Camino – final weeks

by marietteferreira

Final part of the Camino written from my laptop, while I’m back home.

I did write this, but my phone crashed, and I lost the last part of my blog, so here goes. “When you say nothing at all” is Playing…


Right, so the last part of my blog ends with my rest day in Estella, I then walked to Los Arcos. I had a brilliant evening here, I met a group on the road and zoned out with them that evening. At one point a Dutch guy told a story about the church bells in Holland. He said they ring and he hummed a very slow version of a Christmas carol, we all caught on pretty soon and sang the carol out loud. One of the guys sat back “no, it’s April, no f*ck, shut the f*ck up” but we laughed and finished singing while the rest of the tables in the restaurant watched us. I enjoyed this group, but they had been walking together since day one, they had bonded, and I was new and so I made my own way the next night.

The next night I spent in Viana (pronounced Biana). I saw the group from the previous night, but I had dinner alone. I was rather hungry, but it was siesta and the only open place was the restaurant in the fancy hotel. I ordered tapas here, it was all they had, the already prepared tapas was available. I ordered a glass of wine and tapas and then more tapas, it’s really small and I was actually hungry.

I chatted with the rather cute waiter, my Spanish now at an acceptable level to comprehend if the other party spoke slowly. Justin Bieber’s “despacito” song kept playing in my mind, but not only mine. Pretty much every pilgrim had it playing mentally sometimes. Anyway, the cute waiter said something very quickly, I tried to remember how to say slowly. I put my fingers to my temple, saying “Justin Bieber. Despacito. Que?!” (Justin Bieber. Slowly. What?!) he laughed for an entire minute before saying what he wanted to say and pouring me another glass of wine.

Not sure where, I think in Viana I took a bus to Logrono and then to Burgos. I was behind on time and needed to skip a part of the trail. I didn’t check anything except the number of days I had to get to Santiago, others might have checked where the most beautiful landscape was or what the weather on different parts of the trail would be like, I did not. I counted the days and walked from Burgos.

When I arrived in Burgos with the bus, I hadn’t yet booked a bed, I was thirsty, in need to a toilet and perhaps a snack. I walked out of the bus station. On my right there was a bright orange sign saying “hostel”, on my left a faded blue sign read “bar” (this means café in Spain). If I got something to drink first the hostel might sell out, if I went to the bar I would use the loo. If I kept standing here I’d block the door. I walked right, ordered a coffee and went upstairs to the loo. Then I went to the hostel, yeah, they had a bed for me and after that I went to explore Burgos.

It was workers day; the cathedral was closed. It was a public holiday, only the touristy places were open. I checked for a bookstore on google maps, having finished Up on the bus. The bookstore had an English shelf. I picked up one of the thinnest books, In Search of Us by Ava Dellaira. I ended up fascinated by the story, falling in love with James, and thoroughly enjoying the tale.

I sat down chocolate and churros for the first time. The waitress placed a cup of thick hot chocolate and a plate of deep-fried churros in front of me, she spoke no English, but with broken Spanish and hand gestures I asked how I was to eat what I had ordered. She explained that I dip the churros into the chocolate and then eat it, I don’t drink the chocolate. It was delicious.

The following day I walked to Hornillos del Camino. The weather was cold, icy cold and the wind strong. I put on my gloves and then struggled to carry my stick my gloves making it slippery, but my fingers were icy without the gloves. I kept walking through the monotonous landscape of the Meseta. It didn’t feel as though I was moving at all. A sign appeared saying the next town was 5km away, then 2km, then I realized I was hungry and thirsty, the wind was annoying, and it wouldn’t be pleasant to sit down next to the road. Yet, I had water and a sandwich in my pack. The next sign said 500m, but I couldn’t see anything. Alright, if I couldn’t see the next village at the top of the hill in front I would pause next to the trail. And then something came into sight, a dome? A dome! A church, next to which there was a house and then there was the little village nestled in the small valley between the low hills.

The dip was steep and the lady walking ahead of me looked momentarily ridiculous until I realized what she was doing. She wasn’t’ walking the steep descent in a straight line. She walked a zig-zag trail down, steadying herself against the stone wall on the one side and the brick all on the other. I bent my legs and made my own descent. There was a café which was overly crowded. Due to the abysmal weather nobody was sitting outside, and all the pilgrims were crammed into the small indoor area. I went to the loo and saw that the dining room was completely empty.

I ordered a coffee and carried it to the dining room. I took out my book and started reading. I defrosted enough while drinking my coffee that when I returned my cup to the counter my mind registered the sign saying “chocolate and churros” I ordered this and a rum, straight up.

It was lovely, sitting there, hiding from the cold, enjoying a drink and something wintery and warming. After an hour I folded down the corner of my book, squashed it in behind my water bottle and went back to the reality of the trail.

I arrived at the village with my hostel. I walked into the first place, they had a loo. The man behind the counter looked at me, “primo, donde bango?” (first, where toilet?) he pointed to the left. After that I bought a 2L bottle of water. I was still really cold as I walked out and looked up, my hostel was right in front of me.

I checked in, took of my boots and crawled under my comforter. I set a 30-minute alarm on my phone and didn’t move until it went off. The hostel had a real wood-burning fire going and I thought about the lyrics “oh, the weather outside is frightful, but the fire inside is so delightful, let it snow, let it –” no, please no snow! For breakfast the next day I had a wonderful ham and goats cheese omelette and I ordered a sandwich for the road. I later found out it also contained goats cheese.

The next night I stayed in Castrojeriz, on the way I arrived at a dilapidated cathedral. I really wanted to rest, but there didn’t seem to be anything here except for the cathedral… and music? I followed the music and found a café. I sat down with a coffee and rested my body.

That night I unpacked my entire pack, questioning everything I still had with me. I donated quite a few things in the give and take basket. I rummaged through it to see if there was anything I needed.

I laced up my boots and was intending to walk to Fromista, my little toe had some blisters on it. If I kept moving it was a dull pain, once I’d rested, cooled down and started up again it throbbed horribly. But I kept walking. After breakfast my toe gave a nasty twinge, and I decided to ask for advice in a pharmacy in Fromista. I texted Mum and asked her to Google about popping blisters. Then I sat down, I was now not walking, but hobbling and my other muscles were starting to complain.

According to Google maps the next town was 1h 10m away, the place I had just left and could still see was 37m back. I looked ahead of me and saw a hill. I was turning back. I would walk the flat stretch back and just sleep here. On my way back, a tractor passed me. I waved for help and the driver and his wife nodded, gesturing me out of the way as they drove passed me and stopped. The lady reminded me of Dobby the House elf, she barely reached my chest.

I tapped my right leg saying “dolor” (pain) she rambled on in Spanish something about the town not having medical care and if I needed medicine I shouldn’t go back because there was no doctor and no pharmacy. I didn’t know how to say rest in Spanish, so I ended up saying “relax” this satisfied her, and I hopped onto the back of the tractor where she joined me.

I went to a café, carrying with me a needle and some antibiotic cream. I ordered two shots of vodka. I used one of them to sterilize the needle and drank a sip from the other. I got to work, sticking the needle into the blisters and finally draining my shot as the needle made painful contact with the raw flesh below.

The bloke who owned the hostel gave me a ride to the next stop the following morning, this way I could rest, but I didn’t lose more time on the trail. The name is written Villalcazar and pronounced “Biyalcathar” which created some confusion. I had single room here for a change and I loved it.

I sat outside in the town square watching the pilgrims arrive, some stopping for a coffee before continuing, some merely passing by, others happy to have reached their destination. I had lunch with a beautiful boy from South America, Zac.

After a lovely rest I continued with the trail. I was yet again out of cash. The Meseta stretching relentlessly on ahead of me. I walked and walked, someone mentioned it was a 17km stretch with nothing in it. I had booked a bed in the next village and I just kept putting one foot in front of the other. Odd snippets of songs playing in my mind, when I started walking I thought of the film, Elizabeth Town and of the song which played when the film journey started. At once, Elton John’s voice filled my head “from this day on I own my father’s gun…”

Elton John then meant that I thought of “the trail we blaze” and then “without question”. The songs played in my mind, then snippets from the Harry Potter audiobooks and random lines from the FRIENDS series. Odd memories, like the time I had studied for the wrong test back in the sixths grade and then the trail. The trail was beautiful, the landscape gorgeous despite being monotonous.

Where was the next village? I kept walking, “all of these lines across my face, tell you the story of where I’ve been … all of these stories don’t mean anything if you’ve got no one to tell them to, it’s true, I was made for you” the lyrics repeated in my mind. They had used this song for a car ad back in SA. Was it true? Did stories mean nothing if you couldn’t share them? I don’t think so, but then again maybe I’m wrong?

I wasn’t wearing sunscreen and there was no shade, just a continuing gravel road to follow. I wanted to stop, I couldn’t see the road ahead. Perhaps it turned or dipped or – is that a tower? I had reached civilization at last.  The road dipped slightly and between the two very low hills was, well, not a town, but a collection of houses. I was out of cash again and found only one place willing to accept credit cards. The waiter touched my ass, but I came back for breakfast, being unable to go anywhere else.

I stayed in a place called Sahagun that evening and continued the next day. My blisters had been fine, but they now reminded me of their existence. I sat down on a bench along The Way and two pilgrims passed me by on horseback. A car slowed to watch the horses and I waved at the lady driving it calling out “can I get a ride?”. She was a middle-aged woman from England and dropped me off in El Burgo. At the café I asked the waitress to call me a taxi and get me to Leon a day earlier.

I needed a new book, I needed small socks to prevent new blisters, I needed many things which only a big city could provide. My heart missed London as I checked into Hostel Covent Garden.

To my utter surprise that evening I ran into the two Canadian ladies I had met while resting my twisted ankle back in Orisson. I was standing at an ATM and I looked to my right, “Chris?” “whazzup?!” said the blue-eyed pretty boy from the west coast of America who had sung Christmas carols with me in Los Arcos!

I didn’t have dinner this evening as I was still doing the 5:2 diet. The big city vibe felt harsh. After quiet days and small towns, all the vibrant-ness of the city felt overwhelming. The hostel had a hot shower and I enjoyed the feeling of the water cleansing me.

The next day I walked through the outskirts of Leon, the nice city centre turning into residential areas and then car dealerships and mechanics and furniture stores. I kept walking losing track of time. I walked into a café and ordered food and a shot. The waiter looked at me with a slight smirk. And I looked at the clock, it wasn’t lunch time it was 9:30. I blinked, the busy energy of the city had made it feel as though much more time had passed.

I didn’t feel as thought I had left Leon when I arrived at my next stop, La Virgen del Camino. The outskirts of Leon seem to morph into the next village and I sat down at a café. I ordered a hamburger, the waiter asked me what kind I wanted, and I said “tu favorito” (your favourite) it was so good!

My afternoons now had a rhythm. After arriving at a place, I set a 30minute alarm and lay down, after “waking up” I would take a shower, change into my dress (if it was warm enough) or some clean clothes. Then I would do laundry and head to a café. I lived on red wine. I sometimes ordered a bottle of red (if it didn’t come with the meal) and zoned out at the café. I tried to move as little as possible in the afternoon. I would sip my wine and read my book and talk to other pilgrims and blog and people watch until it was time to order dinner.

Every morning my feet seemed to have recovered, but my left shoulder hurt. It would start twinging earlier every day until it wouldn’t stop hurting at the airport when I was heading back.

Can’t remember where this happened, but it was before Hospital del Orbigo. My feet were tired, and I walked into an albergue, they had a bed and I unbuckled my pack before dropping down into a seat. I booked two nights, my body needed a rest.

The next morning, I woke up and vacated the room, so the girl had time to clean the other beds in the dorm before the next pilgrims arrived. The first laundry of the day was drying in the slight breeze. As I walked out of the room to the loo, my sleeping mask pushed up into my hair, wearing yesterday’s dirty t-shirt and my underwear, the lady who owns the hostel looked up and smiled “buenas dias, guapa” (good morning, pretty girl) “I like it here I thought” as I returned to my room to get dressed.

That evening I sat next to a man from France and a group of Koreans. I got lectured about elegance by the French man and learned how to say cheers in Korean. I was amazed, we spoke English and French and Korean and we didn’t feel isolated. My throat was starting to hurt.

Before going to bed I rummaged through my bag and extracted the little box containing antibiotics. I took two, but still woke up with a horribly sore throat. I checked Google maps, there was a pharmacy in the next village. I had antibiotics, but nothing else. I walked to Hospital de Orbigo. It was Sunday, and everything was closed.

I booked a single room for the night; the village was so cheap I could afford it. The door didn’t have a lock and during the night I could hear the man in the next room snoring.

The lady at the pharmacy spoke English when I got there the next day and gave me what I needed. I waited at the bus stop hoping to make up for lost time, but the other pilgrim standing there said she had been waiting for the bus for 2 hours. We chatted for a few minutes and decided to share a taxi to Astorga.

I was dropped at the train station and she went to the city centre. I just refused to walk while taking antibiotics. I got a train to Ponferrada and again I got a single room. I stared at it, it hadn’t cost me more then the previous night, but I was looking at a room with two beds, a tv, a private bathroom – this meant a shower as hot and as long as I wanted. In shared bathrooms, I always respect that other people also want to have a warm shower at least.

I watched The Perks of Being a Wallflower on my phone’s Netflix. I walked to the nearest place that got good reviews on Google Maps and had lunch, I came back here for dinner and asked the waiter to bring me his favourite, just no blood sausage. He had a glint in his eyes as he talked me through what I would be eating. I ended up having an octopus started, turkey and cheese with salad for the main course and ice cream cake for desert. As usual there was a bottle of red wine on the table and a basket of gorgeous bread.

I wanted to be back on the trail! I took my last antibiotics and closed the blinds, I slept beautifully and started walking. I had started drinking a shot early-ish in the day. I spoke to a British guy about this and he explained that alcohol opened your arteries, so if you want your blood to start moving it helps. The American hikers I met carried a flask with them thinking this totally normal.

I walked into a café and ordered a shot, the elderly lady behind the counter made me think of professor McGonagall giving me a stern disapproving look before pouring my shot.

That night was wonderful, I walked to Pereje and met two American hikers and a Spanish guy from Madrid. I had a good evening with them. This was the bonfire night. After dinner the four of us and the big Spanish group headed back to the only hostel in the town carrying with us the wine and beers we hadn’t finished at dinner. We were singing “Buen Camino” based on the Despacito melody, I had a bottle of wine in one hand and hooked in to the Spanish guy’s arm and the group made its way happily back to the hostel.

We made a lovely bonfire and later the group decided that more wine would be good. I said I’d go and the Spanish guy offered to help me carry. We walked back to the only restaurant in the village. The proprietor and the Spanish guy talked for what seemed a long time, finally the crucial part was translated “there’s no more wine” I blinked at the man behind the counter and he walked into the back, he came back with one bottle and 4 beers. They had obviously planned on providing for the pilgrims during dinner, but nothing more. We literally drank the town dry that evening.

I sat next to the Spanish guy closing my eyes, my body still recovering. One of the American guys suggested I go to bed, but I was having fun sitting between people.

I arrived at O Cebreiro the next afternoon and checked into the municipal albergue, glad they still had a bed and to my pleasant surprise I found the big Spanish group, the Spanish guy from Madrid and the two American’s there as well. One of the American guys hadn’t been able to get a bed and I snuck him in later, he slept in his sleeping bag on the floor at the foot of my bed.

Earlier that evening we had hiked up one of the hills with a bottle of traditional Spanish coffee liquor to watch the sunset with a Korean guy. The American guy turned on a south African song I had never heard of “I fink you’re freeky and I like you a lot” they liked it I thought it cringe worthy.

But then the three of us started dancing and it didn’t matter that it was good or bad or that we had blisters, we had walked here and had shared this and were watching a glorious scene and we were together today and the music changed and the guy sang “jump, motherf*cker, jump” and we jumped, waving our fists in the air and then it was over and we laughed and once we started it was hard to stop.

The other American guy came to join us later, when we saw him we changed the Buen Camino song based on the Despacito melody to “Hola Luka, hola luka” singing until he joined us. We sipped the coffee liquor out of a shared up and we talked and watched the sun and then I realized it was 9pm and I was hungry. I left them to their own devices and headed for dinner.

I saw the Spanish guy the next day in Triacastella, but he was more comfortable speaking Spanish and was sitting with the Spanish group. They were friendly to me, but I couldn’t understand them, and I went for dinner alone. Chatting with a mother and son from Denmark who were doing the Camino together.

On my way to Sarria I saw a Dutch guy I had met a while ago walking with his girlfriend, whom I hadn’t been introduced to. They walked together as though they had decided to wlak the Camino together and not like two strangers who had met on the say I watched them and into my mind came Fiddler on the roof “they look so natural together…” which was randomly followed by The Turtles singing “I can’t see me loving no body but you for all my life…” I thought of Beth saying she understood why I didn’t walk with my headphones and I chuckled as I kept walking.

I hadn’t planned on staying in Sarria, but when I arrived there I didn’t want to walk any further, I could have if there was no bed, but I just didn’t want to. I walked into the first hostel and asked for a bed, no they only had single rooms left. I took it my feet were hurting and my shoulder throbbing.

I now had blisters between my big toe and the next, wearing my comfy flipflops hurt sometimes. I met a Camino tour guide and stared at him. “Can’t they just follow the yellow arrows?” I asked, the Camino is an easy, well-marked trail. Who needs a guide here? He said, “Camino is business”. He books the hotels (not dorm beds), arranges for luggage to be transported, though doing this yourself is easy, points out the good restaurants in the town. It’s his job, so despite me wanting to laugh we had a good time each of us enjoying an ice cream.

If I could get to Santiago by Wednesday 12h I would see the amazing Botafumeiro ceremony, held only 7 times a year. Ok, I’ll try, I took a taxi to Ferreiros which was 10km away, then I had to walk 25km each day and I would be there. Somewhere this logic stopped making sense and I arrived in Santiago Thursday afternoon unable to skip anymore of the trail.

As I entered Portomarin I saw the American guy who had slept at the foot of my bed a few days ago. He was shirtless and after I hugged him I realized he was … “why are you wet?” “I jumped in” he said as two other pilgrims joined us. “You what?” “I jumped into the middle” he said pointing at the massive river behind me. One of the other hikers who had joined us asked “did you swim out?” my friend looked at him slightly amused, but I answered, “What? Do you think Neptune pushed him out?” my friend now looked at me “Neptune? The planet?” “no, the god of the sea?” “I thought that’s Poseidon” this is when the fourth hiker, a Spanish speaker chimed in adding in Spanish that Neptune and Poseidon were the same gods belonging to different mythologies.

Eventually we all went our separate ways and as I passed an ATM I paused, I still had cash, but I had now learned how annoying it could be.

A few days later I stayed in Rabadiso. I took a shower washing my hair for a change and texting a German girl I had met on the trail we exchanged a few texts and then I boasted “I have clean hair” to which she replied “I can see Santiago” now there was no way for me to compete. I’d gladly have dirty hair and a view of Santiago, or would I? I liked the trail I was getting closer to my goal, but I wasn’t sure I wanted it to end just yet. I spent a fun evening chatting with an elder British gentleman.

The next night I stayed in a place called Pedrouzo, the trail was forest-like. Every day I walked among trees enjoying the shade. I had bought a copy of The Perks of Being a Wallflower back in Ponferrada, when I wasn’t walking or chatting I would read or sit in silence. I stick clicked as I walked. Every time I saw a Camino sigh, I would double click it. Click-click on stone, crunch-crunch on the gravel thunk-crunch as I walked over a wooden bridge onto a gravel road.

Eventually there was a collection of red roof tops in the distance, Santiago? I checked google maps, I was an hour from Santiago, so yes, those rooftops must belong to the city which was my destiny, the place I had walked to for the passed 5 weeks. I was finally here! In my head I heard David Bowie singing “I, I will be King, And you, you will be Queen … we can be heroes just for one day” arriving in Santiago would make you a hero just for a day. I had done it, climbed the Pyrenees and had my ass touched by a weird waiter and danced on the hills with other pilgrims and had drunk red wine and ate octopus and learned Spanish and rode on the back of a tractor and walked 800km to the very end.

I checked into my hostel, my shoulder aching, I had intended arriving at the cathedral wearing my hiking clothes and my pack, but my shoulder hurt. I put down my pack and took a shower then I headed for the Cathedral, here I knelt at the grave of St. James. I had made it. I was in Santiago de Compostella (St. James of the field of stars).