I walked from Ponferrada to Villafranca de Bierzo on Sunday – approximately 23 km. I have had really sore knees, and was wondering how the walk would go, but it went great. I think my knees are healing. The rest of my legs feel great.
I walked through a ton of vineyards, ……back and forth, up and down ridges. Very beautiful but, I dont think the 16th Century Pilgrims walked the same route I did. The Camino is very much a business for many.
This section of the Way has to be a spectacularly beautiful during the growing season. And it is clear this region caters to the Pilgrims by offering wine tastings and plenty of bars to dink local wines. Passing through some of the pueblos, I saw some restaurants that I have to believe offer a top quality dining experience. I am sure the food would be wonderful, and the prices reflect that. This place must be nuts in May and June.
There looks to be all levels of service and price levels for the passing Pilgrims. I walked past one “establishment” that looks so scary that the only explanation is that Baby Bacchus himself was serving drinks there.
The money from Pilgrims is very important to the pueblos, and you can see the competition at times not only among the albergues, restaurants, hotels, hostals and bars but also among areas vying for recognition as part of the Camino. One example is the stretch from Carrion de los Condes to Sahagun. About 8km from Los Condes the route separates into two paths. One path goes through two villages and the other parallel route goes through 3 villages. The “reason” for the two paths is two different claims. The is northern route actually uses an old Roman road which the southern route innkeepers don’t consider to be “Spanish”. I don’t think middle century Pilgrims worried to much about who built the roads. I doubt they would hump it through the Spanish countryside on cow trails if there were a straight dry road to walk,… but there are now two claims to the route, with albergues, bars, hostals, etc.
When I left Carrion de los Condes, I knew there would be some “trickery” involved in the path. I wanted to walk the northern route (Roman road) because I thought it was 4km shorter. Guess what,… I got tricked and I walked the southern path. Crazy. From my rudimentary maps, it looked like the trail split after getting to Calzada de los Molinos, but it was actually before the pueblo, which I didn’t see on the other side of a highway over pass. There were yellow arrows going every which direction at that point so I knew something was up and took my time being careful. I still ended up on the south route (mostly because I am an idiot), but there was trickery.
But honestly, there is a sign language jargon that you have to learn. For example, when I go to Madrid, every freeway I am on leads to the airport, if you belive the signs. It doesn’t matter if you are going north, south, east or west, you are on the route to the airport. Spanairds seem alright with this but it confuses me. I remember that when I was in Chile, I learned to accept that many times there is no advance notice of turns. You saw the sign for your turn as you went whizzing by. Each country has there own sign language. I am still learnings Spain’s.
I have to say that from the humble beginnings of Father Elias Valina Sampedro running around in his car painting yellow arrows every which way in the 1980s, the Way of Saint James has turned into an incredible business in a relatively short time. From what looks like new investment in albergues, restaurants, etc, it looks like people think the number of Pilgrims will increase more and more. Time will tell.
Thanks for reading. Steve