The facilities of the Albergue Ave Fenix were less than noteworthy, however the breakfast, that cost only three euros, included a sunny side up egg on tostada bread. This was the first time I had such a luxurious breakfast and it almost made me forget that the toilet seats at the Albergue didn’t exist – one was better off squatting than sitting down on the shallow rim of inner porcelain. Near the old town of Villafranca, there is a serene garden that allows views of two different cathedrals with lime greens and purples sitting in the foreground as the sun comes above the mountains in the east. I spent a bit of time taking photos there and then pushed on along the side of a highway, the heat of the day already starting to creep towards 20, towards Peree, where I met Ivo from Latvia for a coffee.
We then quickened our pace. Ivo has an app that records speed and altitude. We were hitting our stride early in the morning, making 5.1k per hour by the time we reached Trabadelo. There we met Dag, from Norway. He had already done the Camino Norte and his wife had also done 2 Caminos herself. They are in a bit of healthy competition. Perhaps they will do their next Camino together, but if they do, they will make sure to give each space. One will move ahead a couple of towns, while the other hangs back and then meet up and then separate again.
We left Dag at Vega de Calcarce after walking with him to La Portela de Calcarce and Ambasmestas. From Vega de Calcarce at 485 meters we passed by Ruitelan and had lunch at Las Herrerias. We were famished. We had been looking for a place to eat for 5k. Thankfully, Paraiso del Bierzo did not disappoint. With the Michelin 2014 recommendation freshly stickered on to the wall, I was surprised to find that the Menu cost only 12 euros. With bellys full we made a tough trek to Laguna de Castillia and had two quick beers before heading on to Cebreiro, 1,300 meters above sea level.
The views, well, they were worth the effort. At the top, before the mist rolled in a couple of hours ago, we had a 360 degree view of mountains, towns and farmland around you. The thatched celtic roofs sit in contrast to the normal stoned buildings that we found in Leon. Ivo felt like we landed in France. Actually, Cebreiro sits in Galicia, which derives its name from Gaelic; the Celts had settled the area long ago. For the first time on the Camino, I opted for a hotel – I knew that at least there would be a toilet seat.