Sunday, June 6, 2010

Leon - back in civilasation!!

I´m back!! Did you you miss me? ;) I sure as hell did miss writing this blog, so a big THANK-YOU to all you followers, and especially to you lovely people who leave comments! I really appreciate it! Always looking forward to checking out if someone made a comment :)
It´s been a week or so before I disappeared into the mountains - and what a very different adventure that was....
First of all, apparently there has been some confusion about the Camino I was attempting to do, so let me enlighten you:
Loads and loads of old paths all through Europe lead to Santiago. So they´re all called CAMINO SANTIAGO. In order to differentiate between them, they´ve been given additional names. The most famous ones in Spain are the
Which is the most famous one of all. It starts at St. Jean Pied den Port, leads straight to the west and, of course, finishes in Santiago. It´s about 805km long and had its heyday during the 12th century.

Starts at the coast in St.Sebastian, goes along the coast to Oviedo and is nowadays followed by the
which goes from Oviedo southwestwards to Lugos and then on to Santiago.

And then there´s also the
4.)CAMINO DE EL SALVADOR (4 valleys)
It´s 120km long, starts in Leon and heads straight northwards to Oviedo across a serious mountain range (4 mountains and 4 valleys - hence the name), from where on pilgrims normally continue on the Camino Primitivo.

Clear so far?? Now, I started on the CAMINO FRANCES all the way up until Fromista. It´s 118km from Fromista to Leon, all in the Meseta, which is too hot for me, and too boring ;) So I figured: why not replace the 118km Fromista-Leon with the 120km Oviedo-Leon? And that´s what I did: I took a train from Fromista up north to Oviedo and started the CAMINO DE EL SALVADOR southwards, which means in the reverse direction.

Arriving in Oviedo I discovered that the saying I´d written about earlier about the "Master" and the "Servant" actually applies to Oviedo! "When you´re going to Santiago and not to Oviedo, you´re visiting the servant, and not the master"! (Ehm...., that rhymns in spanish...) So, I was definitely on the right track! In Oviedo is a medieval wooden statue of Christ, holding the earth (round,mind!) in his hand and blessing it with the other. This statue is called "El Salvador" and ancient pilgrims coming from Leon would´ve first visited the statue and then the Camera Sancta with all the reliques, before commencing on the Camino Primitivo to Santiago. This route was most popular in the 10th century.
Enough history and information? Okay! How was it??? WELL............, it was great!! How can I write about a whole week in such a short time before the rest of the other pilgrims are planning to assassinate me for hogging the computer too long..... Firts of all, it´s lonely. And by ´lonely´I mean LO-NE-LY as in totally alone. There isn´t another pilgrim in site. Anywhere. As far as you can see and beyond! It´s total Lord of the Rings stuff. Without the bad guys. Now, I met a few ( as in 2 lonely pilgrims plus a small group) along the way, but that was only because I was travelling in the "wrong" direction.The ones walking, climbing, scouting towards Oviedo wouldn´t have met a soul along the way (apart from me, well, obviously). The scenery is breathtaking. Snowcapped mountains, first reminding me of the austrian alpes, later of the italian dolomites, total dramatic stuff. Albergues are rare and few, distances are very long, and 1km across some mountain path, or across some ridge, through some swamp or through dense forest is just not as quickly walked as on a nice gravel path, so all takes much longer. The first day I was slowly ascending into the mountains, through light forests and meadows. Reaching the highest point I had to walk for kilometres and kilometres downhill a small serpentine road. And that killed my left leg. I think I might´ve mentioned once or twice (or a million times!) that asphalt or concrete is a total killer, and here it´d done it, killed my leg right-out. The stress on my front tendon (along the front of the shins) proved too much started to get inflamed. At the same time, though wearing long trousers, the skin just above the end of my boots got in contact with either grasses or insects or both and reacted allergic with swelling. I didn´t take much heed
of either reaction, just thought it´d been another tough day with another pumping leg at night, so no biggy. Didn´tfeel too bad the next morning but when I started walking I realised that something was definitely not in order. The whole day I had to walk on concrete, through the whole valley and up to a big town (Pola de Lena) which is the gateway to the higher regions. The pain was getting worse and worse.Most of all it was Saturday afternoon, so all the pharmacies were closed, same goes for sunday. What was happening, without me knowing over the next week, was that the skin with the allergic reaction got worse and joined forces with the inflammation of the tendon below. Whatever I did or had with me couldn´t really help it properly, so slowly things got worse and I basically limped across the 4 mountains until Leon, where I started serious treatment with some badly needed rest. But all of this didn´t really hinder my excitement and enjoyment about crossing those mountains. The albergues were an adventure in themselves. No-one there, no closing hours, no kicking-out hours, you just get the key and can even stay for days ifyou want to. Two of them didn´t even charge anything, didn´t even want a donation! One was an old apartment, half falling apart with two small rooms, beds leaning against the wall, a kitchen with a rusty old oven, which obviously was way beyomd working, a shower which leaked like hell and the water needed to be switched on in a hole under a lid in the road! Others were almost luxurious. I had to walk so slow that I also camped in the countryside cause I wasn´t able to reach my destination, and my cooking equipment came in handy not just there but also in the albergues. A good bit after Pola de la Lena I eventually left the bloody concrete road (not though before having to walk beside a motorway,just 3(!) metres away) and entered the stuff of adventures. First I walked along mountain ridges through dense forests, steadily climbing. Sometimes I had to walk straight uphill for kilometres and thought of the Pyrenees crossing as of children´s stuff. Beautiful wild flowers and wild streams lining my way; later on in the week I had to negotiate my way through huge goarse bushes and swampy underground before eventually reaching the dramatic heights of white cliffs and massive stone formations. Every day there was a point where I lost my way, as the reverse direction is quite complicated, I mean, even the right direction doesn´t seem that easy at all! My book also sometimes didn´t have crossings in it which I encountered, or was just too old in parts. Twice I walked (or limped..) for many, uch....., MANY kilometres in either the wrong direction or on a roundabout way to get where I wanted; THAT was really annoying. On the Camino Frances you just look out for the next yellow arrow, which is there without fail. Here I got directions like: "yea, well, and when the path ends there you don´t follow the little stream but just climb up straight the (EXTREMELY) steep ridge in front ofyou until you reach the mountain pass or top where the big stones are and then you´ll see new signs", .....which weren´t there. The mountain villages are dying a slow death. Young people moving into the cities, so there are no shops, bars or anything, just a few old people tending their gardens, even washing their clothes in washing wells. A van drives through those places in the morning, delivering bread and milk to the houses - not a chance a pilgrim can buy anything anywhere. They also have...DOGS. Very protective dogs. Guard dogs. Dogs, who whisper to each other, or bark it way ahead, "There a hapless pilgrim on the road, the scare the living daylights out of this one!!" I walked with my pepper spray at the ready. Some are absolutely vicious and I was always furious at the owner for showing up so late! Once, in the middle of nowhere, between white cliffs and rocky fields, a big dog showed up, then another, and another, until I found myself surrounded by 5 (!) big dogs. Pepper spray and stick aimed at them I told them what"nice boys" they were ;)) , Which didn´t interest them at all. "Nice boy" or sweet talk doesn´t really impress the spanish dog, thought you might want to know that. Then, out of nowhere, a shepherd appeared. God knows where his sheep were, I didn´t see one, anywhere. In the end it was good that I met the guy as I was at a loss as to where to go next and he helped me find my way again, but, oh, that was one..... interesting... moment.
But- LEON - what a change that was! I got myself the lovliest little room in the absolute middle of the city, with TWO REAL TOWELS!!!! Brought all my clothes to the cleaners for proper washing, raped the pharmacies for antibiotic creams and cortison - and it worked! After very intense treatment and looking after my leg, and two absolutely GORGEOUS days in Leon, which is a total beauty (!!honest, go & see!!), I´m on my way again. I´m not 100% yet but I´ll be soon, no doubt. It´s fun to be in the big stream of pilgrims again, soI´m not really as I´m always walking behind ;) Apparently the province of Galicia "es un chaos!" and Santiago "es un chaos!" I heard the barman say. Well,that´s just another challenge then :)
Hope this wasn´t too long and I manged to bring you up to date. Next time I find a place with USB I´ll put a few pictures from the mountains in. Cheerio!


  1. What an adventure!! If you want to escape the crowds again, there are two other options to walk the last 120km. From Ponferrada you can turn south onto the Camino Invierno which eventually joins up with the Via de la Plata route to Santiago. Or, when you get to Sarria (and the hoardes of turogrinos) get a bus or train to el Ferrol and walk the Camino Ingles to Santiago. Beautiful walking around the estruaries, beaches to lie on, small subsistence farms, forests and, now crowds.
    Buen camino!

  2. Welcome back Aenna. Was thinking you had chucked it in and run off with some mad monk. Anyway glad to see your back in the thick of it conquering mountain ranges, fighting wild dogs and looking at all them churches. I'm just wondering when your goin to tell us that you've been draging a big log behind you just to annoy the other pilgrims.
    Good luck,


  3. Thanks Sil! Thanks for your comment!
    Was tempted in Ponferrada to go onto the Camino Invierno, but then didnt feel too comfortable without having a book which I could refer to, or a map or the like. Anyways, I always walk way behind the early risers, yesterday I walked all by myself since noon, not too bad. I kinda feel now I should finish the Camino Frances as it´s my very first Camino and I´d just like to have done this one. The Camino Ingles sounds lovely though! Hope I´ll be able to come back one day :)

  4. Hey David, I couldn´t drag a log if I wanted to, my backpack is enough, believe you me ;)) Soon at the 100km mark - unreal!!