El Acebo to Ponferrada
18.5 kilometers – 12 miles
Day 21 began at our new home away from home–Posada Real Casa de Tepa in Astorga, the hotel which we just can’t leave.
We had twice in a row taxied back to that hotel from further points, just because we loved it.
The last time, we had taxied back from El Acebo, and that is where we would begin our walk this morning.
Herreria and Compludo
But first……………Our taxi driver, Antonio, had another side trip in mind.
Far, far, far below the small village of El Acebo, are two much smaller villages, Herreria and Compludo. Located in what is known as Valle del Silencio, these villages are over 800 feet below the Camino. We know the distance is that great–Antonio’s car featured an altimeter. Compludo was established in the seventh century.
When we left the main road, the fun began. Antonio was driving us down and down and down. Around a winding road, not nearly wide enough for two vehicles, we zigzagged our way to the bottom.
Guardrail suppliers had a field day working on this project. It was straight down the side of the mountain from every point on the road.
At the bottom, was a tiny village–Compludo. Herreria is located a ways off the road and is even more secluded. There were several of its residents in the small street, and they were very curious why a taxi would be passing through their village. We weren’t sure. But we took a few quick photos and and then hopped back in the car. And Antonio began the long low-gear drive back up the hill.
When it was over, Antonio deposited us at the bar at the entrance of El Acebo–the same bar where he had picked us up the day before.
From El Acebo to Molinaseca is a drop of its own. It really isn’t a walk, it is a mentally draining challenge to avoid slipping on the exposed rock and shale that is the floor of the trail. And downhill treks aren’t easy. Unlike uphill walks, which involve physical challenges on the leg muscles, downhill jaunts are stressful on feet. Feet are suddenly hitting the front of shoes.
As a result, Jackie suffered our first real injury. One day after the descent the top of her instep of her right foot was very sore from pressing against her shoe as we moved down hill. She says she will live, though. Her mountain goat qualities are needed.
In planning the trip, we had made a reservation at The Way Hostel in Molinaseca for day 21 and therefore ended our walk early there. It was late morning and we were hardly tired. It was simply Jim’s bad planning that led to our stay there.
But, because it was so early in the day and we felt like we had hardly walked, we did Day 22’s planned walk to Ponferrada that evening.
Right, we walked about six miles in the morning, then went for five more in the evening, and taxied back to our hotel in Molinaseca.
Then today (Day 22) we simply took the day off and taxied to Ponferrada and are staying in the main square, only three blocks form the Knights Templar castle of the 1200’s.
We know it’s confusing, but it wouldn’t be Our Camino if it was simple.
So here we are in Ponferrada. It is Saturday night, 11:30 pm. The hotel terrace restaurant below, which has been nearly vacant all day, is now teaming with dinner business. Spanish people live differently than us. We have a Disney-like channel on the television–it is the first English station we have found in any hotel since we have been in Spain.We’ve watched a bit of FIBA basketball and some bike racing–both with Spanish announcers–in the past days.
A Bridge and A Castle
Molinaseca, where we stayed last night, is a special village. To enter the village, Pilgrim’s pass over the medieval Puente de los Peregrinos bridge–a true beauty. Molinaseca’s location has over the centuries attracted the nobility and it is said that the 11th century Queen of Castilla y León and Galicia once lived here. The bridge is beautiful and the village and its residents appear very proud.
Because of the prominence of the river to the town, many Pilgrims sat near the bridge, hanging their feet in the river. Several were swimming.
The Way Hostel, our hotel there, is run by Matti, a veteran of the Camino. He told us many times that he has done the Camino 27 times–once on foot, the remainder on bike (he says pointing to an injured knee).
He has many views on the Camino and was happy to share them. He says the water in fountains shouldn’t be drunk from here to Santiago, and he doesn’t like the albergue life–too much arguing. He is a basque and should be the ambassador of the Camino. He knows plenty!!
Today, we spent much of our tourist time seeing the 13th century castle that formed a Knights Templar headquarters. The city of Ponferrada was actually given to the Knights in the 12th century by the king. The Knights were mandated with protecting Pilgrims as their act in exchange for the gift of this city.
The castle, which they built is amazing even today. We loved it. It has all the goodies that every medieval castle should have–towers, moats and shooting slats within the walls. Very cool.
And across the road from the castle is the Basilica de Santa Maria de la Encina. The church was built in the late 16th century and houses the statue of la Virgen de la Encina from whom the church gets its name.
Here is the cool and hard-to-believe story:
Legend has is that in the middle of the 5th century a local saint visited Jerusalem and brought back with him a number of relics, amongst them a statue of the Virgin Mary. This statue stayed for a number of years in Astorga but during the wars with the Moors the relics were hidden in various places to avoid them being plundered by the Saracens. During the Reconquista many of the relics were recovered but the statue of the Virgin disappeared for many centuries.
In 1178 the Knights Templar came to Ponferrada and built their castle. One fine day the man in charge of felling trees in the nearby forest saw a bright light emanating from the forest. He made his way towards the light and as he approached its location he saw that it was coming from the opening in the trunk of a holm oak tree. On closer inspection he found that inside the oak was the statue of the Virgin that had disappeared so hundreds of years before. He brought it back to the castle and from then on the Virgin has been known as la Virgen de la Encina or the Virgin of the Holm Oak.
That is the story–hard to believe, like so many others surrounding the lore of Spain.
The Walk Tomorrow
The weather is supposed to include rain tomorrow. We’ve already given away our rain pants, but we have umbrellas. Can’t wait!!