from Chapter 9

Somewhere Beyond the Sea

I seem to have this recurring neurotic drama when I’m closing a door behind me and there’s no going back. Every morning during my Camino I would go through the same doubts in my mind: Do I have everything? Did I check this or that? Should I go to the bathroom one more time? Will the livery service find my knapsack? Will it be safe? Do I need another layer of clothing?

I would stand there with the door cracked open asking myself until I had satisfactorily met all the conditions of departure. Because, at most of the places I stayed, I left before anyone else, and when the latch clicked shut, I couldn’t get back in for at least an hour.

So there I stood in the doorway of the Hotel Bruselas with the door handle in my left hand and walking poles in my right. I had placed my pack behind the desk, trusting that Tuitrans, the service I engaged to move my backpack from hotel to hotel, would be by shortly to pick it up. Pre-dawn darkness loomed and the air felt crisp. Mustering my will, I snapped the door shut and facing the street started walking toward the highway and the albergue.

Finally, I was walking the Camino! No going back!

After three blocks, Cafeteria Oasis stood on the corner at the highway, with its lights bright against the darkness, welcoming customers for business. I hadn’t had any coffee yet, so I sat at the counter and ordered what would become my Camino early morning breakfast, a café Americano and croissant.

One of the things I noticed is that the Spanish still read newspapers. Every bar has a selection. There were about half a dozen people sipping their coffees and reading newspapers. A news reader on the television over the bar also babbled the morning’s news and weather in rapid-fire Spanish. I sat and savored the morning’s first jolt of java. But I felt anxious and a need to get going.

Today, September 26, marked the first day of my Camino, and the culmination of months of training. I’d be walking from A Guarda to a small village, Viladesuso, a distance of about 16.7 kilometers (10 miles). The Camino follows Highway 552 up the coast, paralleling the Atlantic Ocean. Highway 552 has a bike path on the southbound side, and the Camino proceeds weaving its way from coastal paths to the bike path and back.

I hiked the half kilometer up the highway from the café to the municipal albergue at the top of a gentle hill. At 7:30, the albergue buzzed with activity. Pilgrims were preparing and eating breakfast or making last minute adjustments to their equipment. Some sat outside smoking cigarettes. I stopped in for my second sello, or stamp for my credencial. With my mission accomplished, I turned left from the albergue’s gate and saw a yellow arrow on a wall directly in front of me.

The arrow sent me up the highway a bit and then down some back streets. Cars sat in front of the houses, most of which were dark. Occasionally a security light would turn on and show the way. Feeling like an interloper, I experienced an anxious awareness as I strolled through the sleeping neighborhood. Then I heard the tapping of walking poles on the pavement and the hushed conversation of a Japanese couple passing me. The streets started to descend. The houses became further apart, and the trail opened to a stairway that led to a path at the beach.

I came upon the Japanese couple standing at the top. Their cameras were in hand to capture the unusual pre-dawn vista. The sun hadn’t risen yet, and the silver moon, two days past full, hung over the water to the west. It cast a shimmering trail of light across the water beckoning all who saw it to whatever lay beyond the horizon. I could see the waves crashing against a rocky coastline with their spray reaching into the lightening sky. I marveled in silence at my good luck to be able to capture this moment.

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