Jan says she wants no steep uphills or downhills on her birthday. We cannot make this happen for her. However, the rain we have been promised never materializes. So, there’s that.
Early in the day we pass a little hippie retreat with fruit and bread, eggs, nuts, juices, tea, and lots of hippie love in a cool open timbered barn with sofas clad in colorful saris. A soft spoken woman, probably American or Canadian we think, floats out the door of the house with more bread, and 5 yellow kittens at her heels. Everything is donativo. We suspect we might have stumbled into some kind of commune. But, the food is welcome as our first cafe is ten miles into the hike.
We pause for lunch in Sarria, a hillside town that marks the starting point for some pilgrims. To obtain a compostella, a certificate of completion of the camino, you are only required to have walked the final one hundred kilometers. Some pilgrims begin here because physical or time restraint does not allow them to do more. Others, because they can not be bothered. These are easy to identify. They are loud and flippant. They usually carry only a day pack and send their luggage ahead. They stop at all the kitchy souvenir shops (also new in Sarria) and buy tacky bumper stickers and t-shirts. They are tourists, not pilgrims. Touregrinos. Learning to live with them graciously will be a challenge.
After a burger and a beer, we resume our walk. By now, we have been joined by Jorge and Kelly, Otto and Jose, and their whole gang. We walk the final 3.6k into Barbadillo with them, belting out Neil Diamond hits.
Casa Barbadillo has accommodations that are modern and efficient, but the dining room is a showcase of antiques; a whole wall of sewing machines, plus cameras, telephones, and more. They are so lovely. Here we gather for Jan’s birthday dinner. The table is full. Friends take turns singing Happy Birthday to Jan in English, Portugese, French, German, Spanish and Hebrew.
We laugh at Jose and the waitress who have a playful banter all night. She is so funny. We also have a tender moment with him. He asks us why we are walking the camino. After giving our various answers, we ask him the same. He explains that he walks in gratitude for the extraordinary life he has been given. His eyes fill with tears as he says this, and so do ours.–Turns out, Jose is an important attorney in Brazil. He has presided over the bar association, and he and his wife Suely have raised three lawyers in their home. Since coming home, we have seen him in photographs with national leaders in very important meetings for the good of Brazil.–But on this night, and on this camino, he is one of us. We end the evening singing Willie Nelson tunes. Jose loves Willie.
Santiago is close enough now that we can feel its pull. But, I think each of us is also struggling with the thought that soon this family that has grown so dear to us will be once again scattered to the seven winds…
If we are to love our neighbors, before doing anything else we must see our neighbors. With our imagination as well as our eyes, that is to say like artists, we must see not just their faces but the life behind and within their faces.
*Thank you to David for the birthday photo, and to Mike for the photo with Jose as well as the crazy currencies at bottom of post.