Day 25: Courage and Conviction

It is not always easy to define courage. No, pilgrims are not fighting a war on the Camino, at least, not in the quasi-conventional sense. But each pilgrim, no matter what their original intentions -religious, spiritual, a get-away adventure – has finds his or her own battles and war. And courage dies not always mean the same thing here.


We left the lovely albergue in Villafranca, had our Greek yogurt, and started out early. We had been hearing horror stories about the climb to O Cebreiro, supposedly one of the most challenging. We had to just get over it, literally. Kat and Z decided to have their packs delivered, and B took advantage and gave Z her sandals and a few pieces of clothing to lighten her load.

We walked along what is known as the Bobsled along the highways, winding slowlt up through the mountains. It definitely looked like a bobsled.


On our way to Vega de Valcarce, a tiny village situated before the mountain, we saw a young man hobbling. He threw his walking stick on the ground in frustration and kept on hobbling. As we approached him, we saw that it was the bubbly, gregarious Spanish Englishman. But he wasn’t particularly bubbly today.


Tears streamed down his face and he determinedly walked forward. Tendinitis had swollen both ankles to the size of bowling balls and his knee as well. He told us that he was at the crossroads, his brain told him to stop, his heart wanted him to continue. He said he has seen Galicia, the state we were now in, many, many times, but it is his dream, his resolve to walk it, see the cathedral in Santiago and see his girlfriend who lives close to Finisterre. He was mad his body and his God at the moment. He said he would rest at the next town.

How heartbreaking to see someone’s dream being cut short right in front of you. He caught up at the next bathroom stop, and we got him some ice. He had decided, or rather, his body decided this was not going to be the year of walking through Galicia. He tried to bang the pain out of hom, but he just can’t walk anymore. He called his brother who was a few hours ahead of him, and will take the bus to an aunt’s house nearby.

He is young. He will complete this one day. What courage it took for him to walk a good 10 km in unbearable pain and what courage it took him to realize that the timing was not right for him.


We continued into the little town of Vega de Valcarce, where we stopped for some good, but expensive, breakfast. Z made the courageous decision to honor her limits and her body and take a taxi the rest of the way. It was another 12-15km…or 18km straight up, depending on which guide you follow.

B and Kat continued on. It didn’t seem too bad at first. And then…


The road narrowed and became a rocky uphill path. A very long one. It was gorgeous, though, with trees and a brook.


This continued on and on and on until we reached the clearing where the path continued upward, though without shade in the hot sun. Kat took a quick Coca-Cola break and we continued on to a little bar 2 km away from our destination, where we found Alex and Juan. Kat took a rest and waited for Alex, while B pressed on


Crossing into Galicia, she met up with Johann, a teacher, and Sebastian, from Germany. We soon caught up with five lovely French elders. One woman was walking slowly on the arm of her friend, who was encouraging her on. She held onto Sebastian’s arm on the other side, and slowly, we all made the final 1km ascent together. What incredible courage for her to continue, one step at a time.


O Cebreiro is a stunning hilltop village, with the most spectacular views. The climb seemed more difficult than the Pyrenees, likely because of the heat. This hamlet is known for pallozas, round, thatch-roofed huts that reflect is Celtic heritage. We found Roger, a choir director from San Diego, California, and Fabrizio and Nacho, the electrical engineer working on solar energy.


A shower (without doors – so much for privacy) later, we went to lunch with Alex at a place with crazy gorgeous views. A pasta soup and fall-off-the-bone beef stew warmed the tummy as the sun had gone into hiding, and it started to get cold.


We went to get Alex a small birthday gift, as his birthday was yesterday, and also ran into this creepy Frenchman we had noticed was eyeing us. It turns out others had also noticed this strange man, who some think is behind the rash of thievery. We have to keep an eye on him.

At 6, we went to the church for a pilgrim’s concert. The man played the flute first, filling the church with lilting music. Then he went to play the organ and started to sing…we went back outside to enjoy the views. Roger, a musician and choir director, confirmed for us that the performance fell a bit flat. Still, the musician’s heart was in the right place and he had the conviction to perform.


We found some familiar faces, including the two Mexican sisters, who were turned away from the full albergue. After a tough climb, no one could muster the strength to walk another 8 km to the next available place. Thankfully, everyone found a space eventually somewhere.

We did some yoga and stretching with Alex, Nacho, and Fabrizio, having a good laugh. We will miss these guys when we have to part ways.


A light dinner and we rest. A tough, emotional day that really put into context that old adage about the journey, not the goal. People say it all the time that the challenge is with oneself, but it’s not always easy not to compare with others – compare blister sizes, pack weights, who is first in line at the albergue. But if anything, the courage of these pilgrims, in their varied forms, have proven that each has his or her own battle, own path, own Way. What we hope for is to find companions to laugh with and friends to cheer us on when courage is what we need most.