It’s near about 6 and I’ve been walking for close to 10 hours. The heat gave way long ago to the overcast clouds of Galicia, which in turn opened up as if it was Noah’s flood. In the uphill struggle of this rugged, mountainous country, I find myself laughing – shaking a friendly fist to the heavens – as I become drenched to the bone in mere moments after walking out from under the tree coverage.
The fantastic views of O Cebreiro – where one can see for hundreds of kilometers in unmolested beauty – were soon replaced by the valleys of the countryside. Resplendent stone villages appear periodically throughout the spotted, near-uninhabited landscape, but they offer few services. Many of the villagers sit there looking at me, that noxious smoke permeating the air, like a cat might ponder its food before crassly murdering it without so much as a second thought. I am a novelty – entertainment for these villagers lost to time. The Visigoths. The Arabs. The Hapsburgs. Napoleon. I’m just another out-of-place foreigner on his inevitable way.
The rain continues to fall, yet I remained determined to make my way to the small village of Samos, home to a splendid monastery renowned for its history of pilgrim hospitality. It is the feast day of Saint James – 25 July – and I intend on making the Pilgrim’s Mass in honor of the saint who bids me e’er onward to his near-mythical burial ground. It is a near 40km walk, but I am resolute.
The pain in my left leg is amplified by the cold rain, the tightened leather boot, and the rough road, but I find myself able to plant my staff into the damp ground, push forward, and grit my teeth through each bitter step. To think, my ancestors once made this walk in ages past – when witchcraft was a thing and possession by the Devil was the go-to explanation for every malady.
And here I was bitchin’ about a sore ankle.
The kind bartender at the last village said Samos was near 10km away; she deceptively smirked when I shook my head in resignation. That pilgrim’s resignation of accepting his miserable fate: if it is 10km, then I walk 10km. She poured me another beer, politely declined my gratitude, and bid me buen camino as I marched out the door and into the wilderness of Galicia.
The rain has been falling for what seems hours and I curse the gentleman in Medina who sold me this lemon of a rain jacket. It stops the water in the same manner the Maginot Line stopped the Germans at the onset of World War II: a great idea but a very poor execution. Within minutes of tramping the waterlogged paths, I am soaked to the bone, the jacket proving little more than a colorful addition to my pilgrim ensemble. No matter, I think, for those who trod this path before faired far worse. My staff digs deep into the mud, and I plod onward to Samos.
My right foot feels different than the left, and under the somewhat cover of an elderly oak, I find the seams have split once again. I curse my misfortune – a waterlogged boot on this Biblical day – but I again remind myself it is part of Camino. “Shit happens,” as we say in English, and after resting for a few moments, I begin my uphill, soaking trudge once again.
The tourist demands; the pilgrim accepts.
After what seems hours – long after what should have happened in 10km – I finally glimpse a sign: Samos .5KM. At last! Civilization within sight. I cross under a bridge and meet two fellow pilgrims, who, rather than experience the torrential downpour, have decided to camp underneath until the storm calms. We laugh at our situation, exchange cigarettes and stories, and I eventually continue on my journey. It is late in the day, I find myself utterly fatigued, and I desperately need a bed for the evening. The pain in my left leg prevents me from stopping too long: if I stop, I fear I cannot start again.
Bidding them farewell, I walk into the maelstrom and soon find myself within the limits of the ancient village of Samos. Sadly, no black-robed monks are there to greet me as I enter the town. In fact, most of the villagers look at me rather quizzically: who is this quixotic figure tramping through God’s watery fury?
With joy, having glimpsed the monastery from the top of the hill entering the village, I whistle my way through the desolate town square. A few Spaniards sit under eaves smoking their noxious cigarettes, tapping their canes and gesturing at my absurdity, but I remain undaunted as I limp into the church. A group of tourists stand agape at my entrance, perturbed by this soaked rat of a man who, in happy misery, whistled and waltzed his way into a sacred place.
An Irish tourist takes pity on me as the Spanish brothers go about their preparations: this was the entrance to the guided tour. The albergue was around the monastery, near 200m from where I had dropped my pack. Undaunted, and rather cheerful, I thank the woman, resaddle myself, and truly limp the last distance into the albergue.
I spot his green hat before he recognizes me.
“And where have you been,” he asks in his comforting Londoner accent?
“Brian! Comrade!” I shout in response, giving him a hug as I enter the dry tranquility of the monastery’s dormitory.
He returns my hug in the British sense – rather awkwardly – and gestures toward the dorms. “This man has been asking about you for several days.”
It is Francisco, the Spaniard from Astorga, with whom I have shared many meals, rooms, drinks, and smokes.
He waves as one does to a long-lost friend. “Hola Bruno!” he shouts. “Permisso un cigarette?” he gestures, making the universal sign for needing a smoke.
I laugh – soaked to the bone – and shake my head no.
I haven’t seen these guys in days and they immediately want to celebrate.