May 10, 2016 Tuesday. 16 miles. Left at 8 am. Arrived at4 pm
Today was a lovely day of walking the Camino and gentle climbing as we headed for the mountains to leave the Leon province and enter Galicia tomorrow at O’Cebreiro. I had a private room in the La Gallega Hotel and it was hard for me to get moving this morning, so enjoying the privacy and the opportunity to have my things scattered so I could get things organized. I had made the decision the night before to go to Vega de Valcarce and share a two-bunk room with Mary and Sofie. Reservations were made so there is a certain security in leaving later.
When I walked past the 10th century church to start my day, there was Mary and Sofie with their normal gaiety and laughter taking their pictures by the church -it was Sofie’s birthday and they were starting the celebrations early. I walked out through the village knowing Mary and Sofie were behind me and would soon pass me up. I crossed the river Valcarce and saw a big ancient church turned into an albergue and it looked very interesting with a large garden. I started climbing up a hill along the highway and had to stop and take off a layer very soon in the day. The Camino took a turn off the highway and we walked along dirt roads through vineyards and a tiny village. I was never really alone all day. There was always another pilgrim around, and often ones Iknew. Mary and Sofie and I were often together or passing each other by as we would be distracted for various things. There was a comfort and comraderie all day on the Camino to me.
As we dipped up and down walking through the vineyards we would go through wooded areas with trees on both sides of the road, their leaves full and green meeting overhead creating a shady country road protected feeling on this morning of low clouds and a promise of more rain. I had my rain gear on, but it looked like it might clear up.
After a couple hours I entered Villafranca Del Bierzo. Now this is a little town I could spend some time in. It is not a little village, but a little town. I walked into town alone and was just amazed with the people getting off tourist buses and all the activity after the peaceful time in the vineyards. I think it might be a. Popular place for locals to visit. You are welcomed into Villafrancea by the beautiful 12th century Romanesque Church of Santiago. In medieval times pilgrims who could not make it over the mountains to Santiago could get absolution here. For this reason the door at the northern entrance of the church is called “The Door of Foregiveness.”
The town has tiny streets winding down in various directions and I saw P from Canada. I hadn’t seen her in week. She is one of the original pilgrims I met, leaving Orrison to arrive at Roncesvalles on my second day of the Camino. P was looking for fossils and gems on the road as she walked that day in the Pyrennes. P and I talked and caught up like old friends as we walked our way through the winding streets – she looking for coffee and I was looking for “facilities.” Before we knew it we realized we were “off” the Camino as there were no yellow arrows to guide us. We continued walking and enjoying the charm and the shops and asking people for directions. Finally, P wanted to go right and I wanted to go left -I just felt the call to cross the river and go toward the mountains and she probably felt the call for a coffee shop so we parted ways. I walked into a little restaurant after a bit to use their facilities and the restaurant was empty. It was about 11:15 by now and no one was around – it was so spacious, clean and modern looking, I decided to seat down and have some juice because of his generosity in letting me use the bathroom. (I just have to say here, since I did a lot of walking around San Diego not just on mountain trails when I was training, that the situation in San Diego is quite different than here. I don’t know about other parts of the USA, but many restaurants and especially fast food places will not let you use their restrooms unless you are a buying customer. On the Camino, they welcome you into their establishment with a warm “Hola” and show you where the restroom is. You can sit at their table and eat your own food and not buy one thing, and they treat you with kindness, welcome you make you feel welcome. It’s not like you are getting away with something,it’s like they want you in their place whether you are buying something or not. Although I did not do this often, I observed it, and saw such generosity and kindness, it just amazes me.)
After I ordered the freshly squeezed orange juice (so yummy), I saw what looked like a fresh torilla de patata and asked for a slice. Oh my! Itwas the best thing I have tasted since I have been in Spain. I have had a piece of tortilla de patata almost every day, but this was the best yet! I told him so and he said his mother made it. This one had a few onions and bell papers in it. It was probably loaded with cream too because it was so tasty and rich, but what a treat!
When I came out of the cafe, who was passing right by on the sidewalk but J from Brazil. I assumed she was ahead of me. We started walking together, crossing the rushing and forceful Rio Burba and started climbing up the mountin along side the highway. It was a gentle climb, but we were definitely on mountain roads. It felt like the gold mining area of Northern California -high mountains, narrow canyons and crevices with rushing rivers.
Every coupleof miles the Camino would leave the highway and go into a one street little village. We would almost always stop for something to drink or to rest. The pilgrims were thinning out but we were often walking in a group of five women: Mary and Sofie, M from France, J from Brazi and me. It was a good day to have other pilgrims close by. Most of the day was like this, just comfortable walking along a road or the highway, looking down into pastures of sheep or cows, a few. flowers. and a rushing river. We got a few sprinkles, but no rain.
Eventually we arrived at the tiny mountain village of Vega de Valcarce . Mary, Sofie and J from Brazil an I were all staying in the same albergue. We all sort of scattered doing our own thing. I went out and got Sofie ice cream for her birthday. Shortly afterward it started raining and raining hard. I settled in for an early and restful night in preparation for the climb tomorrow. I went to sleep with peacefuland grateful heart for a good day on the Camino with friends.