Inge – Rabanal to Mercadoiro and the Iron Cross


Someone told us that in the small church in the village there would be Gregorian chanting. Carrie and I started out in a small church, but after we’d sat there for ten minutes without anyone coming, we figured we must be in the wrong church. Sure enough, here came Barbara to tell us the right spot. The other church was sad and dilapidated.

In most places, they would have closed it for fear the ceiling would fall down. Pamphlets in multiple languages were passed around, but the thirty-minute service was in Latin. The monk sang and the congregation answered. I know it’s all a ritual, but it wasn’t bad, and I loved hearing Cameron with that sing-song.

Four pilgrims said a short prayer, each one in a different language, and that was that. I told Carrie she’d receive extra credit for Latin.

We went to bed fairly early and there was only one snorer. When I went over to the kitchen at six-thirty, the stars were brilliant and plentiful. A lovely sight, as we hardly ever get to see them like that.

Up to the Cross

We started walking at close to eight, and it was almost dawn. We had to wear several layers of clothes, and I wore my wool shawl that I’d gotten in Venice. Crisp and cold, but walking was good. Except my nose was running continuously. We went past old stone houses in tiny villages, stepping back through time and centuries.

The sun came up, huge and brilliant in orange and yellow. As we walked, we saw gorgeous green hills, unspoiled, untouched. So much space, it seemed to go on for hundreds of miles and one could see to the end. Here came the mountain, and up we went. Not as steep as the Pyrenees, but pretty close. The scenery well made up for it, and at times this beauty took my breath away. I tried not to concentrate too hard on the cross and what I would do.

Cameron asked me what I’d do and I told him I’d just let it happen. As I was looking around, I did wonder on what hilltop it would be.

Stony path and much steeper then. A hard way to walk. Cameron would walk behind me, urging me on, giving me some of his energy again. Then some way off, I saw it. A frog had taken up residence in my throat lately, long enough to name it: Timothy. At the cross I saw dots of colors, red, blue, yellow, white, and green. Bicyclists stood at the foot of this cross. I slowed a bit, not wanting to have a whole audience. Cameron had asked what else I would say or ask for.

I said that I would pray for my daughter, so that she would have the courage to create a better life for herself, and thus be able to have the peace that she so craves. I would pray for my grand-daughter, that she would know the difference between a good time and disaster, and that responsibility doesn’t make a person sick. I would pray for my son, so that he could let go of childhood hurts, and be content and successful. I would pray for my grandson Dylan, that he would find his path, in spite of the troubled past. And for Kaleb, that he would keep going and that no matter what he did it would be all right.

I would pray for my niece Fiona, of course, so she wouldn’t be so terrified of getting cancer again, and could enjoy life and do fun things. For my sister, so she could have some time for life as well. A little prayer and blessing for Carrie, and then a prayer for my friends and other people who are important in my life.

I sensed that Cameron was getting emotional too, because he kept cheering me on. I was afraid to turn around for fear of starting to cry. I had to let go of all that regret of not being able to do a do-over. He asked me if I remembered that he’d written in social studies the person he admired most, and I said yes, happily recounting that memory, that this was in fourth grade and most of the other children had chosen to write “Luke Skywalker” or something. Under “My Hero is . . .” he’d written “My Mom”.

And then after that, he said, “Schiab’st a bissl’”, and I said, “Oh, Oma’s here,” and he said, “She’s been here all along.”

We arrived at the bottom of the stone pile. Into my head came the name montagne misère. The cross was tall, into the blue sky. The first third was covered with lots of different stuff that people had attached to it all the way around. T-shirts in all colors, a bicycle helmet, and plastic flowers. Buttons, ribbons, pictures, and cards.

Things left behind at the Cross

I took my rock and my PET scan picture out of my backpack and went up. I fell to my knees and offered this tumor. I remembered the pilgrim I had met the day before, for just a few minutes, not speaking any language in common, but he’d said, insha’Allah, which is Arabic for “as God wills”. And that’s what I was thinking as I lifted the tumor up. Not in English, not anything Catholic, just insha’Allah.

I was not going to demand, but to ask with grace. Then I just started to cry. Covered my face, and got up. I buried the picture between two rocks and left it there. I was still trying to formulate prayers for all the other people in my life. Cameron came at one point and put his arm around me, crying too. Thus we stood.

Carrie and Mom at the Cruz de Ferro

Walking off the hill, there stood Carrie, crying too. And then she went up and left her stone. When she came down and stood there, with tears running down her face, I folded her up in a big hug. We spent a little more time, quiet, solemn, and then went on.

The path away from the cross was really nice — wide and smooth, and I remarked that this could be indicative of our “new beginning”.

I had visualized the tumor just hanging by the kind of thread a spider would make, and as we walked I saw the tumor fall, lying on the camino ground as a dried-up mass.

On we went, through more beautiful, vast, and green countryside. Up a long hill, down the same long hill, and I was sure they’d moved Acebo another ten kilometers. Surely we had walked 16 already? This was the middle of nowhere, and nothing, except hills and a wide expanse of land. Far away, I saw a few rooflines. Finally we made our way to the village.

El Acebo

Another alpine look, with a small road through the town, and typical slate-and-stone houses on both sides of the road. There was the albergue, and we were soooo hungry. Immediately, we got our credentials stamped and ordered lunch. Me: bean soup, and some sort of meat dish. Cameron and Carrie got an odd-looking concoction, a little sack filled with odds and ends — bones and cartilage? A chorizo sausage sitting on the side, potatoes, garbanzo beans, and cabbage.

My dessert was pineapple and syrup right out of the can, with that distinctive tinny taste (do they think it can’t be tasted?). We went upstairs to our dormitory to choose our beds and shower. Only two toilets for 50 people. I was so ready for a nice, hot shower after that long and dusty road. We went to the store, the only one, bought a few groceries for the next day’s journey. Then Carrie lost her little wallet.

Later, at dinner, the waitress was really glad to see Cameron. She was delighted to explain the wine, even brought the chef out to consult. She touched his shoulder, his arm, and smiled, and flirted. Carrie and I were so amused. She didn’t touch us!

We ordered a different dinner. I ate the same soup and a vegetarian plate, with lemon mousse for dessert. Cameron remarked that if he’d had any love handles, he’d have lost them by now. I said, “Me too.” Carrie said, without missing a beat, “All I lost was my wallet.”

She’d even gone back to the store to check again. I told her not to worry. Went to bed, read a bit, and slept most of the night. No snoring.

Got up to use the toilet. No water to flush??? Too tired to deal with it. Went back to sleep. Woke up again when the guy in the next bed left at 5a.m. Took my thyroid pill (lost Lipitor somewhere near St. Jean along with my self-inflating pillow). It’s very difficult to take medication on this trip. But I miss my pillow. Bathroom again, still no water. Wow. They turn it off at night! None for brushing teeth.

I went downstairs to use that bathroom. No water. I went to the clothes sinks, and sure enough that worked to brush my teeth. And had hot water, even though when I washed my clothes the day before it had only cold water. (I left my beloved cup there!) I looked up at the star-lit sky and it was beautiful. So many, and so clear. I wished I would have brought my jacket, I’d have stayed for awhile.

At 7:45 we went down to have coffee before setting out. Nice walk, with pastel skies, and I felt good and capable. Carrie said, “You’re hoofing it this morning!” I said I was like a horse out of the chute. Then came the hills. Up a rocky one, hard, and down steep, long rocks. Stopped after a couple of hours to eat our makeshift breakfast. When we reached Monte-something, we stopped for coffee. Another picturesque place. What a great day, and fabulous weather, still.

The walking was going well, and through pretty little places. Then my toe started up. I changed shoes. After a while, I felt a lot of pressure, and had to take my sandal off, limping into Ponferrada on my sock, with my shoe in hand. We may stay somewhere other than the albergue to sleep in for once, as we have to take the bus once again for a few miles.


No idea what day or date it is, but here we are, in the historic section of town and the albergue. No kitchen to speak of, and some people slathered on enough Ben-Gay to gag a maggot. I couldn’t sleep anymore after that. I sneezed several times and got up.

Started at eight, it was still dark, but the countryside was exquisite. Fauna and flora, green meadows with dew and tall trees. The enchanted forest. And around a corner, guess what?

A steep climb.

This one is for Fiona, I said to myself. My niece. We saw a huge, strange-shaped tree, but it’s too dark for a good picture. Up I pant, and finally, the top, and glorious sunrise. I sang, “Oh, what a beautiful morning / Oh, what a beautiful day.” And it truly was. What a magnificent jewel – Galicia.

It’s green and orange. It’s abundant, with so much different foliage. The sky is deep blue, the berries are red, like Colorado, and we are amazed and grateful for our good weather this whole trip.

My toes were down to a mere little whimper, and I really enjoyed this walk today. “It warms my heart,” I said.

“The whole trip warms mine,” Carrie replied.

How special she has become to us, how very special she is, to take this hardship on. But all of us are so glad we are here.

I feel a great sense of well-being. I said so, and Cameron took a picture. 100 kilometers, I read people start to get emotional. I started to be emotional. I find myself in tears at any given moment. But the latest may be due to this wonderful music at the Mercadoiro albergue, played by two Catalans.

We got a great hydro-shower, blasting out of many faucets, and then a free washing machine. Loved this spot, and then had conversation with a few more Germans.

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2 thoughts on “Inge – Rabanal to Mercadoiro and the Iron Cross

  1. As I leave Colorado …I feel like I am leaving a piece of my heart here! Part of my heart was also left for you! I weep as I read coming down of Monarch but I also cheer for you! Inge your an amazing woman and I love you!

  2. I am blessed by being invited inside this personal journey, so lovely… your mom has all my respect for her strengh and courage and for the healing that will come from that. I don’tknow you…but I weep for your human experience togethre as mother and son… and bow down to both your courage. What a beautiful, God Led journey….moving forward with grace and beauty!

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