Saturday, November 7, 2009

Villafranca del Bierzo to O'Cebreiro

Rain absolutely bucketing down and bitter cold so the 'choice' of route is made simple-its Ruta Carratera for us as its shorter and passes more villages (I am going to have come back and do the complete Route Napoleon and now I'm adding in the Camino Dragonte route to that 'to do' list).
Even in the early morning there's quite a bit of traffic and thought the path breaks away from the road in parts you are pretty close for a good bit. Its raining cats and dogs so in a vain attempt to drown out the sound of huge raindrops hitting my poncho I try singing the lyric of "We're walking in the rain" to the tunes of 'The Snowman' and then 'Singing in the rain'-but neither version cheers me up as we slog along the valley.
Its great to turn in off the road towards Herrerias and from this point on to no worries about traffic. Its quiet the only sound is dripping leaves, rushing streamlets and soft munch of cattle chewing rain drenched grass. We are the only pilgrims in town and stop in for a cafe con leche, Frances is ashen faced and not too well but settles a bit with some toast and hot chocolate. Two gun totting but very friendly policemen drop in for what is a obviously a regular break. One of them has brought out 'the messages' from town some wrapped cold meats, a block of cheese and a big bottle of what looks like syrup?
Sitting down quietly getting up the energy for the next 'push' the door swings open and two Americans/Canadians in pristine gear and dry boots come in, sit down 'scope' the joint and everything in it. The guy looks us up an down in our filthy over trousers, damp fleeces, dripping ponchos and sodden gloves and says to his partner "I think they're expecting rain" I know this sounds funny now but it didn't then-it sounded smart arsed. If I could have relied on my legs and stood up I would have given him a good 'puck in the snot'-Good grief and I thought I would become a better pilgrim the closer I get to Santiago. Before I 'do damage' we head out and are pretty soon on back on track-literally and metaphorically.
Even with the atrocious weather and visibility dropping to 0 we get a strange low glowing light coming through the mist/sleet that illuminates the (very) immediate environment (reminds me of the pearly light that comes in through alabaster windows) it shows up blooming primroses (I sneak one flower to taste the nectar at the base of the trumpet- it's doubly sweet as it brings back childhood memories of what my father used to describe as 'bee cheating') and lichen decking the trees like blossom.The slugs of this valley are a sophisticated lot instead of chewing up the primroses they stick their heads into the blossom and go for the nectar, as they move from one blossom to the next it reminds me of a very regal slow motion pub crawl and is quite something to see.
There is good bit of up and downing and 6 weeks ago we would have given up on a walk like this but, tired as we are, we have learned that we can get there-the trick is to keep on trying. The landscape is beautiful we know this only because when the mist/fog/sleet lifts for a few seconds we are taunted with wonderful micro vistas -but then as quickly as it lifted the weather closes in again and we're back to our usual 'Helen Keller does the Camino' outlook

This little cow in Herrerias would win 'Best dressed lady /or Drag queen'- I couldn't get a gender definitive view-with perfect eyeliner, mascara, pedicured hooves and oiled horns all perfectly accessorised by a shiny bell.

Stopping off for a rest at La Faba and meeting another 'fierce camino dog'
Its tricky getting you boots off for foot breaks in weather like this as even under the trees its dripping. We get a bit of a break in the weather i.e. it changes from torrential to downpour and as we lean against a farmyard wall chomping chocolate a bull and heifer are discretely led out of a barn and around the back of the farm buildings. However the notion of a bit of privacy for the lovers goes to hell in a handcart due to the acoustics of stone yards, low cloud and the narrow valley. Which means we, and anyone else within a 5 mile radius, experience ear splitting bovine 'lurve songs' with 'SurroundSound' quality and all the full on detail of something off the Discovery channel. We would move only I find I can't breath, laugh, choke on chocolate, retie my boots, get my pack back on and the damn poncho over the pack all at the same time.

Frances at the regional marker-Goodbye Castilla Y Leon hello Galicia!
Walking up we only meet 4 other pilgrims two walking and two (god help them) on bikes-pushing up through the freezing mud in their hard slippery cycling shoes. Its head down and push on as you can't keep your eyes open in the icy sleet and my glasses have come off long ago as they fog up in a second. Once out of the wooded lower valley the wind is... boisterous, bitter cold and it doesn't lift the fog/sleet just seems to push more of it in our faces. The up side of this is that after such natural a 'dermabrasion' session we may look 5 years younger on arrival.
I am plodding along muttering some of my walking rhymes/mantras (its a bit strange but they seem to help me especially up hard steep muddy sections and I have developed a little repertoire since SJPP its all under the breath stuff so I don't disturb others) anyway a new one comes to mind "Every step a pilgrims hope every step a prayer-offered up to Jesus Christ-so I hope you're bloody there" (no disrespect intended but I was a bit of a GOP -grumpy old pilgrim-today)
Its hard going and going..... and going but sooner than we expected what seems to be a large 'estate wall' appears out of the mist on our right and then we reach a hard surface- we made it we have got to O'Cebreiro! It's similar to the pull up to Foncebadon not easy but not quite as hard as you imagine its going to be when thinking about it the night before (unscramble that if you can!).
I am arranged in a 'pose' by Frances to show off another of our Camino specialities -The 'white out' view- and a quote from one of the guide books I have read comes to mind but I can't quite place which one, its not Mr Brierely but someone said of ones arrival at O'Ceibreiro.....

"Your strenuous efforts will be more than amply rewarded by the stupendous views afforded"
Nell in 'Jolly Green Giant' poncho trying to decipher the 'stupendous' views mentioned above.

Entering into the peace and shelter of the church of Santa Maria Real is something I'll never forget and, for about 30 wonderful minutes, we are the only ones there- we light our candles and sit quietly reflecting on our journey-todays and all the other days. There is a strong feeling of 'arrival' a sense of collective peace and contentment. The little chapel has been welcoming innumerable pilgrims for over 1100 years. Then some boisterous walkers burst in laughing and chattering (they are not GOPs) and its time to head over to the bar for one or two hot ports before we get the accommodation sorted.
Coach loads of noisy tourists cram the bar and adjoining tourist shop but exhaustion has bestowed a zen like calm and tolerance on me and I rather enjoy their jolly racket.
An hour drifts by and suddenly we are shaken from our trance by a chorus of loud 'Holas' directed at us. Its 'Jack Sparrow' and his crew swaggering in and drawing respectful attention from one and all- they greet us like long lost favorite aunties which is actually very sweet!
Though we aren't exactly paid up members of the Pilgrim Sportif 'in' crowd, the fact that such hardcore yompers seem to 'rate' us bestows a certain 'street cred' so that other 'racing class pilgrims', those we have previously only ever seen the back of as they sped past us, are now nodding and raising their classes to us. Well who'd have thought it- the hares toasting the tortoises-so we tortoises "slainte" them back.
As the last of the coaches parties leave we peep outside the warm bar to find visibility has dropped to a couple of feet, its absolutely freezing and its very very quiet-that strange muffled silence of fog.
We had always planned to stay in the posher Hostal San Giraldo de Aurillac and are glad we do, its right next door to the church, lovely and clean, has a great bathroom and space to dry out our gear. There are only 3 other guests in the entire place so its very quiet. Our room is heated to sauna like levels and we lay on the beds being gently steamed for a hour or so before going across to the bar for dinner-this is wonderfully therapeutic and warms 'the bones of us'.
Our bedroom window looks out on to the road that brings pilgrims into the town and I can just about make out one or two figures making their way into the village at 7.30 - its a hard day to arrive so late.
At about 3am I wake up and realise why they 'stoke up the engines' of this place, even with 3 foot thick stone walls the cold seeps in brrr. Frances, having less natural insulation, feels the cold much more than I do so I usually give her my blanket, but I don't know if I could have 'shared' tonight and I'm really glad there are spare ones in the cupboard!


Willa Goodfellow said...
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Willa Goodfellow said...

Ah, Nellie, when we first read this post, that is when we knew we had to meet our sister in the Spirit -- every step a pilgrims hope...

Nell Pilgrim said...

Willa I only just saw your comment today! I was trying to retrieve some information for a friend heading out to start their Camino in a few weeks.