Lights on at 6.40 in the hostel. They’re not fucking around, despite the welcome. Ten minutes later I’m chivvied to breakfast by one of the hospitaliers. “Come on Al! You’ll need energy for the day.”
It’s true. It’s unavoidable. Today we have a mountain to climb. All the way up, and all the way back down. Out of Castille and towards Galicia. “Ahhh Galicia,” said an unusual man on a bridge. “Everything is better in Galicia. This place? I live here because my fucking wife. Go to Galicia peregrino! For me! Galicia!”
There’s a hill in the way. Plus it’s been snowing. Clear morning though.
Last night I met an Australian paramedic in a little wooden room in Rabanal. People often bandy around the phrase “The Camino Provides.” Through this chance meeting, the Camino provided for me in a way I can still barely credit. I hate proving trite sayings right But in Astorga I bypassed the outdoor shop, despite needing some kit to cope with the weather-change. I’ve been making do with my hateful windproof and with no gloves. Stephanie, this superb human who has been saving lives and is walking out PTSD – she doesn’t know why she’s been carrying around two pairs of gloves, a spare windproof and a snood!! She gets them for me from her room and is as thrilled to give as I am to receive. They fit. Even the gloves fit like … like … um … fit like a … um …
At the top of the mountain there’s an old Roman shrine to Mercury, probably repurposed from even earlier gods. It has of course been stamped with a cross now and repurposed again. Because there’s power here. Power about travel.
It’s traditional for pilgrims to leave a stone from home here – you sacrifice something that slows you down to the lightning footed messenger. At the base of the cross there’s a huge pile of stones now, built up over years. I expect the fire agate I bought has been plundered from here and recut…
I find a space nearby in the snow and improvise a chilly ritual using the amethyst I emptied in the full moon last week. I fill it with the things that slow me down, I seal it with the snow, and I jam it into a gap in the pole. Done. Gone. Fuck you, stuff. Now that guy can cut it and sell it to some other idiot.
Then it’s onward through the melting snow. The paths are rivers. This snow is too early and it’s melting off again.
“Aren’t your boots heavy?” people have sometimes asked, perhaps hopefully. “I dance in these boots at festivals all night,” is my reply. Or “I wear them with skinny jeans to the theatre ” Walking boots are a part of my life and these ones are great. Everyone else has cold wet feet and I’m just … walking. With all of Stephanie’s magical gifted gear making this the perfect day – I’d have been miserable without that stuff and probably less inclined and certainly less able to satisfactorily improvise a good ritual to burn out the shit. I had time. I used that time. It was very satisfactory.
The views are astonishing with all the snow, and I can really appreciate this altitude, this nature and this privilege after all the notional weight I’ve been burning out of myself. I pass the highest point, move on, and then it’s a long long long way down.
The unusual man on the bridge? He was right about this side of the mountain. My knees are hurting from the descent’s but suddenly – El Bierzo! A lush hidden valley. A microclimate. An hour after the snow I find myself stripping to my T-shirt again in early evening while a hunting kite marks me beautifully just overhead.
It’s watching me pull blackberries from the verges, hoping I startle something. After the snow I’m smiling and genuinely feeling like it’s Spring again. Impossible the difference in climate in one day’s walk. Rain to snow to clear autumn sun. Little woodlands with shocking colours and babbling streams and heartbreaking birdsong and peace. What a thing to come down to!
I think this might be the end of my relative solitude on this route. The next town is a big camino starting point. Today I waited on purpose for an English speaking group to pass because their conversation was drifting to me as I walked and I didn’t like hearing celebrity names borne on the wind in this beautiful place, jolting me from my connection and harmony. As they passed it was “Which of the Harry Potter movies is your favourite?” I’d go postal in five minutes if someone forced me to small-talk-walk on a day like this where there is all the weather and all this life.
But having dumped that stone, for whatever effect it has be it mystic or placebo, I could walk with people now and maybe I should try it. I’ve got a better handle on who I am alone. I still hate groups but maybe I should look at that…
Let’s see what the next phase brings. Galicia Ho!