That got your attention.
More about Nadal later.
We head out of Villafranca over a generously engineered bridge where millions of pilgrims have trod and stopped to gape at the torrent of the Valcarce below.
As we approach the mountains, we find a land of torrents big and small. The western side of the Bierzo gurgles and brims and splashes.
Chestnuts are a major product. Whole mountainsides of chestnuts, and avenues of chestnuts. Hope you like chestnuts.
I’d intended to spend the night in Vega de Valcarce, which has numerous albergues and pensións. Every single one was closed for the season or day of the week, as I spent several hours learning. (When people say full or closed, often it means they don’t want to run heating, which is very expensive in Spain.) When advised to pass on to the tiny hamlet of Ruitelán, some three kilometres away, I really thought that would be a mistake, with dark closing in.
As many pilgrims have learned, stopping at the albergue at Ruitelán is not a mistake. The two men who manage and cook there are model hospitaleros, with a fondness for bits of local produce and special music for waking pilgrims in the morning. That albergue is a treasure of the Way.
And there’s more. I found myself lodged in a room with two pilgrims, Juan and Rafael.
You could not have found three people more unalike. Rafael was an older pilgrim whose legs were about to give out. He was also an artist, and I don’t approve of bloody artists. Juan was a lean, bearded Catalan, a vegetarian, a meditator…the type who works in a natural foods shop or at one of those urban rock climbing walls. I certainly don’t approve of any of that!
And I’m this messy redneck type. (What? You’d noticed?)
Okay, here we go with the familiar Camino message about tolerance, friendship and so on. The three of us ate dinner together, talked about nothing much…and the bond was so strong we didn’t want to go to bed.
In the morning, even Juan, a disciplined madrugador who’d walked all the way from Montserrat, kept lingering over breakfast and didn’t get away till after nine. Though he was a big-stage walker and Rafael was going to have to stop because of long term leg problems, we just did not want to part. When we did, it was bloody hard.
I can’t explain it. Maybe it’s him. You know…James.
Rafael Nadal? Well, Rafael’s surname was Nadal. So the headline for the post is strictly accurate. And obviously too good to pass up.