Friday, April 11, 2003

October 21, 2001
Villafranca de Bierzo- O'Cebreiro (cloudy/rain in afternoon)
18.7m/30.0km - 372.2m/595.6km

There are three routes out of Villafranca, one that follows the highway and two that take you higher and up over the mountains. We pick the high route. Leaving the refugio without my pack feels strange, like I am forgetting something. The hike this morning is like hiking through the Rocky Mountains in Colorado. I am enjoying it immensely. I am moving a lot faster without the pack. From where we are walking we can look down at the new highway as it slices its way through the valley below.

After 9.1m/14.6km we reach the town of Ambasmestas and stop for lunch. After Ambasmestas I start slowing down. The last 5.0m/8.0km is the hardest. It is very steep and I don't see how pilgrims carrying their packs do it. Some of it is on winding paths that are also used by the local people to move cows to and from the pastures. I run into cows heading down from the upper pastures a couple of times. Once I am standing in a deep cut and I have to walk as close as I can to the bank as the cows pass. These cows are huge; my head just reaches their shoulders. One cow decides she wants to walk where I am and starts pushing me into the bank. I put my hand on her side and say no, the instant my hand touches her she shies away. The woman guiding the cows aologizes but I just shake my head, smile, and laugh.

I am hot and sticky as I climb and I try to concentrate on anything else to keep my mind off how uncomfortable I am. Any time I walk alone my mind wanders and I start thinking about things I don't normally think about. Like the mysteries of the universe. Why are we here? Where do we go after we die? What is the purpose of life? Why do Polka music and Mariachi music sound the same?

By the time I reach La Faba, 2.8m/4.5km before O'Cebreiro, I have fallen so far behind that I can no longer see B and J. I do meet a French man who we have seen at the refugios before and walk with him. This man is so sweet, he does not speak English, and he is always singing. We slowly make our way up the path. We come upon a stone marker that shows the boundary between Castile and Galicia. On it is carved the distance from the marker to Santiago, 152km (95 miles). My walking partner asks me to take a picture of him with the marker so I do.

When we reach O'Cebreiro B and J are waiting for me in front of the church. O'Cebreiro is a village of nine stone houses set of top of a mountain and is the highest point in walk. It's all down hill from here. Well, not really, it's all up and down from here, just not as up anymore.

We walk down the main street of town wondering where our packs are when we run into Tony. He tells us he spent hours looking for where our packs were left and just found them. It took him hours in a village made up of nine houses? And didn't he tell us he walked the Camino before? He should know were the packs were dropped since he has been here before. I don't want to talk to this guy anymore.

The refugio is large and packed with people waiting to sign in. After we get our beds I try to take a shower but when I turn the shower on and put my hand into the stream of water I can feel the heat rapidly dissipating. I quickly stick my head under the water and start washing my hair before all the hot water is gone. Then I step out and get dressed.

We decide to eat dinner at the bar where our packs were dropped off. When we leave the refugio it is cold and foggy with a mist of rain falling. J leaves after the soup because he is doing laundry in the washing machines at the refugio and needs to get back before he loses his place in line. When the main course arrives I'm not sure if B and I can eat it all since it is an order for three people. The main dish is Beef Burgundy and I eat like someone who is one meal behind the rest of the world. I have not had such an appetite in a long time. B is eating like I am and we finish everything. This is another great meal.

When we are leaving I notice a crate holding a bunch of walking sticks. They are hand made and all unvarnished. I go to look at them because I've wanted a stick for a while but have not seen any I like. I don't like the looks of these either but I want to see how some of them feel in my hand. In the center of the crate is one stick that is stained and varnished; someone must have left it behind. I pull it out and know it is the one for me. I now have a stick.

When we get back to the refugio we find J sitting with Jb (J from Britain) and I walk up to them singing, "I'm singing in the rain, just singing in the rain." Then I ask them if they can tell I'm a little drunk. They laugh and I go to bed feeling very happy.

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