Walking West – Space

Day 25 – Cacabelos to Ruitelán, 18.6 miles

The sunrise out of Cacabelos.
I have declared this to be the most perfect house in the world.
There is not an international standard for Camino signage, the pilgrim just has to look for the yellow arrow, or the brass shell, or the yellow shell, or the conspicuous official sign. If you miss all these, usually a kind local will get you back on track.
Potted plants everywhere!!
From the garden terrace at the Albergue Pequeño Potala in Ruitelán.

Despite a rough night of sleep (a bed bug scare and 2 loud snoring ladies from northern US), I woke rested and ready to try out my wounded left leg. I limped to the only open bar in town for a cafe americano para llevar and a napolitana de chocolate, then set out in earnest. The Way ascends almost immediately out of Cacabelos and my left leg felt strong after it warmed up! What a relief, especially considering the path gets considerably steeper over the next two days.

I stopped for another coffee in Villafranca del Bierzo. At the bar, I considered my plans for ending the day. I certainly wasn’t going to O Cebreiro, repeating my ridiculous day from 2017, but I wanted to get as close as possible without making that steep climb through the forest. That means stopping in Las Herrerías. If not Herrerías, then Ruitelán. If not Ruitelán, then the next town back, then the next, until I found a bed to sleep in.

Outside of Pereje, I walked along with a South Korean man that I had seen every day since Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port. We had been introduced and exchanged greetings daily, but this was the first time we had for an extended conversation. He is a really good person. In my experience, the Koreans are the best pilgrims, they best occupy the space on the Camino – meaning they are kind and considerate, humble, helpful, and in a good disposition.

As we walked, we happened across two ladies having trouble with their hiking poles. We stopped to offer help – Jae is an engineer and I’m not afraid to mess with a thing until it is fully broken or repaired. As we repaired/messed with, I learned these ladies were from the US-Texas-Houston & San Antonio. It’s funny who you come across in the middle of nowhere in the mountains of El Bierzo in northwestern Spain. We walked together for the next few hours. They are both devout Roman Catholics, so we had great conversations on religion, spirituality, the Christian faith, and politics in the US. We didn’t agree on everything but in the spirit of the Camino, we made space for each other’s ideas. This is something we could sure use more of…

My practice on some of these long days was to call ahead to the albergues in my range to make sure there were beds available. I don’t like to reserve a bed the day (or more) before, but I don’t mind making a phone call to make sure there was a place to lay my head after a long day’s walk. In Vega de Valcarce, a town with plenty of beds, I decided to reach ahead to secure a bed. If there was nothing available, I’d stay here. I called ahead to Las Herrerías – every bed was taken in the little village. Next was Ruitelán, the next best option. I called the only albergue in town, Refugio Pequeño Potala. They had space for me and promised to hold it, I could now peacefully move onward and upward.

Coming into Ruitelán, there was a cool little bar, the Cafe Bar Omega. My 2 new Texan friends wanted to have a beer before heading on to their destination in Herrerías. This cool little bar had a bacon and egg plate that looked fantastic, so I ordered it along with my beer. While we waited for food and drinks, I hustled ahead to the Albergue Pequeño Potala to check in. I had heard rumors about beds being given up if the caller didn’t arrive in a timely manner, not sure if this was true or not, but why take chances.

Arriving at Pequeño Potala, Carlos was waiting for me and excited to see me! He checked me in, took my money, and ushered me to my assigned bed. I told him I was in a hurry because I had a bacon and egg platter in process at the Bar Omega. He was dumbfounded and told me that he and his partner cooked a pilgrim meal every night and that it would be much better than what I ordered down the street. I tried to communicate how much I love bacon and eggs, to which he replied,

“Go ahead and eat your bacon and eggs, but you will eat the pilgrim meal here tonight!”

With agreement reached, I hustled back down to the Bar Omega for my bacon and eggs. And the plate was amazing, the best I’d had on the Camino.

Arriving back at the shelter, Carlos reminded me the pilgrim meal would be served in at 7:00 pm, just 2 short hours away. I assured him that I had left space for his meal, but that I’d also enjoyed the meal from down the street. And at 7:00 pm, I was one of the first pilgrims at the table. There were 7 of us total – 3 from German, 1 from Denmark, 1 from Holland, and 1 from England. At 7:01 pm, Carlos came out with wine and water for all. Followed by a delicious mixed salad. Followed by a delicious carrot soup. Followed by delicious spaghetti carbonara. Carlos jokingly stood over my shoulder to ensure I cleaned my plate with each course.

If you rated albergues on hospitality alone, the Refugio Pequeño Potala would easily be #1 or #2 on the Camino Frances. The hosts go over the top to make the brief stay as homey as possible, including a delicious pilgrim dinner and a good breakfast to send you off the next day.

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