Sunday, 24 January 2016

Camino Frances Day 4

I occupied the second bed from the farthest end of the room, a bottom bunk as always. Come to think of I don’t think I have ever occupied a top bunk during this Camino.

The albergue was great except that it had limited number of sockets and the ones available are near the entrance, far from my bed. I know that pilgrims are good people but still I had to check once in a while that my phone was still there while it’s being charged.

My toenails had grown long enough to cause pain from the constant pressure against my rubber shoes. Fortunately a Japanese lady in the room had a nailcutter and I summoned the courage to borrow it.

The guy who occupied the bed beside the wall noticed me grimacing in pain every time I shifted my legs. He told me he also experienced the same pain on his leg in the early part of his Camino. (He started at St. Jean Pied De Port). He assured me that the pain would go away but I should proceed at my own pace and not to be in a rush.

I wanted to start a bit late because I knew that the path for the day would take us to the highest point of the walk. (At least it would be the highest elevation from my starting point, Leon to Santiago de Compostela)  I wanted the sun to be a bit up so the temperature will not be too harsh. I was worried because I brought only a leather jacket.

The other day I received news that snow was still seen on the highest point of the walk. I was actually regretting at that time why I did not bring a much thicker jacket.

My agreement with Robi the night before was that we would leave Rabanal together at 8 am.

But Robbie messaged me that he and the other pilgrims in the donativo albergue wanted to catch the sunrise at the highest peak. This would require them to leave much earlier, 4 am.

Four am was an ungodly hour for me. It would be too dark and too cold so I just proposed to Robi that we would meet up at the end of the day at the next recommended stop - Ponferrada.

There was this handy app called the Camino Pilgrim which I had been using for the past 2 days. It gave the distances between stops as well as other important establishments in the locality such as albergues, pharmacies, banks or bars. This app was extremely useful to a clueless pilgrim like me. I learned about this app from an American lady I chatted in the municipal albergue of Villadangas. Based on the app Ponferrada would be about 30 kilometers away.

I left the albergue at 8am. Most of the pilgrims were early risers because there were only 4 people left when I started my trek.

The church of Rabanal was rather striking in the background I paused to take a shot of it a few meters off.

There was something liberating in walking alone because my right leg was getting more painful and I could slow down my pace accordingly and take as many stops as I could.

I normally rest after every hour but the pain made me pause every half-hour or so.

The view was somehow impressive because the foliage was more in the shade of red.

A lonely bench beside a water source just before a steep ascent prodded me to make an unscheduled stop. I recall eating “Filipinos “biscuit, and chugging almost half the contents of my water bottle. For some reason I thought about my dad on this part of the walk. I can’t recall now what made me think about him. I somehow just felt his presence like he was peering from one of the shrubs in the distance.

It started to get foggy and I thought of horror movies particularly the one with a masked guy holding a machete with the signature eerie sound in the background. I couldn’t resist taking a pose with an anxious look on my face. It’s all for show of course.

Visibility was almost zero by the time I entered the area of Foncebadon. I knew I was on an elevated area and I was worried that I might miss a turn and head off to an edge of a cliff. At this point the howling of the winds from the background was growing louder. It was really getting creepy.

Fortunately an imposing man-made structure appeared out of the fog and I thought of taking a break from the cold.

A blast of warm air greeted me when I opened the door of the bar. I ordered a hot Colacao and lingered longer than usual. I would have expected the place to be cut off from the rest of the world yet surprisingly it had internet. The barman was pleased to know that I came from the Philippines. He said in his entire life he only met 2 Filipinos. He told me that in the future should there be a Filipino wanting to brush up his Spanish he could always apply as an intern in his bar. When I left he gave me a warm hug and a small pin. He told me he would pray me that I get reach Santiago safely.

I do hope to meet him again should I walk again the path to Santiago.

At this part of the walk I recall seeing a blond girl heading back. She somehow looked familiar like I met her perhaps a few days back or stayed at one of my albergues. She told me left something behind.

I shuddered at the thought of leaving something behind. The thought of retracing my steps with a painful leg was not my idea of fun.

To my surprise after an hour of walking I finally got to see the famed Cruz de Hierro. This is the point where pilgrims leave behind the stone they carried at the start of their journey. I left the pebble I carried. The act signified the atonement of one’s sins like the whole burden is unloaded.

I lingered for a while to admire the surroundings. I must admit I was slightly disappointed because I thought of a big cross on a summit of steep mountain. Nonetheless I was relieved that the highest point of the walk was not at all that cold. Surely my jacket would be enough to keep me warm for the rest of the journey.

After an hour of waking I was at the boundary of Manjarin. I heard the clanging of bells from a distance.  It came from a makeshift roadside shack that offered free food and water to Pilgrims. Another donativo stand. I was impressed with the altruism that I gave a pack of biscuits to the owner to be shared to other pilgrims who will be passing by.

I continued on with my journey not realizing that the next stop would be 7 kilometers away.

I came upon this bench that offered a majestic view of the mountain side.  I think this was easily one of the most picturesque spots I have encountered during the camino.

A scene like this made me pause and revel in the present. For a moment I forgot about the throbbing pain on my leg, the hundred kilometers I still needed to walk. I just sat there and relished the view.

I recall seeing a guy fixing his bike. The usual “Buen Camino” greetings were exchanged.

Occasionally I would see a sign of taxi service hung on a mossy trunk of a tree. This was a chicken out option for trekkers who no longer had the will to continue on for the day. I thought of it as cheating. I wondered if I would reach a point where I would give up and just call a cab.

Further on I saw a landmark with a hastily scrawled graffiti that said “ You had all the keys, but I never kept my door locked”. I pondered upon this peregrine words wisdom if only to forget about my painful leg.

From the woods, the path led me to a concrete road. After a foggy morning, and a rainy day the past day I was so glad to see the sun shining, so clear my shadow was distinct.  I thought of it as my companion for the walk.

The path was on top of the mountains where the wind was surprisingly strong. I saw this caution sign for cyclists. The English translation was a bit awkward and funny though.

I overheard some voices on the other side of the concrete road so I transferred. It was a dirt road and I figured this was actually meant for the pilgrims.  Three bikers passed by and asked if I could take their photos. I gladly acceded and in exchange I had my shot taken as well.

By now my stomach was grumbling and I asked where the next café was. To my dismay they pointed to an area far below the mountains. In hindsight had I paid more attention to the Camino app I would have realized that the next stop after Manjarin is a relatively long 7 kilometers.

Under normal circumstance, 7 kilometers would have been an easy trek. But the pain in my right leg has gotten so unbearable that I stopped by at this landmark.

I pounded on my right led which has swollen already at this point. A pilgrim passed by and asked if I were ok.  I told him I was fine. (Although I was really hoping that the next stop would just be nearby).

By the time I was descending a hill, the pain was really really unbearable, I was already hobbling.

 I vowed that I would take a stop at the next available albergue.

I saw a sign that the nearest albergue was 800 meters away.

It was the longest and most painful 800 meters I walked.

But I finally made it. 

That stop was in El Acebo. I just walked 17.1 kilometers from Rabanal.

Later that evening I received a message from Robi that he arrived at Ponferrada. He was 15.8  kilometers farther on.

I just told him that I would catch up with him in the next 3 days or so.

My walk would suffice for the day.

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