I awoke as I heard others getting up, while it was still dark. The bathrooms were out of TP that morning! I wondered if THAT was what our host had told me in Spanish the night before: “Here’s where you find the toilet paper…” But too late now!
After I dressed and packed I decided to just leave. I didn’t speak to anyone. Everyone was tired, and for me, after only a few hours sleep, I felt exhausted.
I walked alone. The sun was rising. The path through woodlands, through small villages,
along the train tracks, over a bridge, up a hill and after about two hours, I climbed up and up into the town of Unquerra. It was about 80F. There was a pleasant breeze. I readied for an all day wait.
I walked to a bar across from where Grace’s bus would arrive, connected to wifi and checked in with home. After a tea and an hour rest, I walked the town. I bought groceries at three different places, some great trail mix, nuts and figs, all of which I ate and then purchased some salad for the rest of breakfast. Grace and I had texted back and forth the past few days, prior to her leaving Ireland and then again in the morning as she left the hostel to get her bus. The last word I had was that she would arrive on a bus at about 4:30 pm. I checked the bus schedule at the bar, they sold the bus tickets there, and they confirmed the time.
I couldn’t believe she was actually arriving! This long anticipated plan was happening.
I was nervous too. Grace and I had had some difficult times backpacking in 2014 and had had a difficult ending to a trip we had taken in 2013 internationally. She had wanted to come to redeem both international travel and backpacking—both loves she felt she had from me! So, there was a bit of pressure for this trip to do that. I loved Grace immensely and just hoped I wouldn’t somehow blow it this time! And, on the other hand, I believed that it was a huge blessing and gift that my 29 year old daughter would choose to fly around the world for some time together. Seriously, I knew, I was a super blessed dad.
Around noon I went to a restaurant and ordered tortilla served with two pieces of the most wonderful looking bread I’d yet seen. I wasn’t going to try it, but then realized that the only way to discover if European wheat really was no issue for me was to test it. Since I had four plus hours, before Grace arrived, if I did get sick, my body would have enough time to recover that I would be able to walk again. So, threw caution to the wind.
The first bite brought this wonderful sensation to my whole body. Who knew bread could taste that good? I drank some red wine with it so on top of the taste were the ingredients of the meal of communion I’d often celebrated with my congregation at home. “Take, eat, this is my body given for you…this is my blood shed for you,” and I took into myself again the benefits of Jesus’ work for me, that true redemption, that forgiveness, that love, while there at that heavy, wooden table, in this alpine-decorated restaurant in northern Spain. I suffered no side effects, only bliss!
During my 8 hours in Unquerra I moved around from the bar, to a bench outdoors, to wandering the town. As a result I became really familiar with the place. I knew where things were. As I waited for Grace’s bus later in the afternoon, bidding other pilgrims “Buen Camino,” some stopped and asked for directions to the best grocery stores, a restaurant, laundromator the path out of town. I became their local guide, immensely clear on the layout of the town.
Then one man came in bright green rain gear. When I bid him “Buen Camino,” he stopped to ask what the town this was. When I had told him, he began to cuss: “F**k! F**k!” He said again and again adding emphasis to the word each time.
“Do you know,” he spat, in a strong German accent, kind of snarling into my face, biting off each word intensely, “I first walked through here this morning at 9 am!! I thought (he gestured wildly) that perhaps I was heading to the next town, but no, here I am again at 4 pm. I’ve been walking all f***ing day!” Anyone within the city block could hear him by now!
“Oh man! I am so sorry!” I told him. I could sincerely empathize.
I remembered how my guide said there were some misplaced newer signs that would bring you back to Unquerra. I told him about the signs. And bid him better favor on his way!
I felt this nervous joy to think of Grace arriving soon!
I removed my boots and relaxed in the sun. I drank water. There was no rush or hurry. I was two days behind my other friends already by that point and there was no telling what would happen as Grace and I joined forces. Nor was there any telling, whom we would meet.
Grace’s bus finally arrived about 450. It was surreal to see her get off that bus! I felt so glad to see her. I gave her a hug and wanted to take a selfie right away. She wanted to make certain it looked good. “Now, where do I look so we are looking the same way?” she asked. We got one picture, and I knew, there would be some need to learn a new rhythm for me and for Grace as we walked together.
We went to My Bar, across the street, bought water, used the toilet and chatted with English fellow named Simon. Then we began our Camino, walking up the hill out of this five block town where I had spent the last 8 hours. It felt wonderful to be leaving. Grace said as we first began to walk,
“Now, I want to hear everything, the blow by blow of your journey from the beginning,” she said. But even as I began to talk, I stopped.
“Grace,” I said, “I cannot possibly do that. I would only be sharing the data, but there is something so much deeper to this journey which defies description and I don’t want to miss that by just sharing the pieces of data of ‘I walked here,’ ‘I ate this.’”
She got that. So we continued the walk and talked of other aspects of life.
The walk up the hill was incredible.
It was beautiful! Who knew there was beauty like this waiting for me just moments outside of Unquerra! The path was this beautiful pavement. The landscape undulated away from us with grassy fields, flowers, houses and far off in the distance a highway. We passed pastures on the left and had this glorious valley to the right that reminded me of Switzerland.
Here I had spent the whole day in this tiny village surrounded by pavement and houses and shops literally steps away was this! What a metaphor that was for life. How frequently I settle for something much less than God has for me. I keep myself in the underworld of my own Unquerra of hurts, fears, loneliness and miss totally the dimensions of God’s powerful grace which can be found “just up the hill.” Lessons were everywhere!
As we walked this first hill, Grace stopped several times to take pictures. She reminded me of Gabri, her younger sister, the way she found great angles and settings for shots.
And she said, “I’m trying to take good shots like Gabri does!”
After just 2km we arrived in the town of Colombres which was a quainter place than I imagined, with colorful buildings. I realized that having Grace join me was already adding dimension to my experience with another pair of eyes, another person’s thoughts, and another’s experience along the way beside me. Grace said,
“One reason I really wanted to do this, Dad, was that I wanted there to be a witness of your Camino from the family. Someone had to taste this adventure with you.”
I was really moved by this. Grace has a giving heart like this. What a gift her coming was! Not only another viewpoint, but an investment in me so that she would be witness to at least some days of this journey of mine on the Camino. My fears of some attempt to redeem the past faded away, as I realized we were embarking upon something new.
After Colombres, we passed the signs my German friend had missed which had taken him back around to Unquerra. We headed out toward the coast and a hike over the next three hours. I was We started up the hill out of Unquerra. It was more beautiful than I had imagined. Just minutes from the town the views were splendid. I totally could have been up in that beauty all day.
She shared into some situations she had been walking through at home and about life there. It had just been three weeks since I had left, but there was lots to share. As we shared, we hiked up on a ridge to the coast. Below us at one point I saw and waved to the German guy who had been so upset in Unquerra earlier! He had made it out of town at last!
We walked the coastal route and finally around 8 pm, we arrived in Pendules. We arrived at the first albergue to see a table holding about 20 pilgrims, many of whom I recognized, sitting down to the family style meal. Run by two Italian brothers, this Albergue was famous. I had looked forward to staying there, but we were too late. They were full. I greeted Michaela, Max, Thomas, Maria and others and introduced them to Grace, for they had all heard my stories of how she was coming!
We left those friends behind and walked to the other Albergue in town. In contrast to the one run by the two Italian brothers, there was no one at this place. There was one pilgrim’s belongings on one of the beds. There were signs posted inviting us to shower, but prohibiting the washing of clothes. So, we showered, changed, and left our things there and wandered the town and found a great little restaurant. There we enjoyed this incredible meal, bread, wine, Pulpo (the Galacian Octopus dish) and a heartwarming conversation and much, much laughter. Grace is famous for her humor!
It was a great beginning. We returned to the albergue, met our roommate, a woman from Canada, and then went to sleep.