Tuesday, May 19, 2009
Today I am in Ponferrada where I first learned about the Templars in 2002 and have since then been on a journey of Templar discovery. I read what I can, have visited Tomar, Portugal, the home of the Templars in Portugal. It has been a fascinating journey for me, which Garry has also joined. So, Ponferrada. There is a magnificent Templar Castle here which I will visit tomorrow as this is one city where I have always stayed two nights. The day is bright and sunny, it has been the best weather I have ever walked in from Astorga. So let me go back to Astorga and come along the way ....
Astorga to Rabanal del Camino
Sorry pilgrims you will just have to come along and be reminded of your journey. In Astorga there were more pilgrims than I saw along the entire Via de la Plata. As I sat having breakfast in Hotel Gaudi countless early birds were headed along the way but I remind myself that I am not in the race, I am here for the journey (we old hands all know this, it is something you get wise to along the way). One young couple were pushing their toddler in a purpose built stroller, the kiddo was sitting up enjoying the bounce along the road.
Leaving Astorga you are out of the city fairly quickly going along the highway for quite some way. Soon enough you are on the path toward small pueblos and the scenery changes to snow covered mountains in the distance and wild lavender at your feet. I have been amazed at the number of new Albergues. So much reconstruction and purpose built places. In 2002 there was not a choice, it was go all the way to Rabanal but not now, each pueblo has at least one Albergue. I was very impressed with the Albergue las águedas in Murias de Rechivaldo where I enjoyed a zumo (juice) and Cafe con Leche (coffee). The way to Rabanal rises gently, but go up it most certainly does, and you are going up hills all day.
I came across my first Completo (no vacancy) in Rabanal at both the Hotel I wanted to stay in (where I met Maureen and Martin in 2007) and the new Posada just up the hill. So I went to the Albergue Peregrinos Nsta. Sra. del Pilar which I visited in 2007. Isobel, who runs the place, is wonderful and she greets all pilgrims in a friendly happy manner and farewells each and every one in the morning with a Buen Camino and a hug. The Albergue is large, it has a cash Bar and offers an evening meal and also breakfast, making life very easy for tired pilgrims. The day was lovely and it was a good walk. Germans, Germans, Germans, yes they are still on the way but I have met a wonderful French couple (Chantal and Jorge) and also a few Aussies.
In the evening I talked with three guys from Flanden, one being Mark, who lives now in Rabanal. Kim, I know you will be interested in this .... in May 2008 they found what is beleived to be two Celtic Labrynth stones some kilometers south of Rabanal. Then word of mouth starting doing its job and slowly the shepherds were telling about what they knew (petroglyphs in caves etc.) and now they believe that they may have found the old Celtic route. In other words they are connecting the dots. It has always been understood that Rabanal is not really on the path .... I had the most fascinating evening and had to immediately SMS Kees who has a connection to this area.
Rabanal del Camino to El Acebo
This is one day that all Camino Frances pilgrims look forward to, oh, is that correct, maybe not. The energy one feels from this area is intense and my knees were not a problem and have not been since leaving Astorga. The way goes up, and up, and up, until you reach what was in 2002 an abandoned village where only a shepherd and his mother lived. Foncebadon was famous for the wild dogs that Shirley McClaine wrote about. In 2002 as I walked through Foncebadon all the dogs lay sleeping at doorsteps, then I realized I was with Deben and Shanti, two very calm people, so the dogs sensed that, how lucky was I? The shepherds mother is now in a retirement home and the shepherd has moved on. I do not blame him ... the village now boasts one hotel and three Albergues. We stopped for a coffee and it was like Times Square, busy, busy, busy, with pilgrims going on or taking a break. After Foncebadon comes one of the highlights of the journey, Cruz de Ferro, where I was to leave the stone that I had carried with me from Texas and a stone that I had picked up for Kees. It was bright and sunny and the views the best I have ever seen from CdF.
The way still goes up, and up, and up, and then down to Manjarin where one of the camino celebrities started an Albergue many decades ago. Tomas, the Last Templar. The local authorities wanted to close the Albergue down but Tomas protested, to the point of now having a Decree from the King for his Albergue´s survival. Here, in 2007, Roland bought the bracelets that Kees, Wolf, Roland, and I wear.
Leaving Manjarin the legs and knees start to feel the downward slope, and it is a steep down over slate and rocks all the way to El Acebo where I was stopping for the night.
El Acebo to Ponferrada
Today was quite beautiful and the walk hard, but delightful at the same time. Here the scenery is superb and the fragrance of the wildflowers was powerful. Again, I was blown away by the changes to this area. El Acebo, Riego de Amros, and Molinaseca, were (in 2002) lovely to walk through but they were poor mountian villages. Now, with new paint work and the amount of reconstruction they are quite vibrant places. Each has more than one Bar and Albergue´s, along with Casa Rurals and Hostels. Amazing!
From Rabanal del Camino the way takes a pilgrim up to the highest point along the camino and then down steeply to Molinaseca, after that on to Ponferrada where I am now. This year I broke the journey into two days for physical necessity, I am amazed that in 2002 I walked the 27 kms in one day, I could not do that now.
What is coming up?
Leaving Ponferrada pilgrims head to Villa Franca del Bierzo where the slow climb toward O´Cebreiro starts. If you take the Pradella route (which I have twice) the climb is not slow, it is immediate. So, in four days I should be over O´Cebreiro and if an Albergue along the way has Internet I will get back to y´all.
Ponferrada (the capital of El Bierzo) is the last big city before Santiago de Compostela, for me at least, as I do not call Sarria or Portomarin big.