Veranillo de San Miguel

I set off from Astorga, going past the Gaudí Episcopal church and the gothic Cathedral, which stand next to each other like an old man with his grandchild. This was day 23 on the road and the beginning of the ascent to the highest point along the Camino, marked by the Iron Cross at 1500m (just under 5000 ft). It is a gentle gradient and the aroma from the pine trees wafted through the air. The days on the meseta, the high flat ground, were over.

I reached Rabanal del Camino about 1 pm so I had an hour before I could check into the Stone Boat. Rabanal is a small town of fewer than 100 souls and it was not hard to find the one who ran the tavern. I sat outside in the warming sun and had a beer. The proprietor brought me fresh pears just picked from a wild pear tree.

Rabanal’s history pre-dates the Camino as it is located near Roman gold mines and may have existed when the Celtic tribes moved west. It was a busy stop along the early Camino where pilgrims could rest before making the final ascent that would take them to the Iron Cross. More recently, but before the advent of the train, Rabanal was a busy center of the mule trains that carried Galician products including seafood to the interior. Today, it is quiet, surviving only on the pilgrim trade.

I checked into the Stone Boat and met Kim, the owner and proprietor, an American woman from Key West. The Stone Boat is small – I think only 3 bedrooms with private bath – but very nice and inviting. Kim did everything to make my stay welcoming and comfortable, including arranging a massage with Priscilla just up the road. I am not a massage guy but I thought I should experience this treat and give my feet a soothing rub for having carried me this far. I also met Jody Lielidahl who checked in at the same time. He is a writer who grew up near Mamou Louisiana, where Paula and I witnessed a very traditional Mardi Gras many years ago. That night I went to the Benedictine monastery for vespers, chanted in Latin in the Gregorian style.

I returned to the Stone Boat to make an early night since I wanted to reach the Iron Cross at sunup. Kim was still there and wrapped a piece of zucchini cake for my breakfast the following day. Up in my room, somehow I knocked my glasses off, breaking the frame as the lens bounced off the tile bathroom floor. Would this be a good omen?

I got my early start. There was no moon out and the trees shielded any starlight from revealing the path. I focused my single eye on the path to avoid any rock or root lurking to trip me. After a while, I was well out on the trail. I looked up at the cloudless night sky and saw Orion on my left and the big bear on my right. Actually, I saw twice as many stars: one clear one and its fuzzy twin next to it. I do not use a flashlight or headlamp as many early-rising pilgrims. I figure the Camino will find me. We are so used to light in our lives that our night vision has suffered. My thoughts are very different walking in darkness as compared to during the day. I turned and noticed the sky reddening. I also saw the flicker of someone’s light and knew my nighttime reverie was about to end.

I hastened along my way, stopping for a coffee and Kim’s cake in Foncebadon before continuing on to the Iron Cross to deposit my rock which had travelled with from the Pacific Ocean near Encinitas. The day was lightening so I left my broken glasses in my pocket and went along my way.

In an hour I came upon this “food truck” and stopped for second breakfast. I have attached the video so you can hear the music playing. Sounds very Irish, but is Galician. Actually, Celtic. It is not surprising that the words Gaelic, Galicia and Gaul have the same ancient root. [The music is by Luar Na Lubre]

I completed the day’s stage arriving in Molinaseca after a treacherous descent starting just after El Acebo. The town is a cute but touristy town popular among pilgrims, cyclists and roadtrippers. It was tempting to stop for a cerveza but that would not have been helpful for the steep path ahead. In Molinaseca, I bumped into Francisco, Chris, Ignacio and Rafa. Ignacio told me that in the next town of Ponferrada there was a shopping center where I could possibly get my glasses repaired or replaced. After checking in to The Way hostel, I joined them in walking to Ponferrada, then bid them farewell as I departed for the shopping mall where I was able to get a temporary fix to my spectacles.

This post is already too long, so let me finish with this: the weather on my trek between Rabanal and Molinaseca was great. The sun shone with a passion and warmed up my bones which had not had a chance to thaw out on the chilly meseta. On my return from Ponferrada with vision now in both eyes, I took a taxi and asked the driver if this warm weather was normal. He told me they often have a few days to a week of warm weather in early October which they call el veranillo de San Miguel (San Martin sometimes gets the credit). It is what in the US might be called an Indian summer if we are still allowed to call it that.

I am taking a break in Molinaseca as I wait for Lisa. I may go back to Ponferrada to visit the Knight Templars castle or I might just hang out in Molinaseca.

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