Wednesday, September 11th

Breakfast supplied by the albergue, one of the best I've stayed in, coffee and spreads on bread.
Began walking in the dark, using the torches, the kilometre of green track black. Reaching the road, following an ambiguous arrow, heading up and west, the logical way. Gentle incline all the way, the brilliant sunrise behind us, all red orange grey and pinks, slowly illuminating the folds of the landscape, the valley falling away to the side of the road. Reassured we're on the right way when the first 'shell' marker appears. The red lights on the mountain, the flashes of cameras as other pilgrims ahead take photographs. Didn't know they were there.

Reaching Foncebadon
I've been looking forward to this place, with a certain amount of dread.

The ruins, the fallen in rooves of long abandoned houses, the blocked up windows, the rubble. It's like arriving in Oz, or Hades itself.
And it wasn't until the hospitalero, or barman, or whatever he was, stamped our passports that the significance of the date dawned. An ominous date.

Paulo Coelho's fight to the death with the devil dog happened here. Yeah, we all know it couldn't really, as it's hard to have a fight with a dog when you're doing the Camino by LandRover. But maybe it was a metaphoric dog, and it was a metaphoric fight. Whatever, Shirley Maclaine certainly believed it.
"Quick, hurry, get out now!" she yells to her friends who were dawdling behind, "the doggies are nigh!", or words to that effect. Not quite sure what happened then, but she obviously got out alive.
I believe that in 1996, there was only one old woman tenant left in the town, and the wild dogs. But not anymore. Now, there's the refugio, and surely, if 1999 was a Holy Year, and Foncebadon's reputation so bad, then the Xacobeo Committee would've done something to try and make it safe.

The bar, El Cavento Foncebadon, it's new.

Only seen a couple of loose dogs, at the entrance to the town, and none of them seemed particularly interested in us. But, then again, we still have to walk out .. (note from Chris - the first dog we saw just gave us a friendly wag of its tail. Then, after it gave us a kindly glance, it trotted off on what turned out to be 'The Way'. I decided the poor reputation of the Foncebadon dogs was quite undeserved).

Cruz de Ferro, the Iron Cross

The highest point of the Camino. 1500 metres, easy climb, not on the road, but a track. Pilgrims are meant to bring a stone from home to place here, and there's some mighty big stones from home. Maybe that explains why some pilgrims backpacks look so damn heavy.


Heard bells ringing as we neared the refugio, didn't realize they were specifically for us. The refugio here is run by people who seriously believe they are Templars, and they keep a watch, from the refugio's lookout, for pilgrims, then leap for the bells. To "guide the souls".

Having a coffee, and a biscuit, and having the Templar story explained. I'm still not sure why, if the Templars were such noble and honourable people, as Thomas the Templar here would have it, why they were hounded out of every city, and every country, they decided to settle in.

Walking the final 7kms, a road close to a military installation, getting kind of boring. Then tracks leading off, first right, then left, then down. Overtaking, then being overtaken by other pilgrims. And the town just suddenly appears, just down there.

El Acebo
The first refugio, at the entrance to the town, is closed. So, down the street, and the houses are different, having an overhanging first floor, and some even have exterior staircases, their rooves of slate, their doors have a half-door first, I guess to stop the snow crashing in when the front door is opened in winter.
The second refugio, behind and upstairs of the only bar in town, is open, so we book in, have the passports stamped, are led up the stairs, claim a bed through the ritual of unfurling the sleeping bag on one. Then lunch, outside, overlooking the huge landscape, like a vast green bowl, ringed with mountains.

Wanders. Found the third refugio, down a street near the exit to the town, it's closed, no opening time posted on the door. The rather dismal Plaza. Everything's closed.

More wanders, just in case we missed something. Down the Calle Real. The iglise is locked, even it's rusty gates are padlocked. To the edge of town, a washing line flapping, a child's playground, and houses with bars on the windows.

I must be turning Spanish as I have this strange urge just to stroll the town, again. So, it's down the main drag, then along a side street; around the closed Tavern de Jose, passing the Plaza only used by a solo skateboarder, then wondering about the old local with a long-handled sickle and axe, and witness the miracle of the dead
but smoking tree, there's largish dogs that just lope passed, and there's some serious vegetable gardening being done around here, then back to the bar.

Cars in the main street, with the occasional tourist coaches that just manage to squeeze through, but probably full of tourists pretending that they're pilgrims too. I'll bet they all have pins and badges and shells, and I know they have their passports stamped, so by the time they reach Santiago, they'll be in the queue for the Credentiale. Probably, they'll be shoving the genuine pilgrims "outta my way!". I guess if you've done the Camino in a few short days on a tourist coach, you might get a tad crotchetty.

Noticing that everyone who walks through El Acebo is swathed in flies. Although I suspect my own swathe has actually followed me since the second morning in France.

The Menu de Peregrino. There's two girls that work here, probably the daughters of whoever runs this place. One, the one that smiled occasionally, has a very gothic tattoo across the small of her back. Not sure if the one that never smiled had a tatt or not. Probably not.

Chris has gone to bed. We've had the 'menu de peregrino', including the bottle of red between us. I'm definitely pissed. Sitting out the front, and met Dave from Dublin, and he's telling stories about rescuing drunken flies, about one fly in particular that he only stopped short of giving it mouth-to-mouth resuscitation; then stories of stopping the train at Pamplona, as he'd missed the station. Then talking about the insufferable 'niceness' of some of the English pilgrims he's met. Telling me about the chilly reception he received at Manjarin. No bells rung for him at all, as he's a bikie pilgrim, and he had a difficult time even just getting a refill for his drink bottle. I wonder if bikie pilgrims know they got it wrong, or resent not being counted as real pilgrims at all.