The Storm before the Calm

What is the difference between mist and fog?

Whatever it was, it loomed around us five this morning in the eucalyptus, mint, nettles, and oak.

Two Spanish friends joined us and we were seven, and there were 19 kilometers left to go.

That would have been a short walk, but we planned to go only 14 and walk into Santiago in the early morning the next day. Today our plan was just to party all the way.

We stopped at a supermarket but we found its doors shut. But, as soon as we stopped before it, they rattled and rolled up, and the employees found us there, crouching and grinning.

We bought junk food and wine and walked and walked: the path was in turns empty and clogged with pilgrims. We sat down on a grassy patch at ten in the morning and poured cups of cider for everyone. We ate doughnuts and croissants and big, round grapes, and toasted passersby:

“Buen vino! Buen camino!”

Our party swole from seven to eleven when four Germans we’ve crossed paths with but never spoken to sat down for a glass and didn’t leave the rest of the day. And then came another German and a Canadian whom we all know independently, and we were laughing and swapping stories, about how much so-and-so stinks, and how no one understands Laurynas’s “How many sheep?” game, and who had the worst and best albergue, and oh, cookies! Someone put cookies out and we ate them all, and we continued on our way in the heating-up day.

And of course, this whole time, music played and played. Maybe we were a menace to the pilgrims seeking a more contemplative end to their journey. We clogged the path and danced and sang Journey and Beyonce, all those kinds of songs, you know. The kind of songs you play when you’re on the final stretch of something.

And we stopped a couple hours later, our group of 13, and sat in a great circle in a town no one knew the name of, because we don’t consult the guidebook much anymore unless it’s to locate a supermarket. Jose bought a massive fish empanada for us to share and we ate it with wine and cheese and fruit and Doritos, and we played Never Have I Ever and Who’s Most Likely To…?

And we carried on, and everyone but me soon stopped for yet another drink and I went on alone, wanting water not beer, and I came to the Mountain of Joy, Monte Do Gozo, which is where pilgrims rejoice at the distant skyline of Santiago, and I checked into an albergue with 400 beds, twice as large as the largest I’ve stayed in.

And we all met up again and here the party swole to 15, then 20, as more Spanish friends (whom I met in Melide a few days ago when I found myself in a pool hall with a thick language barrier and lots of tapas) and two English friends I thought I’d lost all went to the one bar and shop in town.

Tonight it’s all just a party. The people I thought I lost are here. I’ll see more friends tomorrow in the plaza before the Cathedral of Santiago. The friends join and join and join and the party escalates, and we’d maybe be more introspective if this wide tangentially-related family wasn’t the exact mix it is, and it’s just all good. It’s just fun and loud, quoting movies not everyone knows and sharing inside jokes not everyone is privy to, speaking words not everyone understands and being perfectly together all the same.

Every single soul I’ve shared the path with has been weirder and funnier and better and more chaotic and less mature and kinder and more human and finer than the vanilla, vague, spiritual specters of my expectations.

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