Camino ~ Ponferrada to Villafranca del Bierzo

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Villafranca in the distance beyond the Bierzo vineyards

Day 5 … Thursday, 6th August 2015

Feeling really lazy this morning. Took my own sweet time to get up, had a full breakfast and contemplated walking no more than 10km today. Instead I did 20km and in good time too, even stopped for wine and tapas on a scallop.

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Summer is filled with pilgrims, many are students and teachers on vacation. The trail is busy and so are the cafes and albergues.

Yesterday I had an “un-pilgrim” moment and felt slightly ashamed. Approaching the albergue with another 200m to go, I saw another pilgrim catching up with me. I thought “better get in before he did in case there is only one bed left”. How selfish of me right? He may be young but he could be injured and needed the bed more than me. As it turned out, there were plenty of room for all.

Someone once told me. “In the Camino, you look back for two reasons – to help someone in need and to admire the spectacular sunrises.” I will always remember that.

This is my 5th day on the Way. It takes about this time to shed off the city mentality, learn not to rush and fight for trivialities of modern trappings. Also about this time to get comfortable with strangers who become fellow travellers who become friends.

I had a lot of time for reflection and contemplation today. Partly because I took another less travelled route where not a single pilgrim was in sight for miles. Then I realised that I’m no longer anxious about being alone and actually not feeling lonely or fearful walking on my own.

Funny, just days ago I wanted to make the most of my time in each village or city by visiting the main attractions, learning about the history, talking to people. Today I just wanted to make the most of my time doing very little.

In fact I didn’t even enter Villafranca but somehow got drawn to a rustic almost hidden albergue, was hesitant to enter at first because it charges only 5 euros (remembering the bed bug story) but once inside, I immediately felt peaceful as if being in a sanctuary. It wasn’t as if the place was adorned with beautiful designs or holy images. It was just a cheerful, welcoming refuge with a very personal touch.

Later I learnt from the volunteer masseur Ruben that albergue Ave Fenix used to be a farm owned by the grandmother of present 70-something-year-old owner Jesus. Twice it was burnt to the ground but Jesus rebuilt it and named it Fenix after the mythical bird reborn from ashes. It’s staffed by volunteers from all over the world and though everything was basic, the atmosphere was extremely warm.

Ave Fenix – 5 euros for bed, fruits, drinks and wonderful hospitality

Settling down happily, I reserved my dinner, queued for a massage (donativo), excused myself from drinks in town, started to write and talked to the volunteers and fellow pilgrims.

At the community dinner we were given a special treat by Jesus, who according to the volunteers was the first time this season.

Queimada, a punch made from a concoction of spirits, herbs, citrus peels and set alight with brandy making it a potent potion of Galician magic. We had a great time with wishes for safety and joy each time more brandy is poured into the bowl and the flames danced excitedly.

When the show was over, a jug of the freshly brewed queimada was passed around and once drunk, we should be able to enter the wet wooded Galician mountains with courage and good energy. Yes I had a magical night and went to bed as light as a fairy.

Joan Yap

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