Camino Postcard 28: Foncebadón to Acebo

8.5.19
We left Foncebadón on a cool and cloudy morning. A large wooden cross greeted us as we began our climb up the hillside to the Cruz de Ferro.

The clouds were very low; as we walked we passed them shoulder to shoulder. This was the closest I had come to them since the first day when for a few minutes towards the end of the Valcarlos route through the Pyrenees I had wondered if the clouds would engulf me entirely. The fear of them doing so and of getting lost managed to gee me up even though I had been walking for over eight hours and was now very tired.

Fortunately, the clouds today bore us no ill will; so, while they did block our view of the valley below for a short time, they kept their distance and soon drifted by on their own business.

The Cruz de Ferro was one of the places that, before the Camino, I looked forward to seeing. According to tradition (started when?), pilgrims bring a stone from their home country and drop it at the foot of the cross. Doing so symbolises them leaving behind whatever burdens them. For this reason, they say a prayer at the same time. I brought a stone from my garden, dropped it next to the cross and prayed. I must confess, though, I didn’t and don’t feel especially unburdened of anything that weighed on me before.

In a way, I dropped my stone back in January when I quit my last job. I had been with the company as a Temp for nearly four years and in that time worked in three different roles. I had been good at the first two and enjoyed the work. One, however, hadn’t worked out and things had got very stressful. By Christmas last year, I was walking around with what felt like a literal weight on my shoulders.

It was no one person’s fault. For my part, I just wasn’t very good at the job I was doing and for the company’s, it’s training and management was lacking. As a result, things got worse and worse until New Year this year when I decided to walk before I was pushed. When I made the decision to quit, the weight on my shoulders disappeared just like that; it felt amazing. I was walking into the unknown: perhaps into financial hardship, but I didn’t mind, I had left my burden behind. When I left the office for the last time, I fairly bounced down the stairs like Tigger.

To this day, I am disappointed as to how things turned out at the company. It wasn’t my first time working there – I had done so previously for ten years but in the five years since my first departure it had changed so much, and in – I believe – an unhealthy fashion. Once upon a time few people quit their roles there; now, we received e-mails telling us that this temp or that was leaving on a regular basis.

Of course, I’m mixing things up. The stone that one drops at the Cruz de Ferro is a symbol of one’s burdens. The stone that I dropped on 9th January this year was a psychosomatic illness caused by stress. Perhaps that’s why I was able to drop one and not the other: it’s easier to quit a job than an internal burden. Actually, it isn’t easy to quit a job at all – I know this only too well – but when one becomes resolved to do it, it can at least be done just like that. Burdens that one carries around with oneself will not simply be dismissed by a flick of the wrist and the crack of a stone upon the ground.

The truth of that or otherwise is a conversation for another day. For now, at the Cruz de Ferro I said my prayer and came down from the hill of stones. Regarding the latter – before arriving at the Cruz I had expected to see it completely surrounded by stones. As I walked closer to it, however, I saw that underneath the stones was earth – I guess the better to keep the pole on which the iron cross stands upright.

Ellena and Carolin came up behind me and deposited their stones. We met Joey. He was suffering from shin splints but still walking. He eventually made it to Santiago, where I met him in a — let’s keep that a secret until we get there!

We were all grateful to be at the Cruz de Ferro; what we were not grateful for was the woman who told Carolin to get out of the way so that she – the woman – could have her photograph taken. You meet some fine people on the Camino; unfortunately, you also meet some selfish ones as well.

When we left the Cruz, we did so reluctantly. If we could have done so, I think we would all have stayed there longer. Perhaps, though, we were being like Peter on the mountain and wanting to stay too long.

Coming down from the Cruz de Ferro was a long, and though not steep, arduous process. It started well enough with a fairly shallow path and a nice break at an unmanned food and drinks stand (payment by donation). Taking Brierley literally, I had expected the path to Acebo to be downhill, then up, then down again the rest of the way. In reality, it was down, and up, then down, then up, round a corner, several corners, down, up, down, up a hill, and then down and finally, Acebo.

The hardest part of the journey came towards the end when we had to walk down a long path which was covered with loose stones and rocks. It wasn’t as bad as the descent from the Alto de Perdón but lasted for longer. I nearly slipped on a couple of occasions and was scared of falling over and hurting myself. Ellena’s knees began to hurt badly. I wondered at one point if she would even be able to make it to Acebo. What would we do? If we were going to call a taxi, we should have done it at the Cruz; doing so in the middle of nowhere, away from the road, was not an option. Thank goodness I had opted to stop at Foncebadón yesterday – walking this path after a long day of walking would not have been pleasant at all.

We did the only thing that we could do – keep going, carefully, prayerfully, hopefully, fearfully, finally – we came off the loose stones and stepped onto tarmac. Below us was Acebo – another hamlet; at its far end was the albergue that Tony had recommended to us.

When we arrived at its gates – another first – we found them closed. The albergue had not yet opened for the day. They soon opened, however, to let some delivery vehicles in; we followed them through and the receptionist kindly let us sit down in the reception area until they officially opened.

Happily, that didn’t take too long. We checked in and were given a little dorm with six bunk beds.

The albergue we stayed at is called the Albergue La Casa del Peregrino and on the whole I would give it an 8/10. The only place it fell short is in its showers. Normally, you switch a shower on when you are in the shower space. At the Casa, however, you had to step out of the shower and turn a lever on a pillar and then step back into the shower. When I did this, I got scalded. It took several goes to switch the shower on and several more to get it to an acceptable level of heat. Not long after I did, it switched itself off and that was that – I was done trying to work it out. Aside from the shower, the Casa is well worth visiting. The service and the food was good, and all the beds had their own plugs, and if you wanted you could stay for more than one night there. If you do and you figure the showers out – please leave a comment below! All in all the albergue was quite luxurious, and at ten euros very well priced. If only I could have worked the showers out, it would have been 10/10.

At the Casa, we washed our clothes and enjoyed a beer (grande) in the little bar. While there, Joey arrived and joined us. It was a lovely end to a spiritually good, though physically tough, day.

This is my favourite tree photo from the Camino – it reminds me of the cover of Tolkien’s book ‘Leaf by Niggle’

Camino Postcard 8: Logroño to Navarrete

Evil hates being laughed at so we should make it a priority

18.4.19. Today’s walk was just 13 kilometres. As we had now been walking for a week, we decided to have a short day today in lieu of a rest day.

Six feet, one Camino

The weather was not our friend. Rain was coming down when we left Logroño and it was still wet when we arrived in Navarrete.

Today was also not a good day for my right thigh. We were not yet completely out of Logroño when it started hurting. Thank goodness once more for Ibuprofen.

I took my tablets when we stopped at a park café for breakfast. There, we met the same Frank whom I had met on the way from Roncesvalles to Zubiri. Today, he was busy using duct tape to make his shoes waterproof.

Fortunately for my leg, today’s walk was pretty flat. There were no climbs of any significance. Along the way, we saw a huge sculpture of a bull on top of a hill and many crosses entwined with a wire mesh fence. As far as I recall, the stretch of path where we saw them was not religiously significant – I imagine one pilgrim had the idea and many decided to copy him.

Reading my journal, it looks like I sold myself short. In today’s entry, I note that Ellena ‘has been talking about the three of us getting Camino tattoos’ for the last couple of days. I write that, ‘If I have any money left I will definitely be down for that!’.

That, however, is not the full story, for in my journal today I wrote, ‘I can’t believe [Ellena and Carolin will] want to walk with me all the way to Santiago so I must try to appreciate it while we are together.’ Sad to say that that rather sums me up – if something good happens, I can’t simply enjoy it, or live in its moment; no, I end up considering that I am unworthy of it and that as a result it will surely end.

A great aid to prayer

I may have been down for a tattoo, therefore, but in my worried, insecure heart, I didn’t believe that I would still be with Ellena and Carolin when we arrived at the end.

We arrived in Navarrete in the early afternoon. There, we found a lovely little albergue (the Albergue la Casa del Peregrino) halfway up a steady incline). We stepped into the dinning room area which was decorated with so many postcards and even a completed credencial before climbing the stairs to the second floor dorm.

After claiming our beds, we went back down the road to a café where we ate and drank beer. That evening, we had a lovely meal prepared by the hospitalero. The pilgrims sat at two long benches which was great for the atmosphere. I met one who would become a very firm part of our circle of friends – Lilian from Canada but who now lives in Thailand. Cats came and went. Spain is a dog country and I loved them whenever I saw them but cats will also come first for me.

After the meal – back to the dorm. This evening, I was surrounded by German pilgrims. We met so many during the Camino that I felt sure that Germany must be empty. Up in the dorm, Ellena and I had this conversation.

Ellena: So, how does it feel to be surrounded by Germans?
MJM: (Thinks to self: Don’t say ‘Like Dunkirk’; Don’t say ‘Like Dunkirk’; Don’t say…’ etc) I… many thoughts are going through my head…
Ellena: … and all of them inappropriate?!
MJM: (Indignantly) … my head is full of pro-European thoughts!

Nah. All of them were Dunkirk. I didn’t fool her.

That’s the great thing about Ellena – I could tell her my funny anecdote about the Favourite Nazi spreadsheet* and she wouldn’t mind. When I did tell her, she laughed. In the 90s, I lived for a while with a German girl who was lovely but who once apologised for the war as if it was her fault. Ellena, on the other hand, could laugh at a video of Adolf Hitler dancing in a bar. Remind me to tell you about that when we reach Sarria.

*See my Roncesvalles to Zubiri post here for more details

Outside the albergue in Navarrete