Day 24: Gonzar – Melide: 19.5 miles
Monday, October 3, 2016: Departed: 8:00am, Arrived 4:15pm
To our surprise, our albergue dorm of 20 bunks, actually did not have a bad snorer in it, nor early risers that make lots of noise getting up and packing their things, such that we slept decently in more so than normal, and got a bit of a later start. Because Gonzar is not a typical hub town for overnighters, we joined our stretch of the Camino at a time of day that was not amid the main bubble of the passing pilgrim procession, so it did not feel nearly as crowded as the previous day. We soon summited a rise that afforded a view to the East where we had come from, and the sun was just cresting the mountain ridges we’d passed a few days before, and in the valley that we had passed through yesterday, there was an ocean of clouds and mist below. I think it was probably the best sunrise vista we’ve had on the Camino. We stopped for an omelet breakfast at another albergue en route, and when we got to the next hub town of Palas de Rei, we elected to eat our lunch by buying a mix of cold edibles to be eaten picnic style in the plaza, before heading toward our anticipated overnight town Melide.
Back on the Camino in the afternoon, we felt our mindset adjusting as we looked at the mileage markers to Santiago, now knowing we are nearing the end, and that we can accurately predict when we will finish. The journey felt long at the start, with unpredictable, intentionally unplanned weeks ahead, but now we’re starting to count the days, and strategize our timing down to our flight home from Lisbon. It seems to have gone by fast, and we find ourselves talking about home – looking forward to October, our favorite month in Asheville, and seeing the change of season. Seeing friends and visiting our favorite haunts, and seeing what “new” things have happened or opened in town. Going to LEAF festival. And of course, receiving the celebratory greeting from El Guapo.
One thing we’re NOT looking forward to going back home is the election. We haven’t watched hardly any TV, or checked social media or news outlets which I’m sure are abuzz back in the states. It’s been such a welcome break, and though I was looking forward to being away from “our” news, I did make a bit of an odd decision before the trip started. I sewed a USA flag patch on my backpack. Let me explain. Soon before leaving, I had a conversation with another traveler friend, where we agreed that we both despised the suggestion that an American should put a Canadian flag on their gear so that they would be better received internationally. Not only is it proclaiming a false identity that would be hard to maintain in friendly circles, but it assumes that a nationality bestows congeniality upon you rather than your own behavior among others. If you are indeed a conscientious and curious traveler, as I like to think of myself, then let it be an opportunity to be an ambassador for your country – to improve its reputation abroad when it needs it most. And so in thinking that I should walk my own talk, I decided to put the flag on my backpack, not as an expression USA #1 patriotic zeal, but to reminding myself to be a humble and positive representative of my country, a powerful and influential country. I hope that is what has happened, despite the fact that most people who see it are those whom I’ve already blown by as I walk a faster pace. But I try to be friendly in doing so, speaking the local language, and when I do talk to people about where they are from, that I express my knowledge of their home and history, or my curiosity in learning more. This I’ve done, but let me say, it hasn’t felt like I needed to “win people over.” It has seemed that whether it be fellow pilgrim or local person, they all seem amiable from the start without knowing me, my nationality, my politics, or my faith.
My biggest hesitancy to putting the flag on my pack was I did not want to invite any conversation about our election. Kim and I both feared we would be asked about it a lot, and someone who had walked the Camino before said to expect people to ask us about our political system and our candidates. We wanted to avoid such conversations as part of our retreat from the American news cycle. But to be honest, we’ve been pleasantly surprised. Not many people have asked us about it, and those who have are people who did so out of non-judgmental curiosity after establishing a rapport around other subjects. Some Italians who asked us about it said “Our politics are even worse, but our bad leaders only impact Italy, the American leadership impacts the world.” The world is watching and wondering, but fortunately on the Camino, Kim and I have not had to account for it too much. Just as many people have asked us about the Appalachian Trail as the presidential election. That’s a beautiful surprise.