We hurt, but we’re still alive

El Burgo Ranereo – Mansilla de las Mulas

We rise early, Pam is feeling fine again and our bags are mostly packed from the night before. The sun is nowhere near rising by the time we leave the hotel and make our way through town. The streetlights in this town are movement sensitive and only turn on when you enter their locale so looking for yellow arrows in the distance is impossible.

By now, in Pam’s mind, it was she who deemed it wise, nay necessary, to have a good torch on the Way and it has migrated to the top of her backpack. On the outskirts of town we run into a couple of young Germans who are having trouble working out the direction however there is really only one road to follow and the 280 lumens picks up another couple of pilgrims following the gravel path beside the road ahead.

Sunrise is spectacular.

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Not long after sunrise we are overtaken by a German sounding woman, as she passes us I notice the telltale orange straps of Pacerpoles below her hands. We have a brief conversation about the superiority of Pacerpoles over every other type of walking pole before she strode ahead once more.

A moment of congruence between strangers, this is the Camino Way.

The Way is pool table flat almost all the way to the village Reliegos. We walk on white gravel wheel tracks along a quiet country road. To our left immature Sycamore trees planted every twenty meters or so providing welcome shade, to our right the bitumen.

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We pass the entry road beckoning pilgrims to Villamarco however we continue without pausing.

The flat terrain dips on entry to Reliegos and we stop for a Cafe Con Leche for Pam. While resting we read Reliegos is famous for having a 17kg Meteorite fall into the town, without causing injury, at 8:30am on 28/12/1948. The meteorite is now on display at the Natural Science Museum in Madrid.

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Pam and I joke that of course no one was injured at 8:30am because no one (other than pilgrims) would have even been awake then in Spain.

Mansilla de las Mulas appears on maps to only be six kilometers from Reliegos however has the strange property of appearing to get further away the closer we walk towards it.

Finally we cross the canal separating the rural area from the largish village. We stop at the first Albergue on the way into town to rest and gather our bearings. We make our way into town proper to find the Hostal we are staying in for the night.

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After the trouble we had finding our accommodation in El Burgo Pam has insisted that I arrange the accommodation and directions for the day. I am confident I have found the place however we cannot seem to open the door to enter, no matter how we pull on it. Pam collapses on a chair in a bar as I ask for directions. A local walks me back up to the door and pushes….hey presto…..we are in.

No washing machine today however there are clothes lines and bright sunshine in abundance. Our chores done for the day we walk about town.

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Pam has read in the guide book that there is a restaurant in town famed for its fabulous steak dinners. She has had me on a promise for a fine steak meal since Paris and has not come up with the goods so far.

We Google, we ask locals, we Google map, we Apple map….nada.

No steak for you.

We have done a bit of a pub crawl around town in our search and sway back to our lodgings. We settle on a bar/restaurant Yokers (as in Yokers are wild) just up the road from where we are staying and have a fine meal that leaves us smelling of garlic for days.

Mansilla de las Mulas – Leon

Pam and I have learned our lesson about walks into large towns or cities, they always end up being much longer than indicated on maps. On multiple occasions our patience with each other has been tested when exhausted and bewildered walking into strange large towns.

Today will be different, we have planned ahead, we are leaving early, we have a SIM card and google maps on a charged phone. The full trifecta.

We leave Mansilla in the same way we entered, by crossing a bridge. This time we cross the Rio Esla instead of a aquifer canal. It is still well before sunrise as we make our way under torchlight along a gravel service road beside the busy highway heading to Leon.

I feel guilty for making jokes about Spanish late risers for the highway is busy with cars and trucks streaming by continuously.

We are about three quarters of the way to Villamoros de Mansilla when the sun rises spectacularly above the mountain range to our North.

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The Way passes Villamoros without entering and we are forced to walk several hundred meters on the shoulder of the highway to continue. Back on the gravel service road again we continue to an Albergue just prior to Villarente where we stop for a Cafe con Leche for Pam.

The queue is so long and service so slow that Pam returns empty handed and we hitch up our backpacks to continue.

Between Villarente and Leon there are two villages, Arcahueja and Valdelafuente however in truth these villages seem to blend in a continual facade of shops and warehouses along the busy road.

The Way is either on footpaths along the busy road or on gravel service roads behind the warehouses.

Leon itself lies over a hill-crest that still lies in front of us and I have for days, walking in the predawn, confused the twinkling lights of this highway suburban/industrial area for Leon itself.

We make our way over a couple of hills, these are the first real slopes we have seen in many days. On the last crest to our right are many television and radio station broadcast antenna and on the left, as we make our way down the hill, is a large blue bridge crossing the highway that leads into yet another village that has been swallowed by suburban Leon, Puente del Castro.

Puente del Castro is separated from Leon by the Rio Torio and at the walk bridge crossing this river is a park where we come across a booth manned by three people welcoming pilgrims to Leon. They stamp our credentials and give us a photocopied map of the complex winding streets of Leon.

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We are making our way into Leon along the busy footpaths and streets when we are accosted by an older woman speaking rapid Spanish who seems most upset by Pam. Though we do our best to explain, No Espaniol, she continues to talk rapidly to us indicating something about the Scallop shell attached to Pam’s backpack. Pam, being the polite and considerate soul that she is, stops to try to ascertain what is going on. The woman maneuvers her way to the rear of Pam’s backpack and undoes the tightly knotted strings tying the shell to Pam’s pack. She then takes a pen from her handbag and is about to commence writing or drawing something on the shell when Pam takes charge and rescues the shell from the lady.

Still unsure of what is going on Pam reattaches the shell to her pack as the woman moves ahead of us, still waving her hands and talking rapidly. The woman sits on a bench on the side of the footpath and as Pam and I walk past I do my best to walk on the angle shielding Pam’s pack with the reattached shell from the lady’s line of sight.

You don’t reignite the shortened fuse of a firecracker if you don’t want it to go off in your hand. Particularly when it is a double bunger like the lady we had just encountered.

After leaving the upset lady with hands still waving and talking rapidly to herself we make our way to the parklands bordering the Rio Bernesga, turn right and follow the beautiful blooming flower beds and green lawns straight to the Hotel Parador.

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As previously mentioned the Parador is a repurposed pilgrims hospital. The outer facade is massive and covered in stone sculpture work, the interior museum like, with high vaulted ceilings, hardwood floors and ancient artwork covering the walls.

Our room is spacious, with a private balcony and luxurious facilities. Only one problem, two single beds again.

Matrimony is only for the home in Spain, even in luxury hotels.

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Leon

On our first ‘rest’ day in Leon I left Mick at the glorious Parador resting his knee and set off on what he likes to call one of my ‘random is the right direction paths’ but what I like to call my mystery tours. Admittedly a lot more enjoyable when you haven’t already walked 20km plus and are not carrying a backpack!

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The highlight of my day was the visit to the old city and the Cathedral de Santa Maria de Leon, a gothic cathedral from the 13th century. We have seen a lot of impressive and incredibly beautiful churches in Spain but this is by far my favourite. With over 1800 square meters of medieval stained glass windows which are arguably some of the finest in the world.

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I find myself a quiet place to sit and appreciate the incredible design that lets the light fill the church when I find myself sitting near two university students, a very pretty girl from America and a Spanish lad. I get engrossed in their teen speak, politely holding my audio guide ( that I hadn’t turned on) to my ear and shamelessly eavesdrop on their conversation. The gist of it was a potential romance between the two of them, hampered only by the fact that they both already had partners. I found the cathedral to be a strange meeting place for this conversation but I guess they were unlikely to run into any of their friends.

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The following day, we were lucky enough to be in town for the Medieval festival of music and dancing called the Festival de las Cantaderas.

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We followed the procession from our hotel down the streets filled with the Spanish locals to the old city. It was a real treat to hear the fabulous traditional music, watch the dancing and hold our breaths while the men walking with the flag poles up to ten meters tall held only by a belt and a couple of friends holding strings to balance.

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We went on a vino and tapas pub crawl to make sure we were in the right place for all the festivities as the day and night progressed. Well, that was our excuse.

Leon – Villar de Mazarife

It does not matter how far we have to walk today, neither of us is prepared to miss the spectacular breakfast included in our hotel room cost. I feast on fruit and my belly is swollen full of mango, kiwi fruit and strawberries as we turn right out of the Parador doors and cross the Rio Bernesga to head out of town.

As we cross the bridge we are jovially overtaken by a largish crew of younger pilgrims walking as one. We follow this crew along the footpaths and streets of suburban Leon. The sky is grey however to me it does not look like it is likely to rain.

We pass some more hobbit homes as we climb out of Leon towards Trobajo del Camino and then walk by the inevitable warehouse areas.

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The large crew ahead of us stop for their ‘second breakfast’ as Pam and I continue towards La Virgen del Camino where the Way once again separates in two distinct paths.

We have elected to follow the longer path that stays away from major roads and for a while have trouble finding indicators to lead our way. For a while I think we are on one of Pam’s ‘random is the right way’ journeys when we come across the soothing yellow arrows again.

Soon we have made our way through the tiny village Fresno del Camino and on the outskirts we pause to drink and eat the apples we have absconded with from the Parador breakfast.

We pass through Oncina de la Valoncina soon after without pausing. The Way is now flat once more, the sky grey and low.

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We rest for lunch at Chozas de Abajo at the only bar in town. Our entertainment is watching a painter paint the outside of a house in the popular yellow/gold hue favoured by many Spanish.

Villages on this flat land can be seen from afar by the water towers rising like UFO’s on their outskirts. We leave Chaozas de Abajo heading for the water tower in the distance that I am sure marks our destination Villar de Mazarife.

This last stretch is only about four kilometers so we soon arrive passing a deep green manicured patch of lawn with a fountain and a painted mural welcoming pilgrims to the village. Our Albergue is the last one into town so it is an extra 300m walk.

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By the time we have washed and hung out our unmentionables the large crew we had passed in the morning is arriving in dribs and drabs. Irish, German, Austrian, American and Australian accents are soon filling the courtyard in the rear of the Albergue as we mingle.

There is an Irish father and son in the pack and the father is suffering from fairly severe blisters. The son is an engineer in the armed forces and is treating his father’s blister (which covers two thirds of the ball of his foot and has burst) by injecting undiluted Betadine directly into the surrounding skin to prevent infection.

An effective and evidently (judging by the father’s howls) painful treatment regime.

Pam and I set off into town looking to purchase fruit and food. We have forgotten once again about Siesta time and the Austrian girl who has also gone in search of food gives a disdainful and entertaining monologue regarding the Spanish economy and how it is being supported by hard working Austrians and Germans.

It has been a while since Pam and I have stayed in an Albergue and I find myself pining for the two single beds we had at the Parador as we climb into the double bunk built for children we are sleeping in tonight. The bed has rails at each end and is too short for me to fully extend my legs. It is also unsteady and each time either of us rolls or turns we both rock and sway. The light flickers above Pam as it will not fully turn off and each time someone uses the shared toilet facilities the hall light floods our room.

Not for the first time I meditate on how effective my bug eyes are as the young crew downstairs serenade us to sleep with an Irish singalong.

Villar de Mazarife – Hospital de Orbigo

We wake to the sound of rain, as we pack our bags the rain continues however by the time Pam has finished her Cafe con Leche and we actually set out the rain has paused for the moment.

Today we are only walking about thirteen kilometers. We quickly leave Villar de Mazarife and find ourselves walking along an arrow straight, pool table flat, bitumen country road between endless corn fields. The sky is dark grey and threatens to spill upon us at any time.

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Not a lot to see.

This country road continues straight and unwavering for about six kilometers and other than some passing lunatic doing about 150 km/hour weaving between pilgrims on a wet road not a lot happens.

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The bitumen road we are crosses another and then becomes a straight gravel road heading to the village Villavante. As we pass beside Villavante without entering the rain begins to fall again for real and Pam and I don our wet weather gear for the first time since Paris.

Soon after Villavante we cross a railway line via foot. Macabre thoughts about a couple killed while having drunken sex on a railway line in Ukraine I had recently read about fill my head.

Rocky and very uncomfortable as well as potentially fatal is my analysis as we cross.

The wet gravel road and rain continue until we meet the highway just prior to Puente de Orbigo. We make our way behind factories and cross a crazy roundabout to gain entry to the town.

Crossing the Rio Orbigo to Hospital de Orbigo is done via an extremely long and famous medieval bridge. This bridge is one of the longest along the Camino and is the site of a famous series of jousting tournaments held in the name of love.

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A Knight, Suero de Quinones, driven by a desire to impress his chosen love who had rejected his advances, in July 1434 staged a huge tournament in a specially built arena in Orbigo. To prove his affection and loyalty to his love Seuro donned an iron collar and he and his companions were said to have broken no less than three hundred lances in jousts. Sadly his affections remained unrequited.

Seuro declared that his bravery in tournament declared his affection was true and removed the iron collar before setting out on a pilgrimage to Santiago de Compestela.

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As we approach the bridge there are thousands upon thousands of swallows swirling and chasing insects above the bridge and river. The swallows rest along power lines in the eaves of buildings and then shoot skywards again in skillful endeavour.

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We cross the amazing bridge and the Alburgue for tonight lies just to the right at the bridge end.

We have booked a twin room in advance for tonight and the contrast with last nights accommodation could not be more pronounced. Tonight our room is spacious and clean, we have our own shower and toilet and access to a washing machine and dryer. Luxury of the highest order.

Still two single beds.

After the days chores are done we head into the town itself to look around and shop for supplies. Hospital de Orbigo is small and prosperous looking with clean cobblestone streets and more of the heavily pruned interwoven trees we first saw in Sahagun.

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We have only just finished buying fruit when the rain begins again forcing our return to the Albergue. We sit in the bar drinking and working on the blog watching the rain fall outside for most of the afternoon.

The pilgrims meal at night is unremarkable and quiet until we are nearly finished. There are only ourselves and another five pilgrims eating dinner and as we finish our meals the proprietor brings out a shot glass for each person and fills it with a light green liquid. She fills my shot glass to the very top, I take a small sip, the top of my head nearly comes off and my eyes fill with tears, this stuff is firewater.

Pam has taken one sip and says ‘I cannot drink this or I will be sick, you will have to have mine or it will seem rude’. Other pilgrims are gingerly sipping, wincing each time, this will not do.

I slam my shot down the hatch, whoa! ‘Pass me a match and I will breathe fire for you’ I say to Pam.

She slides me her shot, I slam it down to the amusement of the bar tender who is watching the goings on.

He mistakenly assumes I have found a new love in the green firewater and comes over and refills my shot glass. Holy smoke Batman.

Now I am under pressure, I breath out deeply and slide the third shot down. Burp.

I have been drinking beer all afternoon, we have split a bottle of wine over dinner and now I have had three huge shot glasses of the strongest alcohol I have ever tasted. At home I rarely drink πŸ™‚

I have turned to the lush side of the force.

Wondering what the hell I have just consumed is called I stagger to the bar and ask to see the bottle again. There are no labels or markings on the bottle, this is homebrew that from the taste and colour I assume is brewed from cactus with the prickles left on.

The bar tender offers me a refill however in the interest of extending my lifeline further I politely decline.

The Irish/Canadian crew we had dinner and drinks with in Burgos called the Way the Vino Camino. I am coming around to their point of view.

Like the Way, my return to our bed room is long and winding.

I think I remember lying down.

6 thoughts on “We hurt, but we’re still alive

  1. Hi Pamaloo & Fonny Fontain, I/we have been love you blog (and will buy several copies of the book when it comes out), we go through withdrawals if there not a post every other day!

    So proud of you both, Mick, cometh the hour, cometh the man, well done brother. Pam I’m really glad to see the competitive side has not got you to Santiago in record time!

    Missing you both, Love Ralphie XX

  2. Omg, you’ve caught “lush” off of Pam. I feel like this was inevitable haha. Also, I love that little tile thing – Is that the pilgrim shell? So nice. So maybe good tattoo ideas to mark the end of your journey πŸ˜‰ Love you both xxx

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