In the morning the two who came home last, were also last to leave the room. We had a coffee downstairs instead of in town, and then I went up to the square, which was almost empty at this time. Then I did what I always do when I leave Ponferrada – I got a taxi past 10 km of tarmac, to the bodegas at Camponaraya, where the camino goes into the countryside again. In 2012 this 10 km stretch was where I got/discovered/had my first flare-up of plantar fasciitis, so I haven’t walked it since. Not worth it to ruin the next couple of days. But then – on to the gravel trail into the vineyards!
Walking towards Cacabelos I met a man sitting by the oasis in the copse of trees, carving wooden shells and crosses. I had been thinking about getting a non-souveniry souvenir from this walk, and immediately fell in love with the light golden shell he had carved. I bought it and stayed there talking for a while about books, graphic novels, walking, history, Spain … another great meeting of minds on the camino, and a lovely memento of a lovely walk.
In Cacabelos I met an elderly man urging me to come into a small chapel for a look and a stamp, and as I have never seen it open before, I went in. The man told me lots about it, most of it I didn’t understand, but it really was a surprising sight – that small chapel looked so plain from the outside, but on the inside it was full of gold and wonders!
I went to my favourite café in Cacabelos, where sadly they didn’t have the mushroom tapas, but they did do a marvellous lomo y tomate bocadillo that set me up for the rest of the day. Lots of pilgrims on the trail, so I waited until there seemed to be a gap and off I went. It was getting very hot, so I stopped at the colourful little bar in the middle of the vineyards, where a few people were enjoying the shade and the laidback music (and a beer).
Thankfully I had remembered to put my SPF shirt at the top of the pack, so I nipped into the bar’s tiny loo to change for the last 4 km into Villafranca, where there is practically zero shade. I wet my Buff hairband too to cool myself down and started on this glorious walk through rolling countryside.
Arriving at Villafranca I went first of all to the square, where the waiter at the bar where we spent the evening in September, recognised me and welcomed me back. I promised I would be back after my shower, and went to find albergue Leo, which I had heard marvellous things about. I was not disappointed! Maria has created a warm and generous atmosphere that seems to touch everybody who comes through the door, and she had very kindly reserved a bed for me – a bottom bunk by the window, perfect!
After a shower and handing Maria my laundry I went to go back to the bar, when I bumped into the Canadian lady from this morning, and she got a bed in the same albergue. She came along for a drink, and as we entered the square we immediately bumped into Piia and Yogi again! Piia had a private room, but Yogi was at a loose end, so I told him there were beds left in Leo. He got the very last one – literally in the loft, a single room of sorts.
I stayed at the same table until it was time to go to bed – Irish-German, Czech-Finnish, German, Californian and Canadian people came and went, there was food, there were claras and wine, there was talk and laughter and stories, we even took arty colourful-glasses photos, and all was well with the world.
Back in the room every one of the six bunks were filled, and I checked with one lady who was still awake that it was OK to keep the window open a crack. If every day on the camino was like this I would never go home.