Peace in the Darkness

Yesterday marked our 6th day walking in the rain. I have never encountered anything like it. I laugh as I write this; the Camino itself is unlike anything I have ever encountered. We left Palas de Rei at about 9am yesterday and got into Ribadiso at almost 5:30pm. Sunshine appeared about three times in 5-15 minute increments – each time, bringing such joy. We covered 17 miles over the course of the day.

The trek to Ribadiso was hilly but had more villages than the previous two days and more of the cafes and bars were actually open. We saw many pilgrims in the morning and we could tell everyone was feeling the rain – even the newbies. Peregrinos filled the first few bars we encountered, finding any reason possible to get out of the rain for a few minutes.

Much of the walk today was on muddy pathways that were really more like creek beds running up and down the hills. Sally, Oxana, and I were quiet during much of the day. Marching on, we quipped about the weather, the mud, or the tour bus for the Japanese pilgrims we first saw in Sarria. The bus has become a reliable way to tell when its lunchtime as we see it parked outside of the restaurants the travel company has booked for the Japagrinos.

Yesterday was a very good day for new words for me. I’ve found that the Camino demands its own lexicon in order to capture the absurd, the compelling, or the singularly unique aspects of its often beautiful and bizarre revelations. The obvious first words are plays on “peregrino” as we’ve seen with our “Amerigrinos” and ”Japagrinos.” I can’t claim “bicigrino,” used to describe cyclists on the Way but it does set the tone for new words. There are also the “taxi trekkers” or “taxigrinos” we see jumping segments of the walk to avoid rain, hilly terrain, or the exacerbation of injuries. They always inspire a bit of a laugh as we watch them picked-up or dropped-off as discreetly as possible – typically a half kilometer away from a daily endpoint. I must confess that my creations tend to be inspired by the more absurd aspects of my experience and therefore lean toward the irreverent end of the spectrum. In my defense, I will claim goodwill and good humor as their basis.

Yesterday was a long day and we felt it. When we arrived, my left Achilles’ tendon was really sore and we were all tired. We agreed on an early dinner – fortunately an option at the albergue across the street. The hot shower and nap felt good but I was yawning through dinner and felt badly as Oxana noticed me holding back yawns during our conversation. It was certainly no reflection of the company we were keeping 🙂

When we started the Camino, we did not want to walk with set groups and have enjoyed much variety among the other peregrinos we’ve encountered. People have come in and out of our lives along the Way and it has worked really well for us. Finishing the journey this week with Oxana has been good for us in a different way as we’ve really had to put our heads down and will ourselves on. The walk is physically draining. The rain has been mentally and spiritually exhausting. Much of our days have been spent finding ways to laugh about the difficulties, encourage each other, or distract one another. Oh, and occasionally make fun of other peregrinos and ourselves. Our unusual trio and the unlikely nature of it reflect the Camino de Santiago in all of its variety and variability. What brings people together? What keeps them together? How do they behave when pressure is applied? For my part, I don’t believe it is random.

Over the last few days, we’ve begun to try and sort out some of what we’ve experienced over the last 475 or so miles. Yes, we are within 25 miles of Santiago de Compostela! We are still too close to it all to come up with anything truly profound. We can easily describe the journey in terms of places, people, and experiences. We can recount the weather or the mountains or the food. It is far more difficult to distill the internal movements that have occurred as we’ve walked, suffered, celebrated, and shared. How do you capture the essence of a lifetime lived through five weeks? I look forward to trying.

Today we walk on to Pedrouso, our last stop before Santiago. I am sitting in the lobby of Pension Ribadiso, intermittently moving my legs to turn the lights back on as the timer turns them off every few minutes. I smile as I remember the same exercise at our Hotel La Hanera in San Juan de Ortega along with the scorched coffee from the machine there. Last night, I finally slept a full night and did not wake up until 4am. I realize that it is the first night of such uninterrupted sleep I’ve had since landing in Spain on October 2.

I can hear the rain falling steadily outside as I look around the beautiful stone walls and exposed wood beams of the ceiling in this little lobby area. The windows are recessed in the thick walls as wood beam transoms functionally and aesthetically frame them. In this quiet, i can feel the peace and the satisfaction of the distance we’ve traveled. We have about 42km to cover in the next two days but it feels light with 750km completed. My legs feel good and my tendons are not aching this morning. I am rested. It is 6:35am and I’ve heard the first stirrings of pilgrims somewhere in the building. It will be dark for almost two more hours. Finally, I can feel the peace.

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