The Road to Santiago.

November 4, 2002

At the cross.
At the cross

Rabanal del Camino to Molinaseca

The rain didn't come, but I decided to get an early start just in case. After a couple cups of strong café con leche and two oranges, I headed out of town and up the highway. The climb wasn't very difficult but it was steadily up. The good thing about a high mountain is that it provides a good vantage point for some tremendous views. Each time I got tired, I just stopped and surveyed the scenery below me. It made the climb a lot less difficult. Soon I could see ahead of me the cruz de hierro (the cross of iron) which indicated that I was close to the top.

The cross was a simple iron one embedded in a 40-foot wooden pole. The pole is surround by a 15-foot high pile of pebbles.  It's customary for a pilgrim to take a pebble and toss it over his shoulder while facing away from the cross. This is supposed to bring good luck for the rest of el camino. Like any good pilgrim, I lobbed my pebble onto the pile. I must admit that I secretly hope that the ritual worked. Near the cross was a small stone chapel, which unfortunately has been defaced with graffiti. Here I rested while chatting with Min and Claudia.

Claudia and Min.
Claudia and Min
As I was leaving, I saw two other woman pilgrims taking the path and not the road. I felt guilty and decided that I should do likewise. So, I followed them down the path which got increasingly smaller and smaller. At one point the bushes from either side were touching and I had to force my way through, stopping occasionally to free my pack. This going was very difficult. After about twenty minutes I looked up and saw the two walking on the road. At this point my guilt left me and I scrambled up the hill to an easier walking surface.

Later, the yellow arrows indicated a direction away from the road. In the mountains it was often the fact that a newer highway would follow the ancient camino for a bit only to deviate off toward some other village. Not sure of the eventual destination of the road, I stuck with the path. It went down and wound around the mountain only to rise back on the other side. It wasn't very difficult, but it was quite rocky. I had to be careful not to twist my ankle. Soon the path coincided again with the road and I was back on smooth ground again.
Some Albergue.
Some Albergue
As I rounded the bend I reached what was once a small village but now was a series of ruins. Among them was a run-down shack that had a sign in front declaring it to be an albergue. Also there was a signpost with the distances to various parts of the world, including Rome, Jerusalem, Manchu Pichu, as well as Santiago. The shack was the albergue of Manjarin, which is described in the guidebooks as an interesting albergue run by a modern-day Knight Templar. Modern-day? That's an unusual description for a man whose residence didn't have electricity or hot water. And interesting is not the adjective I would use for accommodations where you slept on straw with the animals. But, if I were caught in the rain or cold it would be a welcome sight — perhaps.

Not far from Manjarin, the path veered off to the right up and over a colina (hill) while the road twisted downward to the left. Again, I didn't trust the road and chose the path. I wished I hadn't! The path going up wasn't too bad but the one going down was another story. It was a very narrow ledge that was worn smooth, thus difficult to negotiate. To make matters worse, the drop-off from the ledge was about 30 feet straight down onto another ledge. Several times I thanked New Balance Shoes for making a shoe with plenty of good tread, my friend George for making me my trusty walking stick, and God for not making any rain today. I finally made it to the bottom, only to come out again onto the previous road.
Trail Down.
Trail Down
I had a similar experience as I inched my way down into the pueblo of El Acebo. With its stone buildings and wooden balconies, it is considered a town frozen in time from the Middle Ages. But something about the little place seemed familiar to me. Then I realized that the houses had pitched roofs covered with slate, like many places in New England. This was obviously a place that experienced snow. And the pizarra (slate) was abundant in the vicinity.
El Acebo.
El Acebo

As result of the downward trek, I was tired and decided to stop for lunch. The bar had a big comedor in the back that was completely empty. I sat all by myself next to a wooden stove that gave off plenty of heat. I enjoyed a very pleasant menu of the day while I mulled over my destination. I had hoped to make it to the city of Ponferrada where I would go to a hotel to write and transmit material for my Web site. However 5 K prior to the city was a popular stopping point, the town of Molinaseca. Just outside the restaurant was a billboard advertising a two-star hotel in the town. To me a hotel was a hotel, as long as it had telephones in the room. Thus my destination would depend on how long it would take me to travel the remaining 9 K down the mountain.

Coming out of the restaurant, I ran into Min, the Korean girl with whom I had shared a drink in Astorga. We walked together for awhile and talked about many subjects, including what was now going on between North and South Korea. It was interesting to hear a native's perspective. I told her that I had an uncle who was a navy pilot who flew for the U.S. Air Force in the Korean War in 1952. The Korean War was ancient history to her.

Like all the young people on el camino, she had a fast pace and I kept falling behind her. Every so often, she would stop and wait for me to make sure I was all right. I was embarrassed, so at one point, when she stopped to rest for herself, I plunged ahead and kept going.

The rest of the way was a steep and rocky path down through hundreds of chestnut trees. At one point, I passed a women collecting basketfuls of chestnuts. When I called out a greeting to her, she invited me to collect some nuts to take with me. I politely refused, saying that I was too tired to bend over that far. And that was the truth because this descent was the hardest I had experienced since that first day in the Pyrenees!

I reached the bottom of the mountain and the outskirts of Molinaseca at 5:00 in the afternoon. The sun was beginning to slip behind the mountains and I knew that I couldn't make the extra 8 K to Ponferrada. So I decided to sit down and wait to see if Min came through okay. No sooner had I sat down, than my cell phone rang. It was my friend from Quincy, the mother of ChoCho, my goddaughter. We chatted awhile and I learned that ChoCho had scored three goals in her last soccer game. I wished I could've been there to see it — another pang of homesickness.

Soon I could see Min and four other pilgrims coming down the trail. Everybody had made it okay. We walked as a group across the medieval bridge into Molinaseca where I bid everyone goodbye and went off to find the hotel. I found it all right, only there was one hitch — no phones in the room. Are there other hotels nearby? No!
Molinaseca Albergue.
Molinaseca Albergue

So, I set out looking for the albergue. It was another kilometer further along on the roadway and easy to find. It was constructed from the remains of an old church. There was a new roof on it and the dormitory was a loft in the attic. Downstairs, there was a sunken floor that contained a wood stove, a tiny kitchenette, and a couple of wooden tables. Everyone sat around the edge, giving it the feel of a camp setting. The only problem was that the albergue was on the edge of town and there was no place to buy food or a meal. Fortunately, Min invited me to join her, Louis, and Sylvie for a pasta dinner-I was more than happy to accept.

After dinner, I tried to work on my journal, but when I got out my computer everybody started asking questions and wanted to see the pictures. I presented sort of a brief slide show, while everyone huddled over my shoulders. Louis caught it all on video.

So, I went to bed with mixed emotions. I hadn't gotten any work done and hadn't gone as far as I had planned. But one thing was certain, the dreaded Rabanal was behind me. My main worry now was O Cebreiro.
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