231 miles walked, 269 miles to go!
Day 18: I really enjoyed my hotel room the day before and stayed off my feet as much as I could. For dinner, I limped over to the albergue next door and had a Pilgrim’s dinner of lentil soup, chicken, green salad and wine. I ran into David, the Spaniard I had met a few days back, as well as the Brazilian woman I met in Logroño who had fallen out of the bunk bed. I didn’t see her Spanish Camino-boyfriend, so perhaps they had parted ways. She and I were the only non-Spaniards in the room of about 15 people. I was really tired after my day of extreme foot pain and was surrounded on all sides by rapid-fire Spanish. As I finished my dinner and the room started to clear, a group of Spaniards at another table waved me over and said I needed a “chupito,” which literally means “little suck,” and is what they call shots. It’s common for Spaniards to end meals with a chupito of flavored liqueur, so I joined them. Then I started talking to another group of 3 Spanish friends who had grown up together and do a section of the Camino together each year. They were taking a taxi to a bigger town with a bus and train station the next day and then catching a train home from there. I told them I wouldn’t be walking the next day and they invited me to share their taxi since we were in a small village with no buses or trains. I accepted and planned to meet them in the lobby of my hotel at 8:30 a.m. the next morning.
When I woke up, of course the first thing I did was to check my feet. Only 2 of the 7 blisters had refilled, so I drained them and the rest looked on the mend. I stood up and both my feet felt incredibly tender, and I could feel all the individual hot spots. The good news was that after soaking my feet and not putting pressure on the “chicken eye” on my big toe for a few days, the extreme soreness had subsided, and I was able to file the thing off…adios chicken eye! I was glad I was using another “skip” day and would make up the miles in the end when I walked the extra 3 days to Finnesterre. I really had no choice; I was limping on both feet.
I hobbled next door to the albergue to get breakfast and there was my German friend Ben. He said he and Erika had taken a taxi there from Boadilla del Camino because she was still really sick. She had been throwing up for 2 days, couldn’t keep anything down, and was not getting better, so they planned to taxi to the next biggest town (not the same one I was going to) to get her to a doctor. I gave him a big hug, wished them luck, and said to please keep me posted and that I hoped Erika got better soon. The Camino was kicking all our asses.
The taxi arrived and I sat in the front seat, and it seriously felt like we were going so fast! It was making me a little car sick, so instead I focused on playing some games on my phone and ignored the scenery whizzing by. They dropped me at the bus station, and I had to carry by big pack on my sore sore feet. Of course there were no buses to the town I wanted to go to. The agent told me that I needed to take a train, so I had to walk about 10 minutes to that station. Uttering a very long string of cuss words helped get me from point A to point B. The train I needed was in 4 hours, so I happily parked myself in the train station cafe and chilled.
I made it to a little town called Sahagún, checked into my hostal, and got some laundry done. At 6:30pm, I walked 5 minutes down to the main plaza in search of dinner. Everything looked closed. I stopped in at one bar-restaurant and asked after dinner and because Spaniards eat at 9-10pm, the guy said the kitchen didn’t open for a while and didn’t know of any other restaurants in town that did…in the whole town! I left and my feet were still in rough shape so didn’t want to explore much further so headed back to my hostal and snapped some pics as I walked.
On the way, I saw another bar-restaurant down a side street so stopped in. The guy said the kitchen would open in about an hour, so I said I would stay and ordered a beer. Soon two other young people came in with the tell-tale signs of the Camino Pilgrim: quick-dry pants that zipped off at the knee, hiking shoes, and they were trying to talk to the guy behind the bar in English. I told the bartender in Spanish that if he needed any help translating, I was happy to help. With a look of relief, he came over, handed me the menu and asked me to translate it for them. They decided to steer away from the garbanzos con callos (beef tripe or stomach lining) and thanked me for the assistance. They ended up joining me at the table, and I got to meet Gareth from the southwestern part of England and Sevine from Israel, the second Camino-formed couple I had met. There were so few Israelis on the Camino that I jokingly asked her if she knew David, the chef from Israel. She laughed and said yes she had met him! She said it was rare for Israelis to do the Camino and only 40 on average per year did it (recall on average 400-500 people per day were starting in St. Jean since spring had arrived). As we sat there, another person came into the bar, a blond woman in her fifties wearing the tell-tale Pilgrim attire. I asked her to join us and she happily did. Her name was Suzanne and she was from Germany.
We had a a typical Spanish dinner, a menú del día which is one set price for three courses: a lighter appetizer like a soup, salad or pasta, and a second main course, usually chicken, pork loin, or a thin cut of steak, all usually served with fries, and a dessert, usually ice cream, a fruit cup, rice pudding or flan. The owner’s adorable daughter clearly had picked the ice cream and wandered around the restaurant as the locals started coming in for drinks at the bar.
After dinner and as we left the restaurant, the main plaza, which was deserted before, was starting to fill up as it was Saturday night.
As I was heading up the street to go to my room, a full band was walking past me and already starting to tune up. As I settled into bed, I could hear the band playing, people in the plaza talking and laughing, and someone was even setting off some fireworks. Normally I would go out and join the fun, but my feet were most definitely hindering the fun. I had planned a shorter walk for the next day, about three to four hours, and I sure hoped my feet were up for it. It had only been a day, but I already missed the Camino.
Day 19: I woke up at 2am, and I could still hear some revelers in the town square, but I just laid in bed thinking about my feet. They weren’t touching anything and yet they still had a tender bruised feeling. I had a dilemma: if I walked 3 or 4 hours the next day, I might make the problem worse, and I still had 18 days of walking ahead of me. The town I was in marked the halfway point, 250 miles out of 500, of the Camino. You could even get a halfway Compostela certificate in this town. I had already walked about 200 miles and with the added three days walking to Finisterre that would give me another 55, so I was still on track of reaching my 500-mile goal with the right amount of days to do it in. However, if I couldn’t walk the next day, it would mess everything up. Trying to do it sleepless certainly wouldn’t help the matter, so I rolled over and went back to sleep. In the morning my right foot was actually feeling pretty fine and not all that tender, but my left foot felt very sore still.
I read some more encouraging words from friends and family online, and decided to just suck it up and start walking. So I packed up and covered my troubled spots with bandaids and more kinesiology tape on both feet.
I put on my stylish socks and Tevas, and hit the road.
The first hour was rough and my left foot was really hurting. I kept trying not to favor it as limping was just going to make my legs and back sore too. But I guess I wasn’t totally successful as a Pilgrim walking past me, pointed at my left foot and said in very accented English, “Blisters.” I smiled and nodded.
A little further along, I met a young guy also walking slowly. I didn’t need to point at his feet and say “blisters” as I already knew. He was Stephan, a 21 year old German guy on a year break from his studies. He had blisters on the backs of both of his heels.
We chatted for an hour and it helped me take my mind off my foot issues. I told him the name of the town I was heading too, and he said the Camino had branched into 2 parts earlier, and I had needed to take the other branch. Great. I turned on my GPS, said goodbye, and cut across towards my targeted town. I walked on a wide dirt road completely alone for about a half an hour. I felt so untethered as there were no yellow arrows to follow. I pleaded, “GPS please don’t fail me now!”
Soon I saw a crossroad up ahead and the welcome sight of two Pilgrims walking along it. One stopped and was waving. It was Doug and his wife Shelly who Will and I had run into multiple times during the first 4 days (2 weeks ago now), but they were such fast walkers, I hadn’t seen them since. They greeted me with big hugs, and we chatted and caught up all the rest of the way to the town we all happened to be staying in called Calzadilla de los Hermanillos.
The scenery was browner with more tilled fields, but the skies were clear and the air nice and crisp, a welcome relief since there were long stretches with no tree cover.
Oh and Doug, a Camino superman, had been stopping every mile from the beginning of the Camino to do 5 push-ups, which turned to 20 every mile, which turned to 30 every mile, with the goal of doing 100 when he reached Santiago! Mind you, this was while wearing his full pack.
The guy is 7 years older than me, so I really had no room to complain about my sore feet!
Soon we arrived in town and they rushed off to secure beds in an albergue. As we got closer to Santiago, it was getting increasingly hard to find albergues that weren’t already full.
Luckily I had a working phone with an international plan and the ability to book on the phone in Spanish, so I had been booking one day ahead. I arrived at my albergue, which was fully booked so I was very thankful for my reservation, and had the welcome sight of a room with just 4 beds, no bunk beds, outlets next to each bed, sheets and blankets and even towels! It’s funny how your definitions of comfort shift.
I was sharing with 3 guys in their 60s: 2 lovely brothers from Barcelona, Manuel and Umberto, and a really sweet man Brian from Edinburgh. The brothers spoke no English and Brian no Spanish, so it was time to play language bridge again :). I actually was loving it. It made me feel really useful and plus my rusty Spanish was really coming back. Both my feet were really hurting again but my communicating was on point :).
My feet were so sore, my left really bad, so I took to my bed to rest, wrote this blog, and streamed Friends on Netflix (the first TV I’d watched in over 3 weeks) until the Pilgrim’s dinner. The brothers from Barcelona were so sweet! They kept checking on me and even took out their own foot first aid kit and had me swab iodine on the swollen bumps where the blisters were. I had already booked at the next town, about a 5-6 hour walk the next day, so I was really hoping my feet would quit being jerks.
About an hour before dinner, I heard Doug and Shelly, who had gotten beds in the town-run municipal albergue, chatting with another Pilgrim outside my room, Collin from Canada, so I joined them for wine and olives on the patio. When dinnertime came, I went into the dining room and saw the brothers from Barcelona sitting with two German Pilgrims, Andreas and Chris, who spoke no Spanish. It was language bridging time :). For the next three hours, I translated Spanish to English and vice versa. They all talked about their kids, the Germans had 3 between them (from multiple marriages), Manuel had a daughter, and Umberto had 4 children and 6 grandchildren. I told them I had no kids as I never wanted them, and even though I had translated correctly, none at the table seemed to understand. I told them I liked to travel and had realized early on that kids weren’t for me, and I never really wanted them or felt the draw to have them, but again, I was just getting puzzled looks. Manuel said, this is like having a garden with no flowers. I told them I have a very large group of friends in San Francisco who have also chosen not to have kids, so it was not that unusual where I lived. I don’t think they were convinced that this was a happy lifestyle choice, so we changed the subject and soon the conversation was quite lively again.
We stayed talking so long that we were the last Pilgrims to leave the dining room that night. As we walked out, Manuel thanked me said that this was the first time that he and his brother got to talk to other Pilgrims. He said that since Spaniards usually don’t have vacation until the summer, that they had met no other Spanish-speaking Pilgrims yet, and since they didn’t speak English, he and his brother mostly just talked to each other at these dinners. He laughed and said they both felt like foreigners in their own country. Left to right: Umberto, Manuel, me, Chris, Andreas.
When I walked up the 3 flights of stairs to my room that night, my feet were still surprisingly sore. I’d stayed off then all day, but they hardly felt improved. The bumps where my blisters were on the pad of my left foot were particularly tender and looked red and swollen. I was starting to worry they might be infected. As I went to sleep, I decided if they weren’t a lot better by morning, I’d have to stay in that small village another night and then just do bigger walk days going forward to make up for the lost time.
Day 20: When I woke up, the right foot seemed much better but the left still hurt. I didn’t mind walking with pain at this point, but I didn’t want to put my foot out of commission with 3 weeks of walking still ahead of me. Brian, the nice Scottish guy, said that this wouldn’t be much of a town to do a rest day in. He said if I could, I should push on 2 more days to León, which was a much bigger and more interesting city. The main concern was that the first stretch of that day’s walk was 17 kilometers (10.5 miles) with no towns at all. Not good if I got into trouble. I went downstairs for breakfast and to think about it. The brothers from Barcelona were there having a quiet breakfast with two others at their table. When I sat down, Manuel said he had run into this couple we were sitting with a lot, but they hadn’t been able to communicate with them. When I greeted the couple, they told me the same. The guy Claude from Quebec, who spoke perfect English and French, asked me to ask if Manuel’s Brazilian wife who had been injured was better. Manuel laughed and said his Spanish wife of 44 years was healthy and at home, but the Brazilian woman they were walking with for a few days was better and reunited with her other Brazilian friends. Then Manuel asked them how long they had been married, and they laughed and said they were just friends and that she lived in France, and they had met doing a different Camino through France last year, and decided to do this Camino together this year. Also the woman spoke no English, so as I translated from Spanish to English, Claude was translating from English to French! Manuel joked that Claude and I should be paid for our language services. I left the table in a brighter mood and decided I would walk the 5-6 hours to the next town as all the friends I’d made as well as been reunited with were all doing the same.
It took me an extra 30 minutes in foot care and wrapping, so I was the very last Pilgrim out of the albergue leaving at 8am. I walked alone for the first hour and for the first extended time next to a 2-lane highway. It wasn’t fun. There was a narrow 12-inch dirt shoulder to walk on with cars whizzing by. Luckily, they would often cross into the other lane to give the walkers more room, but it still felt dangerous.
Finally, I could see that the Camino turned onto a dirt path away from the highway up ahead and some Pilgrims got out of a taxi. I couldn’t blame them for skipping the hour roadside walk.
I was very happy to return to a quiet nature walk without breathing car exhaust. This area is called La Meseta which is a dry, flat more desert-like region with some arid farmland.
Soon an Aussie couple caught up to me, and my left foot was actually feeling pretty good, so I picked up my pace and chatted with them for awhile. They said that they lived on a farm in southeastern Australian with a landscape much like this and that the Meseta had been their favorite part by far. After an hour, we came to a clump of trees and they said they were going for a pee, so I walked on and went back to listening to my book.
A little further along another guy was coming fast up behind me and I looked up and it was Ruben from Portugal! I had walked with him and the Dutch guy Haen several weeks back and hadn’t seen him since.
The Camino criss-crossing again! We filled each other in on some highlights since then, shared Camino stories, and I found out that Ruben had a Masters in linguistics and spoke Spanish, French, Italian, of course Portuguese, and had studied German and Arabic. He was the holy grail of Camino language bridging! He had been doing not only a lot of translating but had also got to talk to and meet an even wider range of people with many of the language barriers removed.
We came to the town of Reliegos and stopped for a drink and snack. Just as we arrived, we ran into Haen! Such a crazy coincidence. I was walking with Haen several weeks before when I had first met Ruben and none of us had seen each other since.
Then I went inside to use the bathroom and there was Ana, the Venezuelan woman who lives in Switzerland, who Will and I had walked with on days 3 and 4 of the Camino.
Camino reunions everywhere! I had a little over an hour left to walk to the next town and Ana was staying there too, so we all walked together. On the way, Ruben ran into some friends he’d been walking with before: Robbie from New Zealand and Moose from Australia who said his daughter was also named Rachel and that his son was a huge 49ers fan.
Robbie was really interesting and told me all about the native peoples, the Maori, in his country of New Zealand. Moose and Ruben were walking behind us in conversation so I translated for Ana. I commented on how the Camino was like traveling to many different countries while you walked through a single one. Robbie agreed and said what a special and unexpected experience the Camino had been for him so far. He said that each night you sit down with people you don’t know and yet no one is a stranger and everyone a potential friend. He commented on how on the Camino you sleep in the same room with people, share food with them, brush your teeth next to them in the bathroom, and you really see how little difference there is between us. He said that here you learn the true meaning of compassion.
As we neared the town nearly all of us were staying in, Mansilla de las Mulas, my phone rang and it was Manuel, one of the brothers from Barcelona, and he wanted to know if I arrived yet and how my feet were doing. Compassion is right.
We arrived in town but said goodbye to Ruben who only had 2 weeks left to finish the Camino and hopefully have time to go all the way to the ocean in Finisterre, so he was pushing on. He was doing a 55 kilometer walk day that day (34 miles)! I told him he was moving fast and that I probably wouldn’t see him again, and he said Rachel, with the Camino, you never know!
Now I’m headed to meet the brothers from Barcelona and maybe reunite with more Camino friends because you never know!