The hills between Sarria and Santiago are a last walking stage, and also a last geographic phase, of the Camino de Santiago. In country that’s stony yet also fat and glary-green, water is everywhere: as rain and mist, as rushing creeks, as silly, plashy streamlets…and as much mud underfoot.
That landscape fairly gushes and tinkles and gurgles. But when the clouds finally part and mists lift, as you walk along the trail in the morning, it’s like the old lines from another pilgrim tale:
And fyry Phoebus ryseth up so bright,
That all the orient laugheth of the light.
A few hours out of Sarria, I took lunch at a ramshackle bar, perched high along the track with views west. The air was still chill. Some pilgrims were clustered outside in a sun-trap, and I joined them. Stretching below us were the endless green hills of Galicia, awash and glistening.
One German gentleman who had passed me earlier at considerable speed was enjoying a truly Teutonic serving of sausage, egg and potato, with beer on the side.
Between tables, a conversation began, which drifted to opinions of global evils and deserved catastrophes, with such luminaries as Al Gore and Michael Moore referenced as quasi-biblical authorities.
The German gentleman, rolling a cigarette after his mighty lunch, was passionate on the evils of Western excess, and the impending destruction of both capitalism and that object of much recent concern, the planet. As his voice grew more shrill, and his face twitched, I decided to concentrate on my spud omelet. When a certain type of German gets tense about lebensraum, he is best not provoked.
It seemed that things could not be worse. Then, from another table came a prediction that civilisation or humanity or the world (flexible as to which) was about to end anyway, with the Mayan calendar, that most certain of references, cited as proof. This set up a kind of contest between adherents of cosmic and anthropogenic cataclysm.
Shortly after, the group of us – transported by jet to this enchanted region, most of us alive only because of recent medical marvels, fed and housed better than many princes of centuries past – stroll off into the mild spring sunshine.
The track lower down is a gurgling race, from the previous day’s downpour. The water gleams and splashes so cheekily round our toes: it is laughing at us. And the light flashing off drenched stone and dripping leaves and sappy meadows is laughter. And we laugh too, as we slip and skid along…
and all the orient laugheth of the light!