29 August, 2014 - Villafranca del Bierzo
Lots of things happened today so this is going to be a long entry. I'll start off by saying that I felt God's presence three times today.
The first time was through a fellow pilgrim: Jose from Mexico.
I left very early in the morning - like before dawn early - from Ponferrada. It was actually so dark that I seriously considered turning back in to the albergue because I didn't want to walk through the city and suburbs by myself. But I saw another pilgrim so I decided to follow along behind him. It was quite a ways before we spoke to each other but I truly believe God sent him to ease my fears and keep me safe through the dark city streets. I'd like to think that if I didn't see this pilgrim that I would have gone back to the albergue. But knowing me...I don't know. I guess I'll have to test that boundary another time.
So my guardian angel is named Jose and he is from Mexico. We passed each other several times in the dark. One of us would stop to take a picture or check a waymarker and the other would nod or smile at the other. And finally, as the darkness began to lift and the urban concrete and alleys were left behind, the dawn light was enough for me to actually see his face, and so I asked his name. Jose and I walked together for a few miles. We talked about home, the people we've met along the Way, and our plans after we finish the Camino. We talked about our families, our time in school, and how we hoped the Camino would change us.
As we approached a small town, I decided to stop for some tea and breakfast while Jose decided to keep moving. Before we said goodbye, I thanked him. I told him that even though we didn't talk earlier, I was happy he was there - because walking alone in the dark is scary and he made it better.
The second time I felt God's presence today was through a woman in Valtuille de Arriba.
My guidebook mentioned that the people in this village have a deep respect for the Camino and its pilgrims. That, coupled with the hundreds of vineyards I walked through (not to mention my aching feet and the scorching sun), made me want to stop for some water and wine.
I stopped at a bar nestled in a bend in the single road that wound through the small village. The only seating was outdoors but the patio was shaded by an ancient-looking wooden trellis covered with grapevines. Colorful wind chimes and ornaments hung from the trellis and you had to negotiate a short but narrow dirt trail with stepping stones in order to reach the wooden benches still shaped like tree trunks.
I unbuckled my backpack and slumped it on the ground as I wearily took a seat and wiped my sweaty forehead. The woman who owns the bar brought me some water and asked if I would like anything else. I asked if I could try some local wine and she beamed this proud, excited smile at me. The red wine (vino tinto) that she brought out was from the vineyard at the top of the hill I had just come down from - her neighbor's family has owned that vineyard for over one hundred years!
Understatement of the year: the wine was spectacular. Now, I don't have the most discerning of palettes but sitting there in the haze of alcohol and what I'm sure was minor heat exhaustion, I swear in this wine I could taste the sun and feel the spirit of the grapes having just walked through the same vineyards where this wine was born.
As I got up to leave, the woman told me to wait for just a moment. She placed on the table a small pebble of red quartz and told me about the tradition of Jacinto de Compostela. The star clusters of the red quartz represents the field of stars the first pilgrim followed to Santiago. Pilgrims now carry the red quartz as a talisman for good luck and good health.
The woman took my hand, closed it around the red quartz pebble and said this to me, "I have this gift for you, peregrina, because I too am peregrina." This really spoke to me. I don't know if she meant that she has literally walked the Camino before (as many locals do) or if she meant figuratively that she is a pilgrim in life. Either way, I felt a bond with her and I hope she is well.
The third time I felt God's presence was on the Way between Valtuille and Villafranca.
I was once again walking along a trail of loose dirt through hundreds of vineyards and I came upon this steep rise. I was dreading the uphill effort as the sun beat down on me but when I reached the top I suddenly started to cry.
The whole valley was laid out before me and I was overcome with gratitude. I found - or rather was given - the shade of a single tree. A small breeze cooled the sweat at my temples and rustled the hair that had sprung loose from my braid. The vines had dropped bunches of grapes in the rich, red soil.
This picture and my words cannot appropriately describe what made this scene so splendid other than the feeling that washed over me the moment it all came into view. It was like I had finally found the me-shaped hole in this world and in this moment, I filled it up.
Dear God, thank you for sending me Jose from Mexico, the woman from the bar in Valtuille and the truly awe-inspiring sites I saw today. Your glory did not go unnoticed. Please bless Jose, the peregrina, and the wine.