Sunday, May 1
Foncebadon to Ponferrada
28 km / 17 miles
6:30 wake up! I had an okay sleep, woke up a few times in the night to pee, and just could not fall back asleep right away.
Community breakfast began at 7 am and consisted of granola, fruit, yogurt, bread, and coffee. I left at 7:10, and set out on a big day, the pilgrims passageway of Cruz de Ferro.
I began hiking up through town just before sunrise. Looking back, bright pink colors illuminated the dark sky. I knew it was going to be better than the past few days of hazy sunrises already. I climbed a bit of a mountain to a bright red sun cresting over the distant mountains. If the universe was ever speaking to me, it was in this moment. I cried a bit, both at the beauty and the coming moments.
Cruz de Ferro, or Iron Cross, is an iconic moment along the Camino, being the highest point on trail at 1,504 meters, and sitting on top of a pile of left-behind stones. There are many myths of how and why the cross and stone pile came to be: to mark the way during snow and storms, to honor one’s deity (specifically Mercury, protector of travelers), or even bringing stones to help build churches along the way of St. James. But today, pilgrims bring a stone on their camino, usually from home, and leave it at Cruz de Ferro, symbolizing a release of one’s burdens, forgiveness, liberation from one’s past, gratitude, and a new beginning.
The stone I brought is particularly special. My mother passed away 12 years ago. She was the best human I’ve ever known and the best friend I’ve ever had. She was a special education school teacher and loved her job. After she passed, her school dedicated a tree to her memory, and a plaque commemorating her legacy, on the school’s front lawn. One day, a lawn mower chipped the plaque, and a piece of the stone plaque was cut off. My father passed it on to me.
Well, I brought that stone all the way from New York and along the first 585 km of the camino. I left it at Cruz de Ferro today.
gratitude. forgiveness. liberation. peace.
The journey onward was a bit surreal. I walked among beautiful nature atop the mountains, listening to the birds chirping, feeling the gentle breeze, admiring the pine forest and the different blue, purple, yellow, red flowers. Butterflies softly glided across the trail and bees buzzed between flowers. The views were breathtaking, a stark contrast from the cities, highways, and industrial areas I had been getting used to. The beautiful nature today so perfectly reflected the profoundness of Cruz de Ferro. The universe, and our loves ones, are always communicating with us, if only we open our hearts to it.
I descended 1,000 meters over the course of the next 20 kilometers. At some points, it was steep, and many points, loose rock and gravel. It definitely hurt the knees and the legs a lot going down. And required focus and care with each step. One wrong move and you could twist your ankle so easily. After a while, it was exhausting. Beautiful to descend the mountains and see Ponferrada in the distance. But it seemed so far away and it only got hotter as the day went on. And there was no shade.
I definitely got a bit cranky as the sun beat down me. But I just kept reminding myself of strength and gratitude.
I got to Ponferrada at 2 pm, after 7 hours of emotionally and physically hiking. I showered and relaxed. Bertina, my hysterical friend from the Netherlands, surprised me at the albergue. She has pain similar to what I have been experiencing, but worse it seems. Her left leg/foot is swollen and shes decided she can’t continue her camino. So she’s leaving tomorrow for El Coruña, beach town just north of Santiago, in the final days of her vacation. I was so sad to hear, but true to Bertina, her spirits were up, and she was still smiling and laughing.
I explored the Ponferrada castle, which was cool. But I could not take any more walking or sun. I enjoyed what I could, but got back to the albergue to relax and have dinner… a mod podge of what I found at the only open market (almost everything is closed on Sundays in Spain). But it was delicious.
Fun fact: I’ve now walked over 1 million steps in 28 days on the camino!