Epiphanies come out of the blue, not when we are eagerly looking for it all around. Focused on each ounce of the weight on my back and the slightest sign of discomfort on the feet, I missed looking around and losing myself in the glory that was unfolding all around, the first couple of days. I realize that in retrospect, while trying to gather the memories together. Just as in life. Our pains shift our focus so much, sometimes we have no clue what we might be missing on the way. Anyway, let me get on with the journey.
Day 2. Morning.
The first sight that greeted me as I came down, Captain Sparrow.
“Did you sleep here? he asks, without words.
”Si,” I answer. One word I know in his language.
We smile and wish each other, “Buen Camino”
Buen Camino, ‘Good Way’ – a greeting that you will hear a million times on the walk, the meaning of which may take a lifetime to grasp.
The breakfast area reminds me of a women’s hostel. Ladies, behind the counter, in the kitchen , at the tables. A South Asian looking girl with a huge smile on her face, extends her hands,
“Hi, I am Melissa. Call me Mel. From Austraaliyah.”
The accent would have given her away anyway. She seem to be a human glue, binding strangers together. She knows everyone by name, reminded me of my younger self. When did I start closing myself in, I wonder for a moment. And then notice the next table. Mother and daughter? Yes. Sonya, from Germany and her mother, Ane. Mother’s third Camino, or was it the fourth? Daughter’s second. Both on the Primitivo path for the first time. Ane’s gentle face and frail looking frame obviously conceals nerves and bones of steel.
“We like to start early,” and they were off.
The next were a totally unmatched looking pair. Sisters, from Canada. Anne and Manon. All of us were off soon. In pairs, by ourselves. At our own pace.
First action of the day. Off went the sleeping bag, in the hope that someone in need would get it. The weights we carry on our back, just in case. Thinking, what if we need it some day.
The wild path climbed slightly up on to an asphalt road, crossed a bridge and then turned into a village by lane. Stone houses on either side, not a single soul in sight. This was a peculiar phenomenon through most of the journey. You would pass through houses next to each other that were obviously inhabited. Chained dogs,cows, sheep and chicken inside the fence, well tended flowering plants, clothes on line, but hardly any human in sight. At any time of the day. Maybe elves lived there. The kind that came out at night.
It’s amazing how you find pieces of your homeland thousands of kilometers and a couple of continents away. ‘Horreos,’ the wooden granaries are so similar in looks and structure to the traditional ‘ara’ back in Kerala. Both used for the same purpose, to store grain and other produce of the land. The only difference seem to be that these are raised from the ground on four pillars. The pillars are capped with ‘staddle stones’ to keep the rodents out, says Wikipedia.
The morning slowly turned not too different from the previous one. Climbing up and down, cursing myself and setting myself down by the roadside in sheer exhaustion. Seriously considering the option of hitch hiking, I happened to look up and across the road. My soul animal, definitely a sign.
Snails on trees was something totally new.
Another hour, another stop. They had passed me by some time ago. The man and his dog. He knew no English, I knew no French. No worries. In a day and half I’d learned that you didn’t really need words to communicate. He was French, started his walk twenty seven days ago from Irun, in France. Most of the Albergues on the way do not allow dogs. They walk on until they come across a stream or even better a river. Pitch a tent, take a bath, wash clothes, cook something, sleep, get up in the morning and walk. They looked an extension of each other, the lean man and the even leaner dog.
”Buen Camino,” they were off.
Solitude is refreshing, some human connect in between even more so, I was yet to realize. A lunch of some left overs from day one, and I followed his path. Melissa had gone ahead long ago, Ane and Sonya later and the Canadian sisters too.
The sun was shining bright and the wind had picked up. The path looked refreshing.
The path crossed a tarred road and continued. The sisters were sitting in the middle of the road, their jackets spread on the ground serving as mats. I had company, obviously. Take a break, when you feel like it, where you are at.
Another hour, the cycle of exhaustion was repeating. “Where are all those voluntary refreshments?” I wondered. I had seen pictures of jugs of water or juice, bowls of fruits kept in front of houses or on picnic benches, for the pilgrims to take as desired. In less than five minutes, a miracle appeared to my right. This was only the first of the many in the days to follow. I think of, long for or need something, it appears. Not for nothing they say, “the Camino provides”.
Tea, coffee, the place even had organic soap on offer.
All they asked for was a donation, whatever the pilgrim could.
The path moved onto a sidewalk by a road, and finally turned left to a long bridge. It was evening by then. The bright yellow of daylight had turned into the golden glow of twilight that reflected on the river bed below. This pilgrim had to stand and stare, drink it all in.
The sign by the road pointed me to another left, ‘Monasterio de San Salvador’. I’d reached Cornellana. River Narcea flowed by gently on the left. The church spire could be seen through the trees, somewhere by the riverside. It took another kilometer and half to reach the gates of the 11th century monastery. Founded in 1024 by Infanta Cristina, the daughter of King Bermudo II and Queen Velasquita, this was donated to the monks of Cluny in 1122.
The place looked run down but soothing. Must have been the stones and the church bells that struck six.
A sense of peace descended, that turned into delight as I saw some of the people who had checked in already. Mel, Philomeno, the Italian man in the Albergue from day 1, the man and his dog, Ane and Sonya, an old man from Canada that had passed me by the previous day, it felt like reaching home. An hour later, the sisters walked in. Beginning of the Camino family. Some would fall on the way, some would go ahead, new ones would be added. Just like any other normal family.
”You can cook here, there is a supermarket down the road if you want to buy some stuff, “ said Mihael, the host, in perfect Spanish. I understood it, in perfect English. Cook? On my vacation? No way!
The dormitory was spacious, the ceiling, high. There were eight beds, bunk style. The man from Canada was on the bed across. There was a cute boy on the next. I would come to know later that he was Alessandro, a medical student from Rome. Taking a walk before he starts his post graduation course. A beautiful girl sat on the chair outside. She looked up from her phone, gave me a smile that I could keep staring at for ever, extended her hand and introduced herself in perfect English, “From Russia, I am…..” Alas, I have forgotten her name. Not her smile, though.
An hour later Mel came looking, “Come, have dinner with us. Philomeno is cooking.” The Camino provides, oh yes.
There is something about Italians, I have to say. Do they have some magic in their soul that seeps out through the tips of their fingers? How else can a simple dish of pasta turn out to be so tasty? And those tomatoes, again. The stomach was full, so was the soul.
“Where are you halting tomorrow?” asked Mel.
“Where my feet halts,” I replied.
After all, tomorrow is another day, as Scarlett O’Hara would have said.