88 miles walked, 412 miles to go.
Day 7: The Pilgrim dinner in the cave the evening before (which used to be a wine cellar) was a fun experience. We had prawns & garbanzos, salad, red wine and a delicious dessert. I chatted with two really nice guys from Michigan, one teaches college classes on pilgrimages, and he was a wealth of information.
In the morning, I woke up at 6:45am and I was one of 3 Pilgrims left in a 16 bunk room. I guess I was being a lazy Pilgrim! I made up for it later as I did my first 7 hour walk day (about 14.5 miles but with a couple meal stops) with the big pack. The benefit of carrying your pack is that you can be free and nomadic. You can walk how far you want and then you can stop and stay where you like, but the only catch is you need to find accommodations without making a reservation. This was the very first day I didn’t book my next lodging. I had decided to walk as far as I could. May had turned out to be a busy time on the Camino, so I was hoping all the beds in the town I finally ended up in weren’t already taken.
My legs felt great during the walk, but my feet were feeling very sore during the last 2 hours. I walked from Cirauqui to a town called Villamayor de Monjardín. I walked for the first 2 hours completely alone and put my headphones in for the first time enjoying music and later some of an audible book. Again, the surroundings were gorgeous.
As I worked my way up a hill, I met a nice Indian man who was living in Australia. We chatted and walked together until I decided to stop at a little cafe in a small town around 9:30am and had one of my favorite Spanish breakfasts: tortilla de patata, fresh squeezed pulpy orange juice and a cafe con leche.
I continued on and and this day’s Camino went under a few bridges.
As I carried on, I saw more and more Pilgrims on the path and walked through some scenic villages.
Then I met a psychiatrist from Holland named Haen. We walked and chatted about life, family and the Camino for hours and then we came to the Fuente de Vino, the fountain of wine on the Camino. Pilgrims can drink from the wine fountain which I tried to do without touching my mouth to it as others were doing but it got messy.
Then the Dutch man and I stopped for lunch and I met the nicest guy from Portugal named Reuban who was now living in London.
They were going further than I was that day, so we said goodbye as I arrived in Villamayor de Monjardín. Luckily, the first albergue I arrived in had 3 beds left so I got one of them. I walked into my 12 bunk room and the first person I saw was Ivana who I had met my very first day in St Jean! Such a small world. We hugged and greeted each other like old friends. I settled in, took a much needed shower, and then met some more amazing women, each walking the Camino sola. I was sitting in the shared living room area of the albergue charging my phone and writing this blog, and an English woman, Emma, came in and we started talking and we decided we would get dinner together. Then a German woman, Micheala, came in and said since we had a kitchen, perhaps we could all cook our dinner together and she showed us some pasta and sauce she had just purchased at the local market. We all agreed and Emma and I went to the same market to add to the dinner. We got salad, sausage, cheese, wine and chocolate bars for dessert. Then Ivana joined us and we cooked a family-style dinner together in the modest kitchen. It was such a great feeling of women from different places coming together. They even connected me to a Facebook group of women walking the Camino called Camigas.
We then headed out into the village and hung out with more Pilgrims.
There is something about doing this shared difficult endeavor together that unifies and crosses cultural and language boundaries. This is hands down one of the most absolutely beautiful and surprising aspects of the Camino that I am appreciating and fully embracing.
Day 8: I had my first what-the-heck-was-I-thinking days. First, I didn’t sleep very well. I was in another 14 bunk room. I woke up at 2 a.m., it was really hot, there were at least 2 loud snorers, and the church bells were chiming every half hour. After a fitful night, I got up a little after 6 a.m., packed up, and joined the Pilgrims downstairs around 7am for the breakfast that was included. Afterwards, I was doing what was now my morning foot regimen: bandaids on my still healing big toes and I wrapped a little toe that was getting sore. Just then a retired Spanish guy named Tomas, who I was chatting with the night before, saw me and asked if I could help him and he showed me 3 places on his feet that were rubbed raw and inflamed. I started to hand him bandaids, but he said he had a bad back and couldn’t reach his feet very well. So I quickly opened up the bandaids and helped him out. He was so sweet and appreciative and happily wished me buen Camino as I headed out.
I started out by myself and was listening to music when I came across a guy in his early 20s moving somewhat slowly. I took off my headphones, greeted him and asked where he was from. He said Poland and that he had hurt his Achilles tendon so was now taking it slow. He radiated such sweetness and had a big smile even though he must have been in a lot of pain. I matched his pace and talked with him a bit and soon Tomas and his friend Jesus caught up to us. I returned to my regular walking pace and for the next 3 hours walked and talked with the Spaniards. We talked about everything from politics, to family, to funny life stories, and they asked how I learned Castellano (Castilian in English, the official term for Spanish spoken in Spain), and I told them about living for a year in Madrid in the 90s. They told me they both lived in Pamplona, were best friends, and their daughters too, and were doing the Camino because both had just retired. I told them I hoped to retire in 8 years when I’m 57 as I’ll have 30 years teaching at my school. Tomas exclaimed, “Me cago en la leche! Tienes 49 años? Pareces mucho más joven!” Translation: “I shit in the milk! You’re 49? You look a lot younger.” I started laughing and told him I had missed Spanish slang which could be quite colorful. I had first heard this phrase when I was visiting a Spanish friend and his family, and his older uncle said this. I was stunned and asked about it later and he said, “Oh I know, my uncle is so corny.” Corny? Pooping in dairy products may be considered a lot of things back home, but corny isn’t one of them. Here is Jesus, me and Tomas.
As we neared the next town, Los Arcos, I was feeling really exhausted. My feet were feeling as sore as they did at the very end of the day before, and I was only 3 hours along. Carrying my big pack was really taking a pounding on my feet. Also, my mouth and tongue felt tired from speaking Spanish, and my brain was tired from listening so attentively to understand everything the guys were saying in their super rapid-fire Spanish. At this point, we caught up with Ivana and Michaela, and I stopped with them in Los Arcos for some much needed food and rehydration and the Spaniards pushed on.
I almost felt too tired to chew, but I finished before the other two women and told them I was carrying on. I knew I needed to walk alone, so I could listen to music or a book to distract me from my increasing tiredness. I’m glad I did because the next stretch was rough.
It had been threatening to rain all day and it was warm and muggy. The walk was pretty flat but there was absolutely no tree cover or shade. Also for the first time, the road stretched out straight ahead for miles and miles and it actually felt like I was making no forward progress and the town in the distance never seemed to get closer. This was my view for much of the second part of the day.
For long stretches of it, I just closed my tired eyes and plodded on. It felt like trudging drudgery. Then there were some sheep.
And then more of this.
The last hour walking felt like 4 hours and I kept asking myself why the heck I was doing this. I missed my cat. I missed my friends. I missed my bed. And here I was in the baking sun, all alone, walking and walking and walking. As I finally neared the next town, I was leaning heavily on my walking stick and saw I had worn the rubber bottom down to the metal.
As I finally got nearer to my albergue in Torres del Rios, it started to sprinkle. I picked up my dragging pace in case it started to full on rain. I arrived a little wet but it at least cooled me off, and for the first time, not only did I get a bed on the floor (the top bunks are so hard to get in and out of especially for a bathroom run in the dark middle of the night), but I also scored the only non bunk bed in the room!
The Camino tortures and then the Camino again provides! Then a bunch of other road weary Pilgrims started to arrive: the really sweet Polish guy, Emma, one of the women I made dinner with the night before, and a really nice South African couple I’d met a few days back. I told them I had my first rough day, and they shared their own aches and pains, and we all laughed about the endless road we walked with the seemingly unreachable horizon. But we had made it and now after a shower and a rest, oddly, I feel ready to do it again tomorrow.