But I get ahead of myself writing about O’Ceibreiro.
I have to tell you about getting to – and out of – Ponferrada and finding myself all at the same time.
When I go back and read my journal, something strikes me again and again: I was ill almost the entire second half of my pilgrimage. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I as I read, I see repeated references to a strange cough, inexplicable lethargy, feeling cold while walking at top speed, and many other reasons your mom would have insisted you lay down and stay put.
I didn’t lay down.
I just didn’t know I was going to take the bus.
Waking up in my 4-star hotel, in the huge spacious bed, I contemplated staying another day. However. Contemplating the cost of another day got me upright and dressed.
From there, I let my intuition guide me. I packed up my backpack and noticed myself lashing down my walking sticks as if my wise self wasn’t planning to use them.
Not walking? Hmm… I thought. The bus?
I wasn’t even sure there was one.
But of course, the friendly old men of Spain were my guardian angels once again.
The local I stopped could have pointed it out and been on his way, but instead we chatted. He told me that American women were the best looking. I laughed and waved him off. After he determined that I had not visited the lovely garden in Astorga, he recited a poem to me that is inscribed on a plaque there about God and poquitos pajaritos who sing and generally endeared himself to me.
So, in a delightful way, I learned that there was indeed a bus station. And it runs to Ponferrada six times a day from Astorga.
Once on the bus, I learned from two familiar faces – a man from Saskatchewan and one from Holland – that packing up my sticks had been wise indeed. The snow level had dropped dramatically overnight, and had I walked today, it would have been through snow and very cold temperatures. With whatever my illness was. Thanks, Universe.
In taking the bus, I missed the Cruz de Ferro entirely. I missed laying down my crusty hard granite heart at the top of the hill. But the idea began to grow on me of casting it into the ocean.
The bus station is situated so that, on arrival, your first impression of Ponferrada is of a town of corporate office buildings, concrete, and parking lots. With no arrows, I wandered aimlessly, turning my map around and around trying to get oriented.
The lady at the newspaper kiosk laughed when I asked her how many pilgrims ask for directions every day. She laughed again when I said she should charge!
The yellow arrows continued to elude me when I encountered another Spanish gentleman out walking a tiny dog. Again, instead of pointing the way and being done with it (and me!), he asked me where I’m from and how I came to learn Spanish. We discussed the importance of practicing and the differences between the languages of the Spanish provinces.
Honestly, this sort of exchange would infuriate the pilgrims driven to click off the kilometers. I loved it. I was alone in a foreign country, sickly, and yet the Universe provided me with all kinds of encouraging, loving companionship along the way. Thank you, Senor Perro Pequeno!
Once on my way, I passed so many interesting things. The path wound through a lovely residential area, through someone’s actual garden, and past a small church for Our Lady. Around the doorway of the church were paintings of the agricultural activities of each month. September was threshing. December had bread. January was the only exception – two-faced Janus, a Roman god painted on a Catholic church.
I arrived at the aptly-named Hotel Novo and ran into Silvie – a French woman I’d met way back on Day 2 in Valcarlos. We were like long-lost friends, shrieking and hugging. She was now walking with Beàtrice and they invited me to share a meal with them.
After an hour of struggling in French, and I mean really slaughtering it, I excused myself and went for “une sieste.” Fried. Brain dead. Exhausted and sickly. I wanted to be witty and interesting, but I was just unable. I lay down in my basic but spacious room, read some local magazine (one article on the health benefits of horse meat), and took a two-hour nap.
I’d like to say I felt better immediately. Or even the next day.
But I really didn’t. Here’s the thing, though. I really trusted that this was the experience I was supposed to be having. I don’t know why I got sick and stayed sick for so long, but this I do know: As I walked sick, my soul was healing.
And in the end, that’s what I came for.