I woke on the second day of my Camino to light drizzle. This does not bode well as I have 20k to cover today. As we go into breakfast most people have finished and are already setting off and everyone apart from us have huge green ponchos which go over their haversacks. It never occurred to us it might rain! And I had been worrying we would be too hot. But rain it did. It came down in stair rods. Shall we delay before going off I wondered? Then I remembered how much ground we needed to cover so with great alacrity I bought two bright blue ponchos. We looked like a couple of cartoon condoms. But they kept the rain out so who cares? We were ready to go.
Most people carry sticks or a big staff. You need it to steady yourself when going through mud. Of which there is a great deal. Some of the paths are just tiny tracks but many are well worn stony bridle ways with streams running alongside. You often have to ford a stream and there are big flat stepping stones – very greasy with mud and extremely slippery. The very experienced seem to use two sticks and they keep up a fast pace.
As I mentioned, each time you pass someone you say Bien Camino and they say it back. You smile. They smile. And we all feel good about what we are doing. The world, money markets, NHS and the Euro referendum all seem very far away.
We walked past pig farms galore all smelling very piggy pungent. And under leafy trees dropping rainwater down our necks. As you walk you look out for yellow shell signs which point you in the right direction. Every so often a bell rings and a black clad cyclist furiously peddling through the mud thunders past. We are both so pleased we are walking – cycling looks much harder. Especially as sometimes you have to go through stony narrow gorges.
After an hour and a half of fairly brisk walking we stopped at a little simply built farm house to get our Camino passport stamped. To stop cheating and to show that you really have done the Camino you have to get it stamped all along the way. Usually the little places will serve coffee or hot chocolate and you can buy shells to hang on your backpack and, even more importantly, they have loos! If you use the loo you are expected to buy a cup of coffee. Everybody is terribly nice to each other as you would expect. You can hear a myriad of languages as strangers try to tell each other the news. I watched a German man speaking franglais (French and English all jumbled up) to some rather mystified French people who of course only speak their own language. The Swiss seem to speak every language on God’s earth and so do the Dutch. There are a few Americans, some of whom of course speak Spanish. Somehow we all get by making ourselves understood – there’s a lot of smiling and nodding! We are walking a 200km section near to the end of the trail. However there are many people who have been walking for six or eight weeks. These are the real professionals. They are browner than us. Either they have had good weather or it’s ingrained mud! And they walk much faster than us, with heads down keeping up a stiff pace. They are probably doing 25 to 30k a day. We are only 20k a day people.
When the sun came out for a brief time it was absolutely beautiful. My glasses demisted and I was able to see the thousands of glorious wild flowers. There are tiny white violets and gorse growing in profusion everywhere. Fat cafe con leche colour cattle graze on lush wet grass. Sleepy dogs (mostly Alsatians) have given up barking at the pilgrims and they just open one eye as you go through their farmyard.
I can see why people decide to do this walk to find themselves or have quiet contemplation. The world and all its troubles seem very far away. All you concentrate on is getting from A to B without falling over or injuring yourself and you are forced to take life at a much much slower pace. You eat, sleep and walk. You see, smell and feel the countryside around you. And it is very pleasant. Nobody cares a damn about how you look. You dress for comfort.
Eating is not gourmet but when you’ve walked a long way you don’t care what you are served as long as it’s fast. Last night I could happily have eaten the menu! Lunch times are the best meals because then you can have real country fare: like home cured salami and potato croquettes washed down with – wait for it – delicious hot chocolate. We decided not to worry about counting calories. That was until we realised that just our breakfast (cheese, ham, salami and Danish pastries) was over our calorific limit for the day – and that was before the pilgrims wine and Medea cake. We get free wine!
Our first day was pretty hairy. The weather was so awful and we were the new girls. How we scrambled down a muddy gorge I will never know. Now we are on day three I have developed a Camino personality. I have already become the joker and we have several friends. Groups of people we have been passing and they us. We all meet at coffee breaks or at lunch time. We watch out for each other and lend each other band aids!
Last night we we were all very tired and it had been a really long walk. At one point we caught up with two teachers and 16 kids from southern Ireland. As we strung out in a long line, one of the kids started playing some of Queen’s biggest hits. Of course we all knew the words, so before long we were all marching to the music. If you could have seen it – two grannies dancing in the road while the Irish kids marched hand in hand and sang their little hearts out. This is the sort of impetuous thing that happens.
Tonight we are going to savour Galician food in a farmhouse. We have both had hot baths and hope our muscles don’t seize up…