María José one of the bakers at Panadería Casa Mario is one gentle spirit, and we became friends in minutes. I pulled up in front of her bakery, and she came out with the biggest smile I've seen that day.
"Bon día!" she said.
And to be completely honest, I was caught by surprise.
We struck a conversation about the day ahead and where I was headed on my bike.
"A hundred kilometers, dear lord!" she said.
I reassured her that I would make it home way before sunset, and I was not breaking any records by riding that far.
She asked whether I was riding on the Camino on the way out to Moixent. I confirmed that I was indeed headed west on the Cami of Mangai.
"you don't pay then. No one riding on the Camino pays."
I was left speechless, and I told her jokingly, "you haven't seen me eat before, I eat a ton!"
to which she surprises me again by saying, "you need food for your journey, get what you need."
Even though my family has been living on and off in Xativa for four decades, that interaction with María José made me feel more at home than ever before.
For 3 months, I would pass by the bakery for a quick chat, which was a great way to learn more Spanish. And before you ask, no, it wasn't because of the mouthwatering Napolitanas she made...
I loved the homey feeling I got every time I walked into the bakery. It felt safe and easy for me to be myself.
A couple of days before my flight, I spent the morning handpicking the best mandarins and oranges from my grandpa's farm. You can ask Sukho about how good those mandarins were. I filled a whole crate and gave it to her as a small token of appreciation. However, I know that won't be enough to repay her for making me feel at home during some of the most challenging days in life.
Spaniards are just fantastic people.