Day 23: Rabanal del Camino to Ponferrada
The morning was trying to start like an old car in the middle of winter. The sun pushed an occasional errant ray through but mostly failed to penetrate the surrounding cloud of grey. Around me the wind threatened to catch my hat and occasionally me and then the rain started in. This morning was a challenge. An early start failed to beat the forecast rain but it allowed me to reach Cruz de Ferro before the rain kicked the day down a notch. At the Iron Cross all the peregrinos who were there placed their stones of burden. The mound of stones at this point is impressively high and the symbolic burdens they all carry makes it a calm like place. The religious said a prayer or two and then, with burdens cast aside we prepared to weather the day. Poncho on I strode into the day. It was cold and wet, we reached the highest point on the Camino at 1,515m and the sun broke through with a couple of rays so we could appreciate the scene.
From there it was a descent into the mist and rain and fog. The wind caught at my poncho my glasses got covered in water and I began to think this would be a long walk indeed today when ahead of me two French girls burst into song. They sang with gusto clearly trying to keep happy and walked with a gait that looked almost like skipping. I smiled because they kept my spirits high and I trailed behind them for awhile enjoying their joie de vivre. Eventually I passed them but asked them to keep singing because it was so enjoyable. As I strode away I could still hear their voices singing away in French.
Every now and then the sun would poke through and it seemed the rain might stop but it persisted. After about four hours of solid walking I entered the delightful, narrow streeted, rocky housed and rocky roaded village of El Acebo. In the village the little bar was full of peregrinos getting breakfast and warming their hands on hot cafe con leche. I had breakfast and then another cup of coffee as friends arrived at this warm, friendly, “gemutlich” (as my german friends would say) almost cavelike bar of shelter from the rain. The bar at 16.5km almost marked the day’s halfway point. I left the cosy place reluctantly at about 11am but I needn’t have worried as the day gradually began to change as we walked off the mountain.
I walked along and tilted my walking stick, with a nod to Cervantes, at the windmills poking through the mist on the mountain opposite. I watched as a rainbow hugged the hillside and enjoyed another stony village with it’s steep narrow streets. Then it was walking through a forest and the sun was out and I was just loving the walking.
It was a fantastic few hours walking across the mountains slower getting lower and then entering the picturesque town of Molinaseca. With it’s church on the right with de rigeur old lady out front, market gardens on the left and the chunky 19 century stone bridge running over the gurgling river ahead it was an excellent second stop for the day and prep for the final push into the day’s destination of Ponferrada.
The walk into Ponferrada started well enough but the last 4km saw my knee beginning to ache from all of today’s descents, this combined with the blister rubbed raw saw me hobble into the rather large town of Ponferrada. I stopped briefly to admire the vineyards surrounding the town and enjoyed the quirky little suburban street where every third or fourth house had a statue on it’s front gate or fence. I finally arrived in town quite tired from a longish day of 33km with steep descents. The Albergue, with a capacity for 250, is the biggest yet. It’s impersonal and in stark contrast to the homey warm place we stayed last night. The dorm tonight feels almost prison like. My Italian friend took care of my blister this afternoon. Cleaning it and then applying, because it covers almost the entire heel, a large swatch of artificial skin. I’m grateful for her help and her medical kit because my heal was looking a bit freaky and I was worried about the state of it after another day’s walk. Tonight it’s out with a couple of friends to a local Pizzeria – yum 🙂
The town itself is another typically beautiful Spanish town with open aired plaza surrounded by cafes and restaurants. Nearby churches and an old castle adds an ages old atmosphere to the whole place.