Monday, April 25, 2016

El Camino de Santiago de Compostela: Day 3:

Up, packed and walking by 8 again, but rather than bright sunshine, this morning fog enveloped our Camino. Its fields were grey; stalks of unharvested corn stood like shadowed shrouds in the mist. But we both agreed: cool is better than hot when walking. And we were thankful we weren’t here during summer’s heat or crowds of 1000s. In fact, today the Way was quite empty. English Ben (only first names on the Camino), his 2 Koreans + a young Spanish student were our only fellow peregrinos for most of the day.
Gradually the mists gave way to sunshine and we looked for a mid-morning coffee break. Villavante wasn’t awake yet when we entered town. The sign on the restaurant door said abierto = open but when we knocked and even rattled the restaurant door, it was definitely cerrado = closed. No life anywhere, like a spaghetti Western when gunfighters take over and all the timid townsfolk flee behind drawn curtains. So we moved on, only to hear a voice and see a guy out in the street waving us to come back. So we did and found out that’s the Way to get an early cafĂ© con leche on the Camino. 
We passed water towers with storks, church steeples with more storks (they seem to favour churches?)  and then a long distance  just walking through fields and pine forests. And we got to talk together: my son + I + other fellow peregrinos. Our discussions ran the full gamut of topics: experiences, ideas, culture, politics, faith, challenges, victories, even apparent defeats. Even if they can’t admit it, ever peregrino has a story, indeed is a story.
Pilgrimage is especially about life-story-telling, letting the miles unfold your story. Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, the 1st book in recognizable English, is all about pilgrims passing their time telling stories as they walked.
Talking is good, but talking + walking is better.
That’s how Jesus taught His 12 disciples: He didn’t just sit them down in a classroom, but they walked through 3 ½ years of life together and He used their encountered as revelatory object lessons: the sower + his seed, the young ruler and his riches, the woman taken in adultery.
There is such an abundance of story in creation and redemption: our story and His-story.
And that’s when we happened on one of the great stories of the Camino: Don Suera de Quinones and the Puente = Bridge de Orbigo. Our guide book related how this noble 15th  Century knight from Leon, spurned by his true love but, in proper romantic chivalry sought to recapture his honour by ‘defending’ this bridge. He challenged all who would cross it and knights from all over Europe responded. He broke 300 of their lances in jousting matches until he felt his honour restored sufficient to resume his pilgrimage. Annual tournaments continue to celebrate his romantic idealism here to this day!
Talking while walking also makes the time pass faster. As you focus on the story, you’re no longer so aware of how high the hills or how long the way are; time simply passes with the scenery. And that happened for us! We walked and talked and didn’t realize we’d gone over 20km and… then I was suddenly tired!
So how opportune that in the middle of nowhere a literal ‘Oasis’ appeared! That’s what a group of ‘hippies’ called this haven of refreshing they set up in one of the Camino’s most isolated parts and served drinks: cold + hot, snacks, fruit, even a couch to rest on – all for free! I dropped my pack, collapsed on the couch and ate strawberries!
God bless such kind and generous souls who refresh others at their point of exhaustion.
And the yellow arrow marked only 8kms = 5 miles to Astorga: our day’s destination … still a ways to go!
It took a lot of effort to get me going again, but I did. I was becoming more aware that I no longer had that 24-year old body that hitched across North Africa and the Sinai in what now seemed aeons ago!
‘Just another 8kms, Henry; another ¼ of the distance you’ve already covered today! You can do it!’
We stopped at the Cruce = Cross and Astorga spread out before us in the distance. It looked deceptively close.
But actually getting there took longer than ever; I think it’s the longest 5 miles I’ve ever walked… over 2 hours! And just when I thought I could see the finish I saw It: the Green Monster!  looming over the railways tracks, separating  us from the city,  its height intimidating,  both its tails switchbacking back and forth on either side.
Some mad architect’s scheme to totally dishearten exhausted pilgrims at the end of their long day’s trek: it was
a bridge crossing the tracks with 100-metre long ramps that wound back and forth 3 or 4 or 7 times on either side.
It was the talk of our albergue that evening: that torture-ramp designed to drain the last ounce of our stamina!
I looked at it + felt exactly that: drained!
And that’s when Sir Michael, like the brave knight, stepped up and took my packsack together with his and conquered the bridge for his dad! I first resisted his offer, but as my feet barely moved under my burden and the monster raised his head higher, I yielded. We walked the last 2 kms uphill into the city and stopped to overnight at the nearest albergue.
Fortunately, we got a room all to ourselves again. I took off my ‘Lamborghini’ hiking boots and no-sweat merino socks and let my tired feet breathe: incomparable relief, but also the biggest blister I’ve ever seen on my foot!
God-cidently, a nurse helping people with blisters, just outside our albergue, lanced and drained it, and after a shower and supper, I actually felt human again!
Our distance walked: 31.2 km and my verse for the day: Heb10:36 ‘you have need of endurance’.
As during the 88 Days Erica was missing, ‘endurance’ once again became my theme: 1day more than I thought I could yesterday! Our family story since she went missing has been a lot like this day’s walk.
Through the fog, a mystery that needed the sun to break through, dispel the unknowns and bring shadows to light. Doors seemingly closed, but suddenly open.
Bridges blocked, but then opening the way.
It had been good to talk and walk through these today together.

But now my feet ached and I was tired … and all I wanted was a good sleep!

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