We woke up the next day around 530 am, and though there is a barely light from the outside, half the people in the room had already packed and left, much to my surprise. While hastily fixing myself in the bathroom I found out that one of my contact lens was missing. Bummer. It meant that I would have to wear glasses the rest of the journey, which I abhor because I don’t like to have my glasses on when posing in front of a camera as they make me look older. I normally bring a spare set of lens for cases like this, so I was quite disappointed that I missed it in my pack.
In the ground floor area, on the way to the kitchen, I got introduced by Ze to his mom, aunt and cousin, who had already their backpacks slung on their back. They all couldn’t speak much English so Chico and Ze had to do the translation. Despite the language barrier I felt their hospitality and friendliness and I knew that I was very much welcome to their group.
The two brothers and I had a quick breakfast in the pantry (a few slices of bread, a handful of salami and half a cartoon of milk). It was not much but I couldn’t complain as these were just items left by other pilgrims. As I would later find out in the camino, generosity and hospitality are a common thing, like the whole experience transforms its people into better and transcendental versions of themselves
While eating I saw a pretty blond girl, with a hauntingly penetrating pair of blue eyes and tried to do a bit of a small talk. I learned that she was from Bremen and doing the Camino alone. I was impressed (although I would later find out the solo female pilgrims are common). I somehow sensed that she wanted to be in a meditative mode (or perhaps I was just being paranoid) so I let her be in her own zone. Chico also had a conversation with her and I felt that Chico has this charm of letting the guards of the girls down – he reminded me of a friend back in the Philippines who was a natural charmer and I wouldn’t be surprised if Chico is a ladies man.
It was a foggy morning and it was drizzling when we stepped of the albergue. The team put on disposable raincoats – similar to the ones handed out in grocery stores. I was relieved to know that Ze’s family brought an extra coat for me.
The path led us back to the wall and I couldn’t resist taking a photo of the group. I found out during that part that Chico also has this interest for taking photographs. He showed me some photos taken from his phone and was pleased that he has the eye. Great, I thought to myself. We have something to talk about along the way and I could teach him some basic photography rules.
We passed by the bridge that connects Portugal and Spain. I thought there would be a passport checking station at the border similar to the ones I have seen in the movies, but to my surprise (perhaps dismay) we went through it just like that as if we just moved from one town to the other.
Ze’s aunt explained that back in the pre-EU days they had to sneak to the other side to buy stuff at cheaper prices.
The first town of Spain from the border is Tuy. Just off the bridge, there lay a distinct sign of the Camino De Santiago and its symbol, a yellow-colored shell with lines that seem to look like rays of light. I was told by Chico that pilgrims or “peregrinos” hardly get lost in the Camino because all one needs to do is look at the direction where the lines are radiating. How quaint, just like a compass.
We passed by alleyways made of cobblestones typical of European towns and followed the signs. In one part of the town that was sloping I thought of taking a photo of Ze and Chico. We had to take turns taking photos as we did not have a tripod. Fortunately two girls with heavy American accent and backpacks twice their size came by and offered to take our photos. How sweet of them. I was hoping to invite them to join our group but hesitated, since technically I only tagged along with Ze’s family and I don’t want them to feel uncomfortable with a pair of strangers joining us.
As this walk was on a holy week, a lot of churches were open with their traditional preparation for Good Friday, the day the Lord was crucified. The strangest arrangement I have seen was actually in Valenca where a big cruficix was laid down slanting on the center of church ground, the pews set aside the walls while another crucifix was hanging from the center as if watching over its doppelganger.
The row of houses along the path slowly thinned out and we went straight to a path that leads to the woods. There was a huge block of rock that depicted Santiago or St. James, the person who started the Camino and our group thought it was an ideal place for a long rest.
During this time I took out my precious token, the UP Ikot sign. Only my friends back in the Philippines could truly understand its meaning. It is a signboard used in jeepneys to indicate the route of the vehicle. I posing in different European cities with that sign never fail to amuse my friends back home. For some Filipino friends it seems that the European city is just one of the stops of the local jeepney. For me it probably means something deeper, like a life journey, going away from home and yet never leaving it. I am not sure if that makes sense.
I asked Chico to pose holding that Ikot Sign. (Ze already had a shot back when I first couchsurfed in Porto) Chico made a funny face.
At that moment seeing the local sign held by a person who comes from a totally different place just seemed extraordinary. It’s hard to imagine that two different worlds could actually coexist. The sign which reminded of my home and Chico who at that instant is the embodiment of Europe just made the shot seemed so unreal and yet it’s there, the scene smacked in my face, reminding me of the two disparate worlds I came from.
It seemed that only days ago the Camino de Santiago was but a dream but then right that very moment it reminded that it was all happening. And that I was there. And I really felt alive and aware that moment.
(to be continued)