Day 33 – 19th October 2015, Molinaseca to Ponferrada.
Its about time for another nerdy fact alert, don’t you think? According to my trusty Brierley Camino guide book, Molinaseca lies at a point 214 km or 133 miles from Santiago de Compostela. This means I have walked about 562 km or 349 miles already. No wonder my knees and ankle joints were a bit knackered!
The day dawned, but not bright and clear, unfortunately. No, I peeked through the curtain and saw that the sky cried inconsolably. On with the rain gear, yet again what joy I thought, and I knew that it would rain on the inside of my jacket! It was going to be a soggy morning. Roisin and I ambled towards the edge of town to meet Fiona at the albergue Santa Marina, only for us all to schlepp back into town in search of a good breakfast! Such is the way at times. I did not relish the thought of having to slosh my way along the Camino but I felt a compulsion to keep on going.
After the usual pilgrim breakfast (devoid of anything healthy, except the orange juice), we pressed on, through the torrential rain along the trail, which took us up a long, low incline out of Molinaseca adjacent to the main road. Fiona and I were shattered, so we paced ourselves. Roisin decided to walk bravely on ahead. We kept our spirits going by offering words of encouragement and the odd joke as we walked along. At the ‘option’ point a couple of kilometres out of town, we turned left to take the trail through Campo. The rain continued to lash into my face and run down the back of my neck, sending a cascade of shivers up and down my spine. By the time we reached Campo, a nondescript sort of place, we had decided to make for Ponferrada, (which means Iron Bridge) and stay there, instead of battling with the weather. The roundabout way of approaching the town took ages though and I was becoming more bedraggled and sodden by the second. Moist doesn’t cover it!
Eventually, Fiona and I reached the edge of town, its imposing Castillo de los Templarios and church towers loomed somewhat ominously through the greyness. We crossed over a bridge, the Puente Mascaron and veered round to the right to find an albergue. We clicked along, seeking out the makeshift arrows pointing towards albergue Alea, a relatively new and small establishment. We traipsed around in the rain and got to the front door but sadly it was shut and nobody answered the phone. What to do now? Damp, freezing and not too far from two drowned rats in appearance, we shuffled back into the centre and popped into a bar to warm up a bit. My stomach alien cried out for a second breakfast, even though we had only managed to about seven or eight kilometres. The lovely lady behind the bar gave us free orange juice and cake along with the cafe con leches we had ordered. What a wonderful and generous blessing! Aha the world is a nice place again…
Fiona and I had a mini-conflab about where we should go next to find somewhere to stay. Neither one of us could face staying in the large, main albergues, because we thought they would be too noisy and hectic. Thank heavens for wifi and booking.com, Fiona soon found a great deal at the Hostal Virgen de la Encina, right in city centre and luckily, the route to it didn’t take us too long. Hurray! We could be warm and dry soon. Showered, changed, and unpacked, I hung my soggy clothes up to dry and put the air con on full blast. Fiona and I ventured out to explore the medieval sites, cradled within the oldest quarter of the city. Surprisingly, we actually found a church that was open at that time of day! The Basilica de la Encina beckoned to us across the square. A creepy looking guy leant against the doorframe and stared intensely at us, when we entered. I murmured a cheery ‘Buenas Dias’ and stepped round him. I sat for a few moments on one of the pews, to absorb the peace and tranquillity but couldn’t focus.
The Castillo de los Templarios, built in the 12th century, dominates the skyline. Apparently Ponferrada came under the Protectorate of the Templar Order way back in 1178, decreed by King Fernando II, but just over a hundred years later, the Order was disbanded by the Church. Although, this building is an obvious choice for sight-seeing, Fiona and I did not feel the pull of the Templar history towards the exhibition centre and museum. On the few occasions, I have encountered buildings steeped in Knights Templar history, I have detected an uneasy sense in my spirit and didn’t want to feel melancholy today. Instead, we opted for some delicious, warming and comforting hot chocolate in a joyful cafe as a perfect excuse to step out of the rain.
On the way back to the Hostal, we stopped briefly at the bank to withdraw some cash for the next leg of our journey. Unfortunately, when we arrived in reception, Fiona realised she had mislaid her bank card. We retraced our steps to look for it but couldn’t find it anywhere. The bank had closed by then. The really puzzling thing for both of us was that I had stood right next to her at the cash machine and could have sworn I saw her retrieve her card and put it safely away. Were our minds playing tricks on us? i.e. were we so tired or perhaps distracted to not notice what happened? Thankfully Fiona carried another card with her, which was a relief. We decided to go back to the bank in the morning to see if it was there.
Ponferrada looked a tad grim in the fading light of dusk. We had wondered around to search for somewhere warm and cosy for dinner and were not that inspired. We settled on the Hostal los Templarios, tempted by the pilgrim menu, which had one or two local dishes on it. What a con! Similar to the rude service Alan and I experienced in Restaurant Bonfin in Burgos, the waiter (also the bartender) behaved indifferently towards us and even blatantly lied about the dishes. Fiona’s first course was supposed to contain the famous, thick pork sausage called the botillo but there was not a sausage in sight and as for my cheesecake, well it was cleverly masquerading as another staple of pilgrim meals, the ‘flan’ or more commonly known outside of the Camino as ‘creme caramel’. When challenged, the waiter argued til he was blue in the face in a manner worthy of a Fawlty Towers sketch. Don’t mention the botillo…
Day 34 – 20th October 2015, Ponferrada to Cacabelos.
The next day proved to be better weather wise. Fiona and I breakfasted in our Hostal and packed up, ready to go. We retraced our steps back to the bank, once again, and miracle of miracle, some kind soul had handed in Fiona’s debit card to the cashier. Jubilant, we popped across to the supermarket to stock up on trail snacks. However, when we returned to the Hostal to pick up our packs, the weirdest thing happened. Fiona discovered her credit card was missing. We retraced our steps again but to no avail. This was completely bizarre. How could this happen twice in a row, virtually in the same place, or so we thought? Was this just a strange coincidence, or were our minds constructing ‘false memories’? Or was there a wrinkle in the space time continuum? Who knows…?
What is certain is that we were very grateful for the honest lady, who handed Fiona’s card in earlier on and a bit gobsmacked that another card was lost! This Ponferrada puzzle served to focus our minds on trust. Trust in the Camino, that our needs will be provided for even when we meet obstacles in our path and trust that we came to walk the Camino for a purpose and we, therefore, would not be deflected from our goals. I reflected on these interesting turn of events, when we walked down the steps on our way out of the city and across the iron bridge that gives Ponferrada its name.
The sun shone brightly in a vast sky of calming, cobalt blue. It is days like these, which gave me a spring in my step and put a smile on my face. I really love walking into the sunlight! The path out of Ponferrada forged through some pretty villages and passed by ancient and picturesque hermitages and churches, decorated with murals. We stopped for a picnic lunch in Columbrianos and sat on a park bench in full sun, next to one of these churches. I enjoyed watching the world go by, including the straggly line of pilgrims in colourful clothing, click clacking down the street.
A couple of kilometres later we came to the parish church in Fuente Nuevas, which was actually open! Not to miss this rare opportunity, we took our packs off and leant them against the old stone wall and received our pilgrim stamps from a lady sitting at a table by the door. She welcomed us inside. How lovely, to spend some quiet moments in reverence and meditation. I lit a candle and walked around, admiring the artistry of the friezes on the walls and ceiling of a side chapel. On our way out we literally bumped in to Aussie Richard on his way in, who we had last seen in Leon.
Soon we were out on the trail again, exploring the wonders of the magnificent Bierzo region. Here, the countryside adorned in an array of Autumn hues was truly stunning. Ribbons of red and gold vines, decorated the rolling hills. The gravel Camino pathway gently undulated between the vineyards and through copses of graceful trees, their bright gold and green leaves, whispered in the soft breeze. Aaahhh what bliss. A choir of birds serenaded our peregrina stroll in a manner worthy of making Disney’s Snow White envious (and I wondered whether they would help with the laundry later on…where are hardworking woodland animals when you need them?)
Hands up those of you, who have walked towards Cacabelos and thought the local authorities and businesses have gone just a teensy-weensy bit over the top with their advertising? I mean, it is like they were waiting for spaceships to land or something. Could this be Spain’s equivalent of Area 51? I’m sure you could see the series of billboards, stacked up and resembling over-sized dominoes, from outer space! Of course, it is all about Pilgrim brainwashing, but hardly subliminal messaging, torturing us with enticing pictures of spa treatments, hot tubs and five star luxury rooms….sigh.
Needless to say, we ignored the luxury pads and ambled on down the main street, over the bridge over the Rio Cua and headed for an albergue with a difference. The municipal albergue in Las Angustias has an unusual design, consisting of a large semi-circular collection of wooden chalets set within the courtyard of a church. For five euros per person, Fiona and I got a chalet each. The showers and loos were spotless and there were plenty of laundry facilities, including multiple clothes airers (…but, alas, still no woodland animals to give a helping paw or wing). Why is this important? Well it prevents a Rugby scrum to bag the last few spaces on the clothes lines that often happens in albergues!
I collected my very own clothes airer, a short while later and engaged in the laundry dance. Reminiscent of a Downton Abbey waltz, this involved crab walking from side to side, and gliding forward and backwards, carrying the clothes airer in hand, so carefully, to avoid dropping the delicates, while following the suns rays around as the shadows lengthened across the courtyard.
We spotted some familiar faces. Canadians, Chris and Charlotte were also in the house. Talking of clothes, Charlotte, Fiona, Chris and I had fun putting on an impromptu catwalk in the courtyard, modelling the latest seasonal trends for the discerning pilgrim. Before you ask, no I haven’t got photographic evidence of this I’m afraid!
As the sun, sank behind the billboard dominoes on the edge of Cacabelos, our happy band of four went out on the town, back over the bridge and came to the comforting Cafe Aitor. Here the Maitre D treated us like royalty and after we ordered a round of pizzas, he treated us to hors d’oevres, pudding and dessert wine on the house!
The journey continues…
Peace, love and light,