17 August 2012

Camino de Santiago Day 11: Foncebadón - Triacastela

We were the last ones to leave the albergue, as usual, and we only got on the road at about quarter to nine. We cycled 2km down the road to the cruz de ferro (iron cross), and saw the view to the East which supposedly stretches to Leon on a clear day. Then we headed on over the top of the mountain and arrived at the very top, Manjarin, just a few minutes after 9am to see the spectacle of a man dressed as a Templar Knight giving a speech about the spirit of the Camino and what it means, etc. It was all a bit cheesy and touristy but one of those Camino moments I guess.

 Cruz de ferro
Listening to the templar knight in Manjarín
We had made a plan that the guys would descend on the trail and I would take the road which follows down the mountain. Carlos (the previous night's hospitalero) had said that the camino trail was quite difficult even for walkers, so I knew it would be a nightmare for me and my poor descending skills, but the guys wanted to try it. So, we said our goodbyes and agreed to meet at a town a few kilometers down the road.

Here's Alberto's report from the trail: "On our way downhill, lots of walkers were surprised to see us on the trail. The Spaniards we had met the night before said 'why would you go on trail when you could take the roads?!'. Miguel was doing very well with the descent. It certainly wasn't as bad as Carlos had described, although I could see for a novice rider or a walker who wasn't in the best shape that it could be tough. We met Lucy at the agreed town to check in and then turned back to the trail while Lucy carried on on the roads, until we reached Villafranca at the bottom of the hill."

Miguel descending the camino
Meanwhile I enjoyed a beautiful descent down the mountain on a very quiet, well-paved road. I didn't take the road as fast as I could have, both because I was by myself and so thought it best to be cautious, but also because I wanted have time to enjoy all the beautiful views!

We cycled through the town of Villafranca del Bierzo, which looked like a nice town, but carried on further across the valley. We were following rougly the route of the new A-6 highway that goes all the way from Madrid to A Coruña in the Northwest corner of Galicia. Alberto's family lives just off of it, down in Madrid! It was pretty spectacular to see the big, modern highway passing high above us. We were going along the N-VI, which had been largely replaced by the A6 so the traffic was pretty light. In any case the Camino followed the left shoulder of the road and was protected from the traffic by a guardrail so we felt pretty safe.

The road was pretty flat so we just kept pushing on, stopping in Vega del Valcarce for a quick bite. Shortly afterwards we started to climb O Cebreiro. There was some confusion about how much further we had, as Miguel thought he had been told that the hostel of O Cebreiro was at the base of the mountain, but I thought it was at the top. It didn't really effect things as we were going to keep pedalling anyway!

In La Faba, we asked a local about the best way to get to the top. There were three options: the camino proper, which we had heard would be very difficult as it is very steep and rocky, a small road that is shorter and steeper, or the N-VI which was less steep but a longer route to the same destination. The man recommended the smaller road because it had the best views, so we decided to take that one.

We followed its instructions!
It was late in the afternoon by this point and the temperatures were around 30 degrees. Not when you'd ideally start the final tough climb of the Camino, but we did it nonetheless. There was very little shade on the road, and whenever a bush did appear we all pointed our bikes in that direction just to get the tiniest bit of relief. I found that my legs were coping quite well with the hill, but the heat was really taking its toll. I had to a few times under bushes to drink lots of water and let my heart rate settle down again, but really enjoyed the climb. We all took it at our own pace and soon were spread out across the climb -- looking to the switchback above me I could make out Miguel in the distance, and he in turn could make out Alberto above him.

Starting the climb
Alberto took this picture from his vantage point further up the mountain. If you look really hard you can see a slight blue dot near the middle of the picture, that's Miguel!
Miguel and Alberto found a fountain and stopped to dunk themselves in water, but at that moment I felt I wouldn't get back on the bike if I got off, so I continued on and soon was passed by them again. There was one merciful section just before La Laguna that was relatively flat, and even better was at an angle that meant it was completely shaded by the mountain. That respite was necessary to get us ready for the next section, which was an incredibly steep bit on the way out of the small town of La Laguna.

Alberto reached the top of O Cebreiro first (naturally) and caught up with Tim, a Kiwi cyclist who we had seen a few times on the road (although we had mistaken him for Italian for a while due to his tricolore cycling shorts!). Once we had all reached the top and had our rest and some food, we tried to figure out where to spend the night. Once again fooled by optimism and the Spanish capacity for understating the gradient, we thought it would be a fast descent down to Triacastela, 20km away. Miguel and Alberto teamed up with Tim to take the trail, while I would take the road.

View from the top of O Cebreiro
It turns out there were a few things wrong with this plan:
1. It turned out Triacastela was 28km away, not 20.
2. It was not downhill to Triacastela. There was actually a not-insignificant uphill for about half of the distance and then a descent to Triacastela.
3. The road we had been on prior to O Cebreiro didn't head to Triacastela!

Fortunately aboout 2 minutes down the road from O Cebreiro a man in a car pulled over and asked if I was on the Camino. When I told him I was, he told me I was on the wrong road! I had to return to the town and take a different road instead. I was so grateful for that man! I have no idea how far I would have gone before I would have realised my mistake otherwise.

I returned to town and asked at the bar just to make sure I was now headed on the right road, and sent a text to Alberto telling him the situation. By then we had realised that Triacastela was a bit further but it just seemed better to stick to the plan and head there, rather than try to change our minds once we had already separated from one another.

The guys were having a nightmare of their own in that the uphill was really steep and they even had to push their bikes up some of the hills! I took them nice and easy on the roads and eventually reached a downhill section. (Not before getting offered a ride by a taxi driver who was passing -- I turned it down!)

A few km before Triacastela I heard a voice shout 'Lucy!' and braked to see Miguel and Alberto through the trees on the side of the road. We said our hellos and agreed that we'd see each other in Triacastela soon. When I got to Triacastela, I started asking around at the albergues seeing if any had spaces. It was nearly 8pm by that time and many were full, but the guys arrived and we managed to find one that still had spaces, although not three beds in the same room.

We saw Tim arrive in Triacastela as well, but he opted for a casa rural outside of town for the night, a bit pricier, but might have been worth it for the opportunity to sleep in a room by yourself!

We stayed in the albergue Xacobeo which was actually quite nice, although a bit expensive. We managed to make it to the supermarket just before it closed and cooked pasta for dinner in the communal kitchen. We could tell we had entered Galicia because people had left the kitchen a complete mess and the place just generally had the atmosphere of a normal hostel; what a contrast from the night before!

Stats for the day:
Moving average: 14 kph
Overall average: 9.3kph
Max speed: 65.1 kph
Odometer: 105km
Moving time: 7h30m

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