CF Sola 19, Day 4: Villafranca-Vega de Valcarce

One of the big topics the night before was whether or not people were taking the winding tarmac trail next to the road or going ‘up and over’, meaning the camino duro or Pradela route – or The Donkey Killer as we call it – a steep up and steep down greener route, significantly prettier and more challenging. Not much in it distance wise but a massive difference to the effort involved. I have done the Pradela route twice with the Scouse Spouse, but without him – and considering my acrophobic steepness/edge issues – I decided it was time to take the grey way again. Here’s a reminder of what the Pradela route looks like though, in case you wondered – you can see the road faaar below and the Dragonte route is on the other side of the valley.

But first: coffee. The lovely Maria served café con leche and a basic breakfast downstairs, and as I came down, so did the man upstairs, Yogi. We sat down with three young girls who had slept in my room. Yet again we were the last ones in the place, but we agreed we must have slept longer and better because the window was open – hurrah for oxygen! I had bought some small tins of paté to try to liven up the toasted bread at breakfast with something other than jam, the girls had brought chocolate, and it turned into a veritable banquet.

At long last Yogi and I decided to get going, and we might as well keep each other company on the long grey slog. It really isn’t very interesting. The stops are far more enjoyable than the walk, but though the road was grey and boring, the conversation was all the more colourful and interesting, so I didn’t complain. Oh, and there was a river, too.

The first stop was Pereje, where we happily spent some time on the shaded terrace enjoying a clara. It was nice to get a break from the tarmac and the ever hotter sun, and nice to be able to take the time and not hurry for a bed.

At our next stop I discovered that the reason I seemed to have a hotspot developing on my heel was that there was a hole in the sock, so off they both came and went in the bin. My extravagant packing paid off – I had brought tree pairs, so even with one gone I still had two.

The third stop was in Ambasmestas, where Yogi took me to see the Pescador, an albergue with a pond and a rather excellent choice of tapas – garlicky and herby lard on brown bread – served with the Pescador’s own label craft beer with honey. Yum! Must be great to spend an evening there, I’d love to stay sometime (OK, next time).

When we arrived at the El Paso albergue in Vega, where I had booked a bed, they had a bed for Yogi too, and the lovely hospitalera even put us both on bottom bunks in a corner with a window! The outside area was great – it had a bar fridge with cold tins of alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks and an honesty box where you could pay, a long dining table in the shade, sun loungers and chairs and miles of clothes lines.

There was even a small, cold stream running along the wall for tired or hot feet – Yogi got a foot massage and was told to sit on a plastic chair with his feet in the cold running water after, and seemed to really enjoy it.

The hosts were incredibly kind and hospitable – they shared their meal with some of the pilgrims who came to the outside dining table to sit, they told stories and passed on information, and they even served up arroz con leche – rice pudding – for dessert. In Yogi’s case, it was served mid stream.

We spent a leisurely afternoon there chatting to other pilgrims before we went up to the nearby restaurant for a meal. It was the usual thing, so I got my chicken with salad, and even shared the pilgrim menu wine for once.

As we were leaving, our hosts came into the bar, so we naturally offered to buy them a drink to thank them for their warm welcome. One drink became two as we sat on the terrace overlooking the meadow and talked about travel, food, wine, life. Again all was well in the world (and again we were the last pilgrims to get in), and best of all – tomorrow we would be going up to O Cebreiro, my favourite uphill of all time, and I could hardly wait!

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