October 11: Wonder of wonders. My hips gave me no trouble today. It was a long day, about 31 km under cloudy skies with a bit of rain toward the end. But it was very beautiful. Much of it was through town after town with not much countryside in between, although the last few km involved a climb up and over hills covered with unusual grape vines and view after view. The nice thing about this stretch was that we saw few other pilgrims. The farther west we have traveled the more pilgrims we share the road with. Many people started walking in Pamplona or León or some other place along the way. It is not often that we are alone on the trail anymore. After Sarria (110 km from Santiago) when Susan joins me, the numbers will surge as that is the last place you can start and still receive your compostella certifying that you have walked the Camino.
We walked through the city of Ponferrada today, another important city of the Knights Templar. The remaining castle is beautiful. The Spanish are very reluctant to tear down old buildings and are more likely to restore them.
There was not much solitude today. Usually Julie and I walk together in the early dark as it helps to have two sets of eyes looking for way marks. Then we walk alone through much of the countryside, coming together for breaks and to walk through the towns and villages. Since there was so little countryside today we mostly walked together. We never saw the sun and we got some light rain late in the day. We expect more light rain or showers tomorrow, then the weather should improve.
We are in one of the funkiest albergues we have run into yet. We chose it because it offered a communal meal and breakfast as well as cheap accommodation at €5. Supper was delicious, all grown in the owner’s garden and prepared on site. Eating all together always feels good. The downside is that the bunks in the dorms are pushed right together in pairs so that you are sleeping right next to a stranger of either sex. There is so little space to organize your stuff that it just feels really cramped. The door to the dorm is just a large curtain made of two woolen blankets. There are numerous openings to the outside. The albergue has the word fenix in its name (as in phoenix) because it burned down a few years ago and was rebuilt from the ashes.
I haven’t commented a lot on the different albergues we have experienced. They are widely varied in layout, number of rooms and number of beds per room (anywhere from 4 to 120). Most are quite modern inside even if they are in an old building, and most (not all) are clean. Some give you a disposable bottom sheet treated to prevent bedbugs. Most provide a bottom sheet of some kind and some a pillow slip. Susan made me a silk pillow slip to take with me but we didn’t know that Spanish pillows are as long as the bed is wide, so my slip covers most but not all of it.
Showers are also widely varied. The design of showers more often than not leaves much to be desired. There is not enough room to hang your clothes while you shower without getting them wet. Probably about half of the washrooms are mixed gender. In fact pretty well everything is mixed gender. There is very little privacy and one must develop strategies for unobtrusively changing clothes while maintaining a modicum of modesty. Once again, the physicality of the Camino is underlined. But you very quickly get used to all these things and they just become normal.