So we're doing a brisk pace, about two kilometers down this out-of-the-way footpath from Santa Cruz leading down to Santa Celia. I've got the headphones on, jamming to Frank Zappa. I'm standing on a little grassy knoll playing air guitar; Adeline's gone ahead, too embarrassed to have me in sight.
Suddenly this little fiery-eyed fellow, about five foot four surprises me from behind, shoots past and pauses. He gives me a look, like, dude, what are you on? and I compose myself. He's carrying about twenty kilos, wearing a blood-red ultra-marathon T-shirt and well-worn Merrells. As these scenes go, he hits me with his five words of English and I hit right back with my five of Spanish. Turns out he started in Barcelona, going all the way to Santiago.
Then he disappears into the bushes up front.
Earlier in the morning we'd been standing, backpacks on and ready, waiting for the Santa Cruz church to open. At exactly ten o'clock a young Spanish chap appears, ignores us, walks up to the massive wooden door, closes his eyes, leans his head against it for about thirty seconds.
Then he turns, greets us politely, and unlocks the door. The visit to the rather over-renovated church I'd largely forgotten, but I remember his good-morning prayer so clearly. These are the golden moments of El Camino.
The 18km walk right up to Arrés, our overnight stop, was uneventful. But as usual a thought occurred to me. The town of Puenta la Reina de Jaca on the way there is a dusty, featureless truck stop, even though the 16th century arch bridge it refers to was important, no, vital to early pilgrims. Now pilgrims walk to the town by crossing the bridge, buy chips and a cold drink from the petrol station, walk back across the bridge and carry on without giving any of it much thought or photo moment.
We reached the Arrés albergue late afternoon and lo and behold, there was fiery-eyed Catalan sitting on a bench in the fading sun with his Merrells off. The rest of the evening was surreal - a dinner featuring our Catalan friend, a sixty-something, boisterous Bavarian with an impressive Bayern Munich tatoo, and an Italian priest freshly back from Cameroon after being chased away by Boko Haram. All hosted by a cheroot-smoking Cordoban with dark eyes and purple hair. We just sat there taking in the conversations, simulcast in French, Afrikaans, English, German, Dutch and a smattering of Catalan.
And then we went to bed. It's been a long day.