Day 23 – Ponferrada
I joined Peter, Morag, and Keith for a morning coffee and then Keith and I waited outside and admired the hazy blue landscape. The sky moved onto a lighter shade of blue, but the mist and rain persisted. Foncebadon had a strange feel this morning, somewhat surreal. Peter and Morag joined us and we headed off. I was eager to get to the first stop of the day, the Cruz de Ferro. I have been carrying four small stones from home for Sandy, Kieran, Aleksander, and myself that I intended to lay at the cross.
The cross seemed to materialize out of the mist in the distance and I picked up my pace a bit. I did not expect that the act of placing the stones there with the scores of others would be such an emotional thing, but it was. I thought of my family; how much I missed them, how important they are to me, and how incredibly good they have been about me following my dream to Santiago and Finisterre. Their support is what keeps me going.
Keith and I walked on to Ernmita de Santiago. We took a short breather and then headed on to Manjarin. We encountered some cows along the way, gave them greetings, and took some pictures. We then came upon Thomas the Templar’s albergue. It was a riot of colour and knick-knacks – Sandy would have loved it. Thomas has coffee and biscuits available for Pilgrims and he sells templar t-shirts and stuff. I met Alex there and we chatted for a few minutes before I had to move on. There was also a cute little cat sneaking about.
Shortly after Manjarin, Keith and I came across Danny. She joined us and the three of us headed off to the some food at El Acebo. Keith was not feeling well and needed to get some food. We followed the path downhill into the wet road into El Acebo and found the café on the left. It was packed. The proprietors had everyone put their packs to one side in a huge pile. We were lucky to score a small table. We got our food – tortilla and café con leche – and rested our weary selves. Keith in particular looked haggard and he considered stopping in town for the day. Danny offered him some herbal pills that are much like having a Red Bull or two with extras. By this point Peter and Morag and arrived and we had found a larger table. I then had enough time for second café con leche! After a bit Keith decided that he would go on. Good news indeed!
We walked on to Riego de Ambros. Along the way, we encountered a very large flock of sheep and goats tended by a shepherd and a couple dogs. They were running all around us, it was kind of fun. We entered the town itself and stopped for some water in its tiny but pretty plaza. The entire town is pretty and it was like a storybook. I liked it.
The next section of the Camino is reputed to one of its most beautiful. I completely agree. Leaving Riego de Ambros we entered a wonderful, wooded narrow valley with some switch backs and lovely little quiet spots of shady green and brooks. The trail then leads through to the other side of the valley and started climbing slowly. On this section, the right side is a sea of wildflowers and the left offers a wonderful view of your day’s travel; a widened valley and the mountain range beyond. We searched the distance across the valley and spotted El Acebo, and the path leading back to Foncebadon.
At Molinesca, Keith, Danny, and I stopped for come cerveza and snacks. Keith chatted with some pilgrims at another table and we listened to 80’s rock and enjoyed the nice cool bar as it had warmed up outside. Peter and Morag joined us, and we moved outside to sit at the street tables, and a cat came for a visit.
We headed off to Ponferrada. The weather was warm and sunny. I guided Peter for a while to give Morag a break. Peter and I chatted as we walked through some lovely wine country. It was a pleasant afternoon. However, we were all tired by the time we arrived at Ponferrada. We crossed the busy bridge, and the sound of traffic was loud after the lovely quiet walk we had.
We waited in line to register ourselves and a volunteer worked through the line giving shoulder rubs to people that wanted them. There was also a volunteer tending to peoples’ feet. I found my bunk and was a bit alarmed; it was quite narrow and has no side on the top bunk. I wondered how I’d sleep tonight and if I’d fall the six feet to the concrete floor at some point. Oh, well. Wait and see.
I did some laundry and then sat on the shaded patio for while with a cerveza that I bought from the vending machine. Have I mentioned that I love Spain? I noticed the Embroider was sitting quietly stitching Ponferada on her sweater; I nodded and she quietly returned my smile with one of her own.
Finally, a group of us (Keith, Danny, Peter, Morag, Petra, Sarah, and Irwin and a couple of others whose names unfortunately have escaped me) went in search of the Templar fortress. However, there was only partial success; we found it but it was closed for the day. So, we walked around it in awe and then hunger grabbed us and we went in search of some food.
We followed the streets through a series of small plazas until we found a place that promised gourmet pizzas made on the spot (not like the frozen ones we had in Sahagun). The pizzas were very tasty and the wine was good. The one sad part was Sarah announced that she couldn’t continue and she was flying home the next morning. I felt very sad for her, but I hope that once she recovers she can come back and complete her Way.
I called Sandy and talked with the kids for a few moments as well.
Once we were back in the albergue I read for a while, tried to use the Internet (unsuccessfully), and after finishing this entry I hope to sleep without falling from my bunk. Good night.
Soundscape: Goats and Sheep
Soundscape: Walking in the Wind