I was woken up this morning by Nicolas, at 5:15. He came over to my bed and whispered, “The coffee is ready.” If it’s got to be that early, I don’t know if there’s a better way to wake up in the morning.
Today’s walk was long, right around 40 kilometers. And it began by getting lost. The plan was to leave early, around 6, which would mean walking in the dark for about 30 minutes. I left just ahead of Nicolas, who was tying his shoes when I walked out the door. With his pace, I knew he would catch up to me in minutes. I made my way through the town and onto a dirt track but somewhere, something went wrong. When Nicolas never appeared behind me, and when I realized that it had been awhile since I’d seen a yellow arrow, I knew I lost the Camino.
I found my way eventually, after walking in circles, and finally got on track a bit after 6:30 (which totally erased the extra time I had tried to gain by leaving so early). The morning walk was okay, and maybe I was so focused on my thoughts, because when I arrived in Lugo, a bustling and beautiful city about 25km from Castroverde, I sort of just wanted to pass through. When I arrived in the center square I passed by a line of bars with outdoor seating and heard someone calling my name. Sitting around a table cluttered with beer glasses and empty plates were Nicolas and his friend, Pierre (the one he’d been trying to catch), their other friend Daniel (Mexico), Guillemette, and Johan (Belgium). They ushered me over and everyone gave me big smiles. I pulled up a chair and ordered a cafe con leche (and it was one of the best I’ve had on this Camino), but I felt overwhelmed.
Maybe it was entering a bustling city for the first time since Oviedo; maybe it was suddenly being surrounded by new people who were vibrant and joyous and loud; maybe it was because I knew that the group I had been walking with for the past few days was changing: Nicolas would be going off with his other friends, Moritz was somewhere behind us and I didn’t know if I would ever see him again.
In any case, I didn’t stay long. Just long enough to chat a bit with Johan, to notice how very different Pierre was from Nicolas, to run into Christine and plan where we were going to stop for the night. I met another American, Mark, and we walked around the city for a few minutes, trying to find our way back to the Camino.
And then I continued on. As ever, I felt the urge to keep moving, to walk on my own, to continue on through Spain. The afternoon was hot and after a few hours Johan caught up to me. He had been walking from his home in Belgium, and we talked about how it felt to be so close to Santiago, so close to the end. I let him pass me and I continued on, slowing down in the heat, dragging a bit for those last 5 kilometers of a 40+ kilometer day.
The albergue I checked into in San Roman was the municipal one; the private albergue was already full when I passed by. At a first glance, I was a bit worried about the municipal; it was a small and simple wooden building off to the side of the trail, surrounded by woods. It looked like a basic cabin, a hut you might find in the mountains. I worried that it would be dark and dank and sad, but it surprised me. It was almost like one of those tiny houses: the impossibly small structures that are designed so efficiently and beautifully. The albergue had a very small, central area with a kitchen and a long counter; this kitchen was stocked with plenty of pots and pans and glasses and silverware. On either side of the kitchen were two bunk areas, and everything was clean and comfortable. The bathrooms were modern, and the only thing lacking was a good outdoor space with a table or two to hang out at.
But I was content. After my shower I walked nearly a kilometer back to the only bar/shop around for miles, sat with Johan and Guillemette who were taking a long break before continuing on (Guillemette amazed me, saying she felt good and strong and wanted to keep walking). Christine appeared and eventually joined me for a drink, and together we picked up supplies for dinner and went back to the albergue to cook.
Strolling in quite late, at 8:00pm, were Nicolas, Pierre and Daniel. They had taken their time since leaving Lugo- celebrating their reunion and stopping at every bar along the way. They’d also bought supplies for dinner and everyone gathered outside, sitting on the low stone wall, leaning against the albergue wall.
I talked to the three guys for awhile, sitting outside with them after everyone else had gone to bed. I was curious about how Nicolas and Pierre could spend all of their days together on this Camino, given how different they were. I was curious how Daniel fit into this mix: when they met him, how he joined their group. So they told me stories from their Camino, and they were so full of joy. It was a beautiful thing to see but it also made me a little wistful- it all goes back to the push and pull of my own Camino. To be with others, to be alone.
I’m sure I’ll process this all more when I’m done with the Camino and back home, but for now, it continues to be on my mind. I talked about this with the guys, how special it was to find a group to be with, how it can be a difficult thing to find. And also about how I envy it a bit, but how I made a choice to really walk on my own. And I suppose I still don’t really know what the answer is for me, or if there really needs to be an answer, right now. I know that I’ve felt a strong need to be very free on this Camino- to be so spontaneous each day, to follow my feelings, to stay with people when I want to stay with people but to be alone and on my own. And that has been a wonderful, wonderful thing. But I still couldn’t shake that wistful feeling when I watched Nicolas and Pierre and Daniel, and I suppose I was also mourning, just a bit, the loss of my own little group.
I don’t know how this will end for me, if I will be very alone or surrounded by people I’ve met on this walk, but either way I think it will be okay. That was the idea for me, coming into this Camino: I wasn’t sure how I wanted to do it, I knew I just wanted to follow my feelings, to live the moments as best as I could, to give myself every opportunity to be happy. And I think, up until this point, I’ve been doing pretty well.