Tag Archives: Salas de Barrios

There’s Gold in Them Thar Hills

Salas de Barrios to Villafranca del Bierzo
Wednesday 26 November

Rising from a comfortable sleep in our fifteenth century mansion alburgue, our charming and passionate host was preparing breakfast in the warm and ancient kitchen. Fruit smoothies, wholesome bread with homemade conserves, coffee. Conversation flowed, we could have stayed all day, but we had sights to see.

We first toured several small mountain villages. Our host had grown up in the area, and knew the ancient history as well as telling stories of his personal history. I was born here, my uncle lives there, a king owned this, this family is famous for that. He is an architect by trade, so could explain some of the ancient building techniques, illustrating the colourful stories from the area. Fascinating.

We ventured down to Ponferrada, walking around the twelfth century Templar castle. It looked like something Walt Disney would have dreamt up, the stuff of fairy tales. I searched for dragons. Our host pointed out a small hole and told tales of when he was a child crawling through that very hole to explore. I suddenly realised my necklace had broken, and I had lost my pendant. It’s a Balinese Hindu symbol, that I’ve had for several years, and am very fond of. I had recently added a small Camino symbol to the chain, however that had remained. I didn’t feel panicky or particularly upset, as I thought I might, but felt I would find it. We searched the surrounding area, and retraced our steps, then searched the car, but it was not to be found. I thought perhaps it had fallen off back at the alburgue. I was almost pleased that I would have an excuse or visit our host again.

We next drove to Las Medulas, the ancient Roman, UNESCO listed gold mines, and the reason for our Camino detour. We parked near a wooden platform on the edge of the cliff. Our view was obscured, until we climbed the platform. My jaw dropped. Giant red ancient anthills. A once towering mountain, now desolate, almost completely carved away. Spectacular barren landscape. We were then able to enter one of the Roman tunnels, but first we had to don hard hats. We descended into the dimly lit red passage. The first few meters were wide, but not very tall, so we had to duck. It then opened up, and we were able to stand. The shaft branched out into several tunnels, we followed one until the end, then backtracked along another. I marveled at the centuries old technology that had managed to carve out this mountain. Continuing through the tunnel system, it opened to a large abyss on the side of the mountain, through which we could view the anthill-like forms. My jaw dropped again.

It was time to go, and we were all a little hungry. We drove to Villafranca to look for a resturant. As I was getting out of the car, I saw something shinny wedged between the seats, it was my pendant! I will have to find another excuse to visit Salas de Barrios again. My American friend and I had planned to walk from near Ponferrada to Villafranca today, but as we were already there, we decided to forgo our Camino for another day it was getting late. She said the municipal Albergue would be too much of a shock for us after our luxurious mansion, so suggested a small hotel she knew. It was very reasonable and included breakfast in the price, so basically the cost of an alburgue, as we split the cost of a room.


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.