||[Jun. 19th, 2006|09:23 pm]
Much has happened in the last few days, and all is still going very, very well.|
Friday seemed to be my day of guilt. In the morning,a British woman wanted to take the taxi with me because she was afraid of the downhill due to a prior knee injury. I told her I was pretty sure that would be fine, because there should be one extra seat. I went to the taxi pick-up spot at 8:00 because I had to be out of the albergue and figured I would just wait for the taxi to come at 9:00. The British woman found me there a few minutes later and left her pack with me. I told her the taxi was to come at 9:00, so she went off somewhere. Unfortunately,k the taxi came early, at 8:30, and the woman had not returned. The two German women I was to take the taxi with had been waiting as well, so we had to go - without the British woman. I wonder what she thought when she finally returned. I was feeling incredibly guilty for that, though I really had no choice. But soon, I was to feel even more guilty.
The two German women wanted to stop at the cross at the very highest point of the camino so they could, as the tradition goes, place at its base a rock from home that represents all their troubles and worries. So there we were, at the very otp, surrounded by tired pilgrims, getting out of a taxi. I don´t think I´ve ever been so embarrassed, especially because I saw Renzo, Fernando, and Luis at the top. I wanted nothing more than to hide. I feel so guilty. Even if I WAS injured, they are the real pilgrims, not me. I feel guilty facing them, sleeping next to them at night. I feel like a fraud. That is the primary reason I think of quitting at times - because i feel that I lessen what they do, that I rob them of the camino in some way, that I´m a cheater. I worry that I´m not being fair to them.
When I arrived at Ponferrada (by taxi) I decided to visit the Castillo de Ponferrada, a 12th century Templar Castle that was recently reopened after extensive renovations. Unofrunately it was not yet open, so I whad a cafe con leche and waited - it would be five hours until the albergue opened. Rebeca found me there, and she was alone. Apparently Diego had decided to leave in the morning, and he would be going 17 more kilometers to the next albergue. Rebecca wanted me to go with her to the bus station to meet Wolfgang, as she was also thinking of walking the next 17 km in the afternoon and wanted me to meet Wolfgang. When Wolfgang arrived, he looked exactly as i had expected from the pictures I had seen. I was extremely impressed with his English, and he seems like a very nice man. When he arrived, he and Rebecca decided not to walk to the next albergue.
When we arrived at the albergue we sat down to wait for it to open. May, the Almas, and the others all showed up. We eventually formed a line, and while we were waiting, Santiago appeared! Santiago is a 38-year-old Iberia pilot from Madrid who had been walking with the Almas. The boys idolize him. Santiago is a wonderful man, so when he lost all the skin on his to and was told he could not walk, the Almas were very disappointed (and so was I, because Santiago is amazing). Santiago had apparently decided that although he could not walk, he could still ride a bicycle, so he rented a bike and rode from Fromista to Leon the day before and from Leon to Ponferrada that day. When he arrrived, there was a celebration - people cheering, clapping. Santiago have the bugs and Rosa, Annie, and me two kisses. He will now walk the rest of the way.
I have never seen a more inefficient check-in process than at the albergue that day. There were about twenty people in front o fus in line, and we waited well over an hour! It was aboslutely rediculous. The hospitalers were incredibly anal and rule-oriented.
Once we finally got in and had washed our clothes, I went back to the castle with the Almas, May, JD, and Laura. We really didn´t want Laura to join us (she is so awful), but we didn´t have a choice - she tagged along. The castle was very cool, though. Unofrutnately it was still largely under construction. When I went up to the very top of the tower, there were Rebecca and Wolfgang!
After visiting the castle, I went to the grocery store with May. AS she was waiting to pay, the woman next to her kicked her foot by accident. May had already injured her big toenail - it was dead from when she had been wallking down steep downhills. So May said she felt a tiny bit of pain, so she looked down and saw her toenail lying on the floor! It was hysterical, watching May try to figure out how to discreetly deal with picking her toenail up off the floor. :o)
The next day, Saturday, was my 22nd birthday. I decided to take the bus to Villafranca del Bierzo that morning because my knee still hurt a lot. I knew it would be possible to take a bus, and it was raining. Oh, and I also didn´t feel like being in a whole lot of pain on my birthday! Unfortunately, the bus station was about half an hour (by foot) away from the albergue. I arrived at the station at 8:15 and found that the bus left at 8:30 - perfect timing! Soon after I got on the bus, it started pouring rain. I was so glad that I had given my poncho to May - all she´d had was a rain jacket and nothing to protect her pack. I had both a pack cover and a poncho, so I gave her the poncho.
When I arrived at Villafrance it was only drizzling. To stay dry, however, I sat underneath the doorway of the Iglesia de Santiago, a beautiful 12th century church. I learned later that it was the famous Puerta del Perdon, or Door of Forgiveness. It is said that sick pilgrims, unable to reach Santiago de Compostela, are forgiven when crossing it.
Villafranca is an incredibly beautiful town. It only has 5000 people, but that seems quite large by camino standards. The views here are amazing - that morning I sat at the church for a long time, simply emjoying the mountains, the mist and clouds, the beautiful Iglesia de San Francisco across from me. Once again, despite my pain, I felt like the luckiest person in the world.
When Rebecca and Wolfgang arrived, I went with them to the albergue, Ave Fenix, run by Jesus Jato and his family. They have dedicated their lives to the welfare of pilgrims, and I heard taht this was a wonderful place to stay. When we arrived, we were met warmly. There was an enclosed patio area, and Gregorian chants were softly played on the speakers all afternoon. The view from the patio was incredible - we had the mountains aand the Castillo del Marques de Villafranca to look at. The castle, which is not open to the public, is the only inhabited castle in the Bierzo region. It was built in the 15th century but was rebuilt after it was partially destroyed in the Napoleonic wars.
Jato is known for bringing by car pilgrim´s packs up the mountain to O´Cebreiro, where they can retrieve them when they arrive. I had hoped to climb the mountain, but it is extremely difficult and it is said that it takes three hours to climb to the mountain alone, and it would take about five hours to get from here to the mountain´s base. I know it is not possible for me to do this, so I was hoping to take a bus to the base and then attempt the mountain. However, I realized that I could not even do just the mountain - my knee was simply too bad, and the mountain is difficult even for those in good health. I had heard that it was very beautiful, however, and I really didn´t want to miss that. When I went to ask Jato about taking a bus, he told me he could take me up to the top in his car! By taking the car I knew I´d miss some of the incredible views (and the experience!) but at least my knee wouldn´t die. I told Jato I would take the car, and explained that it was because my knee was bad. Jato told me to sit down. I had heard that Jato is a ¨healer,¨ but I didn´t take it seriously. He put his hand on my forehead and did lots of other hand motion things that I can´t imagine do anything to heal a bone problem like mine - he basically didn´t touch me. Sure enough, my knee was not improved afterwards, but Jato did impress me. He told Rebecca that my energy was off, that my muscles were all wrong, but that there was something underthe muscles causing the problem. He somehow recognized that it was a bone problem (much rarer than a muscle problem, especially on the camino!) basically without even touching my knee. He also said that my energy was still off, so my knee wasn´t going to be healed by what he did.
We all at dinner at the albergue that night, but it was very late (9:00 pm) when we wre finally served. Jato had made paella, and it was worth the wait! After dinner, Jato came out with a cake and candles, and everyone sang Happy Birthday/Cumpleaños Feliz. I was embarrassed, but it was wonderful. Jato have me a kiss on the forehead and attempted more ¨healing,¨ and everyone was happy. Much wine was drunk during dinner, though not by me.
After dinner, Renzo made me a beautiful bouquet of flowers he had found. There was a red rose, pretty yellow orchids, many tiny white flowers, purple flowers, and mint. I thought it was the most beautiful bouquet I had ever seen, and it was very sweet of him to make it.
Wolfgang even brought me presents. He gave me a small, lightweight pocket notebook he had gotten in Italy, and he also gave me three small stones. Earlier in the afternoon I had been unable to decide what to do about walking/not walking to O´Cebreiro, and he had joked that I needed a black stone and a white stone to make decisions. So he brought me a small black stone, a small white stone, and a half black/half white stone (for maybe) to help me make decisions. :o) Apparently he had spent an hour trying to find the perfect stones.
In the evening, after dinner, we had a mystical Queimada. I wish I knew something about it, but I don´t, so I will have to do research on it when I get home. Jato had me stand next to him during the ceremony, so unfortunately I was unable to take pictures or a video. There was a large bowl of alcohol which Jato lit on fire. He then added sugar to it, along with various other flavorings and spices. He ladled it, dropping the flaming contents of the ladle back into the bowl, over and over as he talked. I wish I knew more ofwhat he said and the meaning of the ceremony. Then Jato had me blow out the flames, and we passed the drink around until each person had a glass. Then, after smelling it, tasting it, etc., we were to drink it. It was very strong alcohol, but i guess somewhat tasty. It was certainly a wonderful experience, and was the perfect ending to my 22nd birthday. I will never forget that day.
Yesterday morning, Jato drove JD, me, and six other injured or old pilgrims to the top of O´Cebreiro. The entire time, all I could think of was how glad I was to be in the vehicle and not walking! That, and how Jato was going to kill us with his driving - he kept looking at us and not at the winding mountain road, and he would swerve back into his lane when he noticed. HOwever, we made it to the top succesfully, and the view from O´Cebreiro was absolutely incredible. From one side of the town you can see Galicia, and from the other side you can look back to Castilla.
Today I walked down the mountain from O´Cebreiro to Triacastela with May. It was a long and sometimes steep decline, but it was not as bad as I had feared. My knee was feeling much better due to its three days of rest, and I felt confident that it would be possible to walk downhill for almost an entire day. The knee felt very good at the beginning of the day - I could walk up and down steps, and flat ground was not painful to walk on.
There were two high points today before we began the true descent. The first one, the Alto de San Roque, had an impressive pilgrim monument. By the time we reached this point, after only about 4 km, it was starting to get very misty - we were often walking in the clouds. At times I felt that I was walking into nothing, truly into the unknown. I´m sure the views would have been incredible had I been able to see more than fifty feet in any direction!
While we were walking, we were stopped by an old woman who gave us crepes. May asked how much they cost before we took one, but the woman didn´t answer. So we each took one and gave her forty cents. She looked angry but didn´t say anything we could understand. later we found out that she´d wanted a euro apiece, but Santiago had also paid only twenty cents. :o)
Most of th way down the mountain, there was an old woman selling raspberries she had just picked for one euro per box. Of course May and I each bought a box, and they were amazing. I have never had such wonderful raspberries, and they were just what I needed to get down the rest of the mountain. My knee hurt, but getting down was certainly manageable.
I decided to stop at Triacastela, at the base of the mountain, even though it was only a 21 km day. I would have had to walk another 12 km to the next albergue, in Samos, and I figured getting down a mountain was enough for my knee for one day. May et al. continued on, so I am by myself - Rebecca and Wolfgang were talking about doing a 45 km day or something, adn I haven´t seen them since last night. I decided to splurge and stay at a private hostel (for 7 euros) tonight so that I could have internet. It´s also nice having a slightly more private, clean bathroom!
I decided to eat out for dinner, as I´m getting tired of bocadillos (sandwiches) or plain bread. I decided to ahve a cerveza con limon and pulpo (octopus), which is famous in this area. The pulpo was amazing, and it was a wonderful meal.
I have decided to go to Lisbon, Portugal for a few days after I reach Santiago. I have time, so I figure I might as well! I don´t really know anything about Lisbon, but I think it will be really fun to spend a few days there.
Tomorrow, I will walk 25 km to Sarria.