Portomarín

The 20 kilometer walk from Sarria to Portomarín was fairly flat and a mix of isolated dirt paths and roadside walking.  Near the end, the path split in two and we could either walk on a shorter, very steep path or on a longer, flatter path that followed the road. As I have been having some knee problems, I opted for the longer road path, which followed a small road past homes and small farms.

To get to Portomarín, pilgrims walk across a large bridge that ends with a large staircase leading to the town. Portomarín is a town in the Lugo providence and currently has a population of about 2000. A bridge across the Mino river by this town has existed since at least 993 and was the site of many conflicts during the Medieval period. As such, Portomarín was an important military and commercial town throughout history.

However, the old town of Portomarín did not exist in the exact place where the current town is. In 1956, construction began on the Embalse de Belesar dam. As a result, the water level in the Mino river rose, putting the entire town of Portomarín under water. However, the most important buildings in Portomarín were saved from the flooding as they were moved up to higher ground brick by brick. When the water in the river is low, one can still see remnants of the old town  and bridge in the water.
One of the buildings moved was the Church of San Juan of Portomarín, which is a late Romanesque church originally designed to be both a church and a castle. As a result, the building contains components of both structures including walkways protected by battlements as well as tympanums and rose windows. The church has the largest single nave in a Romanesque church in Galicia. In the late 12th and early 13th century the church housed knights and was visited by many catholic monarchs. Today, the church houses the parish of San Nicolas. Next to the church, the Pazo de la Marquesa de Boreda, a 17th century palace, has also been reconstructed.
Our albergue in Portomarín was one of the most unique hostels we stayed at on our trip. Rather than staying in rooms housing 6-25 of us in each room, this albergue had only a single dormitory room with well over a hundred beds all in the same room. Though staying in a room with that many people was mildly overwhelming, all appreciated the cleanliness and efficiency of the albergue. Since most of us were quite tired upon arriving to Portomarín, we had a relaxed evening in the hostel and at restaurants nearby.
sada
Alison

Melide

Day 12 is the walk from Palas de Rei to Melide and is one of the more unremarkable on the Camino. The walk is 14.6 Kilometers or 9.1 Miles and is actually one of the shorter walks! This is because the walk that follows, from Melide to O Pedrouzo is the longest on the Camino. The walk itself is more of the Galician countryside you will have by this point grown accustomed too since Triacastela. It follows a winding path through farms in which you will be surrounded by more cattle than people for a vast majority off. This path is actually remarkably shady especially compared to the walks both directly preceding and after it. The walk to Palas de Rei from Portomarin the day before is a remarkably ordinary one of 24.1 kilometers or 15 miles and should not cause any injury for this day’s walk. MelideAs the walk to Melide is short enough that someone moving at 15-minute miles can actually complete it in 2 ½ hours it is tempting to race in order to maximize the time spent in recovery at your destination. I would advise against this however for three reasons, firstly the way is particularly shaded and thus you are spared from the sun, especially near the end where you are completely off road and traveling on a dirt path enclosed on both sides by foliage. The second relevant point is the fact that the Albergue we stayed in during the Camino of 2016 year did not open until 11am anyway. The third and most relevant point is the fact that Melide is an uninteresting city when compared to others on the Camino and carries no large historical connotation besides its inception and continued existence being reliant as a rest stop on the Camino. After sampling two of the regions signature dishes, Octopus and Pigs Ears, we made the interesting discovery of a Restaurant that specifically catered to a Vegan diet, among other options! The Albergue itself featured a floor of dormitory living as well as the first reliable Wi-Fi since Sarria. In closing Melide should be a restful stopover, as you will most likely be pushed to leave earlier tomorrow then any other day.

Also do not allow any amount of peer pressure influence your decision to partake in the Pigs Ears.

Conner

  • Photo credit to Tiffany!

Rabanal del Camino

For this walk, the Fordham pelegrinos trekked from the urban sprawl of Astorga to a sleepy little Maragoto village named Rabanal del Camino. The walk itself had its challenges, given that the first few kilometers were spent exiting the outskirts of Astorga via rocky pathways alongside the highway. Once this section of the Camino was completed, however, we found ourselves in a charming little town where most students stopped to grab a pincho de tortilla, refill their water bottles, and prepare themselves–and their mochilas–for the impending rainfall. Luckily for us, the rain didn’t appear until the very last few kilometers, after students had already had the opportunity to take in some truly breathtaking patches of land, drink cervezas at the now infamous “cowboy” bar, and chat with a Camino-pro-turned-falconer on the side of the trail.

Horses

Given Rabanal’s small size, we knew that this isolated village would be very limited, especially in comparison to Astorga’s urban amenities. Camino traffic, after all, is one of the core lifelines of this dusty little town. We were all thrilled to see, therefore, that our albergue for the night–el Albergue Nuestra Señora del Pilar–came equipped with a fully stocked restaurant and bar, decent showers, and some of the most charming social spaces we have yet to see on the Camino. In fact, Nuestra Señora del Pilar’s open concept and canopy layout made the entire establishment feel like a hidden treehouse, tucked safely away from the weary Camino trail. After a night of laughs, vino tintos, and good food, Nuestra Señora del Pilar became a fan favorite among Fordham’s peregrinos.

Before our nightly festivities could begin, however, we made our way to la Iglesia de Santa María de la Asunción, a Romanesque church that is presently operated by the Benedictine monks of San Salvador del Monte Irago. These German monks restored the church in 2001, after the Benedictines of St. Ottilien saw an opportunity to create a transient spiritual community out of the incoming/outgoing foot traffic. The monks also maintain a small albergue across the street from the church, where pilgrims can stay for a period of 3-10 days and pray alongside the monks. It’s a truly spectacular group of monks, one that certainly gives back to its surrounding community in spades. It came as a great surprise to us, then, that these monks were banished from the town in August of 2001 by a mob of local townspeople, after the Benedictines had requested and subsequently received a loan of one million euros from Castilla-León to restore their church. This recent event proved to be an interesting point of discussion for us, as it demonstrates the oftentimes vexing relationship that peregrinos share with the communities that house them. On the one hand, villages like Rabanal undoubtedly depend on Camino travelers to survive; that does not mean, however, that these poor communities do not have needs of their own that could be foreseeable remedied by loans from their parent regions.

In this way, the events at San Salvador del Monte Irago provides a lens through which we can better understand the Camino in a more contemporary, engaging sense. It’s certainly important to understand the historic importance of the pilgrimage; but it is critical that we understand the Camino as it exists in its modern landscape — a landscape that is certainly marked by its rich history, but also occasionally by frustration and contention.

-Katherine Burks

Palas de Rei

Palas de Rei, where we arrived on June 5, has been a stop on the Camino de Santiago since ancient times. According to tradition, the city is named for a Visigoth king, Witiza, who ruled the area in the early eighth century. The city has long been linked to Spanish military history and has a very well-preserved castle from the 14th century. The city seems to have really expanded as the popularity of the Camino has grown, leaving the city as an interesting mix between the medieval and the modern.

The walk to Palas de Rei was long but very enjoyable. We had excellent weather, which always makes the day’s walk better. The day started out with some nice fog which helped to cool off the Spanish Sun that Dr. Myers always warns us about! A tip for future peregrinos and peregrinas: the first place to stop for food isn’t for several kilometers outside of Portomarín, so if you walk better after having eaten some food, either eat something in Portomarín or bring some food to snack on along the way.

We split up for lunch, with some of us going to a Pulperia (home of the famous Galician octopus, or pulpo as it’s called here) and others getting some burgers at a local pub. Because it was a Sunday, a group went to the Church in town where one of our Camino friends, a bishop from Brazil, said Mass. We met this Bishop initially in Rabanal where he said Mass at the monastery there, and we’ve walked alongside the Bishop ever since. For dinner, we enjoyed a group meal at our albergue. Our albergue was very cool – we had the entire third floor to ourselves, which had some nice sitting areas in addition to the usual bunk beds. Several of us did experience some issues with the motion-detected lighting, which seems to be a common lighting trend along the Camino. Waving one’s hands in the air or opening doors tends to turn the lights back on (another tip for future Caministos and Caministas!).

In Palas de Rei, we also focused on domestic medieval architecture and city planning. Unfortunately, many homes of medieval peasants did not survive, so much of what we know about this topic comes from surviving wealthier houses or urban areas. Most medieval houses were built of wood, with the more expensive ones having stone, and had relatively small windows. In cities, some houses were built almost like townhouses, with houses adjoining and external staircases leading to higher floors. Medieval Spanish towns were typically enclosed by walls to protect against invaders, so builders had to look up instead of out. These towns were often planned block by block rather than in a coordinated gridiron system unless they were built on ruins. One of the most prominent features of the Spanish medieval town that remains a prominent focus in many cities, the Plaza Mayor, was actually inspired by Islamic architecture where a town had a central space in town for all of the major municipal buildings.

Written by: Kara Hurley

Sarria

On the walk from Triacastela to Sarria peregrinos have the choice between two routes. The most direct will involve a walk of about 18.7 kilometers. The other involves a detour that adds a little over 6 kilometers to the trip. This extra bit of walking is worth it, though, as it offers the opportunity to visit the Samos Monastery.

This monastery was founded in the 6th century by Benedictine monks. In the 11th century a pilgrims hospital was added, which is still in use today. The monastery features a Baroque facade that was added in the 18th century. If you decide you want to have a look inside, you can take advantage of a guided tour. We were able to go on a tour that was given in both English and Spanish. On the tour you will have the opportunity to see the cloisters, which feature some amazing gardens and one scandalous fountain, murals depicting famous visitors to the monastery, and a chapel filled with ornate Baroque elements.

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Perhaps even better than the tour is what can be found in the gift shop. Here you can purchase chocolate made by the monks. There are three different bars to choose from: milk chocolate, dark chocolate (which happens to be vegan), and a large bar for making chocolate a la taza, in case you want to create a breakfast of chocolate y churros at home.

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On the walk from Samos to Sarria, keep your eyes open for storks. The birds are rare in Galicia, but a few pairs usually nest in Sarria and this may be your last chance to see them. Once in Sarria, you will be in the last town where pilgrims can start walking and still cross the minimum distance required to receive a Compostela. Our guidebook recommended passing through Sarria in order to avoid hostels crowded with pilgrims just starting their journey, but I found Sarria to be a pleasant place to stay, especially after having some trouble with the walk earlier that morning. If your feet are feeling crammed in your boots, you can do what I did and stop by Peregrinoteca to pick up a pair of hiking sandals.

We spent the night at the Los Blasones albergue, which is conveniently on the Calle de Maior. Across the street is a restaurant called Casa Manuel, which offers a variety of tasty food, including salads, burgers, and sandwiches. Vegetarians will be happy to find several options that offer a reprieve from the usual eggs and potatoes. I enjoyed a vegan tempeh burger with caramelized onions, followed by a dessert of brownie con helado.

Sarria is home to several interesting sites, including the Romanesque Iglesia de San Salvador and the modern Iglesia de Santa Marina. We visited the Monastery of the Magdalena. This monastery was originally founded in the 12th century by Italian monks who wanted to set up a hospital for pilgrims. In the 13th century it became home to an order of Augustinians, and is now home to the Mercediarians, officially known as the Royal, Celestial and Military Order of Our Lady of Mercy and the Redemption of Captives. This order was founded in Barcelona in 1218 in order to free Christian captives who were taken during the wars between Christians and Muslims. In addition to the usual vows of chastity, obedience, and poverty, these monks also take a vow to give up their lives for anyone in danger of loosing his or her faith.

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We happened to be in Sarria on the feast day of the Sacred Heart. This gave us the opportunity to hear some unexpected fireworks and to watch a religious procession. This feast day is in honor of a particular devotion that focuses on the love of God as embodied by the heart of Jesus. These kinds of processions were used in the middle ages to mark important feast days. Seeing this procession gave us the opportunity to see how Medieval traditions remain an important part of Spanish devotional practice today.

-Jennifer

 

 

 

Astorga

We shared an early breakfast of dry oats, whole-grain breads, and milk substitutes at the beautiful “vegetarian- yoga” albergue of Hospidal de Órbiga. Our host, a singing bodhisattva named Mincho, bid us farewell as we walked towards the soft hills of the Leonese countryside. Our walk was mercifully short with frequent stops along the way, giving us ample opportunity to get to know each other better and meet other pilgrims. Giovanni, an older gentleman from Livorno, shared his ideas on Spanish coffee with us. We heard the joyful laughter of a Panamanian man named Alfonso echoing from every café we passed. Towards the end of the walk, Frances – the trained EMT of our group – shared her medical expertise with a couple of students from the University of Southern California by tending to their wounded feet. Finally, after passing over a winding steel bridge and climbing up a seemingly never-ending hill, we arrived in Astorga.

The municipal albergue greeted us at the entrance to the old city. After checking in and showering, a couple of us decided to do laundry. We inserted the three euros, added the soap, and pressed the button to begin the wash cycle. But nothing happened. We pressed every button on the machine about a dozen times before realizing that it was not going to happen for us, so we went to the front desk to ask for help. Pilar, our hostess, came down to try and figure out our problem. Still nothing. She must have seen how hungry and tired we were after a long day of walking because Pilar immediately offered to do our laundry for us in her own quarters. With her joyful generosity, Pilar became our hero of the day.
Several of us went out to eat at the main plaza of Astorga. It seemed like the whole town was out for a midday stroll – including one Astorgan wearing a Fordham t-shirt, though he did not attend. Every fifteen minutes, the bell on the baroque town hall rang. On the hour, two mechanized statues of a man and a woman in early-modern garb hit a larger central bell with hammers. Certainly the most interesting municipal building that we had encountered to that point. After our mid-afternoon meal, we went back to the albergue to wash up before the evening presentations. We planned to meet at the cathedral around 6:00. The Baroque altarpiece stood out as a worthwhile draw to the church. Afterwards, we explored Gaudi’s episcopal palace.

For groups with different food preferences Cerveceria Restaurante is a great place. They had several different choices of paella, which is very helpful for vegans in the group.  For us, though, the highlight of the evening was the nearby chocolate shop: Pastelerias Peñin. The chocolate was good, but the shopkeeper Lucy was even sweeter. She ended up taking pictures with us, giving a couple of us extra cookies and cakes, and asking us to pray for her when we reach Santiago. If future Fordham groups spend the night in Astorga, I highly recommend paying a visit to our friend Lucy. After a trip to the supermarket to prepare for the next morning, we decided to call it a night early.

Buen Camino!

Jacqueline Rzasa & Ian Schaefer

Hospital de Órbigo, Part Two

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After spending a particularly lovely evening of yoga and vegan food at the Albergue Verde, we stopped on our path to Santiago for a brief while at Hospital de Órbigo’s most famous historical attraction – its medieval bridge named the Puente del Paso Honroso.

While this bridge no longer spans a broad and brimming river (recent dam construction has limited the Órbigo to two smaller paths on either end of the bridge), it still stands prominent in the heart of this town on the Way. Constructed in the 13th century, this bridge has been continually reconstructed from over five lost arches due to flooding and near destruction in the Napoleonic Wars  – an excellent example of medieval architecture surviving and adapting  well into the modern period.

While the architectural presence and history of this Camino mainstay may be fairly impressive, one particular historical 15th century anecdote lives on to this day – the “Paso Honroso” of Suero de Quiñones. This story of one knight and his blind devotion to his lady sounds like something out of a dime-novel fantasy, but in fact it was all too real on the Camino nearly six hundred years ago.

Picture the twilight hours of the Spanish medieval period: the emergent power of the Christian kings of Spain against their Islamic enemies. The Reconquista was creeping southward, fueled by the knights of León (among the other Christian Iberian kingdoms).  One such knight, Suero de Quiñones (1409 – 1456) is the subject of the legend of the “paso honroso”, meaning literally the honorable step. Quiñones, a proper knight of his time, was caught up in the zeitgeist of the chivalric code of honor – particularly with the concept of courtly love. Dedicating himself to a noblewoman by the name of Doña Leonor de Tobar, this knight took to fasting and wearing an iron collar every Thursday to symbolize his love for her. Unfortunately, she did not reciprocate and Quiñones was forced to up his game.

In January of 1434, Quiñones petitioned the King of León for the right to hold a tournament and challenge all knights who wished to cross the Puente de Órbigo. The King gave his permission, and in July 1434 Quiñones and nine compatriots established their post to challenge all knights who dared pass them – a situation that might sound familiar to those who remember the Black Knight of Monty Python fame. Don Suero aimed to break 300 lances in this tournament, and thanks to the well-trod nature of the Camino de Santiago, he managed to challenge and defeat 68 knights total. Despite this, Quiñones and his comprades only managed to break roughly 200 lances. Even though he fell below his original goal, the knights of the paso honroso declared their contest over and successful in August of 1434 – with Quiñones himself symbolically removing his iron collar and vowing to take on the role of a pilgrim and travel to Compostela to give his arms to Santiago, thus ending the tale of the paso honroso. As a final note to the story, Quiñones himself would live for another 20 years until he met with a knight he had dishonored at the Puente de Órbigo, who promptly challenged him to a duel that immediately killed that most famous knight, Suero de Quiñones.

When we entered the town we saw the beginnings of the preparations for the Fiestas de las Justas del Paso Honroso: the annual celebration of the 1434 tournament that began in 1997. The Puente del Paso Honroso is a great historic example of the eclectic legends that line the road to Santiago, and a historical moment that would inspire the likes of Miguel de Cervantes’ monumental novel Don Quijote.

Sincerely,

G. Barba

 

Hospital de Órbigo, Part One

The morning of May 26th, we all rose early to start our first day of walking. The trek from León to Hospital de Órbigo was a lengthy 31 kilometers, otherwise known as 19.3 miles. Because it was the first day, we all left the albergue at the same time in order to prevent any minor mishaps. Prior to leaving Leon the class piled in front of Basilica of San Isidoro (the patron saint of the internet), for some inspirational words from Dr. Egler. We also saw the woman who waits outside each morning to pray. With our heads held high and the adrenaline that comes with actually starting the camino pumping through our veins, we finally left the city.

There are a few very important things to note about walking. Firstly, Dr. Egler made it a point to make sure we understood how imperative it is that we don’t just rush to get to the next town. The true experience of the camino comes from taking your time on the way and really enjoying everything you see. Secondly, paying attention to your body is the only way you’ll get to Santiago in one piece. If you’re tired, take a break. If your back is hurting, send your pack ahead with a taxi. If you don’t think you can make it, take a taxi to the next albergue. There really is no shame in sending your things ahead or taking the taxi to make your life easier and ensure that you won’t hurt yourself.

The walk was much longer the first day than any other day thus far. Another important note is the fact that the trek from León to Hospital de Órbigo has two routes: sensible or scenic. While the scenic is gorgeous and an amazing photo op if you’re a fan of fields and flowers, it’s also a considerable distance longer than the other route. While we were told that scenic was left and sensible was right when the road split, the group of people that I was walking with accidentally took the scenic route. We thought we took the correct right turn and I honestly still don’t know where we went wrong. Learn from our mistake, make sure you know which way to go!

Tired but very happy to have seen such beautiful sights, my group and I strolled into Hospital de Órbigo and into our albergue for the night, “Albergue Verde.” This albergue will probably remain my favorite even as we travel from place to place throughout the following weeks. The food was mainly veggie centered but unfortunately cannot be labeled as completely  vegan due to the honey that they had. As a vegan, the fact that it was a vegetarian themed albergue was extremely helpful. This will also be of particular interest to you if you’re vegetarian, pescatarian or lactose intolerant! For dinner, we started off with a spread made from tomatoes, carrots, olive oil, and garlic. Our main course consisted of paella with cauliflower, carrot, pumpkin, garlic, leek, rosemary, thyme, zucchini, tomato, red pepper, and turmeric. There was also salad on the side with apple and cranberries. For dessert, we had amazing vegan brownies. The following morning prior to leaving, we awoke to find toast with various jams, strawberries, coffee, leftover brownies, and an assortment of non-dairy milk (soy, almond, oat, hempseed). While the food was my favorite aspect, there was also yoga led by Mincho, and a large backyard filled with comfortable seating and two adorable dogs. Overall the group had an amazing first day!

¡Buena suerte!,

Tiffany Negrea