October 7, 2002

10/7/02 Ponferrada

23 km

The problem with sleeping in an attic without windows or electricity is that it's almost dangerous if you have to get up to go outside for a little thing like taking a piss. I waited as long as I could, but made my way down the ladder at 7am. Had trouble getting the door open until José woke up. That was alright though because he wanted to get up early to start making hot coffee and milk for everyone's breakfast.

The most amazing thing about this place high in the mountains is the night sky. I haven't seen the Milky Way so clearly in a long time. Simply amazing.

Everyone had been telling us about rain in the forecast but as we looked up to a clear sky this morning, I knew we'd have at least one more day of sunshine on the Camino.

If yesterday was like walking through Missouri, today was like climbing in Colorado. Instead of road, most of the morning was on dirt trail as we made our way through the mountains. I just love it here!

Torbin climbing down to El Acebo

The Camino topped over a ridge and we had to climb down on a switchback trail to reach the mountain village of El Acebo. Had a bocadillo de casa that after it was made, the entire thing was fried. Need those calories to keep going!

Pilgrim cyclist memorial

All the villages now are made of stone but with wooden balconies over the street. The Camino became another steep descent down from Riego de Ambrós that reminded me a lot like the Appalachian Trail. When I saw a grove of old chestnut trees, I knew it was time for a break.

At the back of the grove was a grandfather of trees presiding over the others. Some of its branches were trees themselves. Soon Josué, Max, Mark, and Isaac joined me. Again, I was surprised when other pilgrims barely glanced at the grove. It was a very peaceful place for a nap or to read.

Isaac reading under a great tree

It was a long descent out of the mountains down to Molinaseca in the valley below. You entered the city crossing a Romanesque bridge called the Puente de Peregrinos. The water in this mountain stream was freezing, numbing my feet after only a few seconds. Still a good day, so I decided to keep going to Ponferrada, another eight kilometers away.

Puente de Peregrinos

Came over a slight hill an hour later to view a huge city in the valley ahead. Maybe I should have stayed in the much smaller Molinaseca. Nothing to do but keep going.

Many layers of mountains in the distance surround the valley. On the closer hillsides, you could see the area is in the middle of the grape harvest. Almost every five minutes, another tractor would pass by pulling a cart full of grapes. When I passed through Campo, you could see courtyards full of baskets of grapes. I wish I spoke Spanish better because I would have liked to ask them if I could help with the picking. They'd probably think I was crazy.

Grape harvest

The Camino wound it's way through a quiet corner of this metropolis. At the alburgue, I met Barbara, an American spending two weeks of her pilgrimage helping out as a hospitalero, a wonderful woman.

Templar Castle

Next to the refugio is the Chapel of El Carmen. A simple church with a colorful fresco painted on its dome ceiling depicting the history of the Camino. A perfect compliment to this is the retablos, which are all unpainted wood. Just a powerful place. I sat in the first row, closest to the dome ceiling and tried to hum my pilgrim prayers. The sound echoed, taking my thoughts farther out into the universe.

Chapel of El Carmen

Every time I think she's ahead of me, I seem to bump into Larissa. We made a very good dinner that at the same time was simple and cheap. I so enjoy sharing my thoughts with friends without fear of judgment, ridicule or argument.

Soon after a light rain, Josué, Gellko, Max and Isaac arrived. Even though I saw them this morning, because I hadn't expected them here now, it was like a reunion again. I hope I remember that when dealing with my family and friends back home. Every meeting is special because you never know when will be the next or the last.