I woke up in Herrarias at 5:30 for an early start. Clive and Jerique were in the bunks next to me but had decided to take it easy- they didn’t have to be in Compostella until 2 days after me, and I knew I had to pick up the pace if I was to, in the end, make my flight out of Madrid back home. So I got up quietly and left in the dark alone.
There’s something about walking through a small town early in the morning, before anyone is up. No sound, not even the faint crow of a rooster yet. The words that come to mind: ephemeral, elusive, eternal. It was very peaceful, untilI I ran into some crazy French woman who insisted that La Faba, the town I was headed towards, was in the direction of Herrarias, the town i had just left.
Now, I don’t consider myself any Chingachgook (“Last of the Mohicans”- look it up) but I had just barely gotten out of Herrarias, in fact I was only about 200 meters from the last cafe in town. Besides that little fact, at this point in my journey I usually had a general feel for what direction I should be headed. And that would be west.
After trying to tell the French woman (obviously neither of us had taken the Rosetta Stone course in each others language) that I was pretty sure I was going the right way, we parted and within a few steps I saw one of the painted yellow arrows thanks to Don Elias, the can paint carrying Citroen driving mad monk of the camino (alluded to in an earlier post) and followed it.
An aside about the mad monk- apparently when he was confronted while painting his yellow arrows (this was back in the ’80’s), he would explain that he was ‘planning an invasion’. Gauging by the number of new pilgrims clogging the camino every new day I’m out here, I would say he did his job well. Btw, I don’t even think he was a monk, I just like the sound of “mad monk”.
After another kilometer, the path left the paved road, and there was one of the traditional way markers so i knew i was headed the right way. It was still dark and i walked though a forest and over a stream (it seemed a little like a Grimm’s fairy tale) and ran across a little abandoned way station in the middle of the woods.
The path headed uphill and I entered La Faba to a chorus of roosters. It was a beautiful little town and I found a welcoming bar/restaurant where a few pilgrims were setting out for the day, and finished my previous post while eating breakfast. This had become a favorite ritual, getting the meat of the blog posts done the night before, but refining them the next morning when my brain was fresh while sitting alone in a cafe, feeling the morning creep up my spine and begin to comfort me with it’s warm breath and a kiss. A brand new day.
I left La Faba and began to climb…
After climbing awhile, I came upon a significant sign post- the border of Castilla y Leon and Galicia. Galicia is the final region (sort of like a county) in the journey. Campostella (my final destination) lies within Galicia. I met Stephanie (from Cologne) at the way-marker and we took pictures of each other and walked together for awhile, climbing out of the Valcarce valley amongst pines, oaks and chestnut trees.
Stephanie was the first person I had walked and talked with this day, and it made me think about my journey, and the solitary nature of it. Not that i haven’t been with others along the way, but you can only share so much with them. Sort of like life.
When you’re experiencing things with those you care about, those that you love, you reveal more, you become more intimate. And those things are the seeds that lead to friendship, and love. And well, in the end, how much more is there, really, to life than that?
I got to the top and hit a paved road, pausing to look out over the verdant valley I had just climbed through. I threw out a thank you to the people in my life and it floated out over the great expanse and hopefully into their hearts. Did you feel it?
The view was gorgeous. I paused and took some pictures. Susan Sontag had an interesting take on, well, taking pictures. She said that most tourists feel compelled to put the camera between themselves and whatever is remarkable that they encounter. It gives shape to the experience. She goes on to apply this thought to our modern world: “…the method especially appeals to people handicapped by a ruthless work ethic—Germans, Japanese, and Americans. Using a camera appeases the anxiety which the work-driven feel about not working when they are on vacation and supposed to be having fun. They have something to do that is like a friendly imitation of work: they can take pictures”.
It’s kind of funny, I’m a big picture taker. My dad had a darkroom when I was a kid and I was in it all the time. But when I’m out with friends, it almost never occurs to me to take photos. I’m the one who pretty much always forgets to take a picture and post to Facebook. Hopefully it’s because I’m too busy experiencing the moment…
Yeah, that was supposed to be ironic. The camino went through a small town (O’Cebriero) that sat on the edge of the world, overlooking the valley. It seemed like the towns economy was dedicated to selling camino trinkets. I picked up a few things for a few of those people in my life that I’ve mentioned in earlier posts. My leg was still shooting pain to my brain with every step. At this point I had re-diagnosed myself as having a sprained ankle, or possibly a fracture, but after 650 kilometers or so and only another 130 to go, I didn’t care.
O’Cebriero in fact is the final resting place of Don Elias the mad spray painting monk of the camino. I gave thanks to him and, reluctantly, to Brierley for both of their guidance during my trek. Cormac jokingly contacted me via Facebook IM that he was aghast that I was dissing Brierley. I have joked about the man, but his guide book is the definitive tome on the subject, in my opinion. I joke about him because his book has become like a good friend- at some point in the relationship, you get to know the other so well, you start needling them about their idiosyncrasies. Fortunately for me, the book can’t hurl sarcasm back…
The camino headed downhill for a little while, which was tough on my ankle. O’Cebreiro is a jumping off point for a lot of pilgrims who are walking the final 100 k- If you want to get a stamp at Compestella you have to walk at least 100 meters. I wished to see some of those I had been traveling with but there were none of the gnarled, weather beaten pilgrims I had come to know. They had been replaced by mostly younger, cleaner, less piquant pilgrims. After a little while I passed by the “monumento de peregrino” (monument to pilgrims). The statue shows a pilgrim with his hand over his forehead, like he’s about to faint. Sort of how I felt, with my damned ankle.
The camino then led me through a piney forest… before traversing the top of a windy hill. Then it led downhill again along the side of the road, through some small towns. At the first one I found a fountain, one of the ones that provide water for pilgrims. I put my ankle under the cooling stream hoping for some healing. I got wet socks. Hmm…was this a sign? I’m pretty sure It was the camino telling me I should so some laundry next stop.
I continued on. The path ran by the side of the highway. It was10 feet wide, pretty flat, the pain was still shooting through my leg with every step, and I still had over 100k to go. I started walking backwards on downhills which seemed to help. But whats funny is, just as taking this sojourn implanted itself in my brain and became a fact a few moths ago, there was no question I would simply grit my teeth and complete my journey, no matter the pain. The “spiritual” reasons for me finishing were more powerful than a little physical discomfort I suppose.
The final 10 kilometers or so were pretty much a downhill slog that seemed like it would never end. I hit the valley floor but still had several kilometers to go before getting to Triacastela, my final destination for the day.
As I walked into town, an old toothless woman standing in a doorway spoke to me in Spanish and was gesticulating, beckoning me up the hill (I think), to the auberge on the street above. It was comic, I wondered if she was on their payroll. I was kind of in that place where pain and exhaustion collide, where all you can do is laugh, or cry.
But the place was close so, sprained ankle and all, I slouched up the hill to a brand new 3 story auberge obviously built specifically for pilgrim traffic. It was sort of antiseptic, but damn it was nice.
When I got to my room, I met a French woman, Juliette, and we were comparing injuries. Her leg was messed up too, and she told me there was a pharmacy up the street that was open. I showered and walked up to the pharmacy and stocked up on ibuprofen, some tape, and even splurged on a new pair of reading glasses (my old ones had been held together by a paper clip for a few weeks).
A block off the main street I found a cool little section of town that seemed to cater to the locals. At least there was food, singing, merriment. I sat down for a late dinner (it was already 830, but still blazing hot). I hadn’t seen anyone in town that I knew, until about half way through my meal Asia happened to walk by. As with the times before, we had to laugh, as we were both shocked to run into each other again.
She said she could only stay for 5 minutes but I poured her a glass of wine (I had plenty to share since, as usual, an entire bottle had come with dinner) and we talked for an hour. She left, I finished eating and went back to my place and sat out on the balcony, which had a great view of the valley and the old town.
It reminded me of one of the first times I went to Amanda’s place. She made dinner and then we sat outside under a blanket, gazing at the lights of Los Angeles below and sipping (or maybe guzzling) wine. We may have nodded off for awhile.
On the way home I got pulled over by the cops. It was late, probably a weekend. You may think I was pulled over for driving erratically, or maybe for being drunk. Or perhaps one of my tail lights was out.
After being grilled by the woman cop, she handed me back my license and registration and admitted that she pulled me over because I had had my windows open, was playing music a little loud, and singing. Now, I can see her busting me for my singing which is admittedly pretty bad, but come on!
I guess I was being a little child like. Probably because I felt like a kid. I was happy again. Happy that I had just spent time with someone who appreciated me, who made me feel whole, someone who wanted to hold me in their arms and not let go. If I had gotten a ticket, I suppose it would’ve read: “Music playing above an acceptable volume level, and failure to sing on key”.
I drove home laughing to myself at the experience and looking forward to the next time I’d see Amanda, and how I would tell her about being busted, how much I appreciated her, and whether she knew it or not, how much she had already given me, in the short time I had known her.
-“We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.”