So, after spending a few hours waiting for me like nervous Jewish moms (and perhaps not without reason) the night before, today Hugo and Maartin decided to walk part of the way with me. Their main goal was less about protecting me from potentially hazardous tractor-drivers (they thought he was probably fine) but more about showing me how to “read” the Camino– i.e., figure out which way the arrows are pointing, or which way the trail goes if there are none– so I could avoid feeling (or, um, getting) lost and the need to actually engage with said tractor-drivers beyond a wave.
“Reading” the Camino involves tricks that are vaguely like what it must be like to stalk wildlife: we look at the ground for footprints, bicycle tracks, and small piles of stones that previous walkers may have left as a sign to those to follow. Ironically, this part of the stretch had really good waymarking – you could follow the arrows pretty much even without a book – so their effort, though well-intentioned, was kind of silly.
It seemed all the more silly since I’d had it in my head that I would prefer, in general, to walk alone (and, as it turns out, in general, I do! Except for those rare cases where I really clicked with people, I enjoyed the alone time to meditate, listen to books/music, or, um, freak out in peace. But more on that later.)
Hugo kept emphasizing a bit dramatically that later in the day we would need to part, he wanted to walk alone, he prefers to walk faster, etc., etc., all of which I thought was pretty amusing, since he’d took it upon himself to walk with me and “show me the ropes” — I never asked him to walk with me. I don’t know if I just bring out the caretaker in people, or if he just likes to feel self-important. Most likely it’s a combination of both– and the company was certainly a combination of amusing/annoying.
Listening to Hugo’s cute Irish accent was fun, but he tended to talk a LOT, and mostly about himself and his own experiences – when I’d try to add to the conversation (for example, he likes birds, and I wanted to talk about Rangering and how I got into birding, share some birdie love) he pretty much didn’t care. At all. Maartin tended to walk a bit ahead, or smile and nod and add little to the conversation.
This whole somewhat odd dynamic, in turn, though, made me reflect on the nature of conversation in general. What do we get out, emotionally, of conversation? Is it from hearing about the others’ stories and points of view? Or just having someone listen to our own? Is it paying attention? Or is there something in the exchange?
Where I grew up, much of “conversation” is about relating our own experiences and commonalities with those the other is sharing. There’s not much silence, and everyone jumps in to share their own side. In this case, it was clear that wasn’t what Hugo was interested in. So, even though a back-and-forth is more what I’m used to, I took it upon myself as a cue to just listen and reflect, and to try not to talk about myself so much.
So Hugo yammered and yammered, and I tried to be pleasant and listen, but to be honest, It was hard to disentangle my own need to yammer and yammer, and so I soon began to tune out, and didn’t really enjoy walking with them all that much. The time did, however, go surprisingly quickly – much more quickly than when I’ve been alone. By the time we’d gotten 14K though (pretty much without stopping), I was really, really, really tired, and my feet were killing me.
We were almost through a pretty much deserted town when I decided that I couldn’t go on without a rest. (Put hand to forehead in dramatic gesture here.) So, Hugo went on, and shortly thereafter, Maartin realized I had turned into Grumpy McGrumperson and probably wanted to be alone, and went ahead, too.
I walked all the way back to the softly rotting stone church we’d passed at the entrance to the town, and climbed up the rickety, smoothly worn stone steps on the outside to the belltower. I had a nice view of the fields we’d passed and the path we’d come up from up there.
I sat and tried to nurture my poor little feet, airing them out, poking at blisters, and adding wads of band-aids and cotton before eating some sardines and putting my shoes back on.
And then I was off again. By today, Day 4, the walks were beginning to blend into each other– hours of red dirt roads, winding next to undulating cut straw fields. The 7K stretch I had left from the church to Santa Croya del Tara is where another one of these clay-colored dirt tracks snaking to the horizon began to climb slowly but steadily uphill. My feet were throbbing, and I felt if I stopped, I might never start again. I’d already begun listening to “The Secret” (a new-age version of “Think Positive!”) on my ipod, and decided to put it to the text.
I fixed my stare at the top of the hill, and, with every step and spring of my pole, repeated, “I am strong! I am strong!” over and over. And over. And over. It was my meditation, a mantra, and, in my 1-minded, goal-oriented tunnel vision, I made it to the top!! And… without stopping once!
Safely at the top, I paused, and a friendly man with a car (read: non-pilgrim) and binoculars made me spill out my water — “Caliente! Caliente! Necisita agua frio!” and gave me some cooler water from his canteen. We had friendly chat (to the best of my ability) and he told me the town was “not far now.” From there, I could see the tiny town waaaay down there in the distance, and how the terrain, as the camino made itself slowly downhill, would be changing.
I passed lots of little huts, which I understood to be like above-ground wine cellars. The terrain was becoming more and more green, as I descended off the hot, dry Meseta into the valley and foothills that would lead me to of Galicia. I heard the plaintive bleating of a sheep, and watched as a farmer walked from a stable and across a field to another stable, all the while carrying the limp body of a tiny sheep, its legs swinging under his arms.
The bleating didn’t come from this lamb, though, but from who I presume was its mama, trotting next to the farmer, just bleating over and over and over as they made their way across the field. It was kind of sad and kind of shocking — was the lamb dead? — but the mama’s cries made me think of love, and I chose to think, the farmer was just helping the lamb along, since he could walk faster. Or something.
Anyway, I finally made my way over a small bridge and into the town, where I came upon a clean square and gorgeous park next to a river. The alburgue was near the exit of town, so I sat on a bench for a while (oh my poor feet!) in the pretty and simple town square before pressing on the last 10 minutes.
The alburgue itself was super nice. However, being a “private” alburgue and not the Camino-sponsored one, it was a pricey 10 Euros for a bunk. The typical pilgrim dinner made by the alburgue hostess for the 3 of us — HUGE plate of pasta, salad, and the ubiquitous Lomo (pork loin made with salt-n-pepper) with wine– was delicious, and cost 8 Euros. I didn’t last much longer after dinner — just picked a bunk near the window, cuddled up into bed, and had a nice, long rest.