It´s the 1st of September and today finds us at the last of our big passes in a tiny place called O Cebreiro, about 170km from Santiago, which puts us around three quarters of the way from Logrono where I met up with Pauline.
Last night´s campsite, about 8km past Villafranca del Bierzo, was small and cheap and would have been idyllic apart from one factor: it was infested by flies! This morning we were packed and out of there faster than the last helicopter out of Saigon!
The journey today was great fun, though hard work. It was only 22km but we had 2,500 feet of climbing. And it was relentless. To put that in perspective, we did roughly the equivalent of twelve Royal Miles, loaded with kit. That was challenge enough, but we had just started the climb when the most enormous thunderstorm decided to kick off and putting in that effort in full waterproofs is not the best. It was a welcome relief when we finally topped out at 4,400 feet (1330m) and I claimed the yellow jersey! Pauline says that´s because, bike and kit combined, she´s pushing and pulling more than half her body weight. Does that count? Actually, on the subject of weight, somehow, even with all this excercise and difficulty in finding appropraite food to carry, I´ve managed to gain weight! The muscles in my legs however are finely tuned.
Our first night out of tents was in a town called Astorga in a ¨Pilgrims Albergue¨, which turned out cheaper than camping! Set up on a hill it had many Roman ruins and archealogical digs going on and we both enjoyed the wander through the medieval streets around the large church, which was an architectural mix of Rennaisance and Baroque. In this town, as in many others and sometimes in remote places, we wqould spot manmade large birds´ nests at high points. These are storks nests in the hope a stork will land and nest, as it is seen as good luck.
From Leon to here the scenery gradually started to change from parched earth to a much more lush landscape and an increase in tree cover. Now we are in the mountain region and the landscapes are more familiar. We decided to wild camp at the highest point of the Camino at 1500m (just over 5,000 feet) called Cruz de Ferro. It was a popular place and we waited well past sunset before we could sneak out our tents and pitch for the night. The skies were clear and bright with stars and the silence was bliss, which made for a great nights sleep.
The following day saw an incredibly fast downhill for 12km, which passed through a small pretty settlement called Acebo. There were many warnings about cyclists being killed going through here at speed, so it was cautiously that we passed through. We quickly moved through a fairly industrial looking town called Ponferada, but not before visiting our supermarket of choice, the Carrefour! This one was set inside a shopping mall bigger than some of the towns we´ve been through! We don´t normally shop at large supermarkets, here or at home, but it has been the best place to get something other than tomatoes, tuna or rice.
So we move on again tomrrow, with another great downhill to start. The rain has now cleared and I´m off for a wander through this hilltop village. I love the simplicity of what we are doing: we get up, eat our breakfast and cycle.
It´s what we do.