We spent two nights in Ponte de Lima and by the time we ambled out, our hiking family had expanded to four, Sue, Lea, me and Molly. Molly was a blue eyed, porcelain skinned woman with shiny brown hair that sparkled in the sun like a mountain stream cascading over rocks. In an Irish brogue she told us she was attempting to put distance between herself and an unwanted admirer.
I had met Molly a few nights earlier at the pilgrim dinner. At the time I thought she was traveling with a Croatian man and apparently he did too. Molly’s view was different. “I was just being nice”, she said, “as I would to anyone. He asked me if I would loan him some money until his check cleared, I did and now I can’t get rid of him.”
Her admirer was not threatening, just annoying. Like that know-it-all girl in Bill Bryson’s book, A Walk In The Woods. And like Bryson’s character Katz, Molly also had moments when she felt sorry for her admirer and wondered how he would make it home. As we hiked along the three female voices with their distinct accents melded into one steady hum. They marched forward like a powerful threesome, Charlie’s Angels in dirty boots and sweat soaked shirts. Over the miles the two single woman in their thirties and Sue in her sixties shared their relationship experiences with men, all seemed to have fallen short of expectations. Past relationships were summed up in a few words like, “He never really knew me” or “I don’t know how I ever ended up with him”. During those miles I slunk a few steps behind and said nothing. But I did get a little nervous each time Sue started to speak.
Our team of four spent a total of five days together and during that time our family grew in number as it often does on long hikes. On the climb up Alto da Portela Grande we met a soft spoken Korean American woman with two young daughters. The oldest girl had just entered her teens. The woman said her husband was going to join them later but for the first couple of weeks mom was on her own. She admitted the oldest girl complained a lot during the early days of the hike. She didn’t want to be walking across Portugal with her family, she wanted to be home with her friends doing gymnastics. Her mom attributed her general irritability to just being a teenager. Mom persevered and moved her girls a little further north each day. The teen moved forward emotionally also and after a few days she began to enjoy the hike, especially talking to all the people. And being one of the youngest hikers on the trail she also received a little celebrity status.
The Camino has become popular with Koreans in recent years thanks to a Korean documentary about the trail and books by Korean Christian authors. In 2014 about 4,000 Koreans hiked the Camino. That made Koreans the 9th largest nationality on the trail, just behind the British and in front of the Dutch.
Further up the mountain we ran into a Brazilian family on mountain bikes. It was too steep and rough for them to ride so they were removing their panniers. They had planned to walk their panniers up first, then come back for their bikes. The great thing about carrying a light backpack is that after a couple of weeks of hiking you don’t really notice it. So Sue and I offered to carry their panniers to the top for them. It took a little persuading but they finally agreed to our offer. At the top of the mountain we all congratulated ourselves, shared the junk food and snacks we were carrying and gathered for a group portrait. There were North Americans, South Americans, Asians, Europeans, light skinned, dark skinned, teens, seniors, men and women. We were all strangers but yet also friends. We had shared an experience and achieved a common goal. Looking at the photograph of smiles and recalling the conversations I am sure there are more similarities between us than differences.
That afternoon the Korean family and our team of four crossed the Minho River and entered Spain, and that evening we shared a bunk room and a celebratory dinner. The Korean mother and I sat next to one another as we planned to share an octopus platter and across from us, with the energy and excitement that only a teenager possesses, her daughter talked about her experiences on the Camino. I heard no regret in her voice.
The time we spent with Lea and Molly was short but it was one of the highlights of our Camino and Molly’s unwanted admirer was never seen again.