Last thoughts on Ponferrada

I’m getting out of town late because I decided to use the miraculous laundromat one more time before I head out into the countryside for a week. Washing the pants, shirt, bra, socks, and underwear worn the last two days here makes more sense than waiting until tonight and possibly having to wash in a bathroom sink. Plus, there’s an amazing dryer here (it’s a crapshoot every night if the stuff you hung around your room and out the window will be dry the next day, “quick dry” fabric or not).

Go, dryer, go! I need to hit the trail.

So while I sit here watching the dryer do its magic…

Ponferrada: it’s the first major town I’ve seen on the Camino that looks worn and rough around the edges. It appears there was a construction boom in the 50s and 60s, plus a little bit of 80s-90s thrown in. But it’s the 50s-60s era buildings that remind me most of Seattle when I was growing up. It’s all slightly (or very!) decayed, yet still functional and being used. Lots of graffiti on abandoned buildings that are situated next to buildings in full use. I’m having a hard time explaining it — the feel outside of the “old city” (the areas of the castle and basilica) just feel like my mother and grandmother’s Seattle, urban decay and all. I find that very comforting and nostalgic on a primal level despite the fact that the medievalist in me mourns what they must have torn down. Burgos, Leon, Pamplona, Astorga — those cities clearly spent a lot of money rehabilitating their pre-WW2 buildings. Ponferrada’s are mostly gone (again, except the area around the castle and basilica).

However, occasionally I came across very old buildings in the middle of the downtown area that are clearly pre-modern. They also seem abandoned and forgotten. I’m so curious about the stories of these buildings.

The people of Ponferrada, like the people I met in Burgos and Pamplona, are incredibly friendly and open to strangers.

When I first reached town and needed to escape the sun for a bit, I stopped at a very run-down bar filled with older men smoking and playing cards. Georgia and Tanya continued walking from there, and later they told me they felt bad leaving me there. Why? They were so nice and welcoming to me! Clearly I was a non-Spanish speaking pilgrim who didn’t fit in, but they were trying to talk to me, talked about their own Caminos, and wished me well when I left.

Last night I returned to the same restaurant I ate at the night before with G & T because the food was so delicious … and I just needed to eat dinner that I knew would be good. The waiters recognized me right away and greeted me warmly, but all of their tables were arranged in these massive big tops for a large group coming in. If I promised to be gone in an hour, they could seat me at one spot of one of tables. Cool (though it felt a bit lonely).

They had an empty dining room waiting for this big party, so all three of them were chatting with me, asking questions about the Camino and Seattle, and chatting the restaurant biz in Spain (it’s definitely hard work because no one eats dinner before 9:00, so these guys work morning/afternoon shifts, then take siesta breaks before heading back to work until past midnight). They treated me to extra wine, extra bottles of water, a shot of patxaran, and wrapped up a to-go container full of Greek yogurt and fresh fruit. The lead waiter couldn’t find any plastic spoons so he slipped me a metal one from the restaurant. Score! I finally have a spoon and I didn’t even have to steal it myself! I have had to use my pocket knife as a fork or spoon many times now…

The guy at the organic cafe making me a special plate of breakfast veggies…

The priest who insisted he stamp my credential and gave me a blessing…

The family of four I toured the castle with who were going out of their way translating some of the info signs for me (I think their older daughter liked practicing her English with me)…

The woman at the grocery store who took pity on me and weighed my banana and orange for me on the fancy-shmancy electronic scale…

The elderly woman who sat on the park bench with me and tried to tell me how much she loved dancing when she was younger while we waited for the flamenco dancers to start their parade…

And on and on…

And look how clean the street is this morning after that massive party last night!

I am going to miss you, Ponferrada.

Still 15 minutes left on the dryer…

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