HOSPITAL DE ORBIGO – It doesn’t happen often, but sometimes I don’t sleep well at the Alburgues, it might have been that second, best cup of coffee ever, or the woman in the bunk next to mine that made a sound like the last one an animal makes when being dispatched about every 10 minutes, or I couldn’t find my earplugs. It was a restless night, and the trouble with that was, I had made plans to walk with Peter, a perfect English Gentleman, whom I had met the night before. He has been on Camino from Leon, France where he lived, walking out six weeks ago. While he knew I could not do the 30-40km that he normally did, it was going to be a short day to Astroga (17km), so walking slower with me was OK. But I slept until 8.30am, and woke up thinking he would already be gone, but stumbling out of bed, there he was, reading his Kindle. The perfect English Gentleman.
We had a nice walk into Astorga, and I found Peter to be thoughtful and interesting, plus he is a Methodist. He had a code, or way of Santiago, “Eat, only when you are hungry; Walk, until you are tired, and stay in interesting places with a communal meal.” That last one had brought us to the Alburgue Verde, a hippy-Buddhist place. “When you are really hungry almost anything will taste great; when you are really tired, you’ll sleep well; and I understood the interesting place bit.
As we were leaving after our first coffee, an older developmentally delayed man pointed us to The Way, after we had begun from the café wrong. What a great service he provides.
Peter was staying in Astroga, and I moved on thinking we might see each other the next night in Manjarin, for an interesting experience.
Then I got serious about walking late in the day, after a nice siesta in the shade of a Live Oak, that could have been in the Texas Hill Country, but for the lack of fire ants. I was planning to land at El Ganso because the guidebook praised the home cooked food, but one town away I lost interest in walking and stayed at an uninteresting but adequate Alburgue.
In the late walk of my journey, the Camino asked that I return to Ghana and continue doing what I had been doing, but told me if I wanted it to be meaningful, I knew what needed to change. Tomorrow I would go to Cruz de Ferro, the Cross of Iron. Almost at the highest point in the Camino stands this iron cross of medieval origin, mounted 21 ft high. It has become one of the “abiding symbols of the pilgrim way”. Pilgrims who read ahead know to bring a stone from where they come from, and give that stone meaning by reflecting with it on why they joined The Camino. I picked up twin rocks outside our home in Ghana and let Suzanne choose which rock stayed in Ghana (to remind her to pray for me), and which rock came to join the others at Cruz de Ferro. I knew what burden I was going to assign it, and tomorrow I just might be free of it.
It seems to work better when I take in the first town of the morning, and this turned out to be El Ganso, my goal from the previous night. It wasn’t the first café I stopped at but the second one and a bit off the Camino. I walked in and of course, there was Mary, and MaryAnna; the Marys. I had not seen them since Leon (three days earlier), when I began a different way to avoid “evil.” El Ganso was their final destination for this Camino, they were re-living a favorite memory from their previous Camino and I just happened to walk in as that experience was beginning. After breakfast they would walk back to Astroga and fly to San Francisco.
The Camino gives us what we need, and I needed to say good-bye to such important people of my Middle Camino.
“The first part of the Camino strengthens the body,” Andria told me at the Hippy-Buddhist place. “The middle Camino or Mesada stills the mind, and from here to Santiago, it is for the soul.” The Marys had been a vital part of my middle, mind-stilling Camino, and now I would face the soul part without them. We shared what we had been doing the past three days, who we had walked with, what The Camino had taught us.
I learned they had been walking with evil, and must, I’m figuring, have said good-bye to him a few minutes before we met. I was glad to have been elsewhere, and while I wanted to believe that I had been wrong about evil, nothing they shared about their experience changed my mind. I found myself thinking, “yes, that is just how evil works; I’ve seen this before…,” but I didn’t say anything. Now that they were turning back I knew they would be safe, I could stop praying for them. Evil would now be ahead of me.
Right as I was finishing my breakfast, in walks Peter looking for an apple. I introduce him to the Marys and it seems to me as if The Camino has arranged a hand-off of Steve. Both are happy to meet the other as I had shared with each about the other. We walk the rest of the day and I learn he has been married 25 years to a woman as, if not more, brilliant that Suzanne. We both married up, I think. I share more about my journey and struggles than I think I ever have. It feels good to process a bit of what I’m hearing The Camino say, and he is a thoughtful listener.
I realize that the work I came on Camino to do is largely done, but then Peter asks a “is there nothing you can do?” question about a certain workaholic I know, and I feel my next Camino assignment beginning to take shape.