I woke up after my first night in an Albergue (the low-cost, pilgrim-only accommodations found at various intervals along the route) at a miraculous 6:30 am after only one very brief hit of “snooze”, which was quickly aborted in anticipation of the absolutely soul-disturbingly awful ringtone on my Vodaphone cell alarm. I then managed to foil my early start by taking 2 hours to get ready and arrange my stuff in my backpack. (This will be much less surprising than the early wake-up to those who know me well.)
It was a really nice morning, chilly, even. The town was mostly quiet except for the birds, some early-morning strollers and the one pilgrim I passed at the door of the albergue. Making it an even more auspicious start to the journey were the storks. STORKS!!! They make these giant nests (that I could probably sleep in if I wanted to) on top of church tops and high-tension-wire towers, one nest per “territory” (steeple or tower), two birds per nest, looking awfully romantic. Next time I have to sleep on a cold alburgue floor, I’m going to climb up there and ask if I can join for the night.
<—- CLICK TO SEE THE STORKS!
So there I was, 8:30am, heading to the Plaza Mayor of a tiny city to look for little yellow arrows that would direct me the 414 K to Santiago de Compestella. As anyone who has hiked with me before, I may bound like a gazelle in the forest but route-finding is not my forte. I lead people into dead ends and spend so much time daydreaming that everytime I finally wake up from wherever I’ve floated out to it’s an “Oh, SHIT, where am I?” moment.
Plus, the little, hastily scrawled, yellow arrows are few and far between and kind of easy to miss, even, I suspect, for typically-attentive people. It turned out that, in Zamora, at least, the book and the arrows didn’t always line up – and, on top of that, finding street names in Spain isn’t the easiest of propositions, either! So, I spent a great part of the day looking around, looking at my book, and panicking that I’d gone the wrong way.
Those first few steps through the quiet cobblestone streets were magical. I’m rarely up before, well, anybody, and experiencing slumbering towns even in the U.S. is always a treat. While following the first of those magical arrows toward the highway and the ultimate destination beyond, I felt like it was the tickler before my great adventure, and I was loving the feeling of being both in the middle of action and anticipation at the same time.
I eventually found my way out of the town and up to the highway entrance, where… I got totally confused. I just took a seat on a bench next to the periodically whizzing traffic and contemplated my options for a little while, reading and re-reading the book, trying to figure out how it and the last arrow I saw related to each other and to where I found myself now.
I decided to just follow in the direction of the last arrow and…. lo! Across the street and down a little, on a stop sign, there it was! An arrow! And… a sign! An actual Camino de Santiago, Via de la Plata sign. Wonder of wonders! I was on my way: really and truly, here we go, on. my. way.
To be honest, I don’t remember a whole lot of Day 1. I know I jammed out to my Latin pop music playlist and listened to The Secret (let’s hear it for audiobooks), which turned out to be very inspiring and thought-provoking (if slightly crazy-making.) I was filled with energy and awe and inspiration.
I found an absolutely beautiful (if slightly crunchy) place for a rest under a tree, where someone had moved a log into the shade just for me. I meditated (whoa!) and rested for a while. It turned out I was so close to the town, anyway, that had I gone just a few minutes further along the route I would’ve seen it. But the nap itself was magical, so I’m glad I stopped.
Luckily this town had big yellow “A’s” along with the arrows, pointing to the Alburgue, so I didn’t need to wander around looking for it (which would happen more than once in upcoming days!) There, I met Maartin, an older dude from Holland who’d once walked out of his door in Amsterdam and arrived in Santiago four months later. Hard-core!!!
We were the only people in the Alburgue. So, I did some laundry in the sink and hung it up with the piece of braided hair extension I’d brought (don’t ask) since I didn’t have enough clothespins. Taking off my shoes and putting on the flat flip-flops I brought was a new adventure in itself: I found myself suddenly bow-legged and weak. I guess 9 hours of walking will do that to you. Next Camino: clothespins and supportive sandals. Check.
I wandered down to the extraordinarily quiet town. and found an open bar/restaurant where the first thing I noticed was a woman who had her skin-tight pink dress wedged up her butt. I was afraid I might not be able to get the stamp (“sello”) in my pilgrim passport, but I got back just in time to meet the hospetelero, who asked if I’d paid my few euro “donation” even though he knew I did (he’d cleared out the donation box) and gave me a stamp.
The next morning, Maartin had gone, but he’d left me breakfast! Half of a ham and cheese sandwich, and half a sandwich of some kind of crab salad. This is the generosity of the pilgrims: he was such a nice person to meet on the first day!
The first day was amazing. I wanted to walk FOREVER! That, despite the fact that my legs felt like jelly at the end of the day. Which, perhaps, should have been a warning to how my legs were going to feel the next morning….