Part 21: El Camino de Santiago
Camino Day 21
Buenos Dias Los Amigos,
Today took us from Porto Marin to some other place that I can't remember the name of at this precise moment, (Palas del Rei-Larry) approximately 65 kms from the Holy Grail at Santiago.
Today did not start, as on many other occasions, well! It is difficult enough to haul my slightly reduced, but still far too large carcass around the hallowed pathways of the Camino at the best of times! To do it with a hangover that rightly belonged to my father and very little sleep is pushing the boundaries of reasonable behaviour! As I dragged my boots onto my aching feet, head throbbing and breath laboured, my love for my holy quest was at an all time low and, if someone had said to me "Come on, let’s get a taxi, nobody will know and it is what St. Jim would have wanted!", I would have been speeding through the Spanish countryside in air-conditioned comfort within 10 minutes.
As it so happened, no such miracle was forthcoming and, instead of the warmth and comfort of the Mercedes taxi, I was left to console myself with a stale croissant and my father’s unnatural cheery disposition. I say Mercedes taxi because they are ever present! The African Veld has its vultures and the Caminos walkways have their own equivalent - the mercenary, and highly profitable, taxi operators.
Over the past few weeks we have become accustomed to seeing the occasional pilgrim arrive at a refugio in a taxi, blood seeping out of wounds sustained upon the way. These poor souls have been welcomed with open arms as they have done their best and have merely taken the modern day equivalent of a ride on the horseback of a rich nobleman for the day.
In Galicia things have changed for the worse. The taxi drivers travel up and down the Caminos roads, openly touting for business and enticing you with their comfortable Mercedes and offers of cool drinks, willing you to fall from the path of righteousness and into the arms of the devils leather seats. As you slog on under the weight of 50 oxen on your back, you look on with disgust, much as would the starving seeing the rich eating cake, as other pilgrims fly by, slumped in the back of a taxi trying not to be noticed. The bottom line is though, much the same as in real life, the truth will out and the guilty will be punished!
Only yesterday we stared withering looks, slightly mollified to be fair by the fact that they were pretty cute, at 4 Spanish girls who had been caught piling out of a taxi a kilometer before the refugio in Portomarin. As they sat in the corner, ignored by all, it was hard to tell whether it was worth it or not for them as they stared miserably into their soup - for me this morning I am not sure if I could have judged it!
I walked again with the old man today and, largely because I was hoping he might be too tired to consume too much beer again, I set a good pace and let him fall in behind for the 26 km stretch to our second to last refugio. By the last 5 kms, he was starting to blow a bit harder but we made it into town just in time to find Larry and Donal coming out of the refugio.
To be fair, if they were in the army today, they should have been court martialed as the place was bloody terrible. The only good thing was that the last 2 nights had been so good that my father was beginning to think that the tales of terrible lodgings were somewhat exaggerated. As he showered in a stream of cold water in a unisex shower block with no shower curtains, I got the impression that his initial Camino glow was beginning to diminish. To be fair to him though, the old man never complains about anything, and this is probably what will stop him from finishing the Camino on Monday!
I say this because, during the day he has picked up the worst blister I, or anyone else on the Camino for that matter, has seen. Basically, the whole of his left heel has been stripped away to leave a gaping, weeping wound about 5 cm x 2 cm. It looks truly hideous and, even though he claimed in a dramatic, Churchillian speech earlier that "I will be in Santiago on Monday come hell nor high water!", I am not so sure! I have tried to help but that is not the old mans style and I am going to have to restrict myself to providing Wendy with dressings that she can coerce him into using.
Only 2 more days of walking now people and then I will be checking into a hotel and laying my shell at the feet of St. James! I am pretty sure that, barring complete disaster, I will make it now. Whatever prayers or patience you have left for this endeavor might be better spent on my father who is, as I write this, lying in his bunk, feet suspended in the air, trying to perfect the art of looking fine when he is actually in agony! Oh well, the Lord works in mysterious ways!
Adios Los Amigos and Buen Camino!
It had been an unusual day on the Camino on the way to Palas del Rei. Normally, being the last to leave, we see walkers scattered along the entire route. That day we passed a lot in the early going but none between the 1/2 way point and the last 8K. We thought we’d see them waiting at the alberque but that wasn’t the case. Many who we’d seen in the last few days we never saw again. We’d left at 9:00 and sat down on the alberque steps at 2:35 so it wasn’t that we were overly slow. Maybe some of the walkers took a taxi, of which there were 2 or 3 cruising the route at all times, or perhaps they’d had enough and dropped out. The topo map showed the route to be mostly flat. Maybe their GPS is old or out of date. We found it to be rolling hills with some steep ups and downs.
We got to the only alberque shown on our sheets before it opened and sat down to wait on a bench outside the door. A few others showed up and at 3:00 (15:00) we all filed in to sign in and get our books stamped.
After we’d checked into the alberque, the only one on our out of date information sheet, showered, washed and hung our clothes out to dry, Donal went in search of a supermercado and I went back the way we had come in search of James and Graham.
While sitting at the top of a flight of stone steps 2 of the young girls walked past. I could see the alberque from where I was sitting and they went on by. I never did see any of the other girls before James and Graham showed up. We never saw any of the girls again the rest of the way to Santiago.
Earlier, when we were sitting outside the alberque waiting for it to open, a man, probably early 30’s and a woman about the same age, walked up, looked at those of us waiting, turned around, walked across the street and sat down on the steps of a large, old, stone building. As soon as the alberque opened they came over and checked in. They had been having some kind of a disagreement and didn’t appear to be speaking to each other.
After checking in we went upstairs to the dorm where the man and woman were already arranging their gear on 2 beds in the corner. The woman crawled into bed and turned over, facing the wall. The man, who was very animated, went into the bathroom to shower and shave. I had a brief conversation with the man and found they both spoke only Spanish. The bathrooms were unisex, without shower curtains. That posed no problem for us, no one besides the 4 of us were in the dorm and the woman was in bed, facing the wall. I showered and when I got out the man was almost done shaving.
He knicked himself with the razor and one would have thought he’d just cut his throat. He jumped up and down, said a string of cuss words in Spanish into the mirror, rushed in and out of the bathroom several times, put various pieces of toilet paper on the cut only to immediately take them off and stare at the spot before putting on another one. When I finished and left, he was still rushing in and out, putting pieces of toilet paper on the cut, which I didn’t see any blood coming from, looking in the mirror and cussing.
When I showed James and Graham where the alberque was and what dorm we were in, they put their gear on the bunks. They’d had to check themselves in, write their names down and stamp their books because they couldn’t find anyone. Others had to do the same.
James took a shower, which was already starting to put out cold water. After showering he went over to see if the woman needed any help, she was looking pretty down. She said she had a bad headache and James gave her a couple of aspirin. Then we went down to see what we could find in the way of kitchen facilities.
They had stoves, pots and pans but the stoves didn’t work. On to plan 2; we went looking for somewhere to eat. James wanted something besides the usual pilgrim meal, so did I. We wanted a real live menu that had choices, choices that we could make and live with. The first place we looked at had 2 women sitting at the bar who appeared to be ready for whatever the night might bring and very few choices on the menu.
We found a place that had a real menu and went down the steps from the bar above to have dinner. A lady showed up shortly after we did and James invited her to sit with us, which she declined. She was from France and spoke almost no English but James speaks pretty good French and carried on a running conversation from our table across the room to hers, while we ordered.
The woman waiting tables spoke no English but was willing to muddle through with me as the translator. As had become the norm, what we wanted wasn’t on the menu but we managed to explain it to the waitress and the 2 cooks. A beer was in order to celebrate the food being on the way and in the form that we wanted.
During James’ across the room conversation with the French lady, she said she was staying in a private alberque that wasn’t on our sheet. We were in a church alberque. She volunteered to take James to where she was staying and while the food was being prepared he went with her to check it out. After dinner we went back, got our gear, clothes that were drying and told a couple of others about the change. 15 others also made the switch to the other alberque. I’d already donated 10 euro and didn’t feel like we were running out after showering, etc. without paying.
The other alberque was almost new, they had hot showers, I didn’t take a second one but that’s what I was told, smaller dormitories and the lady checking people in was hospitable. They had a restaurant on the ground floor and we were told that the food was good. The only drawback was they had no kitchen and before James decided that we all needed to go to dinner, Donal had bought food. What we could eat without cooking, we had for breakfast and left the rest. Donal had done the Camino the year before and knew there were no cooking facilities in Arzua, so there would be no reason to pack spaghetti and sauce along just for the fun of it.
It’s amazing how much the straps on your backpack can cut into your shoulders after 20K to 30K, even with padding. A little unnecessary extra weight can exacerbate the problem. Unless you’re shipping your gear ahead, bruises on the collar bone are part of life after the first week or so.
Wendy doctored James’ feet and then Grahams’. James had walked with his dad that day and it seemed like the negativity might be getting to him too. As soon as we went down to have a beer and were sitting at the table, Graham began telling us about how little Wendy knew about doctoring his blisters. Later he took the tape, etc., off and threw it away.
James invited a girl who was sitting by herself at another table, to join us. She was from Germany, pleasant and I was glad she came over because that helped quell the negativity being spewed out on the table. James told her he thought it was quite brave of her to decide to do the Camino alone. She said that there hadn’t been any problems outside of one weird, male, pervert who had been standing along side the road. She didn’t elaborate on what he’d been doing, we didn’t ask.
After a couple of beers, Donal and I went upstairs to the dorm, he had to wash his clothes, I’d done that earlier in the shower, and I wanted to remove myself from the table and the negative vibes. I had to give Graham credit though, he had stick with it. His feet are covered with blisters and maybe if I was in the same condition I’d be negative too.
In the dorm I talked with some of the other walkers, did a self-massage on my feet and legs and read a book for a few minutes. That wasn’t what I wanted to do, so I opened the window that was at the foot of my bed, turned my sleeping gear around so the window would be at the head of the bed and dozed off. It was early, about 21:00, but it had been a long day and my gear was ready for the next day. Others didn’t have dry clothes and that lapped over into the next morning. There was a light rain all night but by daylight it had stopped and the rest of the day was nice, a little cool but that’s OK when you’re walking hard like I would be later in the day.
Donal, James and Graham had washed their clothes after showering and eating. They found the drier didn’t dry the clothes as quickly as they thought it would. Donal was up late and finally decided to get up early the next day and continue the process. When I left the next morning they were still stuffing euros in the machine. I’d wanted to have a day when I could walk by myself and that was my chance. I bid my farewell and headed toward Arzua, 30K ahead. From Arzua it was another 40K to Santiago. The days ahead would be long and the terrain, at times, wouldn’t be easy.
Tags: Trekking , Pilgrimage , Camino , Spain , Santiago
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