Thursday, April 28, 2016

El Camino de Santiago de Compostela Day 6:

This morning as we left The Way-Hostal to resume The Way-El Camino, Matthias briefed us on The Way-ahead,:
‘Don’t take trail,’ he advised, ‘it’ll be too wet! Take the road… and only 15 km today!
  And you’re going to Villafranca?  Then stay in de la Piedra – it’s the best albergue!’
People in general and Matthias in particular were so kind and helpful on the Camino. Right after we left him,
we stopped at a tienda  = cornerstore for some bananas and the owner gave us handfuls of free trail mix because we were peregrinos! Those who live along the Camino actually see themselves as a part of  it; many of the villages owe their very existence to it, and so they want to bless those who pass through.
We walked the next 7km through vineyards and lush vegetation. The Bierzo Valley’s mico-climate is more like the Mediterranean in stark contrast to the barren mountain summit only the day before.
Our walk into Ponferrada was all downhill – and I was walking quite well, even with my pack. It was one of the biggest cities on our journey and got its name = Iron Bridge from one of the world’s first iron-reinforced bridges; makes sense, eh? As we entered, we noticed people carrying laurel sprigs and palm branches, and I  finally remembered today was not only Sunday and people were going to church, but Palm Sunday. In Spain, that’s the beginning of Semana Santa = Holy Week, the time for religious rituals, festivities and processions: the holiest week of the year and here we were, without really planning it, heading for the holiest site in Spain in their holiest of weeks. Pretty good timing, eh?
We continued through the city centre, stopped at the Tourist Info office, found some decorated religious floats parked from an already finished morning procession and concluded we were too late. So we walked further towards the Castillo de los Templarios = Knights Templars Castle, a formidable-looking 12th Century fortress.
But Matthias had warned us, ‘Don’t go inside; too expensive and nothing in there!’ so we just walked around it,
over the bridge… 
and that’s when the pain hit me again in my hips and legs and I could barely move forward?!  
But we turned a corner onto a palm tree-lined avenue, and suddenly we saw lots of well-dressed people and kids with balloons filling the street ahead, gathered in front of a church. We asked what was happening? Some motioned us to look back in the direction we’d just come from, and through the crowd, we saw banners and heard music coming toward us. Michael climbed up higher for a better view; I dropped my pack to move in closer.
Soon we could see a band and people dressed in colourful costumes and above them all, the focal point of the procession: a float with a figure of a very Spanish-looking Jesus, riding a donkey – carried on about 20 shoulders, slowly moving down the avenue towards the church.
And then my daily verse made sense: Galatians 4:4 ‘In the fullness of time, God sent His Son’ = at the right time, not too early and neither too late, but Jesus came at the right time! And He not only came for all mankind at the right time then, but He’d also brought us here now; not just pretty good, but perfect timing!
The procession made its way into the church, but I wasn’t doing very well: I was moving very slowly and increasing difficulty. Physical pain seized my entire being. Every step became an agonizing ordeal. But with this awareness of my own pain, I became all more conscious of the pain Jesus suffered for all and how much it cost Him! He wept over Jerusalem, they refused His love and yet He still gave His life for them and us!
And coupled with these, the emotional pain that Erica suffered with for so long again overwhelmed me.
Tears welled up from deep within and overflowed as I walked, barely able, but somehow continuing, putting one foot in front of the other. I was only following One who had gone before me, and it was all I could do, simply by grace in His footsteps: the pain gradually giving way to the healing… and  ultimately the glory.
We made it to the bus depot and I laid my packsack down. It must have been like Christian felt in Pilgrim’s Progress when he laid his burden down at the Cross.
The depot was open, even on this holiday; a bus left shortly, and it only took a half hour to reach Villafranca del Bierzo. It rained all the time we drove and poured even more when we got off. The next bus to our next city didn’t leave till the next day so we took Matthias’ advice and stayed overnight at Albergue de la Piedra = the Rock.
A really great place, literally hewn right out of a massive rock! Nice people too: on such a cold, wet day they poured us cups of hot tea right when we stepped in! And it proved to be a popular gathering place, as many peregrinos we’d already met along the Camino joined us throughout the afternoon. We may have only met 2 or 3 days ago, but the Camino had already made us old friends: the Toronto duo, S from Seattle, English Ben and a couple Berliners and a Portuguese mom and son. Together we shared our trials and victories, our pains and joys, our blisters and laughter; and somehow even that once dreaded Green Monster became a memory of overcoming.
A welcome place to dry off, warm up, and rest for a while on a Sunday afternoon…

but Monday morning was coming and, like life, that means another morning to get up and start walking again. 

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