Mikey awoke well rested and ready for the last real uphill part of the Camino. While it would be much less dramatic than previous climbs, today features the highest physical point of the Camino del Norte and a whole lot of wilderness.
The part Mikey was not expecting was how close we already are to Santiago. According to the first signpost we encountered, it’s only 85km away.
This scene was definitely a reminder that we are in the mountains and we continued to encounter lots of boulders throughout the hike.
The weather report had predicted rain for the region today. Although this never was realized, a heavy cloudy mist hung in the high mountain air and kept everything rather moist.
We saw yet another picturesque hórreo in a tiny hamlet.
But, this one had the added surprise of housing the family turkey! Now where was he years ago when Mikey tried to celebrate Thanksgiving in Spain and the best he could muster was turkey dogs?! Grrr.
In all, however completely desolate today was, the natural beauty was really wonderful.
The surreal bit was walking up upon this 10th century monastery.
An active community run by Cistercian monks, it also houses a pilgrim albergue. Guess where this pilgrim’s sleeping tonight?!
Oh, but here’s the rub: while the monastery has been around since the 10th century, it was abandoned in the 19th when the Spanish government kicked out the monks in hopes of quartering soldiers there. Let’s just say that it didn’t work out well and the monastery went into major disrepair. A group of Cistercian monks came back around 1955, but nature had already begun to reclaim much of the building.
Instead of fighting it, the monks have embraced the takeover allowing almost every crevice to become a potential plant bed. (Yes, this is bizarre. But, so is selling off all your stuff, donning a robe, and cloistering yourself away with other nut… er, like-minded folks.)
If you look closely, you can see some vines hanging down from above.
Still, the architecture is completely impressive. Massive doorways like this are scattered throughout the complex.
Mikey got the chance to wander all around the main church once all the tourists were gone. The whole time he kept feeling like Indiana Jones in one of those abandoned temples. (This would be the priest’s view from behind the altar. Awesome!)
Even in this dome, one can see both green moss and something beginning to grow at its apex.
Similarly here – note the various stages of discoloration.
This is the 13th century kitchen. Food would be cooked in the middle over an open fire.
And this is looking straight up into the massive chimney.
Some of the side chapels reveal early gothic murals that are a bit creepy. (Note to self: do not go wandering around tonight!)
Luckily, Mikey will be staying in a part of the cloister that has been somewhat renovated and cleaned.
All that exploration worked up an appetite, so it was salad, strak, fries, desert, and coffee for 9€ once again. In case you’re wondering, Mikey couldn’t finish it all.
We were in a bit of a rush, though. Not knowing what to expect, Mikey decided to attend vespers. The last time he went to a vespers service was with his dad, Frank. It was a sung service at Westminster in London some 16 years ago.
That Anglican service was well put together, albeit with the tourist in mind. This was not. Now Mikey wasn’t expecting a Sound of Music style review, but it was really just a bunch of old monks singing a service for themselves and their god. 0% showbiz – 100% real. Oh, and there was so much coughing and clearing of throats to the point where Mikey thinks there might be a monastic cold going around.
Here’s a quick video from part of the service. We’re not sure if Mikey was supposed to film or take pictures, so he tried to do it on the sly.
Perhaps more moving was the prolonged visit to the church afterwards. In the dying light of day, Mikey walked around for some time – sitting at times in a pew, leaning at other times on an ancient column. We’re not really sure what he was going for, but it gave him a lot of time to reflect.
It is Sunday. In three days time he will have completed the Camino del Norte and will be in Santiago de Compostela. Will it be mission accomplished or something more anticlimactic? There is certainly a mountaintop experience to which all pilgrims can attest. Let’s enjoy this one while it lasts.