39 • Santa Corya de Tera

A most interesting and intriguing day. I set out early, it was extra dark, being overcast and threatening rain. The sun struggled to break through at sunrise, whether it was because of the cold or last night’s rain or a mixture of both, but as I walked it was as if every bush or tree emitted a fragrance. It was like walking through the perfumery, an aromatic experience, almost intoxicating. I found out the name of the bush that seem to be most fragrant, it’s called “Jara”, it has a white blossoms in the spring and the whole area is full of its powerful fragrance in the month of May. There were also pines and wild rosemary.

It was still cold but the air was thick with this mixture of perfume and incense, it was a sensory extravaganza.

I made good time, arrived at the first village, Bercianos de Valverde, and bumped into two woman, mother and a daughter, I asked if there was any coffee Bar open, they had a conversation between themselves and eventually offered to open the communal bar and make me a cup of coffee. So while they went to get the key and switched on the coffee machine I changed my socks and de-layered as it was warming up. Sillo, the young girl, made an excellent café Americano.

As the temperature warmed the fragrances decreased but not fully. The second section on the walk was dominated by forests of poplar trees all turning in color. Perhaps the most beautiful day of the Camino. I had hoped to stay in Santa Corya de Tera where there was a private Albergue but it was closed, so I moved onto the next village, Santa Marta and checked into the only available accommodation which was the Albergue. I was the second person there but within an hour and a half it was packed, even people sleeping on the floor.

I went for a sandwich in the Bar, then a siesta. In the afternoon I went to visit the church next door which is all that is left of 11th 12th century Monastery. It was also a Pilgrim House and on the side of the church is the oldest representation of Santiago known in Europe. While I was looking at the church I bumped into a woman who I had seen a number of times in the last few days and pilgrims said was also from South Africa. So when I saw her I greeted her and we had the most amazing conversation and connection.

Ellen is from Johannesburg from Craighall Park, she went to Rosebank Mercy Convent, she knows many of the Mercy sisters I know and also most of the priests in Johannesburg I knew. I told her a little bit of my history, of the Redemptorists and the Camaldolese, we continued to compare notes and it turns out we both worked as volunteers in the Joburg General Hospital in the 70s. So a strange meeting in a village in Spain and having so much in common. Camino never stops with her magic.