From the Last Installment
“If I have learned anything, so far, on the Camino, it is that the road goes ever on. There is always more trouble, but also more beauty. All of the pilgrims—like all of humanity—flow like a river, ever toward some future place where all of them hope to find something, but where none of them really know what to expect.”
Too Long in the Bar
I journaled for over an hour and consumed at least three too many cups of espresso. The sun in Spain seems to linger far longer than I was used to. It was nearly ten o’clock and the light on the horizon, along with abnormally high caffeine intake, made it feel like a new day.
I stepped out into the falling sunlight and felt a cold wind at my back. I expected it to be warmer. Our albergue was a few kilometers from the village of Palas de Rey, situated in an a compound of sorts. There were three buildings in the complex. At the center was the restaurant and bar, along with the albergue’s front desk. Behind the restaurant sat a large garage and a small single story hotel-like structure, where we had a private room for the night. I walked between the building as quickly as my stiff legs would take me, shivering from the wind.
My alarm went off at 7. I was anxious to know how my father felt. When he had gone to bed, the night before, I was certain that he would not be joining me on the Camino this morning. However, his limp had disappeared. He was stiff, like me, but he felt like he could go on. I was happy to have his company and relieved to know that he was feeling better.
We set out from the compound into the cold morning. The rain and wind had cooled things considerably and I was now wearing nearly everything in my pack, including gloves, which is a rarity for me.
A few moments into our walk, I noticed a young man following fairly close behind us. He was in shorts with a light jacket and I thought, he must be freezing. A few minutes later, I noticed he was even closer, but keeping pace with us, not passing. I mentioned him to my father, who usually would have noticed him before I did.
“Hello. Buen Camino. I hope I am not intruding, but I injured my knee yesterday and you are both walking at my pace. I wondered if I might join you?” The young man put out a hand for a handshake.
“Well, if you can keep up with my sorry ass, join us.” My father snickered.
“I’m Phillip, from Germany.” He introduced himself, first to my father.
“I’m Matt. We’re from the US. Nice to meet you Phillip. Aren’t you freezing?” I asked, pointing to his shorts.
He laughed, “Oh, where I am from, this is summer weather.”
Visit from an Angel
The three of us arrived in Melide around lunch time. Phillip had read of a place that was famous for octopus, a Galician culinary specialty. I’ll try anything once, but I have to admit that boiled octopus was a stretch for me. When we arrived in town, my father wanted to get some cash, so we found a bank, it was closed. We found another, it was closed as well.
Phillip went off to get us a seat at the restaurant while we searched Google®, on our phones, for an open bank. We were out of luck. Apparently, it was a bank holiday.
“Paul! Matt!” came a cry from across the street. Now, we were thousands of miles from home, in a country where neither of us really spoke the language, where neither of us really knew anyone. To hear our names from someone was…bizarre. I looked toward the voice. The traffic cleared and I saw Mary’s smile as she ran—literally ran—to embrace us.
We took a minute to catch up, then she asked us what we were doing. We explained that all the banks were closed. “Oh, that’s no problem…” she dug into her pack and handed my father a stack of bills; about sixty Euro. “Here you go.”
“Oh Mary, thank you, but I couldn’t.” My father stammered.
“Don’t be ridiculous! I have plenty and you need some. Please take it.” It was clear she wasn’t going to let him leave without it. “So, tell me, how is your Camino going?”
We chatted for a few more minutes before Mary was hailed by her group. “I have to go. I hope to see you in Santiago tomorrow.”
“That would be wonderful.” I said. She gave me a big hug and then ran back across the street, giggling like a child.
A Man of Many Languages
“Come on. I have us a table…I think.” Phillip welcomed us back to Pulperia Ezequiel. The entrance to the restaurant was littered with walking sticks—which were not allowed inside. The place was loud with business. People of every age and nationality sat at long tables eating, drinking, and sharing stories.
Phillip was young and single. He had managed to find us seat with two very attractive young Spanish women. My father and I exchanged glances and chuckled. Phillip kept pointing to the menu and asking the women questions in a mix of Spanish and English. The women seemed to speak both very well. Somehow, he convinced one of the women to order for us, as the wait staff seemed too busy to visit our table.
While she ordered, Phillip leaned over to me with a smile, “I actually speak very good Spanish, but it is more fun to pretend that I do not.” He winked at me and went back to his flirtation.
We ate until our bellies felt as if they might tear open. I wanted nothing more than a nap, but we had five more kilometers to our albergue Arzúa and time was slipping by. We departed slowly and laughed as we recounted the meal and Phillip’s approach to meeting women.
There were many oddities between us and Arzúa. We passed shops with laughing mannequins and then stumbled again on George Greenia near a small church.
“Hello George. This is a neat little church.” I said.
“Oh this place is very interesting indeed.” He said as he smiled.
“Really, why is that?” I asked.
“Have a look around. The carvings here are a mix of Pagan, Celtic, and early Christian. Let’s just say it is not your normal church adornment.” George waved goodby and I decided to have a look around. Sure enough, there were some very interesting carvings…
After looking around for a bit, we got back to walking and a short time later, we entered Arzúa.
The First Goodbye
Each town along the Camino de Santiago is different, but none more than Arzúa. It was by far the most modern place we stayed. A long straight street follows a ridgeline and is bordered on both sides by tall buildings that house every manner of shop, restaurant, and albergue. Phillip was staying close to where we came into the town, we were up the street, about a kilometer away.
Phillip thanked us profusely for our company and shook both of our hands. “Perhaps we will meet again tomorrow.” He said. With so much space on the Camino, it was a long shot. We bid him farewell and went to find out place for the night.
For the first time on the Camino, I felt sad and lonely. My father and I ate a quick dinner and went to bed. Neither of us wanted to talk.
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.
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