September 11, 2015: Another magnificent breakfast featuring fresh-squeezed orange juice provided the impetus for a strong start to begin the climb to O’Cebreiro. The early morning chill stayed with us until we were nearly out of Las Herrerias as some bovine friends bid us farewell with their clanging bells. Soon we were across the stream and headed up the road and reaching the turning off point. Bikes to the right and hikers to the left. Here there was a nice walk through the woods for about 500 meters until the real uphill began near a donativo where we found the host gathering fire-wood “for the cold weather”, she said.
As we headed up this steep, rocky trail, I remembered the spot from two years ago. Then, it was wet and slippery from previous rain although the day was as bright and sunny as it was now. It was on this trail that I had met a young woman from Australia who was sick from the flu at the time. She told me that she was originally from Iraq, a Kurd, and forced to emigrate as a small child with her family to Australia as a refuge from Saddam’s brutal regime. Once again, I began to marvel at how strong memories would flood back from re-visiting familiar places. The climb up was not as strenuous this time, most likely because it was early in the day, or maybe, could it be that I was just in better shape? Probably a combination of both.
We stopped at a crowded bar in La Faba, and Heather waited in line at the restroom while I waited in a long line to order some coffee and a Coke Zero. After she came out, we decided the wait for the food was too long and made the decision to move on and stop a bit further up. During this section we ran into Vic from Australia, and shortly behind him was his wife Heather and one of the other Australian women. It was great to see Heather walking again, and her two days of rest seemed to be paying off. We chatted for a while and then split off. From here on up, the views were magnificent, and the weather could not have been more conducive for hiking in the mountains!
Many pilgrims were stopping to take photos, and it seemed that everyone expressed the opinion that the camera just could not capture the magnificence of what was before us. When we reached Laguna de Castilla, we stopped and ate some fruit and health bars that we carried with us while sitting on a wall in the center of the tiny village. Then it was back up the steep trail for another half hour or so until eventually reaching O’Cebreiro.
Walking through the village, we found Casa Carolo, where I had stayed last trip, and Heather went inside and got a beer and a Coke Zero and we sat outside in the bright sunshine and enjoyed our refreshments.
Knowing we had a ways to go before reaching Fonfria, we set out down the hill wishing that we could have spent more time enjoying O’Cebreiro. We stayed on the main road until reaching Linares and passed the ancient church of San Esteban with its colorful cemetery.
Then we were soon across the road and up a dirt track that led us to Alto San Roque to see the huge statue of the medieval pilgrim holding his hat against the wind.
By the time we got to Hospital de la Condesa, Heather was starting to hurt again, severe thigh pain, so we had to stop often for her to rest and stretch. The countryside had some gorgeous views from here, and we were able to capture some intriguing sights along the way.
We walked down the road to the right and out and up to a track through the woods that led to the little town of Padornelo with the old hermitage of San Oxan.
Then there was a steep, rocky climb up to Alto do Poio which I had forgotten completely about from last trip. This section was extremely difficult for Heather to navigate with her injury, so we had to take it really slow. At the top of the hill was Albergue del Puerto. I think we both silently wished we could have just stopped there for the night, as some other pilgrims were doing. I asked Heather if she wanted to stop for at least a coke, but she insisted that she wanted to keep going to get to where we were going. At least the next 4 km were on a basically flat trail that ran parallel to the main road. But when you are tired and in pain, it seems like forever to go this relatively short distance. A passing Dutch pilgrim thought that it was only a kilometer or so ahead as she blasted past us. At just about the end of our rope, we came around a hedgerow, and there, just a hundred or so meters ahead, was Fonfria. A very welcome sight, to say the least. Albergue A Reboliera was on our left as we entered town, and we quickly checked in with the friendly staff and got settled in our spot with showers and some minimal washing of socks and bandanas.
Dinner was at 7:30 down the hill in a Yurt-like structure. For an hour or so, we enjoyed a communal meal with about 40 guests. Near us at our section of the enormous table was a French couple, two Australians and a couple from Iceland. The conversation was lively and the food quite good. Especially delicious was the Tarta de Santiago for dessert. After dinner we hobbled up the hill and hit the sack for a well-needed sleep.