I wasn’t looking forward to today’s walk because right at the start there was a “large” city to walk through – Ponferrada. Cities are hard on the feet, each city has it’s unique way of marking the camino that you have to figure out, the transition points are usually badly marked, there are noisy boring parts, and you have to watch for cars. While eating breakfast we were blasted with frigid air every time someone went outside. There was still frost on the ground when I left (well layered with my warmest clothes) well after day-break.
Not to worry. The morning walk was beautiful and invigorating, the sky a glorious blue. The approach into (and out of) the city was through small houses with large truck gardens and chickens, and suddenly there were lots of fruit and nut trees, though at first the branches overhanging the camino were devoid of fruit. I met a Leonese couple carrying a beautiful cluster of grapes and we walked together a while, discussing the bounty of the camino.
In Ponferrada we watched as a small white truck drove up the street. The woman driver would beep her horn (a rather rude, jarring noise in the otherwise peaceful street), jump out, run to a door, jump back into her truck and do it all over again. I finally realized she was delivering single loaves of bread to each of the houses.
We passed women washing their upstairs windows, beating their carpets over their upstairs balconies. To our “buenos días” came the response “tengo frio!”
Suddenly the bread truck stopped to sell a single demi-baguette to a woman on the sidewalk in front of me. I asked if the bread was hot, and she pulled out a warm loaf that I purchased, which was delicious, in addition to warming my hands.
Crossing a bridge brought us into the old part of town. We rounded a corner and came upon the most amazing castle. It looks exactly like what you would expect a huge defensive castle on a hill to look like: moat area, drawbridge entrance, multi tiers of slitted defensive walls, towers. And closed. While I was contemplating it and the impossibly blue sky, Nando came up and gave me a big hug! Then Eduardo! The three of us and Veera sat at a nearby cafe, had a coffee and caught up on recent adventures, and special places on yesterday’s glorious route.
Just as we were putting our packs on to continue, a passerby said the castle would open in 5 minutes.
Spent the next few hours – playing! Places to hide and seek, exploring an even older castle tucked in one corner with sprial stairs, rooms with light pouring in though windows in the thick stone walls, the remains of what looked like a knight’s templar harvest fest of the night before. It was nearly 1pm when we left. I felt totally satisfied in a carefree, childlike way – and marveled at it and relished it. Finally warm enough to shed the long underwear and fleece pullover.
Walked through suburbs, including one with straight, numbered streets and sidewalks! Threaded our way through a few apartment complexes. Passed a little church; exterior walls gloriously painted in bright murals of the seasons, music illuminated manuscript style – until at last we reemerged in another area of huge truck gardens. A lot of people were out harvesting red peppers. I imagine because of the frost. Also passed people working strawy cow manure into cleared fields. (With related strong scents!)
A couple hours later, in the tiny town of Fuentes Nuevas we stopped at the Taberna Mateo (“hay limonada”). We sat at a shaded street side table and ordered salads for lunch, which we suplemented with the remaining lovely roasted red peppers in oil. Full but chilled at the end of the lunch the four of us ordered cups of hot tea with lemon, and went to sit on rocks in the sun across the street to drink it. A minute later the waitress came across the street with a saucer on which there was a small coconut cookie for each of us. Warmed inside and out in multiple ways we contentedly continued.
Gradually the gardens gave way to beautiful vineyards, whose grapes were made into wine by the local Bierzo wine cooperative. The winery offered pilgrims a free glass of wine under the sign – ‘con pan y vino se ande el camino’ – a phrase I first heard at dinner in Obanos as a toast by Angelo. Here you supply the bread. There we met Zoë, an Irish woman from Cork who continued on with us.
It was getting to evening now and the last couple of miles was through beautifully lit hills covered with vineyards. Visually the most satisfying part of the day.
Finally arrived at Villafranca del Bierzo. Nando and Eduardo saw Lilo and Irene and stopped at the municipal. Veera, Zoë and I continued to the Ave Fenix, which promised a communal meal. Only about ten pilgrims here, but among them 3 familiar faces, including Antonio, the French speaking Italian from dinner at San Nicolás, Deslie, an Austalian met yesterday at the albergue in Monlinaseca, and Roberta, a lively, friendly, redheaded Brazilian. There were also two other Italians – Eugenio and Roberto, and Roberta proved that when speaking Portuguese with an Italian accent, it could be understood by Italians! Dinner included lots of veggies, and we all talked together until well after 10. At which point we dashed across the freezing courtyard to our rooms. Very nippy tonight. Am toasty curled inside my bag and covered with a warm blanket.
16 Oct 2009