There have been many points during this Camino when I’ve wondered when it was going to get hard for me. I actually started to feel a bit guilty about it- it was like my entire experience had been charmed, and only good things were coming to me.
I think things changed a bit today. Today was tough.
And it was tough all around: physically, mentally, and emotionally. For the first time, I really started thinking about home, and sort of wished that, for a few days at least, I could go back home and things could be easy. I wished I could take a day trip to the beach, I wished that I could sit on my couch and drink endless cups of coffee, I wished that I could hang out with my friends and shop at Trader Joe’s and do all of my normal stuff.
I think a lot has caught up with me, finally. This is my 21st day of walking, and I think I’m tired. My body is still handling this walk pretty well, but my feet hurt more than ever before. I have a few new blisters developing. Maybe I ate something a bit off for lunch today, because there was an hour or two when I felt a bit sick.
And for the first time, I ended my day’s walk earlier than planned, because I just couldn’t walk any further. I think part of the problem is that I’ve started to feel a bit invincible; even though I ended today’s walk early, I still walked nearly 37 kilometers, and most of that was a gradual uphill climb. I’m not sure why I thought that another 40+ kilometer day wouldn’t be too hard, but I did. And I felt just a bit defeated to realize that I’m tired, and that today, for the first time, I got tired of walking.
My experience last night was wonderful and just what I needed: sleeping in a beautiful albergue. Peace and quiet. Time to write and reflect. I had dinner with two Germans and that was also quiet and simple. Because of the language barrier, none of us talked much, but it was a comfortable meal (and delicous: jamon and melon, grilled meat with tomatoes and onions, ice cream for dessert and good wine and bread).
As I walked away from the albergue this morning (after a breakfast of coffee and toast with jam and honey), I thought about what a great decision I’d made, and how much I needed some time to myself.
But today, after a hard walk and not seeing many pilgrims on the road, I walked into this town hoping to see someone I knew. And there was no one. Only new faces, and it’s so strange to not know anyone. This is the first time it’s happened, and it feels a lot lonelier than I expected.
I found the municipal albergue and picked a bed, but quickly realized that I probably made a mistake and should have looked around at the other albergue options. I scraped my back twice of the underside of the top bunk bed, the shower was ice cold, and the windows bang loudly in the wind. Not many people are staying there, and the place has a hollow and sad feeling to it.
But, here’s the great thing about the Camino: either the day will improve and I’ll run into people I know or I’ll get a good night’s sleep or I’ll eat a good meal… or it won’t improve at all but tomorrow morning I’ll move on. Every day I get to move on, and sometimes that’s hard because I’m leaving people or a place that I really love, but sometimes that’s needed, because I need to move on to something better.
And even on this hard day- my hardest Camino day so far- there’ve been some good encounters. Namely, Spanish guys on bikes, and dogs. Three bikers stayed in the same albergue as I did last night, and as I was lying in bed around 9:30pm, winding down and looking at things on my phone, one of them started talking to me. I told him, in the kindest way possible, that I’d just separated myself from the people I knew for some needed time to myself (in other words: I want to be alone!). They were still sleeping when I left this morning, but I ran into them at a cafe in Astorga, after walking about 15km. The guy who’d talked to me last night came over and exclaimed, “You left without saying goodbye!” and then, “Wow, you walk pretty fast.”
Later I’d stopped at a cafe for some ice cream (on these hot days my new routine is to have some post-second breakfast, pre-lunch ice cream), and while sitting at an outdoor table in the shade, talked to another Spanish bicycler who’d also stopped. It’s only happened a few times, but I really like the conversations with bikers. They are experiencing the Camino in such a different way than the walkers do, and I like the fleeting but sweet nature of the encounters.
And then there were the dogs. This entire time on the Camino I’ve never had a dog come over and say hi, and it’s happened twice today. Right now I’m sitting outside at one of the village’s only bars, and right away an old, sweet dog came over to me, sat down, and waited to be pet. He settled in, then laid down, and has been keeping me company as I write.
I think about how people say that the Camino provides, and there’s just something about this dog that makes me think that his presence is not entirely a coincidence. I’m happy that he’s here.
So finally, things got a little challenging today. I always expected that at some point this would happen. But I’m hoping that things turn around a bit in the next few days, and the Camino shows me some more of the magic that I’ve come to know.