I got up and left the dodgy motel early-ish on Saturday. I didn’t feel like returning to the motel’s creepy bar for breakfast, so I was stupid and had breakfast from a vending machine instead. A KitKat and a can of Diet Coke does not make for a good preparation for a day’s walking.
Especially not when the sun was back. There was no more cloud cover, no more cooling rain. It was back to the Spanish sun, inescapably high in the sky, seeking me out. Not only that, but the flat bit of the Camino was done. The hills are back. I feel a bit shortchanged. Everyone says that the “middle section” of the Camino is flat. It’s not flat. It’s flatter. In reality, only two days are genuinely flat.
The first village of the day wasn’t a long walk – four or five kilometres. As I was walking along, I knew I didn’t feel right. I was approaching the village when I started to feel faint and unsteady on my feet. Luckily, there was a bench more or less in front of me.
I got something to eat in the village bar. There is a large variety of foods available in Spain, but if a bar has only one food, it is always a Spanish omelette (a thick potato omelette) sandwich. This bar only had yesterday’s bread, which was hard as coal, and yesterday’s omelette, which the barman kind of reheated in the microwave. It was our only choice, so that’s what I had.
I didn’t feel faint any more, but I still felt wrong. I walked on. What else was there to do? The next town on the route was genuinely charming, one of my favourite places on the Camino so far. It felt alive and had a bit of bustle to it, but it was still very rural. It had lots of nice medieval features, including a nineteen-arch-long stone bridge, which is possibly my favourite ever bridge.
I sat down for a break. And I couldn’t stand up again. I felt so sick and tired and so far from reality. I still had seventeen kilometres left to walk in the day I had planned. But I just couldn’t do it. I got a bedroom in a hotel and lay down, disappointed in myself.
After about 6 hours in bed, I began to feel myself again. I got up and went for dinner in the hotel’s restaurant, which was posher than I expected. The food was phenomenal. Spanish people seem to love things made of eggs and my starter was scrambled eggs with leeks and prawns. Amazing. The dessert was a lemon mousse. I’m not 100% sure what a mousse is (possibly a carbonated yogurt?) but this one was special.
The next day was bound to be better. I felt more energetic the next morning, and any sickness had passed. After arriving at so many places so late, I had not done laundry in a few days. All of my clothes stank. I was smelling like a wheelie bin that you forgot to leave out for collection and everything’s been decomposing even longer than usual. I doused my clothes in cheap Spanish deodorant, but that kind of made it worse.
My plan was to walk 30 km to make up for the previous day. I struggled. The hills were really getting started again now. I was sweatier than I’d been in ages. At about 3:00 I stopped for a break between two hills. A local man was selling drinks out of the back of his van and had set up a few chairs. I was exhausted, but I was having a friendly chat with a Latvian woman and a Dutch man and was feeling optimistic about the rest of the day.
Then a young woman came along. She was tanned and blonde and skinny and wearing a little strappy top and short shorts. In fact when I first saw her she looked like she was wearing a swimsuit. She had a tattoo on her arm that said something like “Bad girls make the world a better place”. She joined our conversation and ruined my buzz. She is from California. She was smiley and sunny. She started telling us all about how amazing the Camino is. “Isn’t it great to walk 35 kilometres and not even feel tired? I spend more time drinking wine than walking! Isn’t it great to always be finished walking by lunchtime? In California we have real mountains. The Camino is really flat.” I couldn’t identify with a single thing she said. I sat there feeling fat and smelly and feeling like I was doing this whole thing wrong.
I started walking again. More hills. Though the California girl no doubt thought they were just little pimples in the ground.
I got more and more tired. And the sweat started to do its work on my undercarriage. I was getting severe friction burns between my ass-cheeks and between my upper thighs. I was starting to bleed. I was in a lot of pain. As I came into the big town of Astorga, every movement was causing severe pain. I had to climb over a bridge over the railway line. It’s a dreadfully designed walkway, that takes forever to cross. Previous pilgrims’ graffiti complained about how ridiculously long it took to cross one bridge. Once I had crossed, I sat down on a big block of concrete and I cried.
I knew I’d have to stop in Astorga for the night. I was just too sore not to. Astorga had been my goal for the previous day and I’d wanted to go at least 10 km further today. My plan was coming apart. What if I don’t reach Santiago? I sat there crying for quite a while. This was the four-week mark. Why had I put myself through so much pain? The Camino hasn’t been the worst month of my life, but it’s been a month with very minimal pleasure and an awful lot of discomfort, pain, unhappiness and difficulty. What the Hell was it all for? I could literally only think of one reason then. This blog. I have to carry on. I have to finish this. I have to be inspirational on the internet. That’s my job this month.
I got myself together after a while and went to find a room. I was going to have to spend a few hours smearing my arse and inner thighs with Sudocreme, so a hostel wasn’t really an option. I found a guesthouse. I really can’t keep getting private rooms. I’m going to run out of money if I do.
After a few hours, the burning in my loins began to cool enough to allow me to go out for dinner. I went to a pizzeria close to my guesthouse. Because of my nappy rash, I had to sit with my legs spread wide like a cowboy, but the pizza was good so I didn’t mind.
I sat with my guidebook and planned. If I manage to do a guidebook stage every day, I can make it to Santiago at around lunchtime on the 30th June. My flight is at 5:00 pm ish. It’ll be a close-cut affair. My story will have to resolve itself with minutes to spare and a last-minute dash to the airport, just like a good RomCom. I guess this story deserves an exciting ending.
This morning was good. My rash had settled down. The guesthouse didn’t have a laundry service so I still smelled like Oscar the Grouch’s crotch, but at least I could walk. I spent the early part of the day chatting to a Canadian woman. She had a thick French accent and I initially thought she was joking about being from Canada. I’ve met French Canadians before – I even had one in an English class I was teaching – but a bit of my brain is still always surprised when I meet a North American with a French accent. This woman was kind, but when she saw how slowly I was walking and heard the date of my flight, she suggested I skip a day or two and take a bus.
Later this afternoon, I met two Japanese women. They were amazed to hear I was going to walk another seven kilometres that afternoon, but when I told them my end date, they agreed that I was right to keep walking, even though it was after 5:00 pm and they’d already had a shower and a meal.
Trying to get to Santiago on time is going to be interesting.
Anyway, today was a very good day. No injuries to report and I got as far as I had planned, and it was almost all uphill. I was still a little more emotional than usual. When a podcast I was listening to played a clip of the 1982 West German Eurovision-winning song (Ein Bisschen Freiden) I found myself crying again and couldn’t understand why. I’m back in a proper pilgrim hostel again, sharing a bedroom with my Californian enemy from yesterday, among others. There’s a dog barking outside the window and a German man snoring beside me, but at least I got my clothes washed and they’re hanging on a line outside.
A more fragrant future beckons.