The walk from Melide to Arzua was “short” considering the number of kilometers we’d been logging per day. It was only 15 km or 9.3 miles, but it was up and down hills most of the way. The challenge was not just physical but emotional. We had taken it easy that morning, savoring the thick and foamy hot chocolate and crunchy churros as though they were our last meal. We’d left at 10 am, in good spirits, eager to finish the day’s walk.
To get the “Compostela” (the official document acknowledging our walk), when we arrived in Santiago now just two days away, we’d have to prove that we’d walked at least 100 kilometers by getting at least two stamps per day at hotels, cafes or other official stops along the way. Paul had turned this minimum requirement into a maximum challenge stopping at every opportunity to get a stamp. The first opportunity that day presented itself almost immediately.
There was a poster along the fence with pictures of one man’s journey from Santiago Chile to Santiago de Compostela, Spain. The feat was impressive enough until you realized that the man had only one leg and that had he’d pedaled or walked for nearly a year. I was translating the captions when we noticed that the man in the pictures was standing behind us and that he had a stamp, he was an official stop along the Camino. He explained to us that he walked the world for charity, a campaign of “smiles” he called it and that is when the tears began. Gus’ prayer card says “Smile, I am fine” because that is what he always told us when we lost our composure in his presence. We asked how we could help and he informed us that all he asked for was 5 Euros for charity. We gave him 10, a Gus prayer card and a Gus cross. We all cried and finally left.
Further along, still wiping the tears from our eyes, we came to a little Church where the priest stood by all day just to stamp pilgrim passports. He asked us if we were married, we said yes. He inquired about the number of “tesoros”, treasures (children), I reflexively said three then corrected myself to two. He looked at us as though we could not count so we had to tell him that it was that we’d just lost one to cancer. We gave him a prayer card that he tacked onto the wall. We left sobbing some more.
As we were getting closer to Arzua, we took break at a cafe as much to rest our hearts as our feet and of course to get another stamp, when a large group of teenagers passed by pushing three wheelchairs, the young men strapped in clearly afflicted by cerebral palsy. The young men were covered with plastic bags and ponchos, the rest of the group was muddy and wet, you could tell they’d had to carry their friends over the rocks and mud that characterized the road that day. I cried some more, thinking that while we mourned our loss, we’d been privileged to witness such courage and strength. We arrived in Arzua more exhausted than ever before, our hearts bursting with pain and love.