Backpacking Teacher

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Day 19: Portomarin to Ventas de Narón. The day of the touragrinos.

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Tourigrinos, like a pack of locusts, descend, devour, declaim and then
depart. I don’t have a problem with the whole busing around having
someone else carry your pack for you. It’s more the incessant chatter
on the phone as you grind up the hill with your backpack on. It’s the
ordering of ten thousand coffee’s for the entire bus load just before
the stop you’ve been walking for three hours to get to. It’s the using
all the toilet paper just when you need the toliet paper. You get the
idea. Sure, go ahead and enjoy the walk, have someone pick you up in
buses and carry your bags but please leave a little space for others.

Anyway today was the day of the touragrinos as we played leap frog
with a bus load of them. We slept in a little in Portomarin. Then went
into the overcast day. The first section took us down out of the town,
across the rickety iron pedestrian bridge and then up, up into the
hills. We hoped to stop for breakfast. Three hours later we hobbled
into the first place open for breakfast. I say hobbled because the
uphills did cheeky’s knees no favours.

Our breakfast break done we plowed on through more stone villages and
their animals, their grain stores on stilts and their garrulous
farmers. Finally we ended up at the little farmers hamlet of Ventas de
Narón. A few huts surrounded by fields, a cafe and an albergue. We
stopped. Rested, ate, wifi’ed and enjoyed an easy day. Tomorrow
another easy day. Oh, and cheeky lost her big toenail today. If we
make it to Santiago she’s really gonna deserve that compostela.





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July 18, 2011 at 5:44 am

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Day 18: Sarria to Portomarin. Beautiful walks through rolling hills.

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It’s the little things you notice – like toilet seats left up. Coming from a much more female friendly environment, at least in the bathrooms, I’m used to toilet seats generally being left down. Here I notice toilet seats are often left up. Why? I don’t know I’ve just noticed it, as you do.

Like the way I noticed the way our Camino has changed and how my reactions to it have changed since I last walked this way. Last time I had already walked 700km by this stage, compared to the 200km, we’ve walked now. I wouldn’t say I was jaded last time by the walking, far from it, but I was less enthused by the environment around me. I remember not enjoying this last section as much as previous sections and that was much to do with the abundance of tourigrinos and the less convivial feel to the journey as many newcomers joined in Sarria. This time the stop/start nature of our walks has given me a much deeper appreciation for each section we’ve walked. Today we walked out of Sarria and I thoroughly enjoyed every part of, what ended up being, a long day’s walk. The slightly overcast but not rainy weather. The stone villages, the cows, the apple trees, the abundance of cafe’s, the gentle, rolling, up and down paths, the fresh air, the greenery all around. Galicia really is a beautiful part of Spain and the walking here is truly spectacular. The paths are easy to walk, you walk through many villages, something I always prefer as I enjoy these little Spanish villages and the scenery is truly beautiful.

Cheeky and I had planned only a shortish day of about 11/12 km to a hamlet called Ferrerios but when we arrived there we found we had energy to spare and we were enjoying the day so much that we would just walk on. Cheeky’s knees are still sore but she seemed to be able to cope with the pain a bit better than previously and she was clearly having a good day’s walking. Before we knew it we were in Portomarin some 24 km from were we had left. A great day’s walk but tomorrow we plan to do only a 14km day. We’re in no rush. We have time to spare and are in no rush. Galicia has been good to us thus far. I hope our next few says of walking are as good as today’s.







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July 17, 2011 at 3:40 am

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Day 16 & Day 17: Astorga to Sarria. On the buses preparing for the Celtic walk.

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Waiting for a bus is never much fun. In Astorga however you get to wait in a cafe that looks out to the Roman walls, the Cathedral and Gaudi’s palace. That’s not a bad way to start a bus journey. The bus to Sarria has to go via the city of Lugo so the 3 1/2 hour bus journey becomes a 5 hour bus journey. Not too arduous especially considering some of the bus journeys from hell that I’ve been on in India and Nepal. I remember one particular twelve hour journey that went for 36 hours and felt like it lasted a week. A week on a train is fun and something I’ve done before (twice on the trans-Siberian which is another story) but day and a half bus journey’s through South Asia that feel like they go for a week are not fun. In contrast Spain’s buses are an absolute pleasure, comfortable, cheap, fast and the well located bus stations make for easy travel.

Sarria is a Camino town. The scallop shell can be found on everything from centuries old buildings to guard rails to garbage bins. It’s from here, approximately, 115km from Santiago that many people start their Camino. It’s this part that is recognised by as fulfilling the 1,000 year old pilgrimage. It’s also the start of one of the most beautiful legs of the Camino through the rolling hills, green fields and stony buildings of Celtic Galicia. In fact this is where the Celts originated.

Sarria is a medium sized town and we’re staying on the outskirts of it in a Hotel alongside the Camino. Tomorrow we start our walk again. Where we end up will depend on accommodation being available as this the busiest part of the Camino. We plan a day of about 10-15 km’s. Our plan is short knees so as not to strain Cheeky’s knees too much but also to try end up in Santiago before the 25th July. On this day Santiago celebrates as it is Saint James’s day and whom the city is named after as the last resting place of the Saint. If we can do all of this it will be a fitting end to our Camino.





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July 16, 2011 at 5:43 am

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Day 14: Villares de Orbigo to Astorga. Day 15: Astorga.Cheeky plants plum trees

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The Albergue in Villares offered a great respite on the way to Astorga. We made ourselves a great dinner in the little kitchen before a sleep interrupted by a rude couple who felt it ok to turn dorm lights on whenever it suited them.

We woke up to the sound of rain clattering down on the roof and the sound of thunder rolling in. It’s not the most inspiring of sounds when you know you have a day of walking ahead of you. We dragged ourselves out of bed and over breakfast cheered each other up. We were soon laughing as there seemed little point in starting our day’s hike in a despondent mood.

Raincoats on we sloshes through town, up rivers of water streaming down the path ( and through my shoes) past farms with cows and roads with cow manure and soon we were somewhat less perky than when we had started out. Cheeky’s knees didn’t like the cold and our pace began to slow but Cheeky persevered. Every now and then she’d spy a plum or apple tree and her face would break out in a grin of delight. Cheeky loves fruit, as you may have gathered, but she also plants plum trees. Everynow and then she’ll put a plum or plum pit in the ground for future peregrinos to enjoy the fruit of.

The day never really lightened up and the rain began to lash down harder 3km into Astorga. So we stooped in a bar for the best tortilla we’ve had in Spain and the obligatory cafe con leche. Then, spirits lifted, we ambled into Astorga looking forward to staying in a nice hotel room.

And a beautiful room it is to. It overlooks the main square and from our balcony we can see bundles of activity everywhere. Just before the hour people face towards the 18th century Town Hall and wait for the two figurines on the bell tower to strike the hours. The male and female figure rotate to strike the bell and have been doing so since 1748. Our view in Astorga can not be beaten. We’ve been very lucky with our hotel rooms in Spain getting to enjoy sone unique, cosy establishments in great parts of the towns we’ve stayed in.

Astorga’s a beautiful little town. It’s fantasy Gaudi designed palace juxtapposed against the 17th century Cathedral and flanked by Roman walls makes for a intriguing architectural mix. The little town square, meandering calle’s and chocolate shops makes for a pleasant stroll. It’s easy to see why this is a popular starting point for the Camino de Santiago.

Our plans from here. Head to Sarria for a couple of days and then walk the 115km from Sarria in Santiago de Compostela. Cheeky’s knees ache but we will break the last section into easy stages and hopefully we’ll be able to finish the walk and claim our Compostela’s. Cheeky especially will deserve this as she’s just had to grind it out at times. If we finish this will mean our total km’s walked will be around 300km no mean feat 🙂

Onto Sarria tomorrow. Can’t wait for Galicia – the walking there, while crowded, is quite beautiful.






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July 14, 2011 at 4:03 am

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Day 13: Villadangos del Paramo to Villarres de Orbigo. We walk through Cheeky’s jigsaw puzzle.

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The early morning expectation, bags packed, feet vaselined and/or taped – whatever method has been chosen by that particular peregrino to escape the scourge of blisters. Knee braces applied, legs strapped. Nervous energy being walked off as peregrinos wait for walking partners. Some peregrinos louder than others, forgetting that some choose to try sleep in, the morning bustles with expectation as we all get ready to walk into the day about to form. We left early, about 6:30, after a poor sleep that is often a feature of overcrowded Municipal Albergues. Our destination of Villarres de Orbigo was 16km away.


Today we walked through Cheeky’s jigsaw puzzle. Cheeky’s favourite iPad app is a puzzle game in which the puzzles are the artwork of Manet. Many of his artworks feature fields of wildflowers and today we walked through wild flower fields reminiscent of Manet’s work. It felt like walking through Cheeky’s jigsaws.

You can add cherry thief to my crimes after today’s walk. I’ve begun to detect a pattern here I think. Cheeky spots fruit, she has an uncanny knack for this, i’m then persuaded to collect such fruit, Cheeky then consumes the fruit. Today’s bounty was cherries. I don’t think there’s any fruit that grows on trees here that I haven’t yet plucked, except perhaps for the still ripening grapes and figs we see.

The day’s walk took us through the picturesque town Hospital de Orbigo with it’s ultra long medieval bridge and it’s adjoining jousting fields. The town made famous by the undefeated Knight who fought fellow Knights from all over Europe on this little field, remaining undefeated and only retiring after 60 odd days of jousting in a row.

Our obligatory coffee over the jousting fields done we marched into our last stage of the day. The weather was hot and whilst the walk was pleasant through barley fields and rows of budding cornfields Cheeky’s knees began to feel the pain. We arrived in the paved and mudwalled town of Villarres de Orbigo to find a gloriously clean, small, friendly and off the beaten path Albergue. A fine end to a good day’s walking. Tomorrow we walk into the chocolate town of Astorga about 14km away. That will be the finish of our 45km test of Cheeky’s knees. We’ve booked a hotel there and will stay for two days before heading onto Sarria by bus for the final 115km stretch.







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July 11, 2011 at 10:59 pm

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Day 12: Back to walking the Camino – this time along the Hobbit House Walk

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Yay! Back to walking we go, hi ho, hi ho, hi ho. Hi ho, hi ho it’s off to walk we go, with stick and a shuffle, hi ho, hi ho, hi ho. As you can see I have little people on the mind. There is a reason for this, which I’ll get to in a minute. Firstly though, we’re back to walking the Camino initially to test Cheeky’s still aching, but potentially walkable, knees.

The stretch beyond Leon leading to the little chocolate town of Astorga is perhaps not, except for the bit around Hospital de Orbigo, the prettiest of walks but it is pretty flat and at only 45 km from Leon to Astorga a good test of walking ability. The plan was to break that 45km into 4 easy stretches over 4 days. If Cheeky’s knees do ok here then we will move onto Sarria, which at about 114km is the final, most important stretch, that is recognised by the Catholic church as fulfilling the requirements for the pilgrimage to Santiago. Cheeky really wants to do this section. I know from last time that it’s a beautiful, albeit relatively crowded walk, but it does contain a few ups and downs that will test Cheeky’s knees and her resolve.

So today we started with the intention to walk about 10km. The walk out of Leon is slightly dull but flat. So we walked and walked expecting to find many a coffee shop open. This was Leon we reckoned, a major town, not a sleepy rural village where nothing ever seemed open. Hah! At 8am nothing stirred, at 9am nothing stirred, at 10am one coffee shop stirred but I suspect the owner was breaking an unwritten rule. The one that forbids people doing business. I love Spain, and I especially love that it has a work/life balance the only thing is it often seems this country has forgotten the idea of ‘balance’ in favour of life. Not a bad proposition personally but perhaps not so sound economically. Shops don’t deign to open before 10am and even then don’t seem to care to much about matching the opening time on theirs doors. Post siesta they open again for a few hours but in reality shops seems open for very few hours a day. On the Camino a couple of hundred thirsty, hungry peregrinos pass a day. In Vietnam there’d be a thousand businesses taking advantage of the money walking by. Here in Spain you’re sometimes hard pressed to find a place to sell you coffee. I imagine big cities like Madrid and Barcelona are not like this but walking through rural Spain I’m not overly surprised by Spain’s current economic malaise.

However Spain’s economic malaise is not on my thoughts for long. What I do think about is that the Hobbit House Walk’s hobbit houses have been spruced up a bit since I last walked by. It actually looks like they’re lived in now – perhaps Bilbo’s back in town. In any case I enjoy the little cluster of hobbit houses as they break up the dull suburbia through which we walk.

A few hours walking and we find ourselves in Villa Virgen del Camino – one of our potential first night stops. It’s taken just less than 2 hours to get here. Our pace is good and so we stop for a fantastically large coffee, thankfully I remember the Spanish word for large, thanks to Starbucks we all know it, it’s grande.

At our coffee stop Cheeky declares she feels good so we decide to press on for another 4km’s or do to the next town and Albergue. We’re both feeling good and walking well. I’m especially revelling in the sun shining on my back and doing some excercise with a pack on my back. We finally arrive at the next town to find no one in the Albergue. We think about a hostal or pension but Cheeky says she’s ok to walk on. The next town is 9km on and would make our day a 22km day. An easy enough day on the Camino but double the test we wanted to put Cheeky’s knees to.

We put on some tunes, sunlotioned up, cocked our hats at the appropriate angle (slightly jaunty angle, facing down if you must ask) and strode off toward Villadango del Paramos. The walk was sort of along the roadside si relatively flat. It wasn’t completely unappealing as we managed to purloin some more plums and apples along the way. The plum trees especially seem to grow wild here. And then it happened … Cheeky began to grimace. Then she stopped, rubbed the knee and hobbled on. She stopped again, bit her lip, rubbed the knee and hobbled on. Stop, bite, hobble, you get the idea, this went on for a few km’s and then Cheeky just put the pain aside and walked. And so we arrived in this full little Albergue with it’s very loud American (from the USA so as not to diss all the other North and South Americans out there) peregrino’s. Cheeky says she’s ok. The knees ache but after a little snooze she’s feeling ok. Tomorrow we plan to walk to the picturesque town of Hospital de Orbigo. 12km’s of flat walking. That should be ok for the knee’s – let’s see.
As for me in terms of body – i’m ok, a few muscles aches and a sore’ish right knee but nothing major. I kinda like feeling a bit sore, it makes me realise i’m doing something not overly easy. So far we’ve walked close to 150km I I have no blisters (touch wood). I think that’s due in part to the budding but also because my huge blisters last time caused me to spend sometime researching. Moisture it seems is the key problem. So I used light shoes with ventilation (Geox), light runner’s socks not made of cotton and tons of Vaseline each morning before the walk. It works a wonder – the feet are dry at the end of the day and, so far, blister free.







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July 11, 2011 at 2:03 am

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Day 10 & Day 11: Burgos to Leon. On the buses and chinese food Spanish style

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The fields whizz by and the terrain gradually flattens as we leave Burgos. The two hour bus journey makes light of the Camino across the mesetas. I remember two years ago struggling across the wide, hot, wheat fielded expanse. These are the sections of the Camino that test the body’s spirit to keep going. We had no such ardour to endure – I think I may even have slept on the bus. Oh the life of a touragrino, not quite tourist, not quite peregrino. At least we had the decency not to take hard won beds in Albergues.

Leon is a great city with a distinctly different feel to Burgos. The Cathedral, though perhaps not as grandious, feels suitably imposing and yet peaceful. The small streets pull away from the cathedral in numerous directions like strands of wool pulled away by errant kittens. The streets are a strange, eclectic but ultimately workable mix of old and new buildings. We stop to view the world passing and enjoy more Vino Tinto. Watching the world pass by i’m reminded of the guy in the van we met while on our first day’s arduous hike through the Pyrenees. When I’d asked him why he worked on the mountain he said look at the view, at which we both laughed as the rain and mist obscured everything beyond a five metre radius. He then went onto say that when he went to work the world passed by his door and as if to prove his point he pointed to his van door enscribed with that day’s peregrino’s … French and Koreans lead the count but at least 24 other nationalities had passed his door that day.

Leon also saw us try Spanish Chinese dim sum. Nice, slightly familiar but somewhat strange – like a Chinese meal in a David Lynch film. Twin Peaks dim sum if you wil. We enjoyed Leon and our eclectic little hotel Quindos on the edge of the historical area was a pleasant place to fritter away the siesta hours.

Next stop somewhere on the Camino. The plan is to try a little walking towards Astorga, 45km away. Cheeky’s knees are still dodgy but she feels ready to try again thanks to Dr’s Panadol & Ibuprofen.





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July 11, 2011 at 12:28 am

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