One shower, one loo, in a mixed dorm of twenty-one. Not an inspiring experience at albergue del Oribio. Made worse by the snorer of all snorers, in the bunk below me. His mate apologised as the snorer snored on, having a wondrous night’s sleep while the rest of us suffered, allergy, he said. Allergy, my eye! Keeping twenty people awake on a walk as gruelling as this is not an allergy, it’s the height of selfishness. I lay sleepless; I prayed his mother in heaven would demand his company; I prayed he would stop breathing; I prayed he would fall out of bed; I prayed wildly for anything to happen to the poor unsuspecting, blissfully sleeping, bastard! And I tell you all, do not attempt to walk the Camino without bringing with you, tucked surreptitiously into your passport, a Licence to Kill.
The morning walk was magical. Of the two roads I chose the longer and the lower road to Samos where I sat in Lola’s Café in the misty sunlight, eating and drinking all manner of deliciousness’s while waiting for the tour of the extraordinary Benedictine monastery.
The two young women who own the café proudly display their own compostelas’ framed on the wall for all to see. Being there lifts my tiredness, the walk, cool and shady, is restorative. I don’t know how I can walk without sleep, but I do.
Some rare manuscripts survived, and some of the contemporary frescos lining the walls of the cloisters, telling of the life of St Benedict and his raven, one of St Scholastica, his twin sister, are attractive.
Benedict had refused her request that he wait awhile with her one evening as she sensed she was about to die. She invoked a storm so fierce that he could not leave to return to his hermitage.
Great gal, never mess with a wild woman is the moral of that story. I would like Scholastica. I once sat in a bus going down to Dharamsala from a hill post further up the mountain with a Nyingmapa rainmaker. He was an impressive character too, and I wouldn’t have dared cross him with thigh bones as hairpins in his mane and malas of miniskulls round his neck.
Mermaids are another surprise in the monastery – painted on manuscripts, carved on the huge courtyard fountain.
I spend a couple of hours in Samos, the village itself only exists because of the monastery, but the day is pleasant and it takes a while before I decided to gird up my loins and get going on to Sarria.
Sarria is the beginning of the end. From here it is only 110 kms to Santiago. I learn that from here thousands of people begin their Camino, it is the last point from which one can start and still receive a compostela. It will become a bed rush, so I’m told, but I don’t quicken my pace or feel unduly worried, there will always be a bed. And there is – in Los Blasones, probably not the best choice of albergue in spite of being welcomed by Rufus Sewell without the glint in his eye. I beg a small room, of women only. I shouldn’t have bothered. I was given a room with two bunks and in due time three other women arrived. One said her friend snores only a leetle. I showered, went to eat and to explore.
I walked the mediaeval alleyways to find good food and many albergues that felt inviting. In the window of one is an 11th century Madonna that stops me in my tracks. She has all manner of tickets on her; I am drawn in to rescue her. I swear she calls me. Alas, the hospitalero doesn’t move from his seat and my plan to spirit her away in response to her being ignominiously ticketed is thwarted. I asked him if I could photograph her instead.
She was worth doing time for. She’ll sit in my memory along with Borovinsky’s amazing silk embroidered dressing gown I once stood in awe of in the Kars Museum when I was tripping across the Old Silk Road and about to descend on Marco Polo’s bridge. As I stood there I gave full reign to the possibility of a year or three in a salt mine in Siberia but decided a suitcase of summer clothes would prove cold comfort against 60 degrees below freezing.
A bit like St Claire’s robe, these ancient things sing, mine mine, as I re-encounter them this lifetime. It’s a puzzle.
To sleep – or not to sleep. I didn’t. The leetle snorer is oblivious even when I tweak her toe. She turns over and carries on snoring. The Licence to Kill would come in handy but I plump for something more calming. I lay turning the Rosary ring on my index finger, Tina gave the ring to me at my pilgrim Mass and blessing at St Mary’s a couple of days before I left for my Camino. After a few Hail Mary’s I slip into the dual consciousness that meditation brings. The snoring is just as discomforting, sleep doesn’t follow, but I dolphin-dose the night away, half awake, half asleep, as dolphins do to stop them sinking.
The pretty young French Canadian girl above me doesn’t sleep either. She is only nineteen and has walked from St Jean Pied de Port. We leave at 5.30 am. It is still dark. A Frenchman shines his torch for me when I fail to see the arrows, continues to turn and shine his light as I walk quite behind him slowed by my tiredness. The temperature is so humid my glasses fog up completely and keep sliding off my nose. Slowly daylight dawns and the French man continues on apace.
The municipal albergue on the farther outskirts of Barbadelo looks marvellous; a plump and contented ginger cat sits on its porch. Fabulous walk again today, twenty kms and very rural, cobalt columbines cheer the wild verges, a granite walkway leads by a stream, springs and brooks really babble.
At Las Tres Golodrinas a welcome donativo table by Camilla from Italy is set outside a huge barn. She has spread it with a gay table cloth and with all one could wish for breakfast. She has had a pretty sello made, of three swallows, which we stamp into our credencials. The Japanese woman who rescued me from under the barrier that led to nowhere by pushing my mochila flat against my back while an unchivalrous Spaniard ignored my plight is here. She throws her arms around me and we hug hugely, she tells me her name and I try to pronounce it. She is so brave; she speaks no English and no Spanish and is walking the whole way covered from head to toe so not a sunbeam can touch her pale skin. She is possibly forty, plump, has a very sweet smile.
Copses of holm oak, banks of foxgloves, tiny hamlets like Mercadio, Morgade. Morgade, five kms further on, has a charming restored albergue, an equally charming owner, and I am served tea and cake with a certain panache. Patricia is here, the pretty French Canadian. She tells me that for her the Camino changed after O Cebreiro. I nod, silently agreeing, but will not speak of why. What would words convey anyway, we share something ineffable.
I continue on. A man, an old rustic, comes towards me. He indicates that he wants to give me something, places a walnut in my hand. He asks if I will give it to Santiago and pray for him, he is too old, and not a little infirm, to go there himself.
For good measure he hands one to a Frenchman who passes at that moment, the Frenchman looks at me and says, we must do this, it is a trust.
I have no thought of not doing it, whether I am the first or the squillionth pilgrim who has been entrusted with a walnut and a prayer; it is indeed a trust, a holy pact!
I think as I walk that the Camino can be walked in three ways: as a prescription (my plane leaves on xxx date and I must walk xxx kms every day to get to the end as prescribed by time); as a performance (I did the first one in 30 days, I can do better than that, race for 29, 28 ...); as a prayer (no plane booked, no time set, as long as it takes, always in awe). That’s it, Three P’s for a Pilgrim!
To be continued ...