It is now Wednesday, 1/16, and Robin and I are carefully threading our way down the ice encrusted streets of Ponferrada towards the bridge that will take us out of town and down the Camino Invierno. It is early (8:30) and the temperature is 28 F. It is a new beginning and we are simply enjoying it. The city, at this hour, is quite still. The residents seem to be opting for a few more minutes of pillow time rather than rushing out into the cold morning air. Pilgrims, on the other hand, just figure out the kit of the day and off they go, notwithstanding rain or shine or whatever might fall in between. And so we too follow suit. We are in the habit of carrying the bare minimum, at least as far as we understand it, and enjoy not being overstuffed. Walking any Camino forces you to mange your time and your stuff, and we just happen to like that pared down approach. So down we went quietly and gingerly picking our way through the odd patches of ice towards the river Sil, which will be our companion for the next several days as we move along the Camino Invierno to Santiago.
The cold, dry morning air encouraged us to set a good pace as we moved out of the city and into the countryside. We went up through vineyards, and more vineyards (not complaining, as vineyards hold a very special place in my heart). We were alone in our frosted world counting the crunch of footfalls into the rime frozen trail. We moved along step by step, and then kilometer by kilometer as we gained elevation towards the high ground of the Castillo Cornatel, the literal and figurative high ground for today’s stage. As we moved along it was easy to notice the stark contrast to last January’s walk. A year ago it was all brilliant sunshine and views to the horizon. Today it was more sepulchral. There was no wind so the many wood fires burning offered up lazy columns of smoke that rose into the low hanging clouds commingling their identities so that all one could sense was a softened light, free of shadows and boundaries, with a smokey trace weaving through it, a sort of indeterminate space, a perfect pilgrim place.
Onward we went, steadily climbing upward, enjoying every chilled moment of every kilometer we walked. We passed through many villages that seemed to be hanging on by threads. The many abandoned homes we saw testified to an economic shift that has left many rural families without a viable path forward, so they simply have moved on, not unlike many communities back home.
We walked along until we rejoined the highway, which we crossed and then set off uphill to the summit and the castle. On the way up you pass through the hamlet of Viilavieja. This is a work in progress. We saw one man stacking firewood, and a few buildings in the midst of resurrection, but that was all. It looks like it would be a perfect off the grid community for those drawn to that lifestyle. Just to note, the only building in town that looks good to go is a recently opened albergue. Give it a try. It’s in a quiet neighborhood.
The castle summit was now close at hand so we picked up the pace a bit and shortly thereafter we were passing by its gate. This is can be a very scenic view if the weather is cooperating. Today it was cloudy but with fairly good visibility underneath the cloud deck. We were now closing in on our destination for today, the small village of Borrenes where we arrived 45 minutes later. We have some Facebook friends Saturno and Marisol, who own a small bar and hotel here, and we are staying with them. It was a great first stage. We had a few aches and pains but at the end of the day we arrived in good shape and in high spirits. Now it is time for food and some fine Bierzo wine. Hasta mañana.