Camino Postcard 30: Villafranca del Bierzo to Triacastela

For the first time today we had to take a taxi for a non-medically related reason.

I say had as if we didn’t have a choice. Of course, we did. It just wasn’t much of one, that’s all.

For if we kept walking, we ran the risk of our money and time running out before we reached Santiago.

Money could, hopefully, be managed; time, however, could not.

But how? Our Camino didn’t have to end until 23rd May – the latest day that Ellena could to return to Germany and to work (I having quit my job in January had no obligation to return to the U.K. at any particular time; Carolin’s new course didn’t begin until September so she was under no pressure either). That was thirteen days away. Thirteen days to complete under 200 kilometres? Easily possible.

However, after we finished the Camino, all three of us wanted to spend a few days recovering in Finisterre on the Atlantic coast and then return to Santiago to relax there. That gave us just about a week to finish the journey.

The desire to go to the coast married the fear over money and time and persuaded us to hire a taxi to take us to O’Cebreiro. To be honest, even if we had had lots of money and time we might have got one, anyway; Ellena had been bitten by something during the night and it had made her foot red and sore.

So, we piled into the taxi and raced away down the woodland road.

At O’Cebreiro, we took some photographs of the beautiful valley below. As you can see in the photograph, the clouds were so low, we were lucky to see it.

O’Cebreiro was a small but beautiful village. The shops and albergues were made of a darkish stone. A souvenir shop had a thatched roof. I tried to take a selfie next to a stone statue of St. James and we met a shy dog which Ellena befriended. I wish we could have stayed the night there.

Having jumped ahead of time, though, we now had to keep it behind us. So, we got walking. Outside the village, the path split. The lower path went along the roadside, the upper path into the woods. I think the lower path was the quicker one but we decided to take the higher. This was because we thought it might be the one to lead us to the Alto San Roque where we hoped to see the famous statue of the saint.

As it happened, the two paths rejoined each other long before we got to the statue but before then we were treated to a lovely walk through a pine forest that looked straight out of Middle-earth. The trees were black pines so Tolkien would have felt completely at home there.

Up till now, the weather had mostly held but it was in the woods that it threatened to fail and we had to stop and put our rain covers over our backpacks.

The threat of rain did not ruin our day. How could it? We were in beautiful surroundings and had got into the habit of playing music out loud from our iPod and phones. As you might imagine, The Lord of the Rings soundtrack got a good airing today.

We came out of the woods, descended a shallow slope and rejoined the lower path as it snaked past the tiny hamlet of Linares. Presently, we were back in the woods again and climbing up until just over the crest appeared San Roque himself, looking out past the valley ahead and I guess to Santiago and Heaven.

When we arrived, a group of cyclists were also taking photographs at the statue. One of them kindly took the photograph of us, below. Unfortunately, none of my photos of San Roque are very good – the sun was behind him so made all my photos of him very dark.

After spending some time admiring the statue and taking photographs we moved on. We stopped at Hospital de la Condesa. Here, we took our second taxi of the day to Triacastela. Now, I am sure this was part of the plan, but I also remember Ellena being in some pain, particularly from her bite, so we may have chosen to take it for her sake.

Either way, we drove to Triacastela, arrived in good weather and checked in to an albergue with a hospitalera who talked… and talked… and talked… LOUDLY. Boy, did she have a lot to say! And just when we were trying to rest.

While Ellena and Carolin did rest, I went in search of a chemist. There, I bought an ointment that would hopefully help Ellena’s bite. Along the way, I stopped and had a beer in a local bar. There, I accidentally tore a ten euro note in two! Don’t ask. It was just an accident. Given the money situation, a spectacularly badly timed one, but there we are.

Speaking of accidents, I had a few of them at the albergue: I was on the bottom bunk, and this one was a low bunk so I forever had to be careful when lifting myself up. I was not forever careful enough.

And so, I leave us sleeping into the night with our next destination being Sarria beginning the last few days of our Camino. As I do so, I say goodbye to my journal: today’s entry was the last to be written. I wrote it tomorrow, presumably in Sarria. What a shame I couldn’t keep it going just a few days more!

Camino Postcard 29: Acebo to Villafranca del Bierzo

This morning, we took a taxi from Acebo to Villafranca where we decided to stay for the night. Ellena was feeling better after yesterday’s difficult walk from the Cruz de Ferro but her joints were not yet healed sufficiently for walking to be considered.

In Villafranca, we checked into a private albergue and were given a room with three beds. After a rest, I went in search of food. It was not a wholly successful search – the ‘take away’ that I found on-line turned out to be just a bar. On the way back to the albergue I found a supermarket so bought some drink and snacks. Just round the corner from the albergue there was a bar. Through the raindrops on the lens of my glasses I saw that it sold food – hot food – so dived in.

When I left the albergue, the weather was overcast but dry. By the time I made my way back, however, the clouds were low and it was raining. I was wearing my flip-flops: not good for finding grip on a wet pavement!

Today was the second day on the Camino that we were obliged to take a taxi and do no walking. It would be easy to see this as a failure. I don’t. A failure would have been to give up and go home. Today was in its own way a success, especially for Ellena. It was a success because she persevered on the Camino despite the pain – the physical pain, of course, and the emotional pain of having to take a taxi when conventional opinion all but demands that to do the Way one must walk.

Ellena will disagree with me but I still say that she is one of the bravest people I know: brave for doing the Camino in the first place, and brave sticking at it in defiance of conventional opinion, which can be such a powerful and oppressive force.

As you’ll see in upcoming posts, we had to take a taxi tomorrow and the day after. Of course I would have loved to have walked every inch of the Camino, but if it is a choice between doing that and taking transport and in so doing learning about humility, pain, and even love, I know which Way I would follow.