Today was my first day of being part of a little Camino group. I saw how spontaneously this can happen. It was really interesting. I’m in Santa Irene with my two new Camino friends, Lupe from Mexico (who lives in San Francisco) and Lucy from New Zealand. I met them both early this morning in Arzua. I had stopped to get some breakfast at a bar (more on this awful experience later) and then was walking out of town and met Lucy while I crossed a street and we met Lupe about 200 meters later while he was taking a picture of a church and the three of us are still together, hanging out here at the albergue in Santa Irene.
I passed through some cute little villages outside of Boente this morning on my way to Arzua for breakfast and saw some really neat houses. There are getting to be more houses and larger houses as I’ve gotten closer to Santiago de Compostela. Still farmland, but less rustic, I guess. Also today, we’ve begun to pass memorials of pilgrims who died along the way. There’s a big one of a pilgrim who died in the 1990s named Guillermo Watt, but there are others of pilgrims who died in their sleep more recently. It’s very sad, because at this point, we’re all so close to making it to Santiago. Less than 25km, and to see these memorials is sort of heart-breaking, knowing how difficult it is out here and that they came so far. We walked through some farmland still today and got to see lots of dogs and cats. I still have the feeling of being guided through towns and villages by the local dogs and cats. They seem to show up at forks in roads and lead me down the way to find the yellow arrows. It always makes me smile to see the cats and dogs out here. I haven’t heard of any bad encounters with dogs and pilgrims out here. I’m sure it can happen, but I haven’t heard of anything yet.
Lupe told me he had seen me earlier, just a moment or two before Lucy and I met him, and that he didn’t think I looked like I wanted to talk to anybody. I looked mad. I laughed when he told me, but it’s true. I was livid. I had stopped at the bar for breakfast and was happy because the bar had hot chocolate, and I haven’t found it anywhere else yet. So, I ordered a hot chocolate and got a little croissant and settled down at a table. The woman was, as seems to be usual here, unfriendly but I wasn’t really looking to make buddies with anybody there, just to eat. So, I ate and there were several other pilgrims in the bar and we exchanged hellos and buen caminos and things. As I was packing up my pack again to leave, the bar owner came over and was wiping down the table (an older local woman had come and sat down at my table with me. She never said anything to me, just smiled and seemed like she was waiting for someone to show up). So, the bar owner is wiping down the table and shoves the ceramic jar for trash off the table at me, and it falls at my feet and breaks all over my feet and my pack. It shattered and I sort of jumped back and went “Oh!” and looked up at her and the woman just smirked at me and walked away. Never said anything. Never said Sorry. Never asked if I was okay. Never said a word. Just a smirk and walked off. It was seriously the rudest thing I’ve had happen to me so far out here. Who does that? It’s fine if it was an accident, but you’re a business owner, and yes I’m a pilgrim, but I paid and your bar is on the Camino! If you don’t approve of serving pilgrims for whatever reason, you’ve chosen your location horribly. I was so pissed off. I never saw Lupe pass me, although he said I did look up and say Buen Camino, so I guess I was on some sort of pilgrim autopilot response system even when I was so mad.
Anyway, everything got better shortly after that because I met Lucy and Lupe. Lucy is really easy to spot because she’s wearing an ankle boot. She hurt her ankle five weeks ago playing tennis in New Zealand and had to postpone her trip out here until the doctor gave her the okay to walk so far. So, she started in Sarria almost a week ago and she’s made it this far with a rest day in between. She goes slowly, of course, but her injured pace is my healthy pace, so we are good walking buddies. We’d barely exchanged names and where we are from before meeting Lupe. He set out from St. Jean Pied du Port in Mid-October and has never taken a rest day. He’s the first pilgrim I’ve met out here who seems to be on a mission. He’s proud of the fact that he believes he’ll be the third one of his initial group from St. Jean to finish the Camino. He’s planning to continue to walk to Finisterre on the Western coast of Spain and burn everything he brought with him. He seems very focused on this being the end of his old life and the start of whatever his new one will be. Today is the first day I’ve become part of a group. It’s a very spontaneous thing. You get into a conversation and, for whatever reason, you all just walk together. Lupe is much faster than Lucy or I , but he choose to stay with us all day and walk along with us for the day. It seemed like a longer day than I normally walk, and it was. We didn’t get to this albergue until nearly 6 pm, by far the latest day I’ve had so far. We stopped and ate a late lunch though because we kept being turned away from places along the way. We ended up at a real restaurant with real food and that was so good. I’m so sick of ham sandwiches and really don’t think I want a ham sandwich ever again in my life, at this point. We were getting really hungry and there was a sign for an albergue and a restaurant about 400 meters off the camino and Lucy and I wanted to go. Lupe was lecturing us, telling us how “you never leave the Camino! It’s never a good idea!”, but we were both hungry and he grudgingly came along with us. We found the place and it looked really great, but we walked in and the manager at first said he would serve us lunch, and then the cook came out and mumbled about us being there, and then they showed us into the bar area, and then we were told we needed to leave our packs at the front door, and then when we got to the front door they told us they weren’t going to serve us. Despite the fact that, in the bar, we saw three pilgrims being served. It was weird. We were sort of offended by that. People have the right to not serve whoever they want, but we couldn’t figure out why the three of us in particular weren’t welcome. Lupe got his “I told you to never leave the Camino. It’s never good.” out of the way early and we walked another few kilometers to a smaller town where there was a café with tables outside and several pilgrims having a rest. The woman who ran the café came out when we arrived and were putting our packs down and told us she was sorry but she had no more food. She’d just sold the last two ham sandwiches. She pointed out the restaurant up the road as a place we could get food. We were tired, Lucy’s ankle was bothering her, but I was secretly glad to continue on and not have to eat a ham sandwich. It was worth it in the end, I think. We got real food at the restaurant. Real bread. Real juice. Real salad. Real pork roast. I got some pizza. And we all got a some dessert. We knew we were going to have to get to Santa Irene pretty quickly before the sun went down and I knew there wasn’t any food there, so we ate a lot. It took us about another hour or so to get here to the albergue, where we were the only ones, even arriving so late. The albergue worker was a sourpuss, of course. Just the norm, here, it seems. My feet and knees hurt a lot, but walking with Lucy puts a lot of things into perspective. If she can do this, there’s very little to complain about. So, the three of us are here at the albergue tonight just hanging out and laughing and talking and it’s been so lovely! Despite the long day, we’re still happy to be together and have made some progress.
Lupe won’t walk with us tomorrow. He’s determined to make it to Santiago tomorrow. Lucy and I are both thinking it will take us until Friday, not tomorrow, to get to Santiago. I think I’ll stay about 10km from Santiago, but Lucy is planning to walk a bit closer to town tomorrow. We’ve agreed to leave here together and get breakfast in Arca and then probably each walk our own way. Still, the three of us have planned to meet up at the Pilgrim’s Mass on Friday the 13th at 7:30pm at the cathedral so we can all celebrate and go out to dinner together. We’re only about 21km from Santiago, so the feeling in the air is one of relief, mostly. Everyone knows that we’re nearly done. I think that’s why Lupe was okay with walking so slowly with us today. His Camino is coming to an end and I think he was okay with just meandering today rather than rushing from one place to the next. I think walking with people is good because it can make the difficult parts easier — you might lost time if you’re a fast walker like Lupe– and it’s nice to chat and laugh and make friends, even for just a day, as you go.