Day 35 – 21st October 2015, Cacabelos to la Portela de Valcarce.
Well, I was all nice, snuggly and cosy in my borrowed sleeping bag, under the blanket in my little chalet, when I was rudely awakened by the gaggle of female, French pilgrims next door. This is going to sound slightly sexist (sorry ladies), but, have you noticed, when women get together, they can chatter on like it is an olympic sport? It’s an introvert’s worse nightmare! I had thought that the municipal albergue here in Cacabelos, had been well thought out and put together, but I now spotted the single, design fault. The wooden walls didn’t quite go all the way up to the ceiling, so there was a gap near the rafters that went all the way along the line of chalets so that sound travelled, white effectively in fact. No amount of grumpy, shushing, from my side had any impact at all, so I thought, well if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em and I crawled out of my cocoon and nipped along to the shower and then packed up ready to depart. Golly it was chilly outside. The autumn weather was beginning to set in and I was grateful for my heat tech layers and my ultra lightweight down jacket (and my nice, new, electric blue gloves!)
Fiona, Charlotte and Chris, soon joined me at the gate, where we leant our packs up against the wall and toddled off, back into town in search of a warming and satisfying ‘desayuno’. On the way in, we bumped into a few more Canadians, who I had seen many times along the way and were jubilant at the outcome of their recent general election. Hurray, the Conservatives had been voted out an the Liberals were in! I was really moved to see how happy they all were and hugging each other with sheer relief! I thought immediately of my partner Brett and how elated he was at the election result too! I also reflected back to May and our election at home and how gutted I was when the Tories got in. They have been a nightmare since!
This moment, was probably the only one so far along the Camino, when I felt connected up with what was going on in the outside world. I hadn’t really paid any attention to international news up until that point, but do you know what? I didn’t really miss that. For me, it has been incredibly refreshing to be so engrossed in my day to day walk and focus on the immediate present moment, immersed in nature, history and culture and occupied with the daily agenda of getting up, walking and enjoying the simple things in life. Having said that though, this joyful scene in front of me, served to remind me how important it is for each one of us to do our civil duty and exercise our precious human right to vote. We are privileged to be free and have a say in how our countries are governed.
I am dismayed at the apathy and complacency in the United Kingdom, which often manifests in a low turn out to the polls. Why can’t people understand that freedom to choose is a gift? And everyone is entitled to that gift? In my vocation as a humanitarian aid worker, over the years I have lived and worked in many countries, where civilians are not free and do not necessarily have the opportunity and freedom to choose, where civil wars rage on and women remain oppressed and are prevented from exercising their basic human rights. Well done Canada for making a change! It will be interesting to see how the future unfolds there and I am sure Brett will keep me up to date!
Our happy, if somewhat bleary-eyed and in-need-of-caffeine band of pilgrims, found a bar that was open at this time in the morning (yes it was still dark). It was lovely to step into the warmth again. I was grateful for the simple things, having food on the table, warmth away from the early morning chill and good company. It wasn’t long before we trundled back to the albergue to load up with our packs and set off up the long, low incline out of town. Goodbye Cacabelos, you have been kind to us!
Fiona and I struggled with stiff and aching muscles in the cold. Sometimes, it is indeed hard to get going and find one’s stride, until the body has warmed up enough. All my good intentions of starting out with muscle stretches had gone out of the window since Alan and I practiced that at Roncesvalles! Charlotte and Chris overtook us up the hill but we felt we would see them again on the way. The first part of the trail snaked alongside the main road through the little village of Pieros and beyond for another couple of kilometres or so, before we turned right off the main road and bimbled through the stunningly, beautiful, Bierzo countryside.
I like that word bimble. It’s a good word, isn’t it? In case you were wondering, it is a genuine, British English word meaning to walk at a leisurely pace, I didn’t make it up, you can find it in the Oxford English dictionary. As an aside, did you know Shakespeare is purportedly responsible for inventing approximately one thousand and seven hundred words? I wonder, who invented ‘bimble’.. Anyway, back to the walk. Wow, what bliss to breath in the fresh, clean air and saunter past rolling hills clad in woodlands and vineyards. Soon, we entered the picturesque town of Villafranca del Bierzo, a jewel of a place, nestled among the hills. Fiona and I caught site of Charlotte and Chris again, so we took the opportunity for a photo call on the bridge, above the crystal waters of the Rio Burbia.
Villafranca del Bierzo lifted my heart and soul. Perhaps it was the energy, emanating from the gurgling river or the sun, shining brightly and we stopped at a lovely little cafe by the side of the Camino, in a sun trap, where we enjoyed a much-needed second breakfast. Aussie Richard popped his head round the door to say a cheery hello to us all, raising a glass of beer. He had decided to take a rest day in town and I don’t blame him. It was a truly gorgeous spot! I am my own worst enemy at times, the sense of compulsion to keep on walking and walking to the next place, held my heart hostage and prevented me from resting a while to soak up the scenery and atmosphere. I came under the spell of O Cebreiro, the last, major ascent before Santiago, which faced us about 30 km ahead. I knew we would not reach the mountain today, but still, I felt a sense of urgency to reach a point along the trail, from, which we could reach O Cebreiro the following morning. And so, we trekked on.
The Camino pathway followed the main road again. Fiona, Chris, Charlotte and I decided to walk the route marked orange in the Brierley guide, as this was the most direct route through the valleys. If I had been feeling more energetic, I would have liked to have explored the green or purple routes, but the topographic map was a bit off-putting, as the ascents up and over Altos Dragonte and Alto Pradela appeared terribly steep. Who knows, one day I might be back to try an alternative way! No, I really wanted to conserve every ounce of energy for my ascent of O Cebreiro.
A while later we walked through a beautiful, shady avenue of trees into the little village of Trabadelo. Here, Charlotte and Chris decided to get accommodation for the night. Fiona and I thought we could just edge a few more kilometres along the road to the next cluster of villages. This last stretch of four kilometres, was a bit soulless along the main highway and we were bushed by the time we reached La Portela de Valcarce. We agreed to call it a day, there and then, when we turned off the road into the driveway of the Albergue el Peregrino, a rather nondescript looking building from the outside, but warm and pleasant enough on the inside. We bagged a room with ensuite for 10 euros each, not bad! Our room was at the end of a spooky and draughty corridor, but never mind, the shower was hot! It felt so good to unpack, shower and stretch out for a while, taking the weight of my aching feet and legs again. I tried the old trick of putting my feet and legs up against the wall for a bit. They were still vibrating.
Later on, I popped downstairs to enjoy a lovely, hot cafe con leche and catch up on some writing. Fiona joined me and we chatted with some more Aussies, that Fiona had met back in the albergue Camino Frances in Santibanez de Valdeiglesia and Barbara, the juggler from Chile. We sat with them at dinner and swapped stories from our journey so far over our pilgrim meal, ignoring the somewhat indifferent service! Yes, customer service can be a bit hit and miss along the Camino, but I was grateful for a lovely, hot and filling meal at the end of a long walk!
Find out what happened next…
Peace, love and light,