Thursday, October 3, 2013– Cacabelos – I’m in the Hotel Gallego restaurant with delicious soup Caldo Gallego – the menu says it’s cabbage soup, but really, this one is kale and potatoes and beans in a clear broth. Then I order something else . . . I have no idea but that it is meat. I ask the man behind the bar what the item is, and he pounds his left shoulder with his right fist. I ask, “Carne?” and he nods. So do I. Soon he brings me a huge plate of fairly thick sliced ham (what else?) with lovely roasted red peppers on top. Red peppers grow everywhere here . . . in the fields as we pass by, and everything is decorated with roasted red peppers. Fine with me.
I take my time eating, plug my computer in to recharge it and try to call Neil. The noise in the restaurant distorts his ability to hear me on the GoogleVoice so I postpone our conversation until I can get outside and actually use my phone to talk with him. For now, the wi-fi in the restaurant allows me to capture a bit of the last day or two. The owner’s daughter and two little grandchildren come into the establishment, and the kids run around squealing delightedly as only little ones can. Grandpa turns from a solemn restauranteur-hotelier to beaming and big-armed hugger and kisser. More squeals.
I finally put away my things, pay the bill for my dinner, and head outside. After a town-center courtyard conversation with Neil, I walk back to the Albergue in the church courtyard. This place has an very unique design. Old stone church, surrounded by old stone wall, with very large, nearly circular old stone courtyard between. That in itself is fairly unusual – the huge courtyard. But then, nestled inside the stone wall have been constructed thirty-five joined together pods, creating an orange metal and wood inner circle.
Each pod has two numbered doors and two single beds, with a little square table between and a low-voltage light above the table. The inside roof is wooden construction and pitched. But the inner walls are regular eight-foot walls, so there is an open space at the ceiling, above the walls, throughout the thirty-five double pods. In the courtyard, I see Kevin from Foncebadon, with his smiling face, baseball cap still backward on his head. His beard is growing out, and he looks pretty mellow. He tells me much later (when I see him in Muxia) that he slept on a mattress under the stars that night. In the courtyard. But I digress.
I am assigned #64, which means that I am in Pod #63-64. When you shut the door inside the room, it is dark. No windows. A sliding lock on the outside of each set of doors. Like the Pod People of Cacabelos. 5 Euro a pop. I’m sorry I didn’t think to take photos. But you have your imaginations.
Down the pod row, perhaps half-way, are the showers and bathrooms. The laundry sinks are in the courtyards, as are the drying racks. Picnic tables are there, next to a stack of mattresses. I see Shirley and Len from last night’s Albergue Santa Marina in Molinaseca, and they tell me they are in Pod #55-56. When I return from my dinner in town, we say goodnight and settle in for the good sleep. At “curfew”, 10:00, the courtyard gates are locked, but no one is around to make everyone get into their pods. So the young people decided to party hardy into the middle of the night. The rest of us tried to settle in.
In the pod #65-66 to my bed’s right side, I hear a young man and young woman giggling, going in and out of the pod, back to the courtyard, giggling again, back in the pod, getting a bit louder, a lot more coy, very flirtatious, clearly getting drunker and drunker. At some point, though, they return to their pod (I’m not even sure they were both assigned to this bed space, or perhaps they had just met in the courtyard party.) And all of a sudden, they are quiet. Rustling around. Getting undressed. Then the little moans and groans . . . oh, voyeur evening for Pod #64. But they’re too quiet to be having any real fun, in my humble opinion. Occasional rustling . . . I try not to engage my imagination.
I haven’t seen a human pod-mate, but there is evidence that someone will be around. A sleeping bag, backpack and hiking sticks are scattered on the bed #63. Soon a darling young woman with wild long red hair comes in and apologizes to me. She turns off the little light and apologizes again. I tell her she hasn’t done anything to disturb me, as she goes out the door . Much later I learn that her name is Larraine. But now she’s just the apologetic red-head. “The stars are amazing!” she breaths. I wish I were outside to see them, but I’m not in the mood to move at all. She leaves, closing the door quietly.
The mmm-ing and ohohoh-ing continue next door for a while and then subsides. Maybe too much alcohol for any real passion. Or maybe they just hardly know one another. Either way, I’m glad I’m not either one of them. I fall asleep. Two days from now when I run into Shirley and Len, they tell me they too had a bit of a sex fest going on next door to them, but it wasn’t quiet at all. I’m surprised I didn’t hear it through the air-space that is shared by the pod-circulating rafters above all of our heads.
Then in the early, still dark morning, a loud Woody Woodpecker phone alarm . . . Ha ha ha HA ha, ha ha ha HA ha . . . and then a few snickers from sleepy pod-creatures who can’t contain themselves. It is funny. Then a real rooster crows, and the life begins again.
Friday, October 4, 2013 Beginning in Cacabelos, my plan is to take a long, leisurely walk to Vega de Valcarce today so I can get set for a fairly short hike (12km) up to O’Cebreiro tomorrow. We (collectively – I walk alone again today) have missed most of the rain, and today’s camino will be about a 26 km. day, but it looks easy, winding up and down a bit through the Bierzo wine area and some little villages. The vineyard workers are in the fields, little trucks going by me on tiny, rutted dirt roads.
There are three paths from Cacabelos to the mid-area of today’s walk at Trabadelo, one of them up a highest mountain, a second on the road most of the time, and a third up a smaller mountain. Today, I choose the second way. On the road for part of the day. This is not what I chose on any section of the meseta, though there were days when the emptiness of the dirt paths and fields could be substituted for the emptiness of walking a path along the main road.
But today it looks like I’ll get a mix of main road, smaller road and vineyards, and I can save my climbing energy for tomorrow and the last big uphill walk before Santiago. The vineyards are again a mix of old vines and newer ones, and the huge clusters of purple grapes lie nestled in deep contrast to the autumn color of the leaves on the vines. Again, I can’t resist picking just one grape from a cluster. I wonder what kind of wine they will make.
I stop occasionally at the villages for water or juice or some snack I am carrying. I did pass up one humorous and most likely non-functional refreshment stand. There are a few of these, but none tempted me at all. At most stops, I see at least one or two people I recognize from yesterday or last week or the last village.
Christel is a day behind me, Ria might be one day ahead of me. Yves and Janice vowed to go a bit more slowly after Janice developed a bad case of blisters a few days ago. Matthe and Elma from the Netherlands are surely long gone, since I last talked with them in Burgos. I will be sorry not to see them again.
As I enter a larger town, Villafranca de Bierzo, the woman behind me is a Brazilian, Vera, living in England with her husband. I met her briefly about ten days ago near Sahagun, when she told me her anniversary is the same day as one of the two I celebrate for my relationship with Neil. Her husband was coming for five days to walk with her for their anniversary, so I asked how that went. Unfortunately, he hates to walk. As she emphatically said, “He hates to walk.” But walk he did, for five days, 12-15 miles (not kilometers) per day. Hating every minute of it. I’m not sure whether that’s a loving sacrifice or a torturous gift to receive. Vera and I sit at an outside table in a large city square and have something to drink, shed some warmer clothing, talk just a bit before going our separate paces, eventually down one of the same paths that will lead both of us to the mountain-top and O’Cebreiro tomorrow.
The day is cool, sunny, but with storm clouds always somewhere else not-too-close by. I am grateful for the promise that I will reach my town, Vega de Valcarce while the weather holds. After each village, Pereje, Trabadelo, and am nearing La Portela de Valcarce, I leave behind several peregrinos who decide to stay where they’ve landed, but I still have about 4 km. to go, and my backpack is waiting for me. Again.
Then it begins to sprinkle, then rain, and I pull out my trusty plaid umbrella, the 6-Euro purchase at that corner stand in Leon. It works well for a while until the sky really opens up. There is nothing but to walk, and my lower shin is beginning to ache. I wonder what that’s about?? And I muse about the irony of walking all this way without any disasters, only to be struck by lightening while holding my silly umbrella. I notice at least it doesn’t have a metal pointy-thing on the top of it like some fully-grown umbrellas do. No actual lightening rod, but still . . .
Just as I think I might have to cross the road and stick out my thumb for a ride, for a different reason than heat exhaustion this time, I see up ahead a very large complex with a several-story hotel, a restaurant and bar, a gas station, and a truck stop combination, and I head straight for it, sheets of water coming down around and on me, only a part of it now deflected by the little umbrella.
Inside the restaurant, I ask about a taxi, and a man behind the counter makes a quick phone call and nods to me, holding up all the fingers on both hands. Ten minutes. Quickly I call the Jacotransport people to see where they have delivered my bag. I remember having put Albergue Brasil on the tag, but the phone number I have for them is not a correct one, and I don’t see their name on my computer list. Bad sign. Happily, the Jacotransport driver says the albergue is still open, but has a new name, or rather has returned to its previous name: Albergue El Roble. Relieved, I see the taxi pull up outside and dash out to greet him. He knows exactly where El Roble is located, and drives the 3.5 km to Vega de Valcarce . . . actually not even really into the town yet. This would have been such a easy finish to an already easy walking day. But here I am in the taxi.
When we arrive at El Roble, I ask that the driver wait while I see whether my bag is indeed here (it is), and whether they have a bed (they do). He, Carlos, tells me he can transport my backpack for 5 Euro, rather than 7 Euro, as I’ve been paying for the past few days. Tomorrow will be the last day for that, up over the mountain, and then my back will carry the thing.
The hospitalier who greets me at Albergue El Roble is a young, blond and blue-eyed Englishman named Matthew. Matthew Sanchez, apparently, though you could have fooled me. Looks very much like a young Ewan McGregor with a bit fuller face. Darling and delightful, as well as delighted that he has a customer. He and his girlfriend, Livia from Switzerland, have only two weeks ago put their funds together to buy the lease on the albergue, and happily for me (though probably not for them), there are only two pilgrims staying at their spacious place tonight. The pilgrim’s meal is not the usual fare, but rather chicken curry with rice, a salad, and the Tarte de Santiago (a very moist almond cake, fresh-bakery made, not in a plastic container!).
One other woman, Ingrid from Germany, and I have the place to ourselves, and when Ingrid goes to bed, I invite Matthew and Livia to sit at the table with me. We talk about their meeting two years ago in Finisterre “on the beach”, Livia tells me. For two years, they have been working, saving money, finally just purchasing this business after being in Finisterre for the past six months. Their dream come true. We talk about the many risks of buying a business, and the energy created when you take opportunities where you find them, about relationships that require nearly 24/7 time together, the up and down of seasonal establishments, and generally share a delightful evening. They are just about the ages of my two younger children. Matthew is 32, Livia is 29.
Tomorrow morning, Matthew has enthusiastically agreed that he and I can go over my Brierley book about Finisterre and Muxia, and he will give me some suggestions for the best places to stay. That will be extremely helpful, since only about 10% of pilgrims continue to the sea, and the paths are less well-defined, albergues few and far between. I’ll have my own tour-guide, at least tomorrow, and I’ll take good notes.
It seems impossible that there are only 150.5 km. to Santiago!