andy and i continue walking together. dragging ourselves out of the absolute comfort of the hotel in oviedo we start to navigate our way out of the city. on the way out, searching for the thin thread of yellow arrows, we fall into another group of walkers. they are walking from oviedo to grado, doing only this one stage in the camino as a day trip…..we march along together, through forests, upwards and upwards, past streams, swimming through a mist of birdsong punctuated rhythmically by our heartbeats..
the camino today takes us to sestiello, a small town near grado. on the way, i lose track of the group and i am once again absorbed in my footsteps and the land that i am walking across. the usual curving pathways bend gently up and over the hills in my mind and i stop to smell flowers, bending down to touch the rough edges of the stone that lines the camino. the night is spent in the relative luxury of a hotel. we arrive, exhausted, and the place is full of people celebrating a first communion. mothers in their sunday best, proud fathers, and a child bride of christ running about, probably oblivious to the actual significance of a first communion….when i look back to my own first communion in mount isa, all i can remember is the beautiful dress given to my by my grandmother, a vague feeling of embarrassment, and the feeling of admittance into some kind of weird, but safe, club.
from sestiello we wander through grado and as we move, the weather takes a watery turn and soon we are walking in the rain singing simon and garfunkel songs (seriously!). the next stop is salas, the penultimate stop before hitting the most challenging part of the camino primitivo. on our way up a (very) steep slope, we see another pilgrim sitting by a fountain, taking a break. by this stage, we have moved past simon and garfunkel road, and along abba lane, turning right at “viva espana” by manolo escobar. taking manolo’s proud lead, we are now singing “i come from the land down under”, which is totally cliche for a couple of australians, but totally necessary. given the weather, some extra motivation must be conjured up through song. a while later, the other pilgrim catches up to us. he is a divine american called jeremiah. i say divine, because walking with jeremiah was kind of like walking with a modern day jesus, in all the good ways.
when we arrive in salas, jeremiah and i head to the albergue, while andy decides to stay at a hotel. when jeremiah and i walk in, we are greeted by the smells of food cooking and the sounds of people sitting down to eat. it is a group of four valencianos. as soon as they see our weary faces, they instruct us to take off our shoes and backpacks and sit down to eat with them. this act of simple generosity warms my heart the same way that the cocido de patata warms my stomach. aaaaahhhhhhhhhh…………..time to relax…………there is another pilgrim floating about. patricia from galicia. a delightful woman. light, sunny, strong.
i sit down to reflect on the day. it has been five months that i have been swimming out into the sea inside. today, at the doorway to the mountains, i feel that i am out on the horizon, at the furthest point in this journey. tomorrow begins a new stage in this walk. i see, perhaps for the first time, that this is the challenge i was looking for and a space of what will probably be healthy loneliness. if i find myself walking by myself then i will have to peel away the expectation of protection and walk up into those mountains alone.
today, during the periods that different walking rhythms took me away from andy and jeremiah, i once again saw the shadows moving inside my mind, peeking out at me from the dark spaces just around the corner. today, i cried tears of fear mixed with frustration as i wandered the forest alone. my experience with the strange man in the forest yesterday (see next post) has left me with a sense of foreboding in regards to comfortably walking alone in solitary places. why did i decide to walk a way that would take me through high, and solitary, places? i didn’t realise it at the time, but now i see that my decision to walk this way has a lot of meaning. i am stepping into a possible ordeal, i am searching for a fire hot enough to forge steel. i catch a momentary glimpse of the solitude and right now, it scares me. i am afraid of that which i do not understand. i have never seen its’ true face and i realise that in order to see it, i must pass (walking) through the doorway to see what is on the other side…..
the next day we all set out from the albergue and i leave andy behind in salas. by the afternoon, we have started ascending and, in some ways, training for what is coming up. mountains. space. the day ends in tineo, where a very wealthy and resourceful pilgrim has set up a five star albergue in the basement of his four star hotel. i am knackered after the walk but, all the same, i spend a fantastic afternoon with patricia and jeremiah and the four valencianos, sitting in a terraza, drinking cold beers and talking……..lunch is a gorgeous affair and we are able to speak to the owner of the albergue who spends quite a bit of time with us giving us advice on the next few days of walking.
the albergue is superb. beds with quilts. darkness and silence. a sauna and hot showers. a place to scrub your shoes, to do laundry. once you walk like this, you become all too familiar with the things that can make life more comfortable. there is a simple gratitude at finding those small touches, which helps you handle the occasional lows of walking day after day….refreshed and ready to go, we head out the next day, leaving tineo behind and moving towards the township of borres, where the camino primitivo splits into an easier option going to pola de allande and a more challenging option (the original camino) that will take us up and over los hospitales….