Camino Continues Westwards

Distance walked: 36km

Distance left to Santiago: 369km

IMG_1008

Not a lot of clothes line space in the hostel!

My evening and night at the Santa Maria hostel in Carrión de los Condes was happily uneventful. No crazy snoring. No crazy traffic outside the window. No stress. The nuns requested that we each contribute some food towards the evening meal so in the hours before dinner, the small kitchen filled up with a random display of watermelon, baguette, and chorizo. Always, everywhere, chorizo 🙂 The nuns added fresh vegetables and salad from their own garden and created an evening meal for everyone to share. Communal meals like this are really nice on camino. I had a share of them along the way in various hostels (whether religious or privately-owned) and I appreciated the sense of community that they created.

The next morning, I made my way from the hostel out into the countryside by the light of the moon and the rising sun. I didn’t have a set plan for the day, as usual, but I’d hoped to walk 26.8km to Terradillos de Templarios that day. It seemed like a reasonable distance to cover, especially as there were no coffee stops for the first 17km. I didn’t want to overstretch myself.

IMG_1009IMG_1011IMG_1013

My guidebook informed me that 70% of the route followed natural paths, most of which are part of the Via Aquitana, the paved Roman road that connects to Astorga. It also informed me that the landscape was flat and featureless, so it was another day of ambling along under the searing hot sun. My day was uneventful and I settled into the rhythm of walking westwards. My average walking speed on level ground is somewhere between 4-5km per hour. So, the 26.8km took between 5-6 hours that day, with extra time for breaks along the way. By the time I got to Terradillos de Templarios, the hostels were all full. All 83 beds had been taken already even though it wasn’t yet lunchtime.

This is okay, I thought. I’ll just walk on to the next village.

I walked 3.2km onwards to Moratinos, just under an hour away, but the hostels there were all full there, too. I didn’t even get a chance to investigate that for myself: some pilgrims shouted the information to me from across the road. You’d think that after my experience in Carrión de los Condes I would have taken the time to verify the facts for myself but honestly, it seemed like too much effort to walk from one doorway to the next. Rightly or wrongly, there were days on camino where I felt I didn’t have the extra time, energy, and footsteps required to walk from one hostel to another. In Moratinos, I trusted the pilgrims when they told me everything was booked up, even though they shouted it with big smiles while they went to get cold beers!

By now, I’d been walking nearly 7 hours, the temperature was over 30 degrees C. and you know what? I was tired. I was sweaty. I was very, very dusty. And I really wanted to find a bed for the night. I needed to get in to the shade, have a shower, take a break, but until I found a hostel there was no chance of any of those things. In Moratinos, I assessed my options. I would walk a further 2.8 to San Nicolás del Real Camino in the hope that the 20-bed hostel there would have some space.

That 2.8km was filled with anticipation and nervousness. As the day wore on, the heat increased to near unbearable levels. If there was no bed for me, I was going to have to stop for a few hours anyway. Maybe I could rest for a while and resume walking later in the evening when the day had cooled down. I observed the countryside around me and for the first time in all camino, I seriously considered sleeping outdoors that night. I didn’t have the energy to walk an additional 7km to the next village and even if I did, it would be early evening by the time I’d arrive. That meant there’d be little chance of getting a bed. But out there in the farming countryside, I peered at the enormous bales of straw and thought about sleeping underneath them that night. They were dry, they’d offer some sort of warmth from the cool night air. There were no washing facilities or privacy but I could get over that. I needed somewhere to sleep and those straw bales were a viable option. I wouldn’t rule them out.

When I arrived in Albergue Laganares in the small village of San Nicolás del Real Camino, I expected to hear the worst. The village was eerily quiet and the hostel didn’t even look like it was open for business that day. I tentatively asked for a bed, while thinking of the straw bales down the road.

Sure, we have a bed, the hostel-owner said. Would you like something to drink? You look tired!

Hallelujah! I rejoiced inside. I wouldn’t have to walk another step! After 36km and searing heat, I was finally able to relax for the evening. A shower. A bed. A place to rest for the evening.

And what a fabulous little hostel this was. Quirky with tonnes of personality and care. And couches! Oh my goodness but I hadn’t even seen a couch in weeks, much less sit in one. I sat luxuriously, indulgently on the cushioned seats and felt the weight of my nomadic existence just melt away. Having a couch felt like having a home. It was one of the sweetest moments in all camino!

That night, a feast with pilgrims from all over the world but most of them from Spain. And afterwards, shots of potent desert wine from Madrid – a heady rush of giddiness before falling happily, drunkenly, gratefully into bed.

And how lovely that it was a bed and not a bale of straw after all 🙂

 

 

Camino: You are always on my mind…

You may have noticed another hiatus in this blog…there haven’t been so many new posts recently.

I admit it: I’ve badly neglected this blog, despite my best efforts to post often. True, I changed jobs and moved house in the last year and those things had a big impact on my availability…but not as big an impact as the arrival of “Small Baba” in my life.

A-ha! 

The *real* reason for my neglect these past few months!

People say that changing job, moving house, and having a baby are among life’s major stressors. I remember reading that they were in the Top 5. They may even be in the Top 3 list of life stresses. I’ve experienced all three in a 12-month period. Life has been so busy and unexpected that I often haven’t had the time to reflect on how it’s progressing. The landscape keeps changing and I just keep going. Years from now, I’ll probably look back at this time as somewhat insane. For now, I just keep plugging away as best I can, surfacing for air every once in a while.

Small Baba has proven to be the ultimate distraction. I anticipate an hour of quiet so I flip open the laptop lid and press the power button…only to get called away by the squeaks and squeals of this new little person needing my attention.

Writing anything – even a shopping list – is a big ask sometimes!

That said, I find myself thinking about camino every day. I find myself reflecting on camino-themed blog posts in my mind. I keep thinking of parallels between my camino experience and my daily life, and I keep thinking of material for new posts. Camino is always on my mind, hovering close to the surface.

These days, I’m continually reminded of how walking camino and caring for a small person are similar in ways: both feel like marathons, not sprints.

  • Pacing oneself is important.
  • Setting realistic expectations is important.
  • Celebrating the successes, however small, is important.

There were days on camino when my body felt so impossibly sore and tired that I couldn’t fathom how to keep going. With hundreds of kilometers stretching out in front of me, I wondered whether I had the stamina or resources to make it all the way to Santiago. Sometimes the challenge felt too huge to really comprehend. Sometimes Santiago felt like a mirage – one I couldn’t quite rely on.

I did the only thing I could do: I took it one day at a time. I left my hostels every morning, sore, stiff, and tired from a night of snoring roommates, and I put one foot in front of the other. I tried not to think too much about the aches and pains. Instead, I thought about the hot coffee awaiting me in the next village. I thought about the warm sun behind me, browning the backs of my legs. I thought about all the things that were working in my favour. And I prayed for everything I would need to keep going. Walking 800km all at once doesn’t happen in one day or in one week – the trail is too long for that. My mind struggled to understand what 800km really meant. The only thing I could do was take it one day at a time, one step at a time, and leave the rest up to the heavens.

Life with Small Baba is different but not dissimilar. Anything can happen. Plans change quickly and unexpectedly so sometimes it’s better to have a flexible aspiration for the day instead of a plan. That way, when the day goes better/worse than expected, there’s less upset about the plan working/not working.

My camino was a lot like that.

And everything I learned about myself on camino is standing to me now. All those noisy hostels, all those humbling aches, all those hours alone to reflect and reassess my life. I didn’t walk camino to “find myself” but I came home knowing and understanding myself on a whole new level. I came home knowing, and I mean *really knowing* that I am strong. I came home knowing that big things are possible when they’re broken down into smaller, manageable chunks. And I learned that there is a time for everything…so it’s okay to take the time and space, and just let the journey unfold.

There are lots of things I want to say about camino. There are photos and memories to be shared, and conversations yet to be had. If you can be patient with my comings and goings, I’d like to think that I will translate some of these thoughts and insights into written word over time.

And I’d like if you could stick around to read the words and tell me what you think.

In the meantime, there are squeaks and squeals to tend to, and a new journey unfolding before me every day. For all of us, January is over but the year is still young. Go gently. Pace yourself. Take it one day at a time. And celebrate the successes, however small they may be – they will give you the strength you need to go further, go higher, and go deeper.

We will all get there, wherever “there” is. Just give it some time.

 

 

 

 

 

Seasonal Snoring

I watched Planes, Trains, and Automobiles lately, in anticipation of the upcoming Christmas holidays. I’ve seen the movie before, of course, but John Candy and Steve Martin still make me laugh and cringe in equal measure.

This one scene in particular reminded me of all the hostels I stayed in while I walked camino. The bit around 2:10, in particular, reminds of the night I spent in Azofra, where I shared my room with just one other person….

So sit back and enjoy…and turn up the volume….this one goes out to the other pilgrims who shared small, noisy spaces, just like I did!

 

Azofra: A Lesson in Camino Etiquette

Azofra: “A tranquil village with a population of barely 500 that owes its continuing existence to the camino.”

Azofra Centro: “Purpose built hostel…cubicles with just 2 beds.”

(Quotes from Brierley’s guide-book)

The purpose-built hostel was modern, spacious, and wonderfully clean. It seemed to be constructed of recycled and prefabricated wood.

The hippy in me was thrilled.

As I said, I delighted at the prospect of sharing a room with just one other person. There were no bunk beds either, which was a welcome bonus.

I unpacked my bag and felt ridiculously excited about having a shelf of my own, onto which I could place my belongings. I also had a sort of mini-wardrobe, which included clothes hangers! Having a shelf and wardrobe felt insanely civilised and reminded me of homely comforts. I didn’t have very many things to put on such a shelf – I didn’t carry any reading material or ornamental china, for instance – but I delighted in laying out my toiletries and spare socks on it, nonetheless.

A shelf felt like a piece of the normal, real world, where people aren’t so transient that they sleep in a different bed every night.

A shelf represented stability and roots.

A shelf represented home, and I must have told a dozen people about how great the shelf was. They seemed amused by my excitement, as we sat in the sunshine eating potato chips and drinking beer.

What can I say? I was easily pleased.

My new roommate was an elderly lady, soft-spoken, and cultured. I’d seen her in Orisson on my first day of walking, though we’d never spoken before. She was walking the Camino for the second time and confirmed that the rush for beds was very real. I’d felt it since Day 1, but wondered if I had imagined it or had been too sensitive.

She passed through the region only 5 years before and confirmed that back then:

  • There was no race for beds
  • People didn’t compete over speed or distance
  • People didn’t reserve private accommodation in advance
  • People didn’t have mobile phones with them
  • No one was ever without a bed
  • There was less pressure on all the associated services (cafés, bars, water supply, waste disposal, etc.)

I trusted her opinion. It would seem I hadn’t imagined the racing and competition, and felt relieved to hear her confirm my experience. At the same time, my heart sank a little. If the Camino continued to go in this direction, what would it be like 5 years hence? What was it turning into?

I would spend weeks and months reflecting on this very thing.

That evening though, I enjoyed chatting to my new “roomie” and liked her a lot. I happily anticipated a quiet night ahead.

How wrong I was!

Why?

Quite frankly: She was a snorer.

I know, lots of people snore.

After sharing so many dorms with so many strangers, I had already become desensitised to the noise at night. I was usually so tired that I could sleep through a chorus of people snoring around me. I might share a dorm with 20 people and find that at least half of them were snorers – and all of them snoring together made for quite a noisy night. They didn’t snore in harmony 🙂

Most nights, I fell asleep to the sounds of:

Coughing

Whistling

Wheezing

And other delightful bodily sounds.

I got used to it.

So, she wasn’t the first snorer I had encountered.

But I mean, she was a really, really loud snorer. And it wasn’t just about the volume – there was content and texture to her snoring, too.

Her snore made it sound like she had a chest infection and a walrus stuck up her nostrils, and that she was trying to dislodge them with every breath. Every in-breath was a meaty, phlegmy gulp, and I thought she was seconds away from choking. Every out-breath was a wheezy whistle.

In and out; in and out; in and out.

She kept breathing. She kept snoring. I thought she was going to die in her sleep.

Delightful….erm, not.

I shoved my earplugs deeper into my ears and tried to think sleepy thoughts, but it made no difference.

I thought it was great to share my cubicle with just one other person instead of sharing an open dorm. Initially, I relished having some physical separation from the other 58 people in the hostel. Until that night, I never realised that the small cubicle would magnify the sound of her snoring – so much so that I felt that the snoring was in my head. I felt I was the one going to die – from inhaling my own phlegm.

* Sorry if this is a bit too graphic, but I want to be really clear: This woman was soft-spoken by day but was thunder-loud by night.

From my bed, I glanced across to check if she was definitely sleeping.

Yep – she definitely was.

Damn.

I lay there for 20 minutes, wondering what to do.

I thought: If I go over there and somehow roll her onto her side, she’ll probably stop snoring. That would work.

But I’ve only met her for the first time, earlier today. What’s the etiquette here?

Is it okay to go over there, invade her personal space, put my hands on her shoulders, and roll her on her side?

I lay there for another 30 minutes, wondering.

I thought: The sound-proofing between the cubicles is not great – surely she’s keeping half the building awake. And I’m sure she would want someone to stop her from making so much noise – right?

I lay there for another few minutes, wondering.

I left the room, walked to the bathroom, and tested out how far the noise travelled. I could hear her down the hallway. But no-one else seemed to be awake or bothered by the din, so it seemed to be a problem for only me.

I sat on an indoor bench and thought about sleeping there for the night. The wood was hard and uncomfortable but at least I had some space from the noise, and thought I had a better chance of sleeping there. After 20 minutes, I went back to bed, tossed, turned, and debated the etiquette even more.

Frustrated, exhausted, and increasingly agitated, I eventually decided this:

Do not go over there to roll her on her side.

Do not invade her personal space.

Do not touch her in any way.

The more you focus on it, the more upset you become. So find a way to distract yourself and your focus. Keep your earplugs in place and count sheep, say prayers, or meditate, but do something to distract yourself from the noise.

But whatever you do, stay in your own bed.

 

The next morning, she awoke early, energetically, and rearing to go.

I woke groggily, slowly, and feeling as though my eyes had sunk deep into my head. I never told her just how much noise she made. There was no point – what could she do about it anyway?

Instead, I packed up my belongings and made my way into the golden morning light.

Weeks later, I heard a story that someone else told – of a pilgrim who did intervene and turn a snorer onto their side in the middle of the night. It didn’t go so well, and everyone agreed that getting involved was a big “No-No”.

I think I may have dodged a bullet with that one!