Vega de Valcarce -> Fonfria = 25K (Just 140.7K more!)
Entering the Fonfria, a herd of lovely, velvet-eyed, brown cows crowd me to the side of the “Main Street.” A handsome shepherd dog eyes me for a moment, sizing me up, and then passes behind me, managing his bovine charges effectively and efficiently. The shepherd smiles.
Outside the albergue door, a beautiful, large, grey stallion systematically eliminates the tall grass. I hear a rooster crow nearby and I see dogs playing across the dusty street.
“This is where I will spend the night,” I decide and smile to myself.
From inside the charming albergue, loud music pours out and as I enter the door I see the hospitalera dancing behind the bar as she makes a cup of café con leche.
"Oh yes," I think, "I am checking in!" Animals, music, dancing and cafe con leche - who could ask for more?
So here I am relaxing over a café con leche; over the mountain after a remarkable walk which, at intervals, felt like a scene out of a Disney film. Galicia is more like Ireland than what one may think of as Spain. But of course, Galicia is part of Spain. It is very clear that it was influenced by the Celts.
I climbed the mountain in the early hours arriving in Galicia as the sun came over the peaks and kissed the green, green mountainside. It is almost surreal.
Early in the day I walked through La Faba, where I stopped to catch my breath. This village would have been a lovely place to spend a night. (There is a German or possibly Dutch run albergue that feeds pilgrims from their organic garden)
I linger a bit, playing with a pair of delightful stray kittens who wrestle one another, fighting over a grease-soaked loaf of bread and a few pieces of chorizo I share with them. I resume walking.
The enchanting villages I walk through today smell of cattle and are perched on hillsides so steep the cows must have 2 long legs and 2 shorter legs in order to graze on the hillsides. The path is littered with cow manure.
When I arrive in O’Cebreiro at the peak of the mountain, fog engulfs the 9 ancient, round, stone, thatch-roofed structures (pallozas) that comprise (most of) the village. The fog adds to the mystical quality of the place. Words like amazing, haunting come to mind. I can almost believe the local legend; the 14th Century miracle about the wine and bread turning into blood and the flesh of Christ.
Once again, I wish I could stay a day or two and simply soak up the ambience of this special place. But, I am a pilgrim and I cannot tarry…pilgrims are meant to walk. As I walk, I find myself wondering is J.R Tolkien ever visited the region. It could have been the inspiration for his Hobbit-world.
I had been anxiously anticipating the challenging climb, one of the most challenging on the entire Camino. Like many things in life, the climb was somewhat anti-climactic. Many pilgrims elect to taxi or bus their way over the mountain. Others send their backpacks ahead so they can walk more easily. I did neither. I chose to walk with my backpack and found that I was exhilarated by the steep climb. My joy and excitement fuel my energy and I walk on beyond my original destination.
So here I am in the charming albergue in Fonfria. I have had a delicious hot shower (in a private bathroom) and I washed my long hair with borrowed shampoo. I am sitting in a sunny courtyard letting my hair dry in the breeze and sipping sidra (apple cider) with a group of fellow pilgrims. There is lots of laughter and conversation (despite language barriers). The German man with the cowboy hat (I dubbed him “Herr Gummi-schuhe”) is so funny. My Irish friend (S.) and the Danish woman who lives in Spain, my friend from Finland, the delightful woman from New Zealand and many other pilgrims while away the late afternoon together.
It is hard to imagine that my pilgrimage will soon come to an end. I push that thought aside and stay in the happy present.
Santo Domingo de la Calzada to Belorado
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