Here we are in the quaint “hobbit hamlet” of O’Cebreiro, perched on a high mountain ridge in Galicia, Spain. It is like being in a time-warp to an uncomplicated past, when people lived in stone houses with thatched roofs. O’Cebreiro is constantly pummeled by some of the most fierce weather in Spain, but we are fortunate to be enjoying glorious sunshine. Even though it is sunny, it is cold, so once again we are grateful for the warm jackets we bought in Astorga.
We knew that today’s climb would be one of the most strenuous of the whole journey, particularly the last 8 km. Whether or not we would get to enjoy the spectacular scenery depended completely on the weather. The mountains we would be climbing are the first thing that the westerly winds from the Atlantic hit, often resulting in rain showers and thick mountain fog. We encountered rain for the previous two days and didn’t want more of the same. We were in luck to wake up to clear skies.
We crossed the highway from our “truck stop” hotel, and saw that there was more to the village of La Portela de Valcarce than met the eye from the vantage point of our hotel. We then followed the asphalt road through little villages that are not far from one another: Ambas Mestas; Vega de Valcarce (where we had our usual breakfast); Ruitelan; and Herrerias. Any of these little villages would have been good places to stay rather than our “truck stop.” The further up the valley we walked, the less traffic we encountered. It was peaceful and quiet, with the only sounds coming from roosters, cowbells, birds, and the rushing Valcarce River.
After the quaint little village of Herrerias we began to climb more steeply. It was here that we missed the left turn that would have taken us onto a path through delightful woodland to the pretty village of La Faba and then on to Laguna de Castilla. Instead, we continued on the asphalt road, and found ourselves on the opposite side of the valley to La Faba. Unless we walk the Camino again and have an opportunity to go the “right way,” we’ll never know what we missed!
It was a steady uphill grind for about 5 km. It was easier to look down and just think about putting one foot in front of the other, than to look at the hill ahead. Finally we came to a yellow painted sign on the pavement that read “BAR 1000 METERS!” We celebrated with a swig from our water bottles. We didn’t empty them completely in case the bar was closed for the season. That would have been a killer!
When we reached the bar at Laguna de Castilla, it was open (hooray!) and populated with all the peregrinos who took the path – the one we missed. To fortify ourselves for the final 2.5 km assault on the mountain, we shared a potato tortilla, juice, and ice cream and then off we went.
On the way we crossed over to Galicia from Castilla y Leon. The countryside in Galicia is reminiscent of other Celtic lands with small, intimate fields and lush pastures. In the midst of enjoying the sweeping views across the green landscape, we had to make way for cattle heading for greener pastures by climbing very carefully over a barbed wire fence. We were wearing our only pants, so snagging them on the barbed wire could have been a catastrophe!
We checked in at the hotel when we finally reached O’Cebreiro, had a quick peak at our view from the window, and immediately went out again to explore the unusual little village.
We scouted out the best place to eat dinner and found it at “Venta Celta” with its stone walls, stacks of old books, funky art, and garlic and dried flowers hanging from the ceiling.
Once again our dinner was not what we expected. The beef stew was actually ribs with some green beans and French fries. The ribs looked an awful lot like the “mis-steak” of the previous night, but this time the meat was so tender, it fell off the bones. Our plates were clean, clean, clean when the server took them away, and we could tell that she was pleased!
The cheese that we had for dessert is something O’Cebreiro is famous for. It was a delicacy for kings in the 18th century and now it is a delicacy for us too. It has a peculiar shape in the form of a mushroom or a chef’s hat. It has no rind and the dough is white and grainy, with a texture so soft it melts in the mouth. They serve it drizzled with honey.
On our journey we have visited magnificent churches like the ones in Burgos and Leon with their wealth of art treasures, artifacts and stained glass windows and the Templar church in Villalcazar de Sirga noted for its history. As beautiful as they were, they never left me with a wish to sit and simply enjoy the tranquility of being in a place of worship. The O’Cebreiro Iglesia or maybe it was just the beautiful statue of St. Francis of Asisi did that for me. I felt a kind of connection with that church and wanted to stay for awhile.
It is one of the earliest surviving buildings on the Camino de Santiago and dates back, in part, from the 9th century. It is the oldest extant church associated directly with the pilgrim way.
This was the church where I came across the “Pilgrim’s Prayer.”
“Although i may have traveled all the roads,
crossed mountains and valleys from East to West,
if i have not discovered the freedom to be my self,
i have arrived nowhere.
Although i may have shared all of my possessions
with people of other languages and cultures;
made friends with Pilgrims of a thousand paths,
if i am not capable of forgiving my neighbor tomorrow,
i have arrived nowhere.
Although i may have had food and water each day,
or may have had my injuries well attended,
if i have not discovered the Divine in others,
i have arrived nowhere.
If from today i do not continue walking on the path,
searching and living according to what i have learned;
my journey has been in vain because,
i have arrived nowhere.”