Earlier on I mentioned the morning fog at an elevation of about 1400 metres; this created a quiet, muffled atmosphere and the air was still. Vegetation on these slopes consists of low trees and bushes, shrubs and hardy, scruffy greenery higher up. While going uphill we pretty well had our noses to the ground but this changed on the way down. We were then able to enjoy the view, except when the path was rutted and unpredictable and required concentration. The landscape reminded me of the foothills of the Alps.
Not far past the iron cross, just off the road and not visible but with music faintly audible, I found a café, or rather a hovel, run by Thomas. He greeted each arriving pilgrim by striking a brass bell. Coffee and biscuits were provided for all to indulge in while a collection box awaited a donation. It is here that I again saw Walter from the Canary Islands. The name Foncebadón had a ring, for me it instilled some sort of mystery in a rough countryside. I mentioned to Walter that maybe on the previous day I should have walked five kilometres further to this village and not stay overnight in Rabanal. His reply was that one never knows what one might then have missed.
This is exactly the spirit on the Camino: you do not worry about what you should or should not have done; you just do what feels right at the time. We do not know if another path, another decision, another action in life would have been better or more appropriate, we might think in hindsight that results would have been more gainful, or perhaps kinder and more appropriate, but it could just as well be the opposite. It is best to weigh up one’s actions with consideration, and once decided, stick with the decision and its consequences. We cannot walk two paths simultaneously; we will always only know the outcome, the consequences and the beauty or pain of the path that we have chosen. We will never know what the outcome of walking the ‘other’ path would have been.
Walter was right: if I had continued my walk the previous day, I would have missed a talk with Louis, a quietly confident Hollander in his sixties who appeared to be bare of pretence. I liked him. We discussed our experiences on the Camino and spoke about life in a light-hearted way. When the subject became more serious and we touched on spirituality, a German woman from Hamburg, sitting close by, joined in. She explained that for the last three years, after her son’s divorce, she had been the ‘mother’ of his three children and had sacrificed her own activities such as pottery and painting. Although she obviously loved her grandchildren dearly, she was missing out on her own life. She was also concerned that the children would become too attached to her, and that, should her son enter into a new partnership, which was likely to happen, she and the children would find it hard to re-adjust. Her intention on the Camino was to come to terms with her situation and find an appropriate solution.
The subject of adapting to retirement came up as well. Apart from her having to be a mother to her son’s children, none of us had encountered difficulties with our new life patterns and we all had enough interests to avoid boredom and monotony. However, retirement is a big step and many might find it daunting. I must say, I feel fortunate to have been introduced to the Camino and to have had the inclination to write about my experiences. Previously my working life had absorbed me completely and I never developed a hobby or other interests that could have occupied my time and mind.
As regards my working life, I have been fortunate: I have had my successes, have to some extent managed my failures, although, like most of us, I had also some unfortunate experiences and difficulties. In my later years I developed a better sense of fairness, was able to learn lessons and became more aware of the source of my problematic life experiences, some of which I mentioned in this journal. I learnt to appreciate circumstances in a better way and my own contributions became clearer to me.
I had intended to become a ships engineer and for this purpose I first completed an apprenticeship and then had further training in a shipyard in Hamburg where I met my wife. After emigrating to South Africa, my first position was as a mechanical draughtsman. I was soon singled out for special projects and as this department grew, I remained in charge. The technical side was rewarding, but opportunities for further promotion were limited. My second occupation as project manager for a firm that built industrial plants, was not without challenges, but it brought satisfying achievements, which furthered my personal development.
I later purchased a share in an engineering company. Initially the business had more downs than ups, and when times became tough my partner gave up on the venture. I purchased his shares and after a while entered into an alliance with a larger company, which turned out to be technically stimulating but unsatisfactory on a human level. After a few years I abandoned this venture and restarted the original engineering company. Leaving this partnership was financially a disaster, but ultimately it turned out to have been the right step.
Restarting from scratch with only three employees was hard, but during the next thirteen years the company developed into a stable business which I was able to sell on retirement, providing a sound financial foundation. I am thankful for having managed a difficult but successful working life and for being able to retire with joy and satisfaction and no regrets.