I have no idea where or how to start this blog entry. The Camino continues to be amazing and surprising, but I can’t even remember where I was this morning or even the name of the town I’m in right now. Every day packs in more- scenery and thoughts and experiences and people and conversation and wine- and it’s hard to sort it all out in my head.
I’d thought that the time after Mirra left, after Burgos, would be different, and it has been. I’ve adjusted, I think, to not having my best Camino buddy with me, but I’m still not sure how I feel about these past 5 days. I’ve continued to have fun, I’ve continued to meet people, and I’ve sort of picked up a new ‘buddy’- Adam, from Ireland. But it’s still so different, and my feelings about it all change from hour to hour.
Right now I’m at a bar (again- in these small towns especially there’s nothing to do before dinner but take a nap or have a drink. I should probably be napping, but it’s too much fun to go to the only bar in town and sit around a table with all the Pilgrims who happened to stop in the same place). I’m alone at the table but 5 minutes ago there were at least 10 other people here. We’d heard that the village’s only store just opened, and everyone rushed to buy food for the long walk tomorrow (and since we’re in the Meseta, there are some incredibly long stretches where we pass through nothing but wheat fields for nearly 20 kilometers). Adam offered to pick up some food for me which is perfect: someone to help me out, and a stolen few minutes of peace and quiet. Me at an outdoor table typing away, the local villagers chatting and drinking coffee.
Except for Adam and another Irishman I met two days ago, I didn’t know anyone at this table. It is a vast difference from the first two weeks of this trip, when I would walk into a town and be greeted with waves and smiles and cheers and hugs and jokes. I’ve met so many people on this Camino, and have connected with so many in small but meaningful ways.
I think of Blas as my Spanish grandfather: he’s probably closer to my father’s age, but there’s something about him that reminds me of my grandfather. He is charismatic and knows everyone. Once his day’s walk is finished he strolls around town in his button down shirt, smoking a pipe, drinking an espresso. When I arrived in Ages he came over to greet me and tell me where the good albergue was, and Vicool, who I’d been walking with, whispered to me, “He’s a pilgrim? I thought he was the mayor of this town.” I met Blas about a week ago while I was walking. We were the only two around and I’d stopped to take a photo, and he offered to take one of me. We started talking-slowly, because he doesn’t know a lot of English- and after about 30 minutes I knew that I had someone looking out for me. Every time I’d arrive in a town and run into Blas, he would give me a big hug and make sure I was doing okay. Today was probably the first time I’ve arrived somewhere and have not been greeted by Blas.
Jerome I only met a few days ago, at the tiny albergue, St Nicolas (which I probably need to devote an entire blog post to). 12 of us stayed there, and I hadn’t known anyone. It was the first time in two weeks that I separated myself from the people I’d been walking with, and I was a bit nervous to meet new people. Jerome walked right up to me and shook my hand, he’s a French guy from Paris, probably in his mid-twenties (but doesn’t tell anyone his age). We sat on the grass in the back of the albergue, and after 10 minutes I was giving him English lessons and he was telling me about the girl he’d walked with for 2 weeks who had to stop her Camino because of tendonitis. They’d fallen in love and promised to meet in Santiago at the end of July; Jerome told me that he’d given up on love but then he met Delphine, and now all he could do is trust that she will show up in front of the cathedral. For the past few days I’ve seen Jerome when I showed up to the town where I’d be spending the night, and he would give me a look and tap his watch, indicating that I was walking too slowly.
A few days ago I saw Saskia after losing track of her for over a week; the last I’d heard she had spent the night with a Frenchman in the mountains. She insists that the actual story is not as fascinating as it seems, but I disagree. A night with a Frenchman in the mountains is nothing but intrigue.
Two days ago, in Carrion, it seemed like we were all together: Blas and Jerome and Saskia. Ibai and Susie and Helen. Adam and David and the Italian mother and daughter that I see every morning for coffee, and the Italian man who chooses the same albergues as I do. I saw the Koreans all over town. But now, I’m with an entirely new group of people, and it was all I could think about as I walked today, down an ancient Roman road through the north of Spain.
At some point today, I think I reached the halfway point of my walk. I only know this because others have mentioned it; I haven’t been paying close attention to how much I walk each day, or how much the kilometers and miles are accumulating. I’m a little surprised that I haven’t been keeping track, but on the other hand, the miles don’t really seem to matter. In fact, they’re sort of flying by.
I still love walking. I love it so much, that I feel sort of bad when people are talking about how hard or boring or long a day was, then ask what I think. My reply, almost always, is, ‘I thought it was great.’ I got some crazy stares today, when I talked about how much I loved the long, straight road that went on for miles. I walked alone, and since it’s an alternate route that not many people take, I couldn’t see anyone in front of me or behind. It was perfect.
But for as much as I’m loving this walk, the section we’re in now is harder than any of the days that have come before. There’s little shade, so the days are hot (although I have lucked out with the weather: so far, Spain in July has been unseasonably cool). I spent the past few days walking with people, and while I’ve loved the conversation and chance to really get to know some of the people I walk with, it’s also been hard. I love walking alone, and since just about all of my post-Camino walking time is spent socializing and meeting up with other Pilgrims, I really crave the solo-walking time. I got some today, and I felt like new person: once I got into the rhythm of my walk, the kilometers flew by and my head felt so much more clear. I could start to think about some of the things that I’ve experienced here.
And here are some highlights:
I left a pair of shorts in Hontanas, but passed a market in Fromista and picked up a pair of ‘lounge pants’, which are unlike anything I’d normally wear but they’ve ended up being perfect.
I had my foot kissed by an Italian man (this was part of the St Nicolas experience), and that same man suggested that I stop walking for a few days and stay at the albergue and help out: cleaning and cooking. I’m still not sure if he was serious or not. (and, for the record, I didn’t stay).
I stood at the top of a large hill and took a photo of four Italians standing in the middle of a labryinth of rocks; as they posed for the photo they shouted out: ‘Mucho gracias Espange!!’
I walked on a long straight path of the Meseta with Ibai and Adam, with Creedence Clearwater playing and the road stretching on for miles. I talked about mix tapes and driving and we joked that we were on a really long, slow road trip.
I waited in a cafe in Carrion with Susie, Ibai and Adam for three hours yesterday morning; Ibai’s shoes were stolen, and I refused to leave for the day’s walk until a shop opened and he could buy new shoes. There’s been a lot of theft in the past few days at this point on the Camino, and it’s so unsettling. I’m keeping my things close and being extra vigilant.
The day after Mirra left I walked to the small village of Hontanas. I walk fast and I arrived early so I secured a bed, showered, and set up at an outdoor table with my journal and a glass of wine. I was feeling a bit lonely but I compensated for this; for the next hour or two I was the welcoming committee for all of the Pilgrims coming through town, and I even convinced Adrian- the tough Spanish military guy with a heart of gold- to stop and have a drink with me before moving on to the next town.
People come and go all of the time here, but I think it’s really hit me in the past few days. I know it’s probably because I’m now around all new people, but I’m having a hard time accepting that so many of the people I’ve met in the last few weeks have now moved on. Or I’ve moved on past them. I think, from my experience over the last 17 days, that I will see some of these friends again. But some are probably gone forever, and I think that will have to be okay. And I guess that’s like life. People come and go, and at some point, that has to be okay.
And so tomorrow, I’ll continue to walk. Still on the Meseta, still on a long flat road, still moving slowly through this country. Still losing people, still meeting people. Saying goodbye, saying hello.