After two days in León, it was time to leave and begin what felt like the final stretch to Santiago. During the week-end, I could feel that many pilgrims were not in such a hurry to finish the trip. Everybody had made friends, some had found a partner, and everybody was having a good time, giving little appeal to the prospect of returning to their regular lives for many of them.
Meantime, I couldn’t make up my mind regarding what I wanted to do once it would be over. Many options had crossed my mind, including to keep walking until it was too cold to enjoy it, and hopping from city to city throughout Portugal and Spain… I also had to to figure out whether I wanted to stick with Loïc and/or other friends I made along the way. When I started walking, I was unsure about my ability to see it through the end. Now I was unsure about when exactly it would end…
It was past 9h when we left León. Once we were out of the city I went on my own, needing some time for myself to think and process what I was going through. León was the last break I had planned to take before reaching Santiago, and leaving it meant the end was getting close. To finally see the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel felt odd, after having spent so much time walking.
On the other hand, I still had a bittersweet taste in my mouth: I have compared the camino to a group of classmates earlier in this story, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that drama is part of the package. The events of the previous day left me with the feeling that it was bound to happen again if I stayed around this group. One of the first time I talked with Monica, we discussed how relationships doesn’t have to last to have a meaning, wether it is with a friend or a lover. Sometimes, a few hours or days is all you need; sometimes, more can be too much.
I went off on my own with that in mind. I had made a schedule for the next days: quite intense, with most days requiring around 35Km of walk except two shorter ones. I had spent most of the camino frances having fun and meeting people; now I wanted to find again the feeling of the first days, when Loïc and I were on our own.
That day proved to be an excellent start. I remember passing by Laurent at some point, but at the exception of Monica and Loïc I didn’t ran into anybody I knew. Some of my friends had left Leon after only one night, and those who didn’t were taking it slow. I had a brief chat with Mia, one of the girls I had dinner with the previous night, but otherwise I was on my own, enjoying the sun and the blue sky over my head.
I arrived in Hospital de Órbigo around 15h. I checked in the albergue, a very lovely place with a patio, a little backyard and 5 cute cats. I walked around town until Loïc checked in as well. I met a few other pilgrims that night, Nora and Mike, but at the exception of Mia, nobody that we knew was staying at our place, not even Monica. It really felt like a second beginning to our trip.
After having dinner, I started reading Treasure Island. I hadn’t read since crossing the Pyrenees… I suppose I was too busy drinking beers and wine.
We woke up as the sun was rising. Although the first part of the way wasn’t very fun, it was the first time in many days that I was walking with Loïc again. We caught a bit with the events of the previous days, and we reached Astorga before the end of the morning. He too was enjoying being less surrounded, and had planned on doing long days to reach Santiago as well. Once there, he would see whether he would wait for some friends or go on his own.
Despite our plans to reach Santiago quickly, Astorga felt like it wanted us to stay. We took coffee/breakfast at two places and each time the music was great and made us want to stay until the end of the track, only for the next track to do the same. The whole town had a really good vibe. We found this cafe called Sonrisa where the staff was so smiling and happy! One of them was a photographer and you can see the result of his work below.
Right at the moment where Loïc was getting ready to leave, he stumbled upon Paul. We stayed there for half an hour more, and what was intially a short break lasted longer than expected… But at some point, we all felt it was time to move on. Maybe it was due to Queen’s The Show must go on being the last really good song they played.
I knew that Krista and Saula had planned on staying in Astorga that day, and part of me wanted to stay there. Not only to see them again, but also to have a chat with Brice, the root of all dramas. I knew that I should have let go of it but the whole thing was bothering me. It didn’t feel right that he was getting away with being a dick… But I shoved those feelings aside and we started walking with Loïc and Paul. We took a break around noon for lunch, and right after we left, Monica told me (by text) that Brice had left the Camino.
Boy was I pissed. I was robbed of my revenge! My nemesis was gone before I could… well, I don’t know what I would have done or if I’d have done anything, really, but the choice was now out of my hands. I was overdoing the whole thing for the sake of entertainment, but it truly bothered me. I took off my frustration on a stick that I ended up breaking, after that I walked as fast as I could until I reached Rabanal del Camino, joined shortly after by Loïc and Paul.
We had started being in mountains again; the meseta was finally over. They both had planned on going higher in the mountain, but since it was already late in the afternoon they stayed as well. We found our albergue, a very nice place halfway between modern and classic. Once again, except the three of us I knew none of the pilgrims staying there. We met Jess, who was playing music on her phone, the same kind that we had in Astorga. The same kind that we liked :) She also had made a lot of soup for everybody. Between her and Paul who had paid for lunch and bought a round of beers that night, I felt like everybody was taking care of me. A bit overwhelming at times!
Loïc left early that morning, hoping to be at the mountain top and the iron cross for sunrise while I had breakfast with Paul. The way to the iron cross was pretty amazing. The morning sun over the autumn mountain way made for great landscapes. I noticed writings on some stones on the path: somebody had written the lyrics to a great song. I had hoped to find them all but only saw three of them… Had I a marker, I would have completed the song.
I arrived at the iron cross at the same time as the group of italians: they had spent the night in the town right after ours, Foncebadón. They were also heading to Ponferrada, meaning that the isolation we felt the past days was probably coming to an end.
The weather was really wonderful. We were in November, and were I in Strasbourg or Paris, it would be cold and fresh. But there, it was warm, sunny, with a grand blue sky. The mountain path was beautiful and enjoyable as well. I was having such a blast that at this moment, I was well intent on keeping walking after reaching Santiago. The whole mountain was less hard than the Pyrenees but otherwise had the same kind of paths. I passed through a small village who had as many brick houses in ruins as it had modern houses, making for a sharp contrast between old and new.
After passing by what was supposed to be an albergue cared for by the last templars, I had a coffee break in El Acebo de San Miguel where I met Gaby, Elena, and guess who… El puto oso again! Some guy had took it at the albergue when we were in Leon and nobody knew where he was. It seemed like there was no stopping him from reaching Santiago.
I walked until Molinaseca where I stopped for lunch. For once, instead of eating a bocadillo I allowed myself a menu peregrino. Some people have trouble eating alone at a restaurant but I didn’t care much. Many restaurants offer these pilgrim menus, consisting of two plates, desert and drinks. What I didn’t expect though was that I would have a full bottle of red wine for myself!
I hoped at least one pilgrim or friendly face would pass me by, so that I could share my wine with they, but no, I was on my own…. Half an hour later, my plates were empty, the bottle was empty, and I was everything but. The road to Ponferrada was not hard, but in my state it was quite a challenge. I had considered doing a “drunk day” but seeing how this little distance went, I’m glad I didn’t try. On the other hand, I can’t say that I remember much of it, so all things considered…
I reached the city with Elena, another pilgrim from the US. She was one of the youngest pilgrims I had the chance to meet, and had took a year off before settling in her studies to travel, experiment, figure a few things out… I wish I was as clearheaded as 19 as she was. We met Loïc at the albergue and a few others. The place was quite large and full of people, a sharp contrast with the previous days, as I had expected. But after a day of walking as good as this, I was quite happy to have people to share my good mood and wine with.
We grabbed breakfast with Loïc, Elena and Gaby and we escaped the city by following a road that was off camino and quite boring, but a little shorter than the camino itself. Since the city was drowned in fog, I don’t think we would have seen much of anything had we took the regulard road. I ran into Jem while having coffee and briefly saw Paul again. He was doing longer days than I was so I wasn’t sure I would be seeing much of him before Santiago.. Which was only about a week away.
Loïc was once again walking slow, and I learned that he had hurt his knee on the road. A little later, I ran once into Yutaka whom I hadn’t seen since León. He was impressive: though he was walking at a slow pace (~4km/hour), he was walking between ten and twelve hours a day. All in all he was faster than we were, and he was also sleeping outside in his tent most of the time despite the cold weather at night.
Once the fog lifted, the day was once again beautiful. We walked through hills, fields and vineyards, and the autumn colors were a blessing for our eyes. Gaby, Elena, Jem, Loïc and I decided to stop in Villafranca del Bierzo. We convinced Mike, a canadian pilgrim I met right after León, to stay with us once Elena told him that the albergue we were going to was supposed to look like a psych ward.
And it kind of did, between the white halls, white rooms, and austere hospitaleros. We pretty much had the whole place to ourselves, to the point that once it was time to go to bed, Mike went off and took another room just for himself. Before that though, we spent the rest of the day talking, having beers, and we made ourselves a communal dinner. Jem told us about his performance poetry, and I managed to write alternate lyrics to Sittin’ on the dock of the bay dedicated to a wooden stick that Loïc had left on the side of the road. Hence the name of the song: Stick on the side o’ the road.
That morning, I left earlier than everybody because I was craving coffee. I was not the only one, but I was tired of waiting and I hoped they would join me at some point, but either they didn’t, either they went some place else. In any case, that day promised to be physical again: I had a mountain to climb and I intended to be on top (around 1200m) by the end of the day.
There were at least three different paths leading to O Cebreiro: one following the road, one going through one smaller mountain before the big one, and one other with three mountains. I wanted to go through the three mountains but I had no idea where the path was and I ended up in the smaller mountain.
It looked like I was the only one up there: I knew Loïc would be taking the road due to his injury, but had no idea which path Gaby, Jem and Elena ended up on. Once I was high in the mountain I had a good view on the road and could see human shapes walking along the road. From where I stood it didn’t feel like a fun path, but then again I was having a blast in my mountain, in spite of the light rain and grey weather. I stopped at an albergue in the mountain for a coffee and the hostess was the loveliest person ever.
But good things always come to a end, and once I was down from the mountain I had to follow the road again. I walked with Jem, then Loïc and Mike, then Nora, until it was time to climb the mountain. It was hard here and there but over quicker than I thought. The entrance of O Cebreiro was special: there was a cloud atop the mountain and the whole area was very foggy. I remember that I couldn’t see more than ten meters away. Combined to the lack of sound except the fallings leaves, it gave the place a surreal and almost mystical aura, as if I was walking into a place where no one is supposed to go.
But once inside the town itself, it looked more like a ski resort, with most houses being restaurants or albergues. I went inside of of those and took a coffee while I waited for Loïc. I noticed that I had followed my schedule for 5 days in a row: If I kept this pace, Santiago was only 5 days away… But the weather for the coming days looked quite bad, and since I also wanted to see Saula and Krista again before the end, maybe I would be slowing down a little.