The Magnificent Mountains

El Acebo to Salas de Barrios
Tuesday 25 November

Another very short walking day today. I was leaving the official Camino for my planned detour. My American friend and I set out early, stopping for breakfast at the end of the town, where I again saw my Dutch friend. I wished him Buen Camino, as he left. I hope we will meet again, but I get the feeling it won’t be for some days. However, we do have our planned dinner date to compensate for the dreadful meal in Astroga.

My American friend wanted to walk on the road again, while I continued along the Camino path. We had planned to meet up in Molinseca. I caught up with an English girl and her American friend, walking together for a while. We talked of arranged marriages, and the western perception of love. The Camino often presents stimulating conversation. We parted and I waited for my friend. When she arrived we stopped for a quick second breakfast before continuing to Campo, where it had been arranged that we meet the Spanish man from the previous evening who owned the alburgue.

He picked us up in his car. I couldn’t help feeling I was cheating. I haven’t been in a car for weeks. I did forgive myself, as I was officially leaving the Camino for a day. He dropped us at the alburgue, a rambling homely stone mansion full of antiques, crystal chandeliers and art. We had a choice of rooms, a simple one for ten euros, or one with a magnificent view, and an attached bathroom with bath for fifteen. A small splurge was in order.

Our host left, and said he would return later, so we went in search of lunch. There was a small Resturant under the house, a separate business, but we thought we would look around the town first to see if there was a small bar. The tour of the town took only a few minutes, and there was nothing, so we returned to the resturant. We were unprepared for the magnificent cellar room. A huge stone vault with long tables, almost medieval. We asked for something without meat, and it seemed we were going to have fried eggs and chips. I was prepared to be disappointed. The food took a very long time for such a simple dish, but soon a wonderful salad arrived with quince jelly, goats cheese and nuts. The best salad I’ve had in Spain. Then the egg and chips were presented in a casserole dish with roasted green chilies. I never knew egg and chips could be such a gourmet meal. Dessert was a layered chocolate torte. One of the better meals.

Upstairs our host had retuned, and explained our tour for the afternoon. We would leave visiting the gold mine until tomorrow, but would visit a remote monastery ruin, and some small mountain villages this afternoon. We drove up the mountain winding our way along the narrow pass, passing small stoney villages. The steep cliffs appeared inflamed by the autumn leaves. A small stream flowed by the road. The colours glowed as the late afternoon light dimmed. We climbed higher and higher, twisting and turning. We could see the huge Montes de Valdezda monastery in the distance. As the light was fading we arrived to find the structure engulfed, Angkor-like, in tree roots. I half expected to see Lara Croft. We wandered around the outside, then returned to the car for our next destination.

Climbing even further up the mountain, my ears popped and my water bottle started hissing from the pressure. We must be high. It was now dark, but we could still make out the magnificent scenery in the moonlight. We entered the next village and parked the car. The air was cold, and we could see snow not too far in the distance. The village created the impression that it had organically grown out of the ground. It was completely made of stone, the paved roads, the houses, the slate roofs. It was remote and almost deserted. Romantic in its isolation. I began to fantasize of buying one of the several houses for sale and hibernating for the winter. It would have to have good internet.

Back in the car, we climbed and climbed the fog surrounded and it was hard to make out the road. At one point we lost the road completely, we were on grass. Our host had to get out of the car to look for the road again. We began our descent, stopping at a small apple orchard. Behind the orchard was a huge old tree. Centuries old. Magnificent. We circled it three times for luck. We returned to our mansion alburgue, agreeing that it had been an incredible afternoon. Our host promised that it would be better tomorrow.

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