Thankfully, the walk from Campobecerros to Laza was downhill, pretty much the entire way, and partially on a paved road. The walking was beautiful, and relatively easy. Today, I was particularly grateful for the gentle walk.
I couldn’t really do more than a measly 15 km — about 9 miles — and decided to stop in the next town, Laza.
Laza had a lovely, modern albergue, and I was able to take a leisurely shower and wash my clothes before the rains came.
There were a lot of people in this albergue, although it was still not at capacity. I remained decidedly anti-social, still intimidated by all those pilgrims traveling in pairs and groups, and chose a bed in the corner by myself. I climbed atop to read and wait for the rains to ease.
A short while later, a man, probably in his 40s or so, placed his things in the bunk next to mine. I nodded a simple hello and resumed reading. After unpacking, the man asked me a question, and I thought I recognized the accent.
“¿Hablas Frances?” I asked. Do you speak French?
“Mais oui!” he exclaimed, in French.
And with that simple exchange, began easy conversation.
We had a lovely dinner where we told each other our stories: Phillipe had walked the Camino Frances a few years earlier, after a horrid divorce, and had met his new wife, with whom he was incredibly in love, and whom he was going to meet elsewhere the next day. He, too, he explained, believes in the power of pilgrimage as a catalyst for change, just as I myself was placing my faith in on this journey.
“Hold on to hope,” he implored, only in French, so sounded even more beautiful.
My conversations with Phillipe over the course of this evening was the first real heart-felt connection with a fellow pilgrim I’d had, in almost two weeks of walking. We shared a long breakfast the next day, and, with tears that sprung from nowhere, said our farewells.
We didn’t even exchange contact information. “Sometimes,” Phillipe explained, “the magic of these connections on the Camino is their brevity. Don’t worry. I won’t forget you.”
As I have not forgotten him.