Wednesday, November 27, 2013

The Good Bad Times

Backpacks outside a hillside bar
     Ron’s El Camino hike had a plot twist or two.  First he met four men he called the D.C. Bombers, one of whom tried to break the decibel level for snoring.  The albergues (dorms) had lights out at 10 p.m. and pilgrims had to leave by 8 o’clock the next morning.  Picture starting an all-day hike on a dark, chilly morning with hardly any sleep.
     Almost every pilgrim Ron met had a Bombers story, and dodging this group became a common sport.  Sometimes Ron walked twice as long as usual to get ahead of them, only to see them turn up.  Since they were struggling on the trail, this meant they were using taxis and taking albergue beds from those who had hiked all the way.
     While trying to avoid these men, Ron landed in a village with no cafes or bars.  The albergue was run by a rude woman who refused to serve him food or tell him where to find any.  Luckily, hours later things turned around when other hikers and cyclists showed up, followed by an unexpected food truck. 
Two Days to Go
     On the whole, Ron’s adventure was challenging and exhilarating, with moments of pure joy.  Thinking back on it, he realized the D.C. Bombers actually made his Camino.  When he changed his plans to avoid them, he met the first group of people he became attached to:  Karin from Austria, who had studied architecture for nine years;  Jamalia, her kind and lovely 20-year-old friend;  two young Spanish men called Jesus and Marco;  Mariush, a 58-year-old grandfather from Poland;  and Achim, 30 years old, from Germany.  Achim had begun his walk in France, where he fell in love with an opera singer from Belgium.  They'd hiked together until the border of Spain, then she had to head towards home.  Achim kept going: 12 weeks, 1700 kilometers in all.  The last three days he and Ron walked together, lost in conversation but not lost on El Camino.
Ron at Santiago Cathedral
Restaurante Entre-Ruas
            Meanwhile I made my way by bus, ferry, train and plane to Santiago de Compostela, the endpoint of El Camino.  Ron arrived the next day on foot.  I’d heard about the incredible feeling walkers have when they arrive at Santiago Cathedral.  Sitting on a wall near the Church, almost blinded by the sun, I watched pilgrims drift in with their backpacks and walking sticks. They looked exhausted but thrilled to have made it.
Ron's friends: Achim is the tallest
            Suddenly I saw Ron, full of energy, striding across the plaza.  We embraced, then went right to an outdoor café to share tapas, drinks and stories, which we continued to do all week.  I met some of his friends from the Camino, and we spent a long lunch and evening with Achim.

View from our apartment
Church of San Salvador
     Then it was on to Seville, our favorite city in Spain for its beauty, food and lively spirit.  Around every corner was a square with neighbors out and musicians playing, or a stunning church lit up at night, or a parade with people in costume for whatever fiesta
Cafe Entrecalles
was going on.  Sevillians know how to party, sometimes until 5 a.m., but most nights we went out for a few tapas and beer, then escaped to the little terrace of our 4th floor apartment overlooking the Church of San Salvador.

Seville Cathedral

     For Ron, walking through beautiful northern Spain and connecting with others was a powerful experience.  He says a lot of things trigger memories of the Camino.  Now getting up before dawn seems good, a reminder of those mornings when he was setting out with his backpack, not knowing how each day would unfold.
     I agree with Ron that surprises are the best part of travel.  We feel lucky to be doing it after all these years.


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