Sanjiva Wijesinha -writer and physician

Short stories, Travel and Health Information

Camino Stories: Nothing Ever Happens by Chance

Evening in Ponferrada

Nothing ever happens by chance.

I was reminded of this basic fact of life during the latter part of our Camino, just ten days away from Santiago

Having spent a long and tiring day walking from Acebo, I was feeling quite tired when I woke up that morning. Having discussed the matter with my son and companero Shivantha we decided to spend a day of rest (un dia de descanso) in Ponferrada. It may have been fatigue and dehydration resulting from the long walk in the heat yesterday or possibly an incipient viral infection – but whatever it was due to, a day of rest was called for.

Camino Lesson: When your body tells you to take a rest, don’t keep pushing on. Listen – and obey!

We had breakfast, booked an extra night’s stay at the hotel – and came back up to our room and slept. I got up around noon and went down for a bite but had no appetite and could only manage a vegetable sandwich, so I drank plenty of fluids and came back up to our room to sleep again.

Shivantha checked his emails and was stunned to see an email from Geoff Wilkinson (we’d had dinner with him and his father-in-law Enrico Luis in Virgen del Camino a few days previously) to tell us that his father-in-law had passed away in his sleep the previous day at the albergue in Cacabelos. Although we had heard of pilgrims dying on the Camino, and even seen some of the memorials to them that had been erected along The Way, this was the first encounter we had with death taking away a fellow pilgrim – one with whom we’d shared a meal and a glass of wine less than a week ago.   

In Geoff’s email he mentioned that he had to come back to Ponferrada that weekend to attend to the formalities of getting Enrico’s death certificate and to arrange for the cremation and transportation of the remains to Canada , and that he was going to be staying at the Hotel El Castillo – the selfsame hotel in which at that very minute we were reading his email to us!

We quickly went down to reception to find out whether Geoff was still in the hotel – and discovered him to be staying in Room 207, which was the very next one to our own!

We immediately called Room 207. Geoff was there and soon he was down at reception. He was being taken that afternoon by Jesus, the hospitalero at the Cacabelos Albergue where Enrico had died, for Sunday lunch with his family so we arranged to meet after he returned to have dinner together.

Shivantha and I returned to our room, rested for a couple of hours and although still very tired, went out for a short stroll to the castle to get some sunlight and fresh air. In the evening we took Geoff to have dinner with us at one of the restaurants close to the hotel. Over our meal of gazpacho, calamari, pimientos, revueltos and wine, I explained to Geoff one of our Sri Lankan traditions. Whenever a death occurs in a home in Sri Lanka, it is our custom that no fire can be lit and no cooking can be done in that house until the funeral ceremony is over. As a result, it is customary for neighbours, relatives and friends to bring food for the bereaved family during this period of mourning – which is a way of ensuring that during the time of grieving they have a constant stream of visitors to provide them with support and sustenance. Nobody in Sri Lankan society is allowed to grieve alone.

In this way, we told Geoff that we were treating him as we would a family member back home. He would be our guest and we would be paying for the meal, which would allow us to provide him with food and company in his time of bereavement. We spent a long time over the meal that evening, and when we finally got up to leave Geoff confessed that he was glad of the opportunity of being with supportive friends in the company of whom he was able to unburden himself at this very sad time.

What made us decide to stay an extra day in Ponferrada?

What made Geoff make a booking to stay in the very same hotel – in the very next room in fact – in which we were staying? Were we meant to be there at that moment in time to provide Geoff with friends who became camino family in his time of bereavement?

How can one explain these coincidences?

That is just the way it is on the Camino: Nothing ever happens by chance.


3 comments on “Camino Stories: Nothing Ever Happens by Chance

  1. Reg Spittle
    August 5, 2020

    Don’t you think chance meetings can define the Camino? I didn’t even usually plan when I would see people again. It just happened, by chance.


  2. Gavin Rodie
    August 5, 2020

    Great story Sanjiva. An amazing story. What a coincidence, a heaven-sent opportunity for all of you to meet up exactly as you did? Geoff would have been overawed by the experience & for the fact that you were so readily able to support him during his grieving process. Keep up the good work.


  3. susanawee
    August 8, 2020

    Some things are meant to be and this story illustrates that perfectly. The Camino is such a special place and there are so many stories of encounters and experiences which many, who have not been there, find so difficult to comprehend. Reading your story above Sanjiva had the hair on my arms, standing on end.


Comments are closed.


This entry was posted on August 5, 2020 by in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , .

Top Posts & Pages

Book: Tales From my Island