It was our fourth day on the Camino, today we would be walking over 25 km to reach Ponferrada. But first, we would watch the sunrise at Cruz de Ferro. We woke up at 5 am and prepped for the day. Sunrise was around 7 am and we only had 2 kilometres to walk. We were making good time except for a little snag. We had left our hiking poles in the restaurant area of the hostel which was currently locked.
What do we do? Yesterday, my sister and I were totally dependent on those poles. Devastated, we decided to leave them behind. I quickly inhaled a bar of granola and took 3 aspirins. My cure for the tin man symptoms that I’ve developed on the Camino. It would have to do, now that the poles were gone.
We quietly hobbled uphill to Cruz de Ferro. This was the highest peak on the Camino Frances at 1,505 metres. We tried walking fast, but it was hard not to stop and admire the sky as it slowly lit up the mountains.
The sun had almost fully risen by the time we reached Cruz de Ferro. As we climbed the mound of stones surrounding the cross, we realized that we were the only pilgrims there.
It’s typical for pilgrims to carry a stone from their home, before starting the Camino. The stone can represent a burden, a sin or any bad habits that the pilgrim wants to leave behind. Placing the stone at Cruz de Ferro is symbolic of letting go of the things that weigh you down. We placed our tiny stones at the top and I realized I didn’t feel any different on the way down. But life isn’t a musical and real change takes time. I still had over 200 km on the Camino to grasp the lesson of letting things go.
One thing we couldn’t let go of was our missing hiking poles. My sister sent a message to Correos asking to have our poles shipped with our bags. Meanwhile, I searched the tree lined path, and was lucky to find a gnarly branch about the size of a hiking pole. I handed it to my sister. Isaac found his own gnarly branch that he lovingly named ‘Gandalf stick’. He handed it to me and with our make-shift hiking poles we walked on.
Soon, we reached the town of Manjarin with the official population of one. The one man there was running an albergue that was said to provide a rustic experience. It looked to be true to its word and we couldn’t help but wonder if our friend Gerrit stayed there for the night.
The path started to descend, taking us through the beautiful mountain side. It was spring time and the green landscape was splashed with colours of pink, purple and yellow flowers. The view was magnificent and a great consolation for the steep downhill hike that characterizes most of the day. We would be descending from the height of 1,505m to 500m.
The first major town of the day was El Acebo, about 6km from Manjarin. As we hiked down, I felt something I never felt before… my knees and hips were hurting. So this is what people feel when they complain about their knees. This was my cue, it was time for more aspirin. We stopped at the first bar and had a delicious meal; fresh orange juice, tortilla espanola, bocadillos and cake. Afterwards my sister and I took our aspirin and had our optimism renewed.
We continued to follow the yellow arrows, past the larger town of Molinaseca, we were finally closing in on Ponferrada. The last 6 km to town made us feel like ants under a magnifying glass. The heat was searing and I swear Isaac’s arm turned from red to purple. We were continuously applying sunscreen, but our sweat must have made it ineffective.
I almost cried tears of joy when I felt the air conditioning hit me in Albergue Guiana. I have to mention that the host was very helpful. Earlier, Correos had messaged us saying that the albergue in Foncebadon wouldn’t allow them to take our poles, since there was no baggage tag on them. The host in Guina assisted us by calling the albergue, and arranging to have our poles shipped to Villafranca Del Bierzo, one of the towns for the next day.
I felt sweet relief when we finally checked into our room and took off our hiking shoes. It was only 3 pm and we had plenty of time to relax before dinner and touring Ponferrada. I showered, popped my blister and contemplated the decisions I’ve made in my life.
After a little nap, we washed our laundry and headed out to explore the town. Ponferrada was much larger than I thought it would be. We had dinner at Plaza Encina, and finally saw the Templar’s Castle. It was closed that day, but we didn’t mind. We didn’t have the energy to walk the grounds. We took a stroll around it and satisfied, we returned to our rooms. It was only 8 pm, but we were ready for bed. I used some extra pillows to prop my feet up and quickly passed out.
This was our first modern albergue. There was a large kitchen, laundry room and amazing showers in the rooms. They also have a shop where they sell hiking poles, buffs and other Camino souvenirs.
Infographic – Foncebadon to Ponferrada: