Ponferrada to Villafrancá

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Amazing how the universe works.  Lying in bed last night I realised that the girls (maybe even myself) would never have made the distance from Foncebadon to Ponferrada in one day.  Just as well we had a slight mess up with the accommodation putting us one day ahead of schedule which allowed us to stop in Molinaseca rather than potentially being a day behind as the climb down from Foncebadon was crazy mad due to the weather conditions and therefore would not have made it to Ponferrada.

Our hotel in Ponferrada was great.  Situated a few meters away from the Templar Castle.  The breakfast was a little disappointing but we managed to eat some egg, even though it was ice-cold the hot cafe con leche and cola cao´s made up for it.  Our day started off with no rain (yippee), then as we reached the outskirts of Ponferrada the rain started pounding down so hard my face was burning / hurting with every rain drop that hit it.  Ponferrada peters out into a number of spacious villages/suburbs, where ponies roam the fields and farmers till the land. The weather continued to be dank and cold the entire day.  Even the locals were grousing about the cold, wet weather… and asking each other when Spring would arrive!  Our Camino is clearly doomed for rain!

Cassidy enjoying the journey

Cassidy enjoying the journey

Tanika is loving the experience

Tanika is loving the experience

Signs of spring showing

Signs of spring showing

My HAPPY child

My HAPPY child

My constant SNACKING child

My constant SNACKING child

Leaving Ponferrada this morning

Leaving Ponferrada this morning

Streets on the outskirts of Ponferrada

Streets on the outskirts of Ponferrada

I remember the route from Ponferrada to Villafranco being a land with grapevines and fruit trees combined with a profusion of chestnut trees.  Now all was so bare and only little tit bits every now and again whispered that it was in fact meant to be spring.  We continued in the pounding rain for the next 12km and finally found a stinky smokey bar open in Camponaraya.  Stinky, smokey and against the girls wishes, I was not moving an inch until I had downed a cafe con leche or two or three maybe even four!!   A double gin and tonic would have been better but the girls would have most definitely not approved of that either.  Playing it safe (bwahaha) we cuddled up and the girls enjoyed a piping hot cup of tea while I sipped my cafe con leche.  I still don’t get why the Spaniard’s serve piping hot coffee and tea in a glass.  How the hell are you meant to hold the glass when it is so hot.  This bugged me last year and is getting to me this time as well.  Next time I walk the Camino I will be bringing along my own mug (proper tin South African mug)!!

Oh my word, when Tanika took off her shoes it was as if Vic Falls had flooded the bar. Her shoes were soaked and her socks did not have a dry patch on them. Her little toes were blue and so cold I held them tightly in my hands to try to warm them up a bit. There was no way Tanika could continue walking in drenched socks and soaked shoes.  We all know wet feet in wet socks equals blisters big time.  Thus far we have been lucky with no feet ailments whatsoever.  I was not going to take a chance and decided to call a taxi to take us to Villafranca del Bierzo.

Once we got to Villafranca I was hoping to find a Camino type shop open to get her water protectors for her shoes but it was Sunday and everything was closed including the supermarket.  Damn!!

The taxi driver dropped us off at the hotel and they did not have our reservation for the night.  WHAT!!  I phoned the agency that did the bookings and whoever sent me the vouchers had the wrong hotel listed on the voucher.  Our luggage had been dropped off at the correct hotel (thank goodness) as it was quite a walk for us.  Hotel Burbia was great and once again our room was warm and comfortable which helped with a good nights sleep.  I am missing the Albergues and meeting the pilgrims but I am most definitely not missing the bunks beds and snoring!!

The famous Hotel San Francisco was on the Plaza Mayor and the town of Villafranco is quaint, in fact it is rather special.   I did not get to explore Villafranco last year as it was not a chosen stop over for me, so I enjoyed exploring it with the girls.  Outdoor cafes on the main plaza were practically empty.  There was a large church and a huge Jesuit building that looked important.  The town was a typical Camino town in that it was once an important stop for pilgrims, but if it weren’t for the renewed interest in the Camino, it would be empty.  We could not find a decent restaurant open, only the bars and they only serve pastries, bocadilla´s and tapas which are not gluten-free.  No shops were open to get fruit or yogurt so we did not eat.  We each had a packet of sin gluten crisps and some rice cakes that we had in our day packs.

So in a nutshell, Villafranca itself is a small village with a few churches, plazas, and winding streets with traditional architecture. Like Ponferrada, Villafranca is a traditional camino town. It was founded by monks from the French monastery at Cluny in 1070 to care for the passing peregrinos. Many pilgrims, especially French, settled in the town giving it its name ¨Villa-Francorum,¨ or village of Franks. Villafranca is most notably for the Door of Forgiveness on the northern side of the Church of Santiago.

In a normal summer, the riverbanks of Villafranca del Bierzo are popular beaches for local people to swim. We passed by these swimming spots on the way out-of-town but trust me with these weather conditions not a soul was in sight.  It continues to be cold and wet.

The walk from Villafranca to O´Cebreiro is a tougher walk than the leg just completed.  Some difficult hills to climb, but I think we are all excited about getting closer to our goal step by step each day. The girls are doing well with only minor annoying pains here and there, and are usually able to walk a consistent brisk pace with only short intermittent breaks. I am incredibly proud of their accomplishments and persistence so far.  They are doing something most people wouldn’t even attempt and are doing extremely well in severe weather conditions which we were not fully prepared for.  We knew it would rain and we knew it would be cold, but snow and storms we did not anticipate.

……on we shall walk……

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  • Rob Nell

    You really ought to be proud Sparks, sounds hectic out there. All the best ladies!

  • Vanita

    What wonderful bonding you are doing with your girls…..what Champs they are to walk in those conditions…..Good luck with the next step of the way!

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