Camino Friends

This is an excerpt from “A Million Steps” Chapter 4. I made many attempts to contact all my friends that are in the book. It took me eight months to find Joyce and Ella. We had a very nice reunion on the phone and shared many emails and FB posts. They called me last week with great news. They have added a third person (Joyce’s Daughter) and will be driving 500 miles to join me at the book launch on Sept 14 in Boise. I am a lucky man! This is the story of our first meeting…..

Toward the end of day four, I ran into two beautiful women from Washington state. Joyce, with gray hair under her baseball cap, had a smile I can still see to this day. Two years before, at age 68, she decided to walk the Camino. One year before her departure to Spain, her 65-year-old friend, Ella decided to join her. Pretty adventurous on her part because she did not have a history of exercise and needed to shed some excess weight.

Joyce seemed to have a nice network of female friends, and she spoke about them as if they were family. She pointed out an odd ornament with many different colored ribbons on her pack, explaining that it was a traveling object shared with seven close friends. Whenever someone takes a grand adventure, the colorful item accompanies the lucky traveler. I tried to imagine the unbelievable things that this inanimate object had seen on these special trips.

Joyce and Ella planned to walk to Finisterre, a coastal community 87 kilometers past Santiago, for a special purpose. In her pack Joyce carried the cremains of a college friend, which they intended to pour into the Atlantic Ocean. Although this was also a scene in the movie, The Way, Joyce had made her plan well before the film released.

The village in Villamayor de Monjardín was tiny, with less than 150 residents. The small albergue offered just 24 beds to provide rest for me and my fellow walkers. Fortunately, I received one of the last three beds for the night. About 30 minutes later, Joyce and Ella arrived to fill the house. Our room had five beds and a private lanai with spectacular views of the town square, a twelfth-century church tower, and the surrounding agricultural lands. The other two roommates in our parish hostel were, of course, Joseph and Merry.

Unfortunately, while enjoying the view, I witnessed many pilgrims arriving at the front door with a look of relief for completing the day. Little did they know that the hostel had no additional beds. They were given an option to sleep outside or walk another eight kilometers to the next village. It was sad to see strangers turned away, but it was downright painful to see Olivier and Peter denied entrance. They both made lemonade from lemons and prepared to sleep under the stars. The people who ran the hostel did their best to provide the “under the stars” group with padding and blankets.

For a small fee, the albergue provided a group dinner and breakfast at three large tables in a quaint room with open windows. This was a new experience and only happened two more times down the road. Volunteers from Holland ran the facility and were one week into their two-week commitment. Thanks to their generous labors, we all enjoyed a nice meal of mixed greens, lentil soup, spaghetti with vegetables, and apple cobbler. I sat between Ella and Joyce.

At the end of the evening, I received another priceless gift from a new friend. Joyce told me to open my hand. She took an inch-long yellow arrow pin from her hat, and placed it in my palm.