Day 25 - Foncebadon to Ponferrada

Trip Start Sep 03, 2012
Trip End Oct 07, 2012

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Where I stayed
Albergue Opus Dopus Dei

Flag of Spain  , Castile-León,
Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Kms walked today: 27 kms
Kms walked in total: 578 kms
Kms left to Santiago: 218 kms (sign at albergue says 202kms)
Pains: ankle nearly repaired. Only hurts if I extend it fully.
Blisters: none.

I started the day with an acceptable buffet breakfast and chatting with other walkers. I was waiting around to make sure there was sufficient light to walk along the mountain path. They are wide but they do tend to have quite a few loose stones along the way.

Additionally its was raining, windy and cold outside so hopefully a second coffee would make the conditions improve.

Today I would pass the highest point along the Camino at 1,505 metres. Its not huge but I guess its symbolic after nearly 600 kilometres. The Pyrenees certainly felt more of a climb, but that was due to the fact it went from 100 metres to 1,450 in one day, while this week we have steadily being climbing.
Additionally to going over the highest point, I will pass the Cruz de Hierro. This is supposed to be one of the main attraction points of the Camino - a high wooden pole with origin back in the Roman times, with a cross on top. People bring a small stone which they symbolically throw on the pile representing their sins. The pile is supposed to be quite a hill nowadays.

I was only about thirty minutes from the top, so treading carefully to avoid the puddles that had formed during the night, I soon arrived at the Cruz de Hierro.

Now, I have been disappointed generally with the Camino up to now, but the Cruz de Hierro is a full on let down with bells and stars! If it wasn't for the size of the pole I could have walked passed it without even stopping.

The pile of stones is just that...a pile around a pole. There were quite a few stones with messages on it, some old shoes, a watch, a metal box, and a few other pagan gifts. It looked more like a fly tip than a place that has attracted pilgrims for hundreds of years. I would later learn that the local authorities are trying to stop people from leaving stuff at the cross as its damaging it, so they regularly clean it and throw everything into the much for the symbolism!

I took a few pictures, left a great big "nothing" at the cross, and walked away.

The walk down I can consider as the first day worth walking for the sake of enjoying the nature since Roncesvalles. Trees, hills, fresh air, perspective...a few of the friends of the trekker. Plus full radio signal which meant I could finally catch up with world news.

I started walking around 7.30am and got to the albergue at Ponferrada at 1.58pm. I don't usually note the time so specifically, but the albergue opened at 2pm so I'm managed to join the line and check in directly as I arrived.

I had left behind the towns of Acebo and Molinaseca, with the last one probably having more bars per inhabitant than Vegas.

I had some company in between Acebo and Molinaseca from Trudy, a Californian nurse who had taken a couple of months off work to do the Camino and a few other trips in Europe.

However, surely the best part of the day would come when I left Molinaseca and passed a weird metal sculpture. It was dedicated to the "chorizo"...a huge metal sculpture of a piece of chorizo and a piece of string falling from it! That beats the Cruz de Hierro any day of the year.

That together with the sign indicating the town of "Calamocos" (mucus drencher), kept my faith in humanity for the rest of the day.

The albergue at Ponferrada is managed by the local Parish and works on a donation system, so one pays as they like. The difference here to Santo Domingo de la Calzada is that the donation box is held towards you when they check you in so everyone puts cash in. At Santo Domingo it was left in a corner and honesty prevailed.

Its a large albergue for 210 people, all in small rooms of 4 to 6 pilgrims. So nearly a private room compared to other places!

Ponferrada is split in two parts, the new city across the river, and the medieval part with the Templar Castle close to the albergue. The new part is actually quite an ordered and acceptably nice modern town, with mountains surrounding it on all sides.

The old side was more promising that it turned out to be. Apart from the castle and one street, the rest is practically abandoned and vandalism has take its toll on house walls and pavements.

The castle itself is worth a couple of hours visit, especially the three videos (in Spanish only) which are shown in one of the rooms. The fortification was one of the main headquarters of the Templar Knights whose main purpose was to protect pilgrims along their way to Santiago, and other routes to Jerusalem.

However, the chaps got to be so powerful that the Pope (lead by a French King) banned the order, condemned most of the Templars to be burnt...a reminder that the Church a few centuries back did not happily accept competition.

Apparently the decision to eliminate the Templars was taken on a Friday 13th, reason why that date would be considered as unlucky. However that would not explain why in Spain its actually Tuesday 13. So its probably a fib.

The best part of the visit was that it was completely free...Wednesdays they don't charge.

My afternoon was very chilled out, sitting at a bar next to the albergue reading and watching the locals play a heated game of mus. I will have a few days rest and drive up to Asturias with Vero to celebrate her birthday.
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