I would be perfectly happy never to stand up again. My legs are truly sick of walking. They hate me. And I’m not too fond of them anymore either.
Yesterday started out easy, with downhill walks into the first two villages. Of course, the downhills were followed by uphills. Each of the next two villages on the track were on top of little peaks, which made them picturesque and pretty, but which also made them punishing to walk to.
I’ve bought a walking stick, which definitely makes things easier as it gives you a bit more power going uphill and more stability going downhill. And I have at least another week of proper hills ahead of me, if not more.
I’m definitely getting better at walking — the morning walks in particular are much easier — but I still find it really hard. And I still stop a lot. I run out of breath. Sometimes, as I’m standing on the side of the path, panting, people will pass and ask me if everything’s ok. I tell them yes. Some people move on, but others stay, asking why I’m just standing there if everything’s alright. I just say that I’m tired. I don’t tell them that my cardio-vascular system isn’t coping well with hauling my 28 stone up a mountain and so I need to stop because my lungs are coming out of my nostrils.
Some people you meet are great, and others are less so. There’s an old Danish couple who are going at about the same pace as me. We keep passing each other on the tracks, overtaking each other every two hours or so. This morning, the man stopped and told me that I have a “tough soul”, which was the perfect thing to say to me, because I spend a lot of time feeling weak and anything but tough.
Other people are not so bright. I’m sick of young skinny mainly German guys asking me about how far I’ve come in the last few days and then telling me I’m obviously not going to make it to Santiago and I should really speed up and walk further every day, as if I’m lolling along at a lazy pace. I also had a young Dutch guy ask me why I was so sweaty when it wasn’t sunny yet, early in the morning. I was sweaty because I’d just walked up a mountain.
I spent last night in a hostel in Cirauki, where the pilgrims’ dinner was served in an old wine cellar in the basement of the hostel, a beautiful room with the kind of authentic olde worlde features that an American tourist would go crazy for. As we walked into the restaurant, our nationalities were checked and they seated us at tables with “similar” nationalities. The hostel had large groups of Koreans, Germans, Spanish, Canadians and French that night, so I got put at the “others” table with a Manx woman and a Dutch couple. The dinner was lovely, except for the starter of spinach soup. Spinach is a vegetable I truly like, but it doesn’t need to be made into a soup. A soup should be made of something substantial, like turnip or cauliflower or an ox’s tail.
I got up early this morning. There was no breakfast available in the hostel and the next village was up another mountain, so I did my first three hours of walking on an empty stomach, with just water to keep me going. It was fine. When I arrived in the next mountaintop village at 10:30, I had a ham and cheese roll. But some people had been walking since 5:00 am, so 10:30 am was their lunchtime. While I was having my breakfast, I saw two men at the next table order a pint of beer each and a paella. Time is different on the Camino.
My guidebook said that after the initial ascent in the morning, there would be a brief downhill and then it would be flat all the way to today’s destination, Estella. My guidebook was wrong. Mountains continue to be mountainy. I’m beginning to forget what walking on flat ground is like. Today featured another downhill bit so steep that again I sat down and dragged myself down on my arse to avoid falling down the mountain.
My guidebook is actually a pain. It’s the most popular English language guidebook for the Camino but it’s written by a Camino obsessive, an Irishman who had a spiritual awakening while doing the Camino himself. He decided to write a “practical and spiritual” guide. It has little spiritual notes all the way through. Luckily, they’re printed in a different colour ink, so I can ignore them. But he sneaks his sanctimony in everywhere. At the start of the book, he recommends not taking a phone, because he’s basically insane. A month. Without a phone. Bonkers. And the other day, I read a bit about an old well that you pass on the road that is usually dry nowadays, “a sign, perhaps, of the spiritual aridity of the modern world”. Seriously, that’s what it says in an actual guidebook. His guide is very handy in parts but when he says stuff like that, he can eat my arse.
Today’s walk rarely brought me onto actual roads. Most of it was tracks through vineyards and fields of wheat (or something wheat-ish) and there were huge pieces of grassy land with horses galloping across them. There were also picturesque medieval mountaintop villages. It was all undeniably beautiful. However, my favourite part of today was when the path came to a motorway, and there was a tunnel under the motorway for walkers. The tunnel was long and dark. There was a low wall all along one side that was perfect for sitting on. And there was a breeze blowing through the tunnel. No sun, lots of wind, somewhere to sit. Basically, Heaven.
I met two English people in the tunnel, a man and a woman. We got to chatting and I asked if they were travelling together. He said yes. She said, “We’ve been walking together for 3 days now. We didn’t know each other or anything.” She looked guilty. He looked smug. I want to know their story. Unfortunately, they walked on at a rate of knots, so I’m unlikely to see them again and hear about the whole affair.
I got paid today, and today was my longest walk so far, so I’m rewarding myself by not staying in a hostel and sharing a room with early-rising Germans. I’m in a guesthouse with a room all to myself. I imagine this place was really nice when it was last done up, possibly in the late 70s. It has what I think is a broken radio built into the bed’s headboard. And the bedspread is light pink and shiny. But it’s pure and utter luxury.
I deserve it.