DAY THIRTY ONE: 8 November 2012 from Acebo to Pieros
It would be misleading to think of the Camino as a long distance hike such as the Pacific Crest or Appalachian trails in the USA or the Able Tasmin in New Zealand or any of the other walks awash with stunning scenery and the majesty of nature. Much of the Camino runs alongside or not far from tarmacadam road, there are sections through scrubby industrial outskirts of striving, busy cities, two airports two circumvent and lumpy, warty wasteland to negotiate. But there is beauty; moments of painterly exquisiteness, little gems of gorgeousness and the hidden jewels in the unkempt folds of this unprepossessing walk.
Today I walked a long way, almost 34km, descending from the Montes de Leon into the warm embrace of the broad valley of El Bierzo in the lee of the rugged mountains of Galacia. The morning welcome in Molinaseca, is second to none. I wiggle my way into a tiny compendium of a shop just over the handsome medieval bridge over the rio Meruelo. The proprietor greets me with delight, he is a man who loves company. Dropping the DIY he has been doing he reveals a table and chairs for dining and suddenly he is transformed into a chef with skillet ready to cook up an omelette to order. Ideally located on the way into town it isnt long before I am joined by Heather from Canada and Roberto from Milan. They have decided to stay in the next town Ponferrada, the capital of El Bierzo. Heather has been ill and after consideration has decided to ease her way by catching a bus over the next section of the Camino. It has been a hard decision to make but now the decision is made she feels so much better. No doubt unfairly I have decided that I am not going to like Ponferrada, perhaps I am not ready for another city visit. I am briefly tempted by the magnificent 12th Century Castillo de Templarios, a national monument, recently opened after extensive renovations but with a long, al beit flat, stretch across the valley before the possibility of the next hostel my focus is on getting through the city of the iron bridge as quickly as possible. It is a frustrating experience, the town dribbles on and on and in the far outskirts there are road works and diversions that obscure the way marks and tease me in circles. Fortunately it is a dry day and the warmth in the valley is welcome. For only the second time on this Camino I decide that an afternoon beer is in order at Columbrianos but the Cafe Sol was a sullen companion and perhaps that explains why I succumbed to the temptation of Cooperativa Vinas del Bierzo a mere 5km later.
Since I left Roberto & Heather I hadnt seen any other pilgrims but I was enjoying the quiet industry of nature in the vinyards that I was now walking through. Like in Rioja there is a ghost like absence of people, the work of harvesting is over and the work to be done is the that of Autumn guiding the vines into a dormant state. The leaves die in a glory of red and gold, dropping gently off the vines and leaving them ready for pruning. It is not far to Cacabelos now and my planned hostel stop for the night. I mistake the darkening sky for dusk but it is a cover for big fat drops of rain building up an eager momentum. I have learned to stop and put on my wet gear at the first sign of rain. There is nothing worse than being wet inside wet gear. I am exhausted and not a little tiddly but I do the needful. It is far more comfortable to be ready for the weather and to relax into it. Probably that is why I had time to say hello to Armardo happily industrious in his hobby house. Within minutes I am ensconsed in a big delapidated armchair with a fizzing glass of his own wine. He has created a home away from home in this garage unit in the amongst the vines. He is busy boxing and cataloging in his office cum entertainment area. He tells me about his children, his son who is a corporate big shot in Madrid or perhaps it was Buenos Aires. He is chatting volublely to me in Spanish, wrapping me in this fuzzy comfort zone. A speeding pilgrim passes by. A future companion still to be met. I didnt know at this stage but Kevin works his day from a slow leisurely start into a blistering pace. I am exhausted just watching him disappear into the wet, dark horizon. I am not sure that I will be able to get up and keep on walking but then Armardo is closing up and climbing up into his 4×4. He knows better than to offer a pilgrim a lift but he does wave encouragingly at me as I head off into the driving rain.