I got up at 6, which was a little late for me, and had breakfast at the welcoming bar at Auberges Leo in Villafranca. Since it was so cozy, I decided to whip out the laptop and write. I hadn’t seen Clive and Patrique since just before my swim the previous day, but they happened to be leaving just as I was finishing up so I joined them.

There were three routes to consider, each of varying degrees of difficulty, the easiest was along the highway. I had considered attempting the hardest route called Dragonte, since Bill, my sort of camino mentor had taken this route. I may have mentioned him as the guy who I had discussed the camino with a few years prior and who was nice enough to meet me for a few beers a week before I left to field any questions I had.

But Clive and Jerique were taking the other mountain route, the “Ruta Pradela” so I decided to follow suit. A fortuitous choice, considering the outcome (yeah that’s a little foreshadowing). The cutoff from the main camino to the mountain route we had decided to take was just down the street from the auberge and started out at a steep incline. We found a cafe near by and had breakfast to the sound of young Spanish girls getting caffeinated and ready for their day, and church bells clanging close by.

The first kilometer out of town was at about a consistent 30 degree grade, so we got up over the town and and out of the valley it sat in rather quickly. Sometimes the view was wide open and we could see the highway and the cars racing by below, the town behind us. At other times we walked through pine and juniper.2016-08-19 07.26.09 At one point Jerique opted to shamble up a small peak while Clive and I waited a few minutes at the bottom, discussing matters of great import. It was then that he pulled out a small, laminated copy of a Longfellow poem that he kept with him, words to live by.

2016-08-19 07.39.44Not an hour earlier (as mentioned, back at Auberges Leo), I had all but finished a post from a few days prior (I was a few days behind on posts at this point), in fact it was concerning the day I met Clive and Jerry. But I needed a dénouement for the post, and here was Clive handing it to me on a silver platter. Sometimes you can only laugh at the serendipity of life, and again perhaps at another case of the camino providing.

As we moved on through the rolling hills, jerique mentioned the stacks of rocks we had been seeing along the side of the trail. In America I’ve heard them referred to as “ducks”. They’re essentially way markers, often used when the trail becomes obfuscated or lost. Up here though, pilgrims stack the rocks as a sort of totem, a wish or prayer. On second thought, maybe they are helping show someone the way…

2016-08-19 07.35.43I stopped and let my two fellow voyagers move ahead. I listened to their boot stomps trail off, and then listened to the silence. I thought about everything that had brought me here, the rough hewn soul who first set his boot-mark on the camino back in St. Jean. The one who had come this far, smoothing off the rough edges of discontent along the way. The past came rushing by on the wind and scattered a million sins, lies, hopes and dreams over the hillside.

A few tears wandered down my cheek. I picked up some stones and as I stacked one on top of the other, I imbued each one with a wish, or a hope for the things I had come here to try and make sense of. To fix things. To heal. My “prayers” went out to Janice, Hannah, Amanda. I thanked the universe for all those who had been brought into my life at one time or another, to teach me. As I stood there, a small painted lady butterfly landed on my shoulder. After a moment, as he flew off and drifted away, so did I down the path.

A funny thing about painted ladies. When Hannah was small, we got one of those butterfly kits- the ones where you get caterpillars in a terrarium and you watch their transformation into a butterfly, and then release them into the “wild” (well, the relative wild of the South Bay anyway). We released ours in the park behind our house.

Sometime later (maybe the next spring) Hannah and I were kicking a soccer ball around in the park and we stopped when we saw a few butterflies flying around. As soon as we stopped, several of them flew over toward us. I had Hannah hold her arm out and no less than 5 or 6 alighted on her arm, shoulder, and head. I don’t know if butterflies are instinctual, or if those ones even had any connection to the ones we had raised. I do know that I’ve never even had one butterfly just fly over and land on me.

After I caught back up with Clive and Jerique, we had a conversation about art- what it is, what makes art, etc. It was one of those conversations you have with great friends (we had know each other all of a few days), volleying opinions and ideas back and forth. Clive mentioned that this kind of thing is what’s great about the camino…3 people from 3 different parts of the world can talk about anything and everything, and no one gives a damn. Everyone respects everyone else and what they have to say.

Somewhere along the line Jerique piped in with a joke, which was apropos. He said that the packs on our backs are like the women in our lives- they are made up of a lot of baggage, but for the most part are indispensable.2016-08-19 07.27.38

And then Clive told a story about a time when he and a few friends were out on holiday. It was a Sunday and they had two beers and a bottle of wine between the four of them. They had passed a market and discussed getting more supplies, but thought there would be someplace else closer to where they were headed, so they continued on.

They arrived at their destination to find everything closed. They wandered around the town and heard some sounds floating down a dimly lit street. They walked down and discovered that the noise was coming from a closed pizza parlor, so they knocked on the door to see if they could buy a few beers. They were let in and proceeded to join the party- one of the guys owned the joint and it was simply a convenient place to meet, not to mention that it probably had a beer tap.

The moral of the story, according to one of Clive’s’ friends, was that “if you see a stick, cut it”. Sort of like a bird in the hand, better safe than sorry. The stick would be the store that was open. They should have stopped, and been prescient. Instead they hurriedly moved on to their destination to find nothing open.

But on the other hand, if they had stopped, they never would have went to the pizza parlor and experienced a new place, met new friends. I think if I would have had Clive’s friend’s attitude, I wouldn’t be out here on the camino.

We came to a fork, opting to walk an additional .8 k to a seldom visited town named Pradela to get a beer…er coffee. The sign for the place mentioned coffee, but as Clive reminded us when we got there, it was 5 o’clock somewhere.2016-08-19 07.42.17

Stuck back in the mountains, Pradela had somewhat escaped the double edged scythe of time. When we walked into town, a few of the towns people were tending to their teeming, robust gardens, starting out on their days work. I thought about how, with them, their very existence was directly tied to what they were doing that morning. It seems we, in our hurried lives of import, have a more abstract attachment to the work we do. If we knew that the very thing we were tending to was going to feed us, give us sustenance, we would treat it with as much love and caring as we could. Working at a crappy job all day doesn’t provide us with that.

After reaching the bar/cafe/auberge (the proprietress told us she had only 10 pilgrims stay so far this year) we drank our beer, sitting in the sun, basking in the rewards of taking the camino less traveled.2016-08-19 07.45.23

The roosters crowed, the dogs in attendance didn’t give us the time of day. A cat that was laying in the doorway of the auberges did not budge the whole time we were there as we stepped over him. We got a stamp for our pilgrim passport, each one hand drawn by the proprietress. We had to wait a few minutes to leave as a farmer was herding 20 head of cattle up the winding street. More cowbell!

In life, I guess we too often make the expected choice, go with the flow. Maybe we’re scared, maybe we’ve just been trained that way. Our choice to go to Pradela reminded me of the Robert Frost poem “The Road Not Taken”:

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

We left and proceeded to walk down out of the mountains toward Trabadello, which rested at the bottom of the valley along the highway. After walking along the highway, we crossed it and joined with the “easy” camino, the one that paralleled the highway, and we ran into a few more pilgrims, the first ones we had seen since that morning, when we had chosen the mountain path.2016-08-19 07.49.41

There was a two lane highway running along my right side that followed the river that ran to my left, which also provided water for tall trees, and offered us shade. I’m sure this is the “old road” the one that, at one time, got people through the valley on a gently winding path and eventually to their destination at the other end of the valley.

Above us was a new highway cut into the cliffs, being held up by massive pillars. I guess it enables busy people to get somewhere 10 minutes sooner than they had been able to before. I walked along looking at the new highway above, and listened to the river murmuring beside me.

A few more kilometers down the road we stopped at an auberge in Ruetelin but Jerique didn’t like it so we moved on. The owner did seem a little surely. We had to walk another 1.4 k to Herrerias, but I was glad we did. A quaint little town with a few auberges and at least 5 or 6 bar/restaurants. As we walked into town, my left leg began to hurt- my first taste of any real pain besides blisters. I had heard of shin splints, and so I diagnosed myself as having such. I was pretty sure they weren’t fatal so I was determined to continue on with them. I’m pretty sure it was the downhill from the day that caused it.

2016-08-19 07.54.49After taking a shower and washing my clothes, I hobbled down to the river to soak my leg. The river was cool and my leg felt a little better. After a half hour, I went back to the auberge to collect my clothes from the line and there sat Michael and Miciaj. We smiled, and picked up where we had left off a few days before.

We talked for awhile and then Michael and I both needed to write. I excused myself to find a bar to do some writing, have a beer and call Amanda about a project we were working on. We talked about the project, but then did what we usually do- talked about anything and everything.

I think I’ve mentioned it before, but it’s as if she and I have known each other most of our lifetimes (or maybe a past lifetime or two), and our conversations usually go on and on. Which is a good thing. It was comforting to hear her voice while I was out here by myself in the middle of Spain.

I was planning on having the pilgrims dinner with Clive and Jerique at the auberge but it was too late by the time Amanda and I were done talking, although it wouldn’t have mattered since I had forgot to let them know before hand that I would be attending. But as I was walking back to the auberges, Aviva was sitting outside at the restaurant/bar by the auberge. Like Michael and Miciaj, I didn’t think I was going to see her again.

So I sat down and had a beer and a bocadillo with her and we discussed where we had been, what we had seen since the last time we had met. Another case of one decision made (to talk to Amanda past dinner call) that resulted in an unexpected, pleasant surprise.

After we finished, Aviva left and I joined Patrique and Clive who were finishing up beers at another table for a few minutes, soaking in the heat of the evening. My ankle was throbbing, but I hoped some sleep would help. I then headed back to the auberge and grabbed my remaining clothes that were still drying from the line and packed.

I needed to make up some time since I hadn’t really sat down and got specific with my schedule until now. I always knew I was on schedule more or less but upon closer analysis, the writing was on the wall. So I would be getting up early to make my push towards Compostella, the end of the trail, while Jerique and Clive would be sleeping in and taking their time, as they were meeting their partners 2 days after I had catch a train back to Madrid.

I was lying in my bunk and reviewing how far I would have to walk the next few days (with a messed up leg!) and realized that I would probably be leaving any and all of these last friends I had been walking with behind. I whispered “goodbye” and drifted off to sleep, ready to set off the next morning in the dark, an end of sorts, but also another new beginning.