Foncebadon – Ponferrada
After a communal breakfast we all headed out around 8am, wishing each other well on our way and waving off the cyclists. This morning we would pass the Cruz de Ferro which marked the highest point on the whole camino and was a shrine to pilgrim’s most personal reasons for walking to Santiago. Traditionally pilgrims would place a symbolic stone here to represent the shedding of the metaphorical weight on their shoulder or a letting go of the past and from this point they would move forward in their lives and be in some sense reborn. The stone pile was by now so high you had to climb it to reach the foot of the cross. There was a feeling of sadness mixed with hope amongst all the discarded trinkets. Some had left perhaps an old mobile phone as a symbol of their desire to break out of the rat race, many had written messages on large stones, there were lots of religious items but saddest of all were the many photos, stories that I would never know, but undoubtedly of loved ones lost and carried in the hearts of those walking, even memorials of lost children. Many pilgrims chose to make this journey after losing someone close to them. I spent some time reading the messages then found a shell and a stone placed by some pilgrims from Devon dated the day after I set off from Lands End so I placed my own stone, carried from Seaton beach on top of this stone and thought it would feel at home there. On the other side of the cross a few odd shoes and other walking paraphernalia had been left so I decided it would be OK to leave my dilapidated boots on this hill. They had brought me from Lands End to Leon and I had carried them for three further days with the idea of placing them at this very spot. After a few more minutes and one last look at my boots I moved on and felt instantly lighter, which was probably due to the shedding of the boots but I considered to be something far more profound.
A short way on I reached Manjarin (population:1). The road signs denoting the start and end of the town had been moved to sit either side of the sole inhabited building which was also adorned with flags and distance markers pointing off to the four corners of the globe and from which was emanating the smell of hot coffee, light classical music and the huddled bodies of a couple of pilgrims who were proving popular with the resident kittens. Tomas, the resident, was allegedly the last Templar Knight and provided accommodation and refreshment here for passing peregrinos. It was more basic than the small church in Foncebadon having no running water and only a long drop toilet way over the road but was yet another oasis in an unforgiving landscape. Tomas himself was quite a character, ringing his wall mounted bell quite often and without warning and signifying nobody knew what.
Took late lunch picnic under another stone bridge at the entrance to Molinaseca and was soon joined by Hot Spanish Guy. They were surprised that I was going on further today and I guessed they may stay in this town and that would be the end of that. However after quite a considerable further distance I arrived at the albergue in Ponferrada and my jaw dropped in astonishment to see one of the group sat in the garden. I really didn’t see how this was possible. Anyway, signed in and went through the usual routine of shower, laundry, food before setting out for a walk around the town. At the end of the road I saw a small huddle of people pointing in all directions and saw it was Hot Spanish Guy and the rest of the group. …oh, how we laughed…..again!!! I pointed them off in the right direction and continued my walk to town, where I bought a new ‘towel’ which measured 40cm by 20cm and was huge by my recent standards, this could probably cover a whole thigh at once. My previous towel had been a small flannel so you see what I mean.
That night I shared a room with the second English person I had met and she regaled me with flamboyant stories of her wayward adventures with a variety of men on her various travels. One time she had hooked up with a dive instructor in Asia but by the time she arrived at their arranged rendezvous point she was late and he had already met another girl so she had got together with a hammock salesman which apparently worked out really well as she was in the market for a new hammock and got a very good deal. In fact, it still hung in her garden today, five years later, such was the good quality. She even had her eye on a couple of peregrinos but didn’t want to pursue it as that was not why she was here and she feared it would ruin the whole dynamic of her camino. This I could relate to and let slip about my mini crush on Hot Spanish Guy and how it might start distracting me. She had divulged all this information quite matter of factly, without modesty and with far more colourful language and I liked her enormously.