Starting the day I received our projected plan through Spain the name O Cebreiro loomed in my head. The ascent looked like an exponential curve at the end of the day and scared me to my bones...I do not like hills. To make matter worse, O Cebreiro was to be the longest day we had hiked so far and we were to ascend the mini-mountain after walking what was generally a normal day for us.
In preparation for what someone in our group called "The Big Game", we awoke at the very medieval hour of five (that´s 11 PM NYC time, so hopefully we were all adjusted to the time difference). The day was cool and dark as our group coasted along the highway, stopping in small towns to enjoy rare Fair Trade coffee, a bathroom break or simply a rest for tired feet. Everyone wanted to go nice and easy in preparation for the trip. We also had a second motivation to slow things down, for the first two peregrinos in O Cebreiro had to stay in the public hostel, while the rest of our crew had rooms reserved in a hotel. (The pilgrims who stayed in the hostel have reassured me that it was actually very nice and none of us had to fear).
A highlight of the day came when our group stopped for snacks and rest at the foothills of O Cebreiro and Kevin Soravilla raised our spirits with a rallying speech. Kevin told us,
"Men and Women of Fordham arise! Before us stands a mighty and perilous mountain. Though many before us have fallen, take heart, we shall prevail, for we are of Fordham. By day´s end we will be feasting in fair O Cebreiro, atop the belly of the foul beast. Show no fear, no mountain can stay our stride! Arise brave pilgrims, to the summit of victory we march! Go with God´s blessing and mine!¨
The speech was quite powerful and lifted our spirits, which were then crushed by the mountain. I won´t lie...it was hard. It was hot. I was sweaty. Some peregrinos loved the hike, loved the rush of blood in their ears and the burn in their legs, but I´m just not that kind of girl. As we ascended however, the mountain started to warm itself to me. From one of our resting points we had an amazing view of the valley below and enjoyed a cool mountain breeze. Then as we ascended further we entered a cloud and the mists covered us and cooled our overworked bodies. It was very refreshing, even for a pilgrim such as myself who couldn´t help but wonder where the godforsaken town was.
Finally, just when I thought I would go mad, O Cebreiro appeared from the mists. It felt like I had journeyed from the summer in Spain to the late winter in Ireland or Scotland in the matter of an afternoon. O Cebreiro is a town with Celtic origins, so bag pipes were playing, and it is very cold and snowy in the winter, so the ancient pallozas (round huts with straw roofs) were built solidly, to conserve heat and protect from winter´s winds. It was different, but beautiful and refreshing. I for one was happy to be cold again, and to not wear sunscreen for once.
While in O Cebreiro we also had a quick tour of the town, as we stood huddled for warmth in the entryway to Santa Maria del Real, a medieval church which is both the site of a Eucharistic Miracle and the home of an argued Holy Grail. The story of the Miracle is quite interesting. The legend tells that a poor farmer struggled through the snows one winter´s day in order to attend mass. He arrived during Mass, as the priest was about to perform the Eucharist and the non-believing priest belittled him and asked why he had risked his life for a piece of bread and a sip of wine. At that moment, the bread became real flesh and the wine became real blood and the magic of the Eucharist was reaffirmed. It´s a little gruesome, but a cool story. We also learned that our hotel was a famous pilgrim hostel and used to be the monastery of the church.
I know few people really enjoyed getting to O Cebreiro, but I think everyone enjoyed being there and it really was almost magical the way the mist obscured our view of everything more than 100M away.