If our trip was a film, Thursday and Friday would have been the bit that rolls before the opening titles: Saturday was where the main action began as we caught a bus and headed out for Piedrafita, the nearest stopping point to the rendezvous at O’Cebreiro.
Again, we were very grateful for Rosiero and Felix’s help in getting the bus. They took us to the station, reassured us that it wasn’t unusual for ticket clerks to pop out for a coffee and leave their post unattended, and helped us buy the right tickets. They even made sure the driver promised to announce when we got to our stop; this was a great comfort when the first few stops turned out to be completely unsigned!
On arrival, we ate some chocolate and then began our “warm-up” walk, about 5km up a steep hill in the heat of the early afternoon sun. This was hard work because, at this stage, we were carrying our main rucksacks as well as our day-packs. Still, it was only 5km and we knew there was harder walking ahead so we tried to treat it as part of our preparations, wishing that we’d tried harder to do more practise walks before we left from England!
A minor complication was that, although we knew the names of the people leading the team, Rick and Twinky, we were short on other useful information, such as what they looked like or exactly where to meet them. Consequently, we spent quite a long time looking round O’Cebreiro and enjoying the sun. However, at least this gave a chance to read, sketch, whittle away the projections on my staff and recover from the earlier climb. Finally, just as we decided to walk up to the cluster of tents we could see, Twinky drove past; fortunately, I was wearing one of my ‘wolf’ shirts and so we introduced ourselves and found out that the tents were indeed the place to aim for!
After we’d met the rest of the team, many of us climbed the hill behind the camping area to the highest point in the area. At the top was an old rugged cross, its surface pock-marked by many coins roughly hammered into the surface. I found this an enigmatic image. I suspect it was meant as a sign of devotion, giving up worldly goods to walk in the Way of Christ. I suppose that, for some, it could have been mere superstition, a water-free wishing-well. Another interpretation would be that what was won on the Calvary cross has been scarred by money down the years; that melancholy view was the one that struck me most forcibly. Still, that’s art; a welcome stimulus to pondering, open to different interpretations.
Later that evening, we carried on chatting and starting to get to know one another, before being surprised by a supremely delicious stir-fry meal for dinner. I’d expected a diet of tinned beans or something similar, so my inner gastronome was in paroxysms of delight at the prospect of what the week’s menu was suddenly promising (and I wasn’t disappointed!). Finally, it was time to retire for the first night under canvas but not until Tim and I and one or two others had watched the sun dropping gloriously behind the cover of the mountains, all the anxieties of preparing for the pilgrimage well and truly laid to rest with the knowledge that the ‘fellowship’ had been assembled and our journey was ready to begin.