The ongoing balancing act.
Balancing the needs of both your body and mind can be tricky. As a reformed (and relapsed) 9-5 office worker, I know how life in a stale bubble can eat away at your passion and ingenuity. Following ten draining days walking through northern Spain’s unstimulating Meseta, my hiking brain was on life support. My motivation desperately needed a jumpstart. Day 23’s steepling climb to Foncebadón – the highest village on the Camino Francés – would inject this enthusiasm.
Camino de Santiago Diary – Day 23
Despite a late end to Day 22, I restlessly awoke at 5 am. I had suffered another disjointed sleep, with the muggy amora of sweat-stewed socks receiving the lion’s share of my morning gripes. Though, in truth, the anticipation of the trail’s imminent scenery change had me itching to get back on the track.
My hiking buddies were also up early to get a headstart on the expected influx of section-hiking pilgrims. We’d been warned that busloads of Santiago-bound walkers would commence their pilgrimage from Astorga through June/July.
Many pilgrims decide to walk one of the central sections of the Camino Francés. Popular starting points include Logroño, Burgos, León, Astorga and Ponferrada.
A maze of dimly lit cobblestone streets guided our way through the city’s medley of modern, medieval and Roman architecture. Each plaza, sculpture, cathedral and parkland seemed to conjure a different perspective during the morning’s blue hour. The fountain leading to the Monumento de los Sitios oozed modern progress, while Gaudi’s Palacio Episcopal (the Bishop’s Palace) felt as though it had escaped from a Disney classic. Astorga’s old town was indeed stirring, but the scenes outside of the walled city were empowering.
An expansive valley rose steadily toward the distant ripple of a forest-cloaked range; this was the end of the Meseta and the start of the mountains heading into Galacia. An enormous grin quickly etched across my face. The much-awaited change had arrived.
The walk weaved its way through sunburnt fields scattered with low-lying shrubs for much of the morning. However, after a late breakfast in Santa Catalina de Somoza and a photo stop in El Ganso, the path rolled upward; gradually at first, then steeper after Rabanal del Camino.
A carpet of purple and orange heath now covered the ground, and the unmistakable fragrance of pine and oak forests filled the air. I hadn’t experienced these foliaged surroundings for some time, and my body reacted robustly. An astonishing burst of energy surged me up the slope, passing hundreds of battling pilgrims on the way.
Once my legs had finished propelling me up León’s mountainside and into Foncebadón, I cracked a victory orange juice and awaited my mates. I sat and watched two horses curled curiously around one another, standing in a nearby field. One black, one white, they nestled ear to rear, their tails darting erratically somewhat uncomfortably in each other’s faces. I studied the spectacle inquisitively. Finally, I discovered they weren’t trying to be intentionally annoying; instead, they were working together to shoo hillside flies from each other’s eyes, nose and mouth. They were the visual embodiment of yin and yang: seemingly opposite or contrary forces that are complementary, interconnected, and interdependent. One horse does not have a bug-free face without the other.
I realised my Camino relied similarly on negotiating the needs of my body and mind. Each step, whether exhaustingly steep or mind-numbingly flat, was necessary for my journey. I needed to take the good with the bad, the benign with the bumpy and the mundane with the mountainous. After a day of drastic climbs, I had started to even out that imbalance. Day 24’s reflective walk to Ponferrada would continue to recalibrate this balancing act.
All the details.
Trail distance covered
Albergue Domus Dei
A day of complete diversity compared to the previous ten days. Hills, views and flies aplenty en route to Foncebadón.