We decide to deviate from the book of John in order to stay at Ponferrada, a templar town and one of the last cities before Santiago. There’s supposed to be an impressive castle there, where maybe the Holy Grail is hidden, or maybe just some lost Templar treasure from the last days of the order. Jack Hitt’s book devotes a chapter to the city, too. But the Brierly book would have us do just 20k to end up in Molinaseca, just before Ponferrada, and then do a 30k day to end up in Villafranca de Bierzo, bypassing Ponferrada in the morning. So we plan to walk an extra 5km, and then do 25k to end in Ponferrada.
At breakfast, while I’m waiting for coffee at the bar, a woman with a quavering old lady voice approaches and asks if I can help. I tense, remembering the extravagantly helpless woman in Ledigos. But this woman turns out to be much more reasonable. She wants bandaids because her backpack straps are chafing. I not only have a lot of bandaids, but I also recommend putting vaseline on, which she is glad to try.
We stop at Rabanal, which is a charming little town, very different from what we’ve been seeing. It’s mountainous, greener, stony houses built up and down a hill. Dorcinda stops in at the hostel where her friend once volunteered. And then we get a pizza for lunch at my request.
On the way out of town, Dorcinda says she regrets stopping for lunch, and then runs far ahead as the road winds up a mountain path. I don’t have time to stay I regret stopping for an extended tour of a hostel I won’t be staying at. What I jerk, I think, as she leaves me far far behind. I get my earbuds in and storm up the mountain, faster than every pilgrim except my sister.
At the top, in a little town beset by flies, we start to look for a hostel. The first one we try, a newer looking building, charges 10 euro and extra for towels and such, and says you can’t bring food or drink in. We don’t like the vibe and leave, and while we’re deciding our next move, we see Brenda coming up the path.
She encourages us to go on, saying she wants to see the Cruz de Ferro in the daylight. It will be daylight at 8am tomorrow, I say. But before long we agree to move on, reassured by Brenda’s promise that its only 1k to the cross and 2k to the next hostel.
We reach the cross and have the place to ourselves for a moment. It doesn’t impress me visually, but I see the pile of stones left by pilgrims and it seems like a reward, however humble, for our work so far. We write some stuff to leave with our stones – mine is some nonsense about it’s been nice ride, let’s keep it going a little longer. A little more music, a little more loving, a few more tours. I forget exactly, and was spitballing some hippy-dippy stuff to fit the mood. I learn later that you’re supposed to imbue the stone with things you want to leave behind. Oh well. I didn’t bring a stone, so I borrow one that Dorcinda has carried, on my behalf, since the Pyrenees. I also leave a penny and a guitar pick from NY. Brenda has a special stone, a veined crystal that she picked up in Spain when we was 12 or 13. She is far more devoted to this tradition than I am. Shortly after we leave our stones and take photos, a busload of German tourists trundles up, ruining the moment. Suddently the cross, instead of a reward earned after a long, hard journey, is just a cheap roadside attraction, one that you can drive up to whenever you want, and, now that you stop to think about it, why would you want to?
The next “albergue” is a templar-associated lodge, a tumbledown shack attended by two old weirdos (friendly weirdos, but still). It has no showers, no toilet, no running water. To think, we worried that its 35 beds might fill up. We press on, and the templar guy advises us to go off the Camino for a bit, recommending a shady, more level path. If you walk quietly, you’ll see deer walking with you, he says. He draws us a map, and the German tourists descend once more, impatient at the man’s slow map-drawing while they maneuver to buy knickknacks and get stamps.
The map proves to be less than useful, and we never find the promised route, but the Camino itself offers spectacular views, though little shade. We play our harmonicas a bit on the last stretch towards town. We arrive at our next albergue at 6:30, our latest stop yet.
We join forces with Brenda to fill up a washer and dryer, usually a luxury, but this time a necessity, given our late arrival time. We eat dinner, and meet an old german woman who is grateful for the fact that we share our nasty table wine with her. We’re happy to be rid of it. It’s a bit of a reunion at the hostel – Brenda’s German friend Tomas is there, as are the Canadians Mary and Brian. We take photos with the sunset.
In our room, there are a bunch of Galician cyclists and they’re pretty loud and annoying.