Forgive me for the huge gap in blog info but blogging by iphone was uncomfortable and tedious. My fingers are too clumsy for the ‘keyboard’ and then trying to post or edit anything was almost impossible. Then waiting for the mystery of Wifi to be available… it all became too much. While my musings are no doubt of interest to many, I had more pressing things to do. Like staying warm and getting enough to eat. Getting Helen enough to eat. On Maslow’s hierarchy of needs finding food and shelter appear at the bottom of the pyramid. Creativity (which I like to think this is) is at the apex.
So our tasks on the Camino were fairly basic: our aim was to walk from one end of Spain to the other, 500miles – let’s use kilometres, it sounds more – 790 km east to west. On the way we needed food, drink and shelter. We also needed support of a different kind: encouragement for example.
Physical support is there for you in terms of waymarkers and albergue/hostals. These are of varying sizes and quality, I have alluded to them before. Mmm. A bit like the little girl who had a little curl: when they were good they were very, very good, but when they were bad, they were horrid.
The Way is clearly marked with yellow arrows and scallop shells, both real and stylised, set in walls and pavements. Finding and following these was our directional task and it was a joy. That sounds strange but the simplicity of the marking relieved us of the burden of finding our way. We followed The Way. With countless other pilgrims and many who had gone before us. Very quickly we began alluding to ourselves as pilgrims. We bought and attached our own scallop shells to our rucksacks and embraced the possible cheesiness of ‘pilgrimage’. (I want to explore the notion of being a pilgrim more and at length, but for now I will just say that it has become very dear to me. Everything was very simple. I liked that. Even as I write, I feel some longing and tearfulness, and I am not sure why.)
So map-reading wasn’t an issue and neither was finding a bed, although it became a bit of a scramble at points with Helen and I developing a scattergun approach in small towns, bursting into bars and reception areas asking “Una habitatione, dos camas?” with a hopeful inflection.
Often met with a grim faced, “Reserva?” “Non”
Shrug “Completo” and turn away. Unhappy pilgrim face. But we always had a bed even if some of them were what my dad would call ‘ropey’. In fact we had two beds, because as you know, we are married, but not to each other. We also had some rather splendid beds.
The pilgrim menu is ever present. In theory it sounds great. Three courses, bread, wine and water for 9-12 euros. In practice it is monotonous and bland. Helen was often on the look out for ‘tasty food’. And almost invariably disappointed, but not always.
A tasty and tasteful albergue dinner in Villa de Mazarife. This was followed by a plate of vegetable paella. It was great.
Finding varied food was difficult. At the beginning of our walk we enjoyed a beer, bananas and brioche diet. At the end it seemed to be mostly chocolate: Kit Kats and longlife croissants and a lovely frothy drink called ColaCao, as the cook had nearly always gone home or we were tired and wanted to go to bed before dinnertime – 8pm! Despite these difficulties and all that walking I have not lost an ounce in weight. Not one. My shape has changed which is fine, but you read of people who lose 10 kilos. Oh my word, they must have been pretty, shall we say, shapely to start with. We took in calories. Food was fuel and it nourished us sufficiently. However it did make us reflect on the homeless and very poor and how lacking in variety a low cost diet can be. I am sure it needn’t, as the picture above shows, but often it is. And I won’t buy chips for a homeless person again. Some Pret soup perhaps.
Other support came from our companions and each other. The Camino is very egalitarian. No one asks or even cares what you do at home or who you might be. I have no idea what my walking friends did for a job unless they told me, which mostly they didn’t. Rarely did I hear about their family life or life outside the Camino. We were ‘in the moment’, to use a cliche. Our concerns were small and basic. Looking after our feet was a priority. Treating blisters and sprains. Often in public. We saw a notice in Triacastela that asked pilgrims not to take their boots off in the cafe. Another saying not to put your feet on the table. It happened.
Helen and I were fortunate. Our feet were relatively unscathed and our joints miraculously repaired every night if we rested them. I caught a cold I think from an elderly French guy swathed in a scarf who told me that he had ‘la grippe’ – of course. I felt rotten and Helen kindly went out to find some paracetamol. They cannot be found for love nor money in a normal shop. She tried some pantomime of someone with a sore throat and headache. And the lady behind the counter went to her handbag and offered her own small foil wrapped pills, for me. Unexpected kindness that moved us both.
When people asked us why we were doing the Camino, we talked of our long friendship and the many other walks we had done together. Of our children growing up and the privilege of having a month to do this in. There are reasons though which are harder to explain. We did it because we could, because, thank God, we are still healthy and strong and able. And so many dear, dear people we have known are not. Who knows what lies ahead? We also did it because it’s something we love doing together. We are well matched in walking. We can also laugh at things together that would be more difficult in an family situation and make light of troubles by laughing at them. Helen and I played silly alliterative words games across Spain. Describing these now is pointless, but in those moments our love of language, and joy in stretching and squeezing it to fit our mood and situation was an endless pastime. We walked and played through scorching hot days and hail, snow and sleet. It’s a long time to be with the same person but I know we both loved it, pretty much every moment despite our small whines. I wouldn’t have enjoyed it half so much alone. Thank you Helen. Buen Camino.