After my first 100km, I was in the Camino groove and had a nice routine established. It was during this stretch I found my “Camino family,” and felt like I could Camino forever.
Over this 100km, I crossed into Galicia, which is the home stretch for those walking the 800km route. The geography is quite different from Castile y Leon – lush, tall forests, rolling hills, lots of rain. Except in my case, the rain was pretty non-existent.
Day 6: Ponferrada to Villafranca del Bierzo (26km)
The day’s walk was mostly through rolling hills of grapes made for pleasant scenery and wine-related topics of conversation for miles. I took the long way into Villafranca del Bierzo through Valtuille. It was far quieter, but I could see approaching dark clouds which inspired me to hustle a bit.
Villafranca was the first place I ran into trouble finding a bed. I was hoping to stay at Albergue de la Piedra, but the bunks were full. As luck would have it, two men who reservated a two-bunk private room didn’t want it, so it was offered to me and Australian woman in line. We jumped at it and spent a lovely evening chatting about our journeys (and sleeping in a room next to the giant rock (la piedra) the albergue is built around). It was a pretty terrific day that illustrated the adage, “The Camino provides.”
Day 7: Villafranca del Bierzo to Vega de Valcarce (18km)
One week into the Camino, everything came together on Day 7. I took the “highway route” out of Villafranca, by far the least interesting, because of fog and some light rain. It’s lucky that I did, because I ran into some old friends/new friends at a cafe, and we continued on to Villafranca together, and eventually to Santiago de Compostela as part of a five-person Camino Family.
With the room-finding difficulty I had the day before, this was the day started we started staying away from the Brierley book stops. Most English speaking pilgrims used that book and the towns where his phases “end” were simply too crowded. In Vega de Valcarce, we found Albergue La Magdalena with Matthew as our wonderful host and his assistant Kiko as Instigator-in-Chief. Kiko convinced us to wade into the Rio Valcarce for its healing powers. I’m not sure about that, but the ice-cold river water was glorious on my feet after 150km.
Day 8: Vega de Valcarce to Fonfria (24km)
Into Galicia! After climbing up a very steep hill.
Our route took us up and over the highest point of the Camino at Alto de San Roque. It’s here you meet the giant pilgrim statue, with his grimacing face being hit for the first time by the chilly Atlantic winds that blow over Galicia.
This was a rough day. The climb added approximately 7km of perceived effort to the route, so what looked like 24km felt like 31km. By the time we arrived in Fonfria, I was exhausted. I just laid on my bunk for an hour, in silence, trying to summon the energy to take a shower. Our crew rallied by dinner, with the help of a couple Asturian ciders, and we enjoyed a raucous, free-flowing wine-fueled group dinner with the 80 or so people in the albergue. A terrific reward for a hard day.
Day 9: Fonfria to Samos (20km)
For the Camino Frances, this section of trail has a noteworthy split, where you can take a slightly longer 6km route to Samos or the shorter route through San Xil. After almost taking a wrong turn at the split in Triacastela, I got on the right road to Samos which was very quiet with far fewer walkers. The few walkers I did encounter were a delight, including a French couple who walked slightly ahead and sang hymns to keep our spirits up.
It was Sunday, so when we arrived in Samos the only restaurant open for dinner was hosting every family in the greater Samos area. It was my first meal of all-Galician food including, pimientos de Padron, seasonal pumpkin soup, and carne asada with delicious roasted potatoes.
I finished the night with a tour of the old monastery, Mosteiro de San Xulián de Samos. The tour was given by one of the brothers who only spoke Spanish, so with my limited, but improving, Spanish, I learned it was, in fact, a monastery. I sat for vespers in the chapel that evening, which put me in the right frame of mind for a restful sleep.
Flickr photo album – Day 9
Day 10: Samos to Sarria/Barbadelo (22km)
It was a Camino of contrasts on Day 10, from the quiet road out of Samos to the utter pilgrim chaos of Sarria. At 100km, Sarria is the starting point for more than 25% of Camino finishers, many of whom do short 4- or 5-day group tours to get the compostela. Being seasoned pilgrims at this point, we looked at the fresh new pilgrims with their clean clothes, small daypacks, and endless energy the same way one would look at figures in a museum: there’s no way we ever looked like that.
The Camino changes dramatically at this point, so we walked past Sarria and stayed in Barbadelo, to get ahead of what I started calling the “Camino Crush.” The stretch between Sarria and Barbadelo was long, curiously marked, and slightly uphill. Walking through a field of sunflowers more than made up for the hill.
The night in Barbadelo turned out to be one of the rowdier ones on the route. At the group dinner, my friend and I were seated with some women from Ontario and Quebec, and we enjoyed bottomless glasses of wine and sharing what we learned along the way, including fun Spanish words like “albondigas!” (meatballs!). This somehow became a toast, a rallying cry, and a celebration of our crazy time together.
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