Saturday, December 6, 2014

Midnight on the Camino of Good and Evil

The last few days have been wretched.  My feet are a mangled, raw mess that resulted from wearing sandals in the rain and having dirt and crud particles sandwich themselves in between the straps and my feet.  What resulted is what might happen if some diabolical fiend were to strap you down and slowly rub sandpaper on your feet for 6-8 hours.  In other words, exposed flesh.  It didn't help that I also spent most of the day trudging with these same open wounds through streams and runoff that came directly from farms, laden with manure, fertilizer, and god knows what else.  If I don't have typhus before the end of the day I'll be appalled.

And that was just day one.  

Day two saw me walking in shoes because to walk in sandals, I fear, would have led to a nervous breakdown.  So I put the shoes on, despite misgivings about how well I'd be able to do in them.  I left Navia, the town where I had stayed the night before, at about 10am (a late start, due in part to the fact that I thought I had left my beloved fork in the hotel room).  

It started raining almost immediately.  Pouring.  And once again, the path veered into lush pastureland (read: swamp).  Almost immediately I began cursing.  At one point I was actually yelling.  

Then, miraculously, the rain stopped.  It actually got sunny for a few hours, and at one point I stopped to eat yoghurt and dry my wounds.  At first when it was sunny I was almost angry.  I thought God was toying with me, showing me 10 minutes of sun only to have it dump even harder 20 minutes later.  But the sun continued and my spirits brightened a bit as vitamin D coursed into my body.  

I made it to the town of Casariego at around 3pm and saw the most beautiful pilgrim shelter I've seen so far.  Right on a bay with rocks jutting out of the water and sheer cliffs topped with tufts of green.  I could've stopped but wanted to take advantage of the good weather and the fact that my body, somehow, was staying strong.

Both of these things changed shortly, too.  

Almost immediately upon leaving Casariego it started raining.  Not raining, dumping.  And as I was descending out of Casariego the shin splints started, though this time in my left shin.  Within 10 minutes every step was painful, and there still at least 8k to go.  

I remember saying to myself while walking, "I am miserable right now.  This is not fun.  This is awful."  I felt so sorry for myself and so pitiful and then only thing I wanted to do was lay down on the ground and cry.  But at the same time, I felt like getting to the Community of Galicia, the last region, the region that contains Santiago, would lift my spirits and make me believe I could finish.  

I spent the last 5k doing a sort of pathetic shuffle, getting passed by people with walkers and out for their afternoon strolls.  But when I made it to the bridge and saw Ribadeo and Galicia on the other side of the water, my spirits did brighten.  At one point I think I almost smiled, though I think it might have been more of a grotesque imitation that was actually a frown.  And of course, just as I had told myself while walking, it was all over soon.  I was in a warm room, with a bed.  I enjoyed a hot shower, put on dry clothes, and took enough Ibuprofen to sedate a musk ox. And tried to forget the day had even happened.  

The events leading up to this whole debacle started three days ago when I got to the small town of Cadavedo.  I had planned to stay in the pilgrim shelter, but an unpleasant experience with one the other people there turned me off.  It was a Spanish guy who had his stuff strewn everywhere to dry, taking up all the beds, and I couldn't help but notice he had a bucket hat sitting on one of the beds, too.  To this day I have never met someone who wears a bucket hat and is a functioning member of society. 

Anyway, when I went to pay for the shelter, I ran into said Spaniard.  He was drying his socks on the radiator of a bar, generally being foul, but in the name of peregrino camaraderie I approached him and said "Hi."

Without preamble he said, "You have to call the owner of the shelter so you can pay."

I said, "I don't have a phone, so I don't know how I'm going to do that."

" have to call."

"Well....I don't have a phone."

(End Scene 1.)

As I stepped out into the night air where my only thought was "I really really don't want to stay in that shelter." 

So I didn't.  I walked 8 kilometers through the mud and the rain, at night, most of which without a light.  At one point I was on a forest path, my eyes barely able to make out what was in front of me, and about every 15 steps I'd feel my foot sink into the mud, and i'd have to spend about 30 seconds slowly extracting it so as not to rip my flip-flop.  This went on for about a kilometer, the mud intermingled with stinging nettles, the ocassional near-slip, and an almost-rolled ankle.  

But now, of course, things are better.  I just went out and got coffee and a croissant and on the way back saw a book by Ken Follett I bought called Valley of the Lions for 5 euros at a second hand store.  The woman at the coffee shop told me I was a fool for doing the Camino in winter, and I smiled and thought "She's probably right."  I'm back in my room now, which despite being small and next to an inside courtyard that also serves as a smokebreak area (exposing me invigorating whiffs of un-filtered Chesterfields from time to time), is warm, dry, and most importantly, mine.  There are no peregrinos here. The clothes strewn about are mine, they're all dry, and if it smells bad I open the window.    And most importantly of all, there are no bucket hats.  



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