This week, we have found ourselves walking through the plains, wheat fields, forests, foothills, mountains, vineyards, and cherry orchards full of trees drooping with ripe fruit. We walked a total of 167 kilometres this week, putting in our longest day to date (33.5 km). We also got a lot closer to our goal of raising $800 for the Canadian Diabetes Association
, with $265 in donations. We've only got one week left until we reach Santiago, so if you've been thinking of donating, now's the time!
Camino Summary to Date:
Money Raised for the Canadian Diabetes Association:
Summary of Week 4:
Mansilla de las Mulas - Leon (20.4 km)
Leon - Mazarife (24 km)
Mazarife - Astorga (29 km)
Astorga - Rabanal del Camino (20 km)
Rabanal del Camino - Ponferrada (33.5 km)
Ponferrada - Cacabelos (16 km)
Cacabelos - Vega de Valcarce (24 km)
Castle Ruins at Vega de Valcarce
This has really been a great week. My blisters are pretty much healed, I've been able to pack up my knee brace (even when we hit the mountains), and the cold/flu I was fighting is gone. My body, mind, and spirit feel stronger and healthier than ever before.
Last week, I talked about two of the most challenging days for me yet. This week, I thought I'd talk about two of the best. First of all, Day 26 was a fantastic day. It was our longest attempted distance yet, and included a 400 m ascent and a nearly 1000 m descent. We reached the highest point on the Camino (1515 m). I was a little worried how my body would respond, but I shouldn't have been. When we finally arrived at our destination, nearly eight hours after we left, I could have actually kept walking. The ascent was invigorating... I feel energized everytime I find myself climbing a hill (or in this case, a mountain). And we didn't pull out our iPods once - the scenery was too breathtaking and the conversations too interesting to distract ourselves. Because we ended in a small city, we were able to buy some great whole wheat bread and pasta (whole grains can be tough to find in this land of white bread) and toasted our success with a bottle of vino tinto.
In contrast, Day 27 was one of our shortest days yet. We purposely planned to stop short because our guidebook promised an albergue with two beds per room. After nearly four weeks of sleeping in bunk beds with between four and fifty other pilgrims in the room, we couldn't pass up the opportunity for some privacy. This was the first time we knowingly stopped somewhere without a kitchen, but it was worthwhile. As we arrived in the town of Cacobelos, still fresh from the short distance, we took a tip from our guidebook and stopped in one of the local restaurants. We asked them "Tiene un poquito vino por un peregrino que esta muriendo de sed? (Do you have a little wine for a pilgrim who is dying of thirst?)" and received free wine and tapas. Not a bad way to enter a town!
Free wine and tapas
At the albergue, the rooms were arranged in a semicircle around a church, and consisted of just two twin beds, a closet (a luxury in itself!) and plywood walls that were just taller than us (but didn't reach the roof). It wasn't the most private of rooms (we knew our closest five neighbours snored and had gas that evening), but it was leaps and bounds above typical pilgrim accommodation. We did a little furniture rearranging to make a double bed, and shut ourselves in from the abnormally cold day, emerging only to eat meals (sheep cheese sandwiches on whole wheat bread, spinach salad, and homemade hummus... not too shabby for not having a kitchen!).
Castle ruins at Vega de Valcarce
What can I say, this week has been nearly the perfect week. No blisters, my cold is gone, the weather has been good. I don't have anything to complain about. Walking this week has just been bliss. And I mean it. I've really grown to love walking. It feels so natural (as in the human body was designed for walking, not as in we are walking through untouched wilderness natural, because we're not, though it's pretty just the same). I find it amazing how truly enjoyable and entertaining walking can be. I never get bored of it, even after 6 hours. Not once have I wished to flag down a car, or climb on a bus. Nor have I wished to be somewhere else, doing something else entirely. I just love walking. It's hard to pinpoint why, I just do.
It helps that the Camino does such a good job of making the walk enjoyable. It goes beyond the camaraderie with other pilgrims, and the stunning landscapes. Just as important are the reasonably priced places to sleep in more or less every town. These albergues come with complete kitchens, laundry facilities, and warm showers (if you find the good ones). Each town seems to be strategically located between 1 and 5 kms apart, giving you ample choice on how far to walk each day. It all adds up to very comfortable, stress free, walking. If the whole world were developed this way, I might just try to walk everywhere.
Nothing to do but walk
One thing that was unforeseen when I started walking almost a month ago was the possibility that I would gain weight. And not the muscular kind. As I can now attest, even walking 20-30km a day, I still have to watch how much I eat, because I`ve been steadily putting on a bit of chub all this week. I started counting calories to figure out what the problem is, and descovered that I`ve been consuming in excess of 3,200 calories per day. A little bit too much.
I've thought about cutting this back a bit, and even tried unsuccessfully for a few days, but the food in Spain is just too good. Everything has so much flavour. I'm talking about the vegetables, the bread, the cheese, the chocolate, and the less than 1 Euro bottles of wine. We cook every meal, and have yet to have more than a tapas plate in a restaurant, so we've had lots of opportunities to get in touch with the foods available in the supermarkets. Our biggest concern has been finding a good supply of whole grains. Most larger centers carry a decent selection of whole grain breads, oatmeal, whole wheat pasta, and whole grain rice. The smaller stores in the smaller towns... not so much. Fortunately legumes are easy to find, and even come pre-cooked in jars. Perfect for us pilgrims who have to share a three burner stove with up to 50 other roommates.
So... so what if I'm eating too much? I'm enjoying the walk, I'm enjoying the food, and I'm probably not going to slow down until I'm finished. Even if it does mean a diet afterwords.
The plains in Spain
Typical stone buildings
Black clouds and yellow bushes
A quiet moment in the early morning streets of Leon
Castle in Ponferrada
Want to read more about our Camino? Check it out…
Our Camino, Your Camino… Our Challenge to You
Camino de Santiago Week 1 – Beautiful Landscapes & Unexpected Challenges
Camino de Santiago Week 2 – Getting Past the Pain
Camino de Santiago Week 3 – Feels a Lot Like Home
Walking through the mountains
Camino de Santiago Week 4 – Easy Walking
Camino de Santiago – We Made It to Santiago, But We’re Not Finished Yet!
Camino de Santiago by the Numbers – Our Budget and Stats
Guide to the Camino de Santiago