Camino Diary: Walking The Camino Francais Day Thirty

DAY THIRTY: 7 November 2012 from Rabinal del Camino to Acebo (high point Cruz De Ferro)
I am loathe to heave myself out of the womb like warmth of my burrow in Rabinal. I have sunk into the silence of this stony mountain town hunkered down until the pass of Irago and the Cruz de Ferro which marks the highest spot on the journey so far. I have the expansive spread of view from my window and wifi to connect me to the whole world. Over the past couple of days I have connected with friends and clients in England, Ireland, the US and South Africa and I am comfortable back in armchair travelling mode. I do however choose to leave Rabinal knowing that the journey doesnt end here and I have the ability to put down roots anywhere I please.

My plan is a light weight walk, just 17km to Acebo. It is a morose, irritable day, threatening and sometimes delivering rain. There is an angry edge to the weather and the gradual sloping ascent to Rabinal has given way to a rough, raw determindedly climbing path. I had wondered if I would have preferred to stay at Foncebadon than Rabinal but I was glad I hadnt. I didnt like its overt abandonment and the flatness of its exposed position. As the numbers of pilgrims on the Camino has increased, dead or dying villages like Foncebadon are twitching back to life. In some cases the revival of traditional lifestyles is warm and welcoming in other it seems to be designed for commercialism and profit. I was disappointed by La Taberna de Gaia, sufficiently friendly but far from cosy. It has the disconcerting feel of a place designed to be a roadside service station as well as a mountain refuge for pilgrims. Stuck in the space between the main road over the mountain and the pilgrim path that is probably to be expected. Passing on to the Cruz De Ferro I contemplate my irritation about expectation and tradition which perhaps goes some way to explain my defiant photo of the monument without reference to its height or the iron cross that stands atop the weathered pole. John Brierly, in his guide, refers to this place 1,504 meters above sea level as a majestic spot. On this overcast, ansty day with the icey hint of winter in the snowy mountains ahead it feels sinister, anticlimaxical. At this, the highest point, it is tradition to leave a rock or a token brought from home to this pile as witness to our collective journeying. No one knows the true origin of the mound. I choose that it can represent whatever we want to represent. For many it has sacred connotations; a reminder of the spiritual journey of pilgrimmage, a time to let go of burdens or to remember and honour those who have passed on. I resist the collective worship, I have not brought a token to leave. On contemplation I wonder do I find it easier to reject this place for its communal littering than sit with the exposed vulnerablity of human pain and loss.

The puzzle of dark clouds and the nasty nip of a Jack Frost wind follow me crunching across frosty puddles as I skirt the edge of the lonely mountain road down past the rudimentary outcrop of the ascetic hostel at Manjarin. I fancy it as a place that houses pilgrims of a different kind, spirits who need to escape the living hell of life, who salve their wounds by hanging above the gaping maw of death. I duck down as the odd lone and covert car whips by. I can hear the omnious strains of foreboding and the rising panic of being the murdered protagonist in some obscure crime novel. There are times when my imagination runs away with me to Elysian fields and other times it drives me to walk faster to find the succour of simple humanity. I was glad to survive the high pass of Irago and land into the reassuring reality of hostel life at Meson El Acebo; hot water showers, nesting in bunk beds, the blood rush of rustic wine and the satisfaction of food.

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