Leaving Ponferrada was a bit tricky. As the days are shorter now, we often find ourselves walking out of town in the pre-dawn gloom. In the larger urban areas, the path is not well marked. Dad and I lost the way for a few blocks and were given remarkably bad advice on how to get back on track by two different people. Happily, we did not follow the misleading directions. Instead, we pulled out the incomplete map in our guidebook and made our best guess about which way to wander. We were back on the right path in fairly short order and soon were away from city streets and traffic.
Cloudy skies overhead kept us cool as the sun rose and provided a lovely rainbow on the hilltops as we turned onto a track that took us through the vineyards.
It is harvest time. The leaves on the grape vines are turning. Families and communities are out in the vineyards picking the grapes together amidst conversation and laughter.
We arrived in Villafranca de Bierzo a good three hours before our albergue was set to open for the day; so, we parked ourselves in a nearby cafe and enjoyed some cafe con leche. Later we wandered around town, located the supermercado and met up with fellow pilgrims. Together, we hatched a plan to all get together and cook a shared dinner in the albergue's common kitchen.
We checked into the albergue and discovered that the private room with two beds that we had reserved was a private room with bunk beds. I was going to have a top bunk experience, enhanced by the fact that the rungs on the ladder spun when I stepped on them. The need to call on my acrobatic skills was counterbalanced by the fact that the albergue offered a laundry service. Dad and I put on our rain gear and handed over every other stitch of clothing we had. Clean clothes are the basis of civilized society (that and hot showers).
We met our pals back at the supermercado at the appointed hour and were delighted to discover that one of the young men in the group was a chef. Did we like chicken scampi? You bet! We donated our Euros to the cause and stepped out of the way. Young people have so much energy at the end of the day.
They called us to the table to have guacamole as starters then chicken scampi with a lovely fresh salad. We also shared two bottles of local wine, one white and the other red. Both were lovely.
Leaving Villafranca the next morning put us on an immediate, long and very steep climb. Relentless. As soon as we were certain we had passed over the peak, the path would take a turn and up we'd go again.
Finally we were indeed on the way down just as sharply as we had ascended. By the time we reached relatively level terrain, we had spent four hours getting over the mountain. The remainder of the walk to Vega de Valcarce was a breeze by comparison. We were nevertheless very happy to sit down on the soft couch and chair provided by our B&B.
No wifi in V de V - so we cooked some spaghetti in the kitchen for our lunch and spent the afternoon napping and reading as a gentle rain began to fall.
When we woke this morning it was raining in earnest. We pulled on our rain gear and checked the guidebook to confirm that today would be all uphill -15 km with a 2000 ft increase in altitude.
We made frequent stops to rest, including a beautiful breakfast of farm fresh fried eggs and beautiful bacon in one of the little towns. In Spain, coca cola is made with sugar rather than corn syrup and it was my 'drug of choice' today as energy for the ongoing climb.
At about the 13km mark we crossed from Castilla into Galicia. The music in the cafes was now decidedly Celtic and as we arrived at today's destination, O Cebreiro, it felt as if we'd hopped a continent and were in Ireland - rolling green hills in rain and fog being grazed by cattle with bells softly ringing. Our hotel is in an ancient grey stone building attached to the church. The rain and temperature continue to fall.
The town is packed with peregrino friends and we are gathering around fireplaces in the local bars, sharing stories and vino tinto (red wine).
Tomorrow is a gentle downhill with minimal climbing, so dad plans to carry his pack and we've agreed to walk 20 km to Tricastela. The next day's walk should get us to Sarria.
At Sarria we will be just over 100km from Santiago and, to get the compostela (certificate for completing the Camino) one must walk the last 100km. Taxis, buses, trains, bicycles and even horses are no longer an option.
Closer, ever closer.