‘I’m not walking today.’
We both lay in our beds feeling our bodies throb and feet buzz. I lay still, gauging my ability to roll out of bed. Every muscle felt stiff and sore.
‘I’m not walking.’ Kim repeated, after I didn’t respond. ‘I’ll take a bus and meet you at the next place.’
‘Ok.’ I murmured back, ‘That’s your choice to make. Your Camino.’ I needed to brush my teeth and drink strong coffee. Anyone who’s shared a room with me can tell you that I am genuinely a morning person. I can function the moment my feet hit the floor. But I need clean teeth and coffee as soon as can be managed if I’m to continue functioning. I wriggled my feet to get them working again before getting out of bed. We had had a chat prior to leaving the UK about what we would do if this scenario ever materialised. I remember it being a difficult discussion but a necessary one and suggested by others who had walked long distances together in groups. What do you do when one person can’t keep up? There was some balking at the idea but, ultimately, we all have to decide what pace and distance we can manage for ourselves. Kim groaned up from her bed, swallowed some vitamin-I and left the room to have a smoke outside the hotel before returning looking much more upbeat.
‘Let’s have breakfast and I’ll probably be ok today.’ She seemed quite transformed now that the ibuprofen had kicked in. I was just using Voltarol emogel as I can’t take ibuprofen or aspirin. But the emogel is amazing! You rub it on and within minutes it feels as though your feet are floating on clouds. I was carrying a huge tube of this miracle cure and it was definitely worth its weight in gold.
We exited the lift and walked into the breakfast room. Before us was a massive spread of everything a person might want to begin the day. We sat in the nearly empty restaurant surrounded by floor-to-ceiling windows and enjoyed the view of the city while we ate from our impressively overflowing plates of food.
Returning to the room, I unpacked my bag and stood looking at the contents spread over my bed. These things were weighing me down and making my journey more uncomfortable than it needed to be. Taking my phone out, I looked at how much each item had cost me and wondered if I could post things back to myself and then wondered if they were even worth posting back. They had not cost much. There was no hiker box, but they were useful things that might be of worth to someone else. Eventually, I withdrew my plate, cutlery, extra unworn shirt and bra, one pair of socks and half of the tea bags. This would leave me with the clothes I was wearing, my night/going out cotton clothes, two pairs of socks and two pairs of liners and three pairs of underpants. The coffee, cup and filter would remain with us. The socks, bra and tea went into the bin and the rest I put neatly next to the phone on the table. Kim, watching me, then placed her extra packet of Haribos on top of the pile with a sigh. With the contents culling and ingested depletion of the snacks, my bag now weighed around 7kg and was much more comfortable.
Kim suggested that we take the seaside route and I hesitated at the idea. I stubbornly wanted to follow the older Coastal way, but we were both struggling physically and Kim was in a lot of pain. She has a metal plate in her ankle and mine are generally quite weak. The guidebook mentioned numerous ‘strenuous climbs’ along the traditional route which eventually decided us. We would follow the seaside route.
The way was deserted. It seemed that we had the whole of the coast to ourselves. We walked though the town, past a fortress and made our way to a path that crossed the sands and took us onto the path that hugged the beach. It was a bit grey and the wind was bracing. The way was gentle and my stubborn resistance eased. Why had I been so uncompromising? All ways lead to Santiago. So why was I so determined to walk only one way just because the guide book said it was the historic one? This seemed a personal flaw which dictated to the world how I wanted things done. It was a selfish trait and probably something I’d carried since childhood. I think I needed to learn to be more humble to other peoples needs and not just my own. I especially did not need to throw a strop whenever I did not get my own way. I mulled over this for quite some time as we continued.
So we walked along the windy, grey seaside path and watched the birds wheel and the dog walkers stroll with their canine companions. It really was beautiful and gentle. But the problem was: no ablutions. I’d had a number of cups of coffee and was starting to feel uncomfortable. The discomfort became an urge and I loosened my hip strap to ease its pressure on my bladder. Eventually we came to an empty building on the beach with no one around. I stopped by a cement block and said, ‘I can’t wait any more. I really need to go.’ The idea of having to go anywhere but a bathroom was a bit distressing. But what could I do? Kim said she that would play look out and I walked onto the sands to the other side of the building, paranoid that some voyeur was spying from one of the dark glass windows. But all was quiet and still.
Looking around and deeply scared someone would appear, I did what I needed and watched as the sand mites started hopping around my boots. Mortified and embarrassed, I rejoined Kim, used my hand sanitiser, strapped my backpack on and continued, a bit more red in the face. It would not be the last time I would need to find a convenient location on the way to Santiago.
Kim was feeling a lot better and the seaside route was becoming a bit monotonous. So, we saw that we could head up a road into Carreço and rejoin the coastal route. This we did and found a wonderful cafe that served a pilgrims meal. For only €6, we were served fish, salad, soup, rice, beer and coffee with a smile.
The rest of the way was hard on our tired legs. Kim dragged her trekking pole, muttering to herself as we chugged up the hills slowly, taking our time and drinking frequently from our water bottles. On one woody climb, we could smell fires where different crews were cutting down trees and bushes and feeding them to the fires built on the paths. We took a break at the top of a hill and sat on a wall overlooking the sea and the ascent we had made that day. Near us, stood two abandoned cottages and a forest spread out before us. We sat there and ate Snicker bars and drank water, catching out breath and enjoying the respite before continuing.
About 5km out from Vila Praia de Ancora, the heavens opened and lightening split the calm. Thunder cracked directly over us and I was highly conscious of the fact that we were alone in a flat field with no trees and holding onto metal trekking poles. Crossing a stream, there was a small empty construction with steps leading up into it. I looked inside, thinking we could maybe find shelter there, but the smell sent me scurrying back to Kim.
The rain poured in torrents, drenching us within seconds. It fell with such force that it bounced back up and splashed us with mud. All we could do was struggle on over the mud, cobbles and roads until we finally came to the outskirts of town where we found Harriet sitting in a cafe looking distracted and deep in thought. We stripped off our drenched rain coats and hung them on the back of our chairs and sat there dripping and cold while drinking coffee and eating salted crisps.
Finally, we all left together and walked the remaining 5km into town where we said our goodbyes to Harriet. She wanted to look at the shops before walking a bit further. Kim and I left her and began looking for somewhere cheap to stay for the night. We walked into a self-catering place and asked them for their rates. They told us and I looked at Kim. Breakfast was not included and we hesitated. Just at that moment, the heavens opened again and flooded the pavements within seconds while thunder cracked overhead. In unison, we turned back to the woman at the desk and said, ‘We’ll take it’ and burst into hysterical giggles while we stood there dripping and shivering.
We entered the room and stared in amazement. It was huge! It had a kitchen, a massive shower-room and two large beds. There was even a modest courtyard. They didn’t have a kettle, but we could use the coffee filter machine to heat water and drank some tea to warm us while we took turns having showers and washing our clothes. We sat on our beds, warm and snug, clasping our cups of tea while our clothes hung from every nook and hanger we could find. Underwear lay draped on chairs and our bags had exploded in different corners of the room. It was bliss and far more than we expected from such an unpretentious looking place.
Finally, the need for dinner drove us out. The rain had stopped, but the evening was grey and windy. On leaving our room, we saw the Irish boys from the previous day sitting on the couches of the reception room. We spoke with them for a bit before leaving and walked along the beach strip looking though the windows of the restaurants and scanning their menus. But their food looked so rich and the prices were high. We just wanted a simple meal and walked back to the town centre where we saw a modest cafe which suited our needs perfectly. We ordered pizzas and asked about the wine. The waitress only knew a few words in English and asked if we wanted wine ‘with blaugh blaugh blaugh’ while waving her fingers around her mouth, or ‘without blaugh blaugh blaugh’ while waving an empty hand. We laughed, realising she was asking if we wanted wine with bubbles or without and she smiled, eyes glowing cheekily.
Grinning, we decided on wine ‘with blaugh blaugh blaugh please’ (fingers twirling by our mouths). Of course this became a running joke for the rest of our journey and has remained a great inside source for giggles ever since.
We finished the meal and sparkling wine, bought some Nata pastries and returned to our room where we sat, drinking tea and eating our dessert before going to bed, feeling so very warm and dry.