When we went to sleep last night in Villafranca we knew our day would begin a little later as we wanted to see Eddie off. He was able to book a flight and was needing to catch a bus and possibly a train to make his connections back to Germany.
When we woke it was very apparent the weather had turned dramatically against us. It was raining heavily.
In our little family, the women normally sleep on the top bunks wherever possible. The urban myth says there are no, or fewer bedbugs on the upper bunks. Last night Eddie and I once again had the lower bunks. Well, in this case there is a negative aspect to the upper bunks. Susan had two puddles on her bunk in the morning. The roof was leaking. Perhaps bedbugs can’t swim?
Here’s a synopsis of the Hostel Fenix (Ave Fenix) we stayed in ( based on a scale of 1 to 10, 10 being the best):
Accommodations = 3
Staff = 11 (wait until you meet Alfonso)
Food = 6
Showers = 2
Toilets = -7
Would stay there again? No. Would I recommend someone else stay here? Yes. Just once….it is worth the experience. Had it not rained my rating may have been somewhat higher, but this wouldn’t have helped the toilets. But it did rain….and it rained a lot.
We left the “hippie commune” after 8, still well before sunrise, and watched Eddie’s bus drive past despite his waving frantically. He and Bene went after the bus hoping to catch it somewhere. Susan and I lost the two of them in the spiders nest of small streets. I call Bene’s phone but she has not turned it on yet.
Eventually it became necessary for us to start walking. Otherwise we would just wander around town hoping to bump into Bene and/or Eddie. ( if he in fact missed his bus)
Susan and I looked at the guide book to discover we had to climb one mountain to leave town, and the road out of town appears to be impressively steep. The climb looked like it would be about 2 hours and once we reached the top it was back down the other side, and then after a short walk in a valley roadway we set out to climb the same height on another mountain. Our next stop for the day; La Faba. The rain would turn to a mist during part of the day, but otherwise it was going to be a constant companion. Heavy, even extreme at times.
The flood of rain kept Susan and I aware of the potential of slipping front and foremost with every step. This slope was relentless and the rain was a lubricant creating an opportunity at every step for disaster. Two things came to mind as we fought our way up. This slope is similar to the Pyrenees but my legs feel fine. I assume I am in better shape than I was 25 days ago. The second was I was as wet under the poncho as I was on the outside. I was sweating profusely. The temperature was about 15c, but the exertion required was heavy. At least I wasn’t cold.
Our progress up this path continued for about 2 hours. Go ahead, say I’m slow….I dare you. This was tough going!
When Susan and I reached the top the decent became our biggest concern. Susan walks down much more cautiously trying to protect her knee that has given her so much trouble on this journey. I like to motor down the hills like I am skiing. (My walking poles are reminiscent of ski poles) We will split up and walk alone for the downhill portion.
Again the rain is pelting everyone on these steep grades threatening with slips and dangerous falls. At one point I was going down sideways. One pole extended as far down as possible giving support while my feet looked for secure rocks. Progress was slow, but twice as fast as the accent.
Finally I had reached the bottom and a small village. To me it was interesting, we had started and finished this part of the journey today at the same altitude. The mountain was a symmetrical cone, smack dab in the way of the Camino…..
It was 11 o’clock and I found a bar to have a bite to eat. I left my pack outside in hopes that Susan would see it should she pass by. I was drenched inside and out. My Spanish is more less a collection of odd words with many gestures and my little French used as a condiment. (It is obvious to see the similarities between French and Spanish)
I sit with a man from Holland. He is also waiting for his Camino walking partner. He started his Camino from Barcelona and started at roughly the same time I did. He has been walking 30km days! I look at his foot wear and he is wearing running shoes, soaked through and throughout. I don’t want to discuss his feet, or even think about them…..ouch.
By the way, my feet are in danger of being voted “the prettiest feet on the Camino”. My one little blister on top of my left big toe is gone and I have not had any visible problems at all. My daily foot care regime consists of dry socks twice as day as needed. Morning or evening, seeing the conditions of some people’s feet will bring tears to your eyes….literally.
Finally I decide to wait for Susan outside. I don my wet sweater, pack and poncho just as Susan comes down the street. She was only been 15 minutes behind me. So much for my being a downhill skier….
For the next 2 hours we walked through a winding valley floor on the side of a roadway. Not ideal, but terribly hilly.
We stopped and met up with Kristen. She, her Father, Mother, and two sisters were all walking together. She is the athlete in the family and has walked ahead of them. She feels it may be much more comfortable to stay put, dry out, and wait for the rest of the family to catch up.
We bid our pretty young friend goodbye and head back out into the rain.
Finally after passing through 3 or 4 small towns we start our final accent of the day. This coincides with the rain returning, heavier than before. We are walking up a very rough rock trail. This path is now literally a river bed. The water falling from the sky has to obey the laws of gravity, it must find it’s way downhill. And so it does…..under our feet.
I was hoping someone had installed an escalator somewhere around here…..to no avail. This portion of the climb took us over two hours. Our progress was slow. Factoring in the lateness in the day, our condition, and the heavy rain…not bad.
I am impressed with Susan’s dogged determination and continued good nature despite the circumstances. Susan’s knee is constant source of concern, but you will barely hear her mention this. The mountains today must be murder on her.
When I was about at the end of my tolerance we arrived at our planned destination.
La Faba has two places to stay. One is a modern renovated space on the edge of town so we headed over to check in. The official at the Albergue is such a miserable “turd” my vote is anything but here. Susan agrees.
We head over to the only other option. A vegetarian Hostel. When we arrive we are shown our beds in the adjoining building. There are only 5 matress’, and three of the five are suspended by chains.(my real family back home will have stories to tell you about my teenage years and a suspended bed)
The toilet is Turkish style and constructed in the room, but for some reason is up 6 steps. User manual says “two spots for your feet, and squat”. By the way, this is also the shower. The whole atmosphere is a mix of Hindu, Himalayan, earthy, nature. Very comforting after our ordeal.
We go back to the main area and meet Gigi. (Again, for my family in Canada….not THAT Gigi) She was once an American who now has no base, lives in various places, and is a tour guide in Cuba.
My phone has been dead all day so I have been charging it. When I pick up the phone Bene has sent a message….she is in La Faba too. She had just checked in with “the turd” and was hoping we were going to make it this far so we could be together again. As we couldn’t add another person to our dinner we arranged for Bene to meet us after eating.
Our dinner is vegetarian and is the best meal have had since starting the Camino. Marsha, born in America but has lived in Campbell River, BC also joined us for dinner. The food, the company, and the setting was so nice.
I arranged for Bene to stay with us and when she arrived it was hugs and introductions all around. Bene had power-walked the same path we were on by herself all day, barely seeing another pilgrim. I am very proud of her ability to take on this day, pounding the challenges into submission. One tough cookie, that is for sure.
Tomorrow we go further up the mountain again….and the forecast, more rain.
(At least there shouldn‘t be any flies…..)