Thursday, July 02, 2009

Day 31 - Cacabelos - Wednesday, 20 May 2009

Molinaseca -> Cacabelos = 23K (189.6K remaining!)

I feel as if I am in a detainee camp. And like a detainee, I am just grateful to have a place to stay.

The dismal, concrete grounds are Spartan and shade less. Weary pilgrims sit on the curbs in the hot afternoon sun, tending their sore foot and leg injuries. Others are hard at work at the outdoor sinks, scrubbing the day’s dirt from their clothing. Wet laundry hangs on drying racks scattered around the dreary, cramped courtyard that is our temporary home.

Last night I stayed in a lovely, bright private albergue filled with potted geraniums, no bunk beds and a dining room. Tonight I am just grateful to have a bed.

Late in the afternoon, there is still a line snaking around the building and the hospitalero’s have no more beds to spare. Recent arrivals are given thin pallets and are going to sleep in the communal area – outdoors! (I try to imagine what pilgrim life is like during the busy season!)

The albergue is a municipal one, associated with a church. Tiny cell-like rooms line the walls around the churchyard. Inside each dark, dank cell are two beds (privacy). There are no locks on the doors, but anyone walking past the closed door could lock inhabitant in. This makes me uncomfortable.

I look at the map and see that there will be a steady climb, climb, climb in the near future. Of course climbs are usually followed by descents and this one is a quick, steep one. (From 400 meters -> 1300 meters and then down: 1285 meters -> 665 meters in just under 7 kilometers!) Pilgrims on the Camino learn quickly that descents are often much more of a challenge than the climbs.

On my walk today I saw many lovely sights; sights worthy of photographing. Since my camera batteries were dead, I took mental pictures of the following:

• A skinny donkey and a skinny farmer plowing a rocky field.
• A nest of black cats snuggled together, taking a siesta inside an old tire.
• Abundant, colorful blooms spilling out of a window box.
• An elderly man walking his cow as if it was a dog.
• A fabulous castle (Ponferrada) that conjured up dreams of knights of old.
• Wine fields spanning the rolling hills with a Mordor-like mountain looming beyond.

I had anticipated walking further today (7K more) but banking and buying batteries slowed me down. Sometimes simple tasks take longer when one is on the road. I had to go to a couple ATMs in order to get cash. I am always afraid the machines will retain my card, so each time I was refused cash, I elected to try a different ATM.

I also lingered a bit in Ponferrada where I ran into M. (a delightful fellow-pilgrim and photographer from NYC/London). M. and I met unexpectedly at the corner in front of the beautiful castle, as if by pre-arrangement. It is always a joy to see a familiar face, so I was glad to see my friend again (he pops up every so often, like a guardian angels of sorts!).

We had breakfast and good conversation before taking a few photos of the old Knights Templar castle. (I wish I had stayed overnight in Ponferrada so I could have time to really explore the castle and the rest of this old mining town.) Then we resumed our walk, this time together. Ponferrada is urban, so the walk across town and out into the countryside took a while. We walked and talked for a few hours.

Eventually I left him my friend behind. In the end, each pilgrim must walk their own pace.

Dinner tonight was fun. I dined with S. (a young, irreverent Irish woman with a Gaelic name) and her current walking companions, a group of Italian men who are traveling together. We dined on a decent pilgrim menu at a local bar: typical stuff, but really well prepared. The homemade flan was the best I have ever tasted and the serving size was enormous!

It is time for this pilgrim to douse the light and dream about the days to come.

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