A Dog’s Life


March 2016

We spotted the notice on a lamp post, inviting owners of salchichas (dachshunds) to a gathering in a park by the river the next afternoon, starting at 14:00.  It was being organized by a Facebook page called Salchichas Uruguay.  As we passed that park on La Rambla nearly every day, we decided to go that way the next day.

We had lunch in nearly Punta Carretas, and headed for the park.  Even if we had not already known where the park was, all we would have had to do was to follow the stream of salchichas, all heading in the same direction.

And when we arrived at the park there were already a multitude sniffing each other, barking, yapping, growling, lifting their leg, and vacating their bowels.  And that was just the dog owners.

The Facebook page had about 1000 members at that time and the organizers had expected 50-100 owners to turn up.  They were quite overwhelmed by the response, and by the end of the day over 400 dogs had attended.

Meeting of dachshund owners

There were only two requirements for the owners; all dogs had to be kept on a leash and no females in heat were welcome.  I could imagine the ensuing chaos if an owner had not respected the second requirement.  It would have been comical to watch.

Un Ménage á trois

During the afternoon there were gifts handed out, a raffle was drawn, and prizes were given for the best dressed dog.

A rather embarrassed dachshund trying to look inconspicuous

Every day we saw many dogs on La Rambla, most not on a leash, despite the busy traffic on one side.  They seem be well trained and responsive to the owners and I have never once seen two Pocitos dogs growl or fight.  Many run with their owners, and I have even seen one that swims along parallel to the beach, while the owner strolls along, usually talking on his phone.

There are many owners, perhaps older citizens, who employ dog walkers to exercise their pet.  Over the three summers that I have been in Pocitos, I have got to know two of the many dog walkers, one who specializes in small dogs, and the other in large dogs.  They told me that the maximum either have taken at one time is 14-16 and the guy who takes only large dogs is built like a weight lifter.  His own dog is not on a leash, and trots ahead and stops at each light, until it is told it can cross.  It is amazing to watch the human-to-dog communication.

One of many dog walkers in Montevideo

We also saw dog walkers in Buenos Aires, but the ones that we saw were wearing special belts, to which they snap the leashes, leaving their hands free and eliminating the risk of a dog escaping.

Three dog walkers in Buenos Aires

In Mendoza, we saw many street dogs, especially in the park.  In no way were they aggressive; they were more a nuisance, in that they wanted to be adopted, and they insisted in following one everywhere.

My eldest son, Andrew, had a similar experience in North West Argentina, where street dogs followed him and his friends from where they were staying, when they went hiking in the nearby foothills of the Andes.

Andrew in the Andes with his faithful canine friend

We also saw many street dogs in Santiago de Chile.  To cross a busy street, they sit at an intersection, waiting for the lights to turn green.  Sometimes they cross with people, at other times by themselves.

A street dog in Santiago de Chile, waiting to cross the street

In English the expression ‘leading a dog’s life’ can have two diametrically opposed meanings.

On the one hand it can mean something that is pleasant – the good life: pampered, well fed, warm, comfortable.

But it can also mean something that is unpleasant – a rough life: sleeping outside in all weathers and surviving on scraps.

In our time there, we saw very many examples of both extremes.

End of the Earth


Tuesday-Thursday, 9-11 October, 2012

When I set out on this walk from France, I had the intention of continuing from Santiago to Fisterra on the Atlantic. But the weather changed for the worst, and after three days of waiting for the torrential rain to ease, I decided that ‘discretion was the greater part of valour’, and I caught a bus for the last 90 km to Fisterra.

The Galician name Fisterra was derived from the Latin – finis terrae, meaning ‘end of the earth’. In Spanish it is known as Finisterre and in French, Finistère.  For anyone who remembers the Shipping Forecast that used to precede the one o’clock news on BBC Radio One, Finisterre was one of the shipping areas.

Fisterra is in fact not the westernmost point of continental Europe; that honour lies in Portugal, with Cabo da Roca, which is about 16.5 km further west.

All the way to Fisterra the rain continued to pour down.  Luckily there was a hotel just 100 m from the bus terminal, and I had no problem in getting a room, as there was only one other guest.

For the next twenty-four hours the rain did not cease and the street beside my hotel resembled an Amazonian river in full flood. At least I was dry and comfortable. I did not venture out that day.

In late morning of the next day the sky brightened and the sun shone, albeit only between heavy showers. I decided to set off for the short one hour walk to the Cape. Half-way there the sky suddenly darkened, and the rain fell in buckets. I sheltered successfully in a grove of trees until it passed.

In the far distance one can see the lighthouse

The cape with its lighthouse was bleak, with a strong wind not encouraging hanging around for very long.

The lighthouse at the Cape

Far out in the Atlantic I spotted a large black blob, that I realised was a rain storm, and it was heading directly for the cape. I found a building behind which I could shelter and watched it approach. And for the next thirty minutes it lashed down and visibility was close to zero.

It is not surprising that the area is known as ‘La Costa da Morte‘. In 1596 twenty-five boats sank in a storm off the cape, with over 1700 drowned. Few years have ever gone by without a sinking, even in modern times.

But as suddenly as the squall hit and dissipated its energy, it gradually eased and visibility and the sun slowly came back.

I wandered back down to the village and a leisurely lunch with Caldo Gallego, a chunk of bread and a bottle of wine.

One of the many versions of Caldo Gallego

A perfect meal for a cold damp blustery day.


Arzúa to Santiago de Compostela


Arzúa to O Pedrouzo (18km)

Friday, 5 October, 2012

That morning I ended up a little lost.  I was going in the right direction, but not on the pilgrim’s path.  I stopped at a bar and had some breakfast, and was directed to where I wanted to be.

I had not gone more than 200 m along the correct path when I came across an incredibly beautiful sunrise through the trees.  I shall never forget it as long as I live.  It was as if heaven was lighting my way.

Lighting my way in the early morning

Much of the previous two days had been spent walking on paths through forests; the scent of clean air and wood has been almost intoxicating. I have never before smelled anything so saturated with purity.

And the path wound steeply up and down, through small villages with ancient churches, and hamlets with only a handful of houses.

I spent the night in O Pedrouzo.

O Pedrouzo to Santiago de Compostela (20km)

Saturday, 6 October, 2012

For the previous day the weather had been perfect; not too hot and certainly never cool. And yet that next morning all was changed; the sky was grey and threatening.  I envisaged a depressing six hour walk, arriving in Santiago, soaked and cold, with a room yet to be found.

But the rain held off, and after a long walk through the hilly outskirts of the city, wondering how much further could it possibly be, there it was, down a steep and narrow street: the cathedral.

The cathedral of Santiago de Compostela

With the downpour now seeming imminent, I decided that my priority was to find shelter. With a map from a very helpful girl in a tourist office, I found a room close by, and just in time; the heavens opened to welcome me to Santiago de Compostela.

I decided to leave the sanctuary to the next day.

Santiago de Compostela

Sunday, 7 October, 1912

It felt strange that morning to not pack up and head out to spend the day walking to the next overnight stop.  I spent most of the morning having a lazy breakfast, washing some clothes and generally wondering what to do next.

At lunchtime I wandered down to the cathedral. It took me quite a few minutes to get up the steep stone steps and in the main door; a mass had apparently just finished and the participants were in mass exodus. I found an empty pew to the right of the altar and sat quietly watching people and letting my mind wander.

It was not long before another mass started and the pews around me quickly filled; it seems that the masses were almost continuous throughout the day. Two nuns and a woman in normal street clothes led most of service, joined by an old priest who mumbled for what seemed like an eternity.

The ritual seemed unchanged from my previous experiences of mass; the same standing, sitting, responding, crossings. It left me feeling quite uninspired; it was about as motivating as watching a tap drip. I suspect that if Jesus and his disciples returned that day, they would not have felt inspired either.

After the mass finished and the aisles cleared, I left the church by the side door and went back around to the main square. As I turned the last corner, I heard beautiful singing; it sounded very similar to the melody of ‘Danny Boy’. It was coming from an archway by the corner of the cathedral and the acoustics were projecting the notes across the huge square.

And as I got closer, I realised that it was indeed ‘Danny Boy’, in heavily accented English, sung by two young tenors. When sung well, the song can bring tears to the eyes of a statue.


It’s the melody and lyrics that mean a lot to me, and in his time, to my father too; he played it at almost every performance he gave. 

The singers were very talented, and when they hit the high note at the end of the last verse, I felt a wave of intense emotion surging through me, like an electric current. 

It was the feeling that I so much wanted to experience inside the cathedral, at the end of my Camino.  But the dogma and the ritual and the old mumbling monotone priest left me completely empty.

Was it just a coincidence that I walked into the square just as the two tenors started singing ‘Danny Boy’, and ending my Camino on a high note?


But I suspect not.

Sarria to Arzúa

Sarria to Portomarín (22km)

Monday, 1 October, 2012

The objective of most pilgrims on the Camino is to reach Santiago and obtain a Compostela, a certificate stating that the holder has completed at least the last 100 km on foot or 200 km on bicycle.

The evidence for the claim is the credencia or passport, which should contain stamps from at least each place where one has spent the night.  For those who declare that they completed the camino for religious or spiritual reasons, the Compostela is in Latin, and it has somewhat different wording in Spanish, for those who completed it for cultural or historic reasons.

The Compostela is not an indulgence, nor is it a pardon for sins, nor is it a pass to heaven.  It is just a certificate.

So given that Sarria is the first town just beyond 100 km from Santiago, I expected to find a horde of ‘tourist pilgrims’ when I set out the next day.

I saw almost none.  I suspect that I had started out in advance of the crowds.

For the first time on my Camino I had emerged to thick fog. It was not an impenetrable ‘pea-souper’ of my 1960’s days in London, but thick nevertheless.

Once in the countryside, one could see barely twenty metres and one had to be aware of the markings on the walls and on rocks displaying the path. There was a blanket of silence laid over the countryside and the air was dripping with moisture.  The birds were silent.

Almost above the fog


But as the path ascended, the fog gradually thinned, and suddenly one was clear, and in a most beautiful countryside. It reminded me so much of my native Ireland; emerald green, rolling hills, small fields fenced with stone walls and scattered stone farm houses and outbuildings, all looking as if they had emerged out of the land.

The church and walled graveyard of the Iglesia de Santa María de Ferreiros

All day I walked through similar country, until later in the afternoon the path descended to a deep and wide river valley, and across a huge bridge. On the other side, up a long series of stone steps and a steep road, lay the attractive town of Portomarín.



Portomarín to Palace do Rei (26km)

Tuesday, 2 October, 2012

I set out at about 08:30 and soon realised that something had changed; where I would normally see a handful of other pilgrims, there were now dozens and dozens of them, and they kept coming; they seemed to be deserting Portomarín like rich French fleeing from M. Hollande’s tax collectors.

Looking back up a deserted street in Portomarín


And because I walk rather slowly, I was being constantly passed, and just about everyone said ‘Buen camino‘, ‘Hola‘, ‘Buenos dias‘ etc. After a while responding politely every few minutes started to become irritating and I took to saying nothing and just raising my hand. Before the morning was far gone I just was plain rude and ignored them.

And so many, seeing me limp, wanted to offer me advice and administer first aid and would not accept my response of ‘No es nada’ or when quite frustrated ‘Déjeme tranquilo por favor’. So many did not seem to understand my rule of the road; that one does not offer help, unless asked.  The discomfort and pain are an integral part of the penance.

Almost as irritating were those who carried on a conversation in loud booming or quack-quack voices and moved along only marginally faster than I was able to.  I could not escape their inane chatter; what a load of utter crap seems to constitute the conservation of so many people.

And to top off my irritation along came a big black guy with a huge device on his shoulder, playing rap music at discotheque decibels.  It was all becoming too much for me and I was being quite unpleasant.

But by then I had realised where all those people had come from; they were the ‘Tourist Pilgrims’ who walk the last 100km to get their Compostela, whatever that may mean to them. They start at Sarria, most on Saturday or Sunday and take five days to get to Santiago and then back to work the following Monday. I had unwittingly caught up with the hordes.

I suspected that my last few days to Santiago would be less aggravated if I slowed down and let them get well ahead, for I was rich in time.

Of course I realized that I was being rather arrogant and was feeling superior to the ‘virgin pilgrims’. My reaction was similar to that which I have when on a train and stuck close to someone talking on a telephone in a loud voice and making call after call.

It seemed that here was not likely to be much peace and solitude during the last kilometers to Santiago.

But it occurred to me that the noisy pilgrims needed to pay a little more penance, rather than just strolling along in beautiful weather, having a social fun week. What was required was a thorough drenching for a few hours with strong cold winds; that would soon quieten them down.

And behold, my unspoken thought was soon a reality; within ten minutes the sky darkened and the rain started, gentle at first but soon more penetrating.  The raucous laughter and inane conversations ceased and the heads dropped.

And when I went to bed that night it was still raining heavily.

Welcome to a pilgrimage.


Palace do Rei to Melide (15km)

Wednesday, 3 October, 2012

When I left Palacio do Rei, it was not yet light. It was still raining steadily and the air was quite cold. I reasoned that the tourist pilgrims would not leave before they had finished their breakfast, and in northern Spain there are not many bars or restaurants that open much before 08:00. So I had at least two hours’ head start and I only intended to walk half the distance to Arzúa.

Once up and over the ridge, the rain stopped, and shortly after the sun appeared. The undulating walk to Melide was pleasant and I did not stop, nor did I see many people. My plan of avoiding crowds had worked well.

In front of a house, a store for drying maize


I arrived in Melide around lunchtime and a very helpful local directed me to a comfortable hotel within sight of the pilgrim path. Later I watched the hordes struggling up the hill, with another 15 km to go.

I had a good dinner, watched Real Madrid thrash Ajax, and slept like a log.


Melide to Arzúa (15km)

Thursday, 4 October, 2012

That morning I left the hotel feeling so completely relaxed, and I had a perfect five-hour walk through priceless country. I even had two stops for coffee and croissant. I saw nobody on the path for the first three hours, and after that only a handful of pilgrims.

Not far from Arzúa I stopped for a drink of water. Just as I put down my pack there was a loud crack, and a branch came crashing down on the path, no more than five metres away from me.  I pulled the branch to the side of the road and continued the rest of the way to Arzúa.

Hmm,  five more steps and that would have hit me


Later in the afternoon I was in Arzúa, sitting in the sun outside a little bar, having a cold beer. On a pharmacy sign I could see that it was 20°C and the time was 18:30. The bells of the church across the road had just tolled for the half-hour.

Compared to the cold dank morning of the previous day, it felt positively idyllic.




Vega de Valcarce to Sarria

Vega de Valcarce to Biduelo (26km)

Saturday, 29 September, 2012

I set off that morning in idyllic conditions; blue sky, no wind and early morning birdsong.  I was very fortunate with the weather.  I had been advised that there was not much accommodation between Vega de Valcarce and Triacastela at 33 km and most of the route was at over 1200 m and quite exposed to the elements.

The path ran parallel to the road and wound steadily up the valley, until there was no more valley, and then started the ascent to O Cebreiro at 1500 m. Once up on the ridge, the path climbed gradually, until O Cebreiro appeared.

It was much smaller than I had imagined, and very touristy.  And being a Saturday, the tiny village was quite crowded, with the car park overflowing.

O Cebreiro has been inhabited continuously since pre-Roman times.  In the 1960s, it was largely renovated, many of the buildings having fallen into disuse.

A pallaza of pre-Roman origin and Celtic design, in O Cebreiro

For the next 3-4 hours the path steeply ascended and descended many times, until I was starting to get quite tired; the constant treading on rocks and stones had left my bad foot quite numb.

But suddenly, without any prior warning, there was a hostal with a bar in the middle of nowhere, outside a tiny village, that consisted solely of a few farm buildings. And they had a vacancy; a comfortable room, with stone walls and heating.  We were still at over 1200 m in late September, and it could get quite cold at night.

Ermita de San Pedro in Biduelo

After a hot shower and a meal, I felt much better.  And I had the luxury of being able to wash my clothes and have them dried before the morning.

It does not take much to make a pilgrim’s day… 🙂


Biduelo to Sarria (26km)

Sunday, 30 September, 2012

I experienced a beautiful start to the day; fresh cold mountain air, blue sky, and no sound but birdsong and the occasional bark of a distant farm dog, or the clang of a cow bell.

The view across the Galician hills in the early morning sun


All morning the path descended gradually, with the occasional climb out of a valley to attain a ridge, and then the slow descent re-established itself. At intervals a village appeared, mostly with only a handful of farm dwellings and occasional a small bar. It was a warm day, but I did not stop; I was comfortable at my pace and I did not want to break it

On the outskirts, leaving Triacastela, I had a choice to make.  On the left was the longer flat route to Sarria, via Samos, with its famous sixth century monastery, and on the right the much shorter route, via San Xil, albeit with some steep ascents on dirt paths.


I choose the elevated route and for the rest of the day I never saw a single pilgrim. Most of them probably had stayed in Triacastela and were far ahead, or they stayed in O Cebreiro and were still behind me.

The route was beautiful, climbing through lush green woods and when it emerged on the plateau, one could see for a long way.  Of course on a day of heavy rain and strong cold winds, it would not have been so pleasant.

The path on a dry day

From the plateau, the route was gently downhill, until it reached the main road that led eventually into Sarria.

Ponferada to Vega de Valcarce

Ponferrada to Villafranca del Bierzo (23 km)

Thursday, 27 September, 2012

The Camino de Santiago is normally so well-marked with yellow arrows that it is almost impossible to get lost.  But when one leaves the Camino to find accommodation, it is sometimes not so easy to find one’s way back, especially in winding streets and bad weather.

When I left the hostel that morning, I was quite disoriented.

Asking younger people or obvious immigrants the way to the Camino, is usually a waste of time; they normally never seem to know.  It is the older people who are usually most helpful, and I soon found an old lady who pointed me to the Calle Camino de Santiago.  I saw no yellow arrow markings, but in towns and cities they are often not so obvious.  After ten minutes I checked directions with an old man, and he assured me that I going the right way to Villafranca.

But I still did not see any yellow arrows, and after half-an-hour I stopped in a bar to have a coffee and a croissant.  Customers in the bar assured me that I was going in the right direction, but that I was not on the historic route, which followed a path in the countryside.  They suggested that I should follow the road that I was on and that the two routes intersected in about another eight kilometres.

So I was destined to two more hours of heavy traffic through rather grotty industrial suburbs.

Not long after leaving the bar, I came across a young, very attractive pilgrim, looking quite lost and confused.  She had made the same mistake like me, so I explained what we had to do to get back on the historic path.

It turned out that she was Italian, on a break from her university, and was walking from León to Santiago, like me.  She spoke no English, or none that she would admit to, but she spoke some Spanish, and we chatted quite freely as we walked along.

But when she eventually pulled out a packet of cigarettes, the pretty girl attraction evaporated, and I made an excuse to stop for a while, and let her get well ahead.  I never saw her again.

Once back in the countryside, the route undulated through seemingly endless vineyards. But they were vineyards unlike any I had previously come across. There were none of the tidy posts and wires that I was used to seeing. The method of cultivation seemed to let the vines grow wild as a bush, with little or no pruning. But they were heavy with huge bunches of purple grapes, so the method obviously works well.

And at the end of that day’s path, Villafranca del Bierzo, one of the most attractive little towns I had so far come across.

The Palace of the Marquisses of Villafranca

There was a settlement on the site since before the Romans arrived, but it was when the pilgrims started arriving in the Middle Ages, that it flourished.  A Cluniac monastery was founded in the eleventh century and it was from the French pilgrims that settled there, that the town obtained its name – ‘French Town’.

Iglesia de Santa María, formerly the Monesterio de Cluny

And once checked into a room, I spent the rest of the afternoon sitting in the warm sun, drinking beer, and watching old men playing ‘boules‘.


Villafranca del Bierzo to Vega de Valcarce (16 km)

Friday, 28 September, 2012

The weather forecast for Spain showed heavy rain almost everywhere, except for Galicia.  Given the damp reputation of Galicia, it seemed almost too good to be true, but once the early cloud dispersed, the sun did indeed shine warmly.

The road from Villafranca led gradually up a narrow valley, winding through the hills, following the course of the Rio Valcarce.  Gradually the valley became narrower and narrower, until there was barely room for the river, the footpath and the road.  Where there was a village, it was limited to a row of houses on each side of the road. And all one could hear were an occasional passing car, the sound of rushing water and the chatter of birds.

The road ran alongside the river and occasionally it looped under the road and back again a hundred metres later.  From one of the bridges I could see large dark trout, seemingly motionless in the current, except for an occasional movement of their tail.

At the village of Trabadelo, I stopped at the bar to have a coffee and a sandwich.  The walls of the bar were made of blocks of stone and on every joint and anywhere the stone projected, there were coins, from floor to ceiling.  I tried to leave one too, but I could not find a single uncovered spot.

In Vega de Valcarce I had difficulty finding a room.  In the end I had to settle for a very basic room in a dilapidated house beside a bar that had seen better days.  When I went in, the owner and one of the staff were smoking and playing cards.  The ashtray in front of them was filled with cigarette butts.

But the room did not cost me very much.

Sometimes beggars have to take what they can get… 🙂

Harvesting potatoes in Vega del Valcarce


And beans drying in the sun



León to Ponferrada


Thursday-Friday, 20-22 September, 2012

My return trip to León was uneventful; a flight from London (Stansted), a bus to Oveido, and another bus through the mountains to León.  I spent the next day wandering around the old city, sitting in the warm sun, watching people, and sipping cold beer and chilled rioja.

With two or three good books, I could have easily passed a month or more like that.

Basilica de San Isidoro, containing the relics of San Isidoro, and the graves of eleven kings

León to Villadangos del Páramo (20km)

Saturday, 22 September, 2012

I set out just after sunrise and soon arrived at the Hostal de San Marcos.  It was originally built during the twelfth century as a convent, to provide a hospital and shelter to pilgrims.  Over the centuries the building was enlarged and enhanced and today it serves as a Parador – a government-run luxurious hotel.

But it has not always been a place for pilgrims or paying guests.  Between 1936 and 1940, it was used to hold over 7,000 republican and political prisoners at any one time, during the Spanish Civil War, a black era in the history of León.

Convento de San Marcos

For the next two hours I walked along pavements beside busy traffic, eventually wondering if the city would ever end. And then I was suddenly in the countryside, on a stony path, a little removed from a busy road. But the noise of traffic never ceased all day.

On the way I passed two older people. By their dress and accent in Spanish, I think they may have been English.  They were in terrible shape. The old woman was very heavy and seemed to have very bad blisters. The man was emaciated and walked ahead, but was struggling to get one foot past the other. It was only the second time in 26 days that I have ever passed anyone.

And yet I would bet that those two decrepit oldies made it to Santiago; their determination and faith was written all over their faces. They positively glowed.

And tonight in the only hostel in the village, the pilgrim’s menu and my favourite food: garbanzos, cordero and natilla.


Villadangos del Páramo to Astorga (29km)

Sunday, 23 September, 2012

It was a day of varied weather. When I set off it was cool, but pleasant. Then the wind struck, dark clouds surged overhead and the rain started. There was nowhere to shelter and for more than an hour I was buffeted and drenched in a downpour.

But then the sun came out and I quickly dried out in the gale force winds. And all day the surface underfoot consisted of loose stones. It was not easy walking for me.

At about halfway the path crossed the river Órbigo on a stone bridge of many arches, the origins of which date back to Roman times. And on the river banks a jousting field that Cervantes mentioned in Don Quixote.

Roman bridge with multiple arches, leading into Hospital de Órbigo

Eventually I trudged up the hill into Astorga and found a very comfortable room on the main plaza.

Asotorga, with the snow-covered mountains in the background

Once showered, I went to a nearby bar for a beer and there came across a sobering sight that I shall never forget as long as I live. A clean dressed but very laid-back bearded guy wheeled a pram into the bar. In the pram lay a clean-shaven well-dressed man with no legs and only one very deformed arm. The barman knew them and gave the bearded guy a bottle of beer, which he patiently held for his friend, while he sipped on it. They talked, they laughed and despite his awful handicap, the man seemed to be enjoying the moment. When I left, I smiled at him and he smiled back.

Later in the evening I went back to the same bar to talk to the barman about the strange couple. I found him having a break. He told me that the two men were not family, but friends and lived nearby. He said they came to the bar nearly every day. He did not know their history, but they were both locals.

Sometimes God works in mysterious ways.

Astorga to Rabanal del Camino (21kms)

Monday, 24 September, 2012

When I went to bed that previous night, I expected to wake up in the morning to sore feet and an aching knee; I was not disappointed.

I also expected a dark and wet greeting, but was pleasantly surprised to see the sun and blue sky. So with a light heart and an aching leg, I slowly set off past the very impressive church, and the Gaudi-designed palace, to the next village, where I planned to have breakfast.

El Cathedral de Astorga
Episcopal Palace of Astorga, designed by Gaudí

And there I ate the best tortilla I had ever had, and I drank a coffee that Italians would die for. If not quite recovered in body, my spirit was soaring. And the countryside was beautiful. It felt so good to be alive.

After a long but pleasant walk, I eventually arrived in Rabanal del Camino, on a hill, as are so many of the villages.

I found a room in a charming and well-preserved hostel, that reminded me very much of the inn in Paolo Coehlo’s novel, ‘The Devil and Miss Prym’. Every time a man entered the bar, I expected it to be Him.


And the dinner was an honest and filling country meal. I felt that I would sleep well that night. I had a room with a skylight and I had already seen the clouds swishing by. Later I hoped that I would see the stars from my bed.

There was very little light pollution in that village.

Rabanal del Camino to El Acebo (16km)

Tuesday, 25 September, 2012

I awoke to the sound of raindrops plopping ominously on the skylight. After a short time they stopped, but I felt uneasy. With an ascent to over 1500 m and me travelling light, with no heavy waterproof clothing, bad weather was the last thing I wished for.

But that was exactly what I got. It was dark when I started out and I had gone no further than 400 m up the path, when it started. Light at first, it steadily became heavier, and the wind grew in force. The path was rocky and steep in parts and slowly but surely the rain and cold started to penetrate my meagre defences. And the path went from being wet and slippery to being a rapidly moving stream on the slopes and small lakes in the hollows; my boots and socks soon became saturated and my feet became quite cold.

And the heavy rain and gale-force wind continued, without relenting, for the rest of the day.

I passed over the col and its famed cross, with only a brief stop to read the history dating back to Roman times, and to take a quick photo from under a sheltering tree; I was starting to get quite uncomfortable, and decided to stop at the next village, and abandon my previous ambitious objective for the day.

La Cruz de Ferro, the highest point on El Camino Francés

But my bad leg just would not do as I wished and seemed to have a mind of its own; I could only navigate the rocky steep descent to El Acebo, in the river of mud, with great care.

The village of El Acebo

But in the village the only apparent accommodation had already been taken.  Luckily I was able to find a room in a little Rural Hostal, in a side street.  There were only three rooms and I was fortunate to get the last one.

After a hot shower and a nap, I felt completely revived. And a delicious vegetarian dinner, cooked by the delightfully hospitable host, capped off a challenging day.

During the dinner I learned that a lot of people had suffered much more that day than I; some had arrived verging on hypothermia.

I slept like baby that night.

El Acebo to Ponferrada (17km)

Wednesday, 26 September, 2012

I awoke in the dark to the sound of much barking. At breakfast I learned that the owner had four dogs; they slept outside in all weathers and kept the wild pigs at bay, otherwise the vegetable gardens and orchards would be destroyed.

When I left after breakfast, two of the dogs came up to me and gently licked my hand and wagged their tails; they did not seem vicious enough to attack an aggressive hungry wild pig.

For four hours, I slowly descended from the mountain, until I crossed the river into the beautiful village of Molinaseca.

The bridge into Molinaseca
Entering Molinseca with the yellow arrow indication the way

From Molinaseca the remainder of the walk was on asphalt.

During the Roman period, Ponferrada was the centre of the largest mining centre in the Empire, producing gold and other minerals.  In latter days, coal and tungsten were extracted, but in the 1980s the mining industry collapsed, and today the town survives on agriculture and tourism.

In the centre of the town stands the Castillo de los Templarios, the restored Templar castle, originally built during the 12th century. The Templar knights provided protection for the pilgrims, and escorted them through the region.

The Templar Castle in Ponferrada

Just after I passed the castle, it started to rain once more, but luckily I soon found a very comfortable and not expensive room, in a hostel beside the market.

And then went for lunch in the bar next door.