Just before Beatrice left our hotel room in the morning (Day 4), she said, “I hope it doesn’t feel like there’s a stone in my backpack today.”
I understood exactly what she meant- on the Camino, sometimes your pack feels perfect. It’s not too heavy, everything is sitting perfectly, it’s just like an extension of your back. But on other days, and sometimes inexplicably, the pack is heavy. It pulls away from you, it feels like it hangs low, there is an extra, very heavy stone inside.
When I left Luarca that morning, a little after Beatrice, I began walking up the steep pavement that led out of the city. Up and up it climbs, and for the very first time since coming to Spain, it felt like I did not have a stone in my backpack. And that’s when I realized that not only had it felt like I’d been carrying a stone, it felt like I’d been carrying a great big bag of rocks for the past week. Suddenly, the weight had lifted, it was gone. I powered up the hill, it felt easy. Then the path flattened out and I walked away from town with the sun rising aginst my back, the light of the sky pale and soft in front of me, and I felt the Camino. I remembered what it was like to walk with the rising sun, what it was like to walk and not think of how difficult it was to walk… to walk and just be.
I marveled at how good I felt. And before too long, I passed my first group of pilgrims, the first time I’ve done that on this trip. I didn’t know how long this feeling would last, but it felt good to be back. So good.
I flew across Spain that day, and I wanted to dance down the trail. I didn’t feel one hundred percent better, but man, was this an improvement. Everything looked more beautiful, too- the light was gorgeous, the fields seemed to glow. Even the barking dogs sounded friendly, and not menacing.
I stopped for a cafe con leche and orange juice and tortilla and sat outside a bar amongst other pilgrims. I still didn’t really know anyone, but I felt a little less alone, just being surrounded by pilgrims. And as the day continued, I began saying more than hi- I asked where people were from, when they started, where they were going. Basic Camino language, but for the past week it was almost like I’d forgotten how to speak it.
After a stop in a grocery store to buy a few lunch supplies, I sat outside on a bench with an American girl and German guy. They reported that the Norte was very full, and that they were reserving ahead whenever possible. We split a bag of Doritos Roulette (one in every 7, or something, is hot and spicy), and I thought about what they had said about reservations. Nothing has really changed about this for me- I still don’t like calling ahead to reserve a bed on the Camino. I think that part of what I love so much about walking a Camino is the ability to just be in the moment, to not have to plan, to follow your feelings. I knew that I’d already run into some trouble and couldn’t stay in the albergues I’d planned to, but I was going to continue to trust that if I showed up to a town and really needed a bed, something would come through. Or that I would figure something out.
I ended up walking 42 kilometers that day (I can just hear you all now: “Nadine!” you’re saying. “Didn’t you just drag your sick self through a 15km day??”) But I have to say, I felt good for all of those 42 kilometers, though my feet were a bit sore at the end. I wouldn’t have gone so far if I hadn’t been feeling so good, and in the end, my destination was more than worth it. It was, hands down, the best albergue I’ve ever stayed in. The actual albergue was only so-so; not very new, two floors of rather rusty bunks, a “kitchen” that was a microwave and a few dishes (no knife, grr). But the view, oh, the view. The building was smack up against a wooden barrier that overlooked the water. We were right on the coast, we were practically on a cliff.
There were three beds left when I arrived at 5:00, and before I could do anything, Beatrice was ushering me into town to find the tourism office so that we could get our keys for the albergue (things at albergues have been a bit weird, I’ve yet to see a hospitalero on sight when I’ve arrived, and at this place you sign in and then go find a key, which we never ended up needing, so who knows). As we were walking there I ducked into an ice cream place for a few scoops, and in the grocery store picked up a coke and chips, along with salad stuff to share with Beatrice. This is significant only because it really meant that my appetite was coming back- the first ice cream of the trip! (Still no vino tinto since I’ve been sick though- is it really a Camino if I don’t have a glass- or 2 or 3- of vino tinto? I don’t have an answer to that yet…)
And once back at the albergue I barely budged from my spot overlooking the water. The wind was cool so Beatrice and I sat against the stone wall that had been warmed all day by the sun, and we ate our salad and later drank from mugs of tea, all the while listening to the sound of the waves. I recognized a few people in the albergue- a Spanish girl and guy who walk fast with their clacking poles, Yoko from the albergue in Cadavedo, the young girl from Madrid who’d been at the same albergue.
I didn’t feel like such a stranger on the Camino anymore. I felt like I was back, that the Camino was back- though really it had never left. I had just needed to find it again.