As we left in a drizzle in the early morning darkness we came across the sole of a shoe right outside our albergue. “Someone’s lost their sole on the Camino.” I thought. I didn’t know it then but the walk that day would be one of the most challenging that my soul would experience on our whole journey.
At first light we faced a choice. The Way ahead was following the highway again and Bill had an alternate route from the Brierley book. He was eager to get off the road and take the other route so we retraced our steps until we found where the divergent path started. I looked at my app map of the Camino and…nothing. This path didn’t exist. But Brierley assured us it was there so off we went.
We walked along a secondary road away from the main highway and, it felt, away from civilization. The golden arrows and distance markers we were used to were not to be found. That provoked my anxiety and the further we went in what seemed to me to be the wrong direction, the more nervous I was feeling. Bill was map reading, comparing topography, looking for assurance we were still going to end where we wanted to that day.
Eventually we walked into a tiny village. Still asleep, still and quiet. Except for the dogs. Dogs everywhere. As one barked, others woke up and started barking in return and soon it felt like we were surrounded by growly, barky, snarly dogs with no sign of people to keep them from eating us. It was at the edge of this village that we went “off road” and onto a path that plunged into the woods. It was a long time before we saw any indication that we were on a Camino route. Up we went, up and up, Bill navigating us along with a very simple map to go by.
I was looking at our surroundings. I noticed ATV tracks in the mud along the path. I saw some abandoned looking buildings in fenced fields and more tracks from ATVs and what might have been a motorcycle or two. It’s hard for me to describe how remote I felt we were. There were no other pilgrims on this way, no footprints or markers, no sound or sign of other human life along the path we were on. But I had a growing certainty that we were likely going to stumble on some drug growing op in between the mountain we’d just come over and the one ahead of us we still had to climb.
As we climbed down the mountain we came across a couple deer, grazing, who looked up at us trying to figure out what kind of animal we were and why were there. Another spot along the way we came across two calves who had managed to get from their side of the fence and onto the path we were on. Their mother mooed at them with increasing anxiety as we approached. We helped them find another place along the way where they could cross through the fence and back into the field with their momma. She watched us and them the whole way until they crossed over and were beside her again.
We emerged from the alternate route exactly where we needed to be and just in time for a late lunch – bocadillo with jamon y queso and freshly squeezed orange juice. The freshly squeezed orange juice along the Camino was amazing – both the machines that were filled with oranges that cut and juiced them as we watched. A couple we hadn’t seen since Leon were there and we caught up a bit as they waited for horses to return for them to ride them up the next mountain to O Cebreiro.
After we ate and rested a bit we got up and out and started walking up again. My body was not happy. It felt like my body was rebelling, insisting we’d already done a mountain today and it didn’t feel like doing another one. But up we went anyway. Eventually we stopped for the night, 4.5 kilometers from the summit. We had another nice albergue, were able to get our clothes washed, had good showers and went to work on my feet. They were sore and blistered and I had made a huge mistake. A large blistered had covered the ball of my right foot and seeking to protect it, I covered it with a compeed. But when I tried to remove the compeed that night the entire top of the blister came off with it. It didn’t really hurt but it was messy and raw. I treated it and recovered it and prayed there wouldn’t be any infection.
I wasn’t looking forward to putting it back in my shoe in the morning.
But the pain I was feeling most deeply that night was the pain that came from being distant from my family. If I thought about them for very long I would start to cry.
I did receive word that day that my friend who I had been praying for was showing signs of improvement. I had prayed for some very specific improvements and it sounded like some of those things were actually starting to happen. It seemed God was doing something tangible, and I was encouraged to keep asking for more.