From my blog for the last week of February 2008
on the Camino Frances
February 20-22, 2008
Ponferrada, Villafranca del Bierzo, and Ruitelan
Since much of the descending trail is very steep and crosses rock Polo and I walked down from El Acebo on the verges of route LE-142 through snow flurries, rain, and a bit of sun.
After 16 km we stopped at Ponferrada. The city had been so named after iron supports were added in the 11th c. to an older bridge crossing the river Sil used by pilgrims on route to Santiago.
Overlooking the river in the 12th c. the Knights Templar, an order who protected pilgrims, had built this magnificent fortress castle with crenellated towers and turrets. It is presently being restored.
We stopped nearby at the pleasant, friendly cafe Liebana at avenue El Castello, 131, for a hearty second breakfast.
Mid afternoon when the parish albergue St Nicolas de Flue, calle Obispo Camilo Lorenzo, 2, opened we checked in.
Although they offer 186 places unfortunately it seems crowded with about 25 pilgrims jammed into 6 small dorms. All use the same coed toilet/shower facilities; thus the waiting lines are quite long! There are no blankets but it is well heated which is most welcome since outside is a rough mix of cold rain/dense fog....However, the free Internet is great and can be accessed until lights out (10:30pm) from the large second story reading room, where I am now busily writing alone.
February 21, 2008
Villafranca del Bierzo.
Leaving urban Ponferrada took a long time; getting through the maze of suburbs also took quite a while.
In Columbrianos on the CF this colorful mural is painted on one side of the Ermita
/ Hermitage de San Blas et San Roque; two saints whose lives spanned 1000 years. Behind high on a pole is a stork's nest.
San Blas/St Blaise was a 4th c. physician born in Armenia and is associated with curing throat disease.
San Roque/St Roch was born in 14th c. Montpellier, France; he went as a mendicant pilgrim to Rome and is
associated with curing the plague
As the CF slowly began to climb higher through orchards and vineyards spotting any route marker was more and more difficult; the path crossed endless acres of Bierzo vineyards.
After 27 km we stopped in Villafranca del Bierzo.
During the middle ages pilgrims who arrived at this door of the Iglesia de Santiago too ill to continue were given the same indulgences as those valid pilgrims who made it all the way to Santiago. Hence the door is known as the Puerta del Perdón
We stayed nearby in the "atmospheric" private albergue Ave Fenix, which has tidied up a bit since my last visit. There are now hot showers from thermal heating on the roof, but the coed toilets are still outside in the courtyard down a flight of slippery stairs!!
For an upbeat change of mood/setting Polo and I ate dinner at a hostal/resto/bar La Puerta del Pardon, Plaza de Prim, 4, named for the nearby church door. I had eaten there last year.
When Polo and I entered the diplomatic owner/manager, a veteran pilgrim, greeted me exuberantly "Bienvenue, c'est un plaisir de vous revoir
/Welcome back it is great to see you again!!"
We enjoyed a delicious pilgrim dinner for 10 € each including wonderful Bierzo wine. It was truly memorable.
February 22, 2008
Today as the camino steadily grew steeper villages were more and more remote; Polo and I slowly climbed up the Valcarce River valley 17 km to Ruitelan.
We are the only pilgrims in the refugio, Pequeno Potala run by two gracious Spanish Buddhist men. After last night's crowded conditions this is a haven of cleanliness and peace. A small bell tinkles when you enter; soothing music is playing in the background. Internet is also available.
All is calm and very ecumenical. On an unpainted wooden wall hang a Christian cross, pictures of the Dalai Lama and a card hand lettered, shalom
, the Hebrew word for peace.
Our supper, cooked by Carlos, the hospitalero, served on a scrubbed wooden table, included carrot soup, rice, fried eggs, cheese, bread, wine and fruit. This, too, was a memorable pilgrim meal.
Polo and I ate a lot for energy tomorrow during our big climb.... Now I am slightly nervous since I know it will be long, difficult trek.