Camino de Santiago: Day 19 (Christina)

From La Virgen del Camino to Hospital de Orbigo (28 km)

I get up late today and take my time getting ready.  In fact, I am the last one to leave the Albergue at 8:00 in the morning.  Amazingly, my feet are not so swollen today, and I can walk without excruciating pain.  My feet hurt, but I think I can walk today so I decide to go as far as my feet will take me.

There is another choice to make today, almost immediately.  A right and left route; one follows the road and the other goes through the countryside.  I again choose the path less travelled through the countryside but almost immediately I think I may have made a grave error.  I only see two people on this path during the first 10 km, and the first two villages are closed up tight, no services whatsoever.  This route isn´t mentioned in the papers I have so I don´t know how long it will take to get to the next town.

Every time I stop for a rest, it is very painful to start up again.  I am walking very slowly today, taking many rests, and each step hurts.  At the beginning, I step very tentatively on my feet, gingerly trying to avoid the pain.  Ouch, ouch, ouch…until I force my foot down firmly and just work through the pain until I get into my rhythm.  I try to distract myself with my thoughts but today I find it hard to think about anything really positive.  I am still thinking it is near the end of the road for me, that my feet just won´t take me to Santiago.

I finally reach a town after walking about 10 km and there I find a large group of pilgrims at the restaurant.  I feel relief.  I am not alone.  I order a large coffee and tortilla, my favourite breakfast.  I take off my shoes and socks and examine my feet.  They are the same as this morning, no new blisters, so I think this is a good sign.

As I sit back and put my feet up, I listen to the conversations around me from all the unfamiliar faces.  It is soon obvious that these are all new pilgrims having just started in Leon.  When they hear I have come all the way from St. Jean Pied de Port, and I have been walking for 19 days, I receive instant pilgrim awe and respect. It makes me laugh; I don´t tell anyone that I am thinking of quitting here and now.

There is a couple who I am drawn to, Alf and Kathryn, a 30 something couple from Australia.  They seem so cute and innocent in their enthusiasm – this is their first day on the Camino and they have never stayed in a hostel they confess.  They have brand new, very clean, matching back packs and they just look so fresh and enthusiastic.  Their enthusiasm is infectious and it renews my energy and zeal.  Just thirty minutes earlier I was ready to quit but now I am thinking I can do it.  In fact, I am really enjoying my sudden ¨real pilgrim¨status and I answer all the questions that are thrown my way.  I feel energized by this crowd and set out with a renewed sense of determination that I will continue on.

I reach the next town quickly.  It was only 5 km away and all on a paved road which I find much easier to walk on.  The pebble paths are my enemy as they torture my feet and cause more blisters to form.

I must now make another decision.  I have only walked 15 km and I am feeling much better now.  My feet feel the same as when I started, and it is still early in the day, just noon.  I buy some orange juice and sit in front of the store trying to figure out what to do next – stay for the night or carry on.

All of a sudden, Alf and Kathryn come walking down the street and when they spot me they head straight for me.  They too are trying to decide if they should continue or not.  They have walked further than me, 21 km from Leon, and they wisely decide that they will stop here, take it easy on their first day.  We chat for awhile and I confess to them how miserable I was when I entered the last town, and how much their enthusiasm helped me to keep going.  They declare that I am their first Camino friend, and now they have their first Camino story, the story of how they unwittingly helped a pilgrim keep going.

Alf and Kathryn, my source of inspiration today!

Alf and Kathryn showing off their brand new, matching backpacks.

Amazingly, this beautiful couple spontaneously invite me (and Chris) to visit them in Melbourne.  They want us to stay with them so they can hear all about our adventures.  They are dead serious and very sincere.  I give Kathryn my notebook to write down her contact information, and in the margin, she writes:  We look forward to cooking you pavalova!! 🙂  Well, I have no idea what that is, but I just sense that these are kindred spirits.  I hope to see them again, and I hope Chris gets a chance to meet them too.

I decide to keep going.  It is 13 km to the next town, another long stretch but I think I have it in me.  Well, it turns out to be the longest 13 km imaginable.  I honestly don´t know what I was thinking.  Within a couple of kilometres, the path changes from pavement to a nightmare of pebbles.  Soon I can feel new blisters festering.  And the weather changes, first it becomes very still and humid, and then the wind picks up and there are storm clouds on the horizon.  I have no choice now but to keep going.

Thankfully, it only spits rain.  But I take out my refurbished, cheap plastic poncho which I had salvaged earlier with duct tape and wire from cheap airline headphones….I can be creative when I need to be.  It becomes very windy and my poncho holds up well.  When I reach a town, I think I have arrived, only to learn I still have 4 km to go.  This is only an hour of walking, but it feels like an eternity, especially now that I am walking painfully slow.

Cobblestone streets like this one entering Hospital de Orbigo are
excruciating for my feet.  
I walk (or rather hobble) on the single row
of flat stones in the middle.  
Who designed these roads anyways?
I meet Elizabeth (Mary Poppins) as I enter the town.  She asks
about my feet and is shocked that I am still suffering.

This has been a common sight lately: large  stork nests built
on the top of churches and other roof tops.

When I finally get into town, I choose to stay in an albergue a few blocks off the main Camino because my papers say it has vegetarian food and a communal meal.  Even though it is a little out of the way, it turns out to be a wonderful oasis, just what I need to rest my weary feet and soul.

The bed costs 9 Euros which is expensive in this area, but the dinner and breakfast are on a donation basis.  The owner registers me and then shows me around, pointing out his pride and joy – they best shower on the Camino.  It has a rain shower head, and pulsating jets along the sides.  It is wonderful.  This is a newly built albergue, that seems to be built with the needs of the pilgrim in mind.

After the usual routine (you must know the drill by now), I go into the common area to relax and write in my journal.  There are cushions on the floor where you can sprawl out.  Wonderful smells are coming from the kitchen, and a girl picks up a guitar and starts to play and sing the most beautiful music imaginable.  I think I have entered heaven, it is so peaceful here.  I am so relieved I don´t need to leave the albergue, all my needs are taken care of here.

Relaxing before dinner.

What a surprise to see Nicholas, the young father-to-be
from Edmonton who I met many days ago.
He has walked fast to get this far without a bus! 

Dinner is wonderful, my body craves vegetables and is duly satiated.  The tone is very subdued, not much conversation.  During dinner the girls plays the guitar again (she has been here for three days recovering from an illness -both physical and of the spirit she confides to me).  As she plays and sings, the owner starts drumming on a set of hand held drums, and we are mesmerized by this spontaneous performance.

After dinner, I offer to help with the dishes.  The owner has worked so hard preparing this lovely meal for us pilgrims and he is all alone in the kitchen. He tells me that usually he has two helpers but this is their day off.  He appreciates my offer, but he looks at me intently and says:  You are very tired, you must stay off your feet and rest.  You may stay here tomorrow if you like and recover.  I am amazed as I have said nothing to him about how I am feeling.  I guess my limp and hobble give me away.

I seriously consider staying another day to rest as I know my body needs it.  He offers free internet on his laptop and the thought of spending a day off my feet, getting the blog caught up, is very appealing.  But before bed, I log onto his laptop and I am so disappointed to find it completely unusable. It is impossible to type on this computer – the cursor bounces around the page randomly as I try to type.  It takes me ten minutes to write one sentence before I give up in frustration.  I am annoyed and decide I will keep going tomorrow.

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One Response
  1. Angus says:

    Hi Christina, I can imagine how painful it can be to walk on pebbled surfaces. A while back I was in London and did a 7 hour walking tour by myself all around the city and in my cowboy boots 🙂 I thought I was fine but the next morning when I went to get out of bed I could barely walk. Every step was excruciating and of course I had to walk along cobblestones to the office. During lunch I slowly made my way to a shoe store and bought a pair of Hush Puppies but it still took a couple of days for the pain to go away.