Day 21: Rabanal del Camino – Ponferrada

34 km

The albergue in Rabanal was a happening place.  Frank was there and a German couple who started walking from their home in Germany.  They walk a little every year.  This night would be their last for this year; next year, they’ll reach Santiago, a journey some five years in the making.

Together, we ate bountiful platters of maccarones; I could hardly finish half of mine.  The first time I’ve ever failed to consume my allotment of pasta.

Then, we went to a simple vespers service in a crumbling stone church filled to capacity with pilgrims from around the world.  Raphael was barefoot, I was limping, and the brothers from the monastery chanted poorly, but there was something beautiful there.

Afterwards, we walked the stone wall around the city and watched in amazement as the sky erupted into a gloriously golden sunset the likes of which I have never seen.  It was definitively beautiful.

. . .but ephemeral. . .

The hard work of a long day’s walk is a pilgrim’s constant; glimpses of beauty are fleeting.

From Rabanal we would make one of the greatest ascents of the pilgrimage to Cruz de Ferro and likewise one of the more terrifying descents.

“Cruz de Ferro is a famous landmark on the Camino originally to help pilgrims find their way across the mountains.  Traditionally each pilgrim adds a stone, brought from home, to the huge cairn below the cross.”

Farther on in Manjarin its single resident Tomas has devoted his life to providing simple hospitality to the hundred of pilgrims who pass his remote hermitage every day.

In Ponferrada, a city of some size, there is a single albergue with 210 beds.  When Raphael and I arrived, they were starting to fill the basement chambers.  Everything upstairs was full.

I always like to be on top and preferably in a corner.  Mid nap in my top corner bunk, I was awakened by rushing (sewer?) water in the pipe above me.  Yikes.

For dinner there was quite a bit of competition in the smallish kitchen.  Unlike in Hospital where everyone contributed to a common feast, here a dozen groups were all trying to cook meals separately at the same time.

I assured Raphael I knew my way around the kitchen and could whip something up.  After an hour or so of fighting for pots, burners, and utensils, I ended up with a giant bowl of overcooked penne doused with a warmed tin of tomatoes seasoned with effectively raw onions.

By all appearances I was not a master of French cooking.

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