La Portela de Valcarce – O Cebreiro
It is still dark when we leave the truck stop from hell and the street lights of La Portela de Valcarce cast an eerie orange glow as we walk through the street down the middle of the little village.
Ahead of us a large dog is barking constantly in the middle of the street. As we come closer the barking ceases and the dog looks at us in a manner that I do not like at all. Pam is normally eager to try and greet dogs as we pass however she also senses something is amiss and changes path to ensure that I am between her and this fierce looking beast.
As we pull level with the dog it bares its fangs, growls and lowers its body like it is about to charge at us. This could get bloody.
I lift my Pacerpoles and grasp them in the weapon like fashion I have practiced for just such a circumstance, one to fend and one to whack. I face the dog which is still in an attack crouch, growling all the while. Pam shields behind me and moves ahead as I back up the street not taking my eyes off the dog for an instant.
We get about ten meters away from the dog and then I turn forwards again for a couple of seconds. I turn back to see the dog has crept towards us while my back was turned. When I turn to face him the dog bares its fangs again and starts growling.
One to fend and one to whack, up come the poles again. This time I back off even further before turning forwards and then quickly turning back. The hound is coming at us again each time I take my eyes off it.
I back away facing the dog till nearly the end of town where he seems to lose interest and I finally feel safe to walk normally again.
I thought Cerberus greeted souls on their entry to hell, not the exit.
Nothing like a bit of adrenaline to wake you up in the morning. The air is sweet, cool and dense with plant exhalation in the river valley where we are walking. I have successfully protected my love from harm. It is a very good day to be alive.
The sun has risen by the time we turn left and cross the Rio Calcarce for the first time today. The village Ambasmestas lies just across the river and we march through under the umbrella of low clouds that shroud the hilltops around us.
Vega de Valcarce is the village where we had intended to stay the previous day and as we enter the town we see beautiful pension after pension we would happily have swapped for the truck stop. One of these establishments has smoke pouring from a chimney and falling down in the cool air. We can smell the wood fire as we walk towards it and see outdoor chairs and a sign Pan Aderia Artesana.
A wood fired oven bread artist is too good an opportunity to turn down on a cool morning walk. We stop and go inside to sample the wares. The interior is a good twenty degrees warmer than the outside and the girl serving is dressed in a red T shirt and white apron. We order a couple of warm croissants and a cup of coffee for Pam. Yum yum.
Just as we leave Pam spies a little souvenir stand selling Camino related trinkets and insists I buy her a little yellow arrow to put on her pack.
So now we are never far from the Way.
We still have a long way to go and the second largest day’s climb on the entire Camino ahead of us so we trim the wick and light things up pace wise after we leave the bakery.
The Way is still along the narrow quiet bitumen country road that winds slowly upwards through Ruitelan before turning down back into the river valley through San Julian and then Las Herrerias.
Just after Ruitelan we come across our first road sign warning about snow. Now there is something we don’t see every day.
There have been hand drawn signs advertising horse riding tours taking pilgrims up to O Cebreiro ever since the little village Ambasmestas ‘Horse ride to O Cebreiro five kilometers’ and in Las Herrerias we see about six or seven horses with riders and the horse owner walking amongst them. I take pictures however the troupe is too far ahead to be recognizable on the iphone.
We have crossed and recrossed the Rio Valcarce during the morning and I have seen how the small towns divert the river flow for irrigation. Las Herrerias has river water flowing right beside the main road for almost the entire length of the village in a concrete canal that is about one meter wide. The flow is brisk and clean. The whole region is just primed for Micro Hydro Electrics as a primary source of localized electricity.
I say as much to Pam who gives me the ‘build it and they will come’ sermon in reply.
The region where we are walking is now extremely picturesque however we are running out of flattish area. If you walk up a mountain river valley long enough sooner or later you come to the mountain.
Not long after the little village Hospital the climb begins to steepen heading up the narrowing country road.
We come to where the Way leaves the bitumen and in true Camino fashion we lose the elevation we had gained and walk right back down to the headwaters of the Rio Valcarce which is now a little stream coming down the side of the mountain.
We cross this little stream walking over a few large rocks and then the climb begins in earnest.
By now the low cloud has cleared and the sky is blue blue blue. The base climb is under trees up a rocky steep path walled on one side by the mountain slope and the other in moss covered stones. The sun streams through the leaves in moving patchworks to light our way.
The Way twists and turns upwards and we sweat and groan in response. Pam is starting to feel poorly and complains of dizziness and a sore belly.
We slow our pace however we have no choice but to keep climbing. We start to rest frequently and are overtaken by many pilgrims. I have never seen so many other pilgrims on the Way as today, I guess the slope has got us all bunched together.
The Wacky Races continues, today Dastardly is being slowed by Mutley and we are being overtaken by the other contestants.
This gives us lots of photo opportunities.
We pass through many farmlets not listed on maps and finally make La Fabia where we take a pit stop to rest and drink. I have a hard time getting Pam started again. Normally she is the one chasing me out of the chair and urging me onwards, I am not comfortable with the role reversal.
‘Onwards and ever upwards’ each step taken is one closer to beer and bed.
A little up from La Fabia we pass an Albergue specializing in vegetarian food and Pam wants to stay there despite our booking at the top at O Cebreiro.
I drag her onwards up the hill. The Way has left the cover of the lower level trees by now and the sun is streaming down.
Pam is getting slower and slower and finally says ‘that’s it, I have had enough, I have to lie down’. As luck would have it her gasket has blown just as we pass a gap in the path side which allows us into the green field beside.
Pam gets her infrequently used sarong, that she had dreamed we would picnic on often, out of her pack and lies down on the grassy slope using her backpack as a pillow.
Finally I find my place in life, I stand above her shading her poor dizzy head with the shadow cast from my body.
I am a portable tree.
A simple existence, poorly paid yet oddly rewarding. I walk to where I am needed and stand still.
Pam takes a couple of pictures with her finger just in lens from where she lies.
Finally she feels well enough to continue and we struggle on pausing often for rest. It is a real pity she is not well for we are both fit enough now to power up the hillside instead of groaning along like day one pilgrims.
We pass the stone marking the beginning of the Gallacian territory. There is a queue of pilgrims taking photos of each other and Pam plods past barely looking.
I know we are getting close to the top at last when the riderless (other than the owner this time) horse troupe wind down the path past us. ‘Not long to go now babe’ I tell Pam. ‘Yeah Yeah, heard it all before’ is her response.
Not long after we make the wall running along the last section of the climb to O Cebreiro and walk the last couple of hundred meters to town.
O Cebreiro straddles the mountain ridge with spectacular views of the valley below to the East, West and North. To the South the mountain climbs even higher, we have this to look forward to tomorrow.
We stumble through the cobblestone streets, the village is tiny and swarming with pilgrims.
We find our accommodation easily for once and after she has had a shower and a bit of a lie down Pam comes good.
The supermarket has a coin operated laundry attached and we do our washing while having something to eat, We meet some lovely Canadians Bob and Margie that we have been playing Wacky Races with for the last week.
Jo, Amr and Rosie have beaten us into town and we run into Jo later in the day and have another interesting conversation that takes us right up to dinner time.
Our dinner is in the Casa Rural where we are staying so the walk back to our bed is short.
In my dreams I am flying, soaring over mountain peaks.
Mick and Pam