Notes for a New Day will recount some rather older days during the next few months – journal entries from my pilgrimage on Spain’s camino in 2013.
The cold and rain has returned, but the wind has not, so it was bearable today, and we had a plan for where to stay tonight, so the day had a clearer ending point than usual…except our destination turned out to be a refugio without running water. Very primitive in every way. Having walked 27 km by 1:30, we arrived to find it wasn’t open yet, but a taxi lingered nearby, as if the driver knew no one would actually want to stay there. Perhaps he expected this weary pilgrim to plead with him to take us to the nearest albergue at any price. And I was tempted, I admit, but my son was not swayed by this version of the devil, and we walked away, knowing that the next town was 8 km away. I knew I would be slow and told him to go ahead without me. This turned out to be the longest and loneliest two hours of my life on a difficult, stony path, which steeply descended for the last several kilometers. As I shuffled – and there is no other word to describe my gait – into town, the first face I saw was that of my son, and he had found us a place to stay – with running water! It was a very nice albergue in fact, and one that only took donations. The name has “Apostolic” in it, so I am wondering if we’ll have to sit through a prayer meeting tonight, after dinner at 8:00.
There was no prayer meeting. Out little group of five around a dinner of salad and lentil soup was comprised of a sweet, young Hungarian couple, a Filipino living in London, a Polish-Canadian, and us. Again, we seem to be eluding the Americans, though everyone tells us that there are many of them on the camino.
The next day, we stopped at Cacobelos Municipal Albergue which is built around a church in a rather unusual design, with little individual cubicles, and a large shared yard where people were hand-washing their clothes in tubs. Dinner involved a van ride to a local vineyard called Spanish Steps-Bierzo-Arroyo Family Vineyard. The driver turned out to be part of this enterprise, coming in to play guitar and sing for us. Ah, and the wine, as it is throughout this country of vineyards, is more than drinkable! Our table of Canadians and us was quiet, but appreciative. This was a 30 km day and my legs and feet are aching, but the walking and views today were beautiful.
This place is a gardener’s dream. The cool, damp climate supports a variety of vegetation that we can only dream about in D.C. Masses of poppies, lavender, and daisies grow as wildflowers. Wild roses on the edge of the woods and massive cultivated roses in nearly every yard. In one garden I saw blooming irises, roses, and azaleas – which would never bloom at the same time in my garden. Petunias, pansies, geraniums…but flowers are really the least of these gardens. Everyone grows vegetables and fruit trees – in their front yards, in a narrow strip next to their homes, in a huge community garden next to the village. Gardening is in their bones. Fig trees and peach trees, nut trees, a small fruit I don’t recognize (quince?), and buckets of cherries. Those are ripe now and sold everywhere, and so yummy. We’ve bought them at every chance from little stands, knowing that they were picked earlier in the day, one euro for a 1/2 pound or so.
People are growing potatoes and onions, beans, artichokes, leafy greens, a large cruciferous-looking thing I can’t identify, which has something like beans hanging off the plant. And grape vines. Everywhere. There is such a wonderful sense of abundance.
Of course, as the reader may have noticed, it’s rainy, cloudy and cool much of the time, so we’re not talking about paradise exactly. And sometimes abundance is defined as too many empty and decaying homes. It is clear that the economy is currently as terrible as the news tells us, but there is no poverty of the spirit as far as I can tell. We’ve met a couple of beggars, but they seemed to be camino opportunists. Is that too cynical of me?
I’ve asked, whenever I have the chance, why someone is walking the camino. Sometimes it feels intrusive to ask, but I do anyway, and some of the reasons I’ve heard so far:
- I don’t know. (I like this answer. I have a feeling a true answer becomes clearer with time)
- As an act of thanksgiving (for blessings, for healing, for help)
- I’ve read or heard about it and have always wanted to do this
- The film “The Way” (which many Spaniards think is the reason most Americans are here)
- Walking is the best way to really see a country.
I especially agree with this last one. How many times have I walked in my own city and seen things I had passed by for years and never noticed from the car?