Saludos a todos from Spain!
I am in Ruitelan, a tiny hamlet just a few kilometers from O´Cebreiro in the westernmost reaches of the Spanish province of Castilla y Leon on the medieval pilgrimage road to Santiago de Compostela. My two daughters, Lucy and Grace, and I left last Thursday for Madrid, took a train to Leon, and a cab the next morning to the outskirts of town where we started walking at a church called La Virgen del Camino. The goal is to reach the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, the burial place of the apostle James. If you can walk just the last 100 kilometers, you receive many blessings and a Compostela, or a certificate that says you completed the pilgrimage. I already have one from a pilgrimage I took two years ago. It´s pretty fabulous. This will be Lucy and Grace´s first Compostela.
We spent the first night, after walking over 25 kilometers, in a charming place called the Albergue Verde, or the Green Albergue, in Hospital de Orbigo. We were looked after by two lovely innkeepers, or hospitaleros as they are called, and we slept in a clean dormitory syle room with two other pilgrims. They sang to us before dinner, they served us homemade pumpkin cake with pumpkins from their garden, and they made several recommendations to us for the next few days.
The next night, we spent at the tiniest place, called Murias de Rechivaldo. The albergue was closed but we were able to contact the hospitaleros and they opened a house for us. That´s right, a house. We had a fireplace with a fire, a kitchen where Lucy prepared dinner, and two bedrooms upstairs where we slept. It was great because we would have had to keep walking if they did not answer the phone. Winter pilgrims, as we are called now, have daily challenges in finding a place to spend the night. If you have to miss a stopping place, you can end up walking another three hours before finding a place to stay. We have been lucky. Or blessed, depending on your point of view.
After Murias, we landed in Foncebadon. This is a mountaintop place with a single albergue and from what I could see, a single bar. The hospitalero was a girl named Eva who had walked the pilgrimage road herself not long ago, but rather than starting in the traditional first stage in Southwestern France, she started in Austria. It took her three and a half months but she arrived in Santiago in early December, she said, and then just kept walking to the sea because she wanted the sea to stop her. Since it was Christmas Eve, they served us paella and Champagne to celebrate and the comeraderie with our fellow pilgrims made up certainly for the lack of traditional festivities at home.
In the morning, we found we had a white Christmas. But where everyone else had a single decorated tree, we walked through forests of them, all topped with the freshest snow. Miraculously, the road was fairly dry and as we came into town and off the mountain, the snow was replaced with the softest rain that ended over night.
We spent Christmas night in Mulinaseca. This is a bigger town so we just went to the first open bar and asked the barman to make a recomendation for a place to stay. He called his mother out of the kitchen and she made a call for us, connecting us with a woman who owned a casita, a little town house where we again had the place to ourselves. This is actually the benefit of being a winter pilgrim - in many places, you are the only ones there.
She fed us and sent us on our way to the next stop, Villafranca de Bierzo. This was a long stretch and we ended up staying the night at the first albergue that was open. Don´t do this. It was really crummy. I hate to complain, but this one was not so charming. The hospitaleros were marvelous though and their cooking, although a little weird, was just what we needed after walking for over 32 kilometers in one day.
Lucy and Grace vowed they would not repeat a 30+ kilometer day again, so today we took our time and landed at Ruitelan mid-afternoon where I am waiting for the hospitalero to serve us dinner. I had my first shower in days and feel fresh, energized. We are on to O´Cebreiro in the morning and taking a break from the walking for a day to visit the monastery at Samos, the oldest in Spain.
Buen Camino! I´ll check back in when I get to Santiago de Compostela!
If you would like to know more about the Camino de Santiago, rent the Emilio Estevez movie, ¨The Way.¨ It is a wonderful movie and one of the scenes was shot just a short distance from where we stayed in Hospital de Orbigo at the Green Albergue.
Crossposted in the Red Room.