Thursday, September 11, 2008


Of the legs we have done so far, this was the toughest, not so much because of the terrain, bust mostly because the temperature was 34C, and the distance to cover, 27 km. Once we left the city of Ponferrada, we had quite a few kms to walk along the road, luckily not very busy, this day. We walked along some lovely cultivated fields and small wooded areas until we got to Camponaraya, where we took a coffee brake and tried to get some money from the ATM. I tried 3 different ones, and none worked. As I was to find out the next day, my bank had changed the system for passwords. On this day we drank a lot of water from the many fountains we found along the way. In the town of Cacabelos we went into the small church of San Roque which impressed us for being very old, but very well taken care of. We also went into the church of Our Lady of the Agustines and were surprised by the many frescoes from the XVIII C in very good condition. I must mention that at every stop you make in EL Camino, be it a church, cafe, restaurant or hotel, the pilgrims get a stamp on their credentials. Somehow it is very exciting to see your credential so full of different types of stamps. They are dated, so at the end of the Camino, when you get to Santiago and go to the Pilgrims' Office, they calculate the distance walked and issue you a COMPOSTELA, an official Pilgrim's Certificate which can be obtained by all those who walked at least the last 100 kms of the Camino. Along the way we saw 4 stork nests in different places. We later stopped in a shaded park next to the municipal hostel and waited until they would open a restaurant that had been recommended called El Gato. The food was fantastic, as was the service, so after a great meal we felt pretty energized to keep on walking, this time uphill, along the road for a couple of kms and finally a path into the vineyards. The view of the valley below was breath taking. After a long ascent, we started a descent in a snake like path leading to a canyon. We arrived in a tiny village called Valtuille de Arriba and saw an open cafe. We could not wait to have something ice cold to drink. The owner was a funny old man who, once we ordered our drinks told us the story of his life. While there, a couple of Poles came in and sat with us. He was enormous and was carrying his wife's backpack as well as his own, because his very petite wife was "under the weather." They were so sweet! They told us they were celebrating their 30th anniversary and had been walking from Burgos. We said goodbye, and soon after, they passed us along the way not to see them again. They were surely seasoned walkers. From there to Villafranca it was all downhill, and it seemed to us that we were never going to arrive. The city is in a canyon carved by the Rio Burbia. Once we got to the center of town and saw people in the square sitting around drinking beer, we decided to do the same. I called the hotel Mendez, where we had our reservations and told them to hold our room. We would not make it until after 7:30. I do not think we have ever enjoyed a beer more than this one. We were so hot and thirsty! Obviously, our hotel was at the very end of the town, so it took us another 20 minutes to get there. When they told us our room was on the 3rd floor (4th) for us Americans, and there was no elevator, Libia could not believe it. She said she would not be taking her backpack up the stairs. She was exhausted. As usual, we showered and did our laundry. Libia fell asleep, so I went downstairs to make a reservation for the next day in O' Cebreiro. There was a History professor, friend of the owners, who told me that the next leg was the toughest, all uphill an 31 kms. If we were to do this, it would have to be done in two stages and we would not make Santiago on the 23, for which we had made reservations way in advance. So, I decided to stay in Villafranca the next day, do the sites, have lunch and take a bus to Piedrafita. There we would get off and walk to O' Cebreiro. The professor told me, that was the most spectacular part of the walk, O'Cebreiro being the gate to
Gorgeous, green Galicia. When I told Libia about it, she was delighted, so we had a light supper of cheese and fruit and went to sleep.

San Roque with stork nests

Beautiful Bierzo vineyards

Before the village of Valtuille

At the top of Villafranca

Our hotel

Beautiful garden by the river

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