“Earth’s crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God,
But only he who sees takes off his shoes…”
I cannot write better words to describe this morning’s walk, so I will borrow these words, which have long been favourites of mine.
My day began with a hike up to the iron cross, the Cruz de Ferro. I had purposely left later than I normally would have because I wanted to avoid the crowds. So I was disappointed when I approached the cross and discovered a loud group of people who were really taking their time climbing the rock pile and taking pictures. But eventually they left, and the rest of us waiting took our turns climbing and praying and picture taking. At my turn, I climbed up the pile of rocks surrounding the cross. I lay my burden down at the foot of the cross, and turned to face my photographer. Just then, the sun burst over the mountains at the horizon, bathing everything in its gentle golden light. I could not have timed that better myself! It was an amazing moment.
Then came the descent. Actually, not right away. First, there was about a four kilometre stroll along the top of the mountain. On either side the mountain fell away into deep, deep valleys, and then rose again to mountains which towered even higher than the one we had climbed. The walk was a difficult one, as the ground was rocky and uneven, so I couldn’t look around as I walked. But the view was so breathtaking that I had to stop frequently, just to look around in wonder. The experience really is not something I can put into words. I stopped taking pictures after a while, because they just could not do justice to the experience.
Then came the descent. And what a descent it was. The Cruz de Ferro is at 1505 metres elevation. Molinaseca, where I stopped for lunch, is about 600 metres above sea level. This was easily the steepest hill I have ever descended. A lot of the really steep descents were on the mountain rock or loose rock, both of which can be treacherous underfoot. (Also, just before I reached the iron cross this morning, I heard someone trip behind me. I turned around just in time to see someone face plant. I ran back to help him, but there was not much I could do besides give him a hand up and pick up his walking stick. It scared me, though, and I kept thinking of it and stepping down very carefully.)
By lunchtime I had made it down to Molinaseca. As my knees were ready for a rest and my stomach was ready for food, I found a restaurant and sank into a chair for half an hour. It’s amazing what a rest can do, though; when I left for Ponferrada, my knees were back to normal.
And then Ponferrada. I think it’s probably a very nice city, but the Camino seems to go last every abandoned building there is in the city. Ponferrada means iron bridge, and the bridge was reinforced with iron as early as the 11th century. So I was looking forward to this bridge… which turned out to be the least special bridge we have crossed. It was built in 1997, making it significantly younger than me. I have crossed medieval bridges and Roman bridges galore, so that was rather insignificant.
I’m staying out in the suburbs, so technically I’m in Compostilla, not Ponferrada. I learned another lesson on my way out: always follow the arrows. Even if there are pilgrims with a map, who definitely look like they know what they’re doing, just follow the arrows. With my 2 km detour today, I figure I walked about 31 kilometres. Tomorrow I hope to walk another 24 to 28, depending on how the day goes, because the day after that is the climb up O’Cebreiro. That walk in my guidebook is supposed to be 31 kilometres with an ascent of 800 metres, mostly in the last ten kilometres. So I’m hoping to shorten than day by walking more today and tomorrow. But at any rate, it’s not as high as the mountain I climbed yesterday and today, and not as much ascent as my first day of walking!