Over the past two days we have moved into farming country - cattle farming. Think rolling hills, scrub-covered stone walls and quadrants of green grass. And surprisingly few cattle. We were relived to see many more today; some small herds being shooed by their people and German Shepherd dogs from their under-house barns to the inviting fields.
After a good night's sleep in our large dorm at the Municipal Hostel in O'Cebreiro, we were packed-up and on the road just before 8am. The moon was still up and at little over 3/4 full, its illumination was as good as a pre-dawn sky in brightness.
The route wound uphill first, through trees and then down on to a gravel road. The first town we went through was Liñares, a one-horse hamlet that existed back-in-the-day because they grew flax for the linen trade. There is a hostel here, which is where Ashala was staying. We bumped into her further up the road at the high point, Alto de San Roque, where a large statue of a medieval pilgrim stands - it shows him walking into the wind.
As it turns out, Ashala had pre-booked her accommodation online a few nights ago. There are two places with similar names in Spain. She had booked in Linares, which, she found out last night, is a few hundred kilometres from here. The place here is Liñares - with a tilda on the 'n'. Fortunately the backpack delivery service is on track and her bag ended up in the right place.
(FYI - the tilda adds a 'ya' sound to the n. For example, mañana - man-ya-na - versus banana)
From the statue we were in good company and daylight with Ashala through the villages of Hospital de La Condesa, where we stopped for coffee, and then through Padornelo and Fonfría. These are all really small places where there are more cowpats on the track than people. There is a wonderfully farmy scent all over.
The weather today has been cool and mostly overcast. We saw some blue sky in the early afternoon. Because it gets light so late (almost 9am!) and the mornings are damp and cool, noon can feel like 8am so our sense of time is a bit wonky. We did 21km today and got to the albergue by 3pm.
Despite today's altitude profile for the first half appearing rather gentle, there were some really steep ups.
We had a good laugh in Hospital de La Condesa when we walked past a pre-Romanesque iglesia from the 11th century. The guide book pointed us to look at the 'unusual stone roofed belfry and cross of Santiago aloft'. What we also saw was a stone staircase leading up into the belfry and, interestingly, stone slabs in the belfry that jut out of the walls to make floating stairs that access the bells.
So, up I went. Liz and Ashala stood below - giggling. Using my trekking pole I nudged the gong thing hanging inside the bell. I wanted to get it to make a light tap on the beautiful, large bell. Well... as I discovered, a light tap makes a sufficiently loud gong. The girls erupted in laughter. Ashala caught this on video.
Coming down Ashala added, "After that you're definitely not getting into heaven... and I'll probably be excommunicated for being an accessory".
We laughed the whole way down the road.
Ashala and I like peeking into barns under houses - or any open doors. I'm really quite fascinated by this. It really makes sense for being able to bring the animals in doors in winter but it really must smell.
We enjoyed eating some small green apples, which we picked up off the ground below a small apple tree on the side of the trail. Sweet and crunchy and very different to Granny Smith.
After Biduedo, the track descended steeply and we saw many pilgrims walking gingerly, often with knee guards.
Mom's left thigh abductor muscle gave her trouble some weeks ago and today she felt it on the downs. A knee guard from Ashala helped with some support - we'll look for one in Sarria tomorrow afternoon.
Our town for the night, Triacastela is a good size. The guidebook (2011 edition) says it has a population of 900. We're staying at the municipal hostel (6€ each), at the beginning of town. It is really nicely done with a stone cladding and floors and blue door and window frames. The rooms have two bunks each. Showers were hot and we've made use of their laundry facilities to wash our clothing (3€ to wash and 1.50 € for 40 minutes in the tumble dryer - big industrial machines).
There is no kitchen so unfortunately I can't boil my stash of chestnuts! I'm turning into a compulsive chestnut collector. We haven't had the abundance of three days ago but they are around - and many in Triacastela. I'll be making a load when I get my hands on a pot again!
My favourite part of this hostel is the front 'room' with wrap-around floor-to-ceiling windows and comfortable wooden chairs (and a table that my feet are resting on). The windows look out on to trees and a field and, below, a stream that I can see and hear. Right now some cattle that I saw in an adjacent field are walking past and their cow-bells and tinkling.
I came back from a walk into town along a track below the buildings - very very pretty. In town I saw the older-adult Korean group with their tourguide. We saw them earlier today too.
We can't quite figure it out but we know they are not walking all the way. They have a bus that picks them up and drops them off. They have no backpacks. We also spotted the bus a few kilometres from Triacastela and saw a few of them sitting around eating. Of course, they collect stamps in their pilgrim passport from churches and their overnight stops.
There are, indeed, a variety of ways to 'do' the Camino. For the traditional route you can start 790km from Santiago in St Jaume, in France. Our you can start on the Spain side in Pamplona, two towns ahead. Or from anywhere else along the route. What ever you have time for.
There are also a dozen other routes - like wagon-wheel spokes - from all over Spain. And then there are the routes that connect in from France and Portugal and Germany... You can travel from as far away as you wish, to end up in Santiago.
You can do a week a year, each year, for a few years - picking up each time from where you left off. On foot or by bicycle.
If you'd just like to bag that Camino certificate from the catedral in Santiago, you can do the last 100km from Sarria.
Santiago is the goal.
Or, evidently, you can bus it. It seems the buses drop people off a few kays before their overnight town and pick them up the next day (after dropping off their luggage and collecting it again) a kay or two out of town.
This morning I helped a lady at a hotel with her suitcase. Maybe American. Part of a tour group. I can easily move a 30km suitcase around and this one was almost too heavy for me to lift up. I said to her, "The general rule is that if your suitcase is too heavy for you to lift, you have too much stuff".
Personally, if you bus it, I think you've missed the point.
I am very impressed with the backpack transporting services. Many older folks on the route, like mom, are using them. Also people recovering from injuries appreciate being able to take a load off and still keep moving. The fee is between 5€ and 7€ a day. You can walk with a day pack, cover the distance and collect your pack at you day's destination. This does make walking the route possible for many who otherwise wouldn't make it or would DNF through injuries that wouldn't heal with the additional load of a backpack.
Two guys with us for a bit today were talking about the 'bus brigade' and the one chap mentioned something about collecting the stamps and then getting your certificate in Santiago. Of course, there is no way to know whether a person really walked the route or took a bus or taxi... as mom replied, "You still have to live with yourself".
Tomorrow we're heading to Sarria, an 18km route through hills and many little villages. We've heard that it could be tough to get accommodation in Sarria because of the people coming in just for the last 100km to Santiago so we may head for the one-next village instead. Barbadelo is only 3km further along.