Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Camino De Santiago: Day 23-Ponferrada to Villafranca del Bierzo

On day 23 we finally escaped the grips of the Knights Templar, but we quickly found another crisis. As you move into the smaller towns near Galicia, ATM's become harder to find. Most guidebooks recommend stocking up on cash. Before we left Ponferrada Victoria needed to get some Euros. We found an ATM on the way out of town and thought we had the problem solved. Until...the machine wouldn't take her card. Nor would the next machine. And the next machine that accepted her card? Its screen was broken, making it impossible to complete the transaction. We asked for more banks. We walked off the Camino to find them. After I think 7 bank ATMs Victoria started to panic. I wasn't too terribly worried because I knew I had enough cash to cover us both but that didn't really ease her fears. 

Finally...

We found a machine that would work! Yay for money!

It was a lot of street-side walking to get out of town, but once outside of Ponferrada it was lovely (even if a bit rainy). 

Less than 200 km to Santiago!!! (Although, you realize very quickly that everyone calculates distances different along the Camino)



We happened on a festival in one of the towns along the way (Cacabelos?). What kind of festival you ask?

Pulpo! (Octopus!)

Once in Villafranco we settled into the first albergue we came to. It was a steep climb into town from there, and when I ran into town to hit up the post office I got caught in a downpour. Rather than hike back up in the rain I just settled into a cafe for an early dinner. 

Villafranco is an important stop on the Camino de Santiago. Pilgrims who were sick could stop here, go to the church, and get the same indulgence as those who went all the way to Santiago. There are lots of historical buildings and churches in town. After a leisurely dinner, with it still raining, I popped up the hood of my rain coat and, after hiking 24 km during the day, spent the rest of the evening popping into churches, wandering tiny streets and letting how far I had come sink in. 

Ceiling in one of the churches

I had an interesting experience in this church...I walked in the door, past a woman on her cell phone. As I passed her I caught a couple words of her conversation in Spanish--breaking thingshe is dangerous. Once I got inside I understood what she was talking about. She was calling the cops because there was a mentally deranged man inside smashing the altarpieces, breaking candles, and scattering papers. 

I booked it out of there as fast as I could.

(And also thought, Thanks for warning me, lady!)

The town's castle

The 12th Century church of Santiago

The church's cemetery 

Here sick pilgrims could pass through the "door of forgiveness" much like in Santiago. I stood by myself for a long time in the west-facing doorway, watching the clouds roll in and out, thinking things over. 


A "Mayfest" type of festival had just finished upon our arrival



Houses with old family crests


Another good place to watch the clouds move in and out...

And sort yourself out. 



I finally made it back up to the hostel feeling a bit like I'd had a breakthrough. It's funny, because in the beginning you feel like you will be walking forever. You don't feel like you are making any progress. Santiago feels years away. On day 23, though,  I realized how close I was getting to Santiago and figured I'd better get to the business sorting myself out. 






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