My Camino de Santiago, Part 1: Leon to Ponferrada

My Camino de Santiago: Part 1 Part 2 Part 3

While both preparing for the Camino and then actually walking it, I often heard, “Everyone does their own Camino,” and that proved to be very true.

It’s been a year since my Camino and I continue to think about it every day. Over the next three posts, I’m going to share my personal highlights from my Camino, the most delightful things I encountered on the way, and lots and lots of pictures. Camino Santiago map Leon to Ponferrada

Day 1: Leon to Villar de Mazarife (22 km)

On Saturdays, the bus that runs from Leon to Virgen del Camino, bypassing the industrial park outside of town starts quite late, so I ended up walking through the industrial park. My Camino started with a torrential downpour, complete with thunder and lightning. A large group of us waited out the storm under a gas station canopy, which was a fun, friendly start to the day.

I took the route to Villar de Mazarife, and immediately met some pilgrims who had been leapfrogging over each other for weeks. Any nerves I had about the walk disappeared after meeting this group and hearing about the comings and goings along the way.

With my first 22km in the bag, I rested up, enjoyed a loud, delicious group dinner with new friends, and passed out cold.

Flickr photo album – Day 1

Day 1: Leon to Villar de Mazarife (22km)
Day 1: Leon to Villar de Mazarife (22km)

Day 2: Villar de Mazarife to Astorga (31 km)

After a great first day, hubris got the best of me on Day 2. The day was long, hot, and unrelenting. It was the dayI learned that Brierley stages should be seen as a guide and not a prescription. 31km on Day 2 was a huge, huge mistake.

The day was not without its upsides. I walked for a bit with a man who would become part of my “Camino family” a week later. Before heading across the medieval jousting bridge in Hospital de Orbigo, I waited out a community-wide fun bike ride, which was hysterical to me for some reason. I met David, the famously hospitable proprietor of La Casa de Los Dioses.

I was ready to stop then, but still had another grueling 6km to go. My reward for making it to Astorga, the last Gaudi building I’d see on this trip, the Archbishop’s palace.

Flickr photo album – Day 2

Day 2: Villar de Mazarife to Astorga (31km)
Day 2: Community bike ride in Hospital de Orbigo

Day 3: Astorga to Rabanal del Camino (21 km)

My favourite part of these walks was being between towns at first light. At that time of day, your company is mostly roosters and they almost sound like they are cheering you on. Day 3 was grey and cool, and the walking went by quickly. Favourite stop of the day, Meson Cowboy, a cowboy-themed café and bar that must be seen to be believed.

Flickr photo album – Day 3

Day 3: Astorga to Rabanal del Camino (21km)
Meson Cowboy is the cowboy-themed oasis you didn’t know you needed.

Day 4: Rabanal to El Acebo (17 km)

It was a short, weird day. I met some goats in the dark in Foncebadon, followed up with an emotional stop at the Cruz de Ferro in thick fog, where I left my small stone from the beach at Scots Bay, Nova Scotia. Carrying on, I watched a group of friends scatter the ashes of a recently parted friend along the way.

When it was time for a coffee break, Tomas, the lone resident of Manjarin and modern-day Templar Knight, provided coffee and kittens. The day ended with my one and only day of profound albergue regret. I found out El Acebo is home to La Casa del Peregrinos, quite possibly the most luxurious albergue on the Camino, for €10/night. Friends I ran into the next night confirmed it was albergue paradise and I promised myself I’d stay there next time.

Flickr photo album – Day 4

Day 4: Rabanal del Camino to El Acebo (17km)
Stop and say hello to Tomas in Manjarin, meet some kittens, and grab a hot coffee.

Day 5: El Acebo to Ponferrada (15 km)

I had been meeting cats every day, but this was the first one genuinely interested in me, and then tried to steal my hiking boot.

I had my only scary moment of the whole experience outside of Riego de Ambros. While walking along in the dark on a quiet off-road path, I heard an animal snort and move quickly nearby. I bolted for the roadside, foregoing the trail until daybreak. It was fine, just surprising.

Once I got past Molinaseca, I literally chased rainbows the rest of the way to Ponferrada, which made for a very whimsical morning. It was so charming, I took the long way into Ponferrada, through Campo. I made a short day of it, so early I had more than an hour to kill before the giant albergue opened. Turns out, Ponferrada was a great choice, because the Castle of the Templar Knights and a bunch of other museums are free on Wednesdays, which made for a nice, leisurely day. 100km done!

Flickr photo album – Day 5

Day 5: El Acebo to Ponferrada (15km)
Chasing rainbows in Campo

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