We woke to pouring rain. It thundered and drenched the previous day’s sparkling sun-hued views. I woke first and made my way to the showers. They awarded very little privacy, but they gleamed with their brand-spanking newness. Regardless, I prudishly would not have used them if there had been other women showering. But as it was just me, I could indulge in their cleansing hot spray. Kim was still sleeping and no one else had arrived at the Albergue the night before. So the hostel was filled with an uncanny if somewhat enjoyable silence. After dressing in my delightful walking clothes and regretting that I had not added my load to Kim’s the previous day, I went down to the kitchen and made myself some filter coffee using the grounds and light-weight filter that I had brought. I sat writing in my journal, sipping my joe and just enjoyed being there in the quiet. The heaters were off and I managed to switch them on. The day was damp and cold – such a contrast to the beautiful day before. Later that morning, Jonathan came into the kitchen, made coffee on the stove and we sat drinking from our cups at the kitchen table and chatted. Finally, Kim joined us and we bought some eggs and toast from the hostel pantry. Jonathan threw in some Madeleine cakes for good measure.
Thus fortified, we began to dress for the rain. We slipped on our rain trousers, buttoned their bottoms, put on our rain jackets and, for good measure, threw ponchos on over our covered backpacks. Then, we just stared at the rain. We sat on our warm dry beds, crinkling with all our rain-gear, and contemplated the discomfort we were about to launch ourselves into.
‘Maybe it’ll stop in a bit.’ Kim suggested, looking optimistically at her watch.
‘Not likely.’ I replied, ‘The weather app says it’s going to be like this for hours.’ I was beginning to twitch, impatient to begin the day. ‘Sooner started, sooner finished.’ I added with a excited laugh. Little did we realise how horrible the day was going to be and how many hour of misery we were about to endure.
We stepped off into the rain, ponchos snapping in the wind and rain pounding down on us, soaking and cold. I began that day dancing and laughing, thrilled by the wild energy of it all. The rain pounded the road with such force that it would bounce back up on us. Our boots became heavy but at least our socks were mostly dry. We soon turned right and saw a bright green snake coiled up on the side of the road. It was such a vibrant colour in the greyness and mud. It lay still and unmoving.
We walked for hours with nothing and no one near us. We found a hotel with a restaurant but they said that they were closed and turned us away. Dripping and freezing, we continued along the road which hugged the sea. People would flash their lights and honk their horns at us. Some would lean out and shout, ‘bon camino’. We would wave our trekking poles in reply and shout ‘gracias’ before returning to our hunched-over struggles to place one heavy foot in front of the other, ponchos flapping wildly around us. We missed a turning through the hills and continued along the longer seaside coastal road route. I’m actually not sure how far we walked that day. We could not see much in the driving rain. We also could not hear much over the downpour which pounded all around us. Accompanying this dramatic difficulty was the sea crashing on the rocks to the left of us. I was very tempted to just put a thumb out and hitch a lift. I was no longer dancing. My rain jacket was a complete disaster. It soaked up the rain and my fleece was also drenched. I was cold and shivering and really needed something hot to drink.
Finally, we found a restaurant. We looked at it, unsure as to whether it was open. So, I approached it and saw people inside and summoned Kim over. We didn’t want to go inside with all our soaking gear, so we sat dripping at the sheltered tables on the outside of the restaurant. A waitress quickly came to us and took our coffee orders. Gratefully, we sat, sipping the hot and restorative beverages, the occasional shiver rippling through us. As we were gathering our things to continue we braced ourselves as the rain unceasingly pelting down. A trio of tall German women then appeared. They quickly took our seats and the waitress popped out again, repeating the process.
We finally walked into Baiona, ponchos flapping and flying as though we were about to take off like kites. I tried to take a few pictures of the huge fortress which dates from 1337 and dominates the scene as you walk into the town, but I was worried that my phone would be damaged by the rain. I subsequently took very few useful photos of that day.
Baiona is a seaside resort town and is historically famous for being the first to receive news of Columbus’s discovery of America in 1493. The ship Carabela La Pinta arrived in the harbour with the captain, Martin Alonso Pinzon, who is said to have been the real organiser of the expedition. Their ship arrived three days before Columbus because a storm had separated them. The town of Baiona celebrated while the King and Queen of Spain remained unaware of their country’s success.
The only time it stopped raining that day was when Kim and I went into a cafe and spent an hour enjoying tortillas, burgers, chips, cokes and cake which only cost us €10 each. We sat in a corner dripping and cold, but eventually we again garnered our courage and stepped out onto the street. No sooner had we stumbled out of the door, when it began to pour, rain drenching us again within seconds and I wondered what lesson the Camino was trying to teach us because it was a very hard and humbling one.
We staggered through beautiful old villages and watched goats hold up traffic, their little bells tinkling gently around their necks, grabbing chunks of grass and weeds as they meandered passed us. We kept missing arrows and at one such oversight, a man rolled down his car window and shouted at us, ‘No! No! Camino de Santiago that way!’ While pointing in the direction that we had just come. ‘Gracias!’ we called back, retracing our steps to the pedestrian crossing that we had missed. The German trio were already walking across it. Somehow they had caught up with us.
Finally, we came to Albergue Pazo de Pias which sat splendidly if inconveniently at the top of a hill. We stood, looking up at its grand gates and groaned before dragging ourselves up the steep slope. But it was an amazing accommodation and not what I expected. It was a grand old converted house with magnificent gardens. We entered the door for the reception, but the office door was locked with only a mobile number taped to it. We dialled the number and were told to wait while someone came to check us in. So we sat on the stairs dripping and watched the water pool about us and run down the stones slabs back towards the front door. Finally, the manager arrived and checked us in. He gave us each a key to our individual rooms which were like little monk cells with a bed and basin, a desk, a wardrobe, a chair and a radiator. He then showed us to our rooms. Kim’s lock was broken and the door would not lock. The manager jiggled it around until it worked. He then unlocked it again and walked away. I left Kim in her room while I went to mine and draped my clothes over every surface, hoping that they would dry by the next day. Meanwhile, I had a hot shower and dressed in my dry cotton clothes and puffy jacket. It had been our toughest day and we were were both exhausted. Kim was in a lot of pain and she, like me, was very tired. My feet were very sore. We wanted to buy hot chocolate from the vending machine downstairs, but Kim’s door would not lock. Depleted, she suddenly, she burst into tears, ‘I want to go home now. This is not fun and I’m not enjoying myself.’ I could sympathise. I just wanted some hot chocolate and have a nap. I also didn’t want to deal with broken locks. I said that I would go find the manager and get her another room. It could easily have been my lock that was faulty and me in tears with Kim going to find the manager. But instead of the manager just giving us another key, he came with me and jiggled Kim’s key in the lock again. She was sitting on her bed looking exhausted and highly annoyed. The next thing, he entered the room and locked the door behind him. I could hear Kim say to him, panic rising in her tone, ‘The lock does not work. That’s what I’ve been trying to tell you. Can you please now unlock the door? Yes, please unlock….is it stuck now? Oh my word! That’s why we asked you for a new room with a lock that actually works?’
Finally both of them stepped out of the room, Kim pale but with spots of high colour on her cheeks and clearly not impressed with the place. The manager then returned with a new key for the room on the opposite side of me. Kim moved her belongings over before we successfully locked up our cells and went downstairs to the vending machine and bought our much anticipated hot chocolates.
Understandably, the albergue did not leave a good impression on Kim, but I loved it. Our experiences of it were very different. I had my own little cell in which I could have a nap and organise my thoughts. It was so quiet and the feel of the place was very restful. We could have gone out for dinner, but we were so depleted by the day. So, we just had vendor machine crisps and finished the trail mix that I had brought from London. We went to bed early and I slept well, enjoying the warmth, space and silence.