It was Day 4 and we were all due to walk to El Real de la Jara, 16 kilometres away.
The morning of Day 4 in Almadan saw me behind the rest of the pilgrims in terms of waking, rising, dressing, being ready to head out into the dark . I seemed to be the last one to get up, in no small part due to the copious amounts of vino tinto from the party of the night before. I leapt out of bed and my erstwhile French companion was already dressed and ready to leave.
Since we had spent the last couple of days sharing expenses for rooms, taxis, I’d paid for a meal we made in the Casa Rural 2 nights before, gone swimming together at the local pool, I naturally assumed that we were on friendly terms, despite the language barrier – she had no English and I had very small French. But no, she made it clear that she was heading out immediately and so I wished her Buen Camino.
I had been dumped.
In retrospect, I can understand entirely that sometimes when you are walking, you need to be alone. I get that now, having walked alone for perhaps up to 750 kilometres myself. I entirely get that now. I also understand, in retrospect, that to have a novice trailing you might be an imposition. Especially a loud Aussie who swore up and down each mountain loudly and just as loudly drank and laughed in the evening.
But at the time, I was deeply hurt. (All this in the space of a few moments.)
I was filled with panic that she was leaving and I was being left. I didn’t know how to navigate myself out of towns, I didn’t know how to get myself around towns, it was my 4th day on the Camino.
It had been very reassuring to be in the company of a veteran. Plain and simple. I had already gotten used to the fact of walking alone – that wasn’t a problem for me. But the stuff that happened in the townships along the way still scared me – finding a room, dealing with Spanish locals, admitting the gaps in my grasp of Spanish (my bad). It felt like I had been kicked out of the nest too soon. I felt abandoned.
Fortunately for me there was an older Dutch couple who said that they would wait for me while I threw on my clothes and repacked my rucksack. They did exactly that and a small group of 5 pilgrims walked out of the town that morning, including me.
They turned out to be a very cheerful speed walkers! And so welcoming and friendly. But very fast and strong. I was quickly left to walk alone and that was fine. Once out of town and on the Camino itself, I was unafraid. Nor was I lonely.
What I did panic about every morning was getting lost on the way out of town – as I said, I hadn’t yet begun to trust myself or the yellow flechas to show me the way.
What I was to learn now, from Day 4 to around Day 6 was to be part of a group, rather than part of a couple.
And I was also learning that veterans get up in the darkness of pre-dawn and head out as quickly as they can. That was my introduction to Camino walking. That and their speed and strength.
It seemed to me that whilst Europeans have “walking holidays” almost built into their systems, we Aussies don’t really have a history of that? I certainly had never walked long distances before in my life – holidays were times spent at the beach. As kids, my sister and I spent hours in the water at a stretch.
Anyway the walk for me went slowly. In my diary, I have written that it ended with “one foot in front of the other”. It got like that for me, as unused to long distance walking as I was. (Now, 16 kilometres is a good walking distance but back then it was a long, long way.)
My hips were also a major complainant in these early days. It seemed like after around 15 ks they simply wanted to “lock up”. My footsteps got smaller and smaller. At this stage, I still had no blisters. (Hooray!)
I managed to get into El Real, found the hostal where the cheery Dutch couple were staying, but said I would look for a place with a single room (snoring paranoia) so I walked out again and into the town. In vain. I was exhausted and feeling very sorry for myself, having festered over being dumped all day, listing my faults and agreeing in spirit that I was an uncouth woman! (a loud Aussie). Oh dear!!! I had successfully thrashed myself for 16 kilometres!
I returned to the hostal where everyone was and they welcomed prickly me with open arms. So I got a room there and eventually we all made it to dinner where we all laughed and ate and drank.
And that was Day 4. Very emotionally charged for me, physically demanding and then ending on a really pleasant, people-filled note.
(Again, note the age range of all of us around the table – the youngest person there I believe is in her early 40s. The oldest perhaps in his late 60s?)
Happy travels, dear friends,