Day 20: Molinaseca – Villafranca del Bierzo: 19 miles
Thursday, September 29, 2016: Departed: 7:30am, Arrived 4:00pm
Today is perhaps the first day that we’ve followed the guide books recommended start and end towns. This is the same guide book that nearly every other pilgrim has, and it averages between 13-17 miles a day, so typically we’ve been doing longer days, and staying in alternate towns, and mixing up our pilgrim mingling beyond the book’s breakdown. But since the book’s “day” was a big 19 mile stage, we stuck with the “plan”. The book actually had the smaller town of Molinaseca as its overnight hub, but a much larger city was just up ahead, and we walked in to Ponferrada a little after sunrise. The Camino largely avoided the city bustle, but did pass by an impressive 13th Century castle above the junction of two rivers, built by the Knights Templar who protected the Camino early on.
We got breakfast and later a snack in the outlying towns as the Camino slowly crept up hill, approaching the next range of mountains. We’ve officially re-entered wine country, I’m happy to say, as the hillsides are cultivated and covered with vineyards and bodegas. It is a scenery that we’ve been missing since the earlier stages of the Camino. But something is different this time. Earlier we were struck my how quiet and vacant the landscape and villages were. The fields were obviously cultivated, but there were no farm workers, tractors, nor even farm houses. It was as if the whole land were in a siesta. We heard when we passed through the region of Rioja, that it was the start of a week of wine festivals. I guess now the festivals are over, because now the wine harvest is beginning. This time there are workers in the vineyards, and the villages show the life of people moving and working about.
Our overnight town is Villafranca, a very beautiful town of sloped streets along a hillside leading down to a river. We secured two bunk beds at the Albergue Leo, one of the better we’ve seen – extremely clean, organized, with attentive family member managers, former pilgrims, who helped us treat our sore feet and ongoing ailments. I also like that they have a family dog on site, and there’s a couple of guitars sitting in the lounge. Although one of the downsides of the Camino is while there’s a fairly natural camaraderie among pilgrims, most of them just use the albergues as places to rest up, clean up and move on. There’s not much creative time “hanging out” or socializing that happens, unless there’s a communal dinner on site, and everyone is generally in bed by 10pm with lights out. Granted, Kim and I have been doing long days, so like today, we got in with just enough time to shower, hand wash and sun dry laundry, take a nap, check emails, before it’s time to eat and go to bed. Even writing this blog is pushing me beyond bedtime. We did at least, when we went out to dinner, see another couple from the albergue in the plaza, so I invited them to join us for dinner, so we had a good conversation. But beyond that, we didn’t have a lot of hang out time, and though I’ve fantasized about it, there’s been no impromptu gathering of pilgrims in the lounge passing the guitar around singing songs from their home countries. I’ve got a few Appalachian songs ready when the time comes.