The ongoing balancing act.
The balance between your body and mind can be a complicated relationship to manage. As a reformed 9-5 office worker, I know how life in a stale bubble can eat away at one’s passion and ingenuity. Following ten draining days walking through the unstimulating Meseta, my hiking brain was on life support. My enthusiasm desperately needed a jumpstart. Day 23’s steepling climb to Foncebadón, the highest village on the Camino Francés, would inject that hit of motivation.
Camino de Santiago Diary – Day 23
Despite a late end to Day 22, I awoke restlessly shortly after 5 am. I had suffered yet another disjointed sleep, with the muggy amora of 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 beat the arrival of section-hiking pilgrims. Each day during peak season, busloads of walkers commence their Camino journies from Astorga to Santiago de Compostela.
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 heading west 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 covered with low-lying trees and bushes 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, leaving hundreds of battling pilgrims in my wake.
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 head to rear, their tails darting erratically somewhat uncomfortably in each other’s faces. I studied the spectacle inquisitively. After some time, I discovered they weren’t intentionally annoying each other; instead, they were working together to shoo away hillside flies from their 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 balancing the needs of my body and mind — each step, whether exhaustingly steep or mind-numbingly flat, was necessary. 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 journey 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.