Day 16 – Palas de Rei to Ribadiso (26.4 km) > excerpt 4
Two Canadian ladies, Sussie Hansen and Ginette and an American Chemist called Tony and I had a menu del dia at Ribadiso. Our first course choice was soup, spaghetti, salads, or vegetables. The second course offered chicken, pork, fish, calamari or ham, all with chips. For dessert there was fruit, vanilla pudding, ice cream or a dry cake ‘Tarta de Santiago’. Added to this meal was a bottle of wine or a beer. The meal cost €8.00 per person.
Tony was one of the pilgrims with whom I was trapped while walking around the Monastery in Samos with the bee-hive of enthusiastic ladies in tow of the monk. He was also the one who persuaded me at the crossroad outside Samos to take the longer pilgrims’ path to Sarria rather than the tar road. However, he had outpaced me and I had not seen him for a few days. I was pleased to meet him again.
During dinner in Ribadiso we talked about our families and our activities and the 65-year- old Sussie, born in Scandinavia and now living in Vancouver, told us that three weeks after returning from Santiago she would be climbing Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. She had done this climb before and had also walked the Alaska Trail and the Inca Trail in Peru. What an energetic woman! Ginette was French Canadian and had worked as an air stewardess for Air Canada. She had obviously seen the world in her travels and was now walking the Camino – and that after five heart bypasses performed the previous year. Tony was the one who impressed me most. He had dedicated one and a half years of his life without pay to making a difference in India where he had adopted a village and opened a school with three local women who previously only had a rudimentary school education. He organised furniture and essential teaching equipment, set up a basic chemistry lab and taught chemistry to teachers and pupils. To ensure continuity, he paid the teachers’ salaries for three years, until other sponsors stepped in. Incidentally, Tony informed me recently that one girl from the first batch of children in the village literacy program had progressed to finish her tenth class at a nearby mission school, and had then gained admission to a nursing school in Calcutta. He can be proud of himself.
For a long time Tony had lived among the Indian population and experienced their hard and cruel lives first-hand. He became very emotional over his memories and I wonder if the Camino played a part in this. This would match the emotional upwelling I experienced at times. I am known to be quite moved at family funerals, and now on the Camino I also had bouts. At these moments frogs jump up into the throat but cannot pass the narrow part, so they slowly slide down into the stomach again. The stomach muscles then have a fair amount of difficulty retaining the frog with cramped flutters: that is what the Camino can do to you – at times this is a pain and an embarrassment, especially at my age.
Earlier that afternoon I had passed Tony sitting on a bench next to the area allocated for drying clothes. He was attending to his hair and there is nothing special about this, except that Tony’s hair was unusual to say the least and had fascinated me previously. The left side of his head was shaven and I was unable to recall the arrangement on the right. This afternoon, when Toni was diligently grooming his hair, it became obvious that it only grew in the centre of the skull: both sides were shaven clean. His hair was approximately 50 cm long and he was engrossed with brushing and combing. I did not want to break the spell, so I passed without a word.
Maybe in walking for days and days,
Passing history, crossing unknown ways,
Experiencing hardship, missing routine;
Maybe it’s then that the truth can be seen.
That each life is but a speck on earth,
Many specks make up history of worth.
We need to know this to master life’s art,
This is a fact – we all play a part.
It is then that we see how important we are
Speck or no speck is no more the bar.
We all have formed the picture to state
That everyone playes a part in this fate.
Then surely we must learn to believe
It’s up to us great change to achieve.
We need to look to the future and learn
The world we desire we have to earn.
If we are able to change the system,
Gaining rewards from our inner wisdom,
Then surely we see what road to go,
And this is the path that makes us grow.
The guards that previously stood in the way
Are no longer able to lead us astray.
We cannot afford to ignore wisdom’s paths,
We need to break seals – remove the guards.