Friday 5th September, I jumped (?) out of bed in Hostal Frances in Guillena ready to start my Camino for REAL, ready to start Stage 2 and all set to meet some angels, unwittingly.
I faced the prospect of a 20k walk with excitement even though I’d never actually managed to walk a full 20ks before. At home 15ks was my record.
Undaunted and everything packed and on my back, I made my way down the stairs and into the café for a breakfast and since it was sparrow’s fart o’clock there was only one other pilgrim there – an older French woman so I shared the table with her.
This introduced some of the aspects of walking in Spain that you will immediately encounter. Strangers who may not speak English and you who may only have a minimum (poco) of Spanish. Ordering in a café with little Spanish gets easier because it’s a limited vocab that you have to learn – coffee with/out milk, toast, orange juice.
But trying to talk with other foreign pilgrims means that you will have to pull out of the ether all your schoolhood French, your university German, or whatever it is that you hated learning at school because HEY! Australians aren’t renowned for learning 2nd or 3rd languages. Geographically, we are so different to Europeans – they share so many borders they are compelled to learn at least one other language. But our being “girt by sea” means that generally, we Aussies are complacent about communicating in only English.
Anyway, once breakfast and stilted but friendly exchanges were over, I made my way out of the café, into the dark morning and turned a corner (I went a different way to the other woman) and within 5 minutes I was completely lost.
The first morning of your first Camino means that you are introduced to the idea of following all the signs/flechas (yellow arrows) that show you the way to go. Since I was out in the early morning darkness and a total novice it really was no surprise (in retrospect) that I should get lost.
Now, here’s where my first angel appeared.
There I was wandering down by the bridge and amongst the mud only 5 minutes away from the hostal and in the dark and completely lost and who appears? Just a farmer on his tractor coming towards me with his lights on! At exactly the moment I was standing on that path.
I communicated that I was lost (he’d have to have been Blind Freddy not to get the body language of strange pilgrim stumbling around in the dark) somehow and he invited me to stand on his tractor and he drove me all the way to the right place that put me onto the Camino. It was only a matter of a couple of hundred metres so I’m not counting that as anything. He was so friendly and helpful that the encounter left me gobsmacked at the synchronicity of it.
Once out on the right track, I rejoined the French woman who herself was a bit lost – this was not her first Camino however.
We ended up travelling the first kilometres together and here’s the next aspect to meet – each pilgrim has their own pace and rhythm. It transpires that I am the slowest walker in Spain and everyone is faster than me. So I quickly got used to saying “No, go ahead. I’ll see you there.” It’s simply a case of “I can’t walk faster and you can’t walk slower” – every hare needs a tortoise to look good!
The 20 ks was GRUELLING and I didn’t take any photos of that stretch but I made it.
Made it to the albergue in Castilblanco and that’s another aspect of the Camino – to do the dormitories or upscale? The main concern is your budget and for me, for the first and only time in my life, I decided money was not going to be an issue. So when the Frenchwoman asked me if I’d like to share a room at a Casa Rural (country house – like a bed&breakfast) I said YES! I haven’t slept in bunk beds since I was a teenager and I didn’t fancy it after walking 20ks.
So we stayed at the Casa Rural – it was a nice introduction to how I would be spending a lot of my evenings in future – in comfort rather than bunking.
The last aspect of Camino-ing that I’ll mention in this post is snoring. I snore.
Sleeping in a dormitory means for a snorer that people will make comments to you about your snoring. Which for a timid novice like me was NOT what I was in Spain for. I copped a comment from the Frenchwoman the next morning and a couple more from other women in the next few days and it was these comments that determined that I would secure my own private room as often as I possibly could every evening.
One of the women who commented a few days later snored herself but I wasn’t quick enough to mention it. DRAT!
That was my first day of real walking.
The Camino was a 20k path with yellow arrows and stone markers and animals in fields and bright sunshine and it was exactly like being in a time-tunnel BEFORE the Industrial Revolution. My main reactions that day were about the walking – I wasn’t yet embraced by the mystical qualities of the Camino – that would come later…..
Cheers for now, amigos,