A couple of days ago when we were climbing the Alto de Perdon – the Hill of Forgiveness – I walked for a bit with a woman from Australia who was carrying a pair of boots. I asked her if she’d brought two pairs of boots with her. She said no, that the boots she was carrying were her boots and they’d been giving her feet grief and blisters from the start. The boots she was now wearing she’d found a little way back sitting by the last scallop shell marker.
The woman believed that that day would be her first blister-free day, and so at that moment she was quite a happy, thankful pilgrim. She was therefore intending to leave her own boots at the next shell marker in hopes that maybe her boots would be the answer to some other pilgrim’s prayer.
Many pilgrims are walking the Camino as a spiritual journey and we’ve met pilgrims who are walking for a special intention. I’ve met two who’ve said they are walking as a penance for something they've done in their lives and that they hope to find absolution at the end. A Chinese-American lady told me she was walking in repentance for having been a “Tiger Mom” to her now-grown children. I also heard an obviously very religious middle-aged American lady telling a middle-aged British man that she was walking the Camino as a prayer to God for the poor. While I found her intention a very kind one, I couldn’t help but wonder how this woman hiking 490 miles across Spain could possibly alleviate the plight of the world’s poor. Nor can I conceptualize God in that way, like a parent who gives all the food to the first child and will only feed the second child if the first child walks around the block 50 times. So to speak..
Yesterday I walked a while with my Camino friend Lulu, a middle-aged Zulu woman from Cape Town, South Africa. A Camino friend is someone you meet along the way, connect with, then continue to meet up with at the albergues or walk with now and then as long as your pace coincides. After a few days your paths will diverge, then you’ll separate and you’ll each make new Camino friends. Maybe you’ll meet up later along the way, and you’ll be happy to see each other again.
Anyway, Lulu and I were chatting about that most common topic of conversation among pilgrims, the state of our feet, when Lulu recollected that she didn’t get her first pair of shoes until she was 10 years old, and that first pair of shoes was a pair of blue flip-flops. Lulu said that she dearly loved those blue flip-flops and her heart’s desire was to own a pair of red flip-flops, too, but in those days another pair was out of the question. But today her son has a university degree and a good job and her daughter, too, is in university.
Yesterday we walked about 12 uphill kilometers over some killer terrain from Puente La Reina to the town of Lorca. It had been our intention to walk 20 kilometers -12 miles –to the town of Estella, but by the time we stopped for lunch five hours later at La Bodega albergue in the town of Lorca I’d hit the wall.
So after a great lunch of seafood paella in the albergue café,
.....I suggested – nay, begged – that we put down our sticks and packs in this spot and call it a day. And so we did. We’d stayed here on our last Camino, a really pretty place with stone décor,
....and, as we recalled, a terrific pilgrim meal. Last time we stayed here, though, the place was practically empty. This time, even though it was early in the afternoon when we registered, the albergue was almost full and soon would be completely full, as would be the other albergue in town across the street from ours. Later in the afternoon an exhausted, foot-sore pilgrim came dragging into the albergue, and when the hospitaliera told her there was not a bed left in town the girl began to cry and begged to be allowed to sleep on the floor. The kind hospitaliera let her sleep on the couch for free.
Tom and I both had to settle for top bunk beds for 7€ each, but that was okay, we were grateful for a bed. We learned that, because of the strenuousness of the trail that day and the heat, we were not the only pilgrims to cut short their plans to bunk at Estrella and decide after lunch to just stay Lorca instead, which was probably why the albergue filled up so early in the day.
That night at dinner - a delicious 9€ family-style meal of spaghetti with sauce followed by chicken legs with french fries, bread, wine and water and ice-cream sandwiches for dessert - we managed to be at an all-American table.
It turned out that five of the six of us had started at Puenta La Reina, planned to walk to Estrella, and ended up stopping at Lorca instead.
One of our dinner mates, a recently retired Air Force officer, was beating himself up over, "wanking out", not being physically able to meet his distance goal for that day. The rest of us told him to let it go, that on the Camino it didn't matter where one started or stopped, or, for that matter, whether one even finished.
And besides, he was in good company with the rest of us wanker-outers.
A romantic comedy of errors.
Lots and lots of errors.
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