Part 22: El Camino de Santiago
Chapter 22 A fast walk to Arzua and a lesson about euro’s
Camino â€“ Day 22
Buenos Dias Los Amigos,
Today took us from the place we were yesterday to Arzua.
If this message reaches anyone in any kind of readable format, it will be solely down to the editorial talents of my mother who has dutifully forwarded my journals over the past 3 and a bit weeks. The reason for this is that I am, as I stare at this blurred keyboard, completely drunk and only marginally more functional than the old man, Donal and Larry! The reason for this is simple! We have walked for 30 kms, have eaten no breakfast or lunch and have arrived at our destination to find that the only form of sustenance on offer is beer and more beer. All I can say is do your own Math! In Spain, Sunday is not the day for walking the high street with a "shall we eat Sushi or Chinese" type of look on your face! Basically the locals all pig out at home here, on this hallowed day, and the bars will only provide you with ale and more ale in the evenings!
For reasons only known to himself, the old man decided to walk by himself today so I was left to run free with the grown ups and set my own pace. We are desperately trying to reach Santiago by tomorrow, largely because the whole "cold showers and Pilgrim Meals" thing is wearing a bit thin! This having been decided, a couple of big days were needed in order to run down the kilometer clock! Alain, who has since returned to the dog box acquired when he tricked me into missing a restaurant many days ago, reliably informed me 3 days ago that from Sarria onwards the Camino is pretty much flat. Again, as I have said on many occasions, "Meanwhile, back at the ranch!!!!!"
Just when you think that the old lady has lost her spite, she comes back to whack you between the eyes with a day of sheer, unadulterated and unapologetic, hill-walking hell. For 30 kms I toiled up hill and down dale, driven on by the knowledge that somewhere behind me my father was doing the same, minus a couple of heels! After 23 days of walking this was as difficult as we have faced and the old man was enduring the same with no training and the promise of "it’s flat, I promise you dad!" still ringing in his ears!
When he finally arrived in Arzua, some 3 hours after I had wearily thrown my pack on a bed and announced to the world that the Camino could go f**k itself, the old man was not looking his personal best. As we have subsequently discovered, the problems encountered during a 30 km hike across Gods version of a cobblestone pathway had not been improved by 2 things.
The first of these was that Dad fell in with Wendy for the majority of the day, and the second was that he ended up being conned out of 5 euros by an opportunistic Roman Catholic priest.
Wendy, God love her, is the only person on the Camino who doesn't believe in "Compede", the blister plasters that have revolutionised the walking world. With a couple of these bad-boys stuck on your heels, a wound inflicted by Jaws himself can seem inconsequential. The problem was that Wendy, who has obviously taken a dislike to this wonder substance for some reason, was walking with Dad and refused point blank to let him use it!
I am not sure that the Camino was still holding its luster as Dad pulled himself onto his bunk, grateful at least for the fact that he had left Wendy some 3 kms down the track with an "I'm just popping to the toilet" kind of wave! The other problem he encountered was the old adage "the Church will collar he who walks the slowest!" Apparently, as he was struggling up some hill in the middle of the walk, he was accosted by a priest in full regalia who refused to let him pass until he had paid 5 euros and received a full benediction. As a Roman Catholic, this would have been a fair use of 5 euros, but to an averred Methodist I am not so sure!
I am sorry if this is complete drivel tonight people - I probably wouldn't have bothered but for the fact that a Canadian woman sitting at our table has just started on the "don't you feel the Lord all around us on the Camino" speech. I am too tired and too hungry to deal with Shirley McClaine wannabees, so I thought this would be a good distraction!
Tomorrow we will finally arrive and I will try and write something of interest and something that doesn't sound like it was written by a drunken sailor! It almost doesn't seem real that I am actually going to make it and, but for divine intervention, tomorrow will be my last journal!
Adios los amigos and Buen drinking session!
At Portomarin I’d met and talked with another young man from Ireland. When I’d told him I had been walking with Donal, and that Donal was from Cork, he gave me the impression that Donal was a lesser class person or lower class citizen than he. At the time I didn’t really think a lot about it and made a joke saying the same thing I’d said to a couple of women when Donal was present. I said, “Yah, it took me a week of walking with him to begin understanding what he was saying.” Donal had a heavy Irish accent and I did have a difficult time understanding him, in the beginning. When I had said that to the women, we all laughed including Donal, but that wasn’t the case with the other guy from Ireland. He began telling others what I’d said and doing it in a way that was degrading to both Donal and me, like I’d said it humiliate Donal.
I’d left early while the others were drying their clothes, had wanted to do a day on my own and after passing the early risers, I was on cruise. I figured if I went at 80% Donal would probably catch me. I was cruising along about 1/2 way to Arzua, in a world of my own, not knowing that anyone else was around, when I saw a shadow off to my left. When I looked to see if it was Donal I was surprised to see it was the other guy from Ireland.
He was looking a little strained but setting a good pace. We talked for a little bit and then came to a hill. He said he had to keep his pace or he would end up slowing down before getting to the top. I told him to go at his own pace and he sped up. I got to thinking about him bad mouthing Donal, who was my friend.
He was a couple hundred feet ahead of me by that time so when I picked up the pace, he wasn’t aware that I had. We came to a windy part of the trail and I was able to get closer to him without him knowing I was there. We came to a downhill and I got into the downhill jog mode, when we got to the next climb I was about 25 feet behind. He still didn’t know I was there. It’s possible to walk making very little or no sound if all your focus is on going forward and not wasting any energy slapping the ground with your feet and stopping yourself every time you put your foot down. Like a good runner, a good walker wastes no energy.
Just before we got to the top of the hill the guy veered into a little structure that had a couple of vending machines, which seemed strange that far out from town. He took off his backpack and threw it on the ground. I had slowed down to see where he was going, thinking that maybe the Camino was making a right turn. When I passed him he was bent over, had his hands on his knees and was breathing heavily. He looked up and saw me, his face covered in perspiration and red from exertion. I’d been pushing hard but had left a little in reserve just in case I needed it on the next hill or 2. At that point I cranked out the last few percentages and blasted the rest of the way to Arzua.
I knew that if anyone was going to catch me they’d have to run. I got into passing gear mode and stayed there until I reached town. I cruised a few blocks and then turned around to go sit somewhere that no one could go past without me seeing them. I was going to sit at an outdoor cafe and have something to drink while I waited but the waitress was so rude when I asked the time, I decided to go elsewhere.
I figured Donal would be one of the first to get there. Further on, there were a couple of side streets where it might be possible to get separated. My Camino clothes were soaked with perspiration and the only place comfortable to sit was next to a cement block wall and in the wind. I got the spare clothes out of my backpack and put them on over the others. I probably looked a little strange but I was warm.
I sat there for a long time. The first person to pass was the other Irish guy. Then a couple of people pulled up in a taxi, got their gear out and continued on down the street. Not long after that I saw a gait I recognized. Donal sat for a couple of minutes and then we continued on the the alberque.
When I told Donal the story about the other Irish guy, he gave me a thumbs up and said he was glad I’d upheld our honor. He hadn’t been overly pleased with the other guy and had told me he thought the guy felt he was better than everyone else. He did have that air about him. Later, when he came in to the alberque with the girl he’d been walking with, they made it a point to go to the other end of the dorm.
James came in with his dad and others not too far behind. I’d reserved a couple of beds but they’d dropped their gear in the other dorm before I knew they were there. Later, an older lady probably in her late 70’s who’d done the Camino 14 times during her life came in. I gave her my bottom bunk and took the top one I’d saved for James. She and the lady who was checking people in thanked me for giving up my lower bunk. I told them both, with sincerity, that I would have slept on the floor if necessary.
The next morning I found the lady had left me a chocolate bar when she departed for her next destination. We caught up with her before the next town, we talked briefly before Donal and I picked the pace back up.
After James and Graham had arrived and we’d showered, Donal and I went down to the courtyard to hang our wet clothes and sit in the sun. Out of the breeze is was nice and warm but very cool if one went around the corner. James came down after a shower and washed clothes in the machines. Donal had decided it was a high priority to have dry clothes and had done his clothes in the shower and hung them to dry as soon as possible.
James wanted to know if anyone had change for the machines, I did but it was in my backpack on the bed. I went up and got the change he needed and put the rest back in my fanny pack and then put the fanny pack in the front zipper pocket of the backpack. I was tired of carrying 15-20 euro in change around and wanted to get rid of it, but not the way I did.
We sat in the sun while James put his clothes in the washing machine. He came over and the 3 of us talked for a awhile before going back up the the dorms. We all got dressed and, since they didn’t have cooking facilities, went looking for a place to eat.
We couldn’t find a restaurant that began serving dinner until 20:30. Donal and I had eaten some of the food he’d gotten the night before, before leaving that morning. James and Graham hadn’t. After my experience a lifetime or two before with almost bonking on the way to Najera, I had also taken some snacks along in my backpack. I thought there might be someplace we could get something to eat before that time. I went looking in one direction and Graham went in the other. If I was in a tight spot and needed someone who would go the extra mile, even with his negativity, Graham would be a good choice. I had seen his feet and most people would have given up; he went walking to see if there was something edible out there that could be brought back.
It was only 19:00 and I thought at the least, I would find a supermercado and get something decent to chew on until we could get a meal. An older man, maybe younger than me who looked old, was standing on a corner, leaning up against a building, smoking a cigarette. I asked if there was a supermercado in the area and he said there was and pointed down the street, cigarette in hand. I asked, “Cuantos calles?” how many streets? He said, “dos.” I went 6 and never found the store. When I got back Graham was still out on the hunt. When he came back he had no good news to report either.
A couple of women who we’d seen previously on the Camino, got off the internet in the back of the restaurant/bar where we were and James got on. One of the women was from Germany, the other was from Colorado Springs. I saw very few people from the USA on the Camino and saw more women than men. To the best of recollection, I only saw one man from the US.
We sat and drank more than we probably should have, ate junk food that we didn’t need and watched a soccer game on TV that the rest of the people in the room were quite interested in and boisterous about. Conversation was possible as long as neither team was in scoring position or no questionable call had been made by any of the referees.
Chris, a nice looking lady in her 50’s from Colorado Springs, told me her knees had been bothering her since she began in Leon. In order for her to complete the Camino she would walk until she felt it was far enough and then take a bus. Sometimes she had her gear shipped to the next town and walked with only a water bottle.
The next day, not planning to go all the way to Santiago, she was going to take the bus the first 8K and walk the next 8K to Santa Irene. Sounded like a sensible way to get one’s needs met, make new friends and see some of Spain.
The next day Donal and I passed Chris, she was sort of drifting along, taking in the sights, smelling the flowers along the trail. We talked briefly as we crossed paths and never saw her again. With the distances we were doing, we met a lot of people 1 or 2 times in the evenings and then never saw them again. Father Tony was like that, as was Kirsten, Christine, Moreno, Bernard and his father and others whose faces are fading from my memory, their names already gone.
Donal had moved between Chris and the young woman from Germany and they were deep in conversation. James was still hammering out his update on the computer and his dad was watching the soccer game.
The soccer game was close, it got pretty noisy in the restaurant, we all finally got our meals and in short order nothing was left on our table but crumbs on otherwise bare plates, and empty glasses. With the long day behind us, a few beers in us, full stomachs and a big day ahead of us, we made our way back to the alberque and our beds.
When we were at the restaurant and it was time to pay, I unzipped my fanny pack to discover that all the change that had been there when I got coins out for James, was gone. Fortunately, I’d had my wallet, passport and other important items with me. A lesson learned.
Tags: Camino , Trekking , Pilgrimage , Hiking , Walking
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