Day #22 El Camino
Wednesday 4th October
Foncebadon > Ponferrada
Distance walked 28km
I had my first included breakfast, I didn’t necessarily want it, but they charge you extra upon check-in so if it’s already in the price, you may as well take something. Bread and coffee on the menu. Big surprise there. But 4 pieces of toast and some caffeine was good to get me on the road. The first stop today was to be Cruz de Ferro, the cross at the top of the mountain (hill). There are no shortage of crosses along ‘the way’, but this is another of those locations that features in a much-overrated film I won’t mention again (I will) and it seems to be a significant marker. After all, it’s on top of a hill. Anything on top of a hill is worth a photo right? This was also supposed to be a good spot to watch the sunrise but there were a lot of trees and well, no, it wasn’t. There’s a big ass pile of rocks at the base of the cross though, which adds to the location. Rocks or stones. It was rubble. So many people have walked up this pile that it’s now just a mess. These have been carried by pilgrims from the beginning of their walk and this is a place where they can touch the totem pole like cross, say some words, take a moment, pray or think or cry or as many I noticed did, take a selfie or get someone to capture their grief with a photo for Instagram. Pilgrims leave the stone behind to perhaps say goodbye, or to let go of a burden, to forgive, to shed a tear. Some write a personal message of grief on the stones, some write ‘Pete was ‘ere 2017’, very touching. I was carrying a stone I’d collected from the ass end of the world, quite literally, the most southern tip of Africa. I’d collected it in February when in South Africa. It was a tiny stone. It held no great sentiment nor did it look special. I was just going to put it in the draw in my cupboard labelled ‘collection of things I’ve grabbed on my trips that I thought was a good idea to lug around and forgotten about where they were actually from’. I’d tried to think of something or someone to say goodbye too, to give it some meaning and add some emotion, but I wasn’t in the tear-jerking frame of mine. I spent many years crying on piles of rocks working for my dad so I figured I’ve got experience with tears and rocks, I thought I’d be a shoe in for some sadness, but no, nothing. There was one person I was thinking of, and have been thinking of on this walk, but I don’t know if they were religious and if this would have been an insult to them being at a bloody big cross. That person is in my thoughts regarless of a stone, so it’s neither here nor there. So, without much emotion (absolutely none at all), I just tossed it on the pile and continued walking. If anything, I was happy just to get rid of one more thing from my pack. I found it hard to be there and watch the procession of grievers. I don’t want to be cynical, but I can’t help it, and as someone pointed out later in the day when reflecting on this scene, it’s a necessary part of who I am for my job, and without it, I can’t do my job properly. I took that as a compliment and a thumb’s up to continue being a sarcastic cynical and often insensitive person. After all, it makes people laugh and without laughter, the world is gloomy right? Great, I’m glad you agree. Now where’s my medal?
After a relatively scenic walk, the big city approached. Biggish. And today I was in no rush getting to my destination because I had an ace up my sleeve. A FREE BED IN A REAL HOUSE!
When I was in Bolivia there was a guy and girl from Spain I’d met and as you do, we exchanged contact details not knowing if we’d ever see each other again. As luck would have it, the town they lived in was on my route and I planned it out to stop for the night to catch up with 2 people I barely spoke with and who are not fluent in English at all. This would be a good challenge to immerse myself and for them to practise English (They didn’t). As I walked into Ponferrada I called into the tourism office to get a stamp in my pilgrim credentials and had a rather weird interaction with the hermit man living underneath a desk full of mess. I wanted a simple map of the city to take with me, he insisted on drawing all over it with numerous cathedrals I had no interest or time for visiting. I felt for him, he was just doing his job. I think I was his only customer all day. I found a bar opposite the castle (I wonder which one was there first, the bar or the castle?) and waited for my host to pick me up. I’ll be honest, I wasn’t so sure if I wanted to be picked up. It felt like cheating somewhat. To be in a moving automobile after 21 days using only my feet to get around. I thought it would be interesting to see how it feels after 35 days walking across a country to finally get back on a bus or plane or in a car. Anyway, I was knackered and didn’t know my way around the city so it was the best solution. Get over it. I did vow though to be dropped off at the exact same point the next morning so that I would continue walking from where I’d finished. It might mean nothing to you, but to me, that felt right. Not only did I get my own bed, but it was in its own room! Not sharing with anyone, not listening to anyone snoring or the noise of rustling plastic bags or zips or having to be considerate of others when I switch the light on. It was the room of the daughter who was away at University, so I got a love heart pillow and teddy bears to greet me. How wonderful! Best of all, it was a double bed with a real thick duvet (doona) and I had a shower and didn’t have to hold the button down for water to come out and got to use a real towel. It didn’t end there, there was good Wi-Fi and everything! It’s amazing what things you consider a luxury after sleeping in 100 bed communal Albergues. After a shower and nap, I was chauffeured to the supermarket and pharmacy for some much-needed supplies (mostly bandages and iBuprofen) then taken to dinner, a home cooked pizza, beer and wine. I was hoping that I’d see some pilgrims while driving through the town and they’d all be jealous I was in a car, but didn’t see anyone. I wondered where they all were? What was the pilgrim menu tonight I was missing out on? I got a tour of a basement brewery and ended the night a content pilgrim who felt like he’d won the lottery. One who was looking forward to a good night sleep and not looking forward to the next night back among the rest of the bunk buddies in albergues. Oh, to live like a King for a day!