My Life as a Traveler

Speaker, Listener, Reader

June 20, 2012

Up and out at 6am this morning and on the trail as the sun is just coming up. Today begins with a hill and, while I am a strong walker, the first hill that comes before I'm really warmed up burns my leg muscles. But, no pain, no gain, right? When I'm on the flat I hear someone with walking sticks clicking behind me. I am uncomfortable with clickers behind me, so I stop to let the clicker, who turns out to be a young Spanish guy, pass. He stops to take a picture and I want that same picture. We grin at each other and he moves on.

About an hour later, I stop for coffee and breakfast and there he is at the next table. We nod. A week ago, I used to be one of the first customers at the side-of-the-road bar, but now, at 7am and much closer to Santiago, almost every table outside is full. (Funny, after walking outside all day for all of these days, no one wants to sit inside unless it is raining.) I move on and pass Mr. Spanish Sticks taking another picture, but he catches up to me and says hi. Turns out his name is Ruben and he is from the Canary Islands and has been walking since Burgos. Unfortunately, he does not speak English and I have to get my butt off the English-speaking pilgrim bus to try to resurrect my conversational Spanish, which has taken a backseat to my traveler's Spanish. Yikes.

However, I gotta say that I'm not sucking at Spanish too terribly, as we talk together for almost an hour. Ellen from New York passes us with a, “Not bad, you should be fluent by Santiago!” Hmm. A bit later, a guy in a Franciscan friar religious habit, hood, cord, beard, and all, lopes by with a, “Nice job, your Spanish is better than mine!” Double hmm. I learn Ruben has a job with the power company at home, lives by himself, and loves to camp. I try to tell him what I do, and we discuss why each of us are there and what we like about the Camino. He is adorable, but the conversation dwindles and eventually he smiles and moves on. Sigh.

Right around the corner, though, is a village with an albergue advertising coffee, tea, and stamps for our Pilgrim Passports. When I walk up to ask where the bathroom was, I find it's staffed by Americans. But not just any Americans, Hokies! A orange-vested group from Virginia Tech was there on a mission to help the church-run albergue in this remote village for two weeks. I chatted with them a bit, checked out the facilities, and moved on, thanking the Camino for a little reminder of home.

It's a great day for walking. The landscape is lush and green. I'm in the moment, walking Julie Speed but drinking in the villages, farms, woods, and fields. Yesterday I met Dr. Judith, who I hadn't seen in 2 weeks – I knew we'd be leapfrogging each other for the next couple of days, planning to arrive in Santiago on Saturday. Today, she's off-trail along a stone fence enjoying lunch. I wave and she waves back.

After 24km, I'm in Palas de Rei, a larger town. At the bar next to the albergue are sitting (of course) Italian Ricky and friends, including Franciscan priest guy. Ricky jumps up from his seat to give me a shout and a hug. I catch up with him and greet the rest of his gang. Turns out he has to be in Santiago by Friday because his girlfriend is coming to meet him from London on Saturday. I'm invited to the celebratory bash, but I won't be there in time. They urge me to stay and chill with a beer, but I still feel like walking, so off I go. I really want to get one town ahead to avoid the crowds in the morning.

I don't go far, though, and in less than an hour I'm standing in front of a quaint stone albergue. Some German folks are sitting in the courtyard and tell me it's a nice place and I should stay here. That's enough for me and before you know it, I've found my bed (top bunk, but I've made peace with the ladder) showered, saladed, beered, and napped. I meet Christiana over lunch and listen to her story instead of write, even though I've got my iPad open. This albergue is attached to a restaurant/bar and I go over for a cup of tea when I wake up. Dinner tonight is here at 7pm, but I'm invited to attend a mass in English at 6:30pm, presided over by Franciscan Priest guy, actually called Father Augustine, and who is from England. Mass, sure, why not?

The lounge area adjacent to the sleeping rooms is set up with a table for the priest and a half-circle of chairs facing him. I've been to the tail end of Spanish Mass in Carrion and German Mass in O Cebreiro and never really knew what they were saying, so I'm glad for the opportunity to hear it in English. Our small group of about 14 souls watches the Priest as the liturgy begins and I'm drawn in by the poetry and the ceremony. No singing today, just prayer.

I'm surprised and honored to be asked, as the only native English speaker in the group, to read some Scripture aloud. I fumble for my glasses (never in their correct place) and stand in front of the group. It's the story of Elijah and Elisha. A story! I can do this! All those nights reading Harry Potter and all the other classics aloud to my family have prepared me for this moment. I pause to scan the text, then with appropriate pauses and different voices for Elijah and Elisha, I, hopefully along with my audience, am on the River Jordan when Elijah whips his cloak out to part the river, then says goodbye to his friend Elisha as he's whisked away by the magnificent chariot and horses of fire. I finish, take a breath, and hand the book to Father Augustine, who is, frankly, staring at me. Oh shoot, too much drama?

The Mass continues with more prayer, communion (I choose not to take communion) and a blessing (I'll take all the blessings I can get!), and we head off to dinner. I stay after everyone's gone to thank him for my first English service, and, to my great relief, said that that was the best reading of scripture he's ever heard! Phew.

We move on to dinner and Christiana is trying to keep the English speakers together, so I join her and Father Augustine for a lively conversation about how a kid from a military family majoring in English in university becomes a Franciscan priest. We talk about silent retreats and yoga and Nicaraguan insects and natural health as well. The food is soup and salad for first course, potato omelet and grilled pork with beans as a second, and prepackaged desserts for all. I would love to talk to Father Augustine more, and he says he'll be staying in Arzua tomorrow, and usually does Mass in the local church.

Back to the little stone room and my upper bunk. I'm going to sleep well tonight. Goodnight, Elijah, thanks for a great day.





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