This would be a strange day! Yesterday when I arrived at the Cruz de Ferro, I felt that my walk was complete. The Iron Cross was like the end of the pilgrimage but of course it was not. At the Cross I felt a lot of emotion. A lot of loss and a lot of anguish. I was aware that I was leaving something behind. I tossed my stone on the mound and spent a lot of time in reflection. As I walked away, I truly had left some memories of the past and past relationships behind. There was no other day on the Camino where I felt so much emotion. I felt my arrival at the Cross was the end, and a new beginning. I cannot explain it more clearly. I had met others that found the Cruz de Ferro a significant place for them on their Camino.
This morning I met up with some Brits soon after Molinaseca. At a cafe in La Borrecca, many had stopped for their morning coffee. There was Alice and Francois from England, and an Ozzie guy from Maroubra, Australia. Francois, from Lewis, near Brighton, was a photographer amongst other things. An interesting guy, he was totally absorbed with the Camino.
As we left the cafe Valentin and his horse Cameron arrived. I had met Valentin a long time ago in Puente la Reina and it was good to catch up.
In Ponferrada, there was a Medieval festival about to commence. We were early so did not wait for it to start two hours later. We all walked together through Ponferrada. It was always necessary to cover the kilometres before the heat became too much. I bought some bread at one of the few shops that were open. It was Sunday, and all was quiet.
Outside the still sleeping town of Ponferrada, the Way passed through Compostilla which appeared to be a military or police base interspersed with ancient buildings and a variety of intriguing statues. There were statues of the Virgin Mary and Saint James, and some ancient kings I did not recognise.
In Camponaraya we stopped for a drink at a small bar. Hunting around, all the shops were closed. Luckily I had the bread so had to make do with the basics. There was a road-side stall selling fresh oranges for €1 each. I objected at the blatant rip-off. There were only a few examples of pilgrims being taken advantage of however it did happen. As Santiago grew closer, and the number of walkers increased, there were more and more people trying to make a living from the humble pilgrim. To be expected I suppose in the world we live in today.
The Camino soon wound down into a small valley through fragrant trees and vineyards. There was a small stream amongst some trees where I rested for a while. The peace was remarkable and it was a welcome stop after the long walk through Ponferrada. Soon after I saw a lady behind me dressed all in white. She had a sun brolly to protect her from the now searing sun. I stopped and waited until she caught up. Gabbi was from Germany and had set off from her home town with her immaculate white track suit and trolley. She was ecstatically happy and recited some poetry. I could not help but be impressed by her journey. She composed poetry along the way taking her inspiration from the Camino and the Pilgrims along its length. She would stop at the next village of Cacabelos.
In Cacabelos I had a well deserved beer with Francois, Alice and the ‘Man from Maroubra’. They were also staying the night in town, but I felt there were more kilometres do cover today. While they went off to the albergue, I lay by a wide river and slept for a while. The two Serenas were there asleep in the shade of a large tree. I did not disturb them hoping to speak to them later. I had the most amazing swim in the river. It was a pleasure to wash off the dirt and dust in the cool water that flowed from the distant mountains to the South.
Refreshed and ready to continue, I passed the albergue on the way out of town. There were cabins in the ground of a church that served as a stopover for pilgrims. It did not appeal to me that much. I was ready to continue.
Not long after the Way diverted from the road again and into the more pleasant vineyards. It was late afternoon when I arrived at the tiny hamlet of Valtuille de Arriba. There were only a couple of cafes and I stopped at one to speak to the elderly couple who ran it. They enticed me to sample some local wine from the very vines I had been walking through. I bought a bottle and continued on passing through more wonderful vineyards of Bierzo.
By now the light was fantastic. I sat for a while and admired the views before taking many photographs. I put down the sleeping mat. The peace and silence was wonderful as I relaxed in the vineyard listening to the sounds of the warm afternoon. I was really experiencing and enjoying the simple peace that can be found on this fantastic walk.
There was a stone with a pile of fresh cherries placed in the middle. I could not understand how they had come to be there as there was no one around and the stone was quite a distance from the track. So, maybe meant for me, I ate the lot. Another hour passed in the vineyards as I took a short dreamy siesta. Taking what I did from the cherry offering, I looked around to replace the cherries I had devoured. There were no cherry trees anywhere in the area.
It was almost dark when I started walking again and soon arrived in the town of Villafranca del Bierzo, the ‘capital’ of this former Galician area. I supposed I must have arrived there at about 11 pm and surprisingly bumped into Serena and Serena in the centre. They had just finished eating and, like me, wanted to continue walking. Not knowing where we were going, we followed the road and tramped on into the night. The Way followed a small confined valley with a motorway high above. Being so late the motorway was empty. We only had the light from my small head torch.
Five kilometres later we found the small village of Pereje. We were all very tired by now and looked around for a suitable place to put down the sleeping bags. After trampling around the village and walking lost over a few gardens, we returned to an exposed cafe terrace and set out the sleeping mats and bags. It was 2am. As we settled for the night the cafe owner opened a window, obviously hearing the commotion, and simply said ‘Good Night’. Deep sleep followed after a few chats and some laughter concerning our unusual albergue for the night.