We are in the lovely mountain town of Villfranca this evening but I want to go back to yesterday in Molinaseca where we stayed in a hotel called El Palacio. There are a lot of people on the Camino this month so I have been calling ahead to arrange accommodation. I always tell the person to whom I am talking that I am booking for myself and my wife.
This is the easiest way for me to explain in Spanish that we can share one bed or occupy singles if there is no double bed available. Usually, I receive as a response something like, “Si, si, matrimonio.” It may be my imagination, but I think the matrimonio routine works to our advantage.
When we get to Molinaseca, we are hot and tired. When we check into the Hotel El Palacio, the lady accompanies us to the second floor. There are number of doors and ours is 213. When I open it, I find another stairwell and think that I have made a mistake, but the lady indicates that this is to be our room. When we get to the top of this individual stairwell, we find a huge room with windows on three sides, a large bed, hardwood floors and a full bath with a walk-in shower. It is more like a suite than a room.
Later we go out for a walk on the other side of the river and look back at the building. We see that ours is a kind of windowed bunker that occupies the whole upper floor of the building. We are paying about 50 Euros, or about $75 Canadian. It is more than we usually pay but well worth it following our most trying day on the entire trail so far.
Out of cash
We are almost sad to leave this morning, but we have encountered a matter of some urgency. We have virtually no cash remaining. Almost without exception, the albergues and hostels in smaller towns and villages accept only cash, not credit cards. Rabanal had no bank or ATM but the host at our albergue said that we could easily do that in Molinaseca. Unfortunately, the one ATM in town is not working and we do not have enough money for dinner, not to mention the next leg of our journey. We go back to the nice lady at the hotel and ask if we can retrieve our 50 Euro note and pay her with VISA. She is accommodating so in this case we use our credit card.
This morning we walk the six kilometres into the city of Ponferrada searching for an ATM. We move cautiously along narrow suburban roads which we share with two-way morning traffic. Then we cross a bridge and walk past the best preserved Knights Templar castle on the Camino, dating back to its heyday and the military campaigns against the Moors.
In the city centre, some friendly young tourist information workers gave us a city map and instructions about how to find an ATM and the office of the company that provided me with a SIMM card for my phone. That has been crucial in our booking ahead for accommodation. I have been receiving messages telling me to buy more minutes, but I cannot succeed in using the company website to do that.
We take a wrong turn looking for the store but some high school boys who say they were skipping class guide us and practice their English along the way. When we arrive at the store, I find that I have less than one Euro left in credit on the phone, about enough for four or five calls, so I top up.
Asphalt and traffic
Then it is back to the Camino, which here is routed along city streets and sidewalks, its way indicated by stylized scallop shells. We discover that Ponferrada is hosting a world class bicycle race and many of the roads are being blocked off even as we walk along them. Fortunately the traffic wardens show us the way through and point us toward the Camino. The way out of the city, however, and the next long while in the countryside has us on asphalt roads once again and sharing them with two-way traffic.
Owing to a unique micro climate, the region around Ponferrada is one of vineyards, the first we have seen since early on in our walking. The grape harvest is occurring and that creates a lot of traffic. It is unnerving, with the tension broken only by a lady inviting us into a church that she and others in her community have been restoring. We leave a small donation and she stamps our Camino passport.
Shortly thereafter we stop for a sandwich in the next town and I see a telephone number for a taxi. Soon we are being ferried 10 kilometres along the road to a trail on the Camino that winds its way through the back country vineyards. We climb to the charming town of Villafranca and our guidebook tells us that it is from here that we will undertake a long and arduous day on the Camino.