June 6, 2011 Murias to Foncebadón

Met Nikki and Andreas as well as Alexandre at albergue door in morning and walked with them past Santa Catalina de Somosa to Rabanal where met Sebastian, who was very happy to see us. Many hugs, then brief coffee to Beatles tunes and long walk to Rabanal. Stopped at Rabanal albergue to pay my bill from 2008. Hospitalero did not want to accept my money, but I convinced him and he said he would put it to special use. Felt very good.

Group continued on, very merry, to Foncebadon. Under threatening skies built rock cairn to memorialize our walk and our togetherness. Great group project and many photos and smiles.

Arrived at cold Foncebadon about 13:30 and found parroquial albergue where Andreas hoped to stay. They had 2 beds left for 5 of us, bu agreed to allow us to sleep on mats on unheated church floor. Very cold here and am delaying shower and laundry hoping to get warm. Nikki help make dinner. Sitting in comedor with others, including Andreas, who are writing in their diaries.

Dinner with the warm Finns in the freezing albergue at Foncebadon

Dinner delicious. Filled with attempted conversation with Finns and Germans. Party with our pilgrim family afterward of Sebastian, Catia, Nikki, Andreas, Alexandre, Bea. Cold night of sleeping in chapel.

June 16, 2008 Rabanál del Camino to Molinaseca

I left the Rabanal albergue, once again thankful that the hospitaleros there had allowed me to stay without any payment and hoping dearly that I would find an ATM soon.

After Rabanal it is a climb, up and up to Foncebadon. This is the town remembered in Paulo Coelho‘s book, The Pilgrimage, which years ago had inspired me to plan a future camino pilgrimage. In the book the central character fights a wild dog in an abandoned house of this mountain village. It’s easy in non-fiction Foncebadon to see how the imagination could lead a person to a story like that. Though there were no wild dogs to be seen it was clear this was a spooky and deserted village.

After Focebadon I came finally to Cruce de Ferro, a mound of stones with a tall wooden pole on which was mounted an iron cross, hence the site’s name. Here at Cruce de Ferro pilgrims leave a rock or memento of their life at home or of a sin for which they ask forgiveness. I watched as a friend from England and another from Quebec left their stones and we took turns taking photos of each other at this famous camino site.

Standing at Cruce de Ferro reminded me of the pilgrims I’d missed over the last days. I realized that Danni, Trevor and Tim now were ahead of me and I was lonely and sad as I thought of their friendship. If I could walk far enough each day I had a good chance of catching them, perhaps at Molinaseca or Ponferrada. With each turn of the trail I looked ahead, trying to see if the pilgrims in the distance were perhaps my pilgrim family.

I passed Manjardin, stopped for a break at El Acebo, and then on tired feet made the final kilometers down to the beautiful, riverside town of Molinaseca. I searched the town for an ATM, to no avail, and instead used my credit card for a cash-free stay at La Posada de Muriel, a delightful inn with fine views to the south from my pleasant and sunny room. No Trevor, Danni or Tim in town, but at least a nice room and hope of an ATM at Ponferrada the next day.

June 15, 2008 Hospitál de Órbigo to Rabanál del Camino

After Hospital de Orbigo there’s another long and quiet plain that stretches out and finally ends abruptly at the overlook into Astorga. This is the end of the Meseta, clearly, as behind Astorga are the Montañas de Leon. These mountains would be the terrain for the next two days of walking.

Although Astorga was visible ahead, it seemed to take forever to get into town. A long uphill walk finally led to the heart of town which is inhabited with two beautiful and very different buildings — the ornate Spanish Gothic cathedral and the fairy-tale-like Gaudi Bishop’s Palace. The cathedral was closed, offering no quiet and cool nave for rest. I stopped for a credential stamp at the albergue, then headed out of town, looking for an ATM. I realized the upcoming towns were quite small and may not include the chance to get cash, but try as I might I was unable to find an ATM in all of Astorga. I headed up to the hills with less than 5€ to my name.

The trail that met me was not quite wilderness walking, but the villages were quite small. I stopped for a drink at Murias and then climbed up to Rabanal, realizing I now didn’t have enough to stay at the albergue. I apologized to the hospitalero, who forgave me my lack of money, and I vowed to bring him 10€ sometime soon. Fortunately there was a small restaurant/hotel across the street that took a credit card, so I had a good night’s meal after a long day of walking.

One difficulty: I left my hiking poles at a cafe somewhere between Murias and Rabanal. I hadn’t been using them that much, so I decided to leave them for some pilgrim who’d need them.

That evening it was Vespers at the tiny monastery between the hotel and the albergue. The service was in many languages and there was great spiritual comfort in this tiny community of faith. I was thankful for food and a night’s sleep for this nearly penniless pilgrim.