Serena, Serena and I woke early on the terrace of our makeshift outside ‘albergue’. It had been a cold night but we survived! It was not yet light as the man from the cafe arrived to open up. We thought it best to pack up quickly. Were we in trouble? He simply said ‘Good Morning’. As we packed up, two of the local Civil Guards arrived for their morning coffee. Now we were really in trouble. Visions of being marched to the local police station filled our minds but no – a kind ‘Good Morning’ followed. It was although it was perfectly normal to sleep on the terrace of the cafe!
After quietly going inside we had some coffees and cakes before setting off. We all put a stamp in the Credencial as proof of our ‘different’ night of accommodation on the Camino. It had to be done! We were near the top of the long valley and it was not long before the sun rose to show us the way. Without notice one Serena said ‘How you live the Camino is how you live your life’. It took me aback and I thought about her words for a very long time.
I had developed a new blister again on top of another blister. I was walking slowly. It was probably due to the huge number of kilometres I had completed the day before. I decided to slow down and stop. The two Serenas continued on their way. I was sure I would see them again soon. Our pace was similar. I stopped in the small village of Trabadelo at a cafe. I cleaned the left foot and dressed the new blister on the heel. While I was doing so Bernard and Pascal arrived. I had not seen them for quite a while and it was good to meet up again. They went on at a faster pace than me after I told them about my blister handicap. I was hobbling slowly and did not want to delay them.
The Way followed the old main road. The motorway was still there and the old road was relatively empty. There was a succession of small villages with little activity. The architecture was a little different now – it was not far to the border with Galicia. Occasionally I heard a different language from the some locals in the small villages. Galician writing on posters and shops was more like Portuguese. I was running low on cash so made a point of looking out for a cash machine. Did I find one? No I did not. I had €12 left.
At the village of Hospital it was now very hot. I stopped for a cold drink. I could not see where the Way went. Ahead was only a steep wall of mountains covered in forest. There was a fountain fed by the small river. I soaked myself with the cool clean water. Covering my clothes and hat with the cold water, I drank at least a litre of the cold liquid.
What followed was a surprise and a struggle. The Way suddenly climbed up the hillside at an incredible angle. It was the steepest ascent since the Pyrenees and exhausting in the heat of mid-afternoon. Many were walking slowly, many were stopping to rest, sweating and panting with the challenge of the climb. For a lot of Pilgrims, this was the first few days of their walk. Villafranca del Bierzo was a popular starting point for many. They did not yet have the fitness of those who had been walking for many days or many weeks.
At La Faba there was a small shop where everyone stopped to catch their breath and comment on just how difficult the climb had been. More water was drunk in the shade of the grand old trees surrounding the village. We soon discovered that the climb was not yet over. It was over an hour and a half of steady steep climbing before the next stop. The track was very rough with large rocks and a dangerously loose surface. It was not easy walking. I met an elderly lady with her bicycle that I had met many days before in Granon. She had been advised by the Police to take this route and was cursing their advice! It was not at all suitable for a bicycle or indeed any elderly pilgrim.
I stopped at La Laguna. The light was fresh and intense as only light at this altitude can be. It was about 1000m above sea level. In the cafe the music was different. I asked the staff and they explained that it was Galician music by a group called ‘Milladoiro‘. It took me back to Scotland as the melodies were similar and there were bagpipes mixed with Celtic rhythms. I stayed a while reflecting on how much I felt at home … yet I was so far from home. It was such a surreal experience to feel like that in a country I knew so little about.
The Way continued upwards once more until, after another hour or so, the summit was reached. The view from the top was magnificent. At that ridge I had arrived in Galicia. Straddling the border and looking back in wonder from where I had come and ahead into the mystical land of Galicia. This would be the beginning of the final stretch to Santiago de Compostela. I was filled with an immense feeling of satisfaction that so many kilometres had been covered and that the goal was now so close. Santiago was only five or so days away.
The village of O Cebreiro was fascinating with many ancient pallozas, traditional thatch covered buildings. I met Deirdré again and she lent me €20 without me asking and without a moments hesitation. I could eat that night! I would pay her back later. I just managed to get one of the last of the beds in the albergue. Life was perfect.