May 25, 2007

5/24/07 Ponferrada Spain

"Heaven is everywhere. Why? Because we carry it with us."

Last night we had all decided to walk alone today. Up ahead is the Cruz de Fierro, a special place on the Camino that predates the Christian, and before them the Romans, all the way back to the pagans.

Because the weather still looked dreadful, most people were reluctant to leave. So I set out alone as I walked through the village. The fog was so thick you could barely see ten feet in front of you.

This must be the way

After passing the last building, it was like walking off a cliff. You couldn't see the yellow arrows, and you could barely see the path. It was like letting go of all you feared, and just kept walking.

The fog getting thicker

Suddenly, out of the fog, I could barely make out the Cruz de Fiero. Traditionally, a pilgrim brings a rock from home and when they reach this spot, the leave it with all the rest of the thousands of pebbles. It represents all the burdens you have brought with you, but now that we are closer to Santiago, it's a type of cleansing, to leave those burdens here and continue on with a lighter heart.

The Cruz de Fiero

Mementos others left behind

Tomoko takes a moment at the chapel

Both of my Caminos, I forgot to bring a rock. But then it's symbolic. I know that I have left a lot of burdens behind since my last Camino. But even now, I know I still cling to a few. And I think that by accepting that, my imperfections, my clinging, that I become more human, more able to understand my fellow human beings.

So, in the dark, dense fog, I leave the Cruz behind and travel with a lighter heart.

But as I continue to walk, the fog begins to thin as the sun pushes it away. And with my lighter heart, the day becomes beautiful. I could see villages miles away on the mountains across the valley. It was a hard walk, but a great one through the mountains.

At a pilgrim road crossing

Sign at Manjarin

The fog breaking up

You could barely see the villages across the valley

Can you see the village now?

Climbing down to El Acebo

Memorial for a cycling pilgrim

In El Acebo I met Judy and Kathi from Alaska. They don't speak Spanish and don't even have a guidebook but they are having the time of their life.

All day we walked over shale and schist, down and down into the valleys. Like I said yesterday, it definitely feels like were in Galicia even though it's still a couple of days away.

Lots of wonderful memories came flooding back as I walked through Reigo de Ambros. The last time I was here, just beyond the village was a small grove of ancient trees. And finally, like old friends I saw them. Five years ago, my friends and I spent a lot of time here, even though all the other pilgrims quickly walked by.

In the back of the grove was the largest grandfather tree that you will find anywhere on the Camino. He looked like he had lost one of his great arms due to lightening but otherwise was healthy and whole. So, under his branches with the sun beaming, I sat and meditated.

This was so unlike me - to take a break just to take a break. I didn't care how many pilgrims walked past on their way to the albergues. Spending this time under a tree that has watched millions of pilgrims walk by on their way to Santiago meant more than anything at the moment. Even if it meant I wouldn't get a bed because the refugio was full.

Once I finished my meditation, who should walk by but Alexandra. I was so happy to introduce this tree to her. Trees are the best teachers of patience because they have seen it all, and still they continue to thrive.

Sitting under a grandfather tree

Just a beautiful day

From here on, the climb down into the valley began to get steeper and a little rough as we finally made our way to Molinaseca. But along the trail were dozens of butterflies dancing around me as I walked through the wildflowers. A special day indeed.

After a quick break in Molinaseca, Alexandra and I continued on to Ponferrada. Outside of the city, the thermometer read 30C and it felt it. I think someone said I almost walked 30 km and my feet were in total agreement. It was with relief that I recognized the streets near the refugio. And I had no problem getting a bed. [smile]

After doing housekeeping chores, Alexandra and I went to the store to by food for a giant salad. And we were joined by Elke and Tomoko. And I got a chance to catch up with Jesse, another American I first met in Leon.

After dinner there was a short blessing at the chapel next to the refugio. During the service, everyone got to hold the pilgrim candle and say their own prayer or blessing. The hospitalrea said that every day for years, pilgrims just like us have held that same candle, so that our prayers had the power of millions.

The chapel next to the refugio

As I write this, we're in the middle of a thunderstorm and I'm glad to be dry inside under shelter with a bed. Not sure what tomorrow will bring, but today I'm content and happy.