30 kilometers, 5 hours and 30 minutes. Very little climbing, mostly down to lower elevations, through Silleda, Bandeira, and Leiras, and then to a steep paved road down into Ponte Ulla.
Next to the last day complete. My next day would be into Santiago. Only twenty kilometers to go, and it looked fairly flat, not much climbing.
Fernando planned to arrive in Santiago midday on Saturday, and many of his friends planned to meet him there that day. I had planned all along to arrive by Friday, so I would have a rest day for my legs before my long flight home on Sunday. So in Bandeira, we stopped at a bar near the turnoff to the Albergue de Peregrinos and had a beer and pinchos (small snacks) together before I left Fernando there and walked on toward Ponte Ulla.
It wasn’t an emotional goodbye because we planned to see each other on Saturday—on the main plaza in front of the cathedral. The evening before, at dinner, we had talked some about our friendship and the people we had met. Fernando got quite animated and was very gracious with compliments about my daily commentaries on Facebook and how we got on so well. He was an amazingly good sport about my poor Spanish, and he spoke no English. But we had great times walking, dining, talking, and taking in the sights. He truly loved life and especially so, walking Caminos. He had done four different routes to Santiago, including that VDLP.
I met Fernando my first night out of Seville at the municipal albergue (hostel), where all the sagrada familia (our little “holy family”) began to walk the VDLP together. There was no plan to or discussion about our treks; we all walked at different paces, with others or not, and then would end up at the same albergue for the night.
There was Eric, Carlos, José, Fran, Fernando, Nina, and Lara. At times, we had a delightful Italian couple and other travellers. We walked along more or less in each other’s company for a week or two. Then, slowly, paces and priorities caused us to drift apart. Eric went on ahead. We left Nina, Lara, and Carlos before the city of Mérida. At times, I would be alone, not seeing the others for a day or two, and then other times, I would walk into an albergue in the middle of nowhere, and Fernando would be there.
That’s just the way the Camino works. When I first met the group, I may have thought Fernando would be the last person I would befriend and be so close with. Eric and I hit it off the first night and spent a lot of time together. He taught me a lot about Europe and US involvement in Europe. We talked about so many different things.
Fernando was our naturalist. He would show mushrooms to Hiromi and me in the rain and tell us which ones were good for what and which ones were bad. He taught us words like liguenes (lichens) to identify plant life in the forests and would point out three-hundred-year-old castaña (chestnut) trees.
I will not forget my Camino friends. Nor will I ever forget that Camino, the Via de la Plata.
Spent that night in a pension (lodge), Pension de Juanito. Was first open place and had a bar and restaurant. The restaurant had an excellent menu del dia (menu of the day) and did pretty good barbecue ribs.
Costs: €15 for a room at the pension, €2 for breakfast, €3 for trail snacks, €3 for lunch, and €12 for dinner.