I left Hontanas on Thursday morning, feeling good about myself. My condescending guidebook tells me that now I’m clear of Burgos, the little villages are “a welcome respite from the conspicuous consumerism” of the big city. Of course that kind of statement only makes me want to buy an SUV for each day of the week, but it is true that little villages “suit” the Camino a lot better than cities. A lot of these villages were built in order to serve pilgrims and their economy has depended on the Camino for hundreds of years.
As I walked, a woman came up beside me. She said “I know who you are” in a slightly creepy way, and then went on to explain that I was the man who had walked to Burgos with her friend “Renata”. The woman who had leached onto me and sucked four hours of joy from my life had a friend?? I needn’t have been the one minding her? Why hadn’t they been walking together? It’s a demonstration of how weird my afternoon walking with Renata had been, that I was only learning two days later that her name was Renata.
Renata’s friend continued talking to me. She complained that she was tired. I suggested she stay in the next village, Castrojeriz. She told me that she couldn’t because she had to make it to Santiago by the 7th July. I told her I was stopping there and I had to make it to Santiago by the 30th June. She laughed at me and told me I obviously wasn’t going to make it and that I’d have to come back again next year.
People see how slowly I’m walking and they presume I’m not covering the distances they are, but I am. I’m walking 12 hours a day, while they’re all walking six or seven. Thursday was my last “short” day. After that, I have to do over 20 km every day. And I will. It’s only in the last day or two that I’ve really begun to believe that I’ll make it all the way to Santiago on foot.
My body is changing. It’s getting more used to the sun now. And for the first time in my life I’m getting a tan. Not all over, of course. But on small areas of me – mainly my toes and half of my right hand, the pink is turning to a yellow-y beige. So I’m not Penelope Cruz or anything, but it is a big change. At first I was convinced it was ingrained dirt (the outside really is a filthy place), but I’ve had a number of showers and it hasn’t gone away. So I’m really tanning!
The backs of my legs are still getting burned in spite of layers of sun cream. This is appears to be a common problem. Pilgrims come up behind me and comment about the sunburn on my legs and then start telling me horror stories about how the sunburn on the backs of their legs turned into a rash, or turned into bleeding blisters. Fingers crossed that doesn’t happen to me.
After my last short day on Thursday, Friday was a long one. I hadn’t slept well on Thursday night. The weather was hot and muggy and it felt like trying to sleep in Santa Claus’s belly. It was impossible to cool down or to dry off. In spite of being tired, I still managed to do my long walk. I have begun to like the final part of the day. For the last four hours of the day, I’m usually the only person on the road. It means I can complain to my heart’s content when the pain gets bad. Sometimes, the pain of my feet hitting the ground is overwhelming and I find its good to curse, so I march along, just saying “Fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck” with every step. Or other times, it’s nice just to be able to moan aloud without other pilgrims hearing. I know lots of people here are dosing themselves with Neurofen Plus and lots of wine to survive the walks. I haven’t started on the painkillers or the alcohol yet, but I’m not saying I won’t.
I arrived late in Boadilla. It’s an attractive little town with a 14th century square in the middle, but it’s kind of depressing. No one seems to lives there. There was a little funfair set up in the town centre when I arrived with music playing and various attractions and games. And there was only one person, a little girl, there. It was kind of creepy.
The hostel was a big and friendly one. There was a group of women in the corridor comparing feet and blisters to see whose was grossest. There was a Mexican woman who had fallen down a hill and was showing off her bruises. There was a German and a Spanish man, chatting about a woman pilgrim they had met that day. She was from Suriname and they were both obviously very taken with her. Men being sleazy sounds even sleazier in their second language because they agreed that what they found sexiest about this woman was her “fleshy hips”.
I was sharing my room with an elderly Spanish man. He wanted to read his prayer book after lights out and he did. One of the pieces of equipment that many pilgrims have is a lamp they strap around their head, as if they are coalminers or brain surgeons. They use it to find their way to the toilet in a dorm room without turning on the lights, or to find their way when walking before sunrise. This old man looked comical in his headlamp, lying in bed, reading. I didn’t mind though.
Yesterday was my first truly flat day. Day 20 and the first day with no hills. I didn’t mind the boredom of the flat walk at all. Thankfully, it was a day broken up by a lot of little villages. I had lunch in a tiny village, where there were only about five buildings. One of the buildings was a pilgrim hostel with a bar that served food.
This hostel was a truly hippy place. There were big marijuana flags on display and bongs lying around. You had a choice of sleeping in a teepee or on a hammock. There were chickens wandering around the garden. There was a big porch with what looked like an old row of cinema seats, covered in what I imagine is chicken shit. There was a mannequin from a clothes shop. There was juggling paraphernalia lying about. The walls inside were covered in graffiti from pilgrims with various inspirational quotes and well wishes, including “Mayo for Sam 2014”. There were three guitars, an electric guitar and amp, a keyboard, a piano and a range of drums. I probably would have loved the place when I was 17, but it just seemed dreadful to 35-year-old me. The whole place was dirty too. All the surfaces were sticky and there were loads of insects flying about inside. I had my lunch quickly and left, happy I didn’t have to sleep there.
There had been no internet where I had lunch. Indeed, I hadn’t managed to get internet anywhere along my walk that day. I had 6 kilometres left to walk and nothing to listen to. I had run out of podcasts and finished my audiobook.
I’ve been listening to an awful lot of podcasts. That morning, I had downloaded and listened to the most ridiculously middle-class set of podcasts ever, the latest episodes of RTE Radio One’s Late Debate, BBC Radio Four’s In Our Time, The Guardian Books Podcast, Kermode and Mayo’s Film Review Podcast and NPR’s Ask Me Another. I had also listened to the final hour of Wolf Hall. Now I had no internet to download anything else and at least two hours of walking ahead of me, the final, most painful, part of the day.
At some stage last year, iTunes sucked all of my music collection onto the Cloud, so I listen to my music online when in Ireland. I downloaded 3 relevant songs for my Camino and they are the only three songs I have access to now. Every morning, I start my day with “Ease on down the Road” from The Wizz and then, if things get tough later in the day I’ll play either Rachel Platten’s “Fight Song” or Miley Cyrus’s “The Climb”.
I spent the next two hours listening to Miley sing The Climb on repeat. Like an old lady muttering the rosary at church, I chanted along with Miley “There’s always gonna be another mountain/Always gonna wanna make it move/Always gonna be an uphill battle/Sometimes you’re gonna have to lose/Ain’t about how fast I get there/Ain’t about what’s waiting on the other side/It’s the climb”. The last part of the day is sore. I was half laughing, half crying as Miley Cyrus and I reached Carrión, my destination for the day.
Carrión is 300 km away from my starting point. I’ve come a long way, baby.