We were out of our albergue and walking by 7:30 a.m. Breakfast service was running slow so we decided to get going and make due with the bars and water we had for the day’s walk.
It was a misty morning but we never put on our rain gear. A few people were stopping and putting on their gear but we knew if we did the mist would evaporate so we just kept going. The path was quiet and uncrowded for the start of our day.
As we walked toward Portomarin we came to the familiar golden arrows and waymarkers and found ourselves stuck. There were two arrows pointing in opposite directions. Another pilgrim walked up and puzzled with us. We decided to follow the arrow pointing left and she decided to go along with us. It was a beautiful walk as the sky cleared and we made our way along a path that took us between backyards, along the roadway and finally to the edge of the river that separated us from the town.
Coming down towards us, from the opposite direction, was another group of pilgrims who had chosen to go right at the two arrows. There were a few places on the Camino Frances where the path diverged or offered a side trip and this was one of the great things about the Camino. A person could come back again and again and there would always be a new version of the Camino to walk, a way not yet taken, new companions to journey with, different kinds of weather, new opportunities to discover things about yourself and the world we travel through.
As we crossed over the long bridge we saw the staircase ahead of us – a challenge to weary pilgrims, insult to injury or yet another experience the Camino offered – and the three of us decided to climb. At the top, we looked back over the way we came and then parted ways as we went to explore the town and find our way in and through it. The cathedral was closed, maybe because of the early hour, maybe for repairs, so we wandered down the street and found a little café that would fix bacon and eggs for us to enjoy for second breakfast. As we ate, we watched some pilgrims emerge from their albergues and just get a start to their day.
As we started out of town, we noticed a small group of people who were walking with someone in a wheelchair. A hiking or trail worthy wheelchair. Soon we came upon other groups with other peregrinos in different styles of hiking wheel chairs with their own small teams pulling and pushing them along the Camino. As we walked and talked, we learned they were there as a very large group who were walking the last 100km of the Camino Frances together with the group, I’ll Push You.
I was amazed with the hard work and dedication of those in the wheelchairs and those assisting them on the Way. As we neared the place we would stop for the night and the I’ll Push You group would pause for lunch together, we had one of those great “the Camino will provide” moments that kept popping up. We were talking with a woman who was walking along the Way with a blind woman and hearing about their experience together when Bill happened to look down at the ground for a second and notice an iPhone in the dust and fallen leaves. He picked it up with the intention of walking it to our next stop in case someone came back looking for it, when suddenly a lady just a little ahead of us shouted in frustration that she’d lost her iPhone somewhere and her team started looking around them. Bill was able to put a quick end to her search and her despair. The Camino provided.
After the I’ll Push You Group went on without us, we settled into our room at the albergue. It was plain, simple but clean and comfortable and we had our own shower and bathroom. After 556 kilometers this was what defined the good life.
Once we cleaned up and had a nap, we went out to explore. This stop, Gonzar, was not a traditional stage on the Camino and so there was hardly anyone there in the afternoon. In the restaurant/bar/lobby, our host and her husband were the only people around and we tried to have a little conversation between our best attempts to speak each other’s languages. Our host’s husband seemed to get an idea and pulled a bottle of yellow liquid out from behind the counter.
“Orujo.” He said, setting out a couple small glasses and looking at us questioningly. We looked at his wife who looked at the three of us for a second, thinking, then she just shrugged and made a noise that was Spanish for, “whatever” and went back to folding towels. The gentleman poured and we drank, it was the only polite thing to do. Orujo, it turns out, is a brandy-like drink made from the mash or leftovers of crushing the grapes to make wine. Fermented, strained and bottled, it had a natural, bright yellow color that made you think of lemons but didn’t taste even remotely close. It was another one of the unexpected moments of kindness and connection on the Camino de Santiago.
Less than a week left of our Camino. I thought I would be elated at this point but mostly I just feel sad that we are coming to the end.