MANJANIN – Peter and I marched toward Cruz de Ferro (Cross of Iron) with determination, sharing some of the weight our stones were carrying, or walking in silence. His was a smooth river stone he had carried in his pocket the last 1000 miles, whereas my Ghana stone had sharp edges, and I’d protected everything around it by wrapping it in plastic wrap. Peter is a machine when it comes to hills, he climbs them at the same rate he crosses the plains. My movement up is labored. I think about the journey this stone has made the last month, and wonder if I’ll be able to leave it (and its meaning) at Cruz de Ferro. Every day I had thought about this moment upcoming, and I wanted to be prepared.
What would it mean?
Would I really be able to leave it?
“Steve,” Peter began, “I want you to take as much time as you need to leave your stone. There is no place I have to be,” he said as we approached. From a distance I was expecting a lot more. It was a small cross, placed on a tall concrete pillar, and the base was an unimpressive collection of rocks, trash, and dirt.
I took off my pack and sat down in the shade and prayed for about an hour, pouring out my heart to God and listening for His questions. I think some of the most interesting times in the Bible is when God asks a question, like when Adam and Eve hid themselves and the LORD asked “Where are you?” or when He asked Moses, “What is in your hand?” or Elijah, “What are you doing here?” It wasn’t that God didn’t know where they were, what he held, or what he was doing there, God asked to make sure they knew where they were, what he was holding, or why he was there.
For me, God asked “What has this stone cost you?” “What am I unable to give to you as long as you hold onto it?”
I prayed to be free and the Camino said then you must never tell its story again. The moment you tell the story, you’ve picked your stone up again. I prayed to forget it then, to not remember ever having had this burden.
I walked around the pile of stones and felt a presence of pain radiate from it, like heat from a noon day summer sidewalk, the kind you could fry an egg on. I looked for a place to set it down and briefly thought of throwing it, or batting it with my pole, or closing my eyes and tossing it, but I needed closure. I needed to see it placed and remain while I walked away and forgot.
Finally, it was time and I picked out an average place, not the top, not the bottom and I placed my stone. It didn’t move. I took a step and looked back. Still there. Another. Still there. Another… until I got far enough away to lose it among the other stones.
I went back to my pack and prayed until it was time to go. “You are the last person on Earth to hear the story about what that stone represented,” I told Peter. “I will never tell it again, and already I could feel its memory starting to fade. I was indeed forgetting it.
We walked down a rocky path for another hour to Manjarin, that interesting place Peter had found. This mountain refuge is run by a modern day Knight Templar, who restored — too strong a word, maybe — revived this 12c pilgrim hospital. In 1993 it was the only Pilgrim Refuge in this area and now it is the stories of Camino legends. Days from now people will be very impressed when they see we stayed in Manjarin.
“I’d rather like to stay here,” Peter said after looking around. “But if you would rather not, there is a new Alburgue with a swimming pool a few hours walk away.” I was concerned, he added “I am good either way,” but I would rather like to stay.”
It was rustic, and getting colder. Would there be bedbugs, or food? I decided I would be fine, but was apprehensive. I had not met Tomas yet, only Peter had, but I thought hey, I’ve stayed in worse in Ghana, and Togo.
There were five us from East Germany, France, Taiwan, UK, and Texas, and each for different reasons, but only Peter and I were there for its adventure.
Dinner was surprisingly good, and Peter acted as universal translator among the languages. I think he was the only one who understood everything that was said that evening.
“It is the duty and honor of a Templar to protect the Camino,” Tomas explained. He was dressed in a black t-shirt with a red Templar Cross, black ball cap and a colorful wrap around skirt. No one was really sure the last time he bathed, but then I can’t judge, I didn’t either.
Peter and I washed the dishes and cleaned every horizontal surface from its sticky state. Tomorrow night’s pilgrims would have a different experience.
The men slept upstairs in an unimproved 14c rock house, the women downstairs. I picked out a relatively clean mattress and blanket, and fell asleep quickly for the best night’s sleep of my Camino. At 7am Tomas rang the bell for breakfast, and we listened to a rant about how Pilgrims should not start before 7am. I guess when it is your sworn duty to protect them and “equalize the forces on the side of Santiago,” you start when the Pilgrims move.
In the morning our Knight sets out a breakfast of tea, coffee and some honey-sticky baklava like pastry from Astorga.
Nobody wants to leave, least of all Tomas, but finally we do, and he busies himself. Today Peter and I will walk to the next big town and have lunch and then he will continue on. I’ll be too worn out from trying to keep up.