This morning we faced a horrendous blizzard entering the mountains before Pontferrada. I was walking with Laura, 2 Spaniards, and a Brazilian who insisted on wearing shorts, claiming that the ice and snow were good for his tendonitis. We weathered the storm, passing Manjarin, the rustic mountain shelter where we stopped to have coffee, warm up our hands, and sit for a bit. They don't have electricity there, but it was the most warm welcoming place. Once we peaked the mountains, the storm calmed down, and we descended into warmer, green valleys. We passed an ancient oak where it took the four of us, stretching out our hands to circle the tree. When we finally reached Pontferrada, someone made us a big dinner—super good—and we drank tea with herbs that Juan (a tough and handsome Spaniard who looks like a painting of Christ) picked on route. Afterwards, we played music on the guitar and sang. Once again the scenery is gorgeous, and the exercise exhilarating.
Note: This part of the route passes through the Cruz del Ferro, which is the highest point in the Camino, having an altitude of over 1500 feet. Early pilgrims were warned to stay away from here. But now there is a massive pile of stones supporting a cross at the actual pass. There is a tradition that each pilgrim brings a rock from his home country and adds it to the pile when he travels through the pass. So there are stones from all over the world! We tried to stop at a village earlier in our trek across the mountainous region to escape some of the snow. According to my trusty map, this village was only a few kilometers away. It did indeed exist, but when we reached it, most of it was in ruins and the rest was utterly deserted, so we pressed on. I think it was at this point that I realized I needed a better set of maps! Oh well, if we'd stopped there, we wouldn't have made it to the Cruz, where we had a snowball fight. The weather was freezing, (it sure didn't seem to bother the be-shorted Brazilian, though) and there was only one set of mittens between the four of us that belonged to Juan #1. He shared them out so that Laura had one and I had one on the hand with which we grasped our sticks.