Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Camino Twenty-Nine – Vive La France, Air Traffic is on Strike!

I wake too early and lay fretting that I must trail about Santiago looking for another room as I was given the only vacancy here, and that for one night only.  But something urges me to go downstairs and ask the night staff ... who proves so much more accommodating than the crisp Miss of yesterday’s day staff.  He can give me a pilgrim room from tonight, for four nights, at the pilgrim price of €23 including breakfast.  I’m so relieved.  I can now find a flight, explore and sleep, sleep, sleep ... 
I ask him about flights to Paris, to retrace my flight path home to Bristol.  Ah, he tells me, but not to Paris, their Air Traffic is on strike again and all flights are suspended for the next seven days. 
Oh.  Double Oh.  He books my room for a further two days as a precaution.  I’ll sort out flights later today.  I dread the return. I want the Camino Adventure to go on forever even though my body is saying can’t, can’t! and I have promised I won’t make it suffer Ever Again.  
Now I am securely accommodated for the rest of my stay I can relax; I will take over my Pilgrim’s Cell in the attic at 10 o’clock.  I repack, rest, and go down to breakfast at 7.30, first off the starting line.   A Dutch woman asks to sit at my table; her story, and why she walked the whole Camino moves me, she is very teary and with good reason. She lost forty kilos in weight along the way.  I sit open-mouthed, I had gained a few kilos myself, but I would not want the story she was telling me in order to hasten such a weight-loss.  I cannot remember her story, didn’t commit it to my journal and it has blown away on the wind; pilgrims have many stories and pilgrims hear many stories.  We hug and wish each other love and happiness.  
I drift over to the shop in the cloisters, which sells all manner of religious memorabilia and I ask a pointless question. All along the Camino are marvellous statues and references to peregrinos, but I want, along with the poppy and a scallop shell, an image of a peregrina.  Ah, smiles the wise woman behind the counter, but we have the real Peregrina not so far from Santiago; la Divina Peregrina. 
Instantly I am alert.  I must visit Pontevedra, she tells me, on the Camino Portugués. Three and a half days walk south, and three and a half days back – or I can catch a train, the return journey will take two hours.  I opt for the train, a no-brainer in my state.  140 kms round trip, I can barely believe how only days ago I happily walked such distances; 700 kms is already disappearing into the mists of memory.  La Divina Peregrina will be my Adventure for tomorrow.  I’m thrilled, I will be more rested by then, and open for anything. 
10 o’clock and I move up to my attic.  It is ideal, and so suited to a pilgrim.  A tiny cell, a plain single bed with snowy sheets and a thick chocolate coloured wool blanket, a scallop shell on the iron bed-head, a tiny desk and chair, a capacious cupboard and a small cubicle with a shower, wash basin and loo.  The high attic windows run the width of the room and the view of turrets and towers is marvellous.  I am happy here. 
Now I must book my flight.  I feel unaccountably helpless, as if the effort of strategies needed to survive the last six weeks has drained me of quotidian functioning.  I, who can organize a trip to Angkor Wat at the drop of a map, am inexplicably threatened by the mere thought of navigating cyber space for a flight home, now compromised by the airport strike in Paris, my route plan to Bristol.  I actually send up a prayer for help. 
In the street between the Seminary and the back of the Cathedral people are milling; I scan to see if anyone I know is there, yes! there is Ela, and beyond her range of vision, but I can see from the Seminary steps, is Jüergen!  I run across and am hailed by Sister Aileen from the English prayer group, all my prayers answered at once.  I tell Sister Aileen I will be back in two minutes, call Ela who turns, point out Jüergen, calling his name as I do. Another grand photo-shoot to mark the moment; Jüergen is about to catch the bus to the airport to fly home. 
I return to Sister Aileen, tell her my dilemma.  She has the perfect solution, Father John from Ireland is computer savvy and will help me after English Mass in the Cathedral but English Mass extends to coffee so we shift our appointment to after Pilgrim Mass at noon.  
And ... a nun with the voice of an angel is singing. 
 It is a long Mass, the Pilgrim Mass, and I take the moment to climb the stairs behind the High Altar to thank Santiago.  I am alone.  Exactly as I reach the silver statue, Angel voice sings an Allelujia, her rich soprano pierces the transept, I feel an upwelling of tears and put both hands and my forehead to rest on Santiago’s silver back.  Tears flow unimpeded; I thank Santiago, Holy Mary and St Francis and Jeff and Olivia and Caroline and Tina and Thérèse and Everyone who has made my pilgrimage possible. 
 And the tears continue.  I’m not crying exactly, but the tears are coming from a place below words, before words were formed, and I suspect many and many a pilgrim has known their own tears here before me. 
I return to Mass.  It is a huge Cathedral and it would take a search party to find a lost soul; comings and goings are all part of it and no one bats an eye at my absence or return as I perch on a stone plinth near the altar.  I watch intently as men assemble, the huge silver thurible is being lowered.  Lo and behold a grateful pilgrim has paid for the Botafumeiro to be swung and I have a front row view.  The spectacle is awesome and I take a number of blurred photos.  A holy moment, and so unexpected. 
Then off to the cyber café with Father John.  No planes going to Paris, no going via Dublin either, Aer Lingus flights one way are £300.  I am getting stressier and stressier.  I would sooner walk another 700 kms than tackle air fares, flights and cyber space right now.  Father John finds me a flight to Gatwick from Santiago with easyJet for €103 and a National Express bus to Bristol.  Practicalities over, I buy Father John lunch and introduce him to hot chocolate Spanish style. 
Siesta then, in my pilgrim room.  Up here in the attic I feel like Gertrude, Countess of Groan, but for the lack of a furlong of white cats trailing after me! I doze off and surface at four, dress in everything I have, the weather has turned cold even though it is high summer. 
I head off to buy my train ticket to Pontevedra and to book my trip to Finisterre when I see, coming up the steps of Plaza Obradoiro, Gene and Sandy, last met in León three weeks ago.  They have walked the Camino prompted by Martin Sheen’s The Way; began in Pamplona and have walked enough.  
They accompany me to book the trip to the End of the Known World.  And so Endeth the Second Day ... 

and still it continues ...


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