My path, this path, was special. It started in Seville, in front of the Cachorro* in Holy Week 2019, when I promised Him that I would do it and bring Him the Compostela, if He helped me in a very complicated work situation. This was because, after 32 years in the same company, I was about to have to leave it and find a new direction. My request must have been well presented, because I managed to start another very good work project almost without taking a break from the previous one. But not everything was going to be happiness and a short time later, at the end of 2020, and before I had fulfilled my promise, I found myself in the same situation again.
In addition, times were troubled, because globalization, or whatever, had brought us the COVID pandemic that had kept us all locked up without leaving home and subjected to unprecedented collective stress. So as soon as they left us, I decided to keep my old promise, the one I owed the Cachorro, that I, like the Lannisters**, am one of those who “pay their debts”, and also hoped that the Camino would help me mature another idea that It was on my mind to make amends for the recent fiasco.
Things were not easy, with all the hostels closed and most of the bars and services not operating, but we had to try. We started from O Cebreiro- my wife Aline and me. We had driven there by car, so we left it there, hoping that when we got to Triacastela a taxi would take us back to O Cebreiro so that we could return to our house in La Coruña. Since we didn’t know if we were going to find anywhere open, we loaded up with food and water for the journey- together with my backpack containing my photographic equipment. We got up early and started early. Leaving O Cebreiro, it seemed that another couple was going to accompany us, but in the end we left alone. And that’s where the real experience began, because during the first three stages, until reaching Portomarín, with one exception, we didn’t find anyone on the Camino. A route that hundreds of thousands of people travel each year was totally empty and we walked it alone, with a sensation that made me imagine what Adam and Eve would feel in Paradise.
It was the spring of 2021, March, and everything was beginning to sprout and blossom. We walked apart, because I stopped too often to immortalize the show we were attending “privately.” Then, in addition, I verified with the days, that those first stages were probably the ones that offered the best landscapes. Walk, full of morning light, the peaks of Piedrafita; entering forest glades where the branches closed forming arcs barely penetrated by light; walking next to large meadows of a unique green ready to feed our almost only companions, the cows: blondes, Friesians, cachenas… I think I have several thousand photos of those days and, in the absence of people, the cows were a very recurring motif, along with a multitude of birds that I did not know and even a lizard. All of them will have always been there, but you had to go slowly, without haste, and look- only then can you see them, when your head is free from all the rush and hubbub that fills it on a daily basis. And so we went through the first three stages, alone, just the two of us who had decided to be one years ago, hardly speaking to one another (something that didn’t seem so good to her, to the point of her threatening to bring “her headphones” to listen to music, which she did). that would have been a serious mistake in the midst of that marvel). In those first three stages, only in the Alto do Poio we found a bar open, the Bar Puerto, the one at the Hostel, and we had a drink and chatted with the owner, accompanied by an XXL-sized rooster and a drowsy mastiff. This man was the only person we spoke to in our first three days, and, to my surprise, he warned us to be careful because the Civil Guard was fining those like us who walked through the mountain alone without a mask (after having just slept in the same bed together). Here is one more proof of the absurdity of that period we lived through during those days. The rest of the days we ate our sandwiches, nuts and a few pieces of fruit, sitting on a hundred-year-old wall or in a meadow and surrounded by local bugs.
We must have spoken highly of the experience, because when we arrived in Portomarín our good friends Rocío and Javier joined us. Everything was easier logistically speaking (one car at the beginning of the stage and another at the end) and how we were doing the stages when we could, months passed, and we even found bars and restaurants open to eat. There were still very few people on the Camino, but the presence of other people meant that there were fewer moments of silence, more of a rush to get to the prearranged place to eat, also fewer photos, contemplation and reflections. Since that time we have walked a few more stages and we have promised ourselves that we will continue doing Caminos, but I believe that neither we nor anyone else will ever be able to repeat a unique experience like that of walking the Camino in complete silence and without seeing a soul.
*The Cachorro is a statue of the crucified Christ, to be found in Sevilla, Andalucia.
** Fictitious noble family taken from ‘The Game of Thrones’, a British television serial.