Hello from the Camino Frances route of the Camino de Santiago! I walked over 23 kilmeters today from Ponferrado to Villafranca and it was beautiful countryside. My feet hurt a lot and I’ve got matching blisters on my toes. I walked through vineyards, through small towns, crossed highways (by overpasses), down gravel roads, on paved streets, uphill and downhill. The weather was good. Only drizzled a little bit during the middle of the day. I put my poncho on for only about an hour and could walk the rest of the time without it. Not surprisingly, this librarian seems to be a cat magnet on the Camino! I’ve had several accompany me along my way today and several others just chilling out and watching me walk by. It’s comforting. I really liked seeing the cats and a few dogs today. Most of my time was spent walking alone.
I think I walked fairly quickly, probably due to excitement at beginning. Unfortunately, my Camino ends here in Villafranca. Without cash, I can’t stay inhese small towns. I went to a bank to ask if I could get cash using my credit card from the bank tellers since the ATMs don’t accept my cards, but the teller told me that it’s not possible in Spain. Only through the ATMs, apparently, can you get cash. This is disappointing and really makes me upset at myself for this dumb mistake. I thought that there would be hotels that might be open along the way, but that doesn’t appear to be the case, either. Maybe in Summertime you could manage to do this with only a credit card, but I’m finding that most of the hotels in the smaller towns are closed for the season. Even restaurants are closed. I was going to walk from Ponferrada to Cacabelos today and try to stay there but there was no place to stay. The only hotel in town was closed. It wasn’t a huge deal, as I walked to Cacabelos rather quickly. Quicker than I expected and so I was there pretty early and wasn’t really ready to end for the day, anyway.
So I kept walking and I thought I had a decent shot of finding a hotel here in Villafranca, but no go. I’m only here at the albergue because a fellow pilgrim named Sue, from South Korea, paid for me to stay here tonight. I ran into her when I discovered the hotel here was closed and I was trying to find St. Nicolas de Real Albergue and she was also turned around and trying to locate it. We found it together and when I tried to pay for my bed with a credit card and was turned away, I was really unsure of where to go or what I was going to do tonight. Sue paid for me and it made me cry. Not only because I have no way of paying her back, but because it was at that moment that I realized I can’t do this Camino. I don’t want to do this by relying on the kindness of other pilgrims. The beds in albergues and refugios are about 5-6 euro per person. It’s incredibly cheap, but pilgrims are not overflowing with cash. That’s why they’re out here. It’s a pretty big deal to pay for another person, especially one you just met. I was so touched and grateful to Sue for this. I feel really in her debt because without her generosity, I’d be sleeping outside under a tree or something tonight. The woman who runs this albergue was not going to give me a free bed here, and Northern Spain really rely on the money generated by pilgrims on this Camino route. They can’t afford to give out free beds all the time.
I have to turn around and go back to Ponferrada tomorrow and then I guess I’ll just take the train to Santiago de Compostela so I can see it and spend a couple of days there. I’m not sure what to do, really. I had planned to do this pilgrimage. I won’t have to walk so fast tomorrow since I’ll just be covering ground I covered today. I can take my time. I liked Ponferrada, at least, so it’s not a terrible thing to spend another evening there with good people and good food and maybe I can see the inside of the castle? Then after a few days in Santiago, maybe I’ll head to the South of Spain and see what those areas or like. Or Barcelona? Or maybe I’ll go to Portugal and explore a bit there. I think I’m going to have to stick with the larger cities for sure. I hope I can salvage some sort of vacation. My mind has leapt toward just hopping on the first train to Madrid and getting to the airport and just flying home and getting out of here. But, I really don’t want to run away from this whole experience because I’m uncomfortable and it’s really not panning out as I had hoped. I want to try to salvage what I can, but it’s true that it’s difficult and I have two full weeks left before my plane heads home.
I’m trying to find the good in this, but I’m really disheartened. Here in the albergue there are just four of us pilgrims so far. I’ve seen several pilgrims on the Camino. I met one from Seattle who is biking the camino. He’s probably several towns ahead of me already. I met two pilgrims earlier named Lisa (from Canada) and Patrick (from Denmark). They began in St. Jean Pied du Port in France and crossed the Pyranees almost an entire month ago and are really taking it very slowly. I saw them a few times today and they were always seated on a bench eating food or staring at a mural. They were very nice. I hope to see them again sometime. I met Marie from Salt Lake City who walked like a flash. I imagine she does 30 kilometers a day, just at her pace. I’m worn out after doing just 23 kilometers today.
At this albergue, none of those people are here. It’s Sue, me, and then two men, one named David from Italy but who lives in Costa Rica and who will soon move to Cuba, and a guy from Puerto Rico whose name I’ve already forgotten. David is a chef and he’s invited us to eat with him tonight! He’s making pasta because this albergue has a kitchen. I’m not going to pass up a meal prepared by a chef, that’s for sure. I’m going to share the cookies I bought in Bilbao with the other pilgrims as my contribution to the meal. I really like these pilgrims and, even though my Camino experience will be quite short, I’m really enjoying my time with them here. David and Sue both started in France at St. Jean and the guy from Puerto Rico is back on the Camino after several years away. He began the Camino Frances in St. Jean several years ago and made it to Leon before he had to stop from pain. So, this year, he began in Leon and will go to Santiago de Compostela.
I don’t regret trying to do this, even though it’s really not as I had hoped it to be. Meeting these few people today was really cool. I like to think I’ll come back someday (with my debit card!!) and actually be able to do this and walk the whole way to Santiago.