This morning I left the albergue (pilgrim hostel) feeling a bit flat. My right foot was sore because I'd taken lots of skin off my little toe yesterday - ten mins after my blisters had healed! - by stubbing it while enthusiastically photographing the phenomenal stork's nest on top of the church.
I walk on. Along gravel paths, through zucchini-green wheat fields and canola crops. In the past few days, as soon as you leave one village, the next is visible in the distance by its not-so-silent witness, the church bell-tower.It came to me. I was feeling lonely and full of self-pity. I had no-one to walk with. I walk at snail's pace and everyone I've made a connection with so far has long since passed. In 'Sinning Across Spain' Alisa Piper would say I'm carrying too many sins in the heavy pack on my back.
As I turn the corner on the narrow cobbled road of the next village, I'm struck by the familiarity of the woman walking in front of me. Her hair, gait, body. It's my sister. Not literally of course but I'm immediately reminded that before I left home I told friends and family I was walking with them. It's a sign. Back on the path 30 mins later, walking toward me in the opposite direction, are a woman, man, three young children, and three heavily laden woolly donkeys. My first impulse is to reach for my camera, my second, intrusion. I stop by the side of the path to let them pass, and call to the woman leading the way 'peregrina (pilgrim)?'. Si, is her response. Another sign. I'm not alone.
My loneliness passes. I contemplate ending my day's journey 4 kms further down the track, a short day's walk. There are three mountains to traverse today, and I'm not feeling particularly energetic. I reach the next village which involves a short walk along the national highway. As I walk on the narrow culvert, trucks overtaking each other, I feel vulnerable, small and quite fearful. My protection mantra gets a good work-out.
At the village, I sit with an Irish woman who was at the same albergue three or four nights ago when I played some uke. I've become known as both a witch (the woman who carries the homoeopathic first aid kit and likes to share it), and loco (crazy, for carrying a ukulele). After a short conversation I rise to leave. She gestures for me to sit down, she has something to tell me. The evening I played, she tells me, was the first anniversary of her husband's death from a violent heart attack. 'Down by the River to Pray', and 'I'll fly away', songs I led that night, were songs played at his funeral and she wanted to say how moved she was. I'm brought undone.