Part 20: El Camino de Santiago
Camino Day 20
Buenos Dias Los Amigos
Today took our ever growing band of Santiago bound pilgrims, my father included, from Sarria to Portomarin.
It has to be said that my father has taken to the Camino, in all its shades and forms, like the proverbial duck to water. In the past 24 hours he has fought hard to wrestle Cluesos undisputed crown from his departed hands, walked 22 kms on the hottest day so far, discussed his British military activities in Northern Ireland with Donal - a radical Sinn Fein Republican - and consumed 10 beers this afternoon before wandering around town with a vacant smile on his face whilst professing love for the world and the Camino in equal measure.
I am pretty sure he is enjoying himself immensely and it has to be said that we, in return, are very much enjoying his company too. Whether he will appreciate the Camino quite so much with a 6.00 am start and a holy sized hangover tomorrow morning is yet to be seen.
Today we sent the fighter jets, Larry and Donal, out ahead of us to harass some German convoys and to secure decent accommodation whilst my father and I walked together on his first morning on the Camino. This was something of a change for me as, not only was I walking with someone for the first time in 7 days, but it happened to be with an ex-military officer who had the mental desire and speed march of a man a third of his age and two thirds of his weight. Subsequently we set off at a pretty good lick out of Sarria and I was quite glad when we hit a fairly steep hill, about 2 kms out, which somewhat put a halt to the cavalry charge. After that we settled into a more manageable pace and, it has to be said, we spent a very pleasant morning chatting about life and the universe as the Spanish countryside rolled by.
One of the problems you encounter when a newcomer joins your group on the Camino, is their marked increase in energy levels compared to the rest of the party. Whilst you have settled into a weary routine, happy just to see a bed and some food at the end of the day, your new compadre in holy endeavor is hopping around like a school kid given too much sugar and looking to party. I am, I have to admit, beat to all hell and back and this was in such marked contrast to my Dad today, by the time we arrived at the refugio it was almost comical - it would have been difficult to say which of us was 29 and which of us was 59, me shattered and Dad bouncing off the walls.
I decided to do an inventory of my injuries this afternoon and gave up after I had gone through the first 10. It is safe to say that I am glad that there are only 4 more days of walking as I am not sure that my body can handle much more. None of this is helped by the fact that there are now, officially, no doctors left in this area of Spain. I have desperately been trying to get hold of some horse strength pain killers and every pharmacy I go to is the same - "Donde esta goay toay los doctoros" or something to that effect. This is all very well but, inevitably, the nearest bloody doctor is always 10 kms away and, inevitably, you are expected to walk there and back to get a bloody prescription.
The fact that you are dragging your entrails up the high street in agony means nothing to the stony faced bitch standing behind the counter of the Pharmacy, who speaks fluent English but refuses to do so. The bottom line is, you have to do another pilgrimage in this country just to get some chemical relief - no 10 km walk, no prescription, no prescription, no drugs, pilgrim or not. I have now taken to rationing the few sleeping pills I have left - one of them will definitely be consumed to counteract the old mans beer fueled snoring tonight - and as for pain killers, Neurofen will have to do until I get back to the avaricious clutches of my Harley Street doctor.
I am going to go to bed now as we have a relatively early start tomorrow. This is partly due to the fact it is very hot during the day at the moment and mostly due to the fact that I want to teach the old boy the lesson that a skin full of beer, no water, 3 cheese sandwiches and 2 kilos of calamari are not a good preparation for a hard days walk.
Before I retire, however, I want to tell you about Wendy. Wendy is a wonderful woman, in her 50s from Vancouver who, although she is ill herself, came to bandage my feet despite the fact she is staying in a refugio the other side of town. We met a few days ago when she helped me with my blisters and we have been friendly ever since. My Dad was teasing us, as Brits are so prone to do, but what I really hope is he gets to experience over the next few days, that this is what the Camino is all about.
A complete lack of cynicism, so rife in everyday life, and a genuine desire to help other people for no personal gain. Thanks Wendy, for the bandage and the lesson.
Adios Los Amigos and Buen Camino
The next morning at Sarria, Donal and I fixed a big breakfast and the 4 of us set sail for Portomarin, 25K down the road. It was Grahams’ first day with boots better suited for making blisters than walking the Camino.
The walk was fast with an equal amount of ups and downs. It was possible to jog/walk some of the downhill sections. You don’t make a lot of friends jog/walking because most people think you’re showing off. They should try it sometime, and maybe they do when no one is looking, it saves time and a lot of pain in the knees on the downhills.
We left Sarria at 9:00 and arrived in Portomarin at 12:30. The night before at dinner Donal and I were told it wasn’t possible to get to Portomarin by lunch time: wrong thing to say to a couple of greyhounds. 25K in 3.5 hours, in the hills with some boulder filled gullies as trails. The day wasn’t overly nice on my knees and ankles but good for the mind. While showering I met another young man from Ireland. I would find him not as compatible as as my Irish friend, Donal.
When one talks to most people on the Camino, they profess to believe that the Camino means different things to different people. I find that strange because if another's’ beliefs doesn’t agree with theirs, everything can change. I can truthfully say that I have never felt that someone standing in front of a shrine or visiting every church shouldn’t do that. I also don`t feel that if someone wants to walk slow, drink beer until they fall over or not drink anything at all, that they`re wrong. But, when someone walks faster than most others, a lot of people seem to think that the person should slow down to their speed. Donal was told that he was not one of the most popular people on the Camino because he walks faster than most, I assume that includes me because we walk together at the same speed. Strange how if it works in with our beliefs it’s OK, but if doesn’t it’s wrong. On a macro scale it’s known as war.
Maybe one of the lessons on the Camino is to believe what we say we believe, and not just give lip service. I saw the Camino as a competition, a competition with myself. I was there to find out if I am who I think I am and not just fooling myself, or anyone else. I remember thinking that by the time we got to Santiago, in four more days, I might have the answer to my personal question. Would others? I didn’t have that answer, maybe they didn’t either.
Tomorrow we’d be off to Palas del Rei, 26K of flatter terrain and hopefully fewer boulders and gullies. Great place here in Portomarin. O Mirador was privately owned and was very nice. New last year, the rooms were clean with 4 to a room, the bathrooms were clean, the showers were hot and there was more than one, unlike some other places that expected 2 toilets or showers to be sufficient for 90 people. The food was good as was the service, it was priced right, and they had free internet. Only drawback is you can’t cook your own food. Portomarin is definitely a good place to stop and O Mirador is the best place we found there.
James wanted some painkillers which were prescription drugs. I took him to the farmacia and talked to the lady pharmacist. I’d been there earlier looking for menthol cough drops, they keep me from having dry mouth when walking. She told James, through me, that she couldn’t give him a prescription drug without a prescription written by a doctor. And, that there were no doctors in Portomarin, the closest being 12K away in another town. She was very nice and very patient while James tried to convince her. James couldn’t believe there was no doctor in the town. A Spanish man who we’d seen on the Camino came in and James asked him to ask the lady the same thing I’d asked her. The answer was the same and he still couldn’t believe it. She said the clinic was 12K away, open from 9:00 to 15:00 and if he got a prescription she would fill it. That would have to be tomorrow since it was 17:00 then. She said she couldn’t do otherwise. It was illegal for her to sell prescription drugs without a prescription.
I left after James asked the Spanish man to ask the lady pharmacist the same question. I could hear what was being said but I didn’t want to be involved. When James came out we went back to the alberque and had dinner. While the others were getting ready for dinner I walked back up to the farmacia and told the lady I was sorry for any problems that might have been caused. She was appreciative that I had taken the time to come back and said it wasn’t anything and I shouldn’t worry about it. On my way out the door she said again that she appreciated my coming back.
Graham had blisters on his blisters. Wendy had worked on his feet, doctoring them but Graham was negative about everything, including those who were trying to help. The longer I was around him, the more I wanted not to be. We walked at a different pace so the days weren’t a problem. I tried to be exposed to his negativity as little as I could in the evenings.
On our way to Portomarin, Donal and I walked our usual fast pace. Doing that we passed lots of people, including a group of young girls, probably just out of high school. Before we caught up with them we could see them ahead, trudging up a hill. To our right and between us and the girls, an old man with a cane was coming down a road that could have been his driveway. It was obvious that he was hurrying so he could intercept us as we passed. Wrinkled and stooped and with white hair, he still had a gleam in his eye as he pointed toward the girls with his cane and said to us in Spanish, “Go get those girls.” I told Donal, who spoke no Spanish, what he’d said, we both winked and waved to him as we surged forward for effect. He waved to us and wished us, “Buen Camino.” We waved back.
When we caught up with the girls I told them what he had said and looking back we could see him still standing in the road. Donal and I waved, he waved back; the girls weren’t sure what to do.
The next morning after breakfast, as we were preparing to leave, James went to the window and looked out. The 7 girls we’d seen the day before were getting into a taxi. One of the girls asked if James spoke English. In his best London, England accent, he said he did.
The girl said they weren’t cheating because the night before they had walked 8K beyond the alberque and then returned. She said that meant they could take the taxi 8K and walk from there without cheating. We all chuckled about that, James shook his head yes, and said ”Sure.”
The evening before we had seen the girls, dressed in clothes more suitable for a party than the Camino, in the dining area when we were having a beer outside on the terrace. At the speed they were walking when Donal and I passed them and the distance they still had to go when we did, it was unlikely, every unlikely, that they had walked 8K past and then 8K back and gotten there by the time we saw them. Even if they had walked 8K and then taken a taxi back, it was still very unlikely.
Donal and I passed 3 of the girls sitting by the side of the road within the first 12K on the way to Palas de Rei, which is 26K from Portomarin, and the rest of them about 8K before getting there. They all looked wasted. Their feet must have been sore because they were hobbling and their boots were more for walking in town than on the Camino.
Tags: Trekking , Camino , Pilgrimage , Spain , Hiking
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