My Camino post with the longest title will be the shortest in length. That´s because we are staying the night in a pleasant family-run albergue where the internet service is costly and much in demand. But there are a few important highlights I want to cover before I have to log off.
Marian and I were among the last to leave the albergue in Santo Domingo this morning, and we took an extra ten minutes at a wifi cafe to check e-mail. So when we stepped out of the cafe at about 8 a.m., we expected to be walking alone out of town. We took half a dozen steps in that direction, then heard a familiar voice shouting "Bull!" It was Sam, female half of Simon and Sam, our happy hobbit friends from the north of England. By the time I turned back, Sam was running toward us with joyful, slow-motion movie steps, and Marian was returning the favor in Sam´s direction.
This was getting weird. In our previous nine days on the Camino, we had run into the couple no fewer than half a dozen times and never by design, at least not human design. Now, they had spent the previous night in the town just behind us and had set out toward Santo Domingo just in time to catch us straggling.
"We thought we´d never see you again," Sam said. "Ï was feeling so down, and then I saw you!" Now that they had seen us, it was clear that they didn´t want to lose us. As we walked toward the border between La Rioja and Castilla y Leon, Simon said that he and Sam wanted to walk into Santiago with Marian and me several weeks from now. Further, he asked us to consider following the itinerary they had already mapped out for the next three or four days, as we pass over some sharp peaks, through the city of Burgos, and out onto the Spanish plains.
As we walked along, Marian and I alternated walking and talking with Simon and Sam. When Sam and I walked together, we shared personal stories that are the stuff of close friendship, about troubles within our families and our own lives that have brought us to this Camino. When Simon and I talked, I saw that a deeper seriousness is settling over him after ten days. He began to say something explicit about this, but then he broke off, saying only, "Well, it will all become clear as we walk on, now, won´t it?"
We passed a sign saying Santiago de Compostela, 576 km. Sam jumped for joy at our progress: over 200 kilometers covered so far. "I´m doin´this," she crowed. "It´s goin´ down!"
By this time, Alann was walking with us. A native of Saskatchewan, this friendly, quiet woman in her 40s has lived most recently in Vancouver, a city she finds unfriendly. "You can ride the bus with the same people every morning," she observed, "and they never even say hello to you." She began her career wanting to be a teacher, but has strayed into the software field farther west. Now, newly single again, she is walking the Camino looking for a way to change careers and also, perhaps, find a new place to live.
Alann and I spoke of our religious beliefs and experiences. Her father is a Catholic, her mother a Pentecostal, and the result in her own heart was religious confusion or even indifference. But she spoke of a remarkable experience when, as a young woman, she visited the Old City of Jerusalem. There she walked the Way of the Cross and suddenly found herself placing her hand on an image of Jesus falling, where she said many thousands of Christians had placed their hands before her.
"I don´t believe in organized religion," she said, "but at that moment I felt a strong sense of participating in something. It wasn't me and them. It was us."
After ten days on the Camino de Santiago, I suspect that a large proportion of those walking west with us could say the same.
We did follow Simon´s itinerary, arrived at the little village of Viloria de la Rioja by 1:30, and checked into a room for five together: Marian and I, Simon and Sam, and our new friend Alann. We spent much of the afternoon sitting in the bright sunshine on the back lawn of the albergue here, exploring friendships that grow more beautiful by the hour.
[NOTE: This series of posts on my Camino continues here.]