The Highest Point of the Journey

Monday, October 14th – 9:30 pm
AC Marriott (Rm 401), Ponferrada
Today’s Walk: Foncebadón to Ponferrada

Today was one of the most memorable experiences on the Camino.

J’Nell and I reach the highest point we will travel (1,515 meters or 4,970 feet) on the Frances Way of St James, spend hours up in the gorgeous and serene Leon Mountains, and eventually climb back down a steep and rocky path. With the mist, fog and drifting clouds, it is mystical.

The forecast calls for rain all day, and we wake in Foncebadón around 6 am to heavy downpours.  We both dread having to walk in these conditions, and get another hour or so of sleep in our comfy room. Trasgu is trasgu.

The precipitation is fairly light when we start our walk, though increases as we head toward the cross.  Thankfully thirty minutes later the skies grow lighter and the rain disappears.  Turns out we won’t have to deal with getting wet again until we begin our descent out of the mountains into the town of El Acebo three hours later.

The ceremony at Cruz de Ferro is special, and there are not many other pilgrims with us.  I think about the purpose of my journey and what my stone from Lynn Woods represents as I place it with the millions of others. Going beyond Rabanal yesterday (where lots of people stop), allows J’Nell and I to be at the cross early for a peaceful ritual. 

We continue walking along the ridge and look across the valley to the other side where we began.  It is spectacular with those views and the clean, crisp mountain air. We also don’t encounter many people along the way. 

The rain returns as we hike down, maybe 30 or so minutes from El Acebo (the first real town since leaving Foncebadón), and by the time we arrive there it’s pouring. We stop not only to get dry, but also for one of the best sandwiches (egg and cheese) we’ve had on the Camino.

When we leave the cafe it is only sprinkling, and maybe 4 Km later at Riego de Ambros it stops raining. The yellow 7 Euro ponchos we recently bought do a great job keeping us dry, along with the plastic disposable ones we had kept underneath. Except there is nothing to help our shoes, which are fully soaked.  

There is something about Riego de Ambros that speaks to me. We’ve been through similar looking towns, but I feel a special presence here similar to Castrillo.  The stone houses, many crumbling and for sale, the mountain setting, what we’ve gone through to get here, and the fact it seemed almost abandoned, makes it enchanting.

From Riego it is a steep and rocky descent off the mountain, but the sun actually shines on us!  We had been told today’s climb down was worse than the extremely arduous one into Zubiri we did weeks ago.  At first I didn’t agree, because even with the wet and muddy ground, you could at least step around the rocks and find smooth earth (not an option into Zubiri).  However, by the end of the trail upon reaching Molinaseca, I concur this precipitous hike had been more difficult.

It seemed the slope would never end! You experience the sheer, rocky part for a good length of time, but then the road becomes smoother.  You think the worst is behind.   Psych . . . more perilous, muddy paths ahead. Checking my photos, from 1:50 pm to 3:10 pm we go down that treacherous road with only a few places of respite.

But it was all so cool!  Honestly, the majority of the sixteen or so miles of today’s stage were invigorating.  And even with the hills and elevation change, I feel great physically at the end; my feet never throb, which usually happens after about 13 miles.  J’Nell believes it is because we were cold, our feet going through all those puddles, and the effect is similar to icing them.  That makes sense. 

But maybe the lack of pain has something to do with absorbing the beauty around us all day.  As much as I love the ocean, hiking in the mountains bonds us with our ancient ancestors (the ones I learned about back at the Evolution Museum in Burgos).  I’ve always connected on a deeper level spiritually when I’m thousands of feet above sea level.

Very arduous walking down the mountain, the toughest one of the whole Camino

We reach Molinaseca, the ending point of that day’s stage in the Breirly book, and stand at the bridge admiring the church to our left and the river below.  I turn back towards the mountains and appreciate the strenuous and beautiful trek we’ve endured. A storm is rapidly approaching, and within seconds it downpours.

Racing towards the first awning in town, a guy smoking a cigar on a bench there greets J’Nell and I in English.  He tells us he completed the Camino three years ago and never left (retired and originally from Atlanta, he now lives in the town). He recommends either of the two closest bars for a beverage, and we choose Cafe Donde Maria.  It is dumping rain now and we watch it out the window and hear it pound the pavement while enjoying our beers.   

Trevor makes his way inside (we last saw him at the place in El Acebo we had lunch hours ago), and we have a nice chat.  He tells us the whole time up on the mountain was fog and rain, and he couldn’t see anything.  We also talk with and share a beer with two nice ladies, Rosemary from England and Janet from Ontario. It is a warm and cozy in the bar, a perfect place to hide from the rain.

When we leave the sun returns, but we still don our ponchos for precaution. It is a smart move as the rain comes back the last 30 minutes into Ponferrada.  The whole walk from Molinaseca is on a sidewalk, appreciated after all the rough, rocky paths.  Thankfully there aren’t many cars on the road to our right.

There are two routes into town, one that passes by the bridge and the Old City Center, or we can stay along this path and it’s 1 Km shorter. Normally we chose the more scenic way, but instead go for brevity since it gets us closer to the hotel.  It’s nearing 6 pm, and we will see the bridge and city center tomorrow. 

Camino de Santiago Journey Travel

Michael Ostrowski View All →

Novelist and screenwriter with degrees from Boston University and Emerson College who lives in Hawaii. Aloha and mahalo in advance for reading my work! You can order a copy of my new novel here! https://www.inkshares.com/books/lost-in-the-fog

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