Tuesday, May 17, 2011

A Day on El Camino

After a week of walking, I have almost gotten a routine down.  It goes something like this--

The albergue begins to stir around 5:30 as the early birds leave to start walking.  I have heard stories of these early risers being rude and inconsiderate, but all the ones I have shared accomodations with have been as quiet as possible, but their rustlings stir me from sleep to wakefulness.

I like to get up around 6 so I can get going around 7, especially now that it is getting warmer.  I get up and get dressed quickly--no meandering around in your undies, which is what I am now sleeping in because the dorm rooms are warm.  There are lots of scrawny European men who don´t share my qualms.  I wouldn´t mind if they were young and buff, but there´s something offputting about seeing a man´s rear end with his underwear crawling up first thing in the morning.

If the albergue serves breakfast, I eat there.  The Spanish breakfasts are quite different from what most Americans are used to--a baguette with butter and jam (a slice of cheese and/or ham if you are lucky), tea, and perhaps juice.  If the albergue doesn´t provide breakfast, sometimes I have bought fruit and yogurt the night before and eat quickly.  

But if there is no breakfast, I pack my bag, which still seems to take me a long time as I keep trying to figure out the most efficient way to get everything in, while at the same time having what needs to be readily available (rain gear, first aid, food, water) in someplace accessible. 

Then I start walking.  If I haven´t had breakfast, the first item is to find a place to buy something to eat.  So far this hasn´t been a problem, though in some small villages you have to ask where the cafe is.  It is a cultural difference that in Spain cafes and restaurants in villages that have a captive audience in the thousands of pilgrims traipsing through them every year don´t go out of their way to make their presence known.  In the states we would have signs everywhere--GET YOUR PILGRIM BREAKFAST HERE!!! BUY ONE GET ONE FREE!!!  But the Spanish seem much more laid back about it all.

Then I walk.  I have walked alone the last two days, which is curiously freeing.  I walk until I am tired, and then I rest.  One of the downsides to walking alone is that I get in a sort of Zen state of walking and don´t rest as often as I should.  Today I suddenly felt exhausted and looked at my watch to discover that I had been walking steadily for more than 3 hours.  I probably need to monitor this more.

Right now there are lots of little villages to buy lunch, which is what I do, but lots of peregrinos buy a sandwich and picnic, or even buy just cheese and bread.  But I like to stop in a cafe because then I can use the toilets and avoid a trail-side pitstop (I think I mooned a Spanish farmer on a tractor today, but when a girl´s gotta go, a girl´s gotta go!)

I get to where I´m staying by about 2, check in, show my pilgrim credentials, and pay the 5 to 10 euros the albergues charge.  Off come the boots--many albergues make you take them off in the entry way--a blessed relief!  And off comes the pack--even better.  By now your feet hurt, your back hurts, your legs hurt.  When I look around the albergue I see that almost everyone is doing what I call ¨the sore feet shuffle--gingerly shuffling along, slightly bent over, walking not unlike that old man character Tim Conway used to do on the Carol Burnett show.

A shower is next, which is heaven (though every shower presents unique challenges.  it is amazing how plumbing can vary). Then I do laundry. When you have only 3 shirts, 2 pairs of socks, and 2 pairs of pants, you can´t postpone laundry.  Whatever I´ve worn that day is hand laundred, unless you have the incredible luxury of staying in an albergue with a washing machine.  This happened in Pamplona, and I happily stuffed my dirty clothes in the washing machine only to discover there was no detergent for purchase.  I said screw it, and washed them in water only.  Probably just as clean as with my inept hand washing.

Then I check my feet.  Any new blisters?  How are the old ones doing?  Peregrinos, for obvious reasons, are obsessed with their feet.  I´ve had one rather ugly blister, and few small ones, but nothing debilitating and nothing new for a couple of days, so I hope my feet are toughening up.

It´s now about 4.  I blog, do email, read, nap, and think about dinner.  Many places offer pilgrim menus, which are a great value.  3 courses with wine--we are in Spain--for 10 euros.  It is great to make connections with other pilgrims.  Last night I sat next to  a  man from Denmark, across from a woman from Australia, and down from a couple from Italy.  

Nine seems the earliest I can respectably go to bed, and I usually have my earplugs in and my eyemask on so I can fall into a good-kind-of-tired deep sleep.  

The next morning I wake up at 6 and even though 12 hours ago I hurt all over, I bounce out of bed refreshed and eager to do it all over again.

Snapshots from today´s walk
Today was a bit shorter--12 miles from Puenta la Reina to Villapuerte.  I´m staying in a lovely albergue that is in a medieval building but has all the modern conveniences plus an incredibly gracious hostess in Simone.

Lovely encounters--
walking into a small village behind 4 young Spaniards who were laughing and taking pictures of their shadows falling on the road before them.  One young man grabbed my arm and pulled me into the groups, taking a picture of our 5 shadows as he shouted, ¨Cinco amigos!

walking through fields of poppies accompanied by the sounds of cuckoos calling softly from the trees

walking on an incredibly preseved Roman road that bisects a modern highway

greeting an elderly Spanish gentleman who then stopped, motioned me closer, and reached into his pocket to give me a handful of cherries.  Then he chucked my under my chin and bid me, ¨Buen Camino!¨ (I´m quite sure i have not been chucked under my chin since I got out of diapers!)

Seeing a medieval hilltop village suddenly appear, rising above the olive groves and vineyards that characterized the landscape of today´s walk

eating dinner which a couple of pilgrims prepared in the albergue´s kitchen, a meal which became communion for me.  A big salad of things purchased from the local market, with contributions from women from Denmark, South Korea, Germany, and the two Americans. Both body and spirit were filled to overflowing.



1 comment:

  1. Hello there
    I stumbled (or should say googled) on your blog while searching for possible blogs of people currently doing the camino, because my daughter Claudia is on her 8th day (from SJPDP)..anyway, I just wanted to say how much I am enjoying your stories and writing...you are quite the writer with a such a positive and uplifting view on the world you are experiencing. It gives me a little insight into what she is seeing and doing also!
    Just lovely! Thank you