San Nicholas Real Monastery
Oct. 4: Rabanal del Camino- 13 miles, five hours
I prayed, practiced positive thinking and E.F.T. (the psychological form of acupuncture) and even had a long talk with my right knee, but she was stubborn. She had no intention of healing until she was ready. And, in 10 days as quickly as it happened, my knee miraculously healed.
I am so happy that I think even the scruffy brush we are walking through is beautiful. In the quiet of the morning, I find myself hypnotized by the mosaic patterns on the hard ground made by the grids of the many boot soles that have passed here before me (over 300,000 completed the Camino in 2017). I look up to notice that the earth is such a beautiful copper color it looks as if it’s been painted. It’s a fairly flat path, so I amuse myself by wondering what is behind the ancient stone buildings (some thousands of years old), with majestic wooden doors. Are the homes beautiful and modern inside? Or, does the outside reflect the inside?
The front door of the Hotel Rural Casa Indie opens to a courtyard and all the rooms encircle it. The room’s French doors and beamed ceilings give the rustic feel we expected, but the old wooden floor planks are so uneven that a trip to the bathroom in the dark will be an adventure.
Before dinner, we head to the church for Latin Vespers led by the Benedictine monks. It is beautiful in its simplicity. The original stone on the barrel-vaulted ceilings and the walls peeks out from ancient paint. When the lights are turned off, the crucifix on the wall behind the altar, lit from above, has an even more dramatic presence. One of the monks walks around the pews and blesses us all with holy water. Afterward, we greet one of the monks who speaks English and he is so pleased to hear that we enjoyed the experience.
Oct. 5: Molinaseca: 16 miles, eight hours
What a lovely way to start the day; first watching the sun rise as we are walking, then being serenaded by a young pilgrim, who has carried his guitar with him every step of the way.
We’re on dirt roads most of the day, which narrow and widen as we walk. My favorite are the narrowest parts, when only one person can barely fit and the trees envelop you.
The closer we get to Alto Altar, the highest point of our entire journey (4550 feet) and Cruz de Farro, the more emotional I become. The plain metal cross stands on a mountain of stones like a beacon to pilgrims. Two days ago, I could barely walk from my bed to the bathroom and now I am almost there, ready to fulfill one of the highlights of our journey. We’ve brought two rocks from home and wrote the names of two special people who are very dear to us. We find just the right spot, wipe our tears off them, say a prayer, then nestle them in among the many other rocks. The ancient legend is that by leaving the stones behind, you are turning over your burdens to God.
The steep inclines and descents seem as if they will never end. Between the loose rock and shale, horse and cow manure and chestnuts in shells that resemble Nerf balls (except that these are covered in needles), you have no choice but to stay focused. I while away the time by thinking of the salad I am hoping to find for lunch. We turn the corner and come upon the cafe where we had the best salad of our 2016 trip. The husband and wife owners are so pleased we have returned and tell us we have made their day.
We quickly settle in at Hostal el Palacio so we can sit outside and have a glass of wine with a view of the river, the bridge and the mountains. The lovely old stone building houses rooms that are a combination of Old World and modern.
We take a walk around town and agree that the town looks like a movie set; the old stone buildings and street lights are all from a time gone by. Four teenage girls sitting on a bench with their iPhones and the Mercedes that cruises by look totally out of place.
Oct. 6: Villafranca del Bierzo: 19 miles, eight hours
It’s better that I didn’t realize beforehand that this would be our longest walk of the Camino. Luckily, it’s in the 70s (great walking weather) and the path starts out fairly flat. A walk through a neighborhood of mansions is particularly entertaining.
It seems as if we are walking up and down through vineyards for miles and miles. All of a sudden, dark clouds sweep over us, the wind picks up and it starts to rain. We already have our rain gear on, so there’s nothing else to do but take turns singing Broadway show tunes to pass the time on this unending path.
Villafranca del Bierzo (population 3500) traces its origins back to the year 791. The village flourished during the Middle Ages as an important resting spot before the mountains of Galicia for pilgrims on the Camino and still provides that same service all these years later.
Of all the days, we need to walk through the entire town to get to where we are staying: the San Nicholas Real Monastery. The sheer magnitude of the building is overwhelming. Built in the 17th century in the Baroque style, the courtyard and cloisters would be lovely to visit on a nicer day. Our room is small and all white with some basic wooden furniture, but it’s clean and the window shutters open to reveal a view of the town.
As we head up to our room, we are surprised to see our friend from Arizona. We catch up and promise to keep in touch, hoping we can plan to meet up again.
After such a long day, we agree that we will not venture out this evening. We are the only ones in the dining room and admire the frescoes on the wall and the vaulted ceilings. Enjoying dinner in our private dining room to the sound of a Gregorian chant playing softly in the background, this may not be the best menu del dia we’ve ever had, but tonight it sure seems like it is.