Yesterday started with a graceful sunrise over a city receding into the distance as I rose up the trail. Yesterday endeed with weeping blisters covering my baby-soft feet that triggered tears of my own. What a day!
As I do things that push me completely out of my comfort zone, I am continually amazed at the strength of the human body and mind. I keep finding myself in awe as limits I believe are unbreakable can be easily shattered.
The day began at 7 am as I followed, stalked really, a man leaving the albergue (a special hostel for pilgrims) for what I hoped was the Camino Primitivo. Both of my guidebooks warned about the path out of the city, and I hoped that by following in this stranger’s footsteps I’d get on the right path.
We climbed out of the sleeping city and into the hills along winding country paths just big enough for a car to squeeze through. We were bathed in serene light as the sun rose from far beyond the city’s limits.
Keeping this man just in my sight, I basked in the peace that the sweetly singing birds, hooting owl, and softly swaying trees afforded. Heavenly! After the initial climb, we wandered through fields reminding me of the pillowed hills and green crops of Pennsylvania. The tinkle of cowbells (yes, they really wear bells here!) and the click-click of my walking poles soon became the only sound along the path.
I began to become concerned when I saw a sign for the Camino Norte along with the yellow arrows that mark the way. My concern grew as we passed villiages that did not correspond with the names in my guidebook. But, with the calm of the morning and the confidence of the pilgrim ahead off me, I marched along.
Javier, for that was this stranger’s name, and I ate breakfast together. A cafe con leche and pinchos tortillas is the perfect start to a day — especially with the incredible taste of the Spanish coffee. Havvier only speaks Spanish, and I only English, so conversation was limited but lovely. We smiled and mimed our way through breakfast and then kept it up while continuing along our path (that we continued along despite an old man’s persistent and insistent sugggestion to turn around and head in the other direction). Not knowing Spanish puts me in a great disadvantage when it comes to learning directions…
Our converstation continued along beautiful fields and up and down hills. That is, until the arrows led us right into the middle of a dead end. No more way, just trees. We hitched up our pants and waded through a field, then swam through a jungle of trees and pricker bushes. Laughing and exclaiming “oouf!” with a great puff of air as they do here, we finally made it out alive on the other side. But our adventure was far from over.
Javier asked for directions time and time again, and I listened very carefully, trying to pick up on anything I could. We trotted up and down the increasingly large and desolate hills, consulting everyone and anyone that came along. Just as the heat, hills, and hopelessness had me in its grip, a woman told us to follow the road we were on until we saw Grado (the town we were heading for)! Havier did a jig, but I stupidly asked how many more kilometers. 20 more to go! With 22 already in our bag, I began to worry I might not make it.
Hope followed despair followed hope as I decided that I could or couldn’t make it as we plodded along the road. I promised that at 30 km I would reassess my situation, and at 30 I promised to look for a hostel in the next town, 6 km away. But, alas, the town was off our path, and I realized that not only could I, but that I must make it to Grado.
We sat down, 9 km out of Grado, joking about our aches and pains, and I assessed the hopeless situation of my feet. I didn’t put sock liners on that morning, and my feet were much worse for the wear. We rose to finish the walk, dreaming aloud of showers and ssleep, and I felt one great big blister and then another pop with a great sharp pain.
I kept wondering at my body’s amazing ability to continue despite pain. Putting one foot in front of the other and making a song with the click-clack of my poles becomes easy when there is nothing else for me to do. I also mused, as I did in my last blog, about the choice to enjoy or suffer. I swung wildly from anger, pity, fear, and joy throughout the day. Although I can’t always stop morbid self reflection, when I remembered I was in the gorgeous countryside of Spain, in the company of the foreign landscape and a kind man, I forgot the misery of my feet.
We made it to Grado and I had the most cathartic shower of my life. As we ate dinner together, me trying to mime what I write about for a living, I decided to pack out the next day.
Today I write from Lugo, a city three or four days from Santiago. More populated both on the path and off, I am excited to walk with limited consequences if I get lost (something not guaranteed on the rural Primitivo). This change in plan also affords the lovely possibility of walking to what was once thought to be the end of the earth, a few days further from Santiago.
Adiós for now my friends, and keep moving forward toward your goals — we all are far more capable than our minds let us believe!