Days 21-22:

262 miles walked, 238 miles to go!

Day 21: I got my Camino groove back! Or at least I thought so for half a day. The Camino giveth and the Camino taketh away. When I walked the day before, my feet felt pretty good. I arrived at my albergue, showered, and stayed off my feet for a good four hours in my bunk. But when I got up, my feet, especially the left one, were sore and tender again. It was hard to let them heal when I needed to walk on them 14-15 miles every day. I limped over to where the brothers from Barcelona were waiting for me at a restaurant, and they were sitting with another retired Spanish guy, Pepe, from Madrid. It looked like I wouldn’t be doing any translating this evening and would be instead trying to understand the conversation that was completely in Castellano. We had a great evening, and Ana came over and talked to us for a while as well. When I headed home on still sore feet, I was thinking that perhaps I would walk one more day, and then I would take a rest day in the big city of León, but this also meant I’d need to make up the lost time by doing some much longer days ahead which wasn’t something I really wanted to do.

I started the day with my new morning routine: open eyes, check feet. Miraculously, they both felt great. I was learning that the human body was a pretty amazing thing. I had ruined my feet with that day of having to walk in flip flops, but 4 days later and walking on them 3 of those days, my feet had actually been healing and felt great. I headed out happily in my socks and Tevas going at a brisk pace and passing lots of pilgrims. The morning light was beautiful, and I was snapping lots of pictures.

As I left town, I came across a woman about my age and I said, “I see you’re also walking in Tevas, and this is how I met Tracy from Brisbane, Australia, who I walked and talked with all the rest of the day.

Tracy was a truly amazing woman with an incredible story. She told me that she had left her emotionally abusive husband of 24 years, and even though he was from a very wealthy family, he got a team of lawyers to make it look like on paper as if he did not have a lot of money, so he was able to take the majority of their assets leaving her homeless and having to move in with her mother. Her mother was also an emotionally abusive person and blamed her for being in the situation she was now in which led to a falling out between them, so Tracy moved out of there as well and now they were estranged. Tracy said she came to the realization that she had been surrounded by toxic people including a lot of the fake friends she had gained living their wealthy lifestyle, and they also turned on her. Additionally, she had a high-powered and stressful job, and she realized she wasn’t happy with that either. She said that she felt as if she had lived most of her life wearing a mask and playing a role that wasn’t her. She then called her job and quit over the phone. After that, she threw her few possessions into a couple of backpacks and started traveling, and that this had led her to the Camino. She said that she had been stripped down, left naked, and was rebuilding herself. In reflecting on what drew her here, she said about herself that she was “on the Camino looking to meet me.”

I certainly was happy to meet her. As we walked, we came across this piece of forward momentum advice applicable for the Camino and life:

Other images from the day’s walk:

As we reached our destination city of the day and one of the bigger cities on the Camino, León, with a population of about 125,000, it again felt jarring to be surrounded by buildings and cars. A lot of people I had talked to said they were doing an extra day there, but Tracy and I both agreed we would be heading back out and onto the smaller villages the next day. How was I going to go back to living in San Francisco with 800,000 people living in a compressed area of 7 miles by 7 miles and sharing walls?!

Luckily, I had booked in the historic city center so after walking an hour through neighborhoods of massive apartments buildings, I arrived at my albergue which was next to a beautiful cathedral and pedestrian-only streets and plazas.

I checked into my albergue and scored a bottom bunk in a 4-person room with all women, and things were going great.

I took my shower and was settling in and chatting with one of my new very interesting bunkmates, Beatrice from Germany who was doing the Camino a second time, and she was fluent in German, of course, but also English and Spanish, and she had been living in Mexico City for the past 25 years with her Mexican husband. I was relaxing and enjoying the conversation and then…foot-tastrophy struck!

I looked down and saw I had new blisters in an entirely new location on top of my middle toes even though they weren’t even enclosed in a shoe that day!

Seriously Camino?? This meant socks and Tevas were not going to work for the next day’s walk. I was running out of options! So I pulled out my hiking shoes that had given me the blisters on the outside of my big toes that had then turned into that painful corn that then led to the flip flop fiasco that shredded my feet! So I got out my trusty scissors and did some operating.

I hoped that this would give my big toes plenty of elbow room for the next day and avoid anymore foot issues! In the meantime, Tracy had texted me to meet up for a drink and the brothers from Barcelona were meeting me later, so I put on the Tevas (without the socks) and headed out.

Tracy and I met at an outdoor cafe next to León’s massive cathedral and soon we were the Pilgrim magnet of reunion. Pepe from Madrid showed up and brought with him Eli from Australia and Danko from Mexico, now living in and running his own restaurant in San Antonio, Texas. Eli and Danko had met 3 years before on the Camino, fell in love and had been meeting up to travel and walk different parts of the world since. They planned to marry within the year and she was moving to join him in Texas. Then the brothers from Barcelona joined us and Ana showed up too.

Then I looked over at the next table and there was Doug, Shelly and Mark, all people I had met on the very first day of the Camino, 19 days before.

Other Pilgrims who stopped by, and have have made an appearance in this blog, but I didn’t get pictures of that evening: David from Spain, Mason from San Jose, Brian from Scotland, a German family I hung out with in Castrojeriz, young Stephan from Germany, and Beatrice my new bunkmate from Mexico by way of Germany. It was incredible how many people I now knew all traveling the Camino. Brian from Scotland joked that a group of sheep is a flock, a group of wolves is a pack, a group of whales is a pod, so a group of Pilgrims like that evening should be called a blister of Pilgrims!

Day 22: I awoke to the standard albergue morning sound: the rustling of bags and the zipping and unzipping of backpacks. It was 6am and my 3 bunkmates who were all up, were being really nice and getting ready in the near dark with a little light coming through the closed shutters. Usually when you’re in a bigger dormitory room, some early rising Pilgrim usually turns on the lights for the whole room around 6-6:30am. I told them I was up, and it was cool to turn on the light, and I’m sure by now you know what I looked at first…my feet! The new blisters hadn’t refilled but were tender, so I wrapped them and tried on my newly cut and ventilated hiking shoes. I decided I’d try a new approach: walk the first part of the day in the hiking shoes, and then the second half walk in the Tevas without socks. This way no particular spots were getting bothered all day long. I packed up and left León. As I walked out of the city center, I passed a statue, and judging by his face, he must have been a Pilgrim who knows the pain of Camino-wrecked big toe!

Goodbye big city!

Just as I was leaving the city, I was lost in thought and suddenly couldn’t find my next yellow arrow. I back-tracked a block and met Kiko from Israel and Nahuel from Argentina, both in their late 20s. I walked with them for the next 2 hours, and they were very curious about life in San Francisco. They heard the city was expensive, so I confirmed it by telling them that I recently saw an article where the average one-bedroom now rents for $3500/month (this is an average rent, not what everyone pays). They were shocked. They asked me if I rented or owned, and I told them I was lucky to have bought a duplex with friends in 2002, but it took over a year of actively looking and we put in over 10 offers on different places getting repeatedly outbid. A few years after buying the building, we converted it to condo (each now having separate mortgages), and then 10 years later, my friends moved north to Fairfax to raise their daughter and sold their 2-bedroom flat for what we paid for the entire building. Again shock. They asked how anyone could afford living there, and I said that many shared apartments and rent control helped keep those rents down. Next, they said that they heard that a lot of people in SF are poly (polyamorous meaning people being in multiple committed relationships at once). I laughed and said, it did seem to have become more common. I told them I had a very big group of friends having lived in SF for 23 years, but I only knew about 5 people who were poly. I told them I wasn’t and that managing one relationship was hard enough, and I was recently divorced. Nahuel said, “I have enough trouble managing one girlfriend!”

Then Kiko, who had been a lot quieter and less animated than Nahuel, said he had just had his heart-broken. He said he met a girl on the Camino and they had spent the last 2 and a half weeks together walking the Camino and were together 24/7. He said it was intense and he had fallen in love. Then two days before, she had broken things off, and he said we had actually walked past her sitting at a cafe thirty minutes before. Poor guy. I told him I was sorry to hear it but I liked what Woody Allen once said that “the heart is a very, very resilient little muscle.” I said it didn’t feel like it now, but time really does heal.

Just then we came to a crossroads, and I’m being literal here, not metaphorical :). The Camino split again as it had a few days before. You could go left and take a path that was away from the main road but it was 7 kilometers (4.35 miles) longer or an extra hour and a half. Or you could go right, walk less, but walk on a path that ran parallel to the highway all day. My recovering feet chose right and the young guys chose left :).

I walked on and up ahead I saw Ana from Uruguay waving at me. I ran to catch up, and I walked the rest of the day with this lovely woman chatting in Spanish the entire time. The path did run parallel to the highway the entire time, but we didn’t have to ever walk on the actual road, so it was fine.

There was still some beautiful scenery, and more Camino wisdom.

Ana saw the message and said “Vamos,” and I told her the difference between “Let’s go” and “Let it go.” She laughed and said, “No hacemos las dos en el Camino?” Don’t we do both on the Camino?

We arrived in the town Villadangos del Páramo, had lunch, and then I got a room in a hostel, and Ana pushed on another hour to the next town.

298 kilometers to Santiago. Vamos!

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