Since I made it up to O Cebreiro with virtually no difficulty, I was feeling optimistic about keeping to schedule and making my return flight.
I’ll confess here that I systematically lied throughout my journey about the timing of my departure. I was careful never to divulge an exact date, saying things like “early June,” or “the first week of June,” though truth be told, my flight left Madrid the morning of June 1.
I still don’t think of this as lying, in the black and white, a lie no matter how insignificant is a sin kind of way, but very simply as a survival strategy. If I had told the unalduterated truth, all those French grandmothers would have tut-tutted, the German trekkers encouraged me to take some buses, and the Americans would have preached all was lost; I should just go to Madrid now, get a nice hotel, and start looking for a job to return to.
Perhaps I just wasn’t strong enough.
What I did know unequivocally, though, was that I was not a backpacking tourist on holiday, but a pilgrim. I had a singular purpose, not of filling my credential with stamps and acquiring a compostela, but of pushing the limits of my body, my finances, and my lifestyle in an effort to confront very present human limitations and test not always so obvious networks of support.
And so, in the last few days of the journey, I found myself racing the clock, my dwindling bank account, and indeed my resolve. Lying to hold at bay the hordes of naysayers, seemed perfectly reasonable and indeed necessary.
All this also meant, I was growing less enraptured with the quaintness of Spanish village life. Entering Galicia – rainy, hilly, green, like England – should have been a revelation; it became a plot marker. Off the meseta, into Galicia, closer to Santiago.
I couldn’t even be bothered to stop for the much touted but incongruous Galician delicacy of pulpe (octopus).
Villages passed; fatigue set in. An albergue approached; it was full.
This lack of accommodation was not acceptable. I did not have the time to go back. I did not have the energy to go forward. I did not have the finances or will to hire a taxi.
The only thing I could do was sit and rest, order a cerveza, and contemplate impending failure.
Ever the philosopher, Raphael reminded us that if we simply believe the good, it will be. Having faith, might be the English, religious concept he was going for.
Felicity and I, though, had fatigue, and angst, and little will. We ordered another round; Raphael went bed-hunting.
As the sun began to set and our future sleeping under the stars or worse seemed imminent, Raphael crested the hill. He’d found a restaurant some ten minutes away, opening its back room to pilgrims. He’d reserved the last three spaces. There was wi-fi for Felicity to make her Skype date and a flat screen for Raphael to watch some important futball match.
That back room was by far the most primitive of any place I stayed on the Camino (even more so than crazy Pedro’s in Ciruena). It’s blessed, timely appearance, however, made it appear as luxurious as any.
I sometimes wonder today, if I could go back and find it, or if like a mystical mirage out of a story of the desert fathers, that hospitable restaurant existed in that time and place only because we needed it and believed it to be.