DAY 23: Astorga to Foncebadon



It was really cold when we set out this morning. I was grateful for my Patagonia jacket and gloves. The terrain started changing, with a lot of low trees and brush. We were heading towards the Irago Mountains.
For over a week, we have been on the trail and in albergues with a father and two daughters from Romania. They always say hello, but I didn’t think they spoke English. Today they started talking in excellent English and I learned that they are sisters, Carmen and Anka, but the man, Constantine, is Carmen’s partner, not their father.  I was a little embarrassed because I asked about their father, but Carmen is 36, Anka is 30 and Constantine is 62, so it was an understandable mistake. He is Italian and Carmen lives in Milan, Italy. Anka still lives in the small village in Romania where she was born.
We also came upon an older couple on the trail. The woman was really struggling and she looked like she was about to fall over. We went over to try and help her, but her husband came and said he didn’t want her to sit down because she might not get up again. He seemed annoyed with our help, so we kept on going. A few hours after we arrived in town, as we sat in the sun on the terrace enjoying an egg sandwich and wine, I saw them arrive.
We weren’t sure how far to go today, but at the first possible stop, we decided to keep going, even though my backpack felt so heavy. The next town was four miles further, but as we left town one, we started climbing into the mountains. I prefer hiking uphill to flat, so I got a second wind and we made it to Foncebadon easily. It’s a tiny town, the main road isn’t even paved, but there were several albergues to choose from. We decided on the first one we came to, our usual choice. Why keep walking? It’s called Monte Irago, and our beds (not bunks!) are up a skinny flight of stairs in the attic. There are 14 of us in the room.
Albergue Monte Irago:
At night, there was a communal pilgrim’s dinner of vegetarian paella, among other things. We sat with a woman from India named Pagnya, a man from Italy, Carlo and a couple from Taiwan (they didn’t speak much English). It was the most interesting conversation we’ve had with others on the Camino and started when Pagnya asked why we were doing the Camino. Our conversations to this point about Camino have mostly been where did you start, how far are you going, how long do you have, etc. I did ask a few people their reasons for doing this before and several answered that they were doing it for religious reasons. But tonight was different. We talked about the different stages of life we were all in and Carlo shared his story of being diagnosed with skin cancer and then finding a book about the Camino shortly after his diagnosis. Pagnya’s journey is based on a desire “to connect with herself.” She is doing the Camino alone. We discussed our different strategies for tackling Camino (Carlo walks 30+ kilometers a day with little planning, sometimes running out of food and water on the trail,  Pagnya gets up after everyone leaves in the morning and walks until she doesn’t feel like walking anymore, we are fairly well planned with options in mind depending on how we feel that day. Pagnya said that the dropout rate for through walkers was 75 percent and that most people drop out on the hot, dry, flat maseta area that we just left. That sounded like a very high number, so I googled it and read that only 25% of people who start in St. Jean Pied de Port finish in Santiago, but many had no intention of completing the entire journey at once, so I’m not sure they can be called dropouts.
Our dorm room in the albergue:

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