Day 31 – 17th October 2015, Santa Catalina de Somoza to Foncebadon.
I didn’t want to get out of my snuggly sleeping bag this morning. I was much too comfortable and cosy. The mornings were becoming colder. At times, my mega-walk seemed never-ending but I knew I had to keep on going and complete my pilgrimage. I wondered though, whether a pilgrimage is ever really completed as such? Of course there are the way points, a beginning and a destination that mark out the physical, geographical territory in space but then there are aspects of the pilgrimage that are emotional, spiritual and social. Walking amongst nature, engaging with others, connecting with the divine or ‘source’, and journeying into the deepest parts of oneself, during times of introspection carries on beyond the way markers. The process might begin on the Camino or is re-discovered, because it is something already known and thought of value but has been hidden in the busyness of every day life back home. I had an intuition that these aspects of my pilgrimage would continue long after I set foot on the rocky, headland at Muxia, which would mark the ‘physical’ end of my walk along the Camino.
Gradually, the dormitory stirred and I roused myself to get up, showered and packed. It is so hard to do all of this quietly but I tried my best. Wouldn’t it be great if someone, somewhere could invent a backpack and related pieces of travel kit that didn’t crackle or rustle, when rolled or scrunched up? Imagine that – silent packing! It would also be great if fellow pilgrims and backpackers could go on an obligatory crash course on manners, including learning the finer points of head torch etiquette. My friends and I had encountered a few ‘one-eyed Johnnys’ on the way, flashing their beams indiscriminately into the faces of many a sleepy pilgrim at odd hours of the night, turning those half-asleep, half-awake moments into nightmares of Gestapo-like interrogation.
Anyway Fiona and I strolled over to the dining room and bar area for breakfast. Fiona, Janie, Bonny and I sat together and munched on in companionship. Janie and Bonny were busy trying to thaw out their bottles of yoghurt that the well-meaning lady behind the bar had put in the freezer overnight by mistake! Now, that seemed a good idea – to bring drinking yoghurt as an alternative to the usual dry, brittle toast for breakfast. I had got stuck in a rut in my breakfast routine by just going along with the usual offering of tostadas, juice and coffee. This reminded me there were other options out there if one is resourceful (and willing to carry a few grams of extra weight in the backpack!).
Soon it was time for Fiona and I to step out and brave the early morning air and leave the quaint village of Santa Catalina de Somoza. Apparently somoza means under the mountain, and here I was thinking Santa Catalina was the patron saint of tasty and spicy, Indian snacks! The Camino trail was a straight, gravel path, stretching out of the village and on, and on, into the distance. Like our previous couple of mornings, we were already tootling down the path before the sun poked its head above the horizon. I was blessed by another beautiful sunrise!
Janie and Bonny came up behind us and zoomed past, we couldn’t see them for dust! Fiona and I walked at a more leisurely gait. Today we paced ourselves as our destination was Foncebadon, approximately 16.5 kilometres away. It was a relatively short day’s walk really, but some of that was uphill. We chose to stop in Foncebadon over night so that we could ascend to the Cruz de Ferro in the early morning of the next day.
A few kilometres later, we reached a quirky little hamlet called El Ganso, which means the goose. I didn’t notice any geese waddling around but it was impossible to miss the Meson Cowboy or Cowboy bar, by the side of the road because the Camino trail went right past the front door. The Cowboy bar resembled a hastily painted garage or a relic from an old, spaghetti western set, minus a nice pair of saloon, swing doors. We’ve all heard of spaghetti westerns haven’t we? Well, what is the spanish equivalent? A paella western? Somehow, “Get off your horse and drink your cafe con leche”, doesn’t have the same authentic ring to it. Anyone for “Tapas at the O.K. Corral”? Would the boccadillos satisfy the hunger of an itinerant Josey Wales? I’m not sure, perhaps not but maybe Calamity Jane? Fiona and I couldn’t walk on by without refreshment. It was hardly a happening joint, but at least the coffee was nice and hot. I was becoming a shameless coffee addict. Phew, not a possey or gunfight in sight, so the coast was clear to get whip-cracking-away on the Camino trail again like Doris Day on amphetamines.
We continued up the valley, crossing over streams and the Puente de Panote and walked through woodland as we climbed higher. I noticed the crosses, pilgrims had tied to the fence, which made me stop my mental chatter for a moment and reflect on these symbols of faith. The incline became steeper and we reached the picturesque hillside village of Rabanal del Camino. Here, we had wanted to pop in to the Albergue Gaucelmo to say hello to the folk from the Confraternity of St. James in London, who run the place but sadly it was shut. However, the old chapel opposite was open and we spent a few quiet moments there to re-centre. The atmosphere inside was indeed very peaceful and it felt a sacred, holy space.
The village clusters around the main thoroughfare, the Camino Real and we seemed to have arrived at an inopportune time for lunch! We ended up right at the edge of the village and dropped into Hotel Gaspar, in the hope of getting a bite of something hot but a couple of the rowdy French blokes, we had met a couple of days ago, took us aside and whispered to us not to order anything because the food was awful. So on to our contingency plan. Ravenously hungry, I belted down the cobbled street to the tiny little mini supermarket, which seemed to be in a large, garden shed and I bought some provisions so that Fiona and I could have a picnic. We ate our own, opposite the entrance to the Hotel Gaspar, in defiance! We were soon surrounded by lots of cats looking for easy pickings.
On the Camino trail once more, we wound our way through oak woodland, which opened out onto magnificent views over the rolling hills, shrubs and fields. Russets, dark green and pale yellows, created a patchwork of colour and textures as far as the eye could see. We were still climbing and I could feel the stretch in my calf and quad muscles. I remembered Laurie’s advice about squeezing those glutes!
I forged on ahead, so that I could confirm the accommodation for Fiona and I in Foncebadon, that I had provisionally reserved through Facebook. There was still a round about way of reaching our destination as the trail skirted the hills and the gigantic pylons. I could feel the wind in my face as stepped away from the shelter of the trees and scrubland. I saw Foncebadon in the distance, a tiny scattering of stone buildings clinging to the hillside. It looked bleak. Albergue la Posada del Druida (the inn of the Druids) was a relatively new albergue, nestled in the middle of the village on the right hand side. Its mystical name attracted me, but when I arrived there it didn’t seem very mystical or magical. I think the druids must have gone out. Roisin had also rocked up and we were able to get three beds but in different dorms. Never mind, the albergue seemed warm and cosy, had clean facilities and friendly owners. After my usual routine of unpacking, showering and doing some hand washing, I flopped on the top bunk and snuggled under the blanket for a while. I felt chilly as the wind had whipped up outside. I chatted to a some of my dorm room mates, two Aussie chaps and a French couple.
The weather closed in around us and turned into a rain storm. Foncebadon is a strange little place, somewhat cloaked in an air of melancholy and it didn’t take us long to walk round it. There were not that many options of for an evening meal, but as the dining and bar areas of our albergue had been taken over by a bunch of loud, lycra-clad, Danish fitness fanatics, Fiona, Roisin and I popped out for dinner. The Aussie chaps recommended a medieval-style restaurant down the road called La Taberna de Gaia. We entered through a small, shed like building (it must have been the back entrance), which was like Dr. Who’s tardis, in that the restaurant appeared to be much bigger than it looked from the outside. And, like Dr. Who, we time-travelled back to medieval Spain. No aliens though, or not to my knowledge at any rate, just waiters and bartenders in costume trying to conjure up an authentic feel to the place, along with the wood beams, rustic wooden tables, tapestries and the odd animal skin.
I ordered the “Hamburgaia” (and cringed at the punnage) and some tea, for a change. I’m not sure hamburgers ever existed in medieval Spain, but who am I to complain? Ahh I have to say it was probably the tastiest and most filling hamburger I have ever had, and possibly the most expensive hamburger in the west! It made a nice change from the usual pilgrim fare. Soon it was time to venture out into the wild weather. We stepped outside into the lashing rain and sloshed through the puddles on the gravel path through the garden to the gate. I heard dogs howling and barking. The eerie sound made me shudder to my core. I turned at the gate and stopped dead in my tracks. In front of me, I saw the outline of a large dog, silhouetted in the mist by the faint, yellowish glow of a street light. The dog turned its head, towards me and stared. The hairs on the back of my neck stood on end in response. I took a sharp intake of breath. My heart thumped in my chest. Fight or flight? Oh my God its the Hound of the Baskervilles, I thought! Surely my mind was playing tricks on me and I was tired. Sherlock Holmes would have reprimanded me, had he been there. It was only a dog, probably someone’s pet. However, my body sensed its wildness. I edged my way around it and hoped it wouldn’t break into a run. My mind continued to race as I walked on up the hill and towards the albergue. What kind of dog was that? Thankfully, we reached La Posada del Druida unscathed. I had not been ripped to shreds. I let out a nervous laugh at my silliness. I went off to bed. As I settled in to my sleeping bag on the top bunk, I found myself recalling a passage from Paulo Coelho‘s book ‘The Pilgrimage ‘, which describes his brutal encounter with his nemesis, a demonic, black dog called Legion in Foncebadon. Ah, Foncebadon is a strange place indeed…
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Peace, love and light,