I was right. Inga wanted to ride a horse up O Cebreiro. Eva demurred and we went to see Victor early in the morning. No rides until ten, he explained, but assured us that the time savings would make more than up for it.
So, we ate breakfast, Eva told of her days in Molinaseca and a weird woman collecting flowers along the Camino to brew a tea from them once she came home. The morning was warm and beautiful, and we hollered “Buen Camino” at every passing pilgrim, many looking at that ascent with some dread.
At nine thirty, having been introduced to and instructed on the horses, Victor assigned the biggest and widest to me, “she can carry you, I don’t want you to break them,” he explained, Eva chuckling and patting my belly.
Eva’s horse was the smallest, Inga’s slightly more temperamental but equally thin. “That’s us,” she proclaimed, “You’re the bulldozer, I have the attitude, and Eva is beautiful and calm.” “A perfect triad,” Eva agreed.
The ride up was scary at times, with horses walking centimeters away from deep drops. Mine turned out to be as headstrong as he was heavy, wanting to be in front most of the time, and having to be held back to not charge. I was too busy being part scared and part amazed by the ride, to think much or take in the scenery and when Victor attached his animals to a row of trees to lead us the final meters to the top, I couldn’t feel my ass anymore.
On top, we drank Claras (beer and lemonade), ate octopus and cheese, visited the Statue of Don Elías (that’s the one with the yellow arrows), and then set off to walk to Fonfría, knowing we’d have to brave the Alto do Poyo to get there.
The Rabé Couple had a little row over buying a ring from a vendor, and, looking decently unhappy, Rainer appeared as we were about to leave.
His hair stuck to his head and his usual calm and exuberant demeanor had been exchanged for one of defeat. “It’s the last mountain, Rainer… except for the one in an hour…” Eva tried to console him, which didn’t really work.
The Way wound itself down a little before pulling into an ascent that made even my legs hurt. Eva, her teeth gritted, did not say a word, and Inga’s heavy breathing didn’t spell “fun,” either. Once on top, we stopped at an albergue to rest Eva’s foot, drink more coffee, and celebrate the last big ascent of the Camino. “I’m happy it’s over, but then… I am not. Can’t we just go to sleep and all wake up in one bed in St. Jean, to do it all over again?” demanded Eva. “We can do the waking up in one bed, but that’s as good as it gets,” Inga added.
After this, it was an easy walk down to Fonfría, the albergue handed us our backpacks, we sat down for pilgrim’s dinner in an adjacent hut, round as many are in the area, and ate, drank, and laughed. Someone told the story of a pair of pilgrims, a very old man and a beautiful young woman, whose words could heal wounds and would bless socks and shoes to prevent blisters. “It’s all fantasy Camino Lore, anyways,” a short peregrina with a happy smile and massive appetite proclaimed, much to the protestations of the more inebriated members of our dining arrangement.
After dinner, we hit our bunks early, falling asleep for the last time before our final one hundred kilometers to Santiago.