Day 26, Saturday, May 4: Rabanal del Camino to Acebo (17.5 km, 10.9 miles)

The one-word version of the day

Because, really, that word and the photos will say it all:


The two-sentence version which fills in a bit more

The route was stunning, carpeted in all its spring glory. As I rounded many a bend and saw what lay in front of me, I let out actual audible laughs or mouthed “Oh my God!” I’d wager that even the non-believers among you just might have done the same. Oops! Sorry! That was a third sentence I just added. Never trust me!


Wish you had been there! But since you weren’t, you might scroll down and have a look at some photos (not there yet? Come back later. Or check them out on Facebook at Katy’s Camino).

Details for my own record and for the diehards among you (or for those who want to see if they’ve answered the riddle correctly)

As Rabanal del Camino and the monastery experience fell behind me, Robert Frost’s poem came to me… and not for the first time: “I have promises to keep/ and miles to go before I sleep.”

I had remained on site long enough for morning prayers, breakfast, and mass. Reiner and Christine, who had also spent three nights with the monks, had taken off several hours earlier. At breakfast I had met three new arrivals who would take our places. The young Korean, Jiwon (undoubtedly the spelling is wrong; “think ‘G’ and ‘1,’” he had told us in order to help us pronounce and remember his name) would remain for another night or two. I sang–yes! Me!–one of my songs for the newcomers at breakfast, and Brother Leandro asked if I would sing it for him when I reached Cruz de Ferro. [note: the significance of the location known for centuries as “Cruz de Ferro” is explained in the last section–“Riddle solution” of this post.] “For all of you,” I told him. “Do you want the ‘grace’ version or the ‘joy’ one?” “The latter, please,” he replied.

And so, by 9:40, with no small amount of reluctance, I was departing from the “lovely, dark, and deep” village of Rabanal del Camino and, as I soon discovered, walking into another paradise. “My favorite day of the whole Camino,” a young Austrian told me later. “We have mountains, of course, but I was in awe of what I saw after Rabanal.” Amen.

The walk was slow, true, but my pace wasn’t due as much to the fact that I was climbing to the highest elevation of the entire Camino as to the fact that I was stopping continuously both to take photos and videos, to drink in the beauty, and to write down my thoughts regarding what I was experiencing. You’ll see the photos below. (Some of them, anyway; I took a ton, and I suppose that many of them are really similar one to the next.)

But as for the thoughts that bubbled up in my mind, I’m going to set a bunch of them down, just as they came to me. Not your cup of tea? I totally understand. Really, I do. Just skip down to the section entitled “Riddle solution”… or to the photos… or… call it “a night”/”a day”/”enough already!” All of those will work.

So, then, assorted thoughts and actions along today’s splendid stage:

  • Will be taking off jacket soon; not a cloud in the sky; windmills/wind turbines on the hilltops are mostly still
  • Cuckoo is my companion, proving to be faithful in his convictions and in his accompanying me in spite of our differences; I think we have agreed to disagree and to “live and let live.” We have made our peace. Now I just call him a “companion on the journey”
  • I have learned: stop while taking notes so I can “be in the moment” as I walk…. but I stop often; maybe that should bother me, but it doesn’t in the least. No apologies
  • The winter coat will soon come off even as I make my way to higher altitude; this will be a mostly uphill day
  • I am alone on the trail but the singing is to myself; too much exertion as I climb to manage to sing aloud
  • I’m a liar. The songs are coming fast and furious! I’m not as out of breath as I thought I would be
  • Just as I love to be able to read and understand the signs I pass when I’m in a foreign city, I now comprehend better why others love knowing what trees and wildflowers they see by day, or what constellations they see by night…. I wish I could name some of these beautiful flowers along the path.
  • Advice: give your WHOLE heart to YOUR Camino, whatever or wherever it is; don’t even think of following mine… and don’t let me fall into the trap of trying to follow yours
  • Life is full of miracles, serendipitous happenings, synchronicity… we are just usually too busy to notice…
  • Wishing for each and every one reading this: mountaintop experiences to sustain you on your inevitable walks through the dark valleys
  • Caution and concentration necessary for this descent; my eyes are mostly scanning the ground in front of me; if I want to glance around, I must stop first or I’ll risk a fall
  • This trip has been like a writer’s retreat for me
  • The paved road (a rural, quiet one) snakes up the mountain, switch-back style. The Camino crosses it multiple times, ever upward–no switchbacks for us! I remove another layer of clothing…
  • I stop to take a photo of the memorial stone to Uberlinda Cortés; I imagine her stepping directly into Gloryland, right from the Camino; there are certainly many ways to go that would be considerably worse
  • I’m thinking about how much, pre-trip, I had been fearing the silence and the solitude, afraid I would be a failure at it, that I wouldn’t “get it right.” Now I am embracing it for the gift that it is
  • Did St. Francis kneel and worship and talk to the foxes and birds and wild boar in or near the church I’m passing here (of which only a lonely tower/steeple remains)?
  • Thoughts: trees and flowers and insects and mountains and rivers give glory to God just by doing what they were meant to do…. we can take a lesson from them. There are a thousand ways to kneel…. figure out what your way is… And then do it!

Bringing the day to its well-earned conclusion

I was getting punch-drunk on thought and beauty. Fortunately, I finally arrived in El Acebo and found a bed in a not-at-all full parochial albergue with the kindest of hospitaleros. Reminder: they are volunteers who do one or more stints/year at a hostel along the route; they have all been pilgrims at sometime in the past. Pedro, retired as are most hospitaleros, is a veteran of more Caminos than he could count, but well over 20. Different routes. Different lengths of time. This spot was “by donation” rather than a specified price, and included, for those interested, a communal dinner. We were Korean, Swiss, American, French, and Spanish at the table. Pedro fixed the simple dinner; the fellows cleaned up. Worked for me! It also worked for me to wander down to the local mesón shortly after my arrival. I ordered a bowl of soup (a 4:30 lunch) to stave off hunger until that 8:00 pm group supper. My soup was too hot to consume immediately, so I WhatsApped the couple who had been at the monastery with me; I was pretty sure that they were planning on staying in El Acebo as well. It wasn’t two minutes before Christine came and tapped me on the shoulder. She had been sitting outdoors at the same establishment when my text arrived. I joined her outside with my soup and beer, and we had a chance to share some of our reflections about staying at the monastery. I’ve collected very little “contact information” from people I’ve met on the Camino. I’m glad Christine and I had taken the time to do such an exchange. She’s very sweet.

Blame Christine and Calvin for my not getting this posted last night. Calvin was one of the pilgrims in my albergue. When I first walked into our dining room/gathering space, I thought he was one of the many Asians walking the Camino. Turns out he is from Chicago! Went to Northwestern. As you might imagine, we used up my writing time swapping Chicago and Midwest stories.

Details? You got ’em.

Riddle solution I hope somewhere below you will see a photo of the little stone I carried with me from home. On it was written, simply, the word “joy.” Perhaps it was four or five years ago that I attended a little winter get-away with my Walking Women group. I think it was our beloved–and no longer with us–Maggy who brought a collection of stones on which we were each write to draw a symbol or write a word, saying, or expression that was meaningful for us. I had written the word “joy.” The stone sat on my dresser, a reminder of something we are all called to seek, to create, to be. Sometimes very challenging; sometimes–though very rarely for most–as natural as breathing.

This small stone was the one I had chosen to carry across hundreds of kilometers in north central Spain to deposit at the base of the Cruz de Ferro [the Iron Cross which is mounted on top of a tall pole]. It is something that pilgrims have done… I guess I can’t say “from time immemorial,” but certainly for a long, long time. They leave symbols of burdens or of their dearly departed or of wishes, hopes. Not messages in bottles but on stones. Permanent.

And so today, after several hours of climbing slowly and gradually, I reached the Cruz and left “joy” behind. I suppose I did not fully understand just why that was the stone I needed to bring from home, but I understood why as I was approaching the spot. I was leaving the “joy stone” behind but I came to understand that I was already carrying with me more joy than my heart could hold. Riddle solved! (Did you guess it?)