Wednesday, October 2, 2013. Well, the albergue in Foncebadon delivers a better breakfast than any other I’ve stayed so far. No eggs, but chai, cereal, lots of fruit, yogurt, and the requisite bread, of course. And meditation/yoga music in the background, a smiling chef, and the murmur of people headed for the stone ceremony.
The anticipation of a short hike (2 km.) to Cruz de Ferro creates an especially happy buzz in the dining room of our place, and even the crabby owner is smiling. Each pilgrim is sure to have his or her stone to throw at the pile made by hundreds, thousands of others who come before us, and I have two in my pocket. One is a black stone I brought back from Boothbay, Maine, long ago, with a bit of a hole in it made by a drip or a wave over a period of time. The other is one my cousin GA sent to me just before I left. It is in a fabric pouch and says “Good Luck” on it. Now it has additional meaning because her mother (also the mother of my other cousin, C) died late last month, so I will throw GA’s stone for GA, C and Michael, as well as for my last remaining uncle on that side of the family.
I head out while it’s still fairly dark, which gives me a lovely gift and photo op . . . the sunrise just barely awake through beautiful clouds (again). The walk up to the Cruz is easy, since we are most of the way there already, and seeing the steady stream of people approach the iron cross is a mixed bag. On one hand, we are all here together, bonded in a way, and on the other hand, the crowd creates a different atmosphere than the one I might have chosen. I find I can’t actually concentrate on my intention the way I thought I might be able to do, so I walk up to the base of the cross, place both stones on the bed of the previous contributions, and walk down. Christel does the same, and she also says she feels a bit distracted by the surrounding pilgrims.
The Cruz itself is impressive, standing tall and all alone on the hill. So I’ll think about those intentions as I walk the rest of my day down to Molinaseca. Christel will stop in Acebo and we’ll have lunch together before I go the last 10 km before the end of the day.
Leaving Cruz de Ferro, we pass a sort of stone chapel, a place to sit down, and some spontaneously made stone circle pattern things on the ground. Little altars everywhere. Moving toward the next cafe watering hole we walk through lovely color . . .
green grasses, brilliant red blossoms on the bushes lining our path, and another of those grey-blue cloud and sky mixes above us that makes me so glad to be alive and walking at this time of the morning.
Next on the way to our individual destinations, we come across a spot which on our maps says “Manjarin”. Population – one. There is an albergue in Manjarin. Sort of. Thirty-five spaces (mattresses) and a outside toilet, water from a well on the other side of the road. This is probably an “emergency albergue” because in another 7 km, there will be at least four real ones, with flush toilets and actual electricity. But this one does have its charms.
Manjarin was another of the abandoned villages, brought back to life by “the modern knight hospitalero Tomas” who is the town’s one official resident. His renovated cabin/house/albergue was a former historic site, a pilgrim’s hospital as early as the 12th century, which links it to . . . yep, the Knights Templar. Score another one, Dan Brown!
I walk up to the little store (sort of) on the property and hear music playing, see the hot water, hot coffee and hot milk carafes, cups, the donation box, and the requisite rosaries, scallop shell necklaces and bracelets, and CDs, if I remember correctly. A pussy cat snoozes comfortably on a makeshift bench. Everything (but the cat, of course) is orchestrated by two older dudes who look like they could have been miners in California, come up from Mexico, in the 1880’s. These are rough guys with sweet hearts. Look at what they’ve created.
Tomas is developing the facilities organically with solar panel and open fire providing the hot water. And a sign tells you how far you are from cities and villages all over the world. I think I will never again see something as quaint and unusual as this.
I notice that people hang around here. Sit on the stumps outside. Wander through the trinkets, though they have no interest, really, in buying. Just a fascination for what we’ve all come upon. Right here in a cocoon of welcome amid the beginning of the first descent in the landscape for today’s walk. Eventually one person drifts away, back toward the path. Then another.
Reluctantly I join the group slowly walking away from this idiosyncrasy, and I focus on the easy path in front of me because I know the extreme downslide is coming. About a third of the way down a very steep hill is Acebo, and I indulge myself with a plate of pasta carbonara and a salad. Way too much food, but it will have to hold me for about eight hours after I leave Christel here and head out to Molinaseca.
The downhill is very steep and rough, and I take a tea break at the next little village, barely more than a dozen buildings, with a restaurant and hotel just past the stone cluster that is Riego de Ambros. An ancient woman serves me the tea and I sit outside. As I leave the village, the path seems to smooth out, sometimes going alongside the road, and then swinging back into the bushes. But though it is on a sharp angle, at least it is manageable. Christel could have done this today, I think. And then the path worsens. And worsens. And becomes nearly un-walkable. Those photos I used in my metaphor for dealing with life (see Walking Across A Country’s final segment, complete with the abandoned, cut-up boots on harsh stone ledge) came from the last three kilometers of today’s walk, and I have not met one person who didn’t mention this stretch as the worst they had experienced. Except for the people who walked the Meseta during a four-day downpour, so that the dusty trail was mid-calf-high sticky mud, the kind one uses for making bricks. I guess it could have been worse for me.
Here’s one of those “I see the carrot” places . . . except that even that carrot is way too far away to be heartening on first glance. But eventually, the landscape mollifies the walker shocked from the treacherous trail, and delivers up a serene river painted by the reflection of the sky above, green grassy banks, and a collection of tables and chairs outside a bar and restaurant just at the edge of the old town. I cross the river bridge and begin to look for signs to my Albergue Santa Marina, but instead bump into Larry. He offers to buy me a beer, and I say I’ll take wine, but first have to check into my place, before they give my bed away. I have no idea where it is but tell him I’ll be back within 30 minutes. Then Ria shows up, says hello, and says she’s staying somewhere way out of town. Maybe I’ll see her again as well.
I walk. And walk. And ask “Donde esta Albergue Santa Marina?” Everyone smiles, nods and waves me down the road. Now I am on the way out of town and after a few more blocks, I see it. A yellow house, orangey yellow. With 56 beds in 4 rooms. Credencial, passport, 7 Euro, and a top bunk. I decide to opt out of the Pilgrim’s Menu, and I head back to the other side of the village to meet Larry. This has been another 5 km added to my strenuous day, but it’s just a walk. Larry buys my wine, we talk a bit to catch up on life. I visit a Supermercato and get a croissant, more pate, and a nectarine for dinner. Walk back to Santa Marina in the rain with no umbrella or rain jacket, but I’ll take my shower soon anyway, so I’m preparing for looking like a bedraggled shaggy dog. When I arrive, I meet Ken from Ireland, a sweet but rather needy-seeming older guy, a bit befuddled and wanting to have conversation with someone. I’m pleased to see Ria writing in her journal out on the patio. We still have a warm feeling for our Foncebadon dinner and meeting so we sit at the same table without conversation, each in our own recollective universe. I eat my goodies, try to write on this website, but it is just too much at the end of a strenuous day.
Just as I climb up to my bunk in the corner of a large bunk room, I meet a new couple, Shirley and Len from Toronto. Perhaps a bit younger than I, but we’re all in “that category” of oldish walkers. A bit of conversation and I fall onto my pillow. I hope I don’t have another rocky pathway day like this for a while. I can hear the water pouring outside, which doesn’t bode well for tomorrow’s journey. Maybe it will just be a “night deluge” like some we’ve had before. Let’s hope. 216 km to Santiago.