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Kaspars’s diary of the adventure completed in spring 2013. Translated by Una.
[dropcap]I[/dropcap]t is April 23. Alarm is ringing and I wake up. Despite waking up many times during the night, I have slept quite well and quite a lot – 5 or 6 hours. Others didn’t sleep so much, as they had problems with falling asleep. But now everyone is awake and at 4:30 we collect our bags and go to stand next to the doors of the train car. So, when the train at 4:43 will stop we will be ready to go off, hopefully, in Ponferrada, ha.
The plan is, after our arrival, to sit in the station for few hours and wait for the sunrise and then to go and search for the closest albergue (kind of hostel) and get our first Camino de Santiago pilgrims stamp there.
We and few others (a couple of travelers and a Spanish family) are standing in front of train’s doors. Train stops at 4:43. Is it Ponferrada? I try to open the door, but it’s not opening. Viesturs tries to open doors on the other side, but also, without success. From the local people we understand that we need to wait.
OK, let’s wait. But, oh no, after two minutes train starts to move again! All of us, even the locals, are puzzled. What’s now?
After a couple of minutes train attendant is approaching us. Looks like he is drunk! When he comes closer we feel that he smells of booze. So, indeed, he is drunk. The locals start conversation with the drunk man and we understand that we have missed our station. They argue passionately and tirelessly. It’s almost like watching Mexican soap-opera, although the people are Spanish.
We remember that the next stop is O Barco de Valdeorras, which is located 50 km from Ponferrada. And also we know that O Barco de Valdeorras is not a town of Camino de Santiago.
After some time train stops again and we get off at this next stop. The drunk attendant gets off with us and the train is standing in the station for a while. The locals and the attendant, who, by the way, looks much sober now, speak for a while, then attendant calls someone and then it was arranged.
The railway company will send few taxis to get us, traveling couple and the locals to Ponferrada station which we missed because of the drunk attendant- he needed to be at the car’s doors at the time of train’s arrival to the station. Actually, we weren’t so stressed and upset about not getting off where we needed, we could get to Ponferrada anyway. But this solution is perfect! We will be in Ponferrada very soon!
We don’t have time to worry about if that wasn’t a joke, about the taxis, though. Because they arrive so quickly. There are 3 of them. After one hour long ride in a warm and cozy car we arrive at Ponferrada station. It is 6 AM and it is dark outside. So we go inside the station to wait for the sunrise.
I don’t know for how long we would sit there, inside, if I wouldn’t go outside to look. As it turns out, it is not as dark as it looks from the inside. And also I understand that the town is not so small and it’s located in a very nice place, between beautiful mountains with snowy peaks.
We go to look for the albergue. We go through the town in one direction, then in another one and then in another one and finally we find it. Few minutes before we get there we understand that here for sure will be the right place because of quite a lot of people walking with backpacks in the opposite direction. We go inside and get our first Camino de Santiago pilgrims’ stamps and our journey can now begin!
After 2 km walk we understand, that we are almost out of the town and the next one will be only after 20 km. But we don’t have any food nor we have water. And unfortunately at 9 o’ clock town is completely empty – no cars, no people, except those who are walking Camino de Santiago. Also shops and cafes are closed.
It is decided – we need to wait till at least some small shop will open. There we will buy food and water and only then we can go. Our today’s plan is to go to the town which is after some 20 km and to stay in the albergue there. Whe know already in which one – we saw an advertisement in the albergue in Ponferrada. The price looked very good: 7 Euros for a dorm bed and breakfast for 2 Euros! Great!
We go for a walk in the town and we find a shopping mall with a cinema. But it’s closed, what a pity! We go further to search for other shops. No success. We return back to one small shopping center at 10 o’clock, when it should open. Doors of the mall are open, and that’s all, the shops inside are still closed. We decide to sit down on the bench and wait for those shops to open. We sit and wait, sit and wait and nothing.
I see a local man and decide to ask if the shops in the mall will be open today and when. He says that today is a public holiday, so the shops are closed. OK. Let’s go to that cafe which we found after two hours of walking. Seems like it’s the only place that is open! At least we won’t be hungry.
We go to the cafe to eat something for breakfast and we see that now also a small fruit and vegetable shop is open. Not only we will have something for breakfast but also we will have some fruits and water! Good! And the prices there are not high!
So, what we have for breakfast? Coffee with milk and croissants with butter and jam. So, this is true – this kind of breakfast is popular among Camino de Santiago pilgrims. We have read about it in so many places. The croissant and the cup of coffee is not a big breakfast, but nevertheless we feel we have eaten enough. Now we are full of energy, and ready to go!
The sun is bright now. While searching for food in Ponferrada we have walked 10 kilometers! Crazy, as we still have 20 more to do! But at least we have some food and water with us and now we can start our journey.
We start to walk towards our today’s destination and we understand very quickly that it won’t be a problem to find a way. We just need to follow the yellow arrows and yellow shells and that’s it!
After few kilometers we start to walk up the hill, then down the hill. Then up again, the down. Up and down, up and down, that’s today’s road. And when we think that it will end soon and we have almost reached today’s destination – small town Villafranca del Bierzo – there are few more hills to go up. Huh. The hills are not high, but walking up and down in hot sun it’s tiring.
Despite the hot weather I have decided not to take water with me. I drink only from the water fountains which are found very, very often. So, it’s not a problem.
We see that high mountains are growing bigger and bigger in front of us. And we start to worrry, maybe we will need to start crossing them today. But the curvy road goes up and down again, further but not over the big mountains, not yet.
After a while we have reached a small town and we understand that’s our today’s destination – Villafranca del Bierzo! Yes, at last! But we still need to go find the albergue, and we walk and walk again. The last 1100 meters to the albergue are very long. And then suddenly we have reached the place we have read about before – the small bridge over the small river. Well, the river is not so small as it was described and also the same with the bridge.
The place we have reached is very pretty. There is a small waterfall and that’s why river is so loud, but yet it’s very beautiful. The albergue we have chosen is pretty, too, and very neat. While we are checking in, staff bring us cookies and coffee free of charge.
There are few floors in albergue. There are nice bathrooms, big living room with computers and sofas, kitchen. Dormitory is on the top floor, and it’s not so big. Only some 10 bunk beds or so. One floor lower there are private rooms.
With breakfast it’s easy – we will eat it here, in albergue. But what about the dinner? We need to look for some place to eat. But unfortunately there are no places to eat. It’s quite late and today also is a public holiday, so everything is closed, except for one bar. There we buy chips, donuts and coffee, the only food available.
It was a long day. We go to sleep at 10 PM. And we plan to wake up early – at 6 o’clock – to start walking while it’s not too hot.
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