It was going to be 30 ks to the next town, Almaden de la Plata and I had been a pilgrim for only 2 days and had never walked 30 ks in my life! To say I was nervous would be an understatement. I was a total novice.
The previous day my water had lasted only 20 ks – I had a front pack of water – 1 litre – and was carrying a bottle also. So yes, I was dreading the whole thing – I remember that clearly. 30 ks is a long way, especially for a newby.
On this stretch the first 18 ks were on the road too – so bitumen and traffic. Not a lovely prospect.
And my 62 year old companion had migrated to the other room because I “snored”. So my self-esteem was fairly fragile that day to begin with. Yikes!
ANYHOO – she suggested that we taxi those first 18 ks to the gateway into the National Park where the Camino was picked up! That brought the day’s walk down to a do-able 11 ks for me. She didn’t want to walk on the road either and she was a veteran! Naturally I jumped on board.
So that’s what we did. There was no way I would have been able to manage those 30ks. Problem solved.
(Later on in the following week, I would indeed walk 30 kilometres but you will have to wait for that DREADFUL day’s episode!)
Truth be told, I felt like a naughty pilgrim taxi-ing those kilometres but in retrospect, it was the very best thing to do!
I need to point out a couple of things here to do with my evolution as a pilgrim. I was still relying on someone else to communicate with Spanish locals – the Frenchwoman did all the talking, which was a great relief, she bargained and negotiated room prices and taxi charges etc. My limited Spanish stayed just that, for the time being.
That’s ok because it’s a stressful thing surviving in a foreign culture for the first week or so while you get a handle on things.
The other thing was that I was also completely un-used to getting myself out of towns following the yellow flechas (arrows). They’re there indicating the way out of every town but it was still an alien process to me.
So I was dependent on someone else navigating me around, at least at the start. OK – let’s just admit it – I was CLINGY! (brave but clingy! 😀 )
So, we taxied and what an amazing thing it was to simply drive over those 18 ks – I can’t tell you how wonderful it was NOT to have to walk them! And that’s the same feeling I had when I caught a taxi at any time in the pilgrimage. It was simply wonderful to see the countryside zooming past at 90ks (or faster) – illicit pleasure.
Little did I know that the real fun was just about to start!
Now – with only 11 ks to go it looked like a really pleasant doddle through the national park. NOOOOOOO! What the guide book called “a big hill” I would dub a “mother-effing monster”! It may not have been but certainly felt like 45 degrees of unrelenting incline!
Even the gazelle of a Frenchwoman was panting and complaining of a thumping heart when I caught her up a couple of times which meant she was certainly affected by the steep hill, given that I’m as slow as a tortoise. Another Dutch pilgrim, Martin, in his late 60s, said he stopped at every tree that offered shade and he was a veteran too!
I forgot to mention also that at this stage my rucksack weighed in at 14 kilograms which is very heavy for a pilgrim. The French woman’s pack was down to 7 kilograms.
And back then, in early September, it was hot!
All in all a very big day!
There were other pilgrims on the track too – and I noticed that, unlike me as a sun-conscious Aussie with her broad-brimmed hat with the neck veil, these Europeans did not seem all that bothered about hats! The Frenchwoman swathed herself in a veil – Arabique – and men with scant hair wore nothing on their heads. Others wore little hats and a Hungarian woman, whom I would meet later on in the walk, wore a simple bandana and covered the back of her neck with her long hair!
So we all staggered into Almaden de la Plata in the afternoon to an albergue with bunks – I met up with a new group of pilgrims (see photo) and had a big night on the town with too much vino tinto! (More paranoia about snoring too that would strengthen my resolve to sleep in a separate room as much as possible.)
An amazing thing – no matter how absolutely fragged you get by the walk, as soon as you have showered and changed clothes and gotten into sandals/thongs, your outlook is entirely recovered. I thought I would be bed-ridden each day but NO!
The very best thing I did that afternoon was to start ditching stuff out of my rucksack. I donated a whole plastic shopping bag to the albergue full of stuff, maybe a couple of kilograms – a guide book (I had 2), a compass, a fly net, clothing, little items like a mini-perfume, wet wipes. It all added up, no matter how small the item. Once you’re carrying stuff every day you get very conscious of weight.
It was truly liberating to know the rucksack would be so much lighter the following day, a 16 k walk to El Real de la Jara.
I was slowly learning how to become a pilgrim on the Camino.