Wednesday, October 9, 2013. I am on a Wizard’s Walk, full of indescribably simple, mystical, physical beauty. Is it the season, with autumn coming on or is it Galicia? I think it is the latter.
Mist collects on the trees above me, and green, emerald green, surrounds the rocky path at my feet. I reach up to feel the same mist dripping from the ends of my hair. Even the spider webs suspended from branches and leaves have misty dew clinging to them, dripping from them.
Leaving the Casa/Albergue Barbadelo after a full breakfast with eggs for a change was a real treat. My fellow inhabitants and I stream out of the property, just as the pilgrims who stayed in Sarria are coming by. I encourage them to stop for breakfast, because if they are here now, they began very early and nothing would have been open an hour ago where they were. Many of them pay attention to how inviting the place looks, and head up to “our” restaurant. As they turn in, we enter the Leprechaun’s territory. At least that is how it seems. Single trees catch my attention, wiggly and eerie against the low-lying clouds.
In Galicia . . . (as over the Pyrenees) cows are interspersed along the way, though over the Pyrenees the fields were vast, and now, as I’ve written previously, they are small, comfortable, contained mom and pop meadows. I can hear the clang of the cow-bells before I round a corner, and as I approach, the volume increases . . . their clappers clanging in the old-fashioned iron bells around their necks, like the ones that were in the children’s books I used to read to the kids. What must clanging do to their serenity? Maybe cows don’t know the meaning of the words “clanging” and “serenity”. Maybe phones and internet are our clappers. The cows (and the sheep, some of whom have bells as well) seem serene enough anyway. A clapper lullaby for them?
My leg is throbbing but I’m walking, and I think it will get better as I go. I seem to get a bit more relief each day. Good sign. Today, I spend most of my 20 km walk marveling at the numerous shades of green and the rising mist. When the sky can show her bluest color by mid-morning, all the colors intensify. I walk in and out of literally eighteen little villages, most of which are just a sparse clump of stone houses, dogs, chickens, cats, and diligent farmers ignoring the parade of pilgrims that goes through their hamlets each day. It is hypnotizing, joyous. I think only about where I am at the moment. Ram Dass’ instruction to BE HERE NOW. It’s easy to do just that when I am in this environment, though I’m not sure I’d want to live here. What do people do in a village of half a dozen stone structures, a few chickens, and most of the residents over eighty years old, if the ones I’ve seen are any indication?
Occasionally I see a town with a bar, and often I hear my name. When I look up, I see Ria calling, “JOANNAH!” and she gives me a hearty wave. She is usually just finishing her coffee or bocadilla, but she stays to talk a bit. I like this woman very much. She has a no- nonsense style, but with a solid sense of humor, and a deep heart. Though she’s nearly twenty years younger than I, we agree that age differences at this stage of our lives don’t matter much at all. We get to know one another little bit by little bit, since that first meeting in Foncebadon at dinner, and I sense that she, like Christel and Charlotte, will be someone I won’t forget after this Camino is finished. We end our little visit and she gathers her things, saying, “See you at the next bar!”
As I move across the day and across the path toward Portomarin, my destination for tonight, I see the town come into sight. A lovely bridge over a river that has seen more water than is in it now, and then another dose of a Sarria welcome, with a full set of stairs in order to get to the town. The stairs aren’t QUITE as long, but still . . . is this going to be a daily test?
Once up the steps, I can see the town unfolding, with walkers turning this way and that as they approach their albergue. Mine is somewhere past the main square so I’m still looking. I hear my name again, and there, at a bar with three other women and four glasses of wine is Ria. She beams when she says, “Tonight I got my own room! Splurge in a pension!”
I congratulate her and say I’ll return to join all of them as soon as I check in. My albergue tonight is run by a very sweet middle-aged woman. I was going to say “young” woman, but I suspect she’s in her 40’s at least, and to me that is young. Her English is almost non-existent, but we make do with our Spanglish-talian. There is a kitchen here, so I make a note to stop by a supermercato after my glass of wine with Ria and her friends. I’m longing for a plate of good tomatoes with salt, and perhaps another nectarine.
Sitting at the table outside the bar with Ria, I meet Barbara and Karin, both from Germany, people Ria has met along the path as well. Poor Ken from Northern England pulls up a chair, searching again for someone who will start tomorrow’s walk at the same time he wants to start. He likes to get an early beginning, but doesn’t like to do it alone, he says, because he doesn’t want to get lost in the dark, and doesn’t have a headlamp.
I will hear this same explanation from him every time I see him from now until we reach Santiago. For this moment, I’m ignoring that city, and focus on where I will walk tomorrow. Palas de Rei? 25 kilometers from Portomarin. A respectable distance for a day’s journey. And as it turns out, my albergue manager has an excellent recommendation in Palas de Rei, and she calls to make sure I have a reservation in a bottom bunk. All of this after I finish my wine. And get my tomatoes from the store. I see Ken again in the supermercato, coming around a corner toward me and he says, “I’m not stalking ya, really.” He looks sheepish, and I see that he is still a bit lonely. Waving I take my purchases back to the albergue and into the kitchen. I see some young people cooking up a storm in the kitchen. Some sort of spicy pasta, with fresh garlic and peppers, and roasted chestnuts (though not in the pasta.)
I meet them briefly, but will see them again. Tomer, from Israel, who has been living in New York and Vermont for the past six years, but now is having a visa extension problem so he’s walking. Laura and Luis, just friends, she says, whom I’ve seen here and there along the trail today. She has worked in Bologna, I think, and he is an infectious disease physician. They all look so young . . . I cut up the tomatoes, a full plate of them, sprinkle them generously with salt, and gobble them up, cleaning up quickly and leaving the young people to their more complicated dinner preparation and exuberant discussion.
My lodging for tomorrow night is secure, and tonight’s is quite comfortable, though I’m about six feet from the raucous conversation in the kitchen. Nevertheless, I slather my leg with Arnica cream, and slip into my bunk. I feel so contented, and it’s time for the long sleep.