I left Cacabelos in pouring rain at 8 a.m. after toast and a large cafe con leche at the hostel, Saint James Way. After clearing the town, I climbed up through vineyards and, though it was raining, found it quite pretty. It was strange that all over the Bierzo countryside were buzzing electric wires, as if some strange spirit was speaking from above. I was in a Zen frame of mind and kept putting one foot in front of the other and admiring the surroundings. I encountered some trees with spiky yellow balls that I found out later were European Chestnuts.
I passed through the town of Las Angustias without stopping and walked up a gravel path past a simple wooden cross. I then passed through the small village of Pieros with its 11th century parish church.
Cacabelos to Las Angustias (1.6 km) (to Pieros (1.7 km))
After Pieros, I walked on a wide and muddy track that wound its way through the vineyards and into the sleepy hamlet of Valtuille de Arriba.
Las Angustias to Opción (2.2 km) (to alternative road, which I didn’t take)
Opción to Valtuille de Arriba (1.4 km)
In Valtuille de Arriba, I passed a funky coffee shop cutely decorated but closed.
Valtuille de Arriba to Villafranca del Bierzo (4.3 km)
Then I walked through the stunning El Bierzo landscape: rolling hills covered in vineyards and a white-washed house between loblolly pines. It was picturesque even in the rain. It continued to rain the whole two hours it took me to walk to Villafranca del Bierzo, where I found the 12th-century Romanesque Church of Santiago.
The 12th-century Iglesia de Santiago is a Romanesque jewel with a fine Puerta de Perdón, Door of Forgiveness, and a statue of St. James in full pilgrim regalia inside. Medieval pilgrims who weren’t able to continue on to Santiago received absolution here just as they would in Santiago. Because of this, Villafranca was often referred to as “little Santiago.”
Villafranca del Bierzo, population 3,500, began to develop in the 11th century along the Camino Francés.
In the town, I wandered around aimlessly for a long while. I’d sent my camera ahead in my pack so it wouldn’t get wet today and for some reason my phone was already dying. I still had over 10km to go. I looked around town for a charger (I’d also sent that ahead in my pack) and found one in a Chinese shop. I stood in the shop awhile to charge the phone. I stopped at a coffee shop to drink some orange juice and eat doughnuts; here I charged my phone some more.
I walked around town and saw the 17th-century Iglesia San Nicolás and went inside Iglesia Colegiata, formerly the Iglesia Nuestra Señora de Cluniaco, whose monks from Cluny were among the first arrivals here from France.
My friend Darina, who was now a town ahead of me, recommended I take the alternative route out of Villafranca. I wasn’t sure I should bother as long as it was raining. I had to take the alternate path immediately after crossing the bridge out of town, so I lingered to see what the weather would do. If I took the path, I would want to take photos, thus my attempts to charge my phone. Finally, it looked as if the weather was clearing, so I took the path. It was a very steep climb up, and it kept going up and up. The whole alternate path turned out to be along the top of a mountain, and then, after a very long while, a steep descent. I was probably foolish to take this route as it seemed to go on forever and I was due to climb a big mountain the following day to O’Cebreiro.
The views were stunning and it was exhilarating walking on a mountain path rather than the roadside route, which I could see below in the valley. For 10 km, I didn’t see a soul in front of or behind me. I had the path all to myself, or so it seemed. A couple of times I worried I might be lost, but then magically the yellow Camino arrows would appear, easing my mind.
Villafranca del Bierzo to Opción – Puente Burbia to scenic route Camino de Pradela (1.0 km)
I climbed and climbed until I reached stunning vistas of the valley below and the town of Villafranca del Bierzo behind me. Here, I found a number of cairns dedicated to this journey of life.
Scenic route Camino de Pradela to Vista (3.3 km)
After about 3.3 km, I reached a shaded stretch under chestnut woods. I still hadn’t encountered a single soul on this entire stretch.
Vista / altares to Alto / Peña Roldan (3.0 km)
The mountain path had ascended for an eternity, so I knew I’d be in trouble when it was time to descend. As always, the descent was steep and rocky, requiring great concentration. I was never so happy to get to the town of Trabadelo.
Alto / Peña Roldan to Trabadelo (4.1 km)
My albergue, Albergue Camino y Leyenda, it was nearly empty. I had reserved a bed in a 5-bed room, expecting I’d have roommates, but for the second night in a row, I had a many-bedded room to myself. What a treat!
When I first came down off the mountain, I ran into Greg, the retired high school teacher from British Columbia who I’d talked to going into Ponferrada about the younger generation, the horrors of Trump, and our bafflement over Trump supporters. Greg told me he and his friend Sean had walked over the alternate route, just as I had, and they’d been accompanied by Beth from Australia, who Greg seemed to like immensely. All he could talk about was their walk. He was glowing with pleasure over their day. They must have been just ahead of me all day, but I never caught sight of them.
When I went to dinner later at a restaurant Darina had recommended, Gastropub – El Puente Peregrino, I ran into Greg and Sean, who were staying in rooms at the restaurant. I enjoyed vegetable curry with rice and goat cheese yogurt with honey and walnuts and we talked about the Camino.
I was exhausted after a long day of strenuous hiking and was feeling blessed that the skies cleared in the afternoon and the views were stunning, even during the rainy morning.
*Day 38: Thursday, October 11, 2018*
*34,839 steps, or 14.76 miles: Cacabelos to Trabadelo (18.3 km)*
You can find everything I’ve written so far on the Camino de Santiago here:
On Sundays, I post about hikes or walks that I have taken in my travels; I may also post on other unrelated subjects. I will use these posts to participate in Jo’s Monday Walks or any other challenges that catch my fancy.
This post is in response to Jo’s Monday Walk: Ferragudo.