El Ganso ➡ Molinaseca ➡ Villafranca del Bierzo
Day 25 dawned, unfortunately wet and cold. We would not get a stunning sunrise at the top of the coming hill as we had hoped. Royce served plates of steaming porridge to our bleary-eyed companions while we finished packing our things into our bags in the small stone kitchen/dining room. caffeine roaring into our veins, we doned jackets and ponchos already ripped from the whipping wind catching and tearing the fragile plastic. Out the door the temperature sent a shock through me and I hurried for into the darkness wanting to get my body moving to warm myself.
The path was laced with mist. The climb up the hillside reminded me of Ireland, the green isle we had spent time in almost a year previous. The rocky outcroppings split apart by lush, green vegetation that dripped with condensation. We had truly left the dessert behind. our shoes crunching on shale and stones as we climbed steadily up the misty hillside.
The mist was startlingly cold, and we were frozen when we reached Foncebadon the small village before Cruz de Ferro the marking point for today’s trek. As we made our way through the fog, we blessedly found a small cafe on the cobbled street and the door tinkled softly as we walked inside for a hot drink. The cafe had a small shop attached to it as well, which we stocked up on snacks, and Victoria brought herself some gloves for the biting cold outside. The cozy wooden interior of the cafe quickly filled with backpack clad pilgrims, many like Cormick looked…. Fresh. We had entered the stage of the journey where many people went on “Camino experience” walks to see the highlights. Or like Cormick had time constraints so only walked this last stretch.
We pushed our way out of the crowd of cold pilgrims to the door, making room for the people packing themselves into the warm space. The cold hit me again like a jolt, making my cheeks sting. I rubbed my hands together in front of me, blowing on them in vain attempt to transfer some heat. The others filed out, and we carried on up the cobbled slope.
The cross rose out of the mist on a towering mound of stones, small trinkets and bits of ribbon scattered the base. Photographs and prayers scrawled on stones that thread their way to the small mound on the edge of our track. The cross point was nondescript. A small wooden fence lay to my right fencing off a small house structure some metres away, where we saw two small tents erect in the damp air. The cross itself was busy, many people taking photos and a few standing to the side with their small stones looking contemplative or sad.
Cruz de Ferro is one of the highest points on the Camino, and though there are crosses all along the Camino route, this cross is a marker. It is the place you carry all your sadness, fears, worry, pain and loss to. All your thoughts embedded in the stone you have carried since the beginning of your journey. I carried a small stone of quartz from England, Royce a small stone from France. I thought of all the pain I had endured along the trip as I stared at the small stone in my hand. The tears and frustration, the fear I might not be able to make it to the end. And yet, here i was. The joys of new friends and the stark reality I may never see some of them again. I closed my fist around the stone, a tear slipping down my face as the overwhelming emotions of the trip threated to overwhelm me. I laid the stone down in the pile and imagined all my pain, fears and frustrations being placed down with it. Sanding I felt lighter, I swiped the tear from my face and hurried to join the others making their way further along the track.
The rest of the day the mist slowly cleared by mid afternoon as we ascended and the defended the landscape. stark stunning views laid out before us as we wove our way downward again, it was breath-taking and like nothing we had seen since the first day through the Pyrenees mountain. My heart ached. It looked like home. We walked and walked and walked, racking up 32kms by the end of the day where we fell into beds in the albergue in Molinaseca, my knee and ankle throbbing and my body totally exhausted.
The following morning I awoke with a strong desire not to be awake, let alone getting up. My ankle throbbed. I got up anyway and went to make porridge for breakfast. The kitchen was outside and poorly equipped, and we found ourselves sharing our breakfast with two feline guests. Two very friendly cats tried to force their way into Royce’s bowl while he was eating! They were quite certain they were going to have some porridge as well. The felines in the area were so friendly that as we set off for the day we had a follower, a small cat.Barely more than a kitten followed us up the road. We had to shoo it off in case we inadvertently got it lost. This is actually a very real problem for people who live on the Camino route. Dogs especially follow pilgrims that have stopped to pet them and can and do get lost. It is VERY important not to let animals on the path follow you!
We walked through the morning to the city of Ponferrada. Ponferrada is the last major stop on the Camino Frances route before Santiago and is the second largest city in the province of Leon, after Leon itself. The city is famous for Castillo de los Templarios a Templar it is Romanesque in design and has a large drawbridge and moat surrounding the outling walls. There is also UNESCO world heritage sight; Roman gold mines, situated only a few kilometres from the city. El Morredero peak in the Aquilianos mountains, which hosts a small ski resort is only 20kms from the city as well. Even if you are not walking the way of St James Ponferrada is a great place to see if you are in northern Spain.
Unfortunately for us we didn’t have time to stop and explore the city proper, but instead met up again with Cormick and Victoria. (Who had kept walking the day before to catch their friend getting into the city.) Their friend; Kristen was joining Victoria for the last section of the Camino as Cormick had to go back to Ireland for work.
Making our way through the city seemed to take an age with all the winding streets, I was grateful to get back into the countryside and the sight of fruit trees littering the roadside. The path would along the roadside and back into grapevines, which we had not seen for since the Maseta. The vegetation was lush, but the colours were bleeding into orange and gold, autumn was spreading its way through the landscape. We came across a pilgrim stop with a beautiful dog that only liked women and his owner in amongst the trees, relishing the momentary shade. As the afternoon wore on, we sampled roadside pears as we made our way to Villafranca del Bierzo and the municiple albergue. we caught up with pilgrims we had not seen since the beginning of the trip and after a long day of 32 kilometres of walking again fell exhausted into our beds.
Thanks for tuning in, hope you are enjoying the Camino diaries. it is nearing the end! Only one more week of walking to share with you. Stay tuned for Royce and my detour on day 27. Don’t forget to hit the like button, subscribe and if you want ot know what else we are up to go check out Insta! until next time go get out the gate and get adventuring!