Day 9 – Thursday, September 30th – bus and taxi to O’Cebreiro
Before even the buttcrack of dawn, Kathleen took off for Barcelona. Bye, bye, Kathleen!
Now our group consisted of Kathie, Jennie, and me, of course, plus two peeps I had not met before – Elene and Jeffrey, or JJ for short. Kathie knows Elene from work and JJ – oh, I don’t remember how she knows JJ. He’s a hoot though – as you’ll see further on.
Late in the morning, our happy little group caught a bus to Villafranca del Bierzo. From the bus window, we saw many pilgrims walking the Camino. Because the highway route we traveled was relatively flat, we couldn’t tell that we were bypassing a steady ascent on the Camino to an elevation of 1500 meters (roughly 4500 feet) at Cruz de Ferro, the highest point of the walk. Oh darn.
In Villafranca, we hopped off the bus and called a cab. (Lucky for us, Elene speaks Spanish fluently.) JJ got our bags stuffed into the back of the minivan and we took off for O’Cebreiro. While this segment was along good highway, we could see - and appreciate - the actual ascent of the Camino here. Over 7 kilometers, the trail climbed 500 meters. “Good God – did you see that ascent?” I asked JJ later.
I was so glad we’d taken the bus and cab.
So this is how to pronounce O’Cebreiro – Oh-thay-bray-air-o. Now say that fast three times. I have difficulty saying it once. It’s all I can do to type it accurately.
That evening, we enjoyed the view from our inn, the Casa Carolo. In the second pic, can you see the bridge way below in the distance? We rode along that.
That evening, we enjoyed delicious pork chops for dinner! Mmmm, that was substantial fare for pilgrims. But whenever I think of O’Cebreiro now, I think of what Michener wrote in Iberia about the plight of the British army, under the command of Sir John Moore, trying to escape Napoleon’s advancing troops...
It was in their approach to Cebrero, the highest point on the old pilgrims’ route and surely the most desolate, that the British army suffered its Gehenna. All through the preceding year the army had been pleading with both the English and Spanish governments for money to speed the war, and at last they had got some, but now on the dreadful cliff-lined pass to Cebrero the paymasters had to back their wagons to the edge of the precipice and throw away their funds, a hundred and twenty-five thousand dollars in gold coins, too heavy to carry any longer, and starving foot soldiers had to listen impotently as the worthless gold clinked down the mountainside. It was January, 1809, the coldest part of the winter, and men froze to death in the heavy snow. Women (the soldiers had brought their families with them) died of starvation and their bodies lay covered with ice beside the road. Horses had to be killed by the hundreds; to save ammunition they were herded to some precipice and forced to jump to their own screaming deaths. At every Spanish village, houses were looted and soldiers would lie down in the ditch, a bottle of wine to their lips, knowing that if they got drunk they would not rise again, but they drank on and hundreds made the noiseless transition from drunkenness to death.
Bet you were hearing a lot of souls talking on that mountain, weren’t ya, Kath?
Next – on to Triacastela.