On first glance this may seem a negative title and quite a concern for any friend or decent human being, but please view it as sublimation; a form of alchemy if you will.
I have decided to take a vow of silence and continue alone from here, a tiny hamlet called La Faba on the border between Castille and Galicia. This may seem quite a dramatic gesture and strange for anyone who knows me. Certainly, the former is a first and surprising but really a culmination of events that came to a head in the large town of Ponferrada whilst staying at the Municiple auberge there.
Let me elaborate…
For the full length of the Camino I have tried to keep positive and view events and people from an objective and compassionate position, after all this is not an easy pilgrimage. I would give the clothes off my back for anyone who asks and has a genuine need. Certainly I have given far more than I have received; and have no problem with that for folk have been kind to me in the past and giving should never be done with hope of return; this is not giving at all, in my view.
So when someone steals my milk from the communal fridge and leaves it out to go off, I find myself wondering just who it is I’m sharing this Camino with, especially as fresh milk is so difficult to find here in Spain. Ponferrada was a real turning point for me, the place where all my repressed anger began to boil. An evening sing-along turned into a shouting match, so much so that I left early and went to bed, only to be woken up by loud talking later on.
Needless to say, as I left Ponferrada in the rain the following morning, I was in a murderous mood and sought my own company. Ramon, who has always been charming throughout, a perfect gentleman, realised that I needed my space and walked on with another group.
The rain continued all day and I plodded on with the feeling of betrayal lying in my heart, not for the loss of the milk, but the act of theft. I would have given it gladly, had they asked. Sometime later I met Billy, a wonderful, gutsy American lady in her seventies who was walking alone. We had met previously on several occasions but this time we jelled and I listened to her mission to help the homeless and drug-dependent by starting a shelter in Arizona. Her take on the relevance of her faith was very touching and strangely uplifting on that darkest of all days. Later on that evening I reached the municipal auberge at Cacabelos and was amazed when she suddenly arrived in the bed next to me; even more surprising as they were two bed cubicles and there were over a hundred!
That night Billy’s story of her life and faith moved me greatly and I slept a deep restful sleep in the peace of this old albergue and a strange thought came to me… Or was it a thought? I decided to take a vow of silence… At least try to, because surely, it’s almost impossible in the modern world isn’t it? And I’ve often wondered if anybody ever listens to me anyway.
Am I being a hypocrite, or some kind of Pharisee, perhaps? Am I trying to draw attention to myself in some way? I don’t understand it with the mind, but there is a call from my heart to do this. I’m so tired of the modern world with all its vulgarity, rush, cruelty, ignorance and words… Millions of them.
When I left the little town of Villafranca del Bierzo, I was confronted with three options: firstly the simple route that follows the road, secondly the normal hilly route which the majority of peregrinos follow and thirdly, the mountain route through Dragonte which is seriously difficult and very rarely attempted. Now I know I have previously remarked that I wanted to follow the normal routes, but this time I felt the need to seek solitude; to get away from the throng and their constant noise and litter. Needless to say, I decided to cross the mountains and haven’t been so tested since my school days in the Lake District.
After a punishing first day, I camped beside a roaring mountain river in the rain and wind near a tiny village called San Fiz do Seo. I felt intensely humbled and invigorated by the mountain symphony. Awesome is a yet another one of those overused words, and yet no other describes my night above the clouds. Oh how I love the mountains… The tears were streaming down my face the following morning as I descended into the valley to resume the normal trail; like a penance had been resolved. What a glorious, albeit painful few days.
The following evening I reached La Faba and stayed in the auberge there with only three other folk. They soon realised I had taken the vow of silence and treated me with immense respect. I’ve never felt better about myself and quietly prepared my food, watching the sun set over the Galician mountains in tranquil contentment.
This feels so much better than the madness of before. I have nothing to say and only ears to listen. The beauty of the mountains caresses my heart, and my pack and staff keep me company.
It was lovely to see Kelly and her daughter from The United States again. She squealed in delight as I passed the little village bar. I smiled and we hugged. Then I pointed to my tongue and made a sweeping movement with my hand. She immediately got it and asked if I’d stopped talking. On affirmation, she squeezed my hand and nodded in encouragement. No words were needed…
Just love and an open heart.