But sometimes our encounters are not with other pilgrims. The two pictures above, for instance, are of a camp in a particularly bleak section of the Meseta just before Astorga. It was sunny, but very windy and quite cool. And there in the bald open, tacked on to a ruined stone building, is a camp in which David has lived for the past five years. Andre (I think is his name) had joined him for a time. There is no water, running or otherwise. No power. But David has lived here, providing rest and free refreshments for passing pilgrims, for five years now. His camp is beginning to be noted in guidebooks. David and Andre are very friendly (and the ladies tell me they are very good looking), they make great toast with olive oil and herbs, and I have no idea how they are supported. But it is quite something to have such hospitality (and they absolutely refuse any payment) in such a bleak barren spot.
A few days later we were walking in El Bierzo, one of Spain's wine and agricultural districts. We thought it felt a lot like the Okanagan! As we walked down a road, an older man on a bicycle stopped to talk with us. He was, as he rode, listening to a MP3 with english lessons on it, and was eager for some practice. He told us to be careful, in Spain, to walk on the LEFT side of the road (safer) and asked how we liked Spain. We said we love it -- as we do. And then we talked a bit (here our language limitations hindered us) about what has happened in Spain. It used to be so prosperous, he said -- everyone with a job, a home, a car... And now the banks have taken them all from many. 25% unemployment or higher.
Why does this kind of crash happen, and who is served by this kind of crash? Why is it not better for people to stay in their homes, even if for a time they cannot make the payments, than for them to sit empty, repossessed by a bank? I am afraid that our economic system is not serving the well-being of people, but something else...
When he had to get back on his bike and go (he was on his way to see his grandchild!) he wished us well, shook our hands, and said a heartfelt "welcome to Spain." It was actually a very moving moment. He meant it.
And later, still in El Bierzo. It has been wet, and the roads are muddy -- particularly the farm tracks. We came upon a fairly tiny elderly woman and a young man in a small red car -- stuck deeply in the reddish mud between two vineyards. Mud or snow, we figured Canadians are usually skilled in getting cars unstuck! So we pitched in. After about fifteen minutes of work, we had the car out. Yes, we got a bit muddy, but our reward was seeing the relieved smiles on the woman and they young man. I think without us they would have been at it a long, long time.
Later, as we plodded up a path and they turned onto the paved road, they honked several times and waved...
Small things, but they can be meaningful. We have found folks here quite welcoming and kind. Next time I want to have better Spanish...
One more story. I was sitting in a bar, having met Tim, one of my favorite pilgrims. We were talking, as we drank some wine in the afternoon, and the conversation turned to feet. Tim was having trouble -- bad enough that his toes had begun to bleed. The bartender said gently, "I can help you with that." We looked at him. He ws a young fellow -- fairly good English. "I'm a podiatrist." We continued to look, not sure what to make of this. "I know," he said, "a bartender. But this is a family business, my office is in the back, so I tend bar sometimes between patients. I can see you now if you like." So this guy took Tim back to his office, and after a while, Tim came hobbling out. "It's true! Hurt like heck, but I think he's fixed me up. His office -- tools, plaques, it's all there." Later, a fellow who might have been the podiatrist's father came behind the bar. Asked us if we wanted another. I said no, Tim wanted a gin and tonic. "Nope," said the father, "you want some of this." (his English was not so good, so I'm taking some license) And he pulled out a bottle of local white wine. Poured us both some, gave us some of the best olives I've had, and continued a conversation. Lots of fun. And he charged us, in the end, what seemed like quite a bit too little.
People are great!