Camino de Santiago: Day 21, El Acebo, Spain
Distance from Rabanal de Camino to El Acebo, Spain 17.79 kilometers
We started walking from Rababal at about 9 AM. Most pilgrims on the Camino de Santiago like to start their day earlier, but we prefer to move at our own pace. The weather in Spain has been so much cooler than at home in SE Asia, that we feel that starting serious exercise on our schedule, not at sunrise, is a luxury and we have been enjoying it. Unfortunately, a late start can sometimes mean difficulty finding beds later in the day, but that is a story for a different time.
The trail out of Rabanal was at times a little tricky. Late spring snowmelt meant that the path was, in places, little more than mud and in others puddles where, if you were lucky, you could find a few rocks to stride on and prevent water from getting in your shoes. This was some of the most beautiful weather of the trek so far, clear skies and moderate temperatures, but for much of this part of the walk, picking your way along the path was a challenge. There were a few areas where we had to leave the trail and cross through open fields or even find a nearby road to bypass the flooded trail.
On the parts where the camino was dry, it was incredibly great walking. The air felt warm, but you could still feel the cold of winter being released from the soil. Trees were just putting out new shoots, spring wildflowers carpeted the scene with color and the air was sweet with fragrance. You still had to walk with care, so as not to crush any of the hordes of shiny green, blue and red beetles that were crawling across the trail in search of mates.
Because of the extra care and diversions, it took a bit longer to reach Foncebadón, our breakfast spot, than we expected and we were starving. The village itself was little more than abandoned, centuries old, homes and buildings, but business was lively at the makeshift restaurant that an enterprising couple had set up to serve coffee and cereal to passing peregrinos. It seemed that most of the people we had met in Rabanal a day earlier had also stopped and were enjoying the day here and it was almost like a reunion.
From Foncebadón we began our climb to the highest point on The Way of Saint James at La Cruz de Ferro. This spot has been famous since Celtic times, where legend has it, travelers would leave stones brought from their homes and leave them here, symbolizing the laying down of burdens from their lives, enabling them to begin life anew after crossing this point. The spot has since been Christianized with a large iron cross atop a tall wooden pole to mark the spot, but the tradition continues.
It was a huge pile of stones and other relics; including photographs, children’s toys, jewelry, clothing and even tiny urns containing cremation ashes, brought by people seeking some form of relief. Before arriving I knew of this tradition and I too added a stone that I had picked up earlier along “The Way” to leave at La Cruz de Ferro. I am not sure if participating in this sort of ritual helps make for a richer life, or relieves any burdens, but I don’t see how it could hurt.
The trail from La Cruz de Ferro was in spots idyllic and smooth with wide vistas and faraway views of the snow capped peaks of the Montes de León and at other times frustratingly difficult due to the trail consisting of steep declines with large rocks strewn over solid rock. We reached El Acebo shortly after 3PM and stopped in at the first restaurant we saw. We had planned to go further, but our feet hurt and our legs ached, so after lunch, we found a fresh, newly opened, albergue and decided to stay.