We are now mid Camino – I can hardly believe we are halfway to Santiago. What have we learnt….?
- To carry less
- It’s miserable when it rains
- To take a towel – there were so many lovely little fords and babbling brooks to dangle your hot feet in
- That you don’t need much money, there is pilgrims’ rate for everything and nobody rips you off
- Coffee on the first stop of the morning has never tasted so good
- The bath when you finally get to your destination is heaven
- It’s alright to eat a double caramel Magnum after two Scottish malt whiskies
Walking a great distance is actually a very pleasurable experience. You have time to really see what is around you. I have never been interested in wild flowers, but now I am fascinated by the sheer numbers of different ones. I love looking at the shiny healthy cows. And I take time to breathe the country air deep into my lungs – well that is when I am not passing a pig farm, of which there are many. There are masses of old buildings which are just left to rot. Some of the crumbling brick heaps have a “Se vende” sign. “That’s a lot of money,” I said to my walking companion “200,469 Euros for that derelict house?”
“Don’t be daft she replied “That’s the telephone number!”
My mind wanders as I imagine how I would renovate them. I look at the sky and actually notice the cloud formations. We examine the hedgerows finding so many new species of flowers. We discover a huge slug (about 6 inches long). We notice how beautiful the plumage is on a fine cockerel. And that the sheep seem to have a no. 1 shearing – the wool is literally scraped off them. I wonder how long they will live.We seldom have to walk on the road so we don’t hear cars. You listen to birdsong, dogs barking, water tumbling over drinking fountains (where thirsty pilgrims have drunk for hundreds of years). But noisiest of all are the ebullient and jolly Italians dressed dashingly in their skin tight black speedos with the alarmingly unattractive pads on the bum, ringing the bells on their bikes as if their lives depended on it and shouting “Buen Camino” at the tops of their voices. They play games and creep up behind us and then ring their bells furiously. For some reason all the cyclists seem to be men… I wonder why!
We got called gringos today. Fancy that! But it was with great love and affection. Well I hope it was. And we walked with a band of mad brigands for an hour or so. They wore Camino scarves Jonny Depp pirate style and they jollied us along as we flagged in the late afternoon. Between three and four in the afternoon is the worst time. You are dying for a shower and your legs feel like lead. You just think you are there and then you realise the little hamlet which you think is your destination is in fact one more hamlet away!
In the evenings the hotels and hostels serve Pilgrims Dinner. This is an age old institution. It is incredibly reasonable in price as it is a big sin to rip off pilgrims. You get a starter, main and pud for ten euros and a half bottle of wine each! Of course occasionally you have the odd misunderstanding. I asked if my salmon was filleted “Oh yes” said le patron. I gasped as I crunched a mouthful of bones. He looked at me choking and said “Except in the middle of the salmon – there is is NOT filleted.” What can you say. He was so charming about it as he was so keen for us to enjoy everything. He even assured my friend there were no nuts in the almond cake, which is a speciality of the region. She has a nut allergy! You do take your life in your hands on the Camino.
We have met two glamorous Californian grannies, both touched up by extremely good surgeons! One of them never has a hair out of place and phones her younger boyfriend morning and evening. She has just seen off her husband aged 92. So she’s having fun with a fifty something doctor she told us. At dinner I asked them what procedures they both had had and they reeled off long lists of things I have never heard of – honestly what you learn on the Camino is really worth knowing!
We were trying to count how many people we had met and how many countries were represented and we came to the conclusion it was over thirty. Tonight we met a merry band of Panamanian women. They had left their husbands in Madrid – believe it or not to go bullfighting. And they were all going to meet up in Santiago cathedral for mass! One young couple were walking with their toddler a dear little girl who was about two. She walked when she felt like it and then got put in a pushchair when tired. I was only sorry the pushchair was too small for me to squeeze into.
I must mention the little bars. These are run by enterprising locals. As you walk virtually all the time on rustic paths or through woods, you will come upon a little house with a few chairs and tables. You walk into their living room and there will be a bar, with perhaps some freshly made Spanish omelette or chorizo. The loo is usually at the top of the garden but always spotlessly clean, though you do have to remember to take your own loo paper as it often seems to run out. I made another gaffe today. I was trying to ask for more loo paper when in fact what I asked the old lady for was “dustbins.” No wonder she looked at me quizzically. She must have thought I had a terrible stomach upset.
That’s about all for now. I hope I’ve given you an appetite to try this for yourself. It is huge fun. And very thought provoking. And can be very romantic. Tonight I saw scrawled on a wall “Every step I took was made better because you were there. I love you.”
We only have two more days really hard slog and then we reach Santiago – our goal. I can’t wait. We have an assignation on Saturday night with some of the friends we have made on the journey at a buzzy bar. I wonder who will be there? Maybe it will be the man that walks backwards, or the two Scottish male nurses, or the Dutchman who has taken four months to walk all the way from Holland, or the Chinese chemistry professor with his wife and son, or the dishy Icelandic man with his daughter. We shall see…
Meanwhile Bien Camino,