I trust in God, but not because coins tell me to. When Jose and I decided to undertake the Camino, we knew it would be intermediate-level travel logistics planning. It was my first my first multi-day, long-distance hiking trip, and I really didn’t know what to expect. We largely just “winged it.” We selected our starting point with an unreliable hike-planning method, a.k.a. Google Maps, then used Wikipedia to determine which one would be the prettiest. Ourense, with its beautiful bridge, won the contest.
But there were many details we neglected to address. Maps of the trail? Who needs them?! Bring food? Bah, we’ll get some after we get going. At the start, we “explored” Ourense to find the trail, and got on our way.
Our first day on the Camino was filled with lessons. Jose, our resident Spanish expert, determined that he could not communicate with anyone we met. We were later informed that in Galecia many people do not regularly speak Spanish but instead speak Galego, the language of the region. We walked past the first town without lunch, only to discover that the next town with a cafe was several agonizing kilometers down the trail. We had no idea where we would stay that night or even a good sense of how far it was. We used an advertisement for an albergue, or pilgrim hotel, that we found on the trail for reference.
But God ultimately provides for us. When we finally stumbled into a cafe at 3 in the afternoon, we couldn’t even order lunch because of the language barrier. Instead, we ate a few pieces of bread and potato chips, drank some soda, and rested our tired feet. In the process, we met four other hikers who we kept leapfrogging on the trail. Blessedly, they spoke English and helped us figure out how far it was to the pilgrim hotel. It was here we learned that we had chosen a trail with the most difficult terrain, and one that English-speakers rarely tried. Our soon-to-be best friends had a whole detailed set of directions, but they were in Spanish.
Thus was the beginning of a friendship that sustained us throughout our hike. Blanca, Jonathan, Marta and Sara adopted us and guided us to the albergue that evening, helped us check in, get supplies for the next day and finally order a delicious meal at the local restaurant. In the tiny town of Cea, there is little chance that our non-Galego-speaking selves would have fared well enough to even find any food. Instead, that evening we sat in the restaurant chatting, drinking wine and eating pulpo, one of my new favorite foods. Pulpo is as most food in northern Spain a simple mix of delicious ingredients. In this case, octopus boiled and seasoned with salt and paprika. I have never been a big fan of octopus, but I’m telling you pulpo is super-delicious. I hereafter deem it to be octopus-crack.
In the following days, I discovered my shoes severely sucked in the sense that my feet were instantly and completely in horrific pain when I put them on. They were brand new, a last minute purchase after I discovered that my hiking shoes had been “stolen” away by the movers. I “modified” them by stepping on the heel as I had so studiously learned in Japan, which worked for a while, but eventually led to an enormous blister. This blister was horribly gross, and almost led to my sitting down on the trail and giving up. While I hiked in slow motion that day, our band of friends hiked ahead. When we finally reached the cafe where they had stopped for lunch, I hobbled up the hill to the sound of our little family cheering and greeting us with hugs. They had waited for us for two hours.
I was so reinvigorated by the greeting that I was determined to go on. In a scene that was decidedly humorous, I sat in the cafe recovering while our friends helped us order food. I propped up my feet and looked at my blister, and all advised that it should be popped. While I had every intention of retreating to the bathroom to perform the operation, la familia insisted that I should do it right there in the middle of the restaurant, next to one unsuspecting patron finishing his lunch.
I hate any medical procedure, big or small, and popping a blister does not escape my hate. So while I squirmed and hesitated, Jonathan offered to help me. We sterilized the needle, I squeezed my eyes shut, and pop! I felt Jonathan jerk back, and when I looked up I saw him rubbing his eye. Yes friends, I squirted my kind friend in the eye with my blister juice. But mission accomplished! I told Jonathan that we are now friends for life. I covered the blister with a magical substance called Compeed and bandaged my foot. Jonathan gave me some socks. Sara gave me some shoes. Best of all, I was able to make it to the hotel that night.
This was the story of the whole trip. At almost every place I ate food so delicious I wondered if it was for pilgrims. Along the trail there were apple trees, pear trees, grapes, chesnuts and walnuts for us to snack on when we felt a nip of hunger. In the middle of the Spanish countryside we managed to find wonderful friends who not only helped us with the difficult logistics, but taught us about the the area as well. Blanca and Marta had grown up in Galicia, and explained all about life, food, history and culture of the beautiful place we were privileged to walk through. I was given shoes when mine didn’t work, impromptu medical care when needed, a warm place to sleep in a country I didn’t know, and friends to talk to and learn from. I believe that God provides, and He didn’t disappoint me in my hours of need.