The two hospitaleras seemed stand-offish at breakfast as they hustled around making cafés con leche, warming up thick wedges of tortilla, and wiping their hands on their stiff, white aprons. But as we sat at the tiny counter, Meg used her admirable Spanish to engage them.
As they set coffees before us, Meg inquired how to say thank you in Galego, the language of the land. Suddenly, these industrious, reserved women became animated.
We attempted to parrot her words, which sounded like “mwee-tass grra-thias.”
They laughed at our efforts and repeated the words with more enthusiasm.
The younger woman showed with her hands that it was best to say these words passionately with your whole body – palms up and shaken once or twice. By the time our pronunciation passed muster, all four of us were grinning, laughing, cheeks flushed.
Today’s lesson: if you want to make friends with a Galego, ask how to speak their language.
On our way out the door, we thanked them properly once more. Then Meg and I walked out into the cold morning under a shining sky.
In contrast with the rousing breakfast exchange, the silence between me and Meg slowly returned.
For me, it came down to this question: What do you say to the person who already knows everything about you except the fact that you’re wildly attracted to her – but you can’t tell her this because you’re pretty sure you want to stay married and, anyway, you’re not sure your feelings are reciprocated (or even welcome) and in the off chance that they are, you’re not sure you want to find out whether this would turn out to be the most amazing or disastrous event of your life?
Yes, it’s the worst run-on sentence I’ve ever written, but it was the very dilemma going through my mind within a few minutes of leaving the warm cocoon of the coffee-infused albergue.
I could have been enjoying the scenery. The crisp air. The distant hills. The factory we walked past – okay, scratch that one. I could have been enjoying myself, but instead I was fretting about how I couldn’t think of a thing to say except the truth – which I wouldn’t allow myself to utter.
I have no idea what her side of the story was, but while I was busy feeling tongue-tied, she seemed to me a little more reserved than in previous days.
At the roundabout, we came to a concrete sign with two opposing arrows: left to Finisterre, right to Muxia. Meg had originally planned to walk first to Muxia alone, but then she’d found me in Santiago and merged her plans with mine. “I want to walk with you,” she’d said.
Despite the subtle change between us, neither spoke up or requested that we part ways. We turned left together and I felt relief. There was no one I would have rather walked with to Finisterre.
Today’s path was over hilly, open terrain through a vast unpopulated area, so we were surprised when – in the middle of nowhere – we came upon a vendor with a table selling snacks, coffee, and handmade Camino souvenirs. Several pilgrims were stopped here, so we nibbled on some cookies and chatted with them.
“You look really familiar,” said a happy-looking, older peregrina. I get this comment often enough to know that it usually leads nowhere, but I politely inquired where our paths might have crossed.
“Where do you live?”
“Really!” I said, surprised. “Me too. Where?”
We discovered it at the same time.
“Huh. I just taught a social media class…”
“I was in your class!”
What were the chances! Four months earlier, I had spent an entire day in Medford teaching a room full of business owners and she had been among them.
She squinted, looking hard at my face and long hair pulled back in a bright green bandanna.
“You look ten years younger!”
I was astonished by her declaration, but I recognized the truth in it. I couldn’t remember a time that I felt this happy. Even with my uncertainty with Meg, I had set down so many burdens since crossing the Pyrenees and felt lighter and more myself than I could ever remember feeling. In good humor, Meg stood by taking it all in.
As it turned out, this former class participant was taking a short jaunt on the Way with Lydia B. Smith, the director of the Camino Documentary. Although I hadn’t yet seen her movie, I told her that I had heard great reviews from a friend. We chatted a bit and then I wished her luck.
A short while later, we came upon a tiny church-like building, the Hermitage of Our Lady of the Snows. This enchanted building was surrounded by oaks on a grassy, sloping hill. On one side, it featured a covered outdoor alcove for pilgrims to leave prayers and light candles before the statue of the Blessed Mother. We peered into its tiny, barred windows and considered its substantial wood door (locked) with thick metal fittings. Its moss-covered stone walls seemed magical and I imagined that someone carried around a real skeleton key to open the locks. Did a hermit still live inside?
Back on the path, we began crossing an 8km/5mi uninterrupted stretch of moors covered with small pines and low-growing gorse. The sun became obscured by clouds and a misty haze veiled the horizon. It felt like we were apart from everything and Santiago a distant memory.
We conversed some, but the stillness of the moors requested quiet reverence. At times I worried that Meg was upset about something I had done or didn’t do. Perhaps the silence could be chalked up to her being in pain; her feet and bones had been aching. My own energy was flagging as my illness continued to worsen. The previous night, my fever returned when I failed to take ibuprofeno. That could be it. Or maybe it was nothing.
However, as I walked through this silent landscape, I was reminded of all the times that I have wanted others to feel okay so that I could be too. I thought about how often I preoccupy myself with others’ well-being and fail to care for myself. Despite my own unease and my concern about Meg’s quietness, I took a deep breath and came back to my own center. I trusted that things would unfold as they should. I let it go.
When the worry crept up again, I found myself able to recenter again, feeling taller and calmer. I can do this. I can be brave and present in spite of my worries.
We paused at a viewpoint that should have helped us orient ourselves to our ultimate destination – had the skies been clear. But instead, the low mists obscured the truth.
“Is that the ocean?”
“I keep looking at it and I can’t tell if it’s more mountains or what.”
Our first glimpse of the Atlantic was shrouded in thin clouds. We kept moving and delayed any celebration. An hour later, we began to descend the steep, scrabbly slope toward Cée when we saw with certainty, it really was the ocean.
Although it’s pronounced thay, the town of Cée could easily have been named for the shape of its lovely bay, fishing boats bobbing in its horseshoe harbor. As we wandered through old, stories-tall buildings on narrow streets, we lost the route markers completely. By continuing downhill, we found the main road and started looking for lunch options.
Suddenly a small, silver hatchback pulled up beside us and parked diagonally across two spots. The driver, a sturdy, dark-haired older man popped out of this car, left the driver’s door open and greeted us. I was taken aback. We both were.
“Hola, peregrinas!” he called, then shook our hands. “De donde éstan?”
We explained that one of us was American and the other from London.
“Ah,” he said. “I just caught some crabs. I will show them to you.”
He moved animatedly to the back of his car and opened the trunk. At this point, it wasn’t clear if he was trying to sell us the crabs or impress us or just make conversation. We followed and he opened two burlap sacks to display the leggy, red creatures still moving around.
“Can I buy you a coffee?” he asked.
I looked at Meg and she looked at me. By now, I could read her face as well as my own. It said, Why not?
So he closed the trunk and car door and we went in to a coffee shop a few paces away.
Sitting at the second counter of the day, we shared our names. “Me llamo Moisés,” he said.
We tried out another Galego word, “Moy-shiss?” We repeated uncertainly.
“Moisés. El hombre de la biblia que divide el océano en dos,” he said, sweeping his arms wide, demonstrating how to split the ocean in two.
“Ahh, Moses!” Meg and I exclaimed in unison, laughing.
We discovered that Moisés was a fisherman who owned a boat and whose adult son helped in his trade. He was quite a character. When Meg shared that she planned to walk to Muxia after Finisterre, he commented tartly, “Why do you go to Muxia? The people there are ugly.”
I struggled to follow most of the conversation so I just sipped my coffee, glad that Meg could hold her own in Spanish. I felt increasingly tired and excused myself to use the restroom.
When I came out, they were gone. I panicked. Where was she?
They were out by his car. Cigarette in hand, Moisés had his driver’s-side door open again and was playing music for Meg over his feeble sound system.
Our eyes met as I approached and I beamed a telepathic thought at her, Are you okay? She was. I felt protective of her.
She told me later that she wasn’t sure whether he was trying to sell her the CD – or just give it to her. He seemed like a kind Camino angel, but I was unaccustomed to this kind of attention and was unsure how to read him. I didn’t know it then, but I would soon see much more of his generosity and that little silver car.
After another tune, we thanked Moises for the coffee and set out to find lunch. I had been craving pizza, dreaming about a gooey, piping-hot pie fresh from a brick oven. When I saw a place advertising it on the menu, I started to salivate. Sadly, this particular “pizza” was fresh out of the freezer and briefly zapped in a microwave. It was, in a word, disappointing. However, it was still technically food (even if a lousy excuse for pizza) and, while the traveler complains, the pilgrim is grateful.
As we ate, the clouds disappeared and the sun came out, growing stronger and warming the air. It couldn’t have been more beautiful weather to get a little lost getting out of Cée. I was immensely amused by a gigantic yellow arrow pointing the way – the biggest I’d seen the whole route. If only life gave us arrows this big for major decisions!
Every turn revealed a new vista of the ocean, each more beautiful than the last. We were doing quite a bit of road walking, which was more taxing mentally and physically. An hour later, we came upon an arrestingly beautiful, white-sand beach with water of a dozen shades of turquoise. We just we had to stop.
That’s one of the things I loved about walking with Meg: she was so present to the journey and so willing to stop for a beautiful scene. Had I been alone, I probably would have kept going. For her, it wasn’t about the miles, it was about being here in this moment and enjoying it fully. I felt so grateful to Meg for teaching me this through her example.
Not a soul was on the beach. We left our packs behind in the sand, took off our shoes, and headed straight for the water. It was frigid and refreshing. Any time I’m near the ocean, it fills up a deep and wordless place in my soul – and this was no exception. While both of us got lost in our own worlds, I enjoyed wading and reveling in the rippled texture of the cool sand underfoot.
Leaving the water, I lay down in the warm sand and closed my eyes in utter bliss. I felt restored, at peace for the first time in days, and just let the contentment wash over me. I marveled at how my feet had walked all the way here from the French Pyrenees. Here I was at the ocean after all these long weeks.
I rolled on to my stomach after a while and stared at the fine, pale grains of sand. This close up, I could identify fine fragments of rock, shell, and crystal. Hearing the soft waves break behind me, I was enveloped in pleasant sensations, the immense beauty of the ocean, and the micro-gorgeousness of the tiniest grains of stone.
In that peaceful moment, I was overcome with gratitude for this journey.
The silence was welcome at last. And the only words I could think of were moitas grazias – over and over – more emphatic each time.