You’ve perused the guidebook and it’s time to go.
Make sure to pay, pee, strap on the pack, “Gracias, adios!” “Buen viaje” “Gracias!” and set off into the street for part 3 of your morning: LOOKING FOR THE FLECHAS.
Flechas are the little yellow arrows that are painted on trees, rocks, stop signs, lampposts, dumpsters, sidewalks and buildings all over Spain, all pointing the way toward Santiago, that seem to magically appear as soon as I think “Holy shit, I’m lost!” yet magically disappear completely once the Camino reaches a pueblo.
So mornings usually involve a bit of me standing around and looking like, as my English friends like to say, a “Right wanker,” in my stinky light-blue, dry-weave t-shirt, walking boots, backpack, hat, sunglasses, walking sticks either standing conspicuously out of my pack a good foot higher than my head, whacking low-hanging branches and unsuspecting passersby, or falling off my arms as I try to balance them and check the guidebook for, well, guidance.
Generally I just look around hopelessly for the arrows until I cave and walk into the cafe where I got the coffee and just ask.
More often than not, the “¿Donde está el Camino?” is answered with a bunch of misleading hand gestures and some rather unhelpful description like, “Por allá. Arriba. Directo directo directo. Eso. Allá, a la vuelta.” which translates roughly to, “Over there, to the top. Straight straight straight. That one. Around the corner.”
Now, this may sound descriptive, but, noting that most intersections in these tiny pueblos have about 5 or 6 roads snaking off in different drunken directions, the flailing hands and vague descriptions are bit — no, a lot — frustrating. People seem disappointed when I try to force them to use the words “left” and “right”, as if I’m violating some unspoken cultural norm. In the end, the majority of the time I’m able to get someone to actually utter one of these helpful directional words, it’s generally accompanied by a flailing hand in the opposite direction of the word.
As an aside, my Cicerone guidebook, too, often seems to say “Go Left” when the arrow is clearly pointing right. I’m beginning to think I’m the victim of a vast, left/right-wing arrow conspiracy! Eventually, however, I find the flecha — always accompanied by either an “A-Ha!” if I’m in a pueblo or a this-chicken-tastes-good! dance of joy if I’m alone in the middle of nowhere. And away we go!