I knew before the day began that this would be one of the longer days on the Camino and involved a climb to the highest point on the Camino. However, I hadn’t realised how challenging physically, and how personally surprising, this day would turn out to be.
There were around 26km ahead of me as I left the stone village of Rabanal del Camino. I had slept overnight at 1150m and this day would eventually involve another 650m of climb and a punishing 1000m descent, as well as that 26km walk, before the day was done.
The first goal was to climb to the Cruz de Ferro, the highest point on the Camino at 1530m. Unfortunately most of my photos are currently unable to be uploaded from my damaged smartphone. I will attempt to update this post at a later time when I recover them.
The Cruz de Ferro (Cross of Iron) is thought to be of Celtic origin, but there is no certainty as when or why it was erected on the Camino.
It has become a tradition on the Camino that pilgrims leave something precious to them or, simply, a stone at the Cruz de Ferro. A huge mound has developed below the cross. The stones or offerings are meant to symbolise the leaving behind of a previous life and its faults, sins and problems. So it is symbolic of a new beginning on the Camino.
The surrounding mountain views are magnificent but the site itself is a little underwhelming – overrun by pilgrims climbing the mound or having photos taken. I didn’t have anything precious on me, apart from my wedding ring and my Glen McGrath Pink Day bandana from the last Sydney test 🙂, but I had carried stones up from below; one each for my immediate family. Walking around to side of the mound to escape the crowds somewhat, I slowly threw each stone up on the mound with a thought for each one. Suddenly it was an emotional and atmospheric experience and I found tears rolling down each cheek. It was moving and surprising.
Down a little again and through a couple of deserted stone villages before a short climb to the second high point – the Altos de Altar.
And then came the worst part of the day, the 1000m descent. This was steep, narrow (you could have reached your arms out and touched both sides of bush or rock), wet, muddy and incredibly difficult and tiring. It wasn’t a track or path at all – it was a steep narrow defile where every foot placement had to be carefully executed. Most of the descent was over shale rocks which shifted underfoot and made you feel you were walking on marbles and needing to trust your weight on your poles to stop a fall.
And it went on and on downwards with little relief – some 10km on the profile above with just a couple of breaks in tiny villages to gather yourself. It was decidedly risky and you feared doing yourself an injury that would suddenly end your Camino after getting so close.
As I finally got almost to the very bottom, a Spanish cyclist politely waited for me to reach a point where I could step aside and let him through. He rolled his eyes and muttered “Muy Pelligroso – So Dangerous” to me as he passed. And then came the exchange of the customary “Buen Camino”.
Even if the travel agency got the name and location of that night’s destination wrong, I was so glad to finally cross the river and reach the neat town of Molinaseca. I was exhausted.
This day to my mind was one of the toughest 3 days of the Camino.