Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Ida y vuelta day 25

On the way up the mountain yesterday I passed someone coming down. A pilgrim on the return journey. There aren't many of them. They get to Santiago de compostela and then they head back to there set off point just like the pilgrims of old would do before the age of planes, trains and automobiles. They tend to look; very very tanned, sinewy, and either very serious or in a state of bliss with huge smiles beaming from there mouths and eyes. The guys have very long beards. They have the more traditional pilgrim stick with a gourd. To begin with I thought these people were completely nuts. Why would they go through all this pain and suffering? Now that I am enjoying the camino more and more each day, I can see exactly why they would return. And they don't look that happy for no reason. A friend was telling me about a female pilgrim on a bike who started in Leon and was really struggling up a hill on her first day. A beautiful couple on there way back home saw her, stopped, hugged her, offered to help her up the hill (which would mean them turning round and really going the extra mile - or 5!) and when she refused they gave her all the encouragement they could; 'go on! You can do it! You are doing so well! You'll get there!' if the road to Santiago teaches you something, the road back seems to teach people more.

It has been a blessing to be able to meet and travel most of this journey with Liz. She is gentle company. One of the joys of travelling with her is that we share a love (nearing obsession) of food. I've really enjoyed introducing food to her, watching her expression turn to sheer joy as she tastes something for the first time. So far I've introduced her to; nocilla, turron, horchata, pulpo a la gallega, empanada con atun. She has loved them all. It makes my eating experience all the more enjoyable being with someone who is also experiencing near nirvana with each mouthful.
We left Ponferrada late this morning. We nearly didn't make it there last night -toyed with the idea of staying in picture perfect Molinoseco but late in the day decided to do the extra 8km to stay on track. When we arrived we were slightly destroyed and waking up to swollen feet and aching joints and muscles combined with terrible signage in and out of the town meant we left later than intended. We did still manage to catch the full moon hanging high in the morning sky behind the Templar castle as we left Ponferrada.
We stopped off for lunch in a gorgeous restaurant in cacabelos which served huge portions of pulpo con cacuelas. It was exquisite. We were delirious with happiness. It did mean that the last 8km to villafranca were hard. I felt like I needed to rolling up the hill. I was so full I was waddling and my body didnt know whether to walk or digest; doing both and contending with the heat was too much. As I made my slow and heavy footed way to villafranca I passed people picking the grapes of the mountains and loading them into big baskets that were then loaded into trucks. This part of the camino seems to be the most fertile: grapes, figs, apples, crab apples, pears, pomegranates, all manner of berries, lemons, pumpkins, marrows, squash, potatoes, beans, courgettes, peppers, cabbage, lettuce... It is all grown here. The crooked old houses in the little villages and the perfect mansions in the bigger towns all proudly display window boxes and hanging baskets exploding with bright flowers (I now know where my mum's passion for a garden heaving with blooms comes from).
Tomorrow we return to the mountains that have surrounded us on all sides all day as we head towards Galicia where all our gastronomic wishes will be granted. We better go easy on the pulpo or we'll never get up the mountain tomorrow.

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Location:Ponferrada to villafranca

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