camino de santiago

“I lay in bed and smile, a nod goodbye and good luck to the man who slept in the bunk across from me. During the night his wife on the top bunk started snoring. I woke up and gave him draggers and a “Shhhhh!” he smiled and pointed up ward. I was shocked and a little embarrassed. My blushes soon turned to giggles as he gently kicked her mattress till he had turned her on her side. Sleeping beauty silenced he winked and rolled over. I had thought going to bed that it was odd that he took the bottom bunk, clearly there was a method to his madness. I wonder has he ever told her that she snores. We were so shattered from yesterdays walk and lack of sleep we laze in bed later than we usually would. Its twilight when we finally get up. We are pretty much the last to leave our small dorm. Straight over to the bakery we head which has been open since the wee hours for some pan au chocolate. We buy two each. Walking this much every day is awesome, you can eat what you want. The road out of town is a long stretch and already packed with all kinds of pilgrims. I am not too sure that I like walking amongst so many. At least it is a short walk today. Our last sleepy talk before bed was to start walking the normal amount. 20km. I don’t think that we can sustain the crazy walks. We will either injury ourselves or fall out of love with this dream.”

Can you believe it, 7 days in and almost 200km done, if that vineyard had been open I would have gone into celebrate. Luckily it was closed!

It’s pretty normal to see messages of well wishes and hope along the camino. You will see them on stones, street signs, trees, well anywhere really. This place was amazing though, loads of messages on stones and pebbles. We spent what seemed like an age reading them all.

“We walked to Najera. I had hoped to stop here and walk amongst the caves. I am unsure of the place when we arrive though. Even though it is a historic town with deep connections to the Camino, even though it’s full of rich stories of past Kings and Queens of Navarre, full of majestic building and museums, I am just unsettled. Is it our love of small sleepy villages that causes us not to stay in this place withs its charming cobbled streets. On the whole, this place is loud and a bit grubby. We find our way to the tourist information office and get a stamp. Having walked in a straight line for the past week, veering off course gets us lost in a maze of alleys. Side streets always seem to lead to a square with a fountain. So confusing.”

“Oh I totally forgot! We passed our Hungarian friend this morning a little way outside Arco San Juan. He said that his knees were at him after the long walks. He had found a place to stay last night that was a walk outside of town. I am so glad he didn’t have to walk too far. We are walking a bit slower today, the legs are sore but not as bad as yesterday. I am worried that because we left two hours later than normal that we will once again not find room at the next stop. I don’t walk any faster. I want to soak up all the vineyards, mountains and never ending fluffy clouds.”

“We get to Azofra at one thirty in the afternoon. I am royally smug. I think that we didn’t leave till well after seven and we are here in a few hours with the whole day ahead of us. We must both be thinking this as we stroll to the albergue and kick off our shoes at the door. The thought is crushed. We are the second last people to get beds. At 1.30 in the afternoon! Okay, the whole albergue sleeps 60 people in cubicles of two (so handy for us,) so its not the biggest place in the world. Its a lovely place in the middle of no where. I think Azofra has a population of 200 people. Washed and dressed we plan to head to go exploring, then the shop to get dinner and finally the bar. We get as far as the tiny pool. Flip flops off and we join a few others who are enjoying the icy water on their tired limbs! Its heavenly. Even when it starts to rain I don’t want to move from it. Eventually we move on. On the way to the shop we find a bar and realise we haven’t had lunch. There is an almighty mix up. Its gone two in the afternoon so they are on a siesta. They aren’t serving food, nothing until seven pm. The famous pilgrim menu. With the use of hand language, much pointing at a small dish and classical speaking english slowly in a spanish accent we explain that we only want something small. The owner of the bar smiles nods her head and ushers us to sit at table outside. We order two beers and breath a sigh of relief. Next thing we know the table is being set with a lot of pomp and ceremony, white table cloth, glasses the works. Oh Sh*t! What follows is like something out of Faulty Towers. We are given the pilgrim menus. Sean shakes his head. I’m getting embarrassed and try to hide in my plastic garden chair, I know where this is going. Sean tries to explain that we just want something small. Our bar lady is trying to tell us we can have the pilgrim meal, three courses or nothing for the price of €11 each. Sean is pointing, almost stabbing at the chorizo and fries on the menu. Explaining that we don’t want three courses, just a lunch. She is shouting a mile a minute shaking her head, shrugging her shoulders and waving her pen and paper widely in the air like she is putting out a fire. Every now and then I try to guess what she is saying… to no avail. To the amusement of the table of Americans beside us, Sean shakes his head saying * No comprende! (gesturing with his hands like he is trying to fly) Shouting at me a little louder is making it any clearer!* He laughs at the silliness of this and bar lady goes quiet. This has reached a whole new level of awkwardness as EVERYONE has stopped what they are doing to watch the antics. Neither Sean or the lady are winning this battle. Silence. A stare off. All of sudden the two of them are talking and gesticulating at each other like its a national sport! While I sit there desperately wanting the ground to open up and swallow me chair and all!. I have my hair down and am hiding beneath it. I can’t see anyone and they can’t see me. Perfect. Then something magical happened. There is an understanding. She storms off and Sean looks at me and asks if I’m still alive? A few minutes later the greasiest plates of chorizo eggs and chips are flung at the table. To add insult to injury our dish is swarmed by flies, lots of flies. We shovel the food in to us. We are also starving at this point. I think if the altercation hadn’t happened and we didn’t have to share the grease with four legged germ infested flying dirt bugs we would have eaten it at the speed.”

We stroll around this tiny town and get supplies for dinner later that night. Cheese, fruit, pasta, meat and wine for €10. The wine comes in a unlabelled green bottle straight from the vineyard. Its €2. It is beyond compare with any full bodied red we have had. We throw our purchases in the fridge and go to bed for a two hour sleep. I say sleep but we just passed out with exhaustion. When we wake up the courtyard is full. There are almond trees which are heavy with fruit. Every now and then a pilgrim picks a stash for their table. Best nibbles ever. We scramble to cook dinner amongst the 58 other pilgrims all trying to do the same thing with one hob! It is manic. There is a shortage of plates, some people are eating out of pots, others are drinking wine from the bottle. We nestle ourselves between a group on a long table and relish the dinner and the blocks of cheese. Its started to rain again, it’s cold too so a lot of the pilgrims move inside. We look at each other grab our coats and make a beeline for the table under one of the trees and settle down with our vino. Some one laughs that we must be Irish, not deterred by the rain or cold. Being Irish we know it can’t rain forever and sure enough it soon clears and reveals a glorious orange sky as the sun starts to go down. The courtyard fills and word spread like wild fire of this incredible two euro wine. People are doing runs back and forth to the shop. Then a general worry spreads… What time does the shop close? The mood is boisterous and sing songs have broken out. Then a sound cuts through our cacophony. It silences us all and we look from one another, a little puzzled. Then someone points to a roof top. For those that can’t see we stand and see a girl playing the violin. She must have only played for ten or fifteen minutes. She seemed to be doing her practise. When she played the last note we all erupt in applause and whistles. We don’t let up. An encore follows and some move their chairs to get a front row view. I can’t tell you what it was she played. I had never heard it before. It was exquisite.

It clouds over and most move inside. We stay outside and have a very frank and honest conversation with each other. Sean talks of his plans for the future, he talks of what it is he really wants from his business and life in general. I sit and listen. Its refreshing. Its funny I think, to have this conversation in the middle of nowhere in Spain, under an almond tree hiding from the rain. I am glad that he has had this time to think. He wouldn’t have if we were at home, he has been so busy. Some people walk the camino for spiritual or religious reasons, some walk it to to get over a loss or to hide. Some walk it to reflect on their life and what lies ahead, this kind of peace and quiet is hard to come by in todays non stop, never switch off world. Yes, I am glad Sean came here and has had time to think. But what of me, do I know why I am here? I wanted to walk it to for to fill a dream. Always this endless romantic notion of us traveling through Europe, living each curiosity, getting lost in small towns, watching lazy afternoon beetles wander across fields, seeing it in all its simplicity, having the time and the head space to soak it up, for me to write the ramblings that are eternally floating around my mind. I can almost see this adventure, it plays out in my mind like a beloved memory. I can hear our laughter, feel our delight, taste the euphoria. This is why I wanted to do this, an amazing story shared with Sean. This is not why he is here though. You really can’t will someone to want what you want in life. No matter how much you want it. We sit for a time without saying anything. I think, I am both fortunate and happy in my life. We have walked almost 200km of Spain. I know that we may have to cut that short and go home for work. I make my peace with that. Its been one hell of an achievement to get this far. On tomorrows walk I will bring up the subject of going home early, like next week. I know he is anxious to get back. I know too, he will stay here as long as he can. That is not fair of me though. Yet, I don’t want to walk just for the sake of it. I don’t want to walk on my own, not because I am frightened. Its because its doesn’t sit well with me to walk into Santiago by myself without Sean. It doesn’t feel right, there is a sense of foreboding fills me every time I think of it. We are each others shadow, to finish this alone would be the wrong ending to this adventure. The best thing is to go home and come back and walk when we have more time. A french couple sit beside us. I give them tissues to wipe the rainwater from their chairs and this is repaid with two glasses of wine. We exchange a few words, with my limited french and their little english, laughter fills the voids. Its been a lovely day. We will wait and see what tomorrow brings. Indeed with the amount of water filling these pages I wonder if I will be able to read back over our adventure?”

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