What a day!
When you mix long, determined hours of walking with with funny, thoughtful company, the miles just fly by – 18.6 of them, to be precise. For the second day in a row, I blew by my longest distance (30km) on the Camino and felt amazing.
In the air was a palpable buzz of excitement. Everyone around us was talking about “going for it” tomorrow, getting to Santiago – or close to it – in time for Sunday Mass.
We held out the hope that by arriving on Sunday, we’d see get to see the 200-pound incense dispenser (botafumiero) in use. This ornate metal thurible swings dramatically across the cathedral, spewing clouds of fragrant smoke. Gary called it The Bong.
We all wanted to see it.
Under blue and sunny skies we climbed long, steep ascents and over rolling hills. We enjoyed a few blessed flat stretches of earth. We walked past cows and tractors. We walked through eucalyptus forest and over streams on stone steps. Despite the drive for miles, I really enjoyed my three guy walking companions.
Mattias and I had a chance to talk and I found his story fascinating. 10 years older than me, his English was flawless as he had studied for some time in the US. We discovered that we shared a mutual adoration of cats. The miles ticked away as we discussed the parallels between Europe’s economic difficulties and those in the US. I really appreciated hearing his perspective and enjoyed his company.
Now that we were in the heart of seafood-producing Galicia, Gary told us he’d been informed of a town ahead that was famous for its pulpo and a specific restaurant to visit there. Although 10am isn’t exactly the ideal time to sit down to a plate of boiled octopus, he was determined to have the full experience. We entered a cavernous restaurant with long tables and bench seats and ordered.
I couldn’t stomach the idea of partaking at this hour, but I grinned as Gary and Sonia sampled this local delicacy, served with a side plate of boiled potatoes and a bottle of white wine. I delighted in their disregard for the time of day. (I did taste one tidbit and found it to be rubbery, but mild.) I egged Gary on to take a photo of him with a tentacle hanging out of his mouth.
Gary later told me after that morning snack, he had his best day’s walk ever.
In addition to Gary, Scott, and Matthias, my other companion was an enormous butter-and-jelly bocadillo. With hopes of cutting costs for lunch, I had purchased a long loaf of French bread, cut it down the middle, and smeared it with an assortment of individually-wrapped jams and butter. This proved to be a pound-foolish idea as the jam seeped into the bread, the butter began to separate in the heat, and the bread slowly went stale. I couldn’t bring myself to eat it.
Worst of all, my bocadillo was so huge I had to lash it to the outside of my pack. It stuck out far enough that I risked hitting people with it when I turned unexpectedly. Finally, after walking with this this bad boy for three days, I got annoyed and chucked it out. The pilgrim meals weren’t that expensive!
After lunch, my ugly, black Crocks became a topic of discussion. I liked using them as town- and shower-shoes, but I lamented the fact I had purchased the kind with no ventilation holes – a big mistake when foot happiness reigns supreme and extra moisture is unhelpful at best.
A pause followed. I would find no sympathy.
“You know what we call those shoes?” Scott asked me.
Raucous laughter ensued. Here was confirmation that they were as ugly as I had suspected!
As we passed through villages and stopped in a few for lunch, snacks, and an occasional beer, we began to notice stone crucifixes at intersection. These towns weren’t big enough to have cars whizzing through them, just simple cobbled roads where you could meander into the middle of the street and look around.
That’s when I noticed something odd.
At one intersection, I noticed a crucifix that had another figure at the back. It was Mary. With a metal dagger sticking straight into her heart.
Hairs stood up on my neck.
I pointed it out to the guys and we stared a little longer, speculating. Even with as much as I know about Marian symbolism, I couldn’t make sense of it.
Later, I discovered the story behind both the placement of these crosses and a hint at the symbolism of the dagger. The truth was, these crosses were a glimpse into the pagan heart of Galicia and something we’d experience more deeply in the near future.
This walk was testing me physically and emotionally, yet I kept rising to the occasion in the company of my fun and thoughtful new friends.
From my journal:
I’m holding my own. When my heel started to hurt, I stopped. Gary stopped with me and was really supportive of me taking care of my foot. I am managing the worry and desire for approval and appreciating the silence. I feel stronger inside and more self-confident than ever. I am so proud of me.
Later in the day, the sunlight slanted down through the eucalyptus forests as we descended a long slow hill. Matthias and Scott walked in front, me behind them, and Gary in back, who was listening to his Camino mix on his iPod.
Apparently, Thank You by Alanis Morrisette came on.
Gary looked at the four of us walking in a line and exclaimed from behind me, “It’s just like the movie!”
In a way, it actually was.