I have a theory not shared by my partner Martha that indecision often works out for the best. We began this day in a town called Triacastella about 20 kilometres shy of a city called Sarria which has a population of 13,500.
We sleep in a bit this (Sunday) morning and I am awakened by the metallic sound of hiking poles clicking on the asphalt street outside of our window. Many pilgrims, including us, use walking sticks in some cases and in others the kind of poles similar to those used for cross country skiing. They help for balance in rough terrain and take the pressure off of your knees. You can easily outfit them with rubber tips, which you can slip on when walking on asphalt or cement – but many people don’t bother. The incessant clacking from the metallic points hitting the asphalt or concrete must drive the locals crazy.
Decision and indecision
Our big decision today is whether to walk directly to Sarria, a distance of 19 kilometres, or to detour to an old Benedictine monastery at a place called Samos, which would mean walking an added 6.4 kilometres after a late start. We decide to walk directly to Sarria but after about a kilometre, I decide that I want go to Samos. Chalk it up to my having spent three years attending boarding school at a Benedictine monastery when I was a high school student.
So we retrace our steps, only to discover that we had been on the road to Samos anyway. This means heading back along exactly the same stretch of road that we had been on, with the subsequent loss of another 20 minutes. The way, however, is lovely. We are walking through the beautiful back country of Galicia and through the roughhewn and poor villages along the way.
Samos below us
Eventually, we are rewarded by a view of the monastery below, which has been there since the 6th century but took on the rule of Saint Benedict only in 960 AD. The monastery is square and massive and the church is large. We hear the peel of bells as we descend from the hills and we walk into the impressive church just as a sung mass is about to begin. There are seven or eight priests in green vestments celebrating the mass with perhaps another half a dozen that participate but do not preside.
Moorslayer and pacifist
I find it difficult to concentrate on the service because my attention is drawn to several of the sculpted figures within the church. In one case, a warrior-like figure holds high a long sword while below him Muslim heads roll. I am not certain if the figure represented is Santiago or a depiction of a Spanish king or nobleman, because he is wearing a crown. Santiago, however, makes another appearance in the guise of statue of a kindly saint with his walking stick and the medieval equivalent of a backpack. That figure is off to the side of the church but in a prominent location, nonetheless.
In his sermon, the priest calls upon those attending to be vessels of peace and love in today’s troubled world. This appears eerily incongruous at a time when fundamentalist jihadis are beheading people in the Middle East. What have we learned in the past 1200 years? I find the violent imagery in this Benedictine church to be at odds with what I was taught by other Benedictines at my boarding school. They were, and remain, a pacific lot.
When we leave the church we decide to tour the monastery but find there will not be another until mid-afternoon, too late for us. Martha prefers walking the remaining 15 or so kilometres to Sarria and we begin to do that, but my indecision returns. I think that we should take a cab because we will be walking until about 6:00 p.m. and might lose our accommodation in a city where it is at a premium.
I’ll admit it. You would not want to be Martha today but there is an immediate silver lining. When we walk back down the hill to wait for the cab, Martha meets Asa, a young Icelandic woman with whom she had walked for a time a few days back.
While our hike to Sarria would have been long, the cab ride is short. After about five minutes the rain and hail begin and continue to do so for about half an hour after we arrive at our destination. So you see indecision does pay off. If I had not been so indecisive, we would have been caught in the rain and hail on the open road.