Day Forty Seven: El Acebo to Vega de Valcarce: Sleeping under a bridge - Grampies Go On Their Knees - CycleBlaze

May 13, 2017

Day Forty Seven: El Acebo to Vega de Valcarce: Sleeping under a bridge

One of the well known advantages of staying in an albergue is the chance it affords to meet other pilgrims. Our albergue was full last night (several were turned away) so that meant we were together with 30 others. Of these several stood out for us. One of these standouts was Sam, a Canadian from Zimbabwe. He was very outgoing and fun to talk to, and claims to be the only black African on the route. However he says he is not the only African, since he encountered a white one too. He refers to this one jokingly as his "African brother".

Sam was one of 17 Canadians in the village last night. They were a religious group doing the walk together. Sam and two others of these had come to our very basic church run albergue for a more authentic experience, while the others were in the luxurious new one down the street.

Another from Canada was Leslie, of Chinese origin. She spoke French and English, and I spoke to her in French for some time before realizing that she had perfect English. A teacher on leave, she will go to a religious community in France after Santiago, for five months.

Both Sam and Leslie were fun to talk to, and I learned a lot about Zimbabwe politics and economics from Sam ( e.g. they are now reduced to using goats as currency). But one fellow, Ki Ya from Korea was also very interesting. This interest was despite the fact that Ki Ya had only a very few words of any language other than Korean. I first noticed him when he asked those around when supper would be served. On learning that this would be at 8 (late, to allow pilgrims to attend mass in the tiny church next door) he claimed to be starving. A German lady nearby gave him some bread, which seemed to solve the problem.

Ki Ya, I learned, had the profession of "soldier", or at least he had just retired from that after 34 years. Asked whether he minded walking alone and isolated by language, he replied that walking gave him a chance to think and to get relief from stress.

Buoyed by having learned all this, I tried to see if he viewed North Korea as a true threat. This produced the laconic but eloquent reply "North Korea ... is Enemy!"

We thanked Pepe, the volunteer hospitaler, for all his efforts, and received very warm hugs. Then we exited into the town. Rick Steves has described the town of O Cebreiro (coming up tomorrow) as "An impossibly quaint hobbit hamlet perched on a ridge high above nothing". This is equally a good description of El Acebo..

Communal meals ar a fun part of the albergue
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Christophe and Anna from Poland. Christophe is a health and safety inspector, Anna is a psychiatrist
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Leslie
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Sam
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Pepe in the background
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In this chart yoou can see the hill we just did and the hill we will do tomorrow. The compressed scalemakes them seem very scarey!
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The little church
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The hobbitt hamlet of El Acebo
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Leaving town on those cobbles. Fortunately the heavy rains came only in the night, so our brakes are dry now.
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The view from up the mountain
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We passed over the famous dangerous cobblestones and in moments were out of town. Sparing a glance at the new luxury albergue, we plumetted down the mountain. At least we would have plummeted had we not hung on grimly to our brakes. Our temperature on starting out was 5 degrees, so soon our hands were painfully cold. We had to stop frequently to warm up. This side of the mountain is way steeper than the other. We also noticed a complete lack of the magical heather forest, indicating a critical difference here in moisture or some other factor.

The road wound down and down, but only in few place had truly killer switchbacks.

At the albergue, Pepe had put out this morning lots of bread, toasted in a fry pan, jam, butter, and coffee. It was fine. But when we rolled int the next town of Molinaseca we found on offer bacon and eggs, plus a store with the best quality bread we have seen in Spain so far. I felt like we were high mountain folk coming down into the big city. In fact Molinaseca is also a little mountain town, just ours was littler.

We did finally descend to the big city, in the form of Ponferrada. Ponferrada has a giant Knights Templar castle. It was built in just 20 years, but shortly after, the Templars got disbanded, so they got little use out of it. It seemed like a proper castle to me, though, with turrets and pennants flying from them.

We chanced upon one futher item, a medieval gate, before passing into and getting lost in the modern part of town. Actually we were not lost since we had the GPS. It's just that whenever we stopped to check it a helpful local would pop up to try to send us in the wrong direction. It's not that the directions were wrong, just that we needed the roads and not the walking way.

We finally did rejoin the walkers in a commercial suburb at the end of town. I was at first amazed to see them all there, after the long trek through. But then again there are walkers to be seen on every single part of this route, it's that popular.

Our next major stop was Villafranca del Bierzo. This is where the Church of Santiago (figures) features the Puerta del Perdon. Here if you are too sick to proceed to Santiago you can still obtain absolution with suitable amounts of prayer. We made a special effort to claw our way up to the church, though we do not need any special dispensation. We are quite confidnet now of reaching Santiago. It's good we did not need it, because the darn Puerta, like the rest of Spain, was closed. However it does not seem that it will open at 18:00 or so. Rather it is closed until the next Holy Year, 2021, I think!

Tomorrow we are set to challenge one of the most famous tough spots on the Camino, the climb to O Cebreiro. We again have positioned ourselves for the best shot, being now installed in a room at Vega de Valcarce. This is the last town before the steep climb. We are in a hostal which has the distinction of being run out of a bakery. We "had" to report to the bakery to book in and get the key. We also have the distinction of sleeping under a bridge - high overhead is a highway shooting up the mountain and supported on giant pillars. One of our guide books says don't worry, we will be crawling up to the highway level soon enough.

Tomorrow the bakery opens at 7. But to pay and get the lady to free our bikes from the garage we will have to knock on the bakery back door, if we are before 7. I think it will be quite an advantage to be just late enough for the lady to have opened the bakery front door!

Walkers just below us. See how high the mountains here are
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The road descends sharply
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Molinaseca
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This looked like a metropolis to us
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Really good bread for once
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The templar castle
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The castle is very large
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Clock tower/gate in Ponferrada
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Out into modern Ponferrada
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Somebody clearly got their blueprints jumbled, Ponferrada
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Ah, looks more like a real pilgrim.
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The church wth the "Door of Pardon"
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The "Door", locked of course
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Look Erika P., they are sending you messages under bridges in Spain!
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Our path to Vega was this well protected section by the road.
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Sheltering from rain under a bridge, we peer up at tomorrow's mountain.
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The view from our room. This is the luxury way to sleep under a bridge. Tomorrow we will climb to that road height and beyond.
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Today's ride: 57 km (35 miles)
Total: 2,092 km (1,299 miles)

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