From Ponferrada another sunny day´s walk through the wine lands of El Bierzo on to Villafranca del Bierzo, a charming village where we stayed at a particularly special albergue run by a man who must now be in his sixties or seventies called Jato. The albergue had been built by pilgrims, and Jato seemed to live a life completely dedicated to the service of the pilgrims passing through, cooking up the most delicious Caldo Bierziano in the evening, and setting us on our way in the morning with fried eggs on bread. Still better, Jato loaded up all our rucksacks into a landrover making our climb up O Cebreiro the next day significantly easier going.
The threatened rain held off until the last 30 minutes of our climb up the steep slopes of O Cebreiro. At the top, the cold mist and rain swirling around us could not dampen our spirits. We had arrived in Galicia!
The walk down from Cebreiro to Triacastela was heavy going. The rain was relentless, once again, my foot started to protest, and to make matters worse, instead of following the Camino arrows, I ended up following some other markings down an alternative mountain route. Some 6km short of Triacastela, I came to a point where the path crossed a stream, where mysteriously, both the way to the right and to the left were marked with a cross, indicating "not this way". Almost miraculously, just as I mused upon which direction to take, a farmer appeared. "Which way is the camino?" I asked. He pointed down the river. "Your going to get wet!" he said.. I barely understood a word he said to me in a mixture of Galician and Spanish, but I understood he was directing me along an alternative and drier route. So I struck off across the fields, more or less in the direction he seemed to be indicating as the rain continued to pour, keeping an eye on the flooded foot path. After fighting my way through two barbed wire fences, I was able to rejoin the path, and finally find my way down to Triacastela.
In Triacastela, Juli had recommended that I went to the pilgrim mass. The mass was a truly unique experience. There must have been ten pilgrims, and the priest asked us which languages we spoke, and handed out readings so that each of us had to read parts of the service in our own language. Furthermore, he asked me to do a sort of simultaneous translation into english of his homily. In particular I remember he said that we should be christians through love and not fear, which I thought was very good. Finally, all of us held hands and recited the lords prayer together, each in his own language, and we took communion. I had never taken communion before, and I am not sure that you are supposed to without having met certain prerequisites, but it seemed to be an appropriate time and setting to do so!
That evening at dinner, Regine,a French woman asked me what I had learned from the camino, and strangely I did not have an easy answer. There are so many different things it is not easy to describe. What came to mind was firstly how small we are compared to nature. When we can drive and fly around the world, we loose this perspective. Secondly, it is the importance of looking after ourselves as an individual. Sometimes you need to go at your own pace, go at your own speed, and not let other people dictate their speed to you. Third, is a change of perspective of material things. On the Camino, the problem is usually that you have too much, not that you have too little. And lastly, on the Camino, it doesnt matter who you are, or what your position is in society. Everyone is truly equal, trying to reach a common goal. Later when we return to the real world, of course we will all go back to exactly the same lives as before with the same problems, but perhaps our perspective will be different.
From Triacastela, we had a good days walk. My feet didnt hurt, the rain stopped, and as the day wore on, I saw that it would be reasonable to keep walking taking advantage of the break in the rain, and finally I completed 32km as far as Ferreiros. Just two km before Ferreiros, we past the 100km milestone to Santiago. On Friday, Juli will arrive, and the apostle´s tomb is only 4 day´s walk away!