In the morning, Branu and Kirsten were just sitting down to breakfast as I was ready to leave. Although we had planned to leave together, I could see they were pretty relaxed, so I said I’d meet them for coffee later and left. The guidebook had promised some spectacular views on the way to O Cebreiro, but the morning was cold, misty and foggy and I could only see a few yards in front of my feet.
At the entrance to O Cebreiro stood a tall majestic tree that seemed to announce the special place the village held at the top of the mountain. Passing through, I headed for the church and met Richard emerging from it. Inside, the church was more understated than most I had seen. I liked the simplicity; the seats were made of plain dark wood while the walls were devoid of the usual baroque grandeur. However, what usually engages my attention in a church is how I feel. Despite the noise and activity of those around me, I felt really at peace and I knelt down to pray. As I did so, I realised that I felt torn between wanting to stay and wanting to go. I thought that if I left, I might be able to manipulate an encounter with Richard in the village. Then as I contemplated my dilemma, I felt clear that if I allowed distraction to steer me, I would be straying from my intention to walk this pilgrimage with sincerity. In hindsight, I see it as a test of faith and perhaps the most important decision I made on the Camino.
While I waited for Kirsten and Branu, I walked around O Cebreiro before stopping for coffee and cake. Just as I was about to leave they appeared. By that time our schedules were out of sync and I decided to continue walking alone. As the fog cleared, a warm day was revealed and with a full heart I left O Cebreiro. Around me the landscape felt intimate again; animals grazed in fields of lush green grass, wildflowers grew in the hedgerows and I felt connected to my surroundings. Being physically close to the bushes, the trees and the brambles connects me with my internal home, and my connection with the landscape brought forward thoughts of all the people I had met on my Camino, as well as my family and friends at home, and I felt tremendous gratitude.
During the day I was reunited with Kirsten and Branu, but as the afternoon progressed I went ahead of them. I expected Triacastela would be busy and I thought it best if one of us went ahead to get beds for the three of us. Arriving in town at about 5 p.m., I saw a ‘Full’ sign posted outside the municipal albergue, and my concern about finding accommodation increased. Then as I walked on further, I met a local woman dressed in black who told me that everywhere was full, but that I wasn’t to worry – she had a room in her house for €30. I hoped she was a chancer and I thought she probably was. When I asked two young German lads I knew about accommodation, they told me they had got the last two beds in their albergue; they also told me that the woman in black had peddled the same yarn to them. Further along, I saw more ‘Full’ signs and my anxiety deepened. Then at the end of town I entered the last albergue on the street. Inside there was no sign of the hospitalero, and while I waited I peeked into the ground floor dorm and saw some empty beds. What a delightful sight!
Later, as I stood brushing my teeth, Branu emerged from the shower. ‘What now?’ he asked. ‘A beer, and then dinner,’ I suggested. Although clothes washing could wait for another day, some tasks could not be delayed. Branu needed to go to the bank and the supermarket, while I needed to tend to my feet before going out. As there wasn’t enough space or sufficient light to carry out the necessary foot repairs in the dorm, I went downstairs to the entrance foyer cum dining room. While I worked, Richard appeared at the open doorway. ‘Just in time! I’m in need of a doctor,’ I said. I was delighted to see him, though it turned out that he knew less about tending blisters than I did. I couldn’t believe that I didn’t even have to leave the albergue to meet him. We talked about the day and I asked if he would like to join us for a drink. He accepted. I felt so excited.
As Richard and I walked through the narrow, pedestrianised main street full of bars and restaurants looking for a table in the evening sun, I heard my name called. To my surprise I saw Kathy, my American friend. I couldn’t believe it; I thought she would be at least a day ahead of me. The moment we embraced, I knew that what we had shared together was over. Although walking with Kathy had been one of the most beautiful and spiritual encounters of my whole Camino experience, I knew then that the purpose of our meeting had already been served. She was with a new group of Spanish pilgrims, as well as her earlier walking buddy Vanessa, and that was okay with me. I was happy walking my own Camino.
At dinner with Kirsten and Branu talk turned to home. Richard was coming to the end of his Camino, and that was when I found out that he was going home to his wife. Initially I became quiet as I felt my disappointment register, but I didn’t withdraw from conversation. In Richard I had found a kindred spirit, and I was able to continue enjoying our playful banter for the remainder of the evening, even though I had fantasised about more. When we parted later, it really felt like the final goodbye. He was heading for Sarria the next day while I thought I might go a little further.
That night I slept like a log.