From El Santiago de Compostela: Encounter with Marcelino Lebato on the Road to Navarrete

Four kilometers outside of Lograno, we encountered an open-air “office” where Marcelino Lebato was writing in a book at a picnic table desk. A box of pears and another of cookies flanked his right side, while a few items more obviously “for sale” flanked his left. There were three scallop shells (the official icon of the Camino of Saint James) and many smooth, small pebbles with yellow arrows painted on them for purchse. The yellow arrow is ubiquitous along El Camino and directs peregrinos to the official turns on the path toward Santigo de Compostela.

As I approached Marcelino, I noticed what appeared to be his journal, a legal-sized accounting book. Thomas Merton often used the same kind of ledger book for his personal journals. I saw that Marcelino made his own drawings in them in green or red ink. He reminded me, at first, of Alan Ginsburg, until his own wild looks and laugh took over to reveal an “original”.

[I am not the fortunate pilgrim in the above photo.]

Jim spoke to him in Spanish about our getting a sello for our credentials. A credential is an acordian-like card on which a pilgrim receives stamps from the places visited. You need these passports to get into the albergues for peregrinos and finally to show you really made the pilgrimage, when you arrive at Santiago de Compostella, and go the official office to get your “diploma”. Marcelino laughed constantly, stamping our passports, telling Jim that he himself was a crazy pilgrim, too. I bought three of the pebbles painted with yellow arrows to carry with me to Santiago. I placed a donation in a cup next to his journals, obviously placed there for coin. As we left, we noticed the sign on his office, announcing that this was the “Hermitage of the Virgin of the Crazy People”. As we walked away, Jim told me he called out to us with a big laugh, “We all do crazy things”.

We were another kilometer down the road when Marcelino drove up in his truck and with a big grin handed me my credential that I had left behind at his place. He  then drove passed us and turned around to drive back to his writing. We exchanged two big “thumb ups” as he passed, both of us flashing big smiles. I walked a little more down the road and thought, “Damn, I should have taken photos of his place and him.” Jim, who does not enjoy wasting efforts, said he would gladly wait for me. Then I reasoned (bad move), “No, I won’t go back. I’ll bet if I offer his name to Mother Google, she will grant me many images that other peregrinos must have taken of him.” [I should have walked back. Moral: have your own experience, not someone else’s. If you want a photo-memoir of an obvious “character”, and maybe have a chance to receive “a word for your salvation”, walk back and take your own shot.]

When I had the first chance, I typed in “Marcelino Lebato” for Mother Google’s consideration and, of course, she did not fail me. He’s famous: he has the largest credential in recent history. He is the pilgrim’s pilgrim. He has received awards. He is a star in El Camino’s firmament. I knew I should have gone back!

I considered my options and began getting my stuff together to leave the albergue, where we were bedding down for the night. Jim woke up from his nap, and I told him I was going back to re-encounter Marcelino Labato. He stopped me with, “So you’re going to walk 8 kilmeters for a photo, huh?” Then, soaking in this piece of intelligence, I told myself that, by the time I got back, Marcelino might be having  a siesta, or he might have finished his writing work for the day. Eight kilometers on top of what we had already walked today, only to be disappointed?  So I put my camera away and came down to the kitchen in the albergue to write this homage.

If I don’t pay more attention, this won’t be only time that I’ll be kicking myself in the ass for letting a potentially golden moment slip by through distraction. Examining my conscience, I admit that today I was , at least, true to usual form. I can’t say how many times I’ve given a “paradise moment” only a passing glance, as I distractedly walked by it. Cue Paul Simon: “Slow down, you move too fast, you’ve go to make the moment last…”

I need to be more careful. To paraphrase Saint Augustine, “I fear that Christ will pass  by me and not return”.

And, by the way, Marcelino Lebato does not appear in Emilio Estavez’s film The Way. You missed boarding a good bus, Emilio, but I understand completely.

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