Camino de Santiago Day 10:
Ponferrada to Villafranca del Bierzo
Sometimes the problem with doing a really long day isn’t just how you feel at the end pushing yourself that hard.
It’s how you feel the next day.
I struggled to drag myself out of bed, and I reasoned that I didn’t need to get an early start since I wasn’t going as far.
So I took my time braiding my hair and organizing my things and looking at the map a few extra times.
When I finally laced up my boots it was almost 9am.
The sun was already bright out! I need to get moving, I thought.
But that was exactly the problem. All my ‘get up and go’ was gone.
I hadn’t even left Ponferrada and I was moving like it was the end of the day.
I walked slowly through the town. Past the castle.
And up to the town square that was so busy the night before.
Now it was just me and the street sweeper.
The Way leaves Ponferrada through a city park that runs along the river. There were a few folks out jogging, but it was mostly quiet.
Then the path went along several small roads. It stayed pretty flat, mercifully.
But you could see in the distance that we were headed for the hills again soon.
Even on the flat road, I felt like I was in slow motion. I stopped about 8 km out at a coffee shop and rested for a while.
Then the track went over a highway and turned into dirt road. It was kinder terrain than the road with cars going by.
And every once in a while there was some relief from the sun in the shade of a few trees. I gave thanks for whoever planted these trees along the way.
But again I was feeling every stone under my boot and every step in my weary body. Had I been walking with someone I’m sure I would have whined to them. But as there was no one to whine to, I whined in my head.
When I got to Cacabelos, it was such a lovely village that I wanted to stop. But I told myself I’d better not because I was having such a slow day already.
I got almost through the town when a sign advertising smoothies drew me in.
So I stopped for a smoothie and to use the bathroom and as I sat, I was wishing I could just sleep there.
They had rooms available but I was already booked in a place 8 more kilometers down the road.
So onward we go.
The smoothie gave me a little boost for a while.
I soon saw a marker that indicated that I was under 200km left to Santiago which was exciting.
Of course since I am not doing all 800, it’s different but still from now I am counting down to Santiago.
Towards the end of the day, there was a choice to walk along the road or to take the Camino up into a vineyard.
I vaguely remembered reading that the vineyard added a bit but that it was much more pleasant than walking on the side of the road.
So I took the route through the vineyard, maybe not taking into account how much I was already dragging that day.
I was thankful to be off the main road but also it was curiously quiet and not as well marked.
Every once in a while there was a marking that clearly a fellow pilgrim had left.
And also the occasional shade tree.
The day was just gorgeous so I tried to focus on the beauty instead of on how hot and tired I was.
I popped in my headphones and listened to music to push me through the last hour or so.
It was after 3 already so I was as delirious as I had been the day before at this same time, even though I hadn’t walked nearly as far.
Sometimes it’s the cumulative effect that gets you.
But still…the vineyards! The blue sky!
The mountains in the distance!
Then finally, after forever without detailed markings I saw that I had 3.3 km left.
I restrained myself from tears and switched to a favorite Richard Rohr audiobook to carry me the rest of the way in.
On the outskirts of Villafranca del Bierzo is a church with a large door called the Puerta del Pardon, which means the door of forgiveness.
If pilgrims were struggling to get to Santiago, like maybe they were sick or their bodies were broken down from the journey, they could come to this door and it ‘counted’ for the pardon or absolution they were seeking by walking to Santiago.
I saw many people touching the door as they came into town or stopping to say a prayer there at the door of forgiveness.
Maybe because so many pilgrims arrived in this town needing medical attention, there is a large pilgrim hospital attached to another large church, San Nicolas.
Now the old hospital is an albergue and hotel.
I had booked one of the rooms and I was wide-eyed as my host walked me up the stairs and down the wide hallways.
My room looked out over the town and to the hill above that I would walk tomorrow.
And I had a bathtub.
I could have hugged the host.
Except I was drenched in sweat and grime so that would have been gross.
I had a long soak.
Then I washed out my clothes and hung them up to dry.
Then a wee nap.
I went out to explore the town a bit. I found the square where they were setting up a stage for live music.
I ordered beer and sparkling water and a plate full of roasted vegetables.
The tables began to fill up as the music started so I gave away all the other chairs at my table. I spoke a little with a Spanish pilgrim who is retired but now teaches Spanish to immigrants as a volunteer. I learned a few new words and phrases.
When I left to go back to my room and head to bed, the party was going strong in the square, but I didn’t hear it for long.
I fell asleep hard and fast, hoping to feel back to my normal walking self by the next day.