A full head, a full heart and a full belly.
Spreading positivity after traipsing long distances can be challenging. Following a rigorous day of traipsing, it’s perfectly acceptable to need a few moments to reflect on all of your daily affirmations. For many, including me, true gratitude takes practice and introspection. However, every now and then, you will encounter someone who organically oozes positivity and tops up your levels of appreciation with only a smile, a wink or an uplifting story. I had the fortune of meeting this person at the end of Day 25, and, coupled with some fantastic news from the other side of the world, my heart duly overflowed.
Camino de Santiago Diary – Day 25
A hungover grumble gurgled from the sky as I departed Albergue de Peregrinos San Nicolás de Flue. A formidable storm had gathered in the bowl of the El Bierzo valley overnight and drenched Ponferrada’s metropolitan sprawl. However, despite the powerful low-pressure system, the excess heat from Day 24 remained.
An expanse of parklands, housing and boutique businesses loosely connected the city with the neighbouring community of Compostilla, while bountiful orchards and kitchen gardens lined the road to outlying Columbrianos. By the time the path gyrated through the hamlets of Fuentes Nuevas, Camponaraya and Cacabelos, the landscape had undulated into a series of rolling vineyards, and my sweat glands were back working overtime.
The moisture from a breathless air pulsated from the heavily irrigated horticulture, and the dusty heat from the Meseta, which I’d left only two days earlier, was now a distant memory.
The changes in climate and scenery weren’t the only noticeable differences from the Meseta. Since leaving Astorga on Day 23, the number of pilgrims on The Way had tripled, as had the roadside merchants scheming their next quick buck. While most vendors approached their trade with some sense of philanthropy, it was clear some tourist traps made their living by charging exorbitant prices and luring inexperienced walkers. Thankfully, these hustlers are in the minority, but, nevertheless, they would remain a fixture until I reached Santiago de Compostela.
While there may be some swindlers on the Camino, they are vastly outnumbered by those pushing good out into the world; none more so than our hospitalero at the Albergue Ave Fénix in Villafranca del Bierzo.
Villafranca del Bierzo was founded by French monks in 1070. Their function was to help pilgrims on their way to the Cathedral of Santiago. These same monks imported grapevines to this region.
Manolo welcomed us with open arms, a cheeky smile and an unmissable fake red nose. Following a severe heart attack some years earlier, the one-time Madrilenian left his luxurious life in the Spanish capital to help pilgrims along the trail. During his delicious home-cooked paella dinner, he toasted the room and spoke to the advantages of living your life simply, gratefully and wholly, while his audience feasted on his offerings.
The heart-warming sentiments didn’t stop there. News had filtered through from Australia that I had become the Camino’s newest uncle. My brother and his lovely wife had brought their first child, Charlie, into the world; I couldn’t wait to meet her when I arrived home.
I landed in my loft bed with bundles of positivity and much to ponder. Am I giving back enough in my everyday life? Am I making the most of my time? Should I put my energy toward building a family? These swimming thoughts were short-lived as my full heart, and full belly soon drowned me into unconsciousness. With over 700 metres of elevation gain on Day 26, my body was right to put me to sleep.
All the details.
Trail distance covered
Okay, the hills are coming. Brace yourselves.