If you've been reading any of my last few posts (and if you haven't been, well nuts to you!), you've likely gathered that the Camino de Santiago has a lot of life lessons in store for a pilgrim. Life lessons like: sometimes it pays to know stuff...and sometimes it doesn't. What do I mean? Well, an example of when it does pay to know stuff would be when you make a bet out who's got the right answer with someone and the wager is a helicopter ride over New York City or a date with George Clooney or a ride across the Sahara in the Batmobile or something fabulous like that. An example of the latter, however, when knowing stuff definitely does not pay, would be when you make a bet out of it and the wager is a nice, big, steaming plate of boiled octopus. And it's your lunch. And you have to eat it. Why? Because you won, you lucky dog! You smarty-pants know-it-all, you! Now dig in.
|A plate of pulpo--boiled octopus, a Galician delicacy.|
|Daring a bite of my scrumptious winnings in Melide. Doesn't the look on my face wanna make you run out and eat some? Or does it just wanna make you run?|
Here's what's baffling me though. In my previous post I wrote about being open to and aware of what the Camino brings to you, because what the Camino brings to a pilgrim is bound to be something she needs. Going from that idea, apparently the Camino figured out that one of the things I needed was to eat one of the ugliest and most awkward animals on the planet.
OK, so maybe that's not what I needed. Maybe the Camino figured out that what I really needed was the companionship of Jeremy, an Englishman from Ibiza and the guy I "outwitted" in the bet for the plate of boiled octopus, and his Galician friend Manolo, a 65-year-old native of La Coruña who was completing the Camino after his first stab at it was interrupted by a cancer diagnosis a couple years ago.
|Manolo and Jeremy in Palas de Rei.|
I first met Jeremy and Manolo about a week away from reaching Santiago de Compostela on a windy day that ended up becoming my first day of walking in rain on the Camino. It was in a small bar by the roadside in a tiny, run-down, blink-and-you'll-miss-it village somewhere in between Triacastela and Sarria. Even if I hadn't have met Jeremy and Manolo there, the little bar would've been memorable. The owner got my bocadillo order wrong, everyone sat at a long table beside a fireplace (rather than at small, separate tables like in most Spanish bars) that gave the place a medieval tavern kind of ambiance, and the bar had at least two resident pups that kept begging bites from my friend Belinda's chorizo. Plus, the bar's toilets had a picture of George Clooney hanging on the men's door and a picture of Julia Roberts on the women's. (Side note: George Clooney has been popping up a lot in my blog posts lately, hasn't he? So I have a little crush. So sue me.) Why didn't they hang up pictures of Spanish actors, I wondered as I ducked into the men's stall to steal toilet paper for the women's.
Back inside the bar, two men came in and sat beside me at the long table--a tall, fair Englishman and an old Spanish man with thick, gray hair and thick, black brows. They spoke Spanish to each other, and I overheard the Englishman telling the old man about the bathroom movie star pictures. He incorrectly identified Julia Roberts as Demi Moore though, and being an American I thought I should set this straight. "No, it's Julia Roberts in the women's toilet, not Demi Moore," I leaned over and said. Right from the start, I had to be a know-it-all.
The Englishman and the old Spanish man left, and eventually I walked on by myself, under a gray and cloudy sky, until reaching Sarria, where it began to drizzle. From Sarria I walked on a few more kilometers in increasingly heavy rain until I called it quits in Barbadelo, where there were about 3 or 4 albergues and I happened to choose the worst one--a dreary place stuck onto the back of someone's house that felt like a cross between a bomb shelter and the waiting room of a dentist's office. It wouldn't have been a very nice place to be staying in on a sunny and dry day, much less a dark and rainy one.
But as is usually the case on the Camino, some brightness came out of the situation, out of the gloominess of the dreary day and drab albergue. There was a family from Texas staying at the albergue--a father and daughter who had already walked the Via de la Plata (a 1,000-km route of the Camino that begins in Sevilla) and the mother joining them for her first Camino on the Frances route. And there was the Englishman and the old Spanish guy too--Jeremy and Manolo, the two dudes from the roadside bar with the celebrity bathroom. The Texas family had some food to share with Jeremy, Manolo, and I, none of whom wanted to go back out in the pouring rain and dark to find a place to eat dinner and who between us only had some walnuts and lemon cough drops. But then Manolo saved the day by talking the albergue owner into making a pot of caldo for us, a Galician soup with cabbage, potatoes, and white beans. And Jeremy? Jeremy bought a couple bottles of wine. Heroes.
|Jeremy dishes out caldo for the Texas family, watched over by our albergue warden, I mean hospitalero.|
|Caldo--Galician soup. I think I'm in love.|
|One of the many meals I enjoyed with Manolo|
|My first orujo, a Galician liqueur that makes whiskey taste like weak tea|
|A typical table setting after lunch with Jeremy and Manolo--vino (blanco and tinto), orujo, espresso, and cafe con leche|
|Oh no, it's that octopus stuff again. Pulpo with potatoes.|
The bet came out of a disagreement that began in the Barbadelo albergue over whether 2010 had been an Año Santo Jacobeo, or a holy year, on the Camino. I said it was, and gave that as my reason for deciding not to walk the Camino in 2010, because I didn't want to deal with the much-larger holy year crowds. "2010 wasn't a Jacobean year," said Jeremy. "That was in 2009." He said he knew because he'd been walking the Camino in stages over the last couple years.
"No, it was last year, not 2009," I said. "No, it was a couple years ago, not last year," Jeremy said. "Yes it was." "No it wasn't."
I tried to compromise. "Well maybe both 2009 and 2010 were holy years. Cuz I know 2010 was. I know." Jeremy didn't say anything. "Ask him," I finally said, gesturing to Manolo. "He would know." Jeremy asked him, and Manolo agreed with Jeremy. "Don't ask him if 2009 was a holy year," I said to Jeremy. "Ask him if 2010 was." Jeremy asked again. And Manolo shook his head and grumbled and gave a look that suggested anyone who'd think 2010 could be holy, in any way whatsoever, has to be crazy.
Conversations with Manolo and Jeremy were often like this. Once while walking I brought up the celebrity photos in the bathroom back where we'd first met and said you'd think they'd put up Spanish actors' photos instead of American. "Aren't we in Spain? They could've put up some famous Spanish stars equally glamorous as George Clooney and Julia Roberts. Like Antonio Banderas and Penelope Cruz." Jeremy had a good laugh at this and passed on my thoughts to Manolo, who gave his "you crazy" look again and muttered something in Spanish. Jeremy translated. Antonio Banderas is a crap actor, was what Manolo essentially said. A pretty boy. "Well, how 'bout Penelope then?" I asked. "She's pretty good." Manolo didn't answer.
So Manolo was our built-in authority on Spanish culture and the Spanish point of view. And when we suddenly passed a sign one day that clearly said 2010--I repeat, 2010--was an Año Santo Jacobeo, we called upon Manolo again to judge. There were still signs here and there on the Camino left over from the year before, when the fact of the holy year brought out all kinds of celebrations and decorations. But Jeremy only said, "That must mean something else. Not a holy year," when I pointed out a giant sign with the words Año Xacobeo 2010 on it to him. "No, Año Jacobeo means holy year. Holy. Year," I insisted. "I'll bet you anything it was 2010, not 2009." "Well, what do you want to bet? How about a plate of pulpo when we get to Melide? Whoever's wrong has to buy the other pulpo in Melide."
Ever since Portomarin, Jeremy and Manolo had been going on about pulpo and Melide. They'd ordered pulpo in Portomarin and got me to try a bite, but said Melide was the place to get the real good pulpo. Melide was famous for the stuff. In Portomarin, Melide was still a good 30-40 km ahead of us, maybe another day or so away. I could certainly wait that long for boiled octopus.
While making the bet with Jeremy now, I think I offered up caldo as a substitute. But no, caldo wasn't good enough. It had to be pulpo. And I was so blinded by wanting to be right, I didn't really think about what I was betting for. All I could think about was getting proof. "How are we going to prove who's right? How do I know to trust you that it was 2010?" Jeremy said. "The Internet. We'll look it up at the next bar where there's Internet." But apparently Jeremy felt the same way about the Internet that Manolo did about Antonio Banderas. "We'll ask someone," said Jeremy. "We don't need the Internet."
Manolo had been lagging behind during this whole gambling escapade. He came up to us now, and Jeremy turned to him to point out the sign and ask when the last holy year was. Manolo said 2010. Jeremy got a look on his face like he'd been slapped, then recovered to remind Manolo that only a couple days before he had sworn it was in 2009. Manolo gave Jeremy his "you crazy" look, as if to say: 'No, Jeremy, it was 2010. And I don't remember saying anything about 2009 in Barbadelo. You are delusional.'
I reveled in my rightness. I must have been delusional myself with hunger. Because this is what I was in for in Melide:
|Steaming pot of octopus, at the pulpoteria in Melide|
|Looks finger-lickin' good|
|Saying goodbye to Manolo in Palas de Rei|
|Manolo 'n' Jeremy 'n' me in Santiago|