Loss Along the Way

Last night, I learned of the passing of a friend back home after battling Parkinson’s for many years. He was a good husband, father, leader, example; a good man, leading a good life, and the disease struck him in his prime. A sober reminder that none of us is long for this earth and that we will experience loss along the way. I will remember his vibrant self and big smile as I walk today.

Delighted that they dried out overnight!

We enjoyed a good breakfast at Duerming Casa de Barreira yesterday as we prepared to leave. We talked with Oksana of our walk the day before, even more unbelievable as we considered it in the dry comfort of our hotel dining room. We felt good knowing that this day’s walk would be much shorter. Oxana was ready to go before we were and left about 30 minutes before we did, we figured we’d run into her along the Way.

Climbing again!

Also staying at our hotel were Jim, Liguori, Kieva, and Lorchan, grandma, grandpa, mom, and six month old from County Antrim, Ireland walking the Camino together. We had seen them outside of Rabanal but I just figured it was a local family out for a walk. Wrong. They started In St. Jean and have nearly completed the Camino, pushing a stroller all the way. They loved the beautiful vistas of Galicia, it reminded them of home, however, the wind was something different. I’m still having a hard time comprehending how they have managed this journey with little Lorchan and his stroller. Hardy, determined, folk.

The forecast called for rain again yesterday In fact, the forecast calls for rain for the rest of our journey to Santiago de Compostela. I’m trying to not think of it as it is a bit depressing. Leaving Triacastela, we followed the Camino arrows on a side road and up another mountainside. The rain held for about half of our journey. Moving up the mountain, I realized that we had chosen a shorter, but more difficult option for this leg of the Camino. Normally the more mountainous paths have alternative markings on them but this was marked as a main. We’re pretty sure that Oksana went along the flatter path – she had three new blisters after the walk the day before. We did not see her all day.

Sarria in the distance

We encountered Shel and Alex making the climb our Irish family was not far behind. I helped Liguori carry the stroller over a particularly rocky section of the climb. Determination. Passing several small villages, we realized another problem with today’s path, everything was closed. No cafes, bars, restaurants, or albergues were open – all closed for the season. It began to rain about halfway through our trek and we pushed through to Sarria without a break. Fortunately, we only walked 13 miles yesterday and we arrived at our hotel at about 1:30pm.

New friend along the Way

After checking-in, we were happy to discover that the restaurant was open from 2pm to 5pm – a lovely surprise. We opted for a nice sit-down lunch in the warm, dry dining room. A huge tapestry depicting the story of Jesus’ miraculous feeding of the multitude with five loaves of bread and two fishes hung on the wall – not something we generally see in hotel restaurants back home. We started with a shot of Orujo to warm our bones and enjoyed a lovely meal of avocado toast, lasagna, prawns, and Santiago cake. It was a luxurious indulgence and required a nap afterword.

Streets of Sarria

When we got up, we wandered around Sarria a bit but everything was closed. We’ve found that, when we get into a new town, we really don’t want to do much walking around. Sarria is a built up a hill and climbing was also something we did not want to do. Sarria is a town of about 13,500 people and pretty busy. As the nearest major town resting about 100km from Santiago de Compostela, it is a popular starting point for pilgrims to begin walking the last 100km to earn their Compostela from the Cathedral in Santiago. We met a Belgian born gal now living in Australia named Sophie who was meeting her family here to complete the last 100km. Her husband, Phil, was home with their three children. Small world.

We considered trying to find Oxana but we couldn’t remember the name of her hotel and there are many options for lodging in Sarria. Yesterday was the birthday of Kellen, our youngest son, so we FaceTimed him to wish him a happy birthday. We also did a video call with Madison and Cooper, who was refusing to take a nap. I don’t think we helped him settle down…

That evening, we saw a bus load of people unloading in the hotel parking lot, hiking boots on and day packs in hand. We ran into many of them in the hotel bar – they seemed to be mostly Spanish. As I watch the scores of people converging here to “finish” the Camino, I realize that, like most everything in life, you get out of it what you put into it. The part of my soul concerned with justice bristles at the shortcuts and ”checkbox” approaches to the Camino; the part of my soul concerned with mercy appreciates the people who feel drawn to this journey in whatever way and is happy for them to complete it in a fashion that is meaningful for them. I will choose to focus on mercy and wish all peregrinos a “Buen Camino” hoping they feel the power of the Way on their own journey.

As I finish this post, a large group of Japanese pilgrims is in the lobby waiting for the restaurant to open. I look at their brand new hiking boots, pants with no mud or stain, and their ability to walk around without limpIng from blisters and aching joints and realize that they will not find the Camino that Sally and I have found as we’ve pressed on for 30 straight days over 420 miles. I pray that the one they find will bring them what they need.

Today, I will think of my friend and his family, remembering him and praying for peace and closure for them. I will think of my family, friends, and the people with whom i work and pray that I will be better for each of them after this journey. That is really all I can ask: that somehow, I am a better man now than when I started.

Today, 15 miles to Portomarin. Five more days of walking before we are in Santiago de Compostela. And yes, rain is in the forecast 🙂

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