From My Last Post
There is no telling just who you will meet along the Camino de Santiago. I was lucky enough to walk, for a time, with the man who brought the Way to the world. I also met three others who brought the world to the Way.
Many Meetings Along the Way
Cobblestone streets gave way to a small trail, beside a brook, that climbed steeply out of Sarria. Hundreds of Pilgrims filled the trail and many approached the climb with consternation. The congestion of this first climb was surprising. The air was thick with morning mist and the breath of hundreds of pilgrims, all speaking different languages. It was the first time I felt like a stranger, in an unfamiliar land. At the top of the hill, humanity thinned out and made its way down the narrowing path.
“Buen Camino.” Said a man’s voice. It was a common greeting, but this one sounded different. I turned to my left and a man with a wide brimmed hat smiled at me. He was shorter than I, older too.
“Buen Camino.” I replied. His pack was unlike the others I could see. It was smaller, simpler, it had traveled further. Other than that small rope bag, he carried nothing.
“Have you just begun your pilgrimage?” He asked.
“Yes, this morning.” I replied.
I asked about his travels and learned that he had traveled the Camino de Santiago dozens of time; first by bicycle and then several times on foot. He had taken many of the different “ways” and now he was with a group from a college taking a tour.
We walked together and talked for sometime. He asked why we (my father and I) had decided to walk the Camino. I told him of my divorce and he nodded in the knowing sort of way that one might expect of a wizard in a Tolkien novel. Then, as suddenly as he appeared, he bid us farewell and walked on to catch up with his group.
“He was an interesting guy.” I said to my father.
“Don’t you know who that was?” A woman’s voice, from behind, startled us both.
“No. He said his name was George.” I replied.
“It is. That was George Greenia.” She said it as if I should have know exactly who that was. Perhaps I should have, but at the time I didn’t, so I did what any self-respecting male would do, I faked it.
“Oh. Really?” I said.
“Look him up.” She was on to me. I took out my notebook and jotted the name down to Google® later. Only then did I realize who the man was.
There is a lot written by and about George Greenia, so I won’t belabor the details here. (I’d suggest THIS article if you would like to learn more.) One thing that stuck out, for me, was a picture of George sitting with the cast of The Way, who he personally escorted on parts of the Camino. That movie was my introduction to the Camino de Santiago. It held a special place in my heart. The thought that someone, who had helped make that movie, had just shared a few steps on the Camino de Santiago with me can not be understated. It felt like the Source was trying to tell me something: You are on the right path.
Shortly after lunch a woman, with a smile that defied logic, appeared next to us on the trail. She happily introduced herself. For the next hour, she talked…non-stop. I didn’t mind. She was funny. She was happy. Her talking was soothing. I suppose it is possible to feel lonely on the Camino, but it was never my experience. Every time I found a moment alone, someone new would arrive. While this might have bothered me at home, on the Camino de Santiago, it was a part of the journey.
We came out of a small stand of woods and looked down on a lush river valley. A small city lay over a bridge. A medieval church sat at the city center. I could not help but feel like I was walking through a fantasy novel. The year could have been 918 instead of 2018. Being from America, it is rare that I stumble upon such ancient human history. The feeling that rose up inside me was unexpected.
When I first decided to hike the Camino de Santiago, I viewed the trip as a personal journey. It is, but it is also a communal one. When I stepped onto the Camino, I joined millions of other pilgrims who has been making this journey for over a millennia. As I stood on a mountain top, looking at my first stop on the Camino, it struck me that no one walks the Camino alone. This thought would continue to ferment over the coming days, until my should bubbled with joy.
Traveling is the Answer to the Question
There was a bridge, then there were stairs.
Stairs are one thing. Stairs after 16 miles of hiking, proceeded by two days of airline travel, are another thing altogether. We climbed from the valley, up the stairs to Portomarín. Then we made our way through winding cobblestone streets to the city center. Our Albergue was steps from the door of the church we had see from across the river.
We checked in, dropped our bags, and walked out into the city to take a few pictures, before finding dinner. As you already know, we ran into Mary. She was still smiling. Then I noticed a woman standing alone, trying to take a selfie. I asked if I could help. She said, “Yes,” in English, but with a thick German accent. I snapped a few pictures and my father asked her, “Would you like to join us for dinner?”
Now, there is something that you need to know: My father cares deeply about people, but he is also a hard-ass. Especially after a long day. He had recently had knee surgery and, although he wasn’t talking about it, I could tell that he was in pain. This would usually be a recipe for grumpiness that rivals definition. Also, I had NEVER heard him invite a stranger to anything. The woman smiled and accepted.
Sabina was tall, thin, blonde, and as we learned over dinner, was celebrating her fifty-something birthday. She was a well-educated and well-traveled individual with a raspy thick German accent. Between glasses of wine and fork-fulls of surprisingly good pasta, she rolled her own cigarettes and smoked them like a woman in an Indiana Jones movie might.
After our third bottle of wine, my father excused himself. When he left, Sabina took a longer drag than usual and looked at me in a way that invited questions. “Why are you here?” she asked me. I gave her the quick version of my story and she listened without interjecting; smoking the whole time. At the end of my story, she put out the cigarette and learned toward me.
“I have traveled much after my husband left me. I have learned much. There is still much to learn. Traveling is the answer to the question.” She said.
Her words would carry me through the next day. I would need them with every step.
I hadn’t expected to meet so many people on my first day. It was a wonderful experience. The next day, however, I would make new friends. Friends that will stick with me until the end.
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