Yesterday evening before complete darkness had shaded any more of the simplicity and perhaps cleanliness of this hostel, we were shown the bunk room. Bare mattresses lined both sides of the attic. I was already calculating how to keep myself fully intact nor make contact with my mattress. This was an accommodation stretch even for my meager comfort levels. I would be hard pressed to find many friends who would have stayed here for the night. Hence the reason I treasured traveling with Kashi. We had shared some rougher travel adventures together; sleeping in a car in Portugal at a remote beach, getting waylaid overnight on a bus in the middle of nowhere in NE India, due to a road blockade and walking for miles in Croatia as buses didn’t run on Sundays. But these were the times most remembered and tonight would not be an exception.
Tomas the caretaker and a Knight Templar was the owner of this donativo hostel. Templars originated to protect Christian pilgrims visiting holy sites during the medieval time. Tomas had been here for 23 years. After we “settled in” upstairs he led us outside and pointed across the road to the loo or in other terms a long drop. Another mental calculation was made that a midnight run to the loo could be a rather treacherous activity. I planned to go NPO (medical term for nothing per os/mouth) soon.
We were invited into the darkened kitchen and took a seat at the table. Dinner was already cooking. I couldn’t make out items that were stored on the counter and shelves. Maybe better left unseen. Tomas spoke little English. Later his comrade, Bruno entered and joined our round table. The conversation was stilted in broken English with the main theme being how much the Camino had changed and the sadness that came with that realization. This place was a rare glimpse into what most likely the Camino may have been like before the hoards of us comfort-loving Pilgrims took over the route. Seeing these kind of drastic changes in anyone’s life can be heartbreaking. My initial views of this place softened. I was quite lucky to experience such warmth and tradition.
The prepared meal of steaming stew and bread served so humbly to us was delicious. A mural on the wall depicted some sort of Templar scene, but I couldn’t quite make it out in the dim light. There wasn’t much more to do after dinner except retire to the attic. The creaky darkened stairwell was yet another calculated risk in making a pilgrimage to the loo that night.
We were forewarned that breakfast wouldn’t be until 0800. Tomas loathed early risers. That said, we were awaken by a ringing bell and tea was served by the wood burning stove. The Templar mural was quite impressive in the daylight.
Last night we got a good feel of what the Camino was once like as contrast to what we were about to experience as we tread onward. I was thankful we had spent the night here. The remainder of the day was to show the impact of the increased volume of Pilgrims over the years.
Our first tackle of the day was to climb to the highest point in the Camino. The day was misty and wet. One had to veer off the path to reach the altar-like spot. Most were passing on this option due to the weather. The wide vista was dampened with the fog, but the solitude and kisses of rain felt divine.
The walk was a slow downhill from here. Villages and shops were changing face, paralleling the increase of Pilgrims. Many pilgrims joined the Camino at later points on the trail. The increasing herd felt disruptive to the slowing-down process that we had acquired over the past few weeks.
The number of services and stores were becoming far more ubiquitous. The villages were still quaint and beautiful but the simple, quiet nature of the Camino seemed camouflaged. Almost all the cafes had tiendas (stores) to purchase anything you wanted. There was no need to pack food as it could be bought anywhere. Every need was catered.
There were dirt trails for walking but most stuck to the tarmac due to the rain. Those Pilgrims missed the tiny flowers struggling to find sunshine on the original path.
I bumped into a feisty, friendly Irish woman whom was a bunk mate at my very first hostel. She was accompanied by two other women. They had to be running this Camino as we had skipped three days by bus and they were already here. I admired their endurance, but knew that was not my kind of Camino.
We continued our slow walk downhill all the way to Ponferrada. The big castle stood tall and strong within the old city. Most things were closed as it was Sunday. The old part of the city was pretty, but I missed the countryside. We took a private room at a local hotel.
We would have another decision point in the morning as Kashi’s time was squeaking down and with what time was left, there was little interest in walking with the bulk of trekkers. I was opened to whatever we walked as I had made my plan to return to whatever sections we missed. Everything was going to work out.