After yesterday's thrilling climb to the Cruz de Ferro and its grinding descent through an Irish landscape to Molinaseca, Marian and I ambitiously set our alarm for 5:15 this morning. We weren't out of bed before 7 a.m. I was whipped, and Marian was happy to let me sleep, and to sleep herself.
I wrote a long post earlier today about the ways in which "The Way," the recent film, gets the Camino right and gets it wrong. The film definitely understates the difficulty, not just of the early vertical stages but of the whole long march. I was amazed at how exhausted I was after what sounded like a relatively easy 27 kilometers yesterday.
So this morning we decided to take it easy. We had a breakfast of coffee and pastry and headed toward Ponferrada, the last city of any magnitude before Santiago itself. The name of the city comes from the Latin for iron bridge. The existence of the bridge and of Ponferrada itself testifies to the historic importance of the Camino de Santiago.
The first bridge was built across the rio Sil in the 11th century by a bishop, in order to help pilgrims on their way to Santiago de Compostela. A modern industrial city has grown up on this spot, built around this piece of infrastructure but largely oblivious to its significance. This is like the Camino itself. Most "pilgrims" are following a path to the grave of an Apostle without giving much thought apparently to the man-god he followed, Jesus Christ.
Our path west from Ponferrada was mostly uneventful. As I wrote in my earlier post, the Camino has turned inward, at least for me. The fraternal fun of the early weeks—our joyful travels with Simon and Sam, for example—has given way to a quieter, more introspective, even melancholy mood.
On a simple, personal level, this Camino has been a precious chance to get to know my daughter as a young adult. She left home for boarding school at 14, and I have not lived with her for any length of time, other than vacations, for ten years. She is a new person, and ours is a new friendship. We've had our tough moments (what parent and child don't?), but we have been remarkably compatible.
In nine days, we will complete our Camino together. We have already agreed provisionally that she will go on to Finisterre, while I will stay three extra days in Santiago. Then we will get back together for a final swing by car through Ávila and Toledo to Madrid, where I will fly home a week before the end of the month. She will travel on.
Marian plans to come home for a while later in the summer, but it is clear as she talks about her thoughts for the future that it will be her future. Once again we will visit one another now and then, but this special time of prolonged intimacy will be over. Who knows if it will ever come again.
This adds to my melancholy over finishing something as monumental as the Camino, without yet knowing what it means or where it will lead or even why I undertook it in the first place.
But we have to take things one day at a time. Tonight (Friday) we're setting our alarm again for 5 a.m., hoping to be at the bar down the road for coffee and pastry at 6. Then we'll be off toward the base of O'Cebreiro, the last hard climb of a long, hard, and unbelievable journey.
[NOTE: This series of posts on my Camino continues here.]