I left Trabadelo in the dark at 7:55 with several Brazilians. We stuck together despite our language barrier, walking along a highway for a long while.
All day, we had a steady uphill climb, but the early part of the day was gradual and went through a number of small villages. I stopped for a cafe con leche and orange juice in La Portela de Valcarce; I also stopped in the town’s tiny church.
Trabadelo to La Portela de Valcarce (3.9 km)
Next I went through Ambasmestas, where the ríos Balboa and Valcarce joined together. The A-6 flyover ruined the rural ambience a bit. The town had a funky albergue promising a delectable breakfast. I passed it by because I had other plans for food.
La Portela de Valcarce to Ambasmestas (1.4 km)
The way took us through Vega del Valcarce, where I bought a rosary from Silvio’s Casa del Rosario. He told me it was amethyst. I cut my finger and he taped it for me and wished me a Buen Camino. Vega del Valcarce was apparently founded in the 9th century by a Count from Astorga; it is the main town in the valley.
Ambasmestas to Vega de Valcarce (Entrada) (1.0 km)
In Ruitelán, a quaint hamlet where San Froilán had a hermitage, I took Darina’s advice and stopped at the first café on the right for lentil soup with vegetables for an early 11:00 lunch. I was surprised when they brought me an entire pot of soup, and I tried to eat as much as I could! It was delicious and just the perfect lunch for a cold and mostly dreary day.
San Froilán was born during the year 833 in Lugo. A student until the age of 18, he became a hermit and retired in the grotto of Ruiterlán, in El Bierzo, nowadays a hermitage.
Vega de Valcarce (Entrada) to Ruitelán (2.8 km)
The path was mostly along a gurgling stream which was very pleasant. Before long, we were in Las Herrerías, named for an iron foundry whose furnaces had long vanished; here, cows greeted us with a boisterous cacophony of mooing, lowing, and bell-ringing. After this charming village, which stretched lazily along the river, we started climbing in earnest.
Ruitelán to Las Herrerías (1.4 km)
We bid adieu to the cattle and began our strenuous climb. At first, we walked on an asphalt road, but before long we were in a forest of Spanish chestnuts on a very steep and rocky terrain. We immediately descended into a valley, losing elevation we’d worked hard to gain, and then we had to gain it again. I wished I had stayed on the road. This went on for several kilometers with no break. There was no respite all the way into La Faba.
Finally, we reached the little town of La Faba, perched on a hillside. There, I ran into, for the umpteenth time, Daniella from Bulgaria, who lost her 5-year-old son to cerebral palsy, and her partner Sean from England. They both lived at that time in Cyprus. Daniella always seemed full of energy, with her black and white striped shirts with patterns on the front and plastic flowers in her hair. Sean, on the other hand, often seemed hurting and a bit irritable.
Las Herrerías to La Faba (3.4 km)
I quickly passed through the next town (2.3 km), Laguna de Castilla. It had rained on the way there but had stopped, so I’d put on then taken off my poncho. At least the path was open and had views back over the Valcarce valley. This tiny hamlet is the last outpost in Castille.
After a time, we crossed officially into Galicia, leaving behind the autonomous region of Castilla y León. We walked through gorse and scrubland along a stone wall, with stunning and sweeping views of the mountains. It was a steady two kilometer uphill climb to O’Cebreiro.
La Faba to Laguna de Castilla (2.3 km)
Galicia is reminiscent of Celtic lands, with its cozy fields and lush pastures grazed by cattle, with sheep, pigs, geese and chickens foraging among them. It is known for rainshowers (chubascos), thunderstorms (tormentas) and thick mountain fog (niebla) due to its mountains being the first thing in 5,000 km that the Atlantic’s westerly winds hit.
Galicia is similar to other Celtic regions, especially the west of Ireland, in offering little employment, leading to men emigrating elsewhere. This is a traditional region, with a strong Catholic faith overlaid on an earthy spirituality and remnants of paganism.
Laguna de Castilla to O’Cebreiro (2.3 km)
O’Cebreiro sits at the top of a mountain where the wind howls and where you can see two valleys, the one you left behind and the one into which you will descend. The views are magnificent.
The municipal albergue, Xunta, with its 104 beds, was nothing to write home about; in fact it was disheartening: cold showers, an unwelcoming receptionist, people herded about like animals, beds crammed together. It was the worst of the worst, as far as albergues. I decided then and there, I would avoid any more municipals if I could help it.
When I asked about my backpack that I’d sent ahead, the very unhelpful and rude receptionist said “pueblo,” and promptly shooed me away. I didn’t know what she was talking about. I overheard a man say that the municipals didn’t accept bags that were sent ahead. Thus I wondered where on earth my backpack was. I overheard another man say, “I need to find the pueblo, because that’s where my backpack is.” I said, “Pueblo means town, so that could be anywhere!” I went randomly into one of the other albergues in town, Hotel O’Cebreiro, and happened to luck out; it was the one that accepted backpacks for everyone who came the town. I picked it up and took it to the albergue, where my bottom bunk was crammed up right next to another bunk bed. A Korean lady in the next bed and I were practically sleeping together in the same bed!
After checking in and taking an icy shower, I stopped into Iglesia Santa María Real intending to attend the pilgrim mass, but I was too hungry and cold, so I went to explore the town instead.
The 9th-century Iglesia Santa María Real is one of the earliest surviving buildings on the Camino. Santa María la Real is patroness of the area. The town of O’Cebreiro has ministered to pilgrims since the end of the first millennium.
O’Cebreiro is full of traditional mountain dwellings of pre-Roman origin called pallozas, built in circular or oval shapes, with granite or slate walls and thatched roofs. Formerly used for dwellings and then agricultural purposes, many have now been restored and serve as guest houses.
I went back to Hotel O’Cebreiro, which was packed but warm, unlike the municipal albergue. I enjoyed a steaming bowl of traditional Galican soup, caldo gallego, with kale and potatoes, red wine, and crusty bread.
It was a horrible night sleeping in the albergue with all those people packed in so closely together. I was cold all night and the bathroom in the basement was icy cold. I couldn’t wait to get out of there in the morning.
I only had eight more days of walking ahead!
*Day 39: Friday, October 12, 2018*
*33,057 steps, or 14.01 miles: Trabadelo to O’Cebreiro (18.5 km)*
You can find everything I’ve written so far on the Camino de Santiago here:
On Sundays, I post about hikes or walks that I have taken in my travels; I may also post on other unrelated subjects. I will use these posts to participate in Jo’s Monday Walks or any other challenges that catch my fancy.
This post is in response to Jo’s Monday Walk: Along the Guadiana.