Day 3 of the Camino de Santiago was the day where it all went wrong. Me and my Brazilian friend Rafael had a rough night in the hostel we were in, because of the heavy rain making a load of noise for most of the night. This place offered a good breakfast to start us off, and we were keen to get information about conditions. We got chatting to another pilgrim, called Anders a Dutchman who expressed similar concerns. Together we checked the news on TV, and there was some rain forecast, but intermittent showers. One thing you need to know when doing the Camino, is that Galicia is the wettest part of Spain, and April is one of the wettest months.
We set off at around 9 in the morning this time, knowing that we had another day of climbing looming over us. The first leg is a descent through the Village of Villafranca del Bierzo itself where Camino then splits into two directions. From there, it is very important to know the differences between the 2 ways, and it is not clear when you get to the junction if you’re a cyclist. The route on the left, takes you along the river and for a bike, is a lot easier, whereas the route on the right, takes you up the mountain, is hard for cyclists and walkers alike. Unknowingly, we took the harder option, and immediately, I felt that the information I was armed with, was actually not accurate.
We soldiered on, hoping that the route would get easier at some point, and from a cycling point of view, there are parts where you need to dismount and just walk. We were rewarded by some spectacular views of the mountains again, and it looked rather endless, but since we’re crossing one the largest mountain chains in the country, that hardly seemed surprising. The weather was also threatening to rain at times, then cleared away and was a feature of this particular stretch. After about 7km of climbing, the path levels out for a while, but any descent with the bike is risky especially after any rain.
Pradela is a small village that greets you at the highest point and is purely an option for any pilgrim that passes through this way, and there is a hostel there in case you want to stay the night. The path reaches a junction which has tarmac, and you turn right for the village, but left to rejoin the main Camino. This for us is where it all went wrong. The descent is steep, with a few hairpin bends, and my bike had serious issues stopping. My friend was shouting at me, telling me to stop, and when I eventually did, I realised the back wheel was broken. The brake pads somehow broke through the metal frame of the wheel and clogged up the inner tube. The next town, Trabadelo, was at the bottom of this road.
Trabadelo was a village which we felt was slim pickings if we were going to find someone who could help us fix the bike. We checked out a couple of places for information, including a hostel and the local mini market. They both indicated that there was a service station and hotel further along the Camino that could have helped us. The problem was, with a bike that can’t move properly, 4km is quite far. Rafael came up with an idea to straddle a long piece of wood between us and carry the bike, while taking it in turns to wheel his bike along the ground. The wood did eventually snap, but it carried us most of the distance. After that, we just took it in turns to wheel the broken bike through the soft earth. One positive about this part of the Camino, was that was at least relatively flat.
The service station was in a place called La Portela del Valcarce, and they had a garage there, and a hotel, which gave us more disappointing news. There was nothing they could do to fix the bike there, and this dampened my belief that I would be able to continue. I was left with just 2 options; take a taxi to Sarria further along the camino, or take a taxi back to Villafranca. I chose the latter, and it was this service station where Rafael wanted to continue solo for which I didn’t blame him as I didn’t know if my trip was going to continue. We said our goodbyes believing we would probably see each other in León. This wait for the taxi gave me time to reflect on what had happened and to work out the next plan of attack.
The station also had a nice shop full of local produce and trinkets for the Camino de Santiago. Since I didn’t have anything of the iconic shell, I bought a necklace with one on. The most common reason for the shell people told me during my time on the road was that it represented good luck, though it bears other meanings too. At this point, the Taxi arrived, to take me back to Villafranca, and together we discussed the possible ways of getting back on track. This driver was super helpful, taking me straight to the workshop and made sure they were able to fix it before he left to pick up another customer. I was lucky enough that they were able to fix it, but I had to wait 2 hours until the shop reopened again at 5.
This gave me time to chill out and check out the rest of Villafranca and in all honesty, get a bit bored. None of the major sights to this village were open, and even the tourist office, being a Monday, was closed for the whole day. I was able to check out the Iglesia de San Francisco which was a little higher up compared to the rest of the village, had some of the best views of town and surrounding mountains. The Plaza Mayor was where I spent most of my time though, sheltering from the odd sharp shower that headed my way. Some bars remain open, but in reality, you are rather alone in this village during the late afternoon.
The bike was finally ready and I was charged more than I originally paid for the bike, but at least I had a new wheel with a good tread on my tyre and new brakes, but they did warn me about avoiding sharp descents (like I know when I’m going to come across one of them). 5:30, and time to go, this time via the valley floor. This route is the one that most of the guides lead you to, and you can see why. The main road had the camino to the side of it, and the climbs are very minimal as you’re following the Río Valcarce. Pereje is the first village you come across just 4km in, and is a potential stop for Pilgrims as there is a bar and a Hostel. As a cyclist, you also avoid the busier N-VI for about 1km. It took me just 15 minutes to reach Trabadelo from Pereje, which again, is rather flat, and there I decided to get my booklet stamped.
Trabadelo has notably more hostels and things for the pilgrim compared to Pereje, with a couple of shops for groceries, and the valley opens up a little more, allowing you to see more mountains. A word of warning though, most of the hostels are at the start of the village, and after the ayuntamiento, there’s very little on offer. I continued along the camino, rejoined the main road, rather than taking the camino and another 20 minutes or so, I had passed the service station where Rafael and I parted ways, some 4 hours before. It took barely an hour to get from Villafranca to this spot, compared to the 3 1/2 hours via Pradela. Just how adventurous are you feeling?
I had an idea in my head, that if I just continued on the N-VI towards Lugo, that would be easier, and I would avoid the mountains, I was just so nervous of the bike breaking down on me and having a serious accident because of the brakes. I decided to stick to the main route, given that I knew there would be more support along the way. Plus if you’re going to do something, do it right. The next town is Albamestas and this is important for many pilgrims as there are quite a few Hostels there, and is for many, where some people from Villafranca, stop for a rest. It’s also where I bumped into the same Taxi driver who helped me before, small world eh?
The road then stays by the river as you cycle just 1km to Vega del Valcarce which is the last major village before you start climbing the mountains. This place is worth staying for a little while as there are plenty of places to wind down, but it’s worth noting that progress on the bike started to slow down at times, as the road is slowly climbing. You rejoin the N-VI at Ruitelán, a much smaller village, which I literally just passed through, and rest points became more limited. The last village before the climb up the mountain, is a little confusing, because on some charts they call it Hospital, which is a neighbourhood of a village called Las Herrerías, so don’t expect to see Hospital on many signs. and I didn’t see any shop to stock up on, but there are a couple of bars and hostels so you won’t go hungry.
This is the part where it gets really tricky, I felt like I needed to push for progress up the mountain before I could rest for the night, but time was slipping away, by this point it was 7, and I just wanted to make the next village. By this point, the rain was becoming a bit more persistent and colder, and the climb was becoming a bit of a struggle. some of the mountains had snow on them and clouds were constantly dark and I was starting to hit another low point in the journey. I had no idea how far away the next village was or where it would be and I missed a turn to it which was La Faba, and I was questioning why I was putting myself through this, I was just desperate to get to somewhere warm and dry. I was by this point too tired to cycle up the road and was walking up instead. I saw a couple of houses in the distance, and then a sign spray-painted on the floor, Albergue 1km, and then another for 500m and that extra energy pushed me there.
Thankfully the place was open and to my luck it was also a bar which had food. it was 8pm by that point, and I was super relieved. La Laguna was the hamlet I ended up staying at, and the hostel, Albergue La Escuela, was the only business there, and cost me 8€ at the time for the night. This particular place is on booking.com and it looks like the price has gone up, but it’s still really great value. I happened to be the only person in the entire hostel that was staying there the night, and It was extremely comfortable. I tried to get as many things as dry as possible, and had another 3- course meal, which again was amazing, and even managed to try tarta de Santiago for the first time.
By the time I got myself ready for bed, Rafael had messaged me, warning me about the following conditions, he had no idea where I was, nor did he know about what had happened. I couldn’t message him, because I had no signal whatsoever on both my phones, but his message warned me of difficulties of snow on the Camino. Given that I hadn’t made it to the top of the mountain yet, I had an interesting day ahead of me…