It was cold, very cold. The air was biting our cheeks, which we made sure was the only visible part of our body left open to the elements, as we left the warmth of the Albergue that morning. We had our headlamps on to cut through the night which still lingered on the dark, gravel dirt road which ran through sleeping stone houses.
It was 6:30am and we wanted to reach the highest point, of the Camino before sunrise. Cruz de Ferro, or Iron Cross as it is called in English, is almost 5,000ft in altitude and climbs steeply up the 2kms from the nearest village, Foncebadón, where we had departed in the morning. The Iron Cross sits atop a very high wooden pole which is tied with iron rings at about 4 feet distances from the base to the top of the pole.
I had waited patiently for this moment for over 3 weeks now since I started walking the Camino. However, in reality, it had started much before that. In fact, it started months before, in Canada, as I prepared for the Camino. As per the tradition of the Camino, one carries a stone from their home , or some item that has meaning, to be placed at the base of Cruz de Ferro. So with me, I had brought a shell from my home beach, Hirtle’s Beach of Nova Scotia, a shell from my Indian home beach in Chennai and a chosen rock from Nova Scotia. These were carefully wrapped and carried in my backpack from Nova Scotia, to India, to France and now and finally, to Cruz de Ferro. The wait and anticipation of this moment was finally over.
As I climbed the hill up to Cruz de Ferro, I had to scrabble over a hill made from thousands of other rocks which had been placed there, stone by stone, from pilgrims all over the world for over the past 900 years. Because I arrived very early in the morning, I was lucky to have a special alone time beside the Iron Cross as I placed my items. Close to the base of the pole was a good place to set the 2 shells and rock. I said a prayer for my family and for a moment, I felt connected to a small part of the history of the Camino, and it was a part of me now… with the millions of pilgrims that had done this same ritual as I had done this morning.
Cruz de Ferro for me, was like a ‘releasing a part of myself to something greater’. It was the ‘high point’ in so many ways. Not only was it the highest altitude of the Camino, it was the the spiritual high point as well and I was on a ‘high’. No wonder, this section of the Camino was part the ‘spiritual section’. This is where the one reconnects to one’s personal purpose of the Camino. It was here, that I gained mine.
I walked up to Cruz de Ferro with 7 other very close pilgrim friends. We placed our items silently one by one. No one spoke for hours after. We each descended the mountain on our own time and walked by ourselves , even though we were in arm’s reach of each other. Each of us were in our own heads, making sense of what just happened and the meaning it had. We never did talk about it afterwards, maybe because we each thought it might diminish its value in some small way.
My rock and shells are still by the Iron Cross, as others today lay theirs. I now feel connected to them and their dreams and purpose somehow. I thought to myself as I left Cruz de Ferro that morning, that here on top of this hill on this ancient pilgrimage, all these rocks, representing people of different cultures, religions, races and countries, are laying peacefully together, something we humans strive to do.