Reflection on Cruz de Ferro

My Cruz de Ferro reflection

Cruz de Ferro translates to iron cross. It is located at roughly 5,000 ft and for many on the journey a special place to reach. The cross is on a large mound of small rocks placed over many years by pilgrims representing letting something go or a blessing and reconnecting to the purpose of the journey. Most reach this height after walking about a month from St Jean Pied de Port, we reached it after 5 days. Chris has pointed out that we missed the month of conditioning they had when they did the full Camino 3 years ago.

My reflection actually began the day before when walking through the uphill section lined with crosses on our way to Rabanal. No matter who you go with, this journey is your journey. People are friendly, helpful, inquisitive but we all have only our legs and awareness to bring us forward. Even if one drops a pole there is no courteous spontaneous reach to bend down and grab it for you but everyone looking down at it assessing the situation. This is our life. We are all given tools to cope with the journey as best we can. We can assist each other, pray for each other, feel concern, but we cannot live another’s journey. We can’t protect each other from life. If we try, we only bring harm as we remove the struggle needed to learn and grow and thrive. The pain we feel in not being able to help is our pain to deal with.

My intention on the Way was to reflect on my service to those grieving loss, death, life changes and broken hearts. I listen, feel compassion, offer reflective questioning, witness, pray, encourage, laugh with, feel tears with, but I can’t fix or take away the pain. For the most part I feel good about what I can offer. At times I wish I could do more. In each of these encounters I also receive something, more life awareness, more awakening, more opening of heart, more opportunity for growth, gratitude for this work.

Walking past the crosses left by previous pilgrims I began to see and feel countless souls swirling around me. People I have encountered in some meaningful way whether I was aware of it or not. People who have died and people who are living but all people I have walked with and connected with on this life journey. This awareness followed me into the night and on through the morning’s journey to Cruz de Ferro. The feelings were of comfort, gratitude, peacefulness, inner smile with remembering, curiosity of souls I do not remember. At the cross, I offered a blessing to all these souls, wishing them well in life or in death as the case may be. As I left the cross I experienced a lightness as I am aware I will continue to move forward doing the work with an openness to where it takes me as this chapter with Hospice comes to a close. Individuals I meet on the Way offer me hints, visions of possibility. I need only stay open.

Buen Camino!

Day 8/Sept 19 El Camino/Acebo to Ponferrada

We are in Ponferrada sitting at a Laundromat. We taxied from Acebeo to Molinaseca as the path down the mountain today was to be just as treacherous as yesterday. We had a great breakfast there and relaxed. We then walked the next 7 k or so into Ponferrada. Di did well on the flat surfaces but then we got onto gravel again and that was rough for her.

It was a lovely day with sun and cool temps. We saw 18 Celsius and now it is a bit warmer. (In the mountains yesterday it was probably in the low 40’s F with wind chill.) We left Di sitting in the sun at a Cafe while we did the laundry. It was nice to get to a town, in this case city, early to rest and enjoy. We are staying across from the Knights Templar Castle in Hostel Virgen de la Encinitas which I sent a photo on Facebook. We are touring the castle when the laundry is done.

We got some more euros, vino blanco and tapas while charging phones and iPads and Jonathan showed up around 3:30. He walked our path from yesterday plus today but taxied his pack so made good time. He had better weather in the mountains. No wind and some sun which helped a lot.

I lost my hat somewhere yesterday and I really liked that hat. Now we need to shop for another.

We have been planning out a new Camino in the last hours. Di got to the hotel, walked up the stairs to the room we are sharing and declared exhaustion. I left the room to get something and when I returned she said she could not walk. Her knees are swollen and would not hold her up. She brought one sleeve for one knee and we bought another for the other knee on the way in but the swelling is too much. She ran out of her ibuprofen in the gel caps and nothing else is working. Jonathan is out scouting the farmacia’s for her but so far only the tablet form is found. Her body does not process that form. Jonathan did find a liquid form so will give that a try.

So, new plan. I promised Di before we left that we would stick together so she and I will let the others go on tomorrow and we will taxi to Cacabelos and meet them at a hotel. The goal is to keep Di off her feet as much as possible. She is in good hands with Mary, a Dr. and Jonathan a Nurse Practitioner and all of us who care.

I assured Di it is all Camino, it does not matter how we move. It has all been a joy, even the challenges. To Di’s familia, She is in good spirits, literally and figuratively with her vino blanco. Her only concern is holding the rest of us back. Everyone agrees it is not a problem. And it is true.

Everywhere we are we meet people who are walking the Camino. Many ways and many forms, different start points. Where are you from? When did you start? Buen Camino! Buenos Dias! Hola! Blessings! Are you okay? The locals are so friendly and helpful and in these small towns we are the economy. We meet our fellow pilgrims, share stories and move on. Then we meet again further along and everyone is thrilled, like meeting an old friend or at least familiar greeting. We met a couple from Florida while dong laundry. They fled the hurricane then returned quickly to check on things, get their luggage for the Camino and dashed off to catch their flight to Spain. They are doing it in sections and started this time in Leon as did we. They are carrying their packs but set up every hotel before they left so they need to keep on schedule but always have a bed ready.

I realize I forgot to write about Cruz de Ferro, a very important place on the Camino. More about that later.

9:30 pm we toured the castle and had a festive dinner in the square at a pizzeria.

Di is doing much better. She was able to walk the half block with a walking stick and the pain meds and ibuprofen are doing the trick. We will evaluate as we go but the plan now is for the three to leave tomorrow morning and leave their bags to taxi with us at noon for a hotel named San Francisco above the San Francisco Monastery in Villafranca del Bierzo. We shall see how Di is doing after another couple of days but when I look at the elevation map we have many hills to cross. It does not look promising.

Gracias amigos for your love and care in reading and comments. Enough for

tonight.

Diane Hughes approves this message.

PS. Leo , Di sends a huge thank you for the Penetrex cream. It was a blessing until the inflammation got out of control. She would not have gotten this far without it.

Day 7/Sept 18 El Camino/Rabanal To Acebo

The day started in the dark and moved most of the day in clouds. We had our first 6 k in high winds and light rain and cold. It seemed to go on forever. Chris and Mary are fast walkers and were way ahead of us. I kept thinking this has to be it soon. At the same time there was such beauty I stopped to snap a pic. Big mistake. I sweat so heavily I immediately felt the chill down to my bones. I kept moving. I came to a ridge and the wind was whipping harder and I started to feel a bit of fear. Kept going. Finally there was a town of 5 people and a place to stop. A fire was burning to our relief. I had an orange, and a protein bar and trail mix but still felt off. I added a banana and that did it. My clothes were still wet but my inner heat returned and we were able to keep going. We kept going up. We finally came to a town of one after another 6k. Enough to stop and rest for a few moments and relieve ourselves but he had not much to offer and we kept going. After more climb we finally came to the descent where the prayers started, you can see in the photos. Continually moving and trying to slow down as we try to find purchase and not break an ankle. This went on for about most of the last 6k. Our longest and hardest day. We arrived at ACEBO and again no room at the inn. Tour buses kept passing dropping off and picking up people who are here for a few miles of the Camino. That is where all the rooms went. We found beds at an albergue. One with three to a room and Chris in another. At dinner we compared notes on when the prayers started for all of us. We were very hungry realizing we had gone the day on juice and bread and nuts. The good news was Di’s knee was much better at the start of the day. Now, not so good. Blisters are getting better. And, we are all so proud of what we accomplished and amazed at ourselves. We all agreed we could not do that again the next day. Chris re read her notes from her Camino in 2014 and realized the next stretch out of ACEBO was more of the same down the mountain. We called a taxi and are taking a ride tomorrow to Molinaseca and then will walk into Ponferrada. We are getting the best hotel we can find and washing everything and regrouping for the rest of the journey.

The comic relief was when at one point the trail down crossed a road and we decided to stop for a moment for some chocolate and water. I looked back at the path of our descent and saw a man emerge carrying a shopping bag with a painting of a woman with a parasol. I got the giggles as he seemed so out of place. Mary looked and said, ” what in this picture does not belong?” We kept returning to the image as we struggled our way down. He offered us the comic relief we needed to keep our spirits up.

Hugs to all of you out there.

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Day 6/Sept 17 El Camino/Astorga to Rabanal

I could not post yesterday in Rabanal with poor internet connection. The day started out well with 12 miles to Rabanal. We arrived exhausted and there was no room at the inn or any inn until we found albergue Gaucelmo Assoc. They are one of the first Albergues in Rabanal and run by volunteers who come for a two week stint from around the world. They are people who have walked the Camino before. We had Brits as our volunteers  so they offered tea and biscuits at 4. The wind was whipping up and it was getting quite cold.

It has turned cold which is great for walking but not for sitting around and most albergues do not offer heat. The day yesterday started lovely out of Astorga but we climbed 255 meters and the last 2.5 kilometers of distance through ‘Golgotha”  (our name) were exactly that. We climbed through paths of shale with a fence on one side that seemed to run forever filled with crosses made from sticks, branches, bits of cloth that pilgrims have left over the years.

Jonathan stayed last night and tonight at a Benedictine monestary in silent retreat. He will meet up with us tomorrow after walking the miles we did today plus tomorrows.  He is trying to discern becoming a monk. He has been a lovely young man to have with us on the journey.

We walked through miles of forest and farm land with the last bit being very rocky paths. As I say, we arrived exhausted and things are usually closed until dinner at 7. We had not eaten much in the day as there was little offering on the way. We sat in a bar cafe with a piece of cake until the owner said he would serve us early. Either sympathy or figured he could make a few bucks off our use of the table but we were grateful. I was feeling a bit tearful with exhaustion. I was able to get a lovely plate of Sauted veggie for the starter and fried eggs, potatoes and cheese for the main. The others usually choose the beef, fish, pork..

Just the facts today. It is getting hard to track especially when I miss a day. The sun finally came out so I am going to go out and soak some up.

I really count on these posts to help me reflect on the day.

Photos on face book. You will see different surfaces walked in the day.

Day 5/ Sept 16 El Camino/ Santibanez to Astorga

We are in Astorga. It is the end of Saturday, 8:29 PM. When I went up to bed last night there were people sleeping and it was dark and I did not set up for the next morning. This morning there were people sleeping in and everything was done in the dark and quick but then we went down for a lovely croissant and tea for me and cafe con leche for everyone else. We had a late start at 8:30 but we had changed our plans to a shorter day as Mary has a nasty blister and bum knee and Di has a bum knee. I was going to say today that my feet are fine but I discovered a blister tonight as well. We had a walk of about 6 1/2 miles through fields and did not see human life until about half way when we came upon David. He walked the Camino years ago and never left. He has set up a place to live and offers food, drink and rest to pilgrims on the way. (Leo, he is the guy in the movie we watched the night before we left. The guy living in the open with the hammock.) My sister, Di, is doing well but has that bad knee that started acting up before we left. She is slow and hobbling with a pack on her back and at best maybe two miles an hour, but she always makes it where we are going and with good spirit. She calls her journey the Camino stroll. I call her the grandmother of the Camino. There is undoubtedly older among us but with her white hair and slow stroll on a bad knee and her conversations with the young ones, that is what I see. I also saw my mother when she rolled over last Night. (Di wants everyone at home to know she is doing well and not to worry. She is handling well whatever shows up.)

I ate an empanada a tun for lunch. Tuna and veggie sandwich in a flaky crust. Very good. We arrived in Astorga at about noon and decided to treat ourselves to a hotel. Di, Chris, and I share a room with a bathroom, heat, and space, and a tub. We are across from the cathedral and took a tour of the Gaudi museum that is adjacent to the cathedral (was suppose to house the episcopal bishop until he died before it was finished and Gaudi was the architect) had a good dinner, went to Mass at the monastery, and toured the Cathedral.

I think my highlight of the day was kneeling at Mass after communion. There was an elderly gentleman sitting in front of me while I knelt so we were very close. Through the whole Mass the nuns cloistered behind us had done all the singing. Suddenly he burst into song with a beautiful tenor voice. My heart leapt and I wanted to cry it was such a surprising gift. Instead I sat and smiled. I wanted to tell him but could not speak it in Spanish.

I am tired tonight. Di, Chris and Jonathan are down in the lounge enjoying wine. I am enjoying a peaceful moment. Chris has been a great guide to get us acclimated and we are all getting along well. It was a beautiful walk today with some challenging hills up and down. Tomorrow we start some elevation to prepare us for the ascent on Monday to close to 5,000 ft. We are going to see if we can make Rabinal tomorrow and then la Cruz de Ferro on Sunday. A very important spot on the Way that I will tell you about when we get there. We are discussing having our packs taxied for us on that day. That is another day.

Today I look forward to sleep. I know we will be going out into cold crisp air tomorrow as today but we have the clothing for it. I enjoy not sweating in the heat so in that way it is a plus and fresh and lovely. Chris said she hopes Di and I were not regretting our decision to come and it was a resounding “NO, that would not be possible.” If it ended tomorrow every minute has been worth it. I am not prepared to even say more as it is hard to put into words. I am grateful. More photos on Facebook. We are having technical difficulties. Peace and love to you all. Thanks for staying with us. Jan

Day 4 /Sept 15 El Camino/ Mazarife to Santibanex de Valdeglasias

We walked from the village of Mazarife 12 miles to Santibanex de Valdeglasias. We are checked into our Albergue for the night. We have a dorm room tonight. We left Mazarife about 7:30 this morning with wool layer, buff, gloves and wool socks. It warmed in the sun but is a bit cool. We arrived here about 2 and have had shower and laundry. Now enjoying a tonic and chips.

These two days of walks have reminded me of a poem by David Whyte.

“Sometimes it takes a great sky to find that first, bright and indescribable wedge of freedom in your heart.”

That has been these days. There is chatting with each other at times but then walking alone there is nothing but the field of sun flowers, the field of corn, the chirp of a bird., a purple crocus emerging from the rocky ground, a rosy sky at day break. The mind is calm, peaceful and free of lists, demands, chewing or stewing on things. There is nothing but the present and walking and seeing. Jonathan spied the wild black raspberries.

We ate dinner with Lucy from Switzerland and born in Spain, Jorgen from Germany and Corrine from Montreal. Not everyone could understand each other’s language so there was translation all around the table with lots of stories, jokes and laughter.

Corrine is notable as Di has adopted her as a camino granddaughter. Di could not get into a top bunk and did not know what to do. Corrine was suffering from her own camino health issues but offered Di her bottom bunk. We would meet Corrine many times over the next weeks. A delightful young woman.

Photos The bridge is in Puente de Orbit