DAY 25: June 27th, 2014. Villafranca del Bierzo – O Cebreiro, 28.4 km
Today was the day everybody talked about, the toughest of the whole Camino: the hike to O Cebreiro. We are walking 28 km uphill today, going from the 630 mt in Vega de Valcarce to the 1330 mt in O Cebreiro.
I am feeling great, and neither my knee nor my feet hurt. My toughest days are over.
Why the easy way? We take the alternative route uphill from the very beginning, climbing 4 extra kilometers in the mountains.
It was amazing: the path was great and the views breathtaking. I mainly walked alone. I had a lot of energy and just wanted to keep on moving. We stopped for a sandwich in a village downhill.
There was a very interesting house, clearly abandoned, full of interesting statues and objects. I asked about it to an old lady wearing a long skirt and a foulard on her hair, like old ladies in this area traditionally do, but she couldn’t give me much information. The only thing I found out was that the old house belonged to two brothers who are now both in a retirement house.
We kept on moving. Dziewczynka (this is how I started to call Joanna, which means “young girl” in Polish) was nervous and eager to reach our destination for the day. Today she would receive the results of her final exams, which needed to be at least of 95% in order for her to be admitted at the university she wanted in London.
I am getting quite fond of this young girl. Asia (her nickname in Polish) walks in quiet, her short hair moving at the rhythm of her hiking sticks. Her little blue eyes are always shining and her lips are always stretched in a smile. I look at her walking and think how mature this 18-year-old girl is. It looks as if she was keeping a mysterious secret to happiness, and still I feel this need to protect her.
We made our last stop in Las Herrerías, where we had a couple of beers listening to Melendi singing from the radio. Then, the 700 mt climb.
It was beautiful. Most of the way, we hiked in some kind of Shakespearian Midsummer Night’s Dream, and I wouldn’t have been surprised had some fairies shown up in a cloud of magic dust.
It was a hard climb, but definitely not the hardest day for me. I felt good, surrounded by green hills and a few cows.
We were alone on the way, except for two guys (twins?) we saw taking out their sleeping bags and getting ready for a night under the stars. They made me jealous, and I would have loved to do that as well, but nights are cold and rainy here in Galicia. Oh, right, because we are in Galicia now!
It is really the last part of the Camino, and there are only a few days left to Santiago. On one side I am eager to arrive, but at the same time I wish I never did, as it would mean the end of what is becoming the most meaningful experience in my life.
We arrived as late as 8 PM, and the only albergue in the village was full. Considering the time we arrived, we kind of expected that, but it sucked anyway. So, after being greeted from our friends who had reached the place way earlier, Nathan, Asia, Diego, Juju, and I started looking for another place.
We ended up in a Mesón, sharing two rooms among the five of us for 20 euros each. It was actually pretty awesome to finally be able to sleep in a normal bed with normal sheets (I shared the double with Asia while Juju took the single one; Diego and Nate shared another room), and to take a decent shower.
Kieran, Houliane and Carlijn were so nice as to buy some wine and snacks, and we had a small party in the room. It was a pleasant evening, and it was a pity that the guys had to go back to their albergue that, as usual, closed its doors at 10 PM.
Tomorrow we want to walk 40 km to Sarrià. Last week I couldn’t walk 30, but now I feel good and confident I can do it.
DAY 26: June 28th, 2014. O Cebreiro – Triacastela, 21.10 km
We started to walk early after a quick round of café con leche, té verde and Colacaos. And then, it started to rain.
It was not just raining: it was pouring. The rain was hitting my glasses really strongly, and I couldn’t see anything. I was glad when we found Linares, the first village on the way, and stopped to have a hot cup of tea with tostadas.
I can only imagine that the landscape was beautiful, because it was so foggy I could barely see the person walking before me. A bronze statue represents a pilgrim battling storms and rain. Holding his hat to prevent it from flying away, he looks just like a bigger version of us, all wrapped in our colorful raincoats.
I started to walk really fast, but the rain was dropping so heavily that we had to stop again in Hospital de la Condesa.
I was soaking wet. I squeezed my socks and a brown waterfall came out. I changed them, but the new ones got wet after the first meters of walking.
There was no way we could hike the 40 km we agreed on yesterday, so we discussed what to do. Many pilgrims just stayed here in Hospital, but we decided to give it a go and walk until Triacastela.
I didn’t mind walking under the rain. It’s quite a different and interesting walk, which is a good change from the burning sun on the endless wheat fields in Castilla y León.
But truth was that it was also very uncomfortable: I felt as if I had dozens of frogs inside my hiking boots, my trousers were sticking to my legs and even my underwear was completely wet.
I gave my stick to Houliane who was having serious trouble walking in her Crocs. We were hiking downhill and my knee started to hurt again, so that I arrived in Triacastela really sore.
We stayed at the Complexo Xacobeo and got a room just for our crew. This time I literally ran into the shower. The burning water hitting my cold skin felt amazing.
I borrowed the alberguera’s hairdryer to dry both my hair and boots. I was freezing. My phone was completely wet as well, and I tried to save it by putting it in a bowl full of rice, then just hoped for the best.
Once we all got clean and dry, we shared a lovely lunch at the restaurant next to the albergue, after which I just died in bed and woke up three hours later.
I woke up with a delicious smell: Jasper had cooked some amazing chickpeas, onion and carrot fritters and Juju a fresh salad with pumpkin seeds. We all shared food and drinks in the cozy kitchen of the albergue and got to know each other some more.
We started to call us “The Camino Crew”, but it feels way more like a family. We are getting to know each other pretty well, sharing some deep conversation about our past, present and future.
There are now 12 of us, coming from 10 different countries. Diego and me are from Italy, Juju and Asia from Poland, Nora from Hungary, Car from the Netherlands, Houli from France, Nate from Australia, Kieran from New Zealand, Jasper from Germany, José from Spain, and Denise from Brazil.
Our ages are between 18 and 59. Some of us are students, other workers. Some are unemployed and someone is retired. Some are very religious, other atheists. But we are all pilgrims walking the same long path, guided by some kind of faith, whether it is in God, Mother Nature or just ourselves.
These are the people I am getting to know day by day, the people who are making my Camino a truly unforgettable and unique experience. And when I go to sleep after a long day of hiking, I can’t help but smile at José’s heavy snoring that echoes all over the dorm.