Up before dawn, some were gone before we made it down to breakfast and others were still in their bunks. Toast and cereal were what was for breakfast and that counted as a pretty good first breakfast. We found our poles, our packs, got our shoes on (my blisters complained) and started our urban hike out of Ponferrada and back onto the Camino. As daylight started to break, we made it to the edge of town and into the countryside.
After a few miles we found ourselves walking down the center of a small town where, obviously, several pilgrims had stopped for the night. As Bill and I came through town the other pilgrims were starting their walk and for a little while their shambling gate reminded me of the walking dead as this large group found their rhythm for the day.
As we went through another town the Way started to climb and just before it did we noticed a winery on the left that advertised a special deal on food and wine for pilgrim. When in Spain you, well, drink wine when it’s offered to you. So Bill and I stopped. It was only 10 a.m. so I chose a glass of rosé and an empanada. We sat outside at a table by the door and watched car and pilgrim traffic pass by. Sharing our table were two men from Taiwan, pilgrims that we had met a couple nights before at the albergue. We caught up a bit and Harry, his English name that he gave us, explained that both he and his friend were newly retired and thought that was the time to walk the Camino. Sharing second breakfast in Spain with two new friends from Tawain and my friend Bill, sipping wine before first lunch was one of those beautiful “this is why we’re doing this” moments for me.
Eventually we came to more vineyards where they were harvesting grapes. They loaded the clusters (clumps?) into baskets and then onto trucks. It was an amazing gift to walking through at just that moment to experience the harvest. Further along we came across an oasis for pilgrims. A small trailer in a wooded lot beside a stream, food and drinks for sale, leather chairs and hammocks sat out for pilgrims to rest in while they refreshed. It was too early for us to stop but it looked inviting.
We were walking a consistent number of miles each day but I did not factor into my mileage plan that by the fourth week I would be weighing less and able to walk more. So once again we arrived too early to check in to our accommodations for the night. My strategy, with so many pilgrims on the Way with us and so much competition for bed space, was to choose places to stop that were not all the traditional stages of the Camino Frances. For that night, we ended up in Cacabelos, at the Hostal Santa Maria, which unexpectedly turned out to be a posh place to stay.
Once again we had happened on a place that gave us towels and our own bathroom. What used to be “normal” now felt very extravagant.
We were able to check in after 2pm and once in our room and once I got over my excitement at how surprisingly nice it was, I fell asleep for a hard hour. Then I got up, showered and we went out to explore the town, just in time for siesta. Even though we were into week four, I still had not completely caught on to the rhythm of siesta as the new normal. We wandered around and explored long enough that things started to re-open and we found a place serving burgers and fries and a beer and lemonade mixture that was dangerous. A lot of people try all kinds of foods they’ve never had before during their pilgrimage. We did that too but sometimes it just felt comforting to order something that made us feel closer to home.
When I left for the Camino I also left my granddaughter who wasn’t quite 3 years old yet. One of the things I didn’t think about until I was on the Camino was that I was going to be out of her life for 2 months all together during my sabbatical – 5 weeks in Spain and then 3 weeks in the U.K. At my age that’s not much time but for a little girl who isn’t quite three it represents a significant percentage of her life so far. There were many days on the Camino that I didn’t wonder if she would even recognize me when I got home – or if she did recognize me, if she would want anything to do with me anymore.
Would I become a stranger?