The Camino is more alive than ever, yet its spirit is dying. The road is filled with too many recreational walkers and way too many cyclists. Don't get me wrong. Cycling all the way from home is an amazing performance. But traditions only work if you stick to them. Cycling 42.2 km is not a marathon. Cycling around the Kabaa is not a pilgrimage. And cycling to Santiago is not a Camino. Plain and simple.
The road leading out of Villafranca del Bierzo is extremely dull: too much lycra, too much asphalt, too much rain. I'm hopelessly behind. I have the legs, but not the head. A road sign to Balboa is a welcome moral booster. Adrian! I better have a coffee. More delays, but who cares? When I leave the cafe, the weather has cleared. My turbo switches on and I get up to speed. Rocky lives!
After 20 km of concrete jungle, the Camino finally hits the field. It's the kinda trail I like: steep, muddy & nasty. I rush up the mountain in no time. There’s no way Morten, Isabel and Paul can follow me. I only struggle to stay warm in the cold rain. I soon get caught in another Shakespearian dilemma. To walk or not to walk? At this time, the municipal in O Cebreiro might be full. Maybe I should stay in one of small villages before? But I hardly did 23 km. Way too little. Vamos. To the mountain top!
As predicted, every albergue in O Cebreiro boasts the ‘Completo’ sign. I am not surprised. The nasty hill marks the border of Galicia, that mysterious damp corner of Spain. It’s another religious and spiritual hotspot of the Camino, reinforced by the miracle of the Holy Grail. I’m expecting to find Hobbits and Celts in any of the bizarre stone igloos called ‘pallozas.’ But I only encounter villagers snapping ‘Completo!’ They obviously don’t need pilgrims. Tourists arrive by the busload.
No time to waste. I ask the receptionist of the municipal to call the next albergue. “5 more km” she says “They have 10 beds left.” And one of them is mine. “Let's go!” I tell another stranded pilgrim from Japan. I lose him on the first hill, one less competitor. “Time to separate the boys from the men” I scream in the rain. I pass every other hiker on the horizon. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 … They don't stand a chance. I am possessed. I even run the final meters to the municipal in Hospital de Condessa. Victory! I’m soaking wet. My Kingdom for a washing machine. Hours later, after the longest hot shower in human history, I help an Italian cyclist unpack. The guy is half dead. “How many kilometres did you do?” I ask. “Ninety” he mumbles. I congratulate him. A great performance. But not a Camino.
Try to score a bed in O Cebreiro. Arrive on time or make a reservation in one of the private hostels. O Cebreiro is a blast from the past, covered in legend and mystery.
Alberque Xunta Hospital de Condessa - right at the entrance of the village - +34 660 396 810 - open all year 1 to 10 pm - 20 beds in modern dorm. 6 euro. Top notch facilities. Washing machine and dryer with coins. Nice, hot showers. If this municipal is full, the nearby bar offers accommodation. Also perfect to enjoy a nice drink next to the fireplace.