The next day, we would make a major push to Santiago. If we did well, we would have an easy approach the following day. Neither of us could have known how interesting that day would be. It taught me some of the biggest lessons I have ever learned and they all came from a meeting I never expected.
Lost for Words
I couldn’t wait to leave our albergue. I didn’t like the town. It felt too…modern. I longed to get back to the medieval villages of Galicia. We packed and were on our way. We were quickly closing the gap to the Cathedral and today was going to be a long walk.
There comes a time, on any long journey with others, where you simply run out of things to say. Some confuse this with anger or frustration, but in reality, it is simply what it is: you’ve covered everything that needs covering. Rather than fight it, embrace it. More conversation will come. But, if you force it, it won’t be the kind of conversation anyone wants. My father and I had reached this point and as the morning and miles passed us by, we walked in silence.
It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere
The Camino de Santiago wound it’s way through several small—seemingly deserted—villages that morning. Our silence was amplified by the silence in the villages. I had visions of post-apocolyptic movies and waited for zombies to come out from behind a wall.
Then, from around the next turn, there was a strange din. It bounced off the ancient walls of decrepit buildings and danced its way down the empty dirt streets toward us.
We rounded the corner to an all-out party. It wasn’t yet ten in the morning, but there were beer bottles everywhere and it was time for a drink.
The wall of beer bottles lined the Camino de Santiago for several hundred feet. There was a name written on each bottle and, perhaps, a short message. I took time to read through many of them. The messages ranged from sage-like wisdom to drunken-buffoonery. We were getting a beer.
My father and I laughed at the prospect of drinking before noon—our puritan values were more ingrained than we thought—but we clinked bottles and downed a cold one. The scene was bizarre. I felt like I was facing the end of the world only moments before, now I was at a party with dozens of people whom I didn’t know, but who were just like me.
The strange road to Santiago was living up to its name.
Before leaving home, for the Camino de Santiago, I read several books on the subject. One of the strangest was The Pilgrimage by Paulo Coelho.
The book is a story about Paulo Coelho’s walk on the Camino de Santiago. Be warned, it is very much like Napoleon Hill’s interview with the Satan in Outwitting the Devil. It is difficult to know where fiction ends and reality begins. I didn’t like the book when I read it, if I’m being honest. However, now having walked the Strange Road, I am less convinced that The Pilgrimage is purely fiction and I find myself enamoured with passages from it regularly. It seems that Mr. Coelho’s books grow inside of the reader over time.
In the book, the Devil shows up several times to taunt Paulo; he arrives in many forms. These forms are specific to the pilgrim. In my case, the Devil kept taunting me with loneliness. All morning, I had been feeling alone. Alone on this walk, alone at home, alone in the world. I kept praying for eyes to see and ears to hear. My prayers were about to be answered.
It was lunch time when we crested the hill and the gravel path of the Camino de Santiago came out onto a busy highway. A roadside cafe’ was filled with pilgrims sitting at picnic tables. We decided to stop. My father went off to use the restroom while I secured us seats. He returned and I went to use the facilities and order my meal.
The “cafe’” was actually a bar. It was teeming with pilgrims. I waited a few minutes, then adopted a much more Spanish approach and muscled my way in to order. Money changed hands and then I took my ice-cold Coke® and food out to the table. I wasn’t prepared for the scene that was unfolding.
The picnic table that I had secured was moved next to another. There were packs covering every square inch of the ground surrounding it. and there were people all embracing and laughing. I couldn’t believe my eyes.
Phillip, Helen, and Jill were all at the table. I got to the table and greeted them all. I was full of questions:
“This is amazing! What are you all doing here at the same time? Phillip, you know Helen and Jill?”
It turns out that they had met that morning! For the next hour we sat there laughing and eating; then—as if this wasn’t enough of a surprise—Mary arrived.
Mary couldn’t stay long. Her group was moving on, but she promised to find us in Santiago. We didn’t expect her to appear, but Mary has a way of showing up when you need her most. It feels like there is a lesson there…or at least a Beatles Song.
I really couldn’t think of another place in the world where I would find myself at lunch with such a diverse group of people. There is no way we would have met in my old life. This is what the Camino de Santiago does; it breaks walls, it tears away biases, it breaks preconceived notions, it beats you down physically so it can build you up emotionally. It takes all your strength and fills the space back up with friendship, love, and trust that things will all work out.
Come as Two Leave as Five
We arrived individually, but we departed together. There was no silence for the next six kilometers. We all had plenty to talk about. It was one of the happiest days of my entire life; truly a day that I will always look back on with joy.
As we approached Amenal, we came to a crossroad. Helen, Jill, and Phillip had another kilometer to go. My father and I were staying here for the night. We all embraced and bid each other farewell. This time, we were sure we would see one another again. So, we didn’t say, “goodbye.”
Come back Wednesday for the Final Chapter in my Pilgrimage.