02.09.2012 - 04.09.2012 30 °C
Astorga to Cacabelos - 76 km - 1150 meters (3,773 ft) of climbing
Sunday was another lovely day with temperatures in the mid 20's. After 20 km of 'gentle' climbing, we started up the Montes de Leon. It was a steep 15 km climb and there were many moments when 'granny gear' was not low enough. At the top of the climb (the highest point on the route we are following across northern Spain) was the Cruz de Ferro - a simple iron cross standing on top of a weathered pole. It has become a well known symbol of the Camino. It has been traditional for pilgrims to leave a stone at the base of the pole. It is believed that the stone is symbolic of the sins, sorrows, and losses that we carry with us. By leaving it behind at the Cruz de Ferro, we shed those things we no longer need to "carry" through life. Bill and I left two pebbles that we had carried with us from Whalebone beach on Gabriola.
Then is was on to our destination of Cacabelos. En route we passed through Ponferrada - a modern looking city. Just before leaving Proferrada, we came around a corner and were faced with a magnificent 12th Century Templar castle!
The countryside became noticeably greener over the day and as we neared Cacabelos, we saw orchards of apples and pears.
Cacabelos to O'Cebreio - 38 km - goodness knows how many meters of climbing!
On Monday we crossed into Galicia - a region thought by many to resemble Ireland. Getting there, however, was a significant challenge. There was a reason that the day's distance was only 38 km.
It was another sunny day but with temperatures getting up into the 30s. After about 28 km of cycling on fairly flat roads through lush forest, we arrived at Herrerias. There were two options on how to go the last 10 km: one could walk the Camino path up to O'Cebreiro or cycle on the road up to the same destination. I chose to walk in large part because I wanted to experience at least part on the Camino on foot. This 10 km stretch is the steepest on the route but it wound it's way through forest and up along ridges with breathtaking views. Wearing Keens (not really the footwear of choice) and cycling clothes and carrying a fanny pack, I joined other pilgrims climbing the switchbacks. What struck me was the silence and the opportunity to really take in one's surroundings. It was a memorable experience. Here are some pictures from my walk.
Bill and others chose to cycle. Given that the average pitch of the road was in the 10 - 12% range (and some spots even steeper) Bill too walked a portion of the Camino!
O'Cebreiro has catered to the needs of pilgrims since the turn of first millennium. It's ancient stone buildings - many with thatched roofs - have clearly stood the test of time. It seems to sit on top of the world.
The church in O'Cebreiro dates back to the 9th century. Two couples on our trip (one celebrating their 30th anniversary - the other having been married for more than 52 years) chose to renew their vows in this church. We all attended and although the service was in Spanish, it was a moving ceremony.
This was the fifth time that Enrico (one of our guides) had been in O'Cebreiro but it was the first time that he was able to see this tiny hamlet in the sunshine! These mountains are open to the westerly winds coming across the Atlantic and so heavy rain and thick fog are common - even in the summer. I am not sure why we have been so lucky with the weather.
As the surroundings might suggest, it was simple fare in O'Cebreiro. One highlight was the caldo gallego a hearty soup of kale, white beans and potatoes, all in a thick broth. The heat of the day was quickly lost as the sun set so the soup was much appreciated.
O'Cebreiro to Portomarin - 70 km - 1003 meters (3,290 ft) of climbing
Leaving O'Cebreiro in the sunshine and cycling the breathtaking downhill to Samos without going through a low cloud was somewhat of a miracle. The good weather continued although it became quite warm and humid by early afternoon.
At Samos we were taken on a guided tour of the Benedictine monastery. It is a magnificent building built first in the 6th century. With only 14 monks in residence (and no novices), it is difficult to see how this monastery can be maintained.
After the our tour, we enjoyed a picnic lunch prepared by our guides. It consisted of a wonderful an array of local meats, cheeses, bread and fruit. Our daily burning of significant calories is, unfortunately, exceeded by our intake from the wonderful food on this trip!