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Cruz de Ferro

Every year a few pilgrims die whilst on the Camino.  Many have heart attacks, others die of existing illness, and many more are killed on the roads by vehicles.  The many memorials erected by the loved ones of those who lost their lives on the Camino are a poignant reminder that with over 500 000 pilgrims on the Caminos, deaths will occur. 

In the middle ages, if a pilgrim died whilst on a

What would you rather see on the Camino?

This:

Or This

The
problem of litter, human faeces and graffiti on the Camino paths has been
discussed ad infinitum by pilgrims from around the world on the Camino Forums.  It is a growing problem that needs to be addressed by the organisations in Spain that are responsible for the maintenance of the Camino routes. 

When confronted with


Day 26 took me up into the mountains again. I had walked the day prior from Astorga to Rabanal del Camino, a hamlet at the foot of the mountains that benefits tremendously from the pilgrim hordes and their Euros. As with many hamlets and small towns along the Camino, it likely would have faded away otherwise. It was clean and well-kept, its residents polite and only mildly exasperated, on my visit, at having to deal with peregrinos and their demands, day after day.

I'd been walking alone for awhile, but many of the pilgrims were, by now, familiar faces. I greatly enjoyed the eye candy provided by large herds of French and Italian bicyclists, even though they would arrive early to an albergue and take up every bed. Hospitaleros are supposed to make sure this doesn't happen, but I found compliance with this rule varied greatly. In any case, I made the acquaintance of a friendly, resourceful Australian woman who walking alone and we ended up traveling together for several days.

In Rabanal, I elected to rent a hotel room above the restaurant where I had dinner. It wasn't expensive and I was in need of a private shower again and a quiet room without anyone's snoring but my own. I'd developed the habit of renting a room in a hotel, or what is known as a casa rural, every three or four days. Some pilgrims clearly were happy to go for weeks without showering or laundry, but three or four days was about my limit.

The day's hike took us to the famous Cruz de Ferro. Pilgrims are meant to carry a small stone or rock with them as they travel and then leave it here to symbolize the desire to lay down one's burdens. It is such an iconic stop along the Camino de Santiago that it has now become a tourist attraction. During my brief visit, several groups of schoolchildren shrieked and chased each other as daytrippers stood around gawking at peregrinos as they prayed or attempted to find a quiet spot for contemplation.

My companion took several evocative photos of me standing near the iron cross, framed by gorgeous mountain vistas. I look wistful, even pious. But honestly, I'd been shedding bits and pieces of my old self, my prior life, along every mile of the Camino. I felt no need for a similar symbolic gesture. After just 15 or 20 minutes, we gathered up our backpacks and resumed our march into the mountains.

It wasn't until I examined the second photo more closely that I noticed the top of the electric pylon poking into the frame, far left. This was taken somewhere near Foncebadon—an abandoned mountain village that is slowly coming back to life—and should give you an indication of the road's topsy-turvy elevation. But also, at right, are some ruins that have been left to crumble. Two eras colliding; that's Spain along the Camino in a nutshell.

Photo credit: © Benjamin Scuglia.
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I am just outside Sarria with just over 100 km to go. Alto de Poio through Triacastela to San Mamed del Camino. I walked 28 km today ~ so it looks good to make it on time. Very limited internet here. More soon as possible. Hasta luego.

Saturday, October 1st ~ Molinaseca through Ponferrada to Cacabelos. 25.4 km.
I stopped in Ponferrada across the street from the Templar Castle for morning coffee. It was another hour until it opened, so I contented myself with a view of the exterior.

The old pilgrim bridge into Ponferrada
The Camino took us way around to enter town over this.

The Templar Castle

The white blood donation truck parked right in front of the Camino waymark
and so pilgrims started  to miss the turn at the castle.I was about out of cash as we were going through Ponferrada, so I attempted to use the ATM of another bank than mine - my card was rejected! I figured that since it was the first of the month my bank had decided that I had been in Spain long enough! Anxiety set in - Maureen, one of our crew, was kind enough to lend me some funds, but the towns we were headed for were smaller and it was Saturday....

Monetary Relief in CacabelosWhen we got to Cacabelos and had checked into the albergue there, I called the US and was assured by my bank that there was nothing wrong with my card. "Try another bank's ATM," they said. Check out who came through for me. As it turned out, just last week, Banco Pastor was bought out by.... Banco Popular!! Maureen was repaid and I was funded for more walking - we celebrated with a steaming platter of pulpo and some white wine. Quite tasty!!

Shani, Maureen, and Peter,
Israel, Ireland and Canada, respectively.Around Cacabelos, the grapes were being harvested. We just happened upon a bodega celebrating the harvest with really inexpensive wine,  .40 a glass!
Mary & Georgina (two more from Ireland) with Peter at the bodega.

Sunday, October 2nd ~ Cacabelos to Vega de Valcarce. 23.7 km.
From Cacabelos it was through Villafranca del Bierzo and then a choice had to be made - the guidebook showed three different ways to go - we took the middle way, along the road up through the Bierzo valley. The other two looked to involve more climbing up and down hills. The road route was very nice with more villages along it. 

Sunrise outside of Villafranca.

Villafranca in the morning.

More pilgrim fun.

My usual Peregrino lunch - ham, cheese & tomato bocadillo (baguette sandwich), gorp, and Aquarius

A contented Camino cat.

Saint Jimmy along the way.

Finally, some live pigs - Saw enough ham, but not many on the hoof.

Full bodied beevesA major highway had replaced the road as the preferred route so traffic really was not an issue. The highway was almost a road in the sky, quite a lot of very elevated roadway.

I did get to Sunday Mass at the parish church in Vega de Valcarce. A young priest celebrated in a very lacy alb (shades of Fr. Guptill) he did a fine reverent celebration with the assistance of a very poised young lady of maybe 8 years of age. She read the intercessions even!

It being Shani's birthday, after Mass a gang of us peregrinos retired to a local eatery to celebrate the anniversary of her nativity with the ritual of the Menu de Peregrino ~ the standard 3 course meal with a bottle of wine. 

Monday, October 3rd ~ Vega de Valcarce to Alto de Poio. 19.6 km. [(accrued ascent 1400 m = 7 km) 26.6 km adjusted for climb.]

This was the big climb of the latter part of the Camino. Not quite as high as the Cruz de Ferro, but definitely steeper. But the rise through the valley was pretty spectacular, and the scenery tremendous.

 In O Cebreiro I ran into Corey, a woman from the Netherlands I had met earlier on the Meseta. She had developed an infection in her foot and was worried that she would not be able to finish her Camino. I asked her if I could say a prayer for her. She allowed as how that would be fine with her. I laid my hands upon her head and prayed God to heal her. We said goodbye to one another and I continued on out of O Cebreiro. We traveled through O Cebreiro and from there on to the Alto de Poio (the last bit of altitude before the descent into Triacastela).We stayed at Alto de Poio in the Albergue del Puerto and ate the menu de peregrino at the Hostal/Bar across the road. Jose' the waiter kept his hat on. A fun meal and a good night.

Tuesday, October 4th St. Francis' Day (a famous peregrino)
~ Alto de Poio to San Mamed del Camino 28 km.

Dawn at the top.A detour for pilgrimsPeter entering a rather cute little stone church.Down you go!The morning saw the incredible descent from the mountain at Biduedo into Triacastela. There we took a break for the obligatory bocadilla. This time ~ Jamon y queso y tomate = a fine combination! In Triacastela we had the experience of a man driving a tractor up a narrow street towards us. When he got up to us we, quite naturally, got out of the way. He leaned out of the cab and told us that the apple tree we were standing next to was his. He then insisted that we wait while he picked several apples for us. It was such a nice thing to do - give a peregrino a manzana. The apples had an interesting white flesh. A kindness.

Corey turned up in Triacastela - she was having lunch at a cafe as we passed through - she said her infection was clearing - I pointed out - prayer works! She said she hoped to be able to make the walk in from Sarria.

On the far side of Triacastela we met Monica, a young woman from Lithuania who had walked from Le Puy in France - a distance double that of those of us who were walking from Saint Jean Pied de Port. Monica took the option with us that bypassed the monastery at Samos. We took the path to the right that promised to be steeper but 6.5 km shorter. It was a beautiful way to go.... but steep! And just for the record, the Brierley Guidebook map for this section of the Camino has a mountain in the wrong place!! 

Triacastela stoneworkMaureen, Monica, and PeterQuite Tolkienish...The fuente just before San Xil.

Where is Brierley's mountain?We pressed on aiming for the Xunta albergue at Calvor. We arrived to discover they had plenty of beds, but no food anywhere nearby. So it was on through Aguaida to a nice private albergue at San Mamed del Camino. There they just had room enough for us all. We enjoyed a fine vegetarian common meal there. There was also a good collection of Camino cats there - only fitting to finish St. Francis' Day with animals. Peter had a toad in his room.

Another contented Camino cat.Peter and a playful Camino kitten.

Rabanal del Camino to Molinaseca 26.5 km (29.5 km adjusted for the descent)

What a great day to walk. I started this morning with the monks and the Office of Lauds and that set up the rest of a fine day of travelling. I walked up from Rabanal through Foncebadon to the high point of the Camino. I walked with Johanna, a clarinet maker from Germany that I had met out in the Meseta outside of Leon. The Cruz de Ferro was kind of a circus. There were two busloads of tourists there when I arrived. But that was after the fine welcome I got from a friendly gato negro in Foncebadon. The cafe con leche there was very welcome. I did stop in after the Cruz at Tómas the Templar's place at Manjarin but he was up the road picking blackberries. "Dona nobis pacem" from Henry V was playing there - I found that it stayed with me on the trail - and then as it was playing in my head, an incredibly wonderful moment of grace as I walked. Just a feeling of rightness about it all, it was very good - Deo Gratias!! (Not the first time it has happened on this walk!!) Now the truly wild thing - The text from the end of the Kenneth Branagh film is "non nobis Domine non nobis sed nomini tuo da gloriam."  "Not unto us Lord, not unto us but to your Name give glory." It was a Templar motto and a fine thought - which is obviously why it was playing at Manjarin. What I swear I heard was that tune BUT with the words, "Dona nobis pacem Domine." "Give us peace Lord." Amazing!

The descent from the top was pretty brutal. Spaniards don't do switchbacks - you just charge straight down. I stopped in Acebo and got a bocadillo and visited with Maureen, who was also taking a break. Just before the boots went back on the right big toenail decided to leave me - Blessed relief! 

Nice Stonework in Riego

Riego Santiago

Maureen caught up with me at the fuente in Riego de Ambros and we walked together into Molinaseca. So Molinaseca was when my feet finally screamed at me to stop the madness and find a bed.  I am at Santa Marina. Mary and Georgina had arrived there before us. We ran into Peter and Shani in the old town and the four of us had dinner together at La Posada de Muriel. It turned out that the four of us would, pretty much, finish the Camino together. I plan to see Ponferrada tomorrow as I pass through - I want a look at the Templar Castle there and try to see if Cacabelos is the place to stop. I am doing well now timewise - so we shall see.

Hasta luego.

At Mass last night in Iglesia San Salvador in Rabanal
Sunrise over Rabanal del CaminoThe King of Foncébadon and his throne
The obligatory Cruz de Ferro shot
La Cruz de FerroThe Templar's place in Manjarin

The Molinaseca main drag - Calle RealMolinaseca's Santiago statueGiant Molinaseca onions - those are big peppers too!

Sellos

Navarrete - Albergue Pilgrim's Stamp
Ambasmestas - Albergue Camynos Stamp
Santiago de Compostela - Albergue Mundoalbergue Stamp
Hontanas - Mesón Albergue El Puntido Stamp
Fonfría - Albergue A Reboleira Stamp

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