In the hotel dining room, we met some fellow pilgrims from Mexico whom we saw from time to time on the Camino. We got an early start. Neither Greg nor I had slept well, largely due to Greg’s cold issues. He felt awful about it, but there was nothing either of us could do except just try to get through it. I was thinking that it would just be a matter of time before I came down with whatever he had. He was still intent on walking, and seemed to think that as the day went on he would rally. We crossed the river and made our way under the N-IV and found the river trail before long as we climbed up out of Villafranca. It was cool, but it looked as if it was going to be a beautiful day. The path along the river was close to the road, but shielded by a thick concrete barrier that helped with the sound and gave us a feeling of relative safety. In a couple of hours we got to Trabedelo, a long town on a hill. When we arrived, we found a Mercado and Greg bought some nuts to eat. We stopped when we arrived in La Portela de Valcarce where there was another good Mercado. Here I bought a big loaf of fresh bread, and we packed up and got back on the Camino. In Ambasmestas, we ran into a guy named Joseph who was originally from NYC and had retired and moved to Ashville. Strangely enough, he knew the woman we had met earlier in Sahagun, and it turned out that they belonged to the same walking club back home. He walked with us for a while until we got to Vega de Valcarce where we decided to stop for lunch. He kept moving on and was going as far as La Faba tonight. Greg and I had our bread and some fruit that we had taken from the hotel.
Just before Ruitelan, there was a small rest stop in a rather non-descript picnic area. Greg was stopped there to fix one of his shoes and check on a toe blister. I kept on going and headed up the hill and then down and across a stone bridge over a small stream and into the town of Herrerias. As I wound through the town, I saw a young woman that I had seen quite often before Burgos. There she was sitting at a table outside a café. I nodded and kept moving. At the bridge at the north side of town, she caught up to me and passed me and nimbly moved up a very steep hill. I stopped at the bridge to catch my breath, and Greg was just coming around the corner. We then headed up the hill to the left, and this was the start of it.
Within five minutes, Greg was out of sight, and I kept trudging up the hill. After a half hour, the trail turned to the left and narrowed through a beautiful sylvan setting.
Then, just past a babbling brook, it took a steep turn uphill that was still muddy from rain days earlier. It took me every bit of one-half hour just to go maybe one hundred yards up.
Around a bend near the top, the young girl I had seen earlier was stopped. I stopped too, and we struck up a conversation. She was suffering from a bad cold and said she had a fever. She thought she could make it to La Faba where she would spend the night. She told me she was from Australia, but was originally from Iraq, a Kurd, whose entire family had to escape the country during the evil regime of Saddam Hussein. Australia gave them sanctuary, and she actually grew up there since she was a little girl at the time. When she found out that I was American, she thanked me for freeing her country from Saddam. She was twenty four years old, and she told me that when her family went to Australia, they had to give up their way of life. They had no choice in the matter. It was leave or die. Now that she had come to Spain to make this pilgrimage, she could joyfully say that it was her choice to come. I told her how brave she and her family were and said goodbye, hoping to see her again along the way.
At the top of this steep hill was La Faba, and when I reached the water fountain, Greg was waiting there. He was unsure whether or not to fill his bottle there because the fountain looked pretty bad. There were no typical potable water signs. Two other pilgrims went inside to the adjoining bar and asked the owner if it was OK to drink from the fountain. They came out and signaled thumbs up. Greg filled up and soon we were on the way up again. Once more, he got way ahead of me and I lost sight of him. For almost all the rest of the day, I was alone most of the time, although I did stop briefly at Laguna de Castilla and rested at a café wall before leaving to climb back up. After Laguna, the vistas became spectacular.
I did meet one Italian bicycle rider who told me that this was the last big mountain to go over: “Once you get over it, you can smell the sea!” he said. “Until then, just drink in the beauty!” He was right. Just after that encounter I reached the provincial line and crossed over into Galicia. Grafitti had marred the sign.
Another hour of climbing at approximately 1mph finally brought me around the final bend and onto the trail that led into O’Cebreiro.
This charming, cobblestone village at the very top of the mountain, has a unique look all to itself. I was unable to find the hotel at first, but after five minutes of walking around I finally found it and there was Greg coming down the steps at the front of the place. He took me up to our room and I got everything unloaded. The room was tiny, but that didn’t seem to matter. I took a hot shower and we went down to the bar and had dinner. Greg seemed no worse for the wear with his cold. As for me, I was exhausted, but elated that the big climb that I had dreaded was finally over. Lying in bed later, a bed that was horribly uncomfortable, I thought back to the day’s accomplishments. There were times when I had thoughts that I might die on this mountain, but if so, it was a beautiful place to die.