Jesus Perez Pacheco
The hospital did a fine job, though, and difficulties with the 98˚F afternoon heat aside, the following day’s walk to Villafranca del Bierzo, taking us past Ponferrada’s vast Templar fortress and a succession of small villages, was easy enough. There comes a point, I’d read on a friend’s blog before setting out, where you stop walking the Camino and "the Camino walks you"; I wasn’t sure I was there yet, but I wasn’t far off it.
We celebrated Chris’s birthday in Villafranca, joining Steve, who had started the day fifteen kilometres behind us and caught up, in the town’s main square. From then on it was hard to think of him other than as the guy who’d braced his knee and walked forty kilometres to get to a friend’s birthday. We met each other on the road the next morning and walked together to the foot of O’Cebreiro, the steepest climb since the Pyrenees. Rather than tackling such a mountain in an afternoon sun that looked set to rival that of the previous day, we stopped instead at the little village of Herrerías, where the girls had booked beds for us all.
Chris arrived a few hours later, and the next day he, Steve, and I set out before five in the hope of seeing the sunrise from the top of the mountain. Climbing in the dark proved beyond me, though, so we slowed down and instead watched the dawn while crossing into Galicia on the mountain’s gentle upper slopes. We saw the misty valleys around us bathed in golden light just before we strolled into the little village at the top for a triumphant breakfast.
The village was beautiful, but thronged with pilgrims, and after breakfast we took refuge in the church. Steve said his Office from his phone while Chris and I sat in silence before the crucifix. To the side of the altar is the chalice depicted on Galicia’s coat of arms and famously used in 1300 by a visiting priest who’d been saying Mass without believing in the real presence, only to be astounded to witness the literal transformation of the bread and wine into flesh and blood as he said the words of consecration. After kneeling by the chalice, we lit our candles, quietly hoisted our packs, and left.
Santiago was only a week away.