Wednesday, 6 January 2010

Gifts of the Camino

Today - Arzua to Pedrouzo 19 kms
Tomorrow - Pedrouzo to Santiago 19 kms

We awoke to the Feast of the Kings. No gifts had been left in our boots. In fact there was a strange mood in the air all round. Neither of us said much. We established that the predicted snow had not fallen. Even that didn't raise our spirits.

We were both aware that Santiago was now less than 40 kms hence. In summer like many others we may have set off before dawn to reach the Cathedral on the same day.

Winter pilgrims have to plan differently. Weather forecasts become essential viewing. So too does working out departure times because it is not light at this time of the year until between 8.30 and. 9am. Take today for example: had we chosen to leave at first light then we would have covered the 19 kms of the etapa in 5 hours arriving at 2pm at the latest. There would have been nothing to do apart from find an open bar. For everyone that can be boring for Scotsmen it can be disastrous.

So we took our time packing and having breakfast. The woman in the bar gave us cake we hadn't ordered. She was very friendly. It was exactly this kind of simple kindness we were reluctant to leave behind. We knew that when we left we would be moving even closer to the end of this journey. We also knew that not all of our walks have been pilgrimages. This had been and it was drawing to a close.

We left our empty hostal having stamped our credenciales with the lonely sello on the counter and set out in the bitter cold. Within half an hour as the route rose before us we were warmed with the exercise. The sun came through. In the distance on the main road we saw snow ploughs spreading grit for the bad weather which thankfully didn't come today.

Eventually we chatted about our journey from Ponferrada: The woman in the hostal who gave us hand made sweets, the German girls who gifted powerful teabags. The man who put an extra heater in the room. The day the sun came out to change everything. The bowl of soup after our miraculous ascent to Cebreiro. The nods and smiles of the few pilgrims we had come across. Our own friendship affirmed and deepened. The space we had been gifted to enjoy the Camino Frances in splendid solitude.

I have always felt ambivalent about this route. The case against for me are the crowds, the tourists, the advertisements for Bacon and Egg Breakfasts and the summer race for beds. But for us on this pilgrimage the route had revealed its beauty and its promise.

Today our walking day was short but by 2pm or so we were hungry. We turned into one of the few bars we had seen open. We asked about food and the woman set about making us omelettes. This was a pilgrim place and we were surrounded by memorabilia. As she put down our food I gave an involuntary shiver. A few moments later she wheeled over a portable gas fire and turned it up beside me without saying a word.

As we lingered letting time pass she asked us in very good English where we were from. She herself was born in Bilbao but had returned to her parents who were from this very village. She said she loved being with pilgrims and in the year to come she hoped pilgrims outnumbered the tourists. Then without prompting she appeared with two copas of liqueur and two conchas. "Gifts for you two pilgrims on the Feast of the Kings", she said. From my rucksack we presented her with the little CSJ Spiritual Companion. The mutual generosity was spontaneous and very real. She embraced us both. All of our eyes glistened with the power of the fellowship of the instant.

We had to move on but before we did Rosa Maria asked us to dedicate the wee book to her.

That brings me to the dedication of this pilgrimage. Our journey ends tomorrow in a day when private intentions will be expressed. This is the final post and I won't post again until back in the UK. But I promise that tomorrow as well as personal thoughts I will also think of all of my pilgrims friends particularly those who have supported this Camino with prayers, messages and visits to this wee blog. I'll hug the Saint for all of you.

Sent from my BlackBerry® wireless device


  1. Thanks for sharing the journey with us Johnnie. Maybe the blizzard will yet delay you in Santiago...

  2. Bless you Johnnie for sharing your journey with us home-bound peregrinos. We are there with you in spirit!
    Don't be sad when you leave to go home. el camino will always be there, waiting patiently for your return.

  3. Have a good ending and safe journey home. It's minus 5 here this morning with plenty of snow, so don't burn all your winter clothes,


  4. This is really very touching. Have a Great finishing and hoping to see you soon at the lounge. Have a good journey.


  5. I have enjoyed reading of your journey, John. Thank you for sharing it with us.
    Que valiente son ustedes por hacer el Camino con tal frio!!
    Happy New Year.