Early the following morning, as we were loading the panniers onto the bikes we noticed a young man leaving the hotel and he came over to speak to us. We discussed the Camino and he asked us how we were getting on, where we had come from, and so on. We had a lovely discussion, if not brief as his wife was waiting for him by their car. He mentioned that he came from Cebreiro, which was our next destination, and he wished us a “Buen Camino” before we all left.
The hotel had looked so welcoming the previous evening but I couldn’t help but be amused when we rode passed an official Albergue a few miles further down the road. We were discovering that sometimes if you could force yourself to carry on cycling a bit further, you usually came across somewhere just as suitable, if not better – than you had picked on (price-wise certainly). A bit like life, really.
As on previous days, the morning had begun on a cool note and we made good progress using the pilgrims’ trail before stopping at Villafranco for a quick breakfast of toast and coffee. Then we search out a cash point and found that our card was still very much useable and we were able to withdraw money without a problem.
Shortly after leaving Ponferrada, we came into a village called Columbrianos. Unremarkable in itself, we couldn’t get out of it fast enough as we rode along the N711. Then suddenly we saw a delightful little image of San Felix y San Roque and I had to stop to take a picture.
After the previous day’s strenuous climbing, we were glad to find ourselves riding along undulating roads, through village after village, most seemingly pretty empty. After making steady progress, however, the climbing started again, much of it along the walkers’ trail. At one point, we rode through a tree-lined area to the heavy scent of conifers, all the while being serenaded by a chorus of bird song.
The noise of these birds, delightful in their own way, was deafening. Indeed, we hadn’t realized just how loud they were until we emerged from the area where the road once again became barren of trees and we were greeted by an eerie silence. I had to stop myself from turning the bike round and retracing my steps back into the trees! I think my legs had become used to the hills because the climb up towards O’Cebreiro started off quite easily and it wasn’t as hard I had expected.
Reaching Pedrafita de Cebreiro it didn’t take much for John to persuade me to stop as it was almost time for some lunch. Already that day we had ascended almost 800 meters (874 yards) from Ponferado and we toyed with the idea of stopping here for the day. However, we were keen to carry on although, if I had thought Pedrafita de Cebreiro was the summit, I was soon to discover that I was sorely mistaken. Once again, we set off and stopped a little further on at a rustic farmyard. I was not sure that this even was an albergue, and can only admit to being more than a little relieved when we were told that it was already full. A few other Albergues that we came across were also almost full to capacity. All the time we were aware that the walking pilgrims who have managed to make it to this point would be in no fit state to walk much further so places must be reserved for them over cyclists.
Although there were other places advertising rooms, we decided to carry on. Surely the descent must come soon? Stopping for a rest, two pilgrims walked passed. They stopped and one told us that they had already walked 24 kms (almost 15 miles) and still hadn’t been able to find a place. One suggested that we needed to get further down the road because, it being the height of the season, people were being charged more than the usual rate in many of the albergues. We agreed, particularly as it was still quite early in the day (around 4.00 o’clock). Oh bliss, not much further and we had reached Alto do Poio, where we found two albergues on opposite sides of the road. We opted for the one on the left, and were lucky to find, that although the dormitory was full, they still had a few private rooms. We were very thankful and immediately booked one.
This albergue had its own small restaurant so food was no problem. We ordered their speciality paella (plain for me, chicken for John) then sat outside with a few other people, both cyclists and walkers, for a leisurely evening. One of our companions was a young Spanish woman from Madrid. She was unemployed, having lost her job a few months before, and was walking with a friend. We also met another woman cyclist Leslie (not her real name), who lives in France (having moved there from the UK after her husband’s death some years before). She told us she was having trouble with her bike so John checked it over and applied some oil. She very kindly treated us to coffee and we ended up chatting for some hours before retiring for the night.