We are back in Valencia after taking a meandering road home via Santiago de Compostela. Pulling out of the hotel in Sao Pedro de Moel, we both looked at each other and said ‘Ok. What now?’ It was Jeff who said, ‘Lets head north to Santiago.’ So we did. What a difference a year makes.
This time last year we did a short Camino from Sarria to Santiago. I walked for my Dad, who has since passed away. Jeff walked for his Mom, who is healthy and doing well in WA state. This year we stayed at the Parador right on the square in front of the Cathedral of St. James and were one of only a few guests in the massive ancient convent with the arched cloisters now converted into lodgings. The hotel mirrored the town. It was relatively deserted and made the creaking of the centuries old parquet floors hidden under thick woven custom carpets sound that much louder and creepier. You could almost hear the sounds of nuns past singing their daily prayers. No tourists in the town. A few Pilgrims walking into the square soaking wet.
We went to find food at my favorite place – Malek Bistro – with an East meets Middle East fusion. Wonderful food. But it was boarded up. As were so many places. Half the town is gone. Covid took the Pilgrims away. And Pilgrims are the life-blood of Santiago. Without them the city can not survive. And it seems there are so many casualties. It was eyrie walking through the warren of streets in the old area near the Cathedral. The larger cafes have survived but not the small ones. A few knick-knack stores for Camino souvenirs. But that’s it. 2020 has been a bad year for Santiago.
We went into the Cathedral – the interior is under serious restoration. Scaffolding takes up all the space under the arched gothic columns where the Botafumeiro usually swings after a Pilgrim Blessing during other times. There would be no room to swing it now. And it was dark inside. No lights other than those highlighting the restorers as they did their work. Perhaps 10 people there lighting candles or praying. I lit my candles to pray for my family and we visited the crypt of St. James. There was no one to compete with. It’s like the cathedral sits lonely and resting waiting for the Pilgrims to return.
We decided to take a little walk on one of the stages of the Camino. It would do my heart some good after what are months of feeling unwell, and after our loss of the house in Portugal. We needed to clear some cobwebs so we parked the car in Palas de Rei and took a walk. It was a sunny crisp fall day. No cafes open along the way until half way to Melide. We only saw a few people walking. All speaking Spanish. When we got to Melide we stopped at a favorite cafe. Conchi, Maria and Francisico are lovely people, who encouraged us to choose Galicia as our home. Perhaps the Camino that lured us from Portugal up to Santiago the day before was trying to tell us something. Perhaps that’s where we belong after all. I’m a big believer in signs. If you pay attention the arrows are easier to see.
We spent 3 hours in the cafe eating, drinking and talking about life and the state of the world. Conchi has a lot of opinions. I LOVE IT! Francisco had gone fungi hunting that morning.
‘He woke up and said to me – ‘This is the day” Conchi told us. ‘You must wait for the right conditions and today is perfect after hard rain.’
She brought them out on a tray for us to see. Very proud of his efforts.
‘You are our only Americans this year. The others are stuck. They can not come. Yesterday we had our first Canadians. Other than that, it’s just Spaniards. It’s been a difficult year.’
But they are still there. The food is divine and the company is even better. Just another sign that perhaps we belong somewhere nearby.
We drove back to Valencia the following day and began the unpacking. At cross roads it’s time to rethink things. How you do the business of living. We rearranged El Compartimento so our view is a bit different than before. There is something to fung shui that changes the flow of energy in a space. So we took the opportunity to do that and now we’re settled back in. We will begin the new hunt for a home after the holidays. I have heard my Dad’s voice so much lately. ‘Slow down, kid.’ I’ve decided I’ll take that good advice.
‘We did get annual passes for the Valencia BioParc right before Covid hit.’ Jeff pointed out. ‘Maybe we’re meant to get the value out of ’em.’
In the month since we were last in Valencia the cases in Spain have exploded. No one was wearing a mask when we were here in early September. Now that has changed. Everyone has them on now. They’re taking the second wave seriously. And for that we feel safer.
I have never been a big believer in regrets. They’re pointless. There are only lessons in life if you humble yourself enough to look at them in the face. This adventure in Portugal wasn’t something to regret. Two beautiful Covid-free months by the sea. And a masters class in Portuguese real estate. I know I’ve suffered from terrible PTSD and anxiety from being ill. Rational or irrational? Who can say. But I feel better now. Covid is a humbling experience. But as we all awaken, as if from a long slumber- after this is finally over next year -I hope it’s the beginning of us collectively rearranging our global furniture. Rethinking how we operate in the world. How we treat each other and how we treat ourselves.
Maybe, in the end, it will have taught us all to ‘Slow down, kid’. And as always, Buen Camino. 🙏