My Portuguese Camino: Chapter 13 – Caldas des Reis (21km)

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Waking up the next day was so hard. The late night and wine was most probably the cause for my sluggishness, but the night had been well worth it. Tomas had already left by the time we surfaced and was well on his way towards Santiago. Meanwhile, we sat down in the bar and had multiple mugs of coffee served with cake and churros. It was not a substantial start to the day, but was probably all my stomach would handle at the time.

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We were also parting ways with Ed and Dorota as they were off to do the Variante Espiritual and we would only meet up with them again in Santiago. Harriet had taken a detour onto the interior route and would meet Ed and Dorota along the variant which takes a pilgrim on a route that is said to follow the journey that the boat carrying the body of the disciple James took. After Saint James was beheaded, his dedicated followers put his remains in a boat and launched it unmanned. It was then guided only by angels and a star. I believe it is a lovely route and includes a boat ride.

Opting against the additional miles, we stayed on the main route, crossing a beautiful bridge with little elegant arches and continued to leave the town. It was very warm and the sun was now shining brightly. We took off our packs, stripped down our layers and lathered up with sunscreen. While putting our bags back on, we heard the click click clack of trekking poles. Two young English women approached. They stopped to chat and told us that they had both recently graduated and were in their first year of work. One was a speech and language therapist and worked for the NHS in schools where she worked with children with autism. The other was a primary school teacher. The teacher was really struggling with her feet and her bag. I looked at her shoes and bag and saw that they were the same budget brand that I had started out wearing when I first began trekking in the UK. I remembered also struggling with them and had eventually upgraded. This had made a massive difference to my enjoyment while walking long miles. I couldn’t imagine walking the Camino in those first shoes. Instead, I was wearing Scarpas, which I had bought with money earned from singing at a wedding.

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Regardless of their sore feet, their pace was faster than ours and they soon click click clacked their way ahead, disappearing around a bend. However, it was long before we found them again. This time sitting on a rock. The teacher had her shoes off and was massaging them. I dug in my pack and gave her some voltarol cream to help her.

We entered a forest and the sunlight darkened and the day changed. By this point we could tell when rain was imminent, so used to the weather’s unpredictable moods were we. We opened our packs and put on our rain gear just in time. It began to pour and we squelched through the mud. We came into a clearing, stepped over a train track and then entered the forest again, soaked and sodden.

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Stepping out of the forest, we entered a village and saw a cafe. The doorway was wide and an awning was drawn down, partly hiding the dim interior. Kim and I stepped in and stopped on the threshold, stunned, dripping and disoriented. We realised that we were among other pilgrims who all looked up at us, smiling at our dishevelled and drenched appearance. We must have appeared rude by our lack of response and, embarrassed, found a table and sat, draping our wet jackets on the chair backs. I went to the desk and ordered cheese burgers and cokes and returned to find Kim chatting with the woman at the table next to ours. The other woman was walking with her husband and teenage daughter and lived in Muswell Hill, North London: a place I was very familiar with as I had only just recently moved from the area. I asked her a question and she looked at me surprised, ‘I thought you didn’t speak English.’ Oh dear. I wasn’t perceived as rude. Just not as English-speaking. It was an interesting assumption to make of me. I don’t look particularly non-English what with my pale skin, freckles and blonde hair. My heritage is English, Dutch and Irish, but my upbringing is South African and I speak very good English with an excellently modulated Capetonian English accent honed by the stage and training.

 

20190521_1422456229140435135143963.jpgWe must have just missed the lunch rush because everyone left before us. By now, the sun was once again shining and we stepped out into the steaming day. A short distance away, we came to a stone cross with a few stones scattered about its base and I let Kim walk ahead while I pulled a stone from my pocket. The place looked right. The sun shone on me and the countryside was reflexively quiet and peaceful. Making sure Kim didn’t notice (I didn’t want her to think something was wrong and I needed a moment to reflect), I laid the stone at the foot of the cross, took a deep breath and walked away.

The stone had come from the garden of the house I had grown up in. My parents had sold it to move into a retirement village and I would never stepped inside its walls again. It was the only home I had known until moving to the UK. The house also represented the safety and security of my childhood. Of love and safety. Where the adults would take care of me and help me fight my battles. It was the room in which I had cried into the pillow when bullied at school. It was the foot of bed that my father had sat on to read me pages of the Faraway Tree. It was the home that my grandmother had lived and died in and it was gone. The stone was part of a pair sent to me by my parents before they moved. I don’t think the laying of the stone resolved anything, but it did represent an acknowledgement to myself that I had these deep feelings of loss. I also needed to acknowledge the fear I felt since being caught up in a terror scare a few months prior in London. That would eventually need to be addressed and resolved. The feelings were not fixed that day, but at least acknowledged.

I caught up with Kim and we came to a cottage with a sign advertising home-made wine. We had been passing other small estates with little vineyards supported on cement pillars and twisted wires. The host had plastic chairs and tables set up at the front of his house and his workshop was wide open for us to use the facilities at the rear of the room. The Muswell Hill family were already there and we chatted while we enjoyed the home-made red wine. It was a deep and dark blood red. The red stained the side of the carafe it was served in and the porcelain bowl I drank from. There was too much of it and I shared it with the English girls who had caught up with us. They had been planning to continue, but were easily persuaded to stay a little longer with us. They helped me finish the wine while the Muswell Hill family left after paying for all our drinks. ‘Wow. Thank you.’ I said surprised when I found out.

‘Oh, it’s ok.’ The mother said, cheeks red from embarrassment, ‘Just trying to pay it forward. You know…in the spirit of the Camino? Ah…well… bye.’ And they were gone, walking to find the waterfall that was up ahead and well worth a visit.

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The English girls, Kim and I decided to also view the waterfall. It was magnificent. The sound it made was a continuous roar and it fell from a great height, bouncing and curving over massive boulders. There is a path up the side of it, but we were content to look at it from below. We took some photos and laughed at the pure energy of it. I don’t know how long we stayed there, but it remains one of the highlights of my Camino.

Finally, we had to leave. The girls were struggling and had taken down the details of a bag carrying service that the Muswell Hill family were using. I lagged behind with the therapist while Kim walked ahead with the teacher. When we caught up with the others, they were sitting on a bench in front of a huge cross with a field behind them. Cats chased each other, playfully darting every which way. The English girls consulted with each other and went into the nearby albergue close to find out if they had available beds. They didn’t come out and I needed to toilet. So I went in to ask if I could use the facilities and found the English girls sitting at the bar eating ice-creams. ‘Oh, so sorry! We should have told you that we decided to stay here. They do dinner and music.’ I smiled and left, leaving them relaxing on bar stools and went back to Kim. I was a bit annoyed by their rudeness, but how could I argue with dinner, music and ice-creams?

We continued to walk alone into Caldas de Reis and had already booked a hotel that morning using booking.com. It was really easy and also a lot simpler than trying to find accommodation in town. We were tired and didn’t want to wander around looking for a bed. I found the hotel on googlemaps and we began making our way to it.

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Caldas de Reis is a small town and is famous for its hot springs (caldas). There is a church dedicated to Thomas Becket and is possibly the only one dedicated to him in Galicia.

Tomas had found another hotel and invited us to join him again that evening for dinner, but I wasn’t feeling well. Maybe it was the home made wine. Maybe it was the overindulgence of the night before. But all I could do when we got to the room was lie in my bed and try doze, feeling nauseous and unresponsive. I just wanted to sleep, but we needed to sort out dinner. We went downstairs and had some unidentifiable fish that we poked and prodded, trying to convince ourselves to eat it. But it was too unappetising. We left it in the bowls and went back upstairs with hot chocolate in mugs. I was supposed to text Tomas back to tell him that we were unable to meet, but I completely forgot. The hot chocolate lay discarded on the bedside table. I fell fast asleep and only realised in the morning that I had, like the English girls, rudely kept him guessing all night. It was unfortunate, as we didn’t see him again. He returned to Sweden before we reached Santiago.

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