In the morning I left shortly after 6 a.m. while the Limerick and Spanish contingent slept on. Outside the albergue I met Jim, Richard’s dinner companion from the night before. While we talked, we lost our way in the darkness, but doubled back before we got into too much trouble. Soon we were tangled up with quite a few other pilgrims and I was content to just follow, trusting that those ahead could see where they were going. There seemed to be an influx of Spanish pilgrims walking the last one hundred kilometres to Santiago, so it was quite noisy. When a group of Spaniards got together, no matter what time of day, they could be loud, and so I looked forward to getting away from them.
As the morning stretched out before us, so too did the line of pilgrims, and I separated from Jim until we met again mid morning over coffee. At the café I saw Kathy with her group and we chatted briefly before she moved on again. Then Peter, a man from Dublin who was travelling with his wife, took a seat nearby. I greeted him; we had walked together briefly a few days earlier, although his expression told me that he didn’t remember me. Then after my companions left, he came over to make amends for forgetting me and we left together to walk the ten kilometres to Portomarín.
Peter didn’t seem to notice that I shrunk as our walk progressed; by the time we got to Portomarín I was feeling utterly crushed. Although he walked alongside me, Peter seemed oblivious to me, as he talked and talked. There was no connection between us; we were walking alongside each other without actually meeting. My experience with Peter helped me to connect with another pain within and I knew I needed my own space; I couldn’t stay in a crowded albergue. At the bridge on the entrance to town I left him to wait for his wife while I went ahead to find a hotel.
In the hotel I waited as a young couple checked in, but when it was my turn the receptionist told me they were full. Fortunately, a young male employee with very good English overheard the conversation and told me they had rooms with shared facilities on the top floor for €25. That was all I needed: a room; sharing facilities wasn’t an issue. He showed me such kindness as he took my rucksack and escorted me upstairs, telling me that as I was first to arrive, the place was mine. It was as though he could see what I needed.
The impact of his seeing me was powerful. Once inside the room, I broke down into convulsive tears as the crushed part of me expressed itself. What I felt was absolute abandonment. It was too intense to be about missing the people whom I had met and parted from on the Camino. I knew this pain had earlier, deeper roots.
After I slept, I ventured out with my journal to get a beer and do some writing. There were lots of bars, but I wanted somewhere quiet. When I finally found one that met my needs I ordered my drink, and while I waited for it to come I heard my name called. It was Jackie; she was with Mike, Jim (the Alaskan) and Dave (the New Zealander). I couldn’t believe it. Of all the bars in town we could have chosen, how did we all end up in the same one? I joined them, even though I wasn’t sure I was ready for company. But within a short time I discovered it was just what I needed.
Frank and Jill, a father and daughter duo from New York, joined us too and we all became so comfortable that we stayed in the bar for dinner. Later, we were expertly guided through a selection of local aperitifs by the young male hotel employee who had helped me find a room; he turned out to also be a barman. Then we went outside, wrapped up, to enjoy our drinks and the remainder of the night. By then I felt relaxed. I really liked the people I was with; it felt like being in a family. Mike and Jackie were clearly at the helm, as they created the welcoming environment for waifs and strays to come into the fold. We might not have met at all that night, so I felt really blessed with good fortune. It was also nice to have the freedom of a hotel and not to have a curfew to comply with.
Earlier, when we were in the bar, Darren had come in and I waved to him, but he looked a bit preoccupied. I guessed he was asking about accommodation; it was about 9 p.m., very late to be looking for somewhere to sleep. When I saw him leave, I was in two minds about whether to go after him. I was worried in case he couldn’t find anywhere to stay and I wondered if I should offer to let him sleep in my room. When I confided my thoughts to Mike, he asked me whether that was what I really wanted. No, it wasn’t what I wanted. I was torn between what I wanted for myself and my impulse to rescue Darren, which came from my own fear of being unable to find room at the proverbial inn. Then as we sat outside later, the Australian woman with whom Darren had left Villafranca a few days earlier, came by our table. She had just arrived and was staying a few doors down. I guessed then that she was with Darren, so I knew he wasn’t homeless after all and I was very glad that I hadn’t interfered or acted on impulse.