Ponchos in the mist at O Cebreiro
A dense white mist hung in the air, making the roughly cobbles wet and slippery. The mountains were obscured, the piped music turned off, the postcards put away and the shops firmly shut. We set off up the hill, our waterproofs smelling damp from their weeks of storage, and our helmets on, ready for the descent; hoping it might come soon.
As we crawled up the steep mountain road, all ambient sound dampened by the white out, it seemed we might be the only living creatures in the world. But then, out of the mist, they came. Gradually at first, in ones or two’s, heads down, trudging, trudging; tired feet kicking rubble, stones dislodging under their feet. The green and grey of their vests and shorts had been swapped for gaudy poncho’s; massive wraps covering themselves and their backpacks; nylon covered hunchbacks. From time to time they glanced out from hoods and damp hair; their enthusiastic ‘olas’ of previous days dampened to a nod.
Bunches of colour in the mist
As we all moved up the mountain, they began to appear in groups of eight and ten. Bunches of colour in the monochrome white. As the path dipped in and out of the roadside they moved away and back again; appearing from the mist when we least expected to see them. At every village they increased their speed; perhaps taking cheer from the signs of bar life; or the thought of emergency pilgrim shelter in a church porchway.
In a bar at the hamlet of Hospital we took a break to watch the Olympics and grab some coffee. There we encountered encountered pilgrim Feliz, who we had seen a few times before along the route. In Villafranca he was busking in the street, plucking away on his guitar, his case stretched out in the hope of a few euros to buy dinner. He obviously got lucky as that evening he held court in our restaurant over a strange mix of pilgrims who were hanging on his every word. The next morning we passed him singing loudly as he plodded along the Camino; intent that everyone should appreciate his fine mood.
It is my journey to make people happy
Today he was instantly recognisable by his well developed goatee beard and intense manner, but this time he was sporting a green poncho. He religiously stirred away at an espresso, and advised a depressed travelling companion how he should cope with the journey he was obviously struggling to complete.
“Take the bus. Go back to O Cebreiro and take the bus. There are many ways to travel the Camino. You can go back. For the bus. But Feliz can’t go back with you. Feliz never goes back.” He explained his mission. “The name Feliz means ‘happy’ in latin. That is my journey to make people happy.”
His fellow pilgrim wasn’t looking all that happy, and as we got on our bikes Feliz was going through maps with him, his guitar strategically placed in a corner with his rucksack; should anyone ask for a cheering up song. We pedalled off, into a silent mist, punctuated only by poncho’s.