Sometimes, but not always, I paused at the end of the day to write on my map in the guidebook to describe what I saw. Some would say this is a sacrilege, but I found it helpful to jog my memory later. Today my scribbles included: “gorgeous views, cows ♥”, “beautiful” and “magical forest”.
I deemed today a Marissa Day. My best friend and I have taken a few hikes together where, to our mutual delight, we see evidence of fairies and gnomes hidden among ferns and glittery streams. I thought of her constantly because this part of Galicia is enchanted – I’m sure I saw a flitting of wings as I turned a corner.
By 6:50am, the sun wasn’t even fully up yet and I was already walking (much earlier than usual), out in the cold air under clear skies. Everything felt magical. Huge, gnarled oak trees appeared out of the mist along the path, some with gaping oval holes for gnomes to live in.
In places, the path was a deep green tunnel formed from centuries-old stone walls high above, carpeted with dripping moss and ferns, and oak branches overhead forming a dense and shady cover. Mist swirled by, obscuring the sun for moments and quieting every sound in all directions.
Today’s walk was short – a mere 18km/11mi – so I took my time on this silent, enchanted morning. In a sunny spot, I stopped for a snack of bread and honey and just marveled. I felt no hurry or anxiety, just peace. Fully present.
As I munched, I deeply appreciated the beauty of a large old, beech tree nearby, its expanse of branches and solid trunk. Had I ever stopped to notice a tree before? I’m surrounded by beauty where I live, and yet truly noticing is a skill that must be cultivated – otherwise we just rush around seeking experiences, while missing the beauty of what’s right here in front of us.
A pilgrim walked by and I greeted him, feeling happy and open-hearted.
Then I walked some more.
The walk remained beautiful as I got closer to Sarria, though I had an unfortunate experience that taught me that even in my open-hearted, peaceful state, not everyone around me has the best of intentions. It’s important to be discerning. A woman approached me on the path carrying a clipboard that explained that she was deaf, and was seeking signatures (and donations) to build an activity center for people like her.
I was so blissed out, I signed my name on the roster, and found myself being pressured into giving money. After weeks of hotels and special treats, I was now on a strict budget. Feeling guilty for contributing nothing though, she indicated that she had change so I handed over 20€, but she didn’t have correct money for the 5€ I wanted to contribute. I was trying to be all happy and friendly at the expense of paying attention to my intuition. I got 10€ back.
As soon as I walked away, something felt off. I’d been swindled. Yuck. (Further research upon my return home revealed that this is indeed a known scam.)
Let it be a lesson, I thought to myself. Be blissful, but also be cautious. Thieves are everywhere. In truth, you’re lucky it’s only a few bucks you lost.
This event might have ruined my day, but my arrival in Sarria was occasion for elation. Sarria is 100km from Santiago. It’s where many pilgrims, short on time, begin their pilgrimage in order to earn the coveted compostella, the Church-issued certificate of completion. Arriving in this town was a significant milestone and I felt overjoyed as I walked into its old, cobbled heart.
Walking up the steep streets, I considered where to stay. In front of one sweet albergue, my tall, white-haired friend, Don from New Zealand, sat at an outdoor table, writing post cards to his family. I enjoyed the company of this witty Scotsman and knowing he was staying here clinched my decision.
On checking in, a tiny miracle happened. The hospitalero told me to go up to room 4 and take any bed I wanted. I ambled up the stairs and saw that the room had six sets of bunk beds and, in the back, a single bed in its own little alcove, separated by a curtain of shell beads. My heart fluttered. It looked like a fairy room, a room for the Queen of Sheba. I wanted it. Desperately. But was I allowed? Was it actually part of Room 4? Would it cost extra?
I hurried down the stairs and asked the hospitalero, “Hay una cama sola que no es una litera – es possible que yo puedo tenerlo?” Could I pretty please have the cute little bed by itself?
“Si,” he told me with a grin. “Es para ti.” All yours. I thanked him effusively and almost cried with happiness.
Skipping back up the stairs, I set down my bag and marveled at this little room with the sunbeam stretching across it, complete with wicker chair and my own lamp. Sitting down, I discovered that my window gave me a perfect view of the beautiful Gothic church spire. I’d hit the jackpot. Magic!
In addition to English, Don and I share another common language in which teasing equals affection. Previously I’d been the object of his mirth because of my reputation for preferring Parador hotels to ‘lowly’ albergues. Though I didn’t look down on the people in them, this made me laugh because he was absolutely right.
When he walked in later and commented wryly about my sweet setup with the beaded curtains, I just grinned. Pegged again. I was nicknamed the Queen of Sheba. “Would you deign to associate with the common riffraff in the next room?” he asked. All I could do was laugh.
I spent most of the afternoon in the sunshine at a cafe, writing in my journal and enjoying a sumptuous lunch of calamari, roast pork, fritas, Santiago cake, and not a little wine. A girl could get used to this kind of life!
Later, Don and I strolled around town to find the internet cafe and visit the grocery store for supplies. We shared about our families, our work, and the blessings of doing this pilgrimage. He told me that I was lucky to do the Camino so young for there would be ample time for me to apply its lessons in my life. This comment meant a lot to me because I appreciated his perspective as a wise soul.
Don, however, had the last laugh. In my family, I’d been known as Princess as a teenager, which was not often said kindly and was perhaps earned justifiably. Although my preference for four-star hotels was well known, I thought I’d kept under wraps my inner control freak while on the Camino. With a humorously observant friend like Don around, I should have known better.
In the evening, long after most pilgrims had arrived, a Spanish cyclist set down his bags in room 4. Don and I made conversation with him and learned that he’d already ridden to Santiago that day and was now doing the return trip – more than 150km/93mi in one go.
Thinking the cyclist must be exhausted from so much effort, I said teasingly, “You should go to bed right away!”
Not catching my humor, the cyclist took me quite seriously and stammered that he still needed to take a shower and get some dinner.
“No, no,” I reassured him. “Of course! I only thought you must be tired.” I felt terrible for seeming so intensive and bossy.
Moments after the cyclist left the room, Don looked at me wryly and said, “You sure take this job seriously.”
I laughed for a full half hour and fell asleep giggling. This man had my number.
On reflection, his comment was the first time I’d ever been called out on my queenly bearing without criticism. It’s true, I do take things seriously. To me, life has always seemed so short and precious that I don’t have a lot of tolerance for screwing around. But being uptight and bossy isn’t much of a way to live either.
I felt grateful for Don’s humorous observation and could feel years of shame dissolving. I vowed to find a better outlet for my leadership ability, one that honors and empowers others as well as myself.
Perhaps, instead of in my guidebook, I could write those discoveries on the map of my heart and heed them on my life’s journey.