Day 25: Villafranca del Bierzo to O Cebreiro and into the province of Galicia (the home stretch)
The day started cold and misty as we slowly made our way through the mountains. Today is the dreaded walk to O Cebreiro the steepest mountain climb since the Pyrenees, the last real physical challenge before the home stretch (150km) to Santiago. It was also my most favourite walk to date.
It was cold and the mist hung off the mountain sides. Peregrinos thrust hands into flimsy fleece jackets and walked steadily upward. Every hour or so a mountain town, made of rocky stone houses clinging to mountain sides, would appear and we would inevitably stop for a warming cup of cafe con leche or morning croissant. The little towns reminded me a lot of Darjeeling, all mountain towns seem to have a similar character.
On the walk we were joined by many new walkers and the path, in parts, looked almost crowded. Passing cars, of which there were many, would often toot horns and I wondered why so many people were around. It took a look at my watch to tell me it was a Saturday and the reason for all the busyness. I wouldn’t have had a clue what the day of the week was otherwise. I know dates because I started July 1st and each day of July corresponds to the equivalent number of days I have travelled for. I don’t know days. It’s a great feeling of freedom not to know or care what day it is.
The walk wound up, like a corkscrew, into the mountains steadily getting higher but not proving too onerous. The sun began to break through the mist and soon enough a clear blue sky and warm sun took over the day.
I walked past flowing rivers, listening to cowbells ring and watching butterflies grace the air before me. One town, La Faba, proved a hard slog to get to as the path suddenly turned steep and rocky. An hour of this saw me gulp down my Aquarius when I arrived at La Faba whilst enjoying the goings on of the hippy commune opposite. From La Faba it was more of the steep rocky ground and I stopped for another drink at the little pub playing Celtic music. A short, sharp walk later and we were standing before the outstanding views of O Cebreiro. Stupendous, magnificent, looking into the valleys below with winding pathways, little villages and farmland being worked on. The town itself is a delightful little touristy mountain village with a mixture of weekenders, cyclists, a wedding party in all their finery and peregrinos in their grubby overwork, underwashed walking gear.
The Albergue, though big, is clean and efficient and has the best view in town. I sat down outside worried that my heel that was beginning to look quite bad and it was beginning to concern me when two Portuguese girls came to my rescue. Psychologists working in an intensive care unit of a hospital they took one look at my heel and declared a course of action. Dousing my foot in some red solution purloined from a hospital they had soon set my mind at rest as infection, not pain, was my biggest cause of concern with my heel. They also give me some anti inflammatories and we exchanged peregrino chit chat as these two confident, friendly and efficient women fixed my foot. I was grateful for their concern, help and confidence. I’m not sure what I’ll do tomorrow in terms of covering the wound but for now I’m much more relaxed about the problem.