Camino Day 17, Thurs 13/6/02

52.5 (!) km today
572.5 total
Tough Day

This was by far my toughest day on the camino. I certainly hadn't planned going as far as I did, and was thoroughly knackered at the end of it! But it was well worth the pain...

After getting up at 6:45, I had a leisurely breakfast of coffee and mantecadas (a buttery-spongey confection made in Astorga.) A lovely day, I got underway at 7:55, which was quite late, and in retrospect, a mistake, at least in terms of how far I ended up walking through the oppressive heat.
The way from Astorga to Ponferrada is through the isolated area known as the Maragatería and has some of the best scenery I'd seen - rolling hills, abundant and blossoming sweet-smelling flora (especially the cistus bush.) Some of the camino as far as Molinaseca runs on or next to a minor road, but there's no traffic worth speaking of.

Leaving Astorga

in the morning heat (40K)

El Ganso

entering... (33K)

Unusual pilgrim bar

El Ganso (51K)

Rabanal del Camino

Rock-hard road (69K)

Stopped in Rabanal del Camino for a bocadillo y Bitter Kas around 11:15. Then I walked through the by now searing heat ... and walked, climbing all the time. The camino starting in Astorga (869m) climbs all the way up to the Cruz de Ferro ("Cross Of Iron") at 1504m.
However, the countryside began to get much more green, just like Ireland. They must get quite a bit of rainfall at this height to account for the greenness, as for example in the ruined and amost abandoned village of Foncebadón was once home to a church, hospice and hospital for pilgrims. Ah no, the years, O!

Green Hills

outside Rabanal del Camino (46K)

Ruins in lushness

Foncebadón (60K) (500K Version)

Cruz de Ferro

in the haze (34K)

Cruz de Ferro

with Irish git (58K)

Rejoining the road, I finally reached the Cruz de Ferro, a huge iron cross atop a large cairn or rockpile. Pilgrims traditionally brought a stone or pebble from their hometown with them to add to the pile. Alas I didn't know about this, but I laid a marble which I had in my washkit - I'd found this marble two years before on the way down from Benson Pass in Yosemite in California. While I was rummaging in my pack for the marble, a bunch of Spanish cyclists arrived puffing and panting; using internationally accepted sign language gestures, I persuaded one of them to take a photo of me next to the cross (which had dozens of notes pinned to it.) I must have presented a sight to the cyclists, sweating like a pig in the heat. I'm sure I heard one of 'em use the word "Loco" while nodding in my direction...

It was now very hot indeed, even at this height, with not a puff of a breeze to cool one down. Nothing for it but to drink more water and keep going. Passed quite a few roadside crosses, many with scallop shells embedded into their bases - presumably monuments to pilgrims who died en route. It was downhill all the way from the Cruz, sometimes very steeply indeed (which didn't do my knees any good at all.)

Wayside Cross

Near Manjarín (44K)

Unusual Refugio

Near Manjarín (57K)

Plunging View

En route to El Acebo (47K)

What a View!

En route to El Acebo (42K)

The views, however, can only be described as superb. Arrived in the slate-roofed village of El Acebo around 3pm, had a forgettable menú del dia at some restaurant there, and continued walking, even though by now I was thoroughly knackered, with the blisters, knees and hips all acting up.

El Acebo

Slate roofs (53K)

El Acebo

Close Up! (42K)

Fields of Cistus

Smell the heather? (36K)

Long and winding

towards Molinaseca (55K)

Arrived Molinaseca at 5:45, saw the very full albergue (tents!) and despite my condition, said I'd keep walking the extra 8km to Ponferrada. This I did along the roadside footpath and did it at speed because of gathering storm clouds.


further than it looks! (61K)


from Puente de los Peregrinos (65K)

Santiago in pond

Molinaseca (68K)


Mining town (32K)

Arrived in Ponferrada just under one hour later, (543m, the name means "Bridge of Iron" and as you might guess, it's a mining town.) Got caught in a huge thunderstorm while looking for the hostel, so I ended up booking myself into a three-star hotel - the Madrid. I remember thinking "God alone knows how much it'll cost", but I felt I deserved it after by far the toughest day I'd had: just under 53km, starting at 800m, up to 1500m, and back down to 500m, through fairly rough terrain. My poor knees! But -- the views, the views!

Left foot had a sizeable blister, not to mention the bit on my other foot where I'd torn off that strip of skin, and all my joints were aching. A hot bath eased the pain enormously, and I felt much better after it. Sent postcards, had decent meal and great sleep at the hotel. Turns out the hotel receptionist had been to Ireland to learn English as a 14-year-old student, so we had a decent chat about the World Cup.

Was too tired to do much exploring, especially as it was still raining. Opted for an early night and slept the sleep of the just...