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Matthew 9:17 People do not put new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise the skins burst, the wine spills out, and the skins are ruined. Rather, they pour new wine into fresh wineskins, and both are preserved.

Day 30 — 15.06 Miles — Ponferrado to Villafranca del Bierzo, May 27.   Ed and Melissa from Tennessee stayed at the same hostel in which we stayed last night.  We left the hostel together at 6:30 am.  The temperature was already in the 50’s so we wanted to leave Ponferrado as early as possible.  The four of us did not walk together all day as Melissa’s is having problems with blisters.  We did however cross paths during the day.

Breakfast was finally available after we had walked about 4 miles.  The cafe in Fuentes Nueva was crowded as no cafe’s were open in Ponferrado early in the morning.  Vineyards  and cherry tree orchards were surrounding us. The view is changing again and it is pretty.  The cherries on the trees were huge.  We were tempted to pick some but did not have the owner’s permission.  The cherries stayed on the trees.  

Gravel replaced the asphalt outside of Camponaraya.  We were walking through wine country again.  The grapes on the vines are just staring to grow so they are very tiny. 

At Pieros a choice had to be made.  Should we take the shorter path along highway or take a longer path through the vineyards.  We chose the longer path and were rewarded with beautiful scenery.  In Valtuille de Arriba,  we sat on a park bench that was at the edge of the street next to a pilgrim water fountain.  A pretty garden was across the street.  The streets in small villages are only wide enough for one car so the garden was close. 

Our hostel in Villafranca del Bierzo was in the 17th century San Nicolas el Real monastery.  The building looked like a castle on the outside and inside. The rooms were nice and up to date. There was even free WiFi in the hallways! The WiFi would not work in the rooms. Once you stepped into your room, the internet connection was lost. So…..we pretended that a time warp had occurred. We talked and socialized with friends. We ate dinner that night at the monastery with Ed and Melissa.  Technology is in most instances is good but we should not let it replace our personal interaction with others. We see other pilgrims walking down the path with phones to their ears. They do no realize the life they are missing.

Herrerias is the next town where we will be stopping for the night.  Buen Camino.  Sharon and Ron

Cruz de Ferro

I John 4:8 Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.

Day 29 — 17.08 Miles — Foncebadon to Ponferrada, May 26.   We finally reached Cruz de Ferro today at approximately 8:00 am.   We continued to climb after leaving Foncebadon in the morning.   The air was cool when we started but started to warm quickly.  The unimposing cross appeared in the distance at a curve in the trail.  I have been waiting for this day since 2011.  The cross is surrounded by a mound of rocks placed at its base by an untold number of pilgrims.  The metal cross is mounted on what looks like an untreated telephone poll.  The cross is believed to have been erected in the 11th century.  The Camino tradition is to bring a rock or other memento from home and place it at the base of the cross. The items from home may have a letter, words or message to a loved one on them.  The item could represent a journey in one’s life.  

As it was only 8:00 am when we arrived, there were few people at the base.  Backpacks were removed and placed along a fence. The mood was quiet and respectful as each person walked up to the base of the cross alone.  It was a difficult walk up to the cross and an emotional walk down.  No one stayed long at the top of the rock pile.  I left a small rock from Idaho.  Tyee Mountain 7-17-11 and a name were written on the rock.  Cross # 35 was left with the rock. Tears were quietly running down my cheeks as I walked away from the cross.  Ron left a rosary with a laminated picture. His eyes were moist at the base also.  

In addition to our personal items left at the base, a small hand made wooden cross was placed at the base also.  The cross and many others like it was made by a man from Illinois.  He was a friend of Pastor M from my church.  

We put our back packs on and continued to walk.  We were quiet for some time as we each thought about the cross and what we had left at its base.  The walk continued through the Leon Mountains.  Along the walk, we found Yukiko eating lunch while sitting on a rock. We had not seen her for about two weeks. The climb took us to 4,983 feet on rocky paths.  Going down from that height was on a rocky uneven path again.  By the time the next town appeared, we had walked nine miles.

Before the walk was finished today, cross #36 was left on a memorial for Michael Cura.  The inscription was reflective of a pilgrim walking the Camino.  “The boat is safer anchored at the port but that’s not the aim of boats.”

We head to Villafranca del Bierzo tomorrow.  Buen Camino. Sharon and Ron

Across the Valley

Galatians 6:2 Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.

Day 28 — 16.58 Miles — Astorga to Foncebadon, May 25

The days have been blending together in our minds.  We write notes in our journals at night after each walk.  If we did not make notes each night and have photos to reference, this blog would be impossible to write.  People walking through our days are having the same problem. We smile when the young people in their twenty’s are concerned about their inability to keep their days clear in their minds.  Is this a new type of sensory overload for the Camino pilgrims? The views, sounds, smells and interaction with people from all over the world seem to be difficult to organize in one’s head.  

When thinking about the people walking and living on The Way, I cannot recall a single incident of anger, hostility or unkindness.  Even in the large cities, kindness and concern are everywhere.  Looking for a yellow arrow brings out the local residents to help.  In Madrid, before we had started walking the Camino, Ignacio helped us find our train, got us on the correct bus to the bus terminal and paid our bus fare.  In Pamplona, a woman stopped riding her bike to tell us where the Camino path was located.  In Burgos, a woman, put her hand on my elbow and kept saying, “No, no, Camino, Camino” while pointing in the opposite direction.  We were off the Camino path following Google Maps to our hostel.  We showed her the name of the hostel and the street.  She smiled and pointed the way.  In another smaller town, we were on a side street and highway corner looking for the arrow.  A man in a car pulled onto the highway, honked his horn and pointed in the correct direction.  One can only imagine how life would be if the whole world were like the Camino.  

This day became interesting when we stopped in Murias de Rechivaldo for coffee and tea.  Ron stayed at the table and I went into buy our drinks.  There was a long line.  When I finally brought the drinks out to table, another pilgrim was sitting with Ron.  This is normal on The Way.  Tables are routinely shared with strangers.  Norbert was the pilgrim’s name.  He was walking with a group of Boston College students.  Norbert, from Harvard, is researching the differences between Christian Pilgrimages and Muslim Pilgrimages.  He is also a Jesuit priest.  Norbert received cross #31.

The elevation of Astorga is 2,850 feet above sea level.  This is about 200 feet lower than our home in Boise.   Another climb on The Way, had begun for us.  By the end of today, we climbed up to 4,647.  The scary thought for us is now we will have to go down.  Going down on The Way has always been difficult.  Even the young people are having issues with knees and feet due to the steep descents.  

A memorial for Trudy Boukas was on The Way to Foncebadon.  It was not a simple stone or cross like the other memorials we have seen.  She was a pilgrim and apparently she had a pet tiger.  There was a picture of Trudy with a tiger on the memorial’s cross.  Cross #32 was hung over Trudy’s cross.  There were two more memorials not far after Trudy’s. Cross #33 was hung on a memorial for Luis Hinejesa.  Cross #34 was hung on a memorial for Uberlinda Cortez.  

Trudy’s Memorial

When we arrived at Foncebadon, we turned to look back at the direction from which we had walked.  An large valley lay below us.  The valley we had walked through for the past few days extended back as far as we could see. It was a very humbling feeling for us to look back on such a large valley and realize that we had actually walked across it. We then checked into our hostel only to discover that Ed, Melissa, Amelie and Rachel were also staying there.  We had all found rooms for the night.  

Ponferrado is our next stop. Buen Camino. Sharon and Ron

Out of Nowhere

Matthew 25:35 For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me,

Day 27 — 19.94 Miles — Villandangos to Astorga, May 24. 

We had to walk about one mile before reaching the town of Villandangos this morning.  The hostel that we stayed in last night was located just before the town.  The “hostel” was called Hotel Aviendo III.  The location added another mile to our walk today but the food was good. Maybe the extra mile was worth the good food.

The walk out of town took us through a wooded area covered in cottonwood snow.  The cottonwood snow is pretty but it still causes sneezing.  The remainder of the walk was on a gravel path that ran a fairly close parallel to the highway. Along one section of the path, Ron found plants that seemed to attract snails by the hundreds. Will the plants survive the ravenous snails?

The Way occasionally has alternate routes to chose. The alternates routes are usually longer and sometimes are more difficult. We choose to take a slightly longer scenic route. A gravel path was still on the scenic route but the road noise was gone.  We came across another Camino Oasis. Out in the middle of nowhere, strangers provided food and drink for a donation.

We were ready for a break when we walked into the town of Hospital de Orbigo.  There is a bridge in the town that was  built over a bridge constructed by the Romans in approximately 489 AD.  It 1939 the bridge was named a National Treasure by Spain.It is now a pedestrian bridge as cars are no longer allowed to use the bridge. Tomorrow the town will hold a jousting contest in a large field next to the bridge.  The very old and the new continue to coexist in Spain.  We also spoke to Toby while we were in the town.

After leaving Hospital de Orbigo, we came upon another stone. It was inscribed with the scripture Mark 12:28-34 engraved on it.  The greatest commandment is written in Mark 12:28-34. Cross #30 was hung over the rock that was shaped like Idaho.

Just before the town of Astorga came into view, the Cruceiro de Santo Toribio appears.  The cross commemorates the 5th century Bishop Toribio from Astorga who fell to his knees on this location after he was banished from the town. From the base of the cross, Astorga can been seen below (in the distance).  Our hostel in Astorga was finally reached about 5:00 pm.  We could see the beautiful buildings and cathedrals as we walked down the hill and into the valley. The buildings and cathedrals in Spain continue to amaze us.

Showers, shopping and a haircut were our next objectives.  My hair is now shorter than Ron’s.  (I can see the shocked look on your face!)  A “pixie” cut is much easier to maintain and hair grows back.  We also purchased a suitcase in Astorga to ship items ahead to Santiago that we are not using such as sleeping bags, shoes and other miscellaneous items that add weight to one’s back pack.  The hostel in which we have a reservation in Santiago will hold it until we arrive.  

Foncebadon is our next stop. Buen Camino. Sharon & Ron

Les Miserables

Proverbs 15:15 A miserable heart means a miserable life; a cheerful heart fills the day with song.

Day 26 — 12.09 Miles — Leon to Villadangos, May 23. The walk out of Leon was on hard pavement for about 4-5 miles. We also had empty stomachs. One cafe was open on the way out of town however their tortillas (omelets) had not been delivered when we stopped. The first open cafe was in La Virgen del Camino. We walked for 2.5 hours for food.

The Meseta has ended so there are trees. Cottonwoods are everywhere and so is the cottonwood pollen. Ron walks happily along through the falling cottonwood snow. He is oblivious. I walk along miserable and sneezing with itchy eyes, throat and runny nose. The Allegra that traveled from home with us is gone so we stopped in a pharmacy and purchased 40 Spanish allergy pills. The cost was only about $4.00! The pills help however being outside for extended periods each day somewhat offsets what the pills can do. It is a relief to arrive at our hostel and jump into the shower. A shower helps to wash the pollen off.

Evidently, Ron was not totally oblivious today. He said that he was having random thoughts and observations as I was miserable. So his thoughts were……..there are numerous cars in Spain that we do not see at home. They are Peugeot, Citroen, Opel and Renault. BMW’s and Mercedes are numerous also. Pick ups are not seen very often. Commercial trucks are all cabovers. The majority of commercial trucks are new or nearly new. One cannot get dinner in Spain until after 8 p.m. unless you eat a peregrino meal. Finding someone in Spain who speaks English is difficult. If you get lost in a city, simply look lost. Someone will try to help even if they do not speak English. Street signs when they can be found are placed on the sides of buildings about 10 to 12 feet up. In small villages, streets are for cars and people. Cars park on streets, sidewalks and several combinations of the two. Ron was really busy while we were walking!

More Bodegas / Hobbit Houses

The people walking with us were all new today. A group of college students from Missouri passed us. They were moving fast and appeared energetic. We talked for about 5 minutes with them. They had just started their Camino walk in Leon. They were familiar with Boise State….. BSU emblems are on our hats.

Astorga is our goal for tomorrow with an 18 mile hike. We might be a little tired at the end of the day. Per our guide book, we have walked 303 miles. Per our Garmin watches, we have walked more. Buen Camino. Sharon and Ron

Leon, Spain

Matthew 18:20 For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.

Day 24 — 9.27 Miles — Puente Villarente to Leon, May 21.   Todays’ walk was under ten miles so we decided to leave about 9:30 in the morning.  The path was gravel and ran parallel to a road.  The fields were quickly replaced with the suburbs and the noise from suburbs.  Commercial and Industrial buildings were now on either side of The Way.  We could no longer hear birds or the sound of leaves moving in the trees. 

The temperature was staring to climb just before we reached our hostel.  We had about one block to walk.  We turned the corner and there sits Toby at a table having a beer.  He was waiting for his room to be ready and just happened to be staying at the same hostel as us.  Our hostel last night in Puente Villarente was also his choice.  We did not see him there as he went into the village to eat. About five minutes after we sat down, Amelie came limping by.  We invited her to join us.  She and Toby have not met while walking.  She was booked into the same hostel as Toby and us.  In a town the size of Leon, it was quite a coincidence that we would all be staying at the same location. 

After we were settled in our room, we walked down the street to the Museum of San Marcos. The museum was housed in a cathedral.  Documentaries on the historic buildings in Spain do not come close to show casing the buildings’ beauty and history.  Cross #28 was hung around the neck of a bronze pilgrim statue outside the museum.

Day 25—Over 5 Miles of Walking in Town—Rest/Tour Day in Leon, 5/22

Per information on the city map, “Leon was founded on the site of the Roman camp Hispania once occupied by the Roman Legio VII Gemina.  Leon’s history goes back over 1,000 years.  It has been subjected to barbarian and Muslim invasions. In the 10th century, it witnessed the emergence of the monarchy and nobility of northwestern Spain.”  

The rhythm in Spain is drastically different than the US.  Commerce does not start until about 9:30 or 10 a.m. We had a leisurely breakfast, unfolded a city map and headed toward the Cathedral de Santa Maria de Leon.  We back tracked following the yellow arrows as the Camino also takes the pilgrims past the church.  We started across a small square, there was Toby sitting outside a cafe having coffee.  We chatted for a few minutes then proceeded to the Cathedral de Santa Maria de Leon. Just before we entered the cathedral, a nun walked by.  She was given cross #29.  The smile on her face was beautiful after she understood the cross had traveled from Los Estados Unidos to her.

A magazine about the cathedral contained a comment that states how one feels after visiting this historic cathedral.  “Leon’s Cathedral is for me that piece of history that every day transforms into art, hiding architectural mysteries and seducing all those who enter.” We wish our pictures would do it justice.  The cathedral is still in use for church services.  A service was being held in one of the smaller side sanctuaries.  One should remember however that the building is not the church.  The people are the church.

After leaving the church, Rachel who ate dinner with us in the Puente Villarente stopped to talk. We talked to Ed and Melissa also. They were in a store across from the cathedral when we walked in.

We have only have about thirteen more days on The Way.  If all goes well, our  planned arrival in Santiago is June 4.  Tomorrow’s destination is Villadangos del Paramo.  Buen Camino.  Sharon and Ron.

The Beet

Genesis 11:5-7 But the Lord came down to see the city and the tower the people were building. The Lord said, “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.”

Day 23 — 16.93 Miles — El Burgo Ranero to Puente Villarente, May 23.  The Way continues to be straight and sometimes narrow.  It parallels a paved road the majority of the walk now.   We have wondered if being lost in one’s thoughts means we will miss seeing something special along The Way.  I think not.  We can look up and see normal views that for the first time look special.  We came across another memorial marker on The Way.  Cross #26 was placed on the marker.  

We have occasionally walked by a German couple or they have walked by us.  We exchange our “Buen Camino’s” in passing.  We do not speak German and they do not speak English. On one particular occasion, we came upon them stopped in the path looking at something on the ground.  As we approached the man held out his held excitedly and said something.  All we heard was beet! He held a very large dead bug in his hand.  It was either a huge fly or a huge bee.  Per Google translate, what sounded like beet to us was biene. We smiled, paused to look and say bee.  They smiled and said yah beet!  Buen Camino!

Later in the morning, we saw the German couple ahead of us again.  This time they had walked off the path across a ditch into a field.  The man saw us approaching and started yelling excitedly again.  This time the word sounded like “ork”.  They are fellow pilgrims so we crossed the ditch and walked into the the field. Was there was a problem?  The woman was taking a picture of something on the ground as we approached.  The man kept saying “ork” but then said what sounded like “id”.   Orchid!   The field had small wild orchids growing in it amongst the weeds.  We took a picture which made the man smile.  We smiled back.  All of us said Buen Camino and we were off on our separate walks.  

Wild Orchids in a Field

As the path entered the town of Puente Villarente, a rock carved with 1st John 2:1-6 had been placed along The Way.  Cross #27 was hung over the stone. 

Cross #27

Our lodging for the night was in another hostel.  We have been able to book lodging in hostels that offer a single room for two people.  The room is more expensive than a shared room with bunk beds but the expense is well worth the cost.  The cost is minimal at about $40.00 per night.  The majority of hostels serve a peregrino (pilgrim) dinner and a small breakfast in the mornings.  The portion sizes at dinner are large.  The first course choices are salad, spaghetti or soup.  The second course one has a choice between chicken, fish and pork. The desert choices are fruit, ice cream, flan or rice pudding.  The large portions are devoured by everyone.  Leftovers do not exist at peregrino dinners.  All dinners include bread and wine. The portion sizes seem small to us. We have both lost weight. 

Two new people entered our Way today. Emily from Denmark walked past us very fast and limping. We passed her later and she passed us again. Two surgeries on her knee were causing her to have problems. She is only in her 20’s. Rachel ate dinner with us. She is from New York. She told us during dinner about a nightmare hostel story that was spreading through the Camino hotline. She had talked with Toby!

Leon is our destination tomorrow! Ah….rest and relaxation. Buen Camino. Sharon and Ron

Hansel and Gretel

Luke 2:18 And He said, “See to it that you are not misled for many will come in My name, saying ‘I am He,’ and, ‘The time is near’ Do not go after them.

Day 22 — 10.97 Miles — Sahagún to El Burgo Ranero, May 19. The walk was short today.  How can a walk that is over 10 miles be considered short? The Way continues to be on flat, straight, gravel paths.  The scenery is monotonous.  It is easy to understand how this part of the Camino is thought to test one mentally.   We walk long distances lost in thoughts that wander through our heads as we are wandering through the countryside. I wonder what we miss as we are walking lost in thought.  Fortunately, a pilgrim’s memorial marker that was along the path caught our attention.  Cross #24 was left on the marker.  Toby walked by us after the cross was hung on the memorial. He said seeing the cross made him think of the story about Hansel and Gretel. He saw the cross and knew we were in front of him.

Cross #24

We arrived in El Burgo Ranero.  The Camino path took us past the church.  Other pilgrims were looking up at the church. There were a number of storks with nests on top of the steeple.  We continued to our hostel and noticed an elderly woman  sitting outside in front of a house. Her walker was in front of her. She appeared to be people watching.  No one was acknowledging that she was there.  Her loneliness called to me.  She was given Cross #25. 

As we are checking into our hostel, Toby arrives.  We seem to be on the same schedule and making reservations at the same hostels.  Later that afternoon, Kathy walked by with her sister Karen.  Karen had flown in from Oklahoma to finish the walk with Kathy.  All of us plan to take an extra day in Leon to rest.  We all wonder if our paths will cross in such a big city.  

Our next stop is Puente Villarente.  Leon is on the horizon!  Buen Camino.  Sharon and Ron

The Shire?

Hebrews 3:4 For every house is build by someone but God is the builder of everything.

Day 21 — 10.97 Miles — Ledigos to Sahagún, May 18.  Today started with a good breakfast at the hostel.  They served more than toast!.  We had Spanish omelets which are called tortillas.  Ed and Melissa from Tennessee ate with us.  The temperature was only 36 degrees with a wind so it was cool again.  Cool is better than hot. 

In the village of Moratinos, there were hobbit dwellings that looked like houses in The Shire from the  “Lord of the Rings” books.  Ed, Melissa and Toby walked in the cafe just as we were leaving to go have a look at The Shire.  Of course, a yellow arrow pointed The Way and the path took us past The Shire.  We had a good laugh when we read the sign in front of The Shire dwellings.  It said, “No, the hobbits don’t live here.” The dwellings were actually bodegas.  An explanation is below.  

It felt good to reach Sahagún for two reasons.  It was chilly and Sahagún is the official halfway point of the Camino.  We calculated our mileage at 275.7.  The halfway point is computed as a straight line and we are not walking a straight line so our mileage equals more than halfway. After checking into our hostel, we walked to the Monastery de Santa Cruz/Museum to purchase our official certificate verifying that we have walked to the halfway point.  The certificate is beautiful however it is written in Latin.  A translation was provided with the certificate. 

Andy from the UK who we met in Ledigos was at the museum to get his certificate.  He also was staying at our hostel that night.  

In the morning, we are headed to El Burgo Ranero.  Buen Camino.  Sharon Ron

The Yellow Arrow

Psalm 91:5 You will not be afraid of the terror by night, or of the arrow that flies by day.

Day 20 — 15.34 Miles — Carrión de Los Condes to Ledigos, May 17.  Today was cold and windy.  Down jackets, gloves and ear warmers were necessary.  The wind was coming at us from our right side.  The side wind was easier to walk in than the head wind that was blowing at us last week.  

This section of the Camino is actually over a Roman road.  The Roman road was no longer visible as it had been covered with dirt and gravel.  The road was straight and in the middle of crop fields.  There were not many trees for wind breaks.  No cafes or towns were along this section of the Camino. There was a food truck however about 5 miles along the road.  We were like horses heading to the barn…..no stopping, just walking. 

Stone Placed at the Beginning of the 12 K Roman Path

A few stops were made to take pictures.  Only two pictures were taken of the scenery.  The remainder were taken of different Camino markers that show pilgrims “The Way”.  A very lovely color was chosen to mark “The Way”.  Yellow is the color of the Camino.  Any other color arrow is ignored except green.  A green arrow indicates an alternate route.  When the trail takes an unknown turn, the yellow arrow that points The Way could be on the road, a building, a light post or a sign.  

At one place, the trail crossed a highway and started down a trail on the other side of the road. We came upon another rock with a scripture verse inscribed on it.  Cross #23 was hung over the rock.  The inscription said Matthew 5:1-20 which is the Beatitudes.  I wondered if every pilgrim can find himself in one of the verses. 

Matthew 5:1-20

Different stone markers began to appear along the path as we approached Ledigos. They paralleled the road. We saw about twenty. Each one said “Mort” on it. A Google search, revealed that mort means sudden death. The stone markers are probably the equivalent of white crosses in the US that mark where someone died along a highway.

We stopped in Ledigos and checked into a nice hostel.  A hostel is always nice when one has a private room.  Toby checked in after us.  We also saw Ed and Melissa from Tennessee for the second time. I met Andy from the UK at the washing machine and Ron met him while having a beer with Toby.  We had a nice dinner together. 

The walk for tomorrow is to Sahagún.  Buen Camino.  Sharon and Ron