Up at 8:30, out of the alberge by 9am. It was one of those horrible mornings again, the Italian cyclists were being so loud and all I wanted to do was sleep a little longer. I rolled over and opened my eyes only to see a hairy ass in my face, at least it was a couple of bunks down but still, ugh, it was way too early for anything like that. I scrambled out of bed, went through my morning rituals as fast as I could, and hightailed it out of there in a pretty grumpy mood. I walked up the road a little and felt better. It was a beautiful morning and today was a big day. I decided to dedicate it to my Dad since it was his birthday this week and he loved old rugged crosses. I had to climb all the way up to the cross at Cruz de Ferro, then all the way down to Molinaseca, an ascent to 1600 meters(!) and then a descent to 600 meters(!) You can see it on stage 25 on the paper at the bottom of the post.
As I headed through the pass of Irago I couldn't help taking a bunch of pictures. It felt good to be back in the mountains after the monotony of the Meseta, and this part of the path was dotted with all kinds of beautiful fountains and scenic vista points. You could literally see the path ahead and how you were going to have to cross the mountain. My piece of paper told me Foncebadon was the next town, I was so excited. This is a town that I have known it's name since I was 16 years old. It embodied an experience for Paulo Coelho in his book The Pilgrimage
and here I was, walking towards it, almost there. It's a good thing we don't know the truth behind a dream because often when we achieve it, it's nothing like we thought. Such was the case with Foncebadon...
The dusty little of town of Foncebadon was nothing like I expected, granted I didn't know what to expect, just that I didn't expect this. As I walked through town I couldn't help but feeling like the entire place was crumbling down and abandoned. There was the famous wooden cross of Foncebadon but everything else was underwhealming. I stopped for a quick tea and, a little disappointed by the whole scene, I headed out of town. It was straight uphill now, towards the famous Cruz de Ferro, a humble monument that marks a noble gateway. Once I reached it, I sat near the stone chapel Ermita de Santiago and found the prayer I brought from home and the heart-shaped rock I picked up along The Way for this very purpose. I took off my shoes and climbed to the top and prayed the prayer for freedom by one of my favorite authors, Miguel Ruiz.
Dear God, I ask You to come and share a strong communion of love. We know your real name is love and that to have communion with You means to share the same vibration, the same frequency that You are. Today help us to be like You are, to love life, to be life, to be love. Help us to love the way You love, with no conditions, no expectations, without any judgment. Help us to love everything You create unconditionally, especially other human beings, our relatives, those who live around us, and those we try so hard to love. Because when we reject them, we reject ourselves, and when we reject ourselves, we reject You. Help us to love others just the way they are with no conditions. Help us to accept them the way they are without judgment. Today clean our hearts of any emotional poison that we may have, free our minds from any judgment so that we can live in complete peace and complete love. Today is a very special day. Today we open our hearts to love, so that we can tell each other 'I love you' without any fear and really mean it. Today we offer ourselves to You. Come to us, use our voices, use our eyes, use our hands, use our hearts, to share ourselves in a communion of love with everyone. Today dear God, help us to be just like You are. Thank You for everything that we receive this day, especially for the freedom to be who we really are. Namaste. Amen.
That prayer resonates with every fiber of my being. About an hour later I was back on The Way and I felt so good. I felt free. The next stretch of the Camino was still uphill and it wound through some more quaint towns. There were snow plow guideposts indicating how deep the snow could get here in the winter. I was glad it was a beautiful summer day. I ended up talking with scores of pilgrims along The Way and eventually saw a town in the distance with the blessed "chairs with umbrellas" and stopped in Manjarin for lunch. Here is a quick video I took of the vastness of the countryside, I don't know if you can hear the cowbells but you can see the Camino behind me
After lunch with a Danish couple and a guy from Norway, who'd been passing me on and off since Villadangos, I refilled my wine bottle and my water bottle, bought a big bocadillo of saucisson and cheese and moseyed forth. If I thought the town of Foncebadon was crumbling, the next town of Acebo was literally falling apart! The Camino went right through the main section of town but the road was dug up and the buildings falling apart. "Here's a place that needs a new mayor" is all I could think while taking pictures knowing full well I wouldn't remember the decay unless I documented this mountain village.
I've seen several dogs along The Way, not just in Foncebadon, and they've always been calm, not threatening at all. Once I headed out on the path again it was straight downhill. While the ascent uphill was steep and required my determination and physical exertion, downhill can cause far more injuries (strains, sprains and breaks, I had heard it all) and one must be extra careful. Many pilgrims stuck to the new asphalt road which serpentined down the mountain, but I stayed on the natural pathway, which eventually turned into a big slab of granite with arrows painted on it or arrows formed in rocks to encourage you on. It was extremely tough (oh my poor feet!) and I took a little tumble but fortunately didn't fall! At long last, the town of Molinaseca became visible in the distance and I knew I would make it.
I came down the mountain, crossed the bridge, and entered the darling town of Molinaseca. There were people swimming in the river and cute stores and cafes on the main road. I came upon a fancy hotel with a sign for a "casa rural 10 Euro" so I investigated. Sure enough, there was a cute house across the street just for pilgrims so I booked a bunk. There were several pilgrims already showered and relaxing including Maria from Spain. I spoke with her awhile, played with the big lazy dogs, and then headed to a shower - great shower, private bathroom, plenty of hot water and pressure - then changed and headed into town. I wanted to eat at the fancy restaurant, the specialty of this region is Bierzo (pork belly, they even have a bronze statue of a pork belly, that's the picture) but they didn't serve dinner until 9pm and it was only 6:30. As it turns out, my prayers were answered.
I headed back into town and found a beautiful outdoor cafe with a very friendly server who said he'd serve me the pilgrim menu early if I wanted. Thank you! Around the same time, two local Spanish guys came in and started talking to him, obviously their friend, then went outside. I asked if I could join them and they were more than happy for some company. That's when I met Jose and Rollo from Spain (picture); Jose spoke English, Rollo did not but we had a blast sitting there eating and drinking and translating. Jose had done the Camino before and he was telling me that I should stay at his family's hotel tomorrow night in Cacabelos, so I said OK. He gave me a card and called ahead to see if there was a space, there was, so he made me a reservation. Then he said, "do you want to stay at my place tonight? You could sleep on the couch or I could sleep on the couch and you sleep in the bed, whatever you want." I sat there for a moment and pondered. There wasn't a wink wink, which I was glad about, and I knew this is one of those times when you're traveling that you really don't want to pass up, so I said yes. And with that, the three of us headed back to my casa rural where I packed up my bag quicker than ever before. It was just as Jose was hurling my pack into his hatchback that Dee from Ireland and Diana from Hungary walked up out of the blue and I said "Adios ladies, I've got a ride to Cacabelos" and I gave Dee the card of the hotel I'd be at tomorrow night. They were all a fluster, giggling like school girls with their mouths wide open, as I jumped in the front seat of the SUV and waved goodbye! I walked a total of 25 kilometers today and Jose drove me another 24 kilometers and my night was only about to begin.
"He went up into the mountain to pray, and the fashion of his countenance was altered."
- Luke 9:29