October 29, 2015
Gontán to Vilalba, 12 miles
Today was one of our easiest days in a while, and it flowed by seamlessly. We got off to a late start, all of us (Dale, Hannah, Detlef, and myself) sleeping in until around 8:00. We packed up and decided to have a coffee with Hannah before hitting the trail. To be more precise, our drink of choice was cafe con leche, espresso with steamed milk. It is incredibly delicious and also very potent, and it’s become an addiction and a daily ritual that I will surely miss when we leave Spain. And like many restaurant items in España, it’s also very cheap, costing anywhere from 1.20 to 1.50 euros. Take that, Starbucks!
The walk was particularly rainy and windy today, and I had to improvise my raingear:
Detlef went on ahead of the three of us, but Dale and I caught up to him a few hours later, where he was waiting out the rain in a covered shelter. We walked the rest of the way together, he and Dale talking for hours about technology and business and the merits of iPhones versus Androids while I often trailed behind, soaked in the beautiful countryside, and daydreamed.
Detlef’s English is quite good, but he’s always trying to learn new words and idioms and would periodically practice them on us. When he can, he watches movies and listens to audiobooks in English, using the exposure as an opportunity for learning. The rock legend Meatloaf has also provided some gems, including “leader of the pack” (from the song “All Revved Up With No Place To Go”) and “You took the words right out of my mouth” (from the song of the same name). If only we knew enough German to practice phrases with him…but alas, our vocabulary is limited to basic words such as gesundheit and gutentag and a choice cuss word or two!
Hannah decided to bypass the municipal albergue in favor of a stay at the Parador Vilalba hotel, which is set inside a medieval tower, all that remains of what was once a great fortress. The Parador Vilalba is one of a series of hotels set inside historic buildings; sometime back, the Spanish government commissioned the renovation of these sites, transforming them into high-end hotels to help defray the cost of maintaining these ancient properties, and for a premium one can stay in a castle or monastery or palace or fortress. We were tempted by the idea of a private room and a hot bath and contemplated booking a room ourselves, but we instead chose the albergue, which was closer and much cheaper.
Because it was late in the season and the number of peregrinos had dwindled, Detlef, Dale, and I were the only pilgrims in the 48-bed albergue. We once again enjoyed spending time with him, discussing all kinds of things, including how Dale and I have managed to stay married for 21 years and also how we’ve survived hiking the Camino together without one of us pushing the other off a cliff. (The answer: good communication skills and a high tolerance for each other’s B.S.!)
One of the things all three of us has been working on is learning how to open ourselves up to others. This is certainly difficult for most people. Don’t all of us guard our hearts to protect us from rejection and hurt? Dale and I often keep ourselves closed off from people to avoid being vulnerable, and it has sometimes limited our relationships with others. We decided when we started the Camino that we were going to work very hard on opening our hearts to others, no matter the cost. This is something that Detlef has worked on during his Caminos as well, and we agreed that opening yourself up to others can be more difficult than a 20-mile day. Detlef said that one of the first things he noticed about us was our openness and it was nice to hear that our efforts are paying off.
The results of those efforts have continued to surprise us. It is amazing how quickly you can come to love a person. We have known Detlef for less than a week, but we both feel much affection for him, just as we did Ann, Heidi, Jim and others earlier in the hike. We certainly haven’t connected with every single person we’ve met on the Camino, but the ones that we have connected with will surely be people that we will likely call lifelong friends. I hope that when we finish the Camino, we will be able to continue to open our hearts, not only to new people that we meet but also to the friends and family from our life before the Camino. The outcomes can truly be amazing.