Ever since arriving at Roncesvalles, about 9 days ago, we have been walking at relatively high elevations. This had been something of a surprise to me as I had not realised that so much of the Camino would be above 800 metres above sea level.
We awoke to yet another fine and clear morning. Well actually I awoke to complete darkness, but that is probably due to the fact that my alarm is set to go off at 5.30 am. When the sun eventually decided to wake up as well (about 7.30 am) it revealed a completely cloudless sky. It is worth noting that the only slight drizzle we have seen since arriving in Spain, was the slight sprinkling we got as we left Roncesvalles on day 1 of our walk. Each successive day has been fine and clear, heating up to the low 30s each afternoon.
Our day began with a short bus transfer to the famous Cruz de Ferro (Iron Cross). This famous location consists of an ancient iron cross atop a long column. At the base of the column a huge pile of stones has been built up from the contributions of untold thousands of previous pilgrims. The tradition says that you collect a stone from the bottom of the hill and leave it at the base of the cross. The dropping of the stone symbolises a release from whatever problem you had been carrying.
It was quite poignant to stand at this sacred location and see the huge pile below us, realising that each stone represented a single pilgrim. Many people had also left written notes, presumably detailing their needs and requests. Some of the stones had been inscribed with the name of their carrier.
The Cruz de Ferro was also the highest point we had thus far reached on our Camino. At 1500 metres above sea level, it towered over the surrounding countryside. It was obvious that the flat plateau of the Castille was now behind us and we had entered the mountains once again.
Anyone who had not done much walking might think that it is easier to walk downhill than uphill. If you did think that way you would be entirely wrong. Although walking uphill might require more cardio effort, going downhill puts a lot more strain on your feet and leg muscles. It is also in going downhill that the risk of falling is much greater.
After a few short undulations we soon encountered the steepest descents of our Camino. Not only was the slope very steep, but the path was treacherous as well. With a collection of loose stones, large ruts and exposed rock it would have been so easy to take a tumble.
As I carefully made my way down I kept thinking to myself "Please don't let anyone break a leg". We had already had our share of broken legs on previous Ghostrider adventures (but that is a story for another day) and I certainly did not want history to repeat itself.
Whenever you have to drop around 1000 metres you know that you will most likely have sore calves and toes by the day's end. Fortunately we only had one relatively minor mishap on the descent, but we were very relieved when the path levelled out and the day's walk was completed. It had only been around 17 km, but the level of difficulty made it feel much longer.
We still had a very interesting bus transfer to our hotel at Herrerias de Valcarce. Although it would have been only a few kilometres as the crow flies, the nature of the mountains in this region meant that the actual route was extremely circuitous. Several times we drove over huge viaducts that were suspended high above the valley floor. The engineering was certainly impressive and we all hoped that the constructions had been done correctly.
We finally pulled into our alpine style hotel. The Paraiso del Bierzo was certainly the most remote hotel we had stayed in so far, although my room was also the smallest. It was tucked on the highest floor, in the roof cavity. There were no windows and a huge sloping wooden beam dangerously traversed the limited interior space, right at head height. I felt certain that I would knock myself senseless on it at some stage during the night, but fortunately I managed to avoid it.
It had been a long and eventful day.Read more