The fourth and fifth days on the Camino Invierno presented a new challenge, but it was pretty simple. One day’s walk would be fairly flat and short, perhaps four hours, and the other would be quite long and mountainous, requiring perhaps as much as ten hours. “Why not just split them in the middle?” you might ask. The answer is that the middle is somewhere in a mountain forest, and there are no services (water, food, or overnight accommodations) to be had there. So the challenge required a more creative solution. It was an idea that I stole from a website that served as one of my guides for this journey.
On the first day I got an early morning start, leaving “O Barco” and walking westward along the route of the Rio Sil toward “A Rua.” As expected, it was a most pleasant stretch, leaving the city by continuing the previous day’s walk through the peaceful “Malecon” riverfront park. My only companions were a handful of locals walking their dogs, plus a few joggers. No one else was carrying a 20 lbs. pack with the intent of leaving O Barco. The scenery along both sides of the Sil was lush green with densely-forested soft mountains in the background. Unlike the previous day, there were no sudden explosions to loosen up slate on the mountainsides nor loud saws cutting that slate into tiles. It was now totally quiet except for the gentle flow of the river not many meters beside me. Eventually, though, the terrain rose gradually and I began to see vineyards on the nearby slopes. By noon I was entering the next city along the way, “A Rua.”
Here’s where the creative solution to the two-day challenge kicked in. I needed to find my reserved “Casa Rural” (think B&B) and drop off my pack because I would continue walking through the afternoon with only a small daypack and my hydration kit. Finding “Pacio do Sil” (The Peace of the Sil) wasn’t difficult using the ”maps.me” app that can find just about anything. Explaining that I simply wanted to drop off my pack for a later check-in was significantly harder. The hosts were a delightful older couple (most likely my age) but they didn’t understand anything I tried to explain. Quickly, though, the man picked up his phone and dialed a number before handing the phone to me. I was now speaking with his granddaughter, a 9th grader who spoke beautiful English. With her as the translator, everything was arranged in just a few minutes, and I was able to check in, drop my large pack and start the afternoon stretch of walking.
Dropping 20 lbs. of dead weight from my back was a joy. Walking now was almost like floating, and frankly it took a while to get used to it as one’s center of gravity changes between walking with a pack vs. without it. The goal for the afternoon was to walk to a tiny village called Montefurado and to arrive there by no later than 6:15pm when the regional eastbound train made its only stop of the day at the train station there. I would take the train back to “A Rua,” spend the night there at the B&B and then take the 10:15am train the next day back to Montefurado from where I’d continue my walk. Ironically, while Montefurado has a train station, it has no other services, save a public water fountain.
The afternoon walk quickly turned into what seemed like an endless climb, first through and above a series of vineyards (the wines from this region are identified as “El Bierzo”) and then along a very long, lonely paved road, that wound its way ever upward through beautifully lush forests. Occasionally there would be a cluster of farms, more vineyards, and a few dwellings but nothing that could really be called more than a hamlet. Far down below me was the river, the train track and a more heavily traveled highway. And then my direction markers took me off the paved road and back downhill, quite steeply – and treacherously in parts, on slippery slate surfaces – toward the tiny village where I’d need to catch the train. I arrived there with plenty of time to spare, so I sat in the station’s sparse concrete waiting room, called home so that Nancy and I could finally enjoy a longer chat with neither of us being rushed.
I knew that the train would be coming from the farther of the two tracks, so a few minutes before its scheduled arrival I ventured out to the very narrow concrete wall between the tracks and waited, hoping I wouldn’t lose my balance when it would woosh by. It slowed well before it got to me, and I, the sole passenger boarding at Montefurado, got on. Ten minutes later I was back in A Rua. I checked the posted train schedules to be sure I had the time right for the next day’s departure, and then I started my climb back up to the hills above town where my pack and my bed were waiting. Oh yes, I did stop in at a bar for some simple tapas – bread, cheese & ham – but I was back in my room by 7:30pm, since I still needed to wash clothes, hoping they would dry before I needed to repack the next morning.