DAY THIRTY THREE: 10 November 2012 from Ruitelan to O’Cebreiro
This has to be the laziest walking day ever – just over 9km. I find myself suffering hours of angst because of my fixed definitions and distinctions about days of rest and days of walking. Up to this I have had no issue with taking a day or two or even three out of my walking schedule to rest, to relax, to coach, to experience. I have no issue with creating strategically short days to support myself e.g. get in to the rhythm of walking on my first day up hill and out of St Jean or from Viana the day after I sprained my ankle. But today I find I have an issue with the idea of weaving walking, rest and play together.
After a happy night at Pequeno Potala our hosts Carlos & Luis firmly but gently shuffle this indolent bunch of pilgrims out on to the road. We are heading uphill and over the mountains into Galacia but the pull of the easy, relaxed evening seems to live on in our drunken weaving progression. Fortunately there is nowhere at Herrerias to stop or I might not have even made it over the border. The path gets steeper up to La Faba which is a pretty little mountain hamlet where we are met by the welcome open maw of Refugio Vegetariano. The proprietor, Marcel, with his piercing sky blue eyes and his smokey green eyed kitten loiter like guardians to a world of witches, wizards, time travel and space portals. The kettle is on and there is donativo tea on offer, Ganesh and other Hindu images sit with us. Marcel probably from Germany or Holland, certainly not from Spain, likes to be mysterious. He draws us into his cavern of curiosity, a space that serves cooking, eating, sleeping and camp fire conversation. Yes there is a smouldering fire in the centre of his rocky mountain home. Around the corner he shows us a vaulted cart shed where there he has created beds hung on chains from the ceiling and swathed in colourful cloth. He mentions that he is looking for help in exchange for bed and board. I can feel the tug of enigma but the voice of my walking demon screams in disgust – 4.3km what kind of pilgrim are you?! I tear myself away and at Laguna de Castilla 2.6km down the road I congratulate myself on the back for resisting and celebrate with a cup of coffee at La Escuela. Just another 1.1km to the Galacian border and I will be safe from the threshold demons of Castille.
Or so I thought. Clearly I hadnt allowed for the threshold demons of Galacia who I now know are headquartered at O’Cebreiro. A town with an apostrophe in its name must have some magical mystical qualities like the Irish O’Sullivans or the O’Tooles. O’Cebrerio at 1,300 metres is over 200 metres shorter than the high point on the Camino at Cruz de Ferro but it feels far higher, far more other worldly. Perhaps it is the fact that these mountains are the first object to get in the way of the westerly winds after a 5000km run across the Atlantic. As they crash into the mountains they reverberate rain showers, thunderstorms and as we are to discover the soft silence of fluffy snow. This is a town built of stone on stone, I almost expect stone wheeled carts, giant stone mill wheels and a fleet of stone age characters to emerge but instead it reminds me of a dawn hike to see the caldera of Batur in Bali. After a long arduous trek in the dark we struggle to surmount a stone wall to claim our dawn view over the caldera. Our prize is the view of a car park full of tourist vehicles lined up to meet the dawn. O’Cebreiro felt the same, we entered the village on a rough shod mountain path feeling like first explorers crossing a major frontier and there just on the other side of the village is a swish, modern asphalt scar bringing in transient tourists. This place of ancient feeling and meaning, the place where Paulo Coelho found his sword and supposedly the place where the miracle of what you do turns into what you believe is balanced on the razor’s edge of modernity. It is cold, it is lunch time there is a stone hotel luring me into its fire warmed cosiness. In truth luring us because in minutes the Potala contingent are all holed up from the increasingly inclement weather in this hidey hole.
It is Saturday and we are woozy with warmth and camaraderie. Kath & Carolyn have prearranged to meet some friends here, Kevin is feeling under the weather and well I am just a sucker for comfort. Four of us can get two rooms in this rock fortress against the battering weather outside. We wave the others off. And I sit in a space of decider’s regret. It takes me awhile to arrive at the conclusion that I would prefer to be having a rest and a hooley at the top of a mountain than congratulating myself for having done a 25km walk. Over the hump of my angst it doesnt take long for me to rally and throw myself into my 25 euro luxury; jacuzzi bath, big comfortable beds and sheets. I am so grateful for sheets these days – bliss after holing up in a synethetic sleeping bag for nights on end. By the time we head out for dinner with Danny, Sebastian & James it is clear that the Atlantic weather is piling in. Definitely an evening for bottles of wine in the bedroom and disco by iPad. Our contingent of 4 in the hotel was swelled to 6 when Danny & James who had joined us for dinner from the hostel found that they had missed curfew and had been locked out. Unbeknownst to us while we partied in the night the wild Atlantic breathed a sign and turn its watery magic into a soft white blanket of snow.