O Cebreiro and the Gates of Galicia

After a morning walk from La Laguna savoring the silent company of our fellow peregrinos, we crested the top of a mountain range separating the Spanish province of Leon from Galicia and enjoyed spectacular views from the summits of the Galician village of O Cebreiro.

Crossing into IMG_5687Galicia, the landscape and character of the Camino Frances is markedly differe
nt. The descent from O Cebreiro is the end of the last hard mountainous stretch of the Camino. From the summits of O Cebreiro, the Fordham peregrinos had sprawling panoramas of the O Courel Mountains and the Lor River watershed.

The O Courel are part of a series of mountain ranges that ring the Galician interior and geographically isolate the province from Portugal and the rest of Spain. Galicia is culturally and linguistically distinct from neighboring regions of Spain. Gallego, along with Spanish, is a co-  official language of Galicia.

Once we entered O Cebreiro, our silent walk was concluded and everyone began to speak, especially me [Shanly] as I was filled with energy. O Cebreiro was quiet, but it gradually became louder as more Fordham peregrinos arrived. We all found ourselves in front of the church of Santa Maria la Real, which prides itself as being one of the oldest landmarks on the Camino. Originally constructed as a pre-Romanesque church in the 9th century, it has since been the site of a holy miracle. As tradition holds, O Cebreiro is the site of the Holy Grail. During the 14th century, a terrible storm snowed in the village, causing the local priest to believe that no one would come to celebrate mass. He was provedIMG_5704 wrong when a farmer from the next town arrived. The priest belittled this man and called him a fool for going out in the storm. In that moment the communion transformed into the flesh and blood of Christ, thus demonstrating the importance of the farmer’s devotion. It is said that a statue of the Madonna leaned over in adoration when this event occurred. She is now called “La Virgen del Milagro.” During the Monarchical pilgrimage to the Compostela, Queen Isabella was so moved by the story of the miracle that she had a crystal shrine made for the relics.

       

Unfortunately, during the Spanish War of Independence, the Church of Santa Maria was burned down and what we see now is a reconstruction of the church built from 1965-71. During this time, the Camino Frances was being rediscovered and modernized by a priest by the name of Don Elias Valina Sampedro. One of Don Elias’s most visible contributions to the Camino is the yellow arrows that so graciously point our way. Don Elias is buried in the church and there is a bust to celebrate his contributions to the Camino.

The day was not over yet and we still had many more miles to march as we made our long descent into Triacastela. Luckily there were many bars to stop and rest along the way! In one of them, Sarah and Louisa were delighted to find chestnut cake characteristic of the region’s historic chestnut agriculture. Chestnuts were introduced by the Romans to Galicia and were a staple of the Galician diet until the 18th century, when they were near-eradicated due to a blight and replaced by the potato. An ancient and stately chestnut tree along the Camino entering Triacastela greeted the blister-weary Fordham peregrinos, welcoming them to the charming town named after the three castles that once defended this strategic mountain pass into Galicia.
~Sarah and Shanly

O Pedrouzo

Oh how the road was long from Melide to O Pedrouzo, but it was quite a lovely one. While beginning in the dark was rather disorienting, the experience led to one of the most beautiful landscapes we encountered along the Camino. As we began to be able to see with morning’s first light, the fog from Galicia’s humid air left a eerily beautiful aura to everything we saw. Although the trek did not have much altitude, the walk was about 25 miles, which can take a toll for sure. It is recommended that even the most active should take regular breaks to prevent overuse injuries the next day, especially considering this is the day before one would be walking into Santiago.

Because of its length, the walk to O Pedrouzo gave us ample time to ponder the topics that we discussed the evening before. As our time on the pilgrimage drew to a close, Owen challenged us to think about how our own pilgrimage fit into the vast array network of global pilgrimages.

When we talked about Pilgrimage around the world, we recognized that the Camino has two different experiential shocks to our system. the first is a culture shock of being in another country with all its differences. The second is a lifestyle shock due to the fact that walking the Camino is a lifestyle that none of us is really that used to. Beyond that, we talked about different pilgrimages around the world and how they are similar or different. the one mentioned were the Camino of course, the Hajj to Mecca, and a buddhist Pilgrimage call the Shikoku pilgrimage in Japan. From there we considered what are some possible pilgrimages that we can see in the United States. Some mentioned were backpacking trails like the Appalachian trail, religious routes like a route that mormons take to commemorate the beginnings of Mormonism, and, most comically, Disneyland, which for some conjures up enthusiasm and commitment similar to religious fervor.

I13521854_10204840036439317_292669504313480556_nn order to complete any of these pilgrimages, preparation is key. We found this to be particularly true for this, the longest walk. Many of us left far before the sun was up, in some cases as early as 5:00 or 5:30. At that hour of the morning, flashlights become a hot commodity, so it is important to either come prepared or, in many of our cases, make sure to befriend people who seem responsible enough to be prepared.

On walks this long, it is also important to take lots of breaks. Breakfast breaks, coffee breaks, lunch breaks, stretch breaks, and second lunch breaks are all completely acceptable forms of rest and much needed relaxation. It is essential not to be afraid of stopping when your body needs it. Be aware that the beginning of the walk has a few places to stop, but there is a long stretch where there is very little. Make sure to stock up on snacks and water when possible.

By this point of the Camino, we were all a little tired of tortilla. A lot of us tried to branch out whenever possible (contrary to popular opinion, some of us thought trying the pig’s ear was an adventure and not to be missed). Lots of places like Melide provided a great opportunity to try assortments of food we had never encountered before. The seafood in all of Galicia is world renowned, and can give any pilgrim’s palate a welcome respite from the ever present pork of the Camino.

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The presence of pork products like ham and lomo (loin) is no accident. Historical anti-Jewish and anti-Muslim sentiments have contributed to the prevalence of pork products in Spain. Pork was used as a way to reassert a “Christian identity” after the Moors left Spain, and was used by the Inquisition to root out Jews in hiding. While pilgrims should enjoy traditional Spanish foods like lomo and croquetas, awareness of the historical background of these staples can help peregrinos understand the ways in which seemingly benign aspects of the Camino are subtly political in nature.

  • By Owen and Mary

 

 

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!

Villafranca del Bierzo

The walk to Villafranca del Bierzo is one of the most beautiful on the Camino from León to Santiago. Vineyards that extend for miles around and gentle rolling hills on mostly dirt or gravel paths allow for some blister recovery.

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You will emerge from a long walk through the vineyards into Cacabelos, a town that begs you to forgo the rest of the walk to Villafranca and call it quits for the day. The recommendation I feel most strongly about along this walk is to stop at a restaurant called Moncloa in Cacabelos. The ambiance is nothing short of incredible, and the best way I can describe it is as the closest thing to Rivendell I’ve ever experienced. Light streams through a canopy of leaves and calming instrumental music plays. Every time you walk into the gift shop (I walked in twice) they hand you a full glass of wine and a small sandwich. This taste of what they serve, however, is not nearly enough. A bottle (or two) of wine country wine is necessary, as well as some Caldo de Gallego and warm goat cheese with a variety of jams. To make my own experience even more surreal, a baby bird found its way into the gift shop as we browsed their merchandise, and as most people freaked out, Sarah said quietly, “I know how to help.” So we grabbed their attention, and like a Disney princess, she gently caught the bird and held it in her hands, then tossed it into the air so it was able to flutter away.

The people in Cacabelos are another aspect of its charm. From a talkative and picturesque group of elderly people sharing a long bench in the shade to the woman on the side of the road who insisted on giving us an entire basket of cherries she had just picked off of the tree and would not accept our money, they made this walk even more special. Another piece of advice: buy cherries on this walk; they are phenomenal.

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Villafranca del Bierzo itself is a beautiful place with a rich history. The first human settlements date to the last part of the Stone Age. Villafranca del Bierzo was the headquarters for an army of more than 40,000 men during the Spanish War for Independence. The Spanish War for Independence overlaps with the Peninsular War and the Napoleonic Wars in the beginning of the 19th century. The war started with the uprising on the 2nd of May in 1808 and ended in 1814. The Spanish painter Francisco de Goya’s famous paintings The Second of May 1808 and The Third of May 1808 commemorate Spanish resistance to Napoleon’s armies. Both are now in the Museo del Prado in Madrid.

Francisco-Goya-Second-of-May-and-Third-of-May

The Captain General of Galicia Antonio Filangieri established Villafranca as his headquarters, but later resigned from office in Villafranca due to illness. However, there is speculation that he was dismissed by Galician authorities. Right after leaving office, he was killed by undisciplined soldiers. Whether the motive was to avenge past grievances or if the murder was part of a larger plot related to his suspicious resignation is unknown.

IMG_4881Villafranca del Bierzo is a historically important stop on the Camino. Since the 9th century, pilgrims have been stopping at Villafranca for the night as a natural break before the steep climb to O Cebreiro. In 1070, a Cluniac monastery was founded in Villafranca to cultivate wine, and a borough of French pilgrims rose around it, from which the town’s name, “French town”, stems. Hospitals and hotels for pilgrims later sprung up in the town.

Villafranca is called “Little Compostela” or “La Pequeña Compostela” because La Iglesia de Santiago Apóstol is the only temple along the Camino other than the one in Santiago where pilgrims could and still can receive plenary indulgences. The requirements are walking the necessary distance, attending mass and saying prayers, and being able to prove that you cannot go on to Santiago due to illness or physical weakness. Because of this, the door of the Church is called La Puerta del Perdón.

-Delaney Coveno

 

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

Ponferrada

Walk:
From Molinaseca the walk takes roughly 1.5 hours. The Camino splits in two shortly after leaving Molinaseca. The right goes along a road and the left is slightly more scenic but also a bit longer. Each route includes numerous places to stop and get breakfast or cafe con leche. In order to enter the city you must cross a bridge.

Templar Castle:
IMG_6068Originally built by the Celts, the Castillo de low Templarios was expanded by the Romans, Templars, and Spanish land owners across seven centuries. The original towers mimic constellations, and the castle has one and two lines of fortifications with the Sil River bordering one side. The Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Christ and of the Temple of Solomon, more commonly called the Templars, took control of the castle in 1211 after Alfonso IX granted it to them. They expand d it to protest pilgrims walking the Camino. The castle currently sits along the stretch of the Camino passing through Ponferrada. The castle now contains roughly 1400 books in its Templar library. From the outside the Castle looms over the area around it, and serves as a fantastic back drop for pictures or a picnic. Unfortunately the inside does not live up to the outside. The structure seen from the street and the structure of the inside are hugely similar. The Castle is also closed on Mondays; look up the hours of any place you plan on visiting before you try to go there.

Roman Mines:
IMG_6176Las Medulas is a UNESCO heritage site and the best preserved mine from the Roman Empire. It was built in 1AD and was operated for approximately 250 years, during which 1.65 million kg of gold was extracted by 60,000 slaves per year. The hydraulic mining methods used by the Romans created a stark geologic contrast between the surrounding lush green mountaintops and the red tinted, jagged, and bare bedrock of the Las Medulas mines. This long-term environmental scarring was facillitated through the use of aqueducts, which supplied the water necessary for breaking down bedrock to reveal gold. The mine is about 25km from Ponferrada; only a thirty minute bus ride away. The ride is scenic although slightly nauseating due to the winding mountain pass and elevation. The first destination includes a lovely walk, which allows for leisurely exploration of the red tinged mines and tunnels. There are numerous paths and possibilities for adventurous exploration, if visitors are so inclined. It is strongly suggested that visitors wear boots, bring water, snacks, and a camera to capture the panoramic views. The second recommended destination includes an extra ten minute bus ride to the Mirador, one of the most spectacular views available in Northern Spain.

Frances and Hania

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