Villafranca del Bierzo – La Portela de Valcarce
Today we are faced with two choices, the high road with a very steep descent at the end or the low road following the winding river. My left knee is still very painful and we decide to avoid paths involving declines for today.
We have one more major mountain range and climb ahead of us between Villafranca del Bierzo and Triacastela and we have decided to break it into three stages rather than the two generally advised in most guide books.
Today our plan is the short flat walk between Villafrance del Bierzo and Vega de Valcarce. We wake early and leave with the rising sun.
We leave Villafrance by crossing the Rio Burbia via a bridge guarded by a stone pilgrim statue.
We have not had any breakfast however I eat an apple and painkillers on the outskirts of town as Pam puts on her coat.
Ahead the separation of the Way is clear, with the high road breaking right and heading immediately uphill and the low road running flat along the bitumen road heading past the last buildings of Villafranca del Bierzo.
To my relief we chose the low road as planned. Whew again.
The Way follows the bitumen via a concrete shoulder running behind a concrete safety barrier beside the quiet road to our right. To our left flows the Rio Valcarce with a major highway running through tunnels and across high freeway bridges even further to the left.
The road we follow, though in great condition, is hardly trafficked with most vehicles following the freeway above us to the left and the walk is relatively peaceful.
We have read descriptions of the grandeur of the scenery of the high road we are eschewing for the low however mountain streams are some of my very favourite places.
Mountain streams are little ribbons of life winding like arteries through the land. Water cascades, hugging the rocky banks and river bed, releasing joyous rivulets of sound to all who care to listen. The surrounding air is still, cool, dense and charged with plant exhalation. Each breath I take is full of energy, charging my lungs as we stride in silence.
Mountain streams make their own magic.
The Rio Valcarce is never far away with our path winding in it’s folds or crossing and recrossing via small bridges. I am very much at peace as we walk in the cool morning air.
We chose not to take the path leading through the tiny village Pereje and continue up the road shoulder until the entrance to Trabadelo where the high and low roads of the Way intersect once more.
We stop for Pam’s breakfast in Trabadelo which is a small village with a sawmill in it’s centre and stacks of wood towering along the entrance road.
We are soon walking out of town again watching pilgrims wind down the steep descent above. My knees sing a little song of thanks that it is them and not me.
Our intention for today’s walk is to make the village Vega de Valcarce and we are already more than halfway there. We have booked at a place called Hotel Valcarce and are surprised to come to a large truck stop a few kilometers up the road (just before La Portela de Valcarce) which has a large sign atop it’s roof saying Hotel Valcarce.
‘Surely this could not be the place’ I say to Pam and she shudders ‘I sure hope not as well’ in reply.
‘Perhaps we had better go in and check, just to make sure’ I say.
As we ponder our situation Jo walks up and says that she Amr and Rosie are all staying here as well as it is the only major hotel in the area. This does not bode well as we had not planned on sleeping in a truck stop at the turnoff of a major freeway.
We make our way up to the large building which appears to be self contained, there is a cafe/bar, restaurant, specialty food shop and out the front a fruit stand. Along with the hotel itself.
Inside we find Jo arguing with the reception staff who are unwilling to accept her booking without some mystery document she is unable to produce. By the time we deal with the desk clerk she is hostile and abrupt.
Finally we sort out our room details, get our packs off and shower. Pam does not want to have to deal with any more staff so I am sent to work out how to get our washing done. We only washed our quick dry shirts in the shower at Villafranca and are reaching the end of our two day must do our washing now cycle.
There is no one at the reception when I return and I spend what seems like forever getting anyone to assist with my enquiry as foreign pilgrims seem to come in very very low on the service scale in the busy cafe and restaurant. Finally an English speaking worker from the transport department which has an office in the building makes enquiries on my behalf and I leave our full laundry bag with the laundry staff on the same floor as our room.
Six Euros and a couple of hours later our laundry is warm and immaculately folded awaiting our pickup.
From there it is beer and blog for me until dinner time which we eat chatting with our three fellow Aussies at the restaurant.
From our arrival I have moved maybe one hundred meters in total and half of those have been up and down inside the lift.
Pam and Mick.