It was a cold chill morning in Rabanal del Camino. Mist lay in the valley below and the sun struggled to add some heat to the day. It was early when I left the albergue. Near the main street, I saw a young couple arguing about which direction to go. They were heading back the way they came yesterday when I stopped them. They were totally confused. We were all heading West and the sun was rising in the East so I did not understand their confusion. Surely a simple deduction I advised. They seemed not to be amused. The days of GPS have their effect on the basics of navigation!
Not long after I passed them panting on the hill. They were half my age. I felt that they did not see the world around them or that they were not looking.
The Camino climbed slowly out of Rabanal del Camino. Looking back to the view of the village and the church in the early light was a delight. I was climbing higher and the change of scenery was a refreshing change after so many days of ‘flat-land’ walking.
In the tiny hamlet of Foncebadon the only sign of life was at a small cafe. I had a coffee. The owners kindly gave me a free yoghurt drink for ‘energy for the Camino’! Foncebadon was wonderful. It was composed of so many very old buildings, some partly collapsing, others fully renovated. This had been a thriving village in the past and had only recently been revitalised. The sharp morning air at this higher altitude gave me a wonderful feeling of euphoria. Walking in the cool of the morning was a wonderful thing!
Gorse bushes lined the Way and their smell was calming as the day heated up. After a few kilometres I arrived at a significant monument on the way to Santiago de Compostela – the Cruz de Ferro or Iron Cross at 1504 metres above sea level. Traditionally pilgrims brought a stone from their home and tossed it onto the cairn by the cross. It was a magnificent stone pile with the simple cross atop a tall mast. There were great views across to Monte Teleno, at 2188 metres, the highest mountain in the area. After the Iron Cross is was all downhill to Ponferrada some 25 kilometres away.
I enjoyed the descent. Soon there was the small hamlet of Manjarin solely populated by Templar Knights. This group offered the pilgrim food and drink and sold Tao crosses as well as souvenirs to fund their existence. Every hour they performed prayers for pilgrims to help them on their way to Santiago. I could not begin to imagine what a tough existence they faced especially through the Winter months when the their village was often cut off from the outside world. There were cats everywhere and the atmosphere was one tranquility and a dedicated sect.
Soon after I came across a woman selling fresh cherries in the middle of a wood. The Camino truly had a spiritual feeling of true enlightenment today.
There were police out on horses too – there was a large military base in the area that trained the police in mountain rescue and patrol. They helpfully pointed me in the wrong direction! After tramping across some rocks and scrub I regained the Way.
I caught up with the two Serenas from Italy. They were admiring the fantastic vistas over Ponferrada. The Way continued on a long descent with the most fantastic views to the village of El Acebo. By now it was hot even though the altitude ensured that the air was fresh. I stopped for some lunch and met a couple from New Zealand who were cycling the Camino! El Acebo was a attractive village and quite a centre for day trippers from the city of Ponferrada.
The next village of Riego de Ambros was similar in that there was a lot of regeneration of the buildings. I stopped again for a snack before finally descending on a narrow overgrown track through hot, dry and rocky terrain to Molinaseca. It was a relief to arrive at the town as by now the heat of the afternoon coupled with the lower altitude was making walking quite exhausting.
The albergue in Molinaseca was basic and not very clean. I met some walkers who recommended not staying there, but for me it was a bed for the night. The man who ran the albergue was quite a character. He was shouting at two pilgrims when I arrived. They were sitting on beds that were not their own beds. He laughed one minute then flew into a temper the next in a bizarre but amusing welcome.
I left to take a walk into town heading back to the river by the old Roman bridge. The river was wide and deep and the water icy cold. After stripping to my boxer shorts, a wonderful swim followed, cleansing after the heat and dust of the afternoon’s walking. I searched for a photographic exhibition that was on somewhere in the town. It was about the Camino and I was keen to see the photographs. I did not find it. I went shopping instead. Returning to the albergue there was a large wedding in progress with many people in the street. There were fireworks and people celebrated in all the bars and restaurants of the town.
Back at the albergue I cooked up some dinner with the others and we sat in the late evening heat laughing and joking with yet another World Cup match blaring in the background. The albergue manager had become more stable and offered us some Orujo before bed. It was more appealing to sleep outside on the beds surrounding the albergue. I drifted into a deep sleep in the cool air of the night.
TIP: There are some good places to swim in cool waters along the Camino. Make sure you take your swimming gear! Its so good after a long day in the heat.