At 6:45 AM in the small town of Villafranca Del Bierzo we didn’t expect any coffee shop to be open but as we walked out of town the owner of the last bar was just unlocking his front door. We had a café con leche and headed down the hill onto a small country road in starlit darkness. We were surrounded by mountains and not one car drove by before the sun came up around 8:30. Today was a big stretch, nineteen miles to O’Cebreiro and the last third was straight up a mountain side, a rocky, rustic path. There were quite a few small towns along the way and we stopped at most of them for more coffee, juice, water and a cheese/quince sandwich, “queso y membrillo.” The first stop was a cozy, rustic place with stuffed animal heads on the walls and holy cards behind the cash register. We had café and tarta de Santiago.
This was a really challenging day, about nine hours of walking with short breaks. We arrived around four, checked in and had a menu del dia, Caldo Gallego (veritable soup with the tall green cabbage plants that we had been seeing in people’s gardens along the way), three small trout each and some flan for dessert. We stopped at a small grocery store and bought yogurt, apples, a boiled egg and water for tomorrow morning.
We heard the church bells ring and Peggi remembered about the Pilgrim’s Mass at 7 so we went over to the Santa Maria church, the oldest on the Camino dating from the eighth century. In Spanish it was a bit like the days when the whole thing was in Latin. The priest called all the pilgrims up to the alter, asked everybody where they were from and gave each of us a small stone with a little yellow arrow painted on it. Most were from Germany but France, Brazil, US, Canada, Italy, Colombia and Aruba were represented.
The heat wasn’t on in our room yet so we went down to the bar for a Veterano and chatted with Trevor and his wife, a Northern Irish couple, about our age. They offered to house swap sometime.