Day 24 – The rise and fall of the Camino

Today was an extraordinary day, really.

I climbed to the highest point on the Camino, at 1515m. I put a piece of Mudgee slate at the base of the Crux de Ferro (Iron Cross) just as the sun was coming up, I walked across what seemed to be the top of the world, and ripped down into valleys full of the first flush of blooming wildflowers.

The sun was out all day. There was no wind. Blue skies. What a great day to walk the Camino!

I got up early, and was out the door by 6:30am, keen to get to the Iron Cross by sunrise (7:30am).

The Iron Cross is one of the major landmarks on the Camino. Tradition has it that you bring a stone, or rock, or some keepsake from your home, and place it at the base of the cross, or on the cross itself.

My wife pulled a piece of Mudgee slate from our garden, and I placed this at the base of the cross.

Then I climbed further to the top of the mountains, all the while taking in the magnificent views as the sun began to rise fully.

But then of course, I had to come down, and it was tough. A very steep descent over several kilometres. But what made it especially tough were all the rocks. So so easy to twist an ankle. And it wasn't too good on my bad knee too.

I went down really slowly.

And as I was picking my way down carefully, and painfully, it occurred to me that once again, the Camino is like life.

Yesterday I surged up a very steep climb to Foncebadon. I almost ran, I felt so good. And then this morning, I climbed even higher, up to the heights, and I walked along this elevated ridge in awe of the beauty around me.

And then I dropped down. And it hurt. And it was unpleasant.

How often have we seen people climb to extraordinary heights – whether in business, or politics, the entertainment industry or sport – and then they drop fast. Painfully fast.

It's often an ugly rocky fall from the height of their greatness.

How can you avoid that? How can you reach those heights, and stay inured from the fall.

Today when I was walking towards Ponferrado, I heard the tap tap tap of someone walking up behind me. This surprised me, because it was about 2:30pm and few pilgrims walk after 1:30pm or so.

But this bloke walked up beside me and we got to talking. His name was Pieter, and he was from Holland. He had started in St. Jean Pied de Port only 17 days earlier. That meant he was zipping along.

He said he was averaging between 30-40 kms a day. He hadn't had one injury. And no rest days. He walked long hours each day, but also took long breaks.

What impressed me about him was his smile, and his ease. He had such an incredible sense of calm. He said good bye and tap tap tapped off, and it occurred to me I should take a photo, but he'd gone.

And then of course I thought of the rise and fall of the Camino. He had levelled it with his calmness. When you're calm, and content, as he seemed to be, there are no rocky descents.

There is just easy effortless forward movement through life.


16 thoughts on “Day 24 – The rise and fall of the Camino

  1. Thanks for a new motto: inured, not injured! I know the camera hides the steepness of the downslope you shared above, gives one pause…I will be joining you on the Camino in 3+ weeks’ time. Thanks so much for these daily posts, which I look for first thing every day. Hang in there!


  2. When you’re calm, and content there are no rocky descents. – That’s my new mantra!


  3. Bill, this was by far my favourite day of the Camino. It was also a beautiful clear warm day and the journey down to Ponferada was just pure magic with birdsong and the smell of wild flowers.


    • Hey Wayfarer, are you walking at the moment too?

      I am so disappointed in my photography yesterday. In no way was I able to convey the extraordinary beauty of that day. It’s a function of the small dynamic range on that sensor, the limited 28mm lens ( I would have preferred a 20mm lens at times) and of course my own inadequacies as a photographer.

      In fact, I should have put that at the top of this list…



      • No Bill, I walked that section in May 2012. Because of the weather conditions the clouds were below us for some of the sections, it was really beautiful. I must put some photos in dropbox and send you the link.


  4. Rusty and I succumbed (?) and watched The Way last night – thinking we would enjoy seeing more images of the walk and appreciate a little better the terrain etc. Your photos have been a lot more informative! Rusty kept saying “Look – Bill photographed that” – and I am sure that there is a scene where Martin Sheen is walking beside the road where you photographed the old man with his cane. There is a scene at the Iron Cross and I was wondering about the significance of the rocks and was also wondering when you would reach this point on the Camino. Now you are 50 grams lighter (but perhaps much lighter metaphorically!) but hopefully not missing your little piece of Mudgee, which may have been a comfort to you so far on your walk. I remember reading an interview with Billy Connelly years ago – he said “When I replaced ‘happiness’ with ‘contentment’, I realised that I was happy all along.”. It really struck a cord with me at the time (which is obviously why I remember his quote so many years later!). I am glad that you included the word ‘and content’ after the word ‘calm’. And as I sit here this morning (still in my bed in Brisbane – drinking a cup of tea, with a glimpse of the river, reading your blog) – I feel content. Hopefully, no rocky falls for me today! Dx


    • Hey Donna, if you and Rusty are watching The Way, that’s the first warning sign that you two are going to walk the Camino!
      Bill xx


  5. We are very much enjoying reading your blog Bill, often leading us into discussions of your experiences, reflections and musings.
    Your blog posts relating to Pilgrims and what people ‘label’ as a true Pilgrim fascinated me……it’s so interesting how people, society, cultures like to place ‘labels’ on what is considered right or wrong or what meets an expectation that allows whatever is being ‘labelled’ as acceptable in their judgement (ie only walking x amount of km’s a day denotes a ‘true pilgrim’)!
    Matt and I chatted about this concluding we are all Pilgrims from the moment we are born, our life journey begins and as we grow and age the chapters of our life pilgrimage will unfold. The difference being some pilgrimage chapters we will choose and others we will have no control over and I guess that’s part of the universe’s divine plan for us.
    We wish you well on the remainder of your journey….to have a dream is exciting but to act on it is courageous, you should be so proud of what you have achieved Bill. Loving your photos too… tell so much of the story.
    Take care our thoughts are with you, Megan & Matt


    • Dear Meghan, lovely to hear from you! And lovely to know that my little hike has provoked discussion.

      You are right, we ARE all pilgrims from the moment we’re born, and our lives are like The Way.

      Tell Matt I’m pleased he’s proven I haven’t photoshopped any of the pics!



  6. I especially like the light you captured above the cemetery…i am with the rest. Your blog has become one of the highlights of my day.


  7. Pretty dramatic how the images change when you pass the camera over to someone else. I bet Van Gogh would have blinked when he saw that stone house with the double staircases and the big shadow angling into the downward trail. Wonderful seeing!


    • The thing with this photography, up are stuck with what you get as you pass. There have been a few occasions when I really wanted to wait for the right light, but I knew it would be a few hours, and it just wasn’t possible..


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