We spent Thursday night in Santa Catalina. Dinner was great fun because we were able to share it with a couple we had met on our first stop in Orrison and whose path we had crossed a few other times - Bill and Janice from Calgary. Together we celebrated that there was a wonderful cabbage and carrot soup on the menu Things get pretty simple on the Camino.
The next morning, we walked out of town early enough that the stars were still out; and I kept turning to look back and catch the sun rising.
Our next stop was Rabanal del Camino where we stayed in an albergue run by the most cheerful and kind family. At one point during the afternoon, I realized that my little blue sack containing my journal and watercolors and phone cord had been accidentally taken by another pilgrim when he packed up to move on after resting at the cafe where I'd been sitting.
I had not seen him. Our hostess had seen him and even remembered the little sack sitting amongst his things as he packed; but she couldn't recall what he was wearing, only that he was Portuguese. I could only hope that when he realized his mistake he would mail it all back to me at the home address I'd written on the cover of my journal.
Our hostess was less inclined to resign the sack to its fate. She dashed off to get her son who jumped in his car (with me in the passenger seat) and off we drove up the mountain track that is the Camino leading out of Rabanal. I kept wondering how we would find a person who's only known characteristics were his gender and nationality. My host/taxi-driver was not worried.
We drove all the way to the next village where he stopped in at every cafe and albergue to ask if they had a portuguese pilgrim and to tell them our mission. Names and phone numbers were noted and promises given that they'd watch out for pilgrim and sack. Then, the son's phone rang. His mother had found our pilgrim back in Rabanal and recovered my sack. We backtracked to each albergue and cafe calling off the watch and then drove happily back to home base. This is the way of things on the Camino.
That evening Dad and I attended Vespers in the ancient church (along with another pilgrim pal from our first night in Orrisson - Carol from Victoria). The priests and congregation sang vespers in Latin - a call and response gregorian chant.
Up again with the dawn, we had cafe con leche with Marcel from Quebec and headed out for El Acebo. Everyone was looking forward to the day's walk with a mixture of anticipation and trepidation. Today we would pass the Cruz de Ferre (iron cross) where the tradition is for each pilgrim to leave a stone, symbolically representing the shedding of some personal or spiritual weight. We also would be making a climb up and over a mountainside including a notoriously steep and rocky descent. Mindful of how difficult and dangerous had been the descent in the Pyrenees, Dad and I both had our packs ported and carried only day packs with weather gear and water.
We arrived at the Cruz de Ferre without difficulty. This is the place of the highest altitude along the Camino. The weather was cool but not cold, overcast but not raining. Perfect for the climb. We each took a moment to leave the stones we've been carrying just for this purpose since we started. Then we walked on - each a little lighter.
The countryside is once again green and we are enjoying the mountain views as we walk. The descent into El Acebo was even more treacherous and long than we anticipated and it was with quaking knees and fulsome gratitude that we arrived at our Casa Rural (B&B) on the eastern edge of town.
Shower, eat, nap, laundry, eat, sleep, pack, walk. We were up and away by 8 a.m.
Today we made the final leg of the descent - just as rocky and steep as yesterday, but not nearly as long - and arrived in Ponferrada about noon-thirty. We passed the huge Knights Templar castle at the edge of the 'old city', and made our way to the hotel. A good day of walking was appropriately celebrated with pizza and beer for lunch followed by an hour long nap.
Tomorrow we have another 15km to cover but it is relatively level terrain. Dad plans to carry his pack. I am having mine ported at least until after we've completed the last big climb up to El Cebriero (probably on Thursday). It looks like we are about two weeks away from Santiago at this point. Amazing.