These are posts in which I relate the story of my walk on the Camino de Santiago with my friends Bill and Derrick in September/October 2019.
We left in the dark. It was becoming the new normal as sunrise was coming later and later. The day started with a good breakfast and conversation with fellow pilgrims before we tried to find the little yellow arrows with our headlamps in the dark. Thankfully, first light hit around 7:40 a.m. and we could move more quickly and find our way more easily. Bill and I were both very wary of missing an arrow in the dark and having to eventually backtrack a significant portion of our walk because we missed a turn.
As we walked along the Camino an idea came to me for a business venture when we returned home – a food truck that sold the Spanish Tortilla and the classic Jamon y queso bocadillos we saw everywhere, along with other Camino cuisine.
I’d eat there.
Our walk for the day, a Sunday, was shorter than we thought it would be and we walked into Ponferrada earlier than our albergue was open for new guests. But we were able to have a conversation with our hosts and we shared a Canadian connection and between my bad French and my bad Spanish we worked it out to leave our bags and explore the city. They gave us directions that would take into the old city and we started walking.
Along the way we decided that it was time for second breakfast, Bill and I numbered our meals now and this helped us to keep up with the proverb we’d learned the day before we started walking, “Eat before you are hungry.” Our daytime meals were never big and never left us feeling uncomfortably full. Sometimes they didn’t even leave us feeling full. It was just fuel for the walking.
We saw a small café that appeared to be open, so we wandered inside in search of café con leche and tortilla. There were two people already inside, the owner, a man, and a woman who was his wife or girlfriend. It was Sunday and it became clear they weren’t really open but they welcomed us, had us sit and went to work fixing us two coffees and heating up some tortilla for us. Then they went beyond normal service and they brought out extra food we hadn’t ordered – toast with jamon, some version of ketchup spread on bread – no charge for the extras – I’m almost certain they were a Muslim couple practicing their faith and showing us pilgrims what hospitality looked like.
I had spent more energy getting there than I thought I had. This was like a little oasis for us and we left feeling energized and like we had wandered into yet another “the Camino provides” moments.
After our second breakfast, we made our way to the castle. We happened to arrive when a medieval demonstration was taking place and we were soon walking among knights and friars and kings and queens of Spain. Pilgrim’s entered for a reduced rate simply by showing our credentials. It was an amazing restoration and a very enjoyable time to walk the stones and watch the reenactments and take the time to record a video message for our family and friend at home from the castle wall.
After we returned to our albergue we got our room, cleaned up, sorted out our bunks – I was on the top bunk, Bill was on the bottom. We met the two older, Italian pilgrims we shared the room with and then we went into the main living area to meet other pilgrims and catch up on messages from home. While we sat, the Irish ladies we had walked with early on in our journey, Patricia and Katherine, walked in to check in for the night. It was amazing to see them again, to catch up and share stories.
That night we ate dinner with them at our albergue in a great community meal. We also shared the table with Paul from Australia, a maths teacher on his sabbatical with his wife who was at another table. Patricia and Katherine kept us all entertained, as Bill said, “There were a hoot!”
As I sat checking messages before bed, I received one from Canada. A friend was letting me know that it had just been announced that the church Donna and I had planted with friends almost 16 years before, was closing. It stirred up a lot of emotions and thoughts and I wondered at the timing that it should be announced and I would get word while I was walking my Camino, the day after laying my rock down at Cruz de Ferro.
But I would be lying if I said my heart wasn’t broken.
In my journal for this day I attempted to record some reflections about life being a Camino. I wrote,
“As the way changed and presented different terrain to us, I reflected on how like life this walk has been. Sometimes the way is narrow and you can only walk single file. Sometimes wide and you have company. Sometimes crowded and you are surrounded by people. Sometimes it is lonely and no one else is in front of or behind you. Sometimes it is steep and slow going. Sometime level and smooth going. Sometimes the way forward is hard to pick out. Sometimes the way is all downhill and full of rocks and things that make you slip and stumble.”
The Camino was showing me many things and helping me process so many questions that I had come there with.
My feet, well, I will just say that they were worse than ever and my blisters were – epic. I wrote this, “Two weeks from today we are supposed to be walking into Santiago.” It was hard to believe that we had more of our Camino behind us than we had in front of us now. I was looking forward to completing our journey even as I was astonished at how quickly the time was going now.
That night, with one minute left before our curfew, the two older Italian men came back from a night of making merry in Ponferrada. I hope that at their age I will still have a friend who will stay out until 11 with me, drinking wine and sharing life on the Camino de Santiago.