Breakfast was a simple affair of coffee and cake. This was something that we soon discovered was the norm in Spain. Gone were the large spreads of pasties and substantial options. Paying the extra for ‘breakfast included’ was not necessary and often a waste of money as ‘breakfast’ was a rather loose term. The barman-manager-waiter-jack-of-all-trades served us coffee and never once cracked a smile. Kim sat there trying to charm him and engage him in conversation, but not a tooth gleamed in return. He just passed us our cafe con leche and cakes with a persistently dour expression. However, his immunity to winsomeness was no deterrent to Kim’s admirable charm and engaging smiles.
After breakfast, we packed our bags and left the hotel and were determinedly making our way to Villadesuso, only to hear a shout from behind us. Thinking we had left something behind, we turned. There stood the man of all hotel trades leaning out of the doors and wishing us a ‘bon camino’ and, shockingly, he was smiling. We waved back and, bemused, walked on.
‘He must have been really happy to see us go.’ Kim said, stunned.
We continued along the coast for a while before heading uphill to a busy road. As we were coming out onto the road, a cyclist stopped and chatted with us before giving us an energy bar. He was so sincere in his apology for the fact that he only had one to give us. We tried to allay his concerns by honestly expressing our deep gratitude and said that we could split it in half. With a ‘bon camino’ and a smile, he cycled off in the direction that we had just come and as we watched him ride away, we buoyantly glowed from his kind and spontaneous generosity. Later, I would be very grateful for that bar. Breakfast had been insubstantial and had not held up my energy levels for more than two hours. I became so ravenous while walking on the long, boring road that all I could think about was that energy bar. My legs wobbled and my head spun. Eventually, I had to stop and break the bar in half. Eating my half, I offered the other to Kim. The Camino had provided us with a man whose simple and thoughtful gift gave me the boost I needed when I most needed it. What better example could there be for future-me of how to efficiently and effectively ‘pay it forward’.
The way mostly followed a very busy road which was very hard on the feet. The cars would whizz past us, accelerating on the long straight stretches. There were points where the path came off that road and into little villages. At one such quiet village, we sat on a stone wall and rested. The wall was covered in little worms that must have just hatched in the sun. They wriggled over our legs and bags and we had to blow them off before moving on. We didn’t want to hurt any of them, but there were thousands. As we continued walking on and off the road, the tiny worms wriggled at our feet and we had to anxiously keep our heads down, eyes peeled and dance about the trail, trying to avoid them.
Reaching Oia, there is a twelfth-century monastery and a lovely little corner cafe-bar with outside seating. The interior was quite dark and cave-like, so we sat outside with our shoeless feet up on some spare chairs. We sat waiting for pilgrims meals and drank beer. There were some people at the table next to ours with a couple of little dogs who needed the extra chairs for friends who had joined them. So I substituted my footrest and sat with my feet instead propped up on my backpack. I basked in the sun while the people’s Yorkie frisked about my chair asking and receiving my attention. He was so diverting. He would whine and look at me beseechingly in that special way dogs have. After they left, one of the Belgiums sat down. He had decided to leave the others behind in town because they were taking too long to get ready. Impatiently, he had set out by himself and would meet them at their next hotel.
When we had finished our meal, we asked the waiter for a credential stamp. He brought the whole stamp and ink pad with him and left it for us to mark our own pilgrim passports. After first pressing the stamp onto the ink pad, we then pressed it into one of the passport squares before exchanging it for the Belgium’s pen to write the date under the seal. The Belgium then wished us a ‘Bon Camino’ and continued on his solitary way. His table was soon taken by an English family who were cycling around Spain and Portugal and had a family holiday home in Caminha. We chatted with them for ages after establishing that they were from Stafford, the town Kim had partly grown up in. Together, they recalled popular spots and reminiscent on schools and local spots until eventually their food arrived and it was time for us to continue to Villadesuso.
There is a hotel is Villadesuso, but it is very expensive. They were very welcoming, but we looked at each other and, in silent accord, thanked the manager before walking back out into the street. Continuing to walk, Kim noticed an Albergue on the other side of the road. We crossed over and stood, looking at the seemingly closed hostel. A woman next door saw us and waved frantically at us, beckoning us to come over. A huge dog rushed up and down the length of her fence, barking and waving its tail. She told us to stay while she then called the manager. She passed us the phone and we spoke to Jonathan who said that he was in the car and was fifteen minutes away. Fifteen minutes became thirty minutes and we were still waiting. The woman called Jonathan again, ‘I’m almost there.’ The phone cracked and further conversation was cut short. So, the woman let us into her beautiful home and showed us around before locating a spare key and let us into the hostel. Her elderly mother had joined us by this point and both tried to conversed with us at the same time by aid of a young girl of maybe ten years of age. She said that was learning English at school. We managed to work out from their gestures and simultaneous dual-conversations that the hostel had been until recently their family’s restaurant. The people who had bought it had then turned it into a hostel for pilgrims. Kim and I sat in the foyer with the elderly grandmother who kept up a steady stream of Spanish, regaling us with tales of the restaurant and other things which we very sadly could not understand. But she put great emphasis on certain words and repeated them with gestures, wanting us to understand her. We nodded and smiled and pretended that we understood. Kim was far better at understanding her meaning. It was surreal and charming and greatly overwhelming. But the sun was hot, the sea was blue and we were made so comfortable and welcome. We sat on couches in the foyer and listened to the chatter of the animated and excited hosts.
Finally Jonathan arrived and the family sadly returned to their home. We checked-in and were the first to try out the new beds in an alcove facing a window and with its own radiator. The beds were bunks – one bed below and one above. Each had its own curtain for privacy. While we showered and relaxed, Jonathan put Kim’s clothes into the washing machine for a small fee and later returned them beautifully fresh smelling. We draped them on the radiator and over the bars of the beds. Finally, we emerged and made our way to the roof-deck where Jonathan put an umbrella up and joined us while we sat looking at the deep blue sea, drinking a bottle of cold white wine while sitting on plastic chairs under the shade of the umbrella. Using my phone, we played music and laughed and talked and were encouraged by Jonathan to call down to the other passing pilgrims to come join us. Looking down, I suddenly squealed, ‘Look who it is!’ Kim peered over the wall, ‘It’s Fit and Fitter!’
‘Yoohoo!’ She called. The two English girls looked up, ‘Come and join us. They have clean beds and cold wine.’ We lifted our glasses, saluting in demonstration.
‘We’re good.’ They called back. ‘We’ve further to walk today.’
They waved back and were gone. We never saw them again.
Kim went down again for another bottle and came back smiling. Jonathan had gifted us another bottle in reward for our merriment and things got even merrier. In hindsight, we should probably have asked Jonathan at this point, to open the pantry, bought something and cooked it in the hostel. But instead, we giggled our way to a restaurant while the sun was setting and ordered a huge paella to share, which I thought was delicious. It was the first time I’d ever had scallops. But I was far too tired and full of wine to appreciate it for long. While waiting for our food and glutting on bread, our merry mood began to crash and we began to sag in our seats and snipe at each other. Finally, after a long and heady day full of joy, laughter, companionship and wine, we stumbled into the empty hostel and crumbled into our curtained beds.