Today's walk was completely different to our hike in the mountains yesterday. We left Ponferrada at about 6h45 and once we were past the city limits we followed the yellow arrows onto flat, straight farm paths through acres of vegetable. There were gigantic pumpkins, red bell peppers, huge tomatoes, runner beans, cabbages etc. The path was lined with fruit trees, most of the fruit dropping off onto the ground- figs, apples, quince, pears, walnuts, plums etc. Once we left the flat vegetable farms we passed into the Bierzo valley, which is vineyards and Bodegas as far as the eyes could see. The mountains we crossed a couple of days ago and will climb again when we head towards O'Cebreiro tomorrow surround the valley.
We arrived at Villafranca del Bierzo at about 12h45 and I felt quite emotional when I walked into the Ave Fenix refuge. I hugged Senora Jato as though she was an old family member and told her that I had slept here in 2002. There is a much smarter, municipal refuge in Villafranca, but the Jato family are famous on the camino for their devotion to the care of pilgrims in these hills.
After the usual settling in - choosing a bed, showering, washing clothes - we walked into the village but all the shops were closed, only to open at 5pm. Marion and I visited the Church of Santiago, which is just behind the albergue. It is Romanesque and has a famous door called the Puerta del Perdon. In the middle ages, pilgrims who made it this far and passed through that door would have the same indulgences and remission of sins as those continuing to Santiago. Today the door is closed so these weary pilgrims have no choice but to continue on to Santiago!
As we were leaving the church we greeted Jesus Jato (owner of the Ave Fenix) and he kindly guided us around the church, pointing out the parts that are Romanesque and those that are 12thC and 14th C additions. He also pointed out the many stones that have been used to build his albergue. Some were donated by churches at Eunate, the cathedral in Leon, Fromista and even from Germany, Switzerland and Brazil.
We have booked to have a communal dinner tonight and hope that Jesus will perform his magical ritual with the flaming alcohol and honey for which he is famous.
It is 18h40 now and we will have dinner at 8pm. Will have to let you know in the next post how the evening went!
Love to all
S A M