THE FELLOWSHIP OF MIDDLE-AGED MEN / LA COMMUNAUTÉ DES HOMMES D’ÂGE MÛR
The lights were out and everyone else in bed when I left my new Croatian and German friends in the dining room last night. They carried on loudly until 23h00 with five German girls from the Municipal Albergue on the other side of town. The girls were locked out of their albergue at 22h30 and I have no idea how they managed to get back in. I was awake early this morning and watched Frank, Tom, Andreas and Tommy from my bunk as they prepared to start hiking. Before they left, Frank came over to say goodbye and I gave him the yellow arrow pin that I received in O’Cebreiro. Yesterday, he told me that his scallop shell broke and that he was pretty upset about this because it was a shell that his daughter gave to him before he left Germany. I wanted to cheer him up a bit, so I gave him the pin. When they left the albergue, I doubted that I would see them again. Thirty minutes later, when I decided to crawl out of bed and get moving, they were all still hanging about in the courtyard preparing their backpacks. We all decided to walk together and stopped for breakfast at the O Cruceiro Bar inVentas de Narón--the only solid food that the owner had to offer us were leftover tuna empenadas. --Frank, me, Tom, Tommy and Andreas in Ventas de Narón-- --Tom, Andreas, Frank Tommy and me in Ventas de Narón-- --Tom and me in Ventas de Narón-- --Andreas and me in Ventas de Narón--
We all walked our own pace today—some of us walked alone while others walked in pairs of two. Later in the afternoon, I had the opportunity to walk part of the trail with some of my new friends. In a very short time I got to know them each very well—it was as if we had been friends for many years and that I was just another member of their Camino fraternity. Soon, Sebastian from Croatia joined us and we became a fellowship of middle-aged men on their way to Santiago. --Another hórreo on the trail through Eirexe-- --Another hórreo on the trail through Eirexe-- --This cross in Eirexe dates from the 17th century--
My guidebook said to stop at the albergue in A Calzada to enquire about opening times of the Iglesia San Salvador in Vilar de Donas but the albergue was closed and so I decided to take the 4,6 kilometer roundtrip detour anyway and hope for the best. My friends were not interested in adding additional kilometres to their day and continued walking the Camino trail without me. Just as I suspected, the church was not open and I had to wait until 10h00 when an elderly Spanish man showed up with the keys. I asked him if his name was Jesús and he replied, “Si.” I had to laugh at the coincidence. I wish I had taken his picture so I could show Silke and my new friends exactly what Jesús looked like. Oh well. The church of Vilar de Donas began as a nunnery in the early 10th century and was founded by two women from the family of Arias de Monterroso (the title of Donas applies to these women). In 1184 it was given to the Knights of Santiago, the Templar order charged with protecting pilgrims on their way to Santiago. The current building was completed in 1224. Its Romanesque portal is highly stylized with geometric designs as well as floral motifs. The most interesting ones are the thistles which link Scotland and Celtic world to the church making it quite probable that religious nuns and priests from England once lived here. The large wooden doors are original and patterned with wrought iron decorations of swirling branches and tree leaves. The small chapels in the northern and southern transepts have polychrome stone and wood statues that come from other churches in Galicia including an altar in the southern transept dedicated to San Salvador. During its careful restoration in the 1940s, a coating of white lime was removed from the walls to reveal polychrome Gothic paintings commissioned for the Compostela Holy Year in 1434.
Christ’s resurrection is the largest of these frescoes while the two smaller ones depict the Annunciation. A number of tombs, coffin slabs and a complete sarcophagus dating from the 14th to 17th century serve as a reminder that this was once a burial place for important members and leaders of the Knights of Santiago. The sarcophagus belongs to Don Fernas Ares Noguerol and rests above two lions. The inscription around the figure of the knight tells us that this was the grave of Don Diego García de Ulloa. In the northern transept, the baldachin of Donas, depicting the Castillo de Pambre serves as a canopy over a statue of the Virgin and Child. The church did not look much different than other medieval churches I’ve seen but the historic and artistic value of this place along with the detailed narrative provided by Jesús, the doorkeeper and guide filled me with awe. --The remains of a 12th century well behind the apse of the Iglesia San Salvador, Vilar de Donas--
I was so glad that I took the time out of my day to see this awesome gem along the Camino de Santiago. After signing the guest book and getting a special stamp in my credencial from Jesús, I left San Salvador and returned to the pilgrim path via the N-574 auto route instead of returning to A Calzada. My day was fantastic and I felt so blessed by God for once again providing me so many wonderful experiences and the opportunity to make some new friends. I was going to make this an easy day and not walk very far, but I felt compelled to march on and reconvene with the fellowship of middle-aged men (my new friends) wherever they might be. There was nothing to see in Palas de Rei except the Iglesia San Tirso where I stopped for a few minutes to talk with friends Rod and Judy from New Zealand. They were still using the SD card that I gave them two days ago in Samos. I really hope they will be able to recover all the photos they accidentally deleted from their other SD card. The road out of Palas de Rei went through several small farming villages including Carballal and San Xulián do Camino and where I came across no less than a dozen hórreos before crossing into Provincia A Coruña. Today, I walked 38 or more kilometers. Most of it was alone until I caught up with my new friends in O Coto where I found them all resting at a small café and eating bocadillos. --Cows on the trail in San Xulián do Camiño-- --Cows on the trail in San Xulián do Camiño-- --Iglesia de San Xulián do Camiño--
A fellowship once again, we all decided to hike into the city of Melide for the night and find a good place to eat that has a television set. The guys all want to watch the starting match between Poland and Greece in the Euro 2012 Football Championship being held in Poland and Ukraine. People come into your life and go out of it on the Camino, and some people stay in. I spent so much time with Istvàn during the start of my Camino that he became a most trusted friend. I still think about him and wonder where he is on his Camino. Once again, I am fortunate to have found Andreas, Tom, Tommy, Frank and Sebastian—a great bunch of guys that I am proud to call my friends. From O Coto onward, I walked primarily with Tommy. We walked at a brisk pace and talked the entire way. He walked the Camino before in 2011 and afterwards he gave a presentation about his Camino experience to his friends and co-workers in hopes that they might join him for another Camino in 2012. He managed to convince some of his friends (Tom, Andreas and Frank) and some other people, Charly and Aggi, a couple that I have yet to meet. I believe they are already in Santiago. Before leaving Germany, Tommy organized several practice hikes in preparation for the Camino. I get the impression that he is the sort of person who makes friends very easily. He is never condescending and treats everyone with respect and equality. --Iglesia Santa María just before Melide with the Cabazo de Leboreiro in front. A cabazo is a large, circular basket made with intertwined sticks and covered with straw used to store corn-- --The medieval Ponte Velha of Furelos before entering Melide--
I found this to be quite ecumenical of him and we talked for a long time on the subject of prayer as we walked the last few kilometres into Melide. I believe in the power of prayer and that when I pray for God’s assistance, He may not always grant me exactly what I ask. God knows best what we really need. Perhaps what we really need is for Him to give us strength to cope effectively with some of life’s situations on our own. One small example of this was the rain this morning. I think everyone wanted the rain to stop before they left the albergue, including me. God didn’t have to stop the rain. He knows that I have a poncho and that even if He didn’t stop the rain, I would eventually find the strength to continue. Still, I persisted with my prayer and as I left the albergue, the rain stopped. In the Gospel of Luke (11: 1-13), Jesus teaches us how to pray and He says, “And I tell you, ask and you will receive; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks, finds; and the one who knocks, the door will be opened.” It is not about asking for something and then expecting someone to give it to us—it is about praying with perseverance. We may not obtain exactly what we ask but with perseverance and faith, God will hear our prayers and certainly give us strength. I don’t presume to think that only those who pray this way will obtain results. Tommy shared with me an idea that he heard somewhere of ordering the universe for help. Is God not the universe? Is He not everything? Tommy’s idea of asking the universe for assistance does not seem strange to me. It is just a different way of praying in my opinion. Catholics shouldn’t believe that only THEY have it right! We need to understand the religious and spiritual traditions of all faiths in order to find common ground. I will be the first to admit that I have some problems with the New Age spiritualist movement but I also have my own problems with the Catholic Church. Like I said to Tommy, “we must all feel good when we are close to God—if this means waving one’s hands in the air and playing with snakes or finding God in Mother Nature, so be it. Personally, I feel closer to God when I am at Mass. --Prost !!! Relaxing in Melide with my German friend, Tommy--
The last few kilometres went by quickly and we were soon the first two of our group to reach Melide. We found a bar with an outside patio and ordered beers for everyone as they came strolling into town at their own pace. --Frank--
Frank doesn’t like the full-bodied flavor of beer and has the barkeep add lemon soda to his drink. It’s actually very delicious and a great way to avoid drinking too much. I find that I have a lot in common with Frank and we spent a lot of time walking together during our last few days before arriving in Santiago. He likes American television shows and movies and we both spent time talking about our favorites. I’m a big fan of Lost while he enjoys comedies like Seinfeld. The “Soup Nazi” episode is a favorite for us both: “No soup for you!!!” We also like some of the same music and we often sang together on some of the more gruelling stretches of the Camino just so we could keep our spirits high. I thought I was the only one who remembered Nik Kershaw’s hit song from the 80s, “Wouldn’t it be good to be in your shoes/ Even if it were for just one day? / Grass is always greener over there / Wouldn’t it be good if we could live without a care?” Frank is a real kindred spirit—we talk, tell jokes and sing constantly! Perhaps what impressed me the most about Frank was his willingness to shake off the mischievous taunting the other guys gave him. He was often the subject of humor for everyone—something I didn’t really appreciate. “Why do you let people joke with you like that?” I asked him once. He replied, “I need to be able to take it in order to give it.” This makes sense since he too doled out his fair share of good-natured teasing. --Tom--
Tom, on the other hand, is a very quiet man. I’m pretty sure that Tom did not like our singing all the time—he would linger behind us or walk faster in order to get ahead so he didn’t have to hear our glorious voices. He told me that he doesn’t talk that often because he doesn’t think that his English skills are as good as the others. Well, I seriously doubt that! Each one of these German fellows has an extensive vocabulary and can express themselves very well. I never found out what everyone did for a living but I understand that Tom does some modelling for a company that sells clothes for Oktoberfest. I didn’t realize that people wore costumes to Oktoberfest. He gave me the web address so that I could see some of the products he endorses but I was unable to read his handwriting. I’ve seen so many people (myself included) who like to engage in conversations about what ails them but Tom is not like this at all. He keeps his health concerns to himself and does what he needs to do in order to feel better. In Santiago, this included staying in bed for a full night and day while the rest of us went out for dinner and drinks. By the 12th he was as good as new and I was very happy that he felt much better. I’ve already written a little bit about Andreas and his participation in Ironman competitions in Germany. --Andreas--
During our time on the Camino, he has been the one pilgrim from our group that has always been out in front. He is energetic, stylish and trim. Also, he has an infectious laugh and smile—I find that whenever anyone speaks to him, he immediately lights up with a huge grin and gives that person all of his attention. I’ve also decided that he is a very meticulous person who takes great care in everything he does. His backpack is exceedingly organized and he never seems to have trouble finding anything when he needs it. More often than not, when we are all relaxing on our bunks in the albergues, he can be found deep in thought and furiously writing in his Camino journal. With all of the photographs he takes, I wonder why he isn’t a photo journalist for he seems to have the eye for capturing the best moments all of us shared on the Camino. --Sebastian--
What to say about our Croatian friend, Sebastian? I must admit that when I first met him I was disinclined to spend any time with him. I thought he talked too loud and perhaps a bit self-centered. In time I began to realize that I was judging him without even taking the time to get to know him. This was not fair so I purposefully took the time to walk with him and get to know what sort of person he really was. Sure, he talks a lot but that is because he is a very confident, well-read, intelligent man who knows what he is talking about. Of all of my new friends, he spoke the best English. He was actually very good at languages and could speak Italian and even Spanish. I was impressed with how quickly he picked up German while I was still plodding along with “ja”, “sehr Gut”, “nein” and the longest German word I ever learned: “Minderwertigkeitsgefühl”! It’s quite an appropriate word to describe me since it means inferiority complex—which I have compared to the language skills of the others in our group. Anyway, Sebastian no longer lives in Croatia but in Slovenia with his wife who is about to give birth to their first child. He says that he loves her very much but I get the funny notion that he loves his motorcycle even more! His bike often tends to be a topic of conversation. He can even tell from the sound of other bikes we hear on the road what make and year they are. He has an answer or explanation for just about everything that we talk about and can easily balance his responses with examples from real-life situations. It’s no wonder he is a successful motivational speaker and runs his own business. The albergue in Melide was huge and we all took beds in the same section of bunk beds. The only thing that surprised me was that there were no doors to the shower stalls. I feel no shame when it comes to showering in front of a bunch of other men, but I’m sure that other people would find the experience somewhat uncomfortable. I heard that it was even more shocking for the females in the albergue. The family from New Zealand that made me dinner in Molinaseca were here and one of the daughters told me that the women had no doors in their shower room either—they had to face one another in the middle of the room as they showered unlike the men who were at least separated by a small dividing wall. --Iglesia de Sancti Spiritus, Melide-- --The Capela de San Antonio de Melide draws a standing-room-only crowd for Friday night Mass--
After taking our showers and cleaning our clothes, we all took a short nap at the albergue before heading out to the most recommended restaurant in town, the Pulpería Exequiel known for its traditional Galician dishes—especially pulpo (octopus).I was the only one getting tired of pulpo so I ordered the Ternera Asada, a huge plate of beef and potatoes. While we ate and drank seemingly endless bowls of red wine, we watched Poland and Greece in the Euro 2012 Football Championship. After ninety minutes, the game ended 1-1.