The Dragon

There are three routes out of Villafranca del Bierzo. There is the main route, along the main highway, although from all accounts it is quiet, and it is the shortest. The second route goes to the right and offers a bit a scenery as it runs along the hills to the north. The third route is called the Dragonte and ascends and descends three steep mountains before ending up at Herrerias, 26 km (16m) away. It includes 1500 meters (nearly 5000’) of ascent and almost as much descent. I read that the trails were poorly marked, there were no services along the way and that less than 1% of pilgrims take the Ruta Dragonte. I was in!

The day before, as I was approaching Villafranca del Bierzo, I noticed a wooden hilt protruding from the ground. As I extricated it from the earth, drawing it out like Excalibur, I realized the Camino was offering me a gift. It fit my hand perfectly and was the perfect length for a staff. I did not realize why I needed this pole, but trusting in the Camino, I accepted it, knocked off the thorns with a rock, gave it the name Tizona and took it with me. The next morning, as I left Las Doñas, it leapt into my hand to make sure it was not left behind.

I left Villafranca early and the sun was coming up as I passed Dragonte, about 6 kilometers out of town. It was on a hardtop road, but not a single car went by me. I looked into the darkness and imagined the “little people” who lived there and took note of other dark forms to ensure they were not menacing or following me. I felt secure with Tizona at my side. A couple kilometers past Dragonte and I left the road for a dirt path but now the sun was shining bright and the temperature rising.
I reached the top of the first peak about 4 km past Dragonte. I had by now seen one or two vehicles, but no people. I did see a couple cows who seemed to be surprised at encountering a pilgrim.

I made my descent to the next village of Moral de Valcárce (named after the valley). These were not really villages but collections of houses owned by farmers, or in such disrepair they were uninhabited. As I entered Moral, a couple of large dogs protested. I don’t mind when a dog barks or growls, but when they start baring their teeth, I get a bit worried. I thrusted at them with Tizona, not in an aggressive way but making them think twice before they made a killer lunge at my leg. They circled around behind me as a third dog appeared blocking my way. A voice shouted from somewhere and the dogs backed off a bit, long enough for me to make my escape. However, watching from a safe distance, was a smaller dog, and as I walked by him he decided to be my companion. I could not lose him. Presently a farmer in a tractor came along – my first human encounter. “There is a dog following you!” he said. “I know, I can’t get rid of him!”. We devised a plan. I struck the ground in front of the pup, breaking Tizona in half. That was not part of the plan, but I improvised and threw the broken-off limb at the dog. The farmer took over, herding the pup home. “Venga! Venga!” críed the farmer.

I descended to the valley, very much exhibiting its Middle Earth heritage. Sometimes streams would cross the path.
Sometimes the stream was the path.
Sometimes there was no path.

I found my way out of Mirkwood with its weird trees, some with ancient misshapen trunks burnt by long ago fires or hollowed out by some disease, but still supporting huge leafy branches. There were lots of chestnut trees, their spiny fruits looking like yellow-green rambutans. And on I went, making my way up to the second peak, and back down into the next valley.

I passed this happy couple who stopped their tractor to shake my hand and wish me “Buen Camino”.
After 5 hours without a break, or even a cup of coffee, I stopped by a small stream crossing the path, took my shoes off and cooled my feet.
It was hard to get up and go.
…et suseia!

I arrived in Herrería about 2:30 and still had 3.5 miles to go. I reached my destination, Albergue La Escuela. just after 4 pm. My longest day on the Camino, but it was ever so satisfying, and came at a good time, before the final run into Santiago. The views and experiences along the Ruta Dragonte were unforgettable. The last section to my alberge complemented the Ruta Dragonte: steep ascent in mostly tree lined path, but a smoother trail, thankfully.

7 thoughts on “The Dragon

  1. 5000 ft is no joke… very impressed. You must be getting closer to Paula joining you. Perhaps this is the experience you never want to end… but suspect your Pilgrim spirit will stay, even as Tizona made it’s sacrifice for all


  2. Well done, Jim! I admire your disciplined spirit…rising for an early start each morning, opting for the road less travelled, opting so often to walk solo and, at the end of each long day when you must feel so weary, ensuring to post your blog thoughts and photos so as not to disappoint your readership. I think you have more in common with Doug than you know!


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