October 10, 2013. Out of Portomarin into the misty woods again, though there is a bit of “town outskirts” before we get to the countryside. After about an hour, I can feel the wet from my hat and my hair running down my neck. Gives “Play Misty Again” a whole new (and much more comforting) meaning. And though I experience this misty environment anew every day, to someone reading, it must sound like Bill Murray and Groundhog Day have been transported to Galicia. “All right, already . . . stop with the mist stories! I need a towel just reading . . . .“ Okay, I’ll stop. But just because you already know what it’s like, doesn’t mean the magic goes away for the person who is living it.
The birds are especially vocal today for some reason, or maybe I’m just noticing more. I try to see where they are, especially two sets that seem to be conversing, but all I hear is “CAW. CAW. CAW.” answered by “W O E! Yup yup yup yup yup . . . “ Kent and Judy, I need your birding ears. Even when I stop to listen and look toward the sound of each, I cannot see the birds, so I have no description to offer.
Late morning, I stop at a little roadside building, not even in the approaching village yet, and see Ria and Karin sitting at a table. Karin is a doctor from Germany, and has been quite excited to discover that I am from Colorado. Her father was apparently interred in a Colorado POW camp during or after World War II, and she has memories of her father’s stories about the beauty of the Rocky Mountains and the fair treatment he and his fellow prisoners received at the hands of the US soldiers.
Last night while we were all sitting in the Placa in Portomarin, she began to tell me her story about her father. She asked me whether I know where the prison camps were during that time, and I have no idea. I’ve read about Japanese-Americans being contained (a nice word for it, isn’t it?) in southern Colorado, but can’t help her regarding her father’s experience. But I had offered to make some inquiries among the history professors I know from CSU and you would have thought I’d presented her with a winning lottery ticket.
Today when I come upon Ria and Karin, Ria gives me her warm smile and wave, but Karin jumps up from her seat and comes to give me a big hug. She begins talking about her father again, and says that since he is dead, she can’t ask him these questions herself. But she is still clearly nearly obsessed with getting any link his history, and I again reassure her that I will make some calls when I get back home. We exchange our names and e-mail information, and they offer me the special fare that is sold in this little store. Freshly roasted nuts of all sorts and small bags of trail mix with only dried fruit and shaved coconut, hand mixed. I purchase a bag of almonds and a bag of the fruit mix, though I very much dislike coconut. But these snacks will be a diversion from bocadillos for my meals today.
The three of us set off together like the Musketeers, but soon I adopt my slow saunter and they march heartily ahead of me. They will also part company at some point and I might meet Ria in Palas de Rei, where I have my reservation next to the church on the near edge of town. We have had our socializing but each of us has come alone, and that’s our preference. I am back on “quiet” mode. And today, the sunflowers take their turn bowing to me! They are the first to do so, and I am honored.
In Eirexe I stop at a casa/restaurant, and order a plate of half ham and half cheese, and pack it up to go. I’m learning how to avoid the bread. Just ask them not to bring it. The horses I’ve seen on the trail are now in a meadow on the Casa property, and a young woman at the table next to me gets up to go for a short ride. Her mother is encouraging her, saying, “Oh, wait until we tell DADDY!” and other sweet-ums like that, though the daughter is in her early twenties, I would guess. The young woman looks familiar, but I don’t remember exchanging names or information along the way. I overhear a bit of conversation about being gluten-intolerant, and then I tune it out.
I still have 8 km to go to get to Palas de Rei. Just a short distance after leaving the Casa/restaurant, I pass a very nice albergue and bar with a large, comfortable looking patio. Sitting outside at one of the tables, drinking a glass of wine in the sun, is a very good looking, very robust older Spanish man. I pass him, he points in the direction I am going and lifts his eyebrows. I nod. He returns the nod approvingly and pumps his fist repeatedly in the air, beaming admirably at me. I beam inside, proud of myself and his acknowledgment.
I had another triumphant moment such as this one, back in the Meseta days. Finally walking into Mansilla after more than a week and about 160 km of sand, dust, and wheat, I entered the old city under an imposing stone arch. Sweaty, relieved, peaceful, having listened to John Mayer’s “Say (What You Need To Say)” over and over for the past hour, I begin to look for the municipal albergue. A local man comes toward me, looking at me closely. He has on work shirt and jeans, work boots. Perhaps about fifty years old, if I had to guess. Dark hair with streaks of grey in it. He stops, points to me, my backpack, my hiking sticks, carefully, but not in any sort of threatening way. He then thumps his chest with his fist and says, “Cour-AGE!” That’s a deep, booming voice pronouncing it “Cour-AHGH!” Giving me a beaming look of admiration, he bows slightly and continues past me. Makes me want to cheer! But I just smile all the way down the street to the muni albergue.
I’m not sure which was a higher compliment. The one from this man in Mansilla, who is not walking, or the one from the man who decided to call it a day, while obviously I have more steam in me (or am more stupid . . . ). Either way, it’s nothing I ever imagined for myself.
Basking in this last interaction, I hear someone come up behind me and say hello. She appears to recognize me, and reminds me that we spoke briefly two days ago, out of Sarria/Barbadelos when she and her daughter were just beginning. I recognize the daughter as the one who was just on the horse in Eirexe, gluten-intolerant. But I can’t place where else I’ve seen them.
The woman – Cathy, she says – reminds me about a tiny altar to the Virgin Mary of something or other, created in a stone wall, with miniature flower pots filled with dried lavender. I do remember that. And I remember the short conversation, too. She was clearly Catholic, for which she will forever be filed among my Camino personnel as Catholic Cathy, of course. At that first encounter, she referenced a story about a miracle having to do with that shrine. I said, “Well, I don’t believe in any of that stuff Gave it up with Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy.“
“Well, you’re here, so you must believe in something,” she said presumptuously. I hate this kind of comment. So I quipped, “Yes, I believe in myself. Buen Camino.” And went on my way. Now here she is again, two days later, with her lovely, faith-filled daughter Bridget. Needless to say I was not anxious to continue in that line, but this wasn’t my day.
She begins by asking me what I gave up, and when. I say I had had a good Catholic education, complete with all the indoctrinations, thirteen years of it, but became a complete non-believer slowly and then quickly, by my mid-twenties. She asks for specifics, and as I give her some of what I consider to be the ridiculous contradictions I was taught, heavy on the mortal sins, which then changed to NOT mortal sins, or perhaps not so bad – eating meat on Friday, going to my father’s church after I attended Catholic mass, etc., she counters everything I say with, “Well, THAT wasn’t right . . . those priests told you the wrong things . . . “ She cites something called Cathegesis, a word I had never heard, which she tries to explain, but it is a quietly dreadful way for me to finish my walk, actually. Friendly, but full of dread for me. Her daughter attempts to say a few things, and Cathy sweetly interrupts, while I turn my attention to Bridget and encourage her to finish her sentences.
I won’t go much further here, but to say that Cathy interjected at least half a dozen times: “Well, I’m not selling anything, and I know you’re not buying, but . . . “ Somehow, it seemed she didn’t know how NOT to sell. But I’m not buying, she is right about that.
Just as the specific subject matter has become divorce vs. the Church’s “dissolution of marriage/annulment”, another of what I consider to be the Church’s hypocrisy, I look up to see a stone church, nearly in our path. Cathy says, “Oh, I want to get a stamp for my credencial at this church. “ I think I’ll just take this opportunity to slip away, and begin to walk past the church when I hear my name called again, with the now recognizable exuberance that is Ria. I turn around and there she is.
“Aren’t you staying at Albergue San Marcos?” she asks. I nod. “Right next to the church, yes?” I nod again. She points, and I realize that I’ve spent the last nearly two hours with Catholic Cathy and her Cathegesis, as well as her daughter, who has been trying to explain that once you know your best friend is a real PERSON (Jesus Christ, she means . . . ) . . . I give a wave in the direction of the church and turn right, up the steps to my night’s bed. Ria follows as I roll my eyes. Saved by the German!
As a postscript, when Ria and I meet Karin for dinner, I summarize my late afternoon experience, and immediately see Cathy and Bridget coming into the restaurant. Bridget walks up and gives me a very warm hug. Guess she appreciated my interest in hearing her entire comments, despite her mother’s not-unkind interruptions. Cathy gives a little laughing apology for taking up my afternoon, and promises that if we meet again, we will discuss something else. This is the last time I see her.
Tonight I have to acknowledge that there is no more delusion about our distance from Santiago de Compostela. We’re a bit less than 70 km away, and soon we will begin to hit the Santiago ‘burbs. I don’t look forward to it. In three days we will be there, together or separately, unless I begin to do a slow crawl on my stomach to make it last longer. And my shin splints seem to have healed themselves, so I won’t have that as an excuse to go s-l-o-w-l-y. I have given a bit of thought to the fact that I want to walk “in” alone, though surely will connect with my Camino buddies once I arrive. Christel is half a day ahead of us, Ria will be faster-paced than I. I haven’t seen Yves and Janice, Larry or the other Neal (notice it’s even spelled differently than “my” Neil) for awhile, and I think Matthé and Elma from the Netherlands are far ahead and probably gone by now, but there will be mobs of people, including all those who started at Sarria.
So we discuss where we’ll stay tomorrow, putting thoughts of our final day aside for now. I think I can make it to Arzua, a much bigger town, but Ria would like to stop a bit sooner, in barely-a-village called Castañeda, 23 km from here, She’s too young to have read Carlos Castañeda and his magic peyote books, but she’s heard about them from her brother and they always intrigued her. Though the books were set in the American Southwest, she has wanted to stay in this same-name-town just to say she did. We agree, I call the private facility, imaginatively called Albergue Castañeda, and reserve two lower beds for tomorrow. Then we bid one another goodnight, from our doorways at each end of a long hallway in the Albergue San Marcos, and call it a night.