Yesterday we continued our trek down from the mountains around Acebo and onto the plain below. At times the hike was quite treacherous with loose stones, steep trails, exposed bedrock, and slippery conditions, since it had been raining on and off during the night and into the morning. We had to deploy our rainwear again for awhile. But, although a bit awkward, the rain gear was effective and generally kept us and our equipment dry. As compensation for our wet walk were treated to some more stunning mountain scenery, but it was a welcome relief as the trail finally leveled off and we approached the town of Molinaseca.
The delightful town on Molinaseca is entered by crossing a handsome medieval stone bridge. We stopped to rest briefly on the bridge and were approached by a group of Portuguese tourists who asked if they could be photographed with us. We happily complied and smiled while several of the tourists had their pictures taken with “real” pilgrims. I guess we looked scruffy enough to be classified as authentic pilgrims and worthy of being photographed. It gave us both a real kick to have attracted this much attention from these friendly tourists.
After leaving Molinaseca we immediately began to enter the suburbs of Ponferrada, our destination for the day. Ponferrada is another of the beautiful cities found along the Camino. It has about 60,000 citizens and all the amenities you would expect with a city of this size. The only amenity we were not able to locate was a source of WiFi. The albergue did not have it and none of the bars or restaurants we visited did either – very strange since in other towns on the Camino (even the smallest hamlet) we have generally been able to connect to the Internet fairly easily.
Ponferrada is the capital of El Bierzo, a region in Castilla y Leon with a unique microclimate that produces fine local wines and a noted regional style of pork sausage. The city of Ponferrada gets its name from a bridge that was reinforced with iron as far back as the 11th century. The area is known for its iron and coal deposits which have been mined here for centuries. So, the Iron Bridge (Pons Ferrada) ended up supplying the city with its modern name. The highlight of the city’s large historic district is the magnificent Templar Castle which dates to the 12th century. I have traveled fairly extensively in Europe and have seen many castles, but I have to say, this was the castle-iest castle I have ever seen! This is what a castle is supposed to look like! I kept expecting Monty Python in chain mail to appear from around the corner looking for a shrubbery or some Spam! But that was not to be.
In the historic district were also the beautiful 16th century Basilica de la Encina and a 16th century clock tower – both worth seeing.
In the morning we continued on to our destination for the day, Cacabelos – another in the string of towns along the Camino that have cared for pilgrims over the centuries. We were rained on again for much of the morning and are expecting even more rain tomorrow. Actually, with the proper rain gear, hiking in the rain is not as bad as it might seem. It adds a new dimension to the Camino that we have not experienced much up until now. And, it was well that we had rain today since the Camino this morning was physically on a country road for much of the time, leading from one sleepy, unremarkable town to the next. Not a whole lot to see. We picked our albergue today in large part because it had a true luxury for us – a clothes washer and dryer. We have been washing our clothes by hand, but with the rainy weather it hasn’t been practical for them to dry in the time available. So, today we splurged for clean clothes – a true luxury for us poor pilgrims.
Tomorrow we will continue on toward the town on O’Cebreiro, a couple of days away. The approach to that town will be the final brutal ascent of the Camino. We will be climbing almost 700 meters (2100 feet) over a span of about 7-8 kilometers. It will be tough, especially if we encounter more rain. But, we are promised stunning view of the valley as we make the ascent. The Camino has its way of paying us back for the sacrifices we make to reach our destinations.