Another big day, 38 kilometers, and as ever I climbed and climbed and for some reason I thought that there was a point where the Primitivo gets easier. Maybe it’s tomorrow, when I finally have a short stage. Probably. Hopefully. Maybe.
But today felt good, even if my feet hurt a little and I can feel that my legs are tired. So I’ll walk my short and easier stage tomorrow and take a rest. But as for today, I pushed on, walking with the fog as it lifted to reveal blue skies. I stood in line with the locals in the dim blue morning to wait for the town bar to open so I could buy a fresh croissant to eat as I walked, and it was the freshest, most delicious croissant I could ever remember eating. I wonder, is there anything much better than this? To be biting into the soft and warm center of a croissant and brushing the crumbs from my lips as I walk with my stick tucked under my arm, my arms and legs cool in the morning air, light bleeding out from the horizon with the promise of a clear day?
I passed by my favorite tree- I have a favorite tree on the Primitivo! I took a photo of it 6 years ago and it’s one of my favorite photos from any Camino, and I got a huge black and white print of it to hang on my living room wall and so every single morning I sit on my couch and drink coffee and look at that tree. And now, walking down the same path, I come to the tree again, and I know it instantly, and the morning has that same atmosphere and I want to stay there for a long, long time, staring at my tree. Eventually I moved on, up to a ridge under the huge windmills, their blades slicing the air, and passed by an old pilgrim’s hostel and an ancient dolmen and I thought maybe I heard voices up there, whispering.
I found a donativo rest stop with fresh coffee and big slices of watermelon, and I sipped my coffee on a cushioned seat overlooking the mountains, and met some new pilgrims. And then, coming down the path and sailing along was Mer, the pilgrim I cooked dinner with at the haunted monastery in Cornellana back on Day 1. It had been 5 days since I’d seen her but it felt like weeks, and she paused at the donativo spot and I said her name and she stared at me as though she couldn’t quite believe her eyes. “What are you doing here!?” she cried, and I laughed, because I think we both thought we’d never see each other again.
More walking, a sandwich in a deserted square in O Cadavo, and a late afternoon beer in Castroverde to help power me through the last kilometers to Vilar de Cas.
My albergue here- Albergue A Pociña de Muñiz– is the nicest albergue I’ve ever stayed in, almost too nice for the pilgrim life. I wish I had arrived earlier so I could enjoy the garden or rest in a hammock, but instead I buy another beer and an old man in a red sweater rides up on an electric bike and says- “You’re the American! You will be my English teacher.” He must have heard of my arrival in this small, small village, a place where surely, news travels fast. So I sit and talk, and the village abuela comes by and frowns when she sees that I’m not eating anything, and then the only other pilgrim staying in this place comes over, too. Eric, from France, and he tells me he has quit his corporate job and is starting a business as a fengshui consultant, and asks me what I would do if I could do anything. After I answer (“walk, and write, and take pictures” I tell him), he asks why I’m not doing this. His questions are maybe just the right kind, the kind that make me squirm because I know they are getting to the heart of the matter, the things I grapple with, the questions I ask myself but am often afraid to answer.
And then, dinner. Eric returns to the albergue to cook in the kitchen but I’ve taken advantage of the meal that my hosts will cook, and it is the best dinner yet, all homemade with local and fresh ingredients and my hosts bring out more and more, the food never ends: a smooth vegetable soup and two pieces of empanada and then a burger and fries and eggs (a plate so big and full that I think I can’t possibly eat it all but then I proceed to finish nearly every last bite), and wine and bread and then quince jelly and cheese (my new favorite!). In the middle of this feast two new pilgrims arrive, hobbling in, exhausted, asking with a hint of desperation if they can still eat dinner. They sit at my table and are brought out dishes of food and we talk, and they are polite, but they are focused on the food, and a shower, and a bed.
And so I stay with them and then continue to sit at the table after they leave, long after, lingering and watching the sun sink to the horizon, and then bottles of difestifs and little shot glasses are placed down in front of me and my host and the villagers who have gathered at the bar are all laughing as I drink the strong shots, the liquid burning past my tongue and down my throat and spreading warmth through my body. It is good, all so good, the whole day and the whole night, every step.