Camino del Santiago Day Twenty-Three: Valverde del Virgen to Villares de Orbigo- The Gamble

22 04 2018

I think that if I’d started the Camino in Leon I would have given up by now. This long flat slog is so rough. Today it was as if we’d been asked to walk along the New Jersey Turnpike. I think if this were my second day I’d be back in Leon renting an apartment for a few weeks and doing a food tour of the city instead.

Don’t get me wrong, I started the day with a great attitude! What was to be a rainy day started with a perfectly mottled slight sun that eventually became full sun with a bit of humidity.

We had a very restful stay at the Casa del Camino and were excited to set out on another “easy” day going only about 13 miles. Granted I was a little concerned about how short our day was going to be but the next stop would have been Astorga which was just too far. We figured we will just pick up time later.

We did not opt for the breakfast option at the Albergue because it’s usually just bread and jam and Suzy doesn’t eat too much gluten so we headed out and there is really nothing else in the town. Luckily when we hit the outskirts of San Miguel del Camino we happened upon an adorable coffee shop and snack bar. Owner Jonathan has been in business about a year I think and has created an adorable space where you can get food, coffee or sundries to support you on your journey. And there’s a spotless bathroom! It’s his own business and he’s put such care into the details.

Just to note, I’ve not seen a dirty bathroom so far, most are impeccable. Why can’t the US have the same care for their services? I really was expecting at least a few issues but other than the occasional lack of paper or soap.

We headed along and walked and walked again remarking at how glad we’d not walked this far the day before… Especially when we happened upon the hotel we’d called that quoted us a high rate and turned out to be a truck stop. Let’s just say it was not a scenic area.

In Villadangos we came across crazy numbers of ravens in the trees. We went on and on through very sleepy towns with not much activity in any save the constant rush of cars past us. On a stretch of highway it seemed almost scary as cars and motorcycles passed on another. We were relieved to get onto a senda with a swift rushing canal of water rushing past us (it’s the stagnant water that produces he bugs…) We marveled at the incredible skill it took to make this water move along the very flat plain we were walking on. We met a sheep. We almost ran past a particularly stinky field covered with manure and perhaps some other unmentionable additives. We blew dandelions, anything to pass the time. We finally reached San Martin del Camino to grab some lunch.

We started walking again and it was hot. Full sun, no shade. We tried to step into the brush only to find a tree stump teeming with ants. No where to run no where to hide, no respite here and no where to stop and take a rest.

We finally got to Hospital de Orbigo but it was siesta time and it seemed to be shuttered, it was Sunday of course. So we kept on without another break through the heat across some dry and dusty track.

Finally we make it to Albergue El Encanto, a brand new Albergue open only 15 days! Immediately we were greeted by Marta with a warm smile. The place is stunning. Setbariujd a courtyard it was a run down building and barn for animals and hay. Marta had the vision to leave Leon, buy the building and convert it into an Albergue with her brother doing much of the construction. The best is that she has converted this 108 year old building into a comfortable Albergue with all the amenities but the bones of the old structure including the original wood beams and earthen walls, the old huge wood door… but it’s beautifully appointed. The showers and everything were brand new, and it happened that Suzy and I were her only guests!

We enjoyed full reign over the whole dorm room taking lower bunks on opposite sides and each of us “took” one bathroom, no men had even used the men’s room yet. Marta let us get settled and then came by the bar where she recommended we have dinner, well it was really our only option since it was Sunday and the store was closed.

The bar, called Arnal, was really loud because about 25 men were in there playing cards and dominoes. I asked Marta if she knew everyone in the town and was struck by her reply. She has only been in town 15 days, since the day this new Albergue opened!

Marta introduced us to Aranche and Eloy owners of the restaurant. Aranche is a chef who also teaches cooking. They set up a quiet place for us to eat in an upstairs dining room. Turns out we were not only the only pilgrims at our Albergue but probably the only ones in the town that night!

The food for 10 Euro plus wine was insanely good. We had a soup of local vegetables that also had olive oil and goat cheese melted in served piping hot. Then the main was a veal chop perfectly prepared.

Aranche explained that a lot of pilgrim menus just focus on what is cheap but she wants her menus to reflect what is local so that pilgrims can get a sense of the region rather than traveling across Spain just eating burgers and spaghetti. I loved he passion and drive she had. I have a feeling that this town is poised to become a destination on the Camino, I think the pioneer attitude here is great. This region is a challenge as there are a lot of towns that perhaps have seen better days but these folks are making investments in the future, throwing down the dice to see if they can make something happen. I’d implore you to visit Juan Carlos and Sandra (Casa de Camino), Jonathan (the snack bar), Marta (Albergue el Encanto) and Aranche and Eloy (Restaurant Arnal) if you make it here, it’s worth it to reward these people for their passion and commitment to follow their dreams!

I see parallels in my life with my seasonal business The Hungry Minnow out on Nantucket. I miss it. Last year was my first year. I know how hard it is. I cannot wait to get back to it and really make it what I know it can be and follow my dream. As far as the Camino I’m gambling on my feet and hoping they’ll be able to carry me a long 23 miles tomorrow. But I think it’s in the cards. My lucky number is 23, Albergue el Encanto is #23, today was our 23rd day and tomorrow is April 23 and we walk 23 miles so if I were at the roulette table you’d better believe that’s where my money would be.

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Camino de Santiago Day Twenty-Two: Arcahueja to Valverde del Virgen-Hope

22 04 2018

It’s hard to believe we have walked so far, and it’s scary to think we have so much farther to go! Despite being up almost all night worrying about our next big jump, we realized in the morning that we would be best off having a reservation at our next stop. The further Albergue wasn’t answering the phone so we made A reservation at Casa de Camino in Valverde instead, and it was a good thing to do for many reasons. We were so thankful that we were steered in that direction.

The walk out of Arcahueja gave we the hill I’d been craving along with some industrial parts and eventually a woodsy entry into Leon. We entered the town early and found a Moneygram where we were hopeful Suzy might pick up some money from home, but the guy there said that they had no money. He said to come back later when maybe I guess he’d have sold enough of the wilted cilantro and brown spotted bananas to give her some money? So the saga continues.

As we walked we entered the city through the Moneda aka money gate, ah the irony! We’d thought we would just sip through Leon that it would be just another big city but we quickly realized that it had a lot more to offer. Luckily our walk was now not as ambitious so we had some time to hang out. We browsed the Saturday flea market checking out some old photos of Mexican Pancho Villa (when I was young my father Roman had restaurants in New York called Pancho Villa’s… these same reproduction photos were on the walls of the restaurant…my father is no longer living, maybe a funny message from him?) This seller also had old food ration tickets which were interesting to see, they were perforated and listed the items you’d be able to get… like una cebolla (one onion).

After a while browsing and musing about being unable to buy anything we headed on to find some lunch. We browsed around the historic sites and saw the outside of the Gaudi building but didn’t really have time to delve into historical tours. Leon would be a great spot to spend some significant time, a great place to start the Camino we thought.

We zipped into a few shops and even found a historic apothecary with gorgeous woodwork inside.

We ran into a pilgrim we’d met in Hontanas who was taking a rest day and then a pilgrim from the Camigas group came to say hello to us with her mother! Nina had been reading the blog in anticipation of her own walk that starts Sunday. It was great to meet a reader in the flesh and even better she told us that the farmers market was going on!

The market was amazing. Rows and rows of produce, plant starters and a row of cured meat and cheese trucks. How great it would be to have a chance to cook with all this great food. This area of town near the main cathedral also boasted a plethora of gourmet food stores. I wanted to take it all home. Our mouths watering we kept desperately looking for food.

We quickly realized that the tapas bars we were seeking were just starting to pull out their tables. There were plenty of really swanky restaurants already open but outside this oilgrim’s budget. I would have loved to do a gintonic tour of this city… We opted to stop walking for a moment and gather ourselves at a swanky bar and have a beer and we’re once again surprised to receive a free slice of tortilla. Basically this is the thing in this region and is so amazingly satisfying. So that was essentially breakfast for us. We waited until just about 1 and we went to be first tapas bar I’d read about on a blog called restlessfoodblog.com.

El Tizon was our first stop, when we got there just before 1 there was only one older guy there at the bar drinking rose. Suzy ordered a gluten free beer and a glass of Verdejo for me and we each got a tapa! She got two gambas and I got two boquerones and they were served with green olives and pickled garlic cloves. So delicious! We also got a plate of calamares fritos. The food there looked great they had a case of seafood and there were scallops in there but being on a budget and also wanting to try MA y things we decided to do tapas rather than raciones (entrees).

When we were done we went out to see the street teeming with people. The market must have ended at 1pm and now the bars were filing up. Almost all the outside seating was taken which was ok because we found a place where I could charge my phone and they had Manzanilla sherry! We ordered a plate of gambas and then they came over to tell us we got two additional small tapas for ordering the drinks!! I love this town! Suzy was in the restroom so I ordered a shrimp cake and the most amazing bunuelo of morcilla, like a beignet filled with a blood sausage gravy. Sadly we could not stay forever because when we exited that bar the Saturday scene was going full throttle. Absolute hoards of people were descending upon this district known as Barrio Humedo or “wet district” meaning place to get alcohol! This was clearly the place to be and be seen. Many groups were dressed in matching outfits which we learned were bachelor and bachelorette parties. We hated to leave but headed out of town, said hello to some chickens and roosters roaming a park and saw the famed statue of a pilgrim resting his feet. We really did not get our fill of Leon.

Onward through more industrial areas, lining the highway and it was a bit warm and humid but luckily not too sunny. Boring walk honestly. My feet were griping and that last sherry was probably not in retrospect the best idea, but man were we glad we didn’t go further today. We meandered around and around some fields and eventually were in Virgen de Camino and then a long slog to Valverde where thankfully at the very entrance to the town lay our adorable Albergue Casa de Camino. The place is so adorable and we were warmly welcomed by Carolina with a fun purple bob haircut, Sandra, and Juan Carlos the owners. They take turns helping check people in and cooking dinner in the open kitchen. The place is so great and has 20 pod like beds which really makes you feel much more comfortable and offers privacy and less noise.

The showers were awesome, big and roomy with huge rain shower heads. After our showers we were able to do laundry which was 7 Euros. I am so grateful for every piece of clothing I brought because I was able to wear my swim shorts, swimsuit top and purple long sleeve and wash everything else because literally everything else was filthy.

When we were settled we hung out in the comfy living room while their team prepped the dinner and checked in more guests and we were offered an aperitif for free, I had a white wine. Carolina spent some time chatting with us, she’s originally from Venezuela and we enjoyed hearing about her son and sharing photos of our pets. We ran into some pilgrims we had met before and heard that they’d opted to taxi through the last slog of the day because they had started in Mansilla de las Mulas that day! This is always an option, but I’d prefer to go the whole way on foot.

Dinner was incredible, we were served wine and bread and a huge hit plate of spaghetti more than I’d ever eat at home. This was the first course, and amazingly I found I myself eating the whole thing. Then we were served an amazing chicken, super tender and marinated in something giving it tons of flavor. Juan Carlos then offered us a choice of Orujo (Spanish grappa) plain, herbal or cream. The alcohol helped lubricate our language. I spoke to the men at the table in a combination of French, Spanish and English and sometimes they spoke to me in Italian. It was quite a jumble of language and very fun to switch back and forth. One had done the Camino before by bike. He said he arrived in Santiago in just four days but had sped through swing only highways and asphalt. He had gazed at the wonder in the walking pilgrims eyes as they saw the cathedral and wondered what he was missing, so this time he is on foot. We did our songs for the group and I had a request for Joan Baez so I muddled through Deportee. Suzy brought out her massager and gave the hardworking team neck and back massages.

I hope to feel the wonder, I hope that I will get there in time, I hope my feet hold up, I hope I’m doing the right thing following my path.

http://www.paypal.me/ChapaCamino