I’m in Comillas and I like this town. Santillana del Mar, where I was yesterday, was great too, but in a different way. It was like this perfectly preserved medieval village that is now one big tourist attraction (but I read that as recently as 20 or 30 years ago, it was “undiscovered”, and cows roamed the streets. Maybe that’s an exaggeration, but I definitely didn’t see any cows on the main drag).
Comillas is not as polished, not as quaint… but it’s still got cobblestoned streets and a beautiful old church and great architecture. There are tourists here, but there are locals, too. I’m sitting on the outdoor deck of a quiet bar/restaurant with a drink, and I have a view down a long street where I can see the corner of the church and the spire of another off in the distance.
It’s only 6pm, and I feel like I’ve done everything today. I started walking at 7am (which is pretty typical for me on the Norte, and sometimes I don’t start until 7:30, once not until 8:00. It’s later than on the Frances, when I would start by 6:00 or 6:30). I walked for 30 minutes then passed a bar, where all the pilgrims were stopping for coffee. I had my cafe con leche and some toast, and I tried to linger there a bit so I could space myself out from the other pilgrims. I wanted to walk alone today.
But after another 30 minutes of walking I saw Jenna (New York) sitting by the side of the road, and as I approached, I wondered if she was waiting for me. We’ve gotten to know each other a bit in the last few days, and the group of people she had been walking with have either ended their Camino or bussed ahead, so she’s back on her own.
I asked Jenna if she was okay and she admitted to having a bad morning, and asked if she could walk with me for awhile. I hesitated, just a bit, but then immediately said ‘sure’. I know how some days on the Camino can be hard, and it’s not always about blisters or knee pain. Often the hard days are because of emotional reasons, and sometimes that can be harder to deal with than the physical stuff.
So we walked and talked for about 40 minutes, and even though it wasn’t part of my “plan” for the day, when Jenna lingered in a small village and I walked away, I felt happy. We had talked about how sometimes on the Camino, you give what you can: if you’re a nurse or a doctor, you might give medical advice or help. If you can speak Spanish, you might help translate. If you have extra food, you share what’s in your bag. In my case, I think the thing that I can sometimes give is my company: when someone is lonely, when someone is struggling, when someone needs a smile.
I’ve always been good at this- it’s why I became a counselor. So in my life, I do this a lot. But as I’ve walked these Camino’s I’ve been so focused on what my own needs are, what I want from them, how I need to do things in my own way. That is still my priority here- nothing is more important to me than being able to feel free and able to walk my own way. But that doesn’t mean that I can’t sometimes put my own plans to the side for a moment, and help someone out. And it doesn’t mean that I want to stay solo for the whole walk- sometimes it’s good to sit with someone and have a coffee, sometimes it’s good to have a meal together, and sometimes- even for me- it’s good to walk with someone.
After I left Jenna I had a good, strong walking day. The terrain was pretty easy, with just some slight hills but mostly flat walking. The views were decent but not incredible, though most importantly the day was overcast and felt 20 degrees cooler than yesterday. So I sailed along, not wanting to stop, and not stopping until I reached my destination for the day, Comillas.
I arrived just after 12:30 and found Richard sitting on a bench in the main square, finishing an empanada. The albergue didn’t open until 3:00 and he was going to continue walking. I stood around for awhile, trying to decide what to do. The town looked great and judging from my guidebook, there wasn’t any place too interesting to stay in, in the next 10 or 15 kilometers.
So I said goodbye to Richard and settled in at a small bar where I ordered a beer and fried calamari, and I pulled my day bag out of my back pack and reached inside and discovered that my money wallet- with my money, bank cards, and passport- wasn’t inside.
I could feel my heart start to beat really fast and I felt a quick panic, but I let it pass. I took a deep breathe and told myself that I just needed a plan, and that I would figure things out. There were 30 euros in my pocket and I knew that I could figure out the phone number to the albergue where I stayed last night, I could find a taxi to take me back to Santillana, I could track down a familiar pilgrim and ask for help to make a phone call or to borrow money.
So I drank the beer and ate the calamari and looked in front of me and saw a line of taxis, waiting for passengers. It seemed perfect. I paid my bill and walked over to ask how much a trip to Santillana would be. We stashed my pack and my walking stick in the cab and drove off, back to where I came from, and the drive took 15 minutes.
15 minutes!! During the drive I would point to places I had been, hours before. An entire day of walking seemed to be erased as I backtracked, and backtracked quickly.
Everything worked out perfectly- I went back up to the room I had stayed in last night and new pilgrims were just checking in. They pointed to the woman who was cleaning the room and she had my money wallet in her hand; she had just found it moments before. I think I said “Muchos gracias” about a dozen times then I ran back out to the cab, who was waiting for me. 15 minutes more and we were back in Comillas, and I was deposited at the door of my albergue. It was now 2:30, I still had 30 minutes before the albergue would open. Just before he left, I think the cab driver suggested getting coffee, but I’m not really sure since I don’t speak Spanish. I just smiled and waved and lugged my pack over to the albergue.
I had just been thinking that it was great that I hadn’t lost anything or left anything behind so far on this pilgrimage; and then I forget the most important thing. I was so lucky that everything worked out okay, and now that wallet is glued to my side, at all moments (which it usually is, but I just wasn’t careful enough this morning).
It was kind of amazing and awful to take that taxi ride; I’ve walked about 350 kilometers over the past 13 days, and it feels like I’m really moving and making progress. I am, and yet, when an entire day’s walk was reduced to a 15 minute cab ride, it made me feel that what I’m doing is an awful lot of work.
The albergue is another good one; an old building that used to be a lady’s prison; 5 euros for a bed, there’s a “kitchen” (really just a sink, a fridge and a microwave but that’s better than nothing), it’s in a great location of the city and the building has a lot of character.
I was the fourth into the albergue, so I picked a corner bed in the room upstairs and went downstairs to take a shower. When I returned, I found a young, good looking Italian man spreading out his things on the bed next to mine. Oh, Camino. A reward, maybe, for the stress of the lost passport…
All jokes aside (because really, I AM joking), there are a bunch of people I know at this albergue: Jenna and the French-speaking Spanish couple and the drink-offering Austrians and Fernando and the German couple. Jenna and I are going to make a big salad for dinner tonight, and I told the Austrians to come and have some wine with us.
I’ve been out to explore the town, and took a tour of the Capricho de Gaudi, a private residence that was one of Gaudi’s first important works. I’ve seen the church and have had a drink, and will sit with some of my pilgrim friends tonight for a little food and conversation. All of this, AND a full day’s walk plus returning to the town I started in to retrieve my passport. I’m amazed at how much life is packed into these days.