Destination: Originally Molinaseca, ended up in Ponferrada
Time: 8 hours, 9am to 5pm
Terrain: 2k climb, 3k rolling, 14k downhill (drop of 900m!), then some more rolling. Most of the trail was dirt or gravel path through scrub and forest. Some was very rocky. Last 8k were on the road into the city.
Weather: 1° Celsius and overcast when we started. Morning was cold but no rain or wind. End of the day was hot, mid 20’s?
Total distance to date: 541 km (+12k taxi, 14k bus, 15k bus = 582k)
We didn’t set the alarm and woke up around 8am. Erik is feeling much better – I woke up with a cold. Right now it’s just nasal congestion and a mild headache. Ugh we are a pair, aren’t we?
We had a quick coffee and hit the trail at 9am. There were lots of pilgrims on their way up to the Cruz de Ferro, which was only a 2 km climb to the highest point we will hit on the Camino 1550m (5085′).
The Cruz de Ferro, or Iron Cross, is a significant point of the Camino for many pilgrims who bring a stone from their homeland and leave it at the cross. The stone is meant to represent the burdens they are leaving behind on the Camino.
Many modern day pilgrims leave other items besides stones and apply whatever significance to those items that they choose. Besides the huge pile of stones, there are photos and ribbons and packages and cards and many other things that people have left. It can be a very emotional visit for some people.
Neither Erik nor I brought a stone from home but we each made a point of choosing a special stone on the beach in Biarritz before we began the Camino and we carried them in our packs with us all the way.
Erik laid his stone at the cross and for him, it was in memory of his parents who have always been so important to him.
For me, well, as usual, I had to be a little different. To understand what I left at the cross requires a little explanation.
Last summer when we were in Italy and we knew we would be walking the Camino in May, I was touring a lot of beautiful churches and sometimes thinking about religion and wondering why I am such an athiest when I love churches so much.
When I was inside those churches I could sometimes see how people could believe in God and find comfort in attending church and the community that involves.
I began to wonder if perhaps walking the Camino, and visiting the churches along the way would kindle that spiritual side of me. On a whim, as I left Rome to head home, I bought a rosary. Although I am not Catholic and never would be, I thought the symbolism of the rosary might be inspiring on my walk.
And so, since I began the Camino, I’ve been carrying in my backpack both my stone from the beach in Biarritz and my rosary from Rome.
While walking the Camino for the past month, I have been inside many churches and I have had many quiet, introspective moments walking on the trail. But not once have I felt any kind of religious feeling. No signs from God. No sudden inspiration. No pious or devout feelings whatsoever. But I have had many moments of profound awe in the beauty and majesty and power of the earth around me.
Erik and I talked about the meaning of spirituality while we walked. I liked his interpretation that spirituality is internal – it comes from within you – and religion is external – it is an institution. I told him I didn’t really think I was even spiritual because I don’t even believe in a greater power. He pointed out that my belief in the earth and in nature and in the power of the human mind are all greater powers. He said he thought this was spiritual thinking. Even my moments of bliss, my appreciation for the small things in life, my awe of the world around me – these are spiritual thoughts.
Over time, I have come to realize that I do not connect with the concept of the religious institution. I do love standing quietly inside an ancient cathedral and marveling in its beauty but it’s not because I believe I am nearer God. It’s because I love the artwork, the sculpture, the artistic details, the gothic arches. I am in awe that human hands were able to build this magnificent cathedral with only the tools available one thousand years ago.
The Camino has helped to confirm my belief that I am spiritual but I am not religious.
Over the past 4 weeks, I have held my stone in my hand many times. I love shape and the size and the slippery feel of it. I have thought about my stone and what it means to me. I have tried to put my past “baggage” into the stone so that I can leave it behind when I walk the Camino and put my stone at the cross. But it just wasn’t happening. I liked my stone too much and I didn’t want to associate it with negative thoughts. I even felt a little sad at the thought of leaving it behind.
So when I went up to the Cruz de Ferro, instead of leaving my little stone, which was created by Mother Earth and filled with the love of my family and memories of my journey these past 2 months, I left my rosary, a representative of a religious institution with rules and laws that I do not even believe or support. I don’t need my rosary any more. It belongs at the Cruz de Ferro. Maybe someone will walk up to the cross and find my rosary and it will have a powerful meaning for me. If so, I hope they take it with them.
The rest of the day…
Sorry this is a bit long. A lot of stuff went down today. 🙂
After the cross, we walked alone in our thoughts for awhile as the trail wandered up and down across the top of the mountain. This part of the Camino is also beautiful. I love the scrubby bushes and the trees and we are oh so high up at the top of the mountains, it seems like we can see forever!
Eventually though, we had to go down. For about 14 km! Some of it was steep and rocky, some a little more gentle, but all of it was tough on my shins and my knee. I was careful to stop and stretch and flex my foot frequently to avoid issues later but I guess I won’t really know until tomorrow.
We walked through several pretty villages, stopping a few times to have a drink or a snack. Eventually we got to Molinaseca around 3pm at the 22km mark. This is the town where we were supposed to have been staying.
However, a day ago, I got an email from booking.com. They had been informed that the Pension would not be able to honor our reservation. I’ve never had this happen before and it was interesting to see how booking.com handled it.
They recommended a room in another hotel, which was a considerable upgrade from the room we had lost, and offered to pay the difference (about 20€ more) plus possibly other expenses we might incur for the inconvenience.
Our biggest problem was that all hotels were already booked in the town so the one they offered was 8km away in Ponferrada. 8k is nothing if you have a car, but it’s a long way on foot if you’ve already walked 22. We told them we accepted the proposal but that we might need to take a taxi from Molinaseca to Ponferrada if we were too tired to walk, and if so, would submit the taxi bill as well.
Well it turned out that I was feeling ok, although a little hot, (and with a runny nose), so we stopped for a quick drink in Molinaseca and then continued walking for another 1 1/2 hours to the next town. It was hot and not too pretty walking along the highway the whole time. We arrived hot, tired, and sweaty and were happy to check into the nice 4 star hotel.
Our room was on the 4th floor so we got into the small elevator with our backpacks and pressed the button marked 4. The door closed, then opened again. We pushed the 4 again. The door closed. An automated voice said something in Spanish. The elevator didn’t move. We waited. We pushed the button again. Nothing happened. We waited some more. We pushed the open door button. It didn’t open. We tried other buttons. Still nothing. Eventually we pushed what seemed to be the emergency call button. A lady’s voice came on in Spanish. We said No hablo espanol. She continued in Spanish. We didn’t know if she was real or automated. I said abierto la puerta por favor!! Eventually she said “English? Uno momento”. We waited. An English voice came on and after a short chat, determined which hotel we were at and called the manager. Soon we heard someone outside pushing the buttons. We were hot and tired and squished. We hoped he’d fix it soon. We waited some more.
Then I got an idea. I had seen people open elevator doors manually when they were stuck between floors. I stuck my fingers in and pulled it open a little to see if I could see anything. Sure enough, we hadn’t left the ground floor. I pulled harder and opened the door. The manager came running when he heard the door open. He was just calling the repair service. I told him how I opened it and he seemed surprised. We got out and decided to walk up the 4 flights of stairs instead of trying the other elevator. Why do these things only happen when we’ve walked 28+km?
After a shower, we went out for a beer and a meat and cheese tapas plate and saw the repair guy was still trying to fix the elevator.
I bought some more cold meds and now I’m writing my blog. Off to bed as soon as the photos upload.
Tomorrow we have a short 14-15k because we walked an extra 8 today. I suspect I will be happy about that in the morning. 🙂