Day 32 – Rabanal del Camino to Riego de Ambros 21km

Today we climb to an altitude of 1499m, the highest on the Camino Frances. It was close to freezing cold when we left Rabanal del Camino…4deg C. We trekked up the beautiful hills in the dark and the breeze was cold! We walked through fog for about 6km to reach Foncebadon, a tiny little town in the hills. We stopped for a bite and a hot cuppa before climbing higher. It was great to see Chris here! Warm from the delicious coffee we headed out into the cold again. And then we reached the Iron Cross – Cruz de Ferro!

Chris captured this beautiful moment for us

(Source- Leslie Gilmour- Absolutely not to be missed on the way is the Cruz de Ferro. Also known as the Iron Cross, it is set on a gently sloping hill that also happens to be the highest point of the French Way…this cross is a bit of a mystery even for historians. Erected atop a five-meter wooden pole, most people believed that it was built for a very practical purpose — marking the way for pilgrims who walked the Camino Frances during the winter when everything is covered in a thick layer of snow.

Some historians believe that it was a place used by the Celts even in pre-Christian times and that it was a part of an unknown ritual, while others believe that the ancient Romans used it to mark a border between two territories. Speculations abound, but the most popular belief is that the cross was put there by Apostle James himself. As the tale goes, St. James was passing through the land on one of his evangelical missions, when he encountered pagan priests who were performing a ritual that involved human sacrifice. Full of righteous anger, he grabbed a stone from his pocket and threw it at the pagan altar. Guided by the Lord, the stone shattered the altar into a thousand tiny pieces, and St. James erected a large cross in its place to mark the power of the Almighty.

Today, according to custom, if you bring a small piece of your own home town along with you, you may place it at the foot of the hill and symbolically “leave your burdens behind.” If you like, you may say a prayer and enjoy the profound peacefulness that envelops both hill and cross.

John carried a stone from his father’s grave to leave here – a stone he had carried always with him, ever since his dad’s passing from cancer in 1983. I had picked up a stone along our Camino way a few weeks ago. My prayer was for all my friends and family who’d suffered with Covid, lost loved ones to it, those who found they have some kind of cancer, are being treated for it, or have passed from it and lastly for all of us with mental health challenges. It’s been a couple of difficult years for many and my prayer was for all of us – for healing, for strength during treatment, for the families left behind.

It was quiet at the cross. People getting photos taken quietly, people saying a prayer, people thinking in the silence of the significance of the place. Our friends Chris as well as Reshma & Ash were here at the same time.

From here we headed down to Riego de Ambros. It was a steep walk downhill, along tough trails filled with stones and rocks.

We hardly noticed the strain as the chatter was non stop! Resh and Ash take a year or two off every few years to go see the world. They pick interesting ancient routes like the old silk route, Cairo to Cape Town etc and immerse themselves in travel and culture along the way. Very very inspiring!

We checked into our home for the night in Riego de Ambros, a lovely home owned and run by a lovely lady in her 80s. She suggested we head to the Toni’s for dinner and that we did. Toni from France had opened his little albergue and food truck just 3 weeks ago. On his menu was rice and Indian lentil curry! Without hesitation we ordered two plates and we weren’t disappointed! It tasted fantastic!!! He later told us that he’d never felt this much pressure before – cooking curry for a couple of Indians- the first Indians he’d ever met! He also offered us some vegan tiramisu that he said had flopped, but that was good too.

With avocado on the side

With a full stomach and hearts warmed with the couple’s warmth and their dreams for the future of their business, we headed to our home for the night.

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