected treat. A professional musician played classical guitar for 45 minutes in the church for a gathering of about 75 people. I ended up running into the guitarist, Roberto, at a restaurant afterward, and I got to know him over dinner and a pitcher of wine.

I also attended the pilgrim mass after the guitar concert which was unique from the other masses I’ve attended. First of all there was a real singing nun! A young sister played some simple songs accompanied by electronic keyboard and guitar that added to the proceedings. There was also a very cute little guy of 8 or 9 who was assisting the priest as a server. He hovered by the priest’s side for almost the entire mass performing his duties very seriously…mature beyond his years.

The walk today to Calzadilla de la Cuevas was only about 10 miles in very nice weather. The trail was primarily over an old Roman road that has been in continuous use for about 2,000 years. The road was built up above the fields and wetlands to make it passable under any conditions and it serves the Camino pilgrims  nicely.

Calzadilla de la Cueza is the smallest village I’ve stayed in so far. Not much to share as a result, and I am a bit concerned for my dinner prospects!