You might have been led to believe that my Camino was a blissful walk with miracles at every turn. Maybe I’ve been telling it that way, but it wasn’t.
Though I kept waiting for a good turn of events, I had now been sickly and exhausted for five consecutive days. The antibiotics seemed to have begun working, but I still felt weary. For the first time since I began this pilgrimage, I thought to myself, “I’m ready to be done with this.”
Encountering this difficulty was a good reminder of the universal truth that what you look for, you find. In other words, if you’re looking for the good, you’ll see evidence of it everywhere. If you’re weary and gloomy, as I was that day, like begins to attract like.
I’m grouchy, I wrote in my journal. I’m moody. I’m taking everything personally. No surprise then that I found prickly people and miserable circumstances everywhere.
When I went to check out of the Parador hotel in Villafranca del Bierzo, I approached the counter to settle my bill. The clerk pulled up my account on his screen, then looked up and squinted at me.
“You got something out of the minibar,” he stated accusingly.
Had this been true, I certainly would have said so, but it wasn’t and corrected him.
“Well, you must have taken something,” he asserted.
I denied it again, clarifying that the list of goodies had included nuts, but when I opened the fridge, there weren’t any.
“No hay,” he parroted back to me. He backed off, but I felt offended and angered by his accusations – from a 4-star hotel nonetheless.
My consolation was the hotel’s complimentary (and luxurious) breakfast. Bacon, eggs, fresh fruit, juice, and coffee all decreased the sting. I hypothesized that the fridges have a sensor that alerts the desk when opened. It’s possible that other pilgrims have taken things without paying for them; I just felt insulted at being lumped into that kind of crowd.
And then I walked. The less-hilly, alternate path ran alongside highway into the mountains, a Jersey barrier on one side to protect pilgrims from the traffic. Everything was in full leaf, lush and green, and the forests dripped with rain.
Up I went, now reunited with Katrin and Catherine from Montreal. Up and up along the highway we went. It began to pour so I donned my enormous black poncho and wide-brimmed hat as protection, though my feet were already soaked.
As we slogged along the pavement, each car passed with a noisy whoosh of air and road spray that misted up my glasses. The rain began leaking into my hat, soaking my hair. Then the wind picked up.
My legs felt oddly damp, and on further investigation I discovered why my lightweight, on-sale poncho had been discontinued: my clothes were soggy from the waist down. Unsealed seams in the kangaroo pouch caused water to leak through. As a bonus, my own sweat had been condensing inside the poncho. I might have been drier without it at all!
Weary and wet, I berated myself for not having purchased an Altus poncho back in Saint Jean Pied de Port when I’d had the chance. I stopped at a friendly cafe where the couple there made a toasted cheese sandwich for me and, for the second time in two days, I cried over food and hospitality. There I also bought a cheap plastic poncho to tie around my waist as backup protection. I looked like a total dork: bright yellow skirt poncho, big black poncho, and huge white hat. I tried to keep my spirits up, but it was hard.
9km/5.6mi later, fed up with the pouring rain, I decided to bail.
Unfortunately, it didn’t get better. Catherine and I checked in and, as per the usual drill, we gave the hospitalero, a man in his 40s, our government-issued passports and credencial for him to stamp.
The whole walk I’d felt nervous about handing my passport over to anyone, so I was alarmed when he tried to give it to Catherine, saying, “This one is for the American.”
“No, I’m the American,” I said, making sure to get the correct document.
It was a set up.
“You Americans,” he said to me in accented English. “You think you have the right to call yourself by the name of whole continents.”
Oh, no, I thought. Here it comes. I’d heard this argument before: Why, if there’s a North America and a South America and even a Central America, do US citizens get to call themselves Americans?
He pointed to my friend. “She’s an American too. She lives on the North American continent. People from the United States should call themselves estadounidenses, like we do in Spanish,” he said. “That would be more correct.”
“I know, we just don’t have a word like that in English,” I replied, tearing up.
We hadn’t even set down our bags yet. I was dripping and cold, and eager to get warm. Where was the Spanish hospitality I’d experienced everywhere? Why was he so upset? Why did he have to take it out on me?
We eventually got beds, but I felt hurt, mad, and misunderstood.
Did I mention that it was a bad day? Our room was in an uninsulated attic with 18 other people. The month of May should have been warm, but it wasn’t. Neither was the room. That night I slept with all my dry clothing on.
The redeeming event of that day was the warm welcome we received from the hospitalero’s father and the wonderful meal he served to us. I was also reunited with my friend, Louise, who I’d met on my first day in St Jean.
In the morning, we awoke to the sounds of a lilting Buddhist chant (Om mani pedme hum). Ave Maria soon followed. Maybe because of the music, I found myself wishing that younger man peace instead of holding a grudge.
More rain was in the forecast and I worried about the big hill coming. I wrung out my socks (that I’d hoped would dry out overnight) and laced on my damp shoes. On the positive side, my hearing had returned in my previously-stuffy ears and I felt remotely better, despite the cold and damp.
From my journal, Life isn’t so bad. I just have to keep my perspective and deflect the bad energy that comes my way.
Maybe happiness really is as simple as choosing it.