Then I realized that I had given myself far too much time to get to Mérida and far too little for the rest of the camino. I actually panicked (so uncharacteristic!) when I wrote down the number of stages I’d have left to go after Mérida. Had I continued on that course, I’d dawdle along for days until I got to Mérida, and then have barely enough time at the end to see Santiago, Fatíma, and Lisbon after walking the 35 remaining stages.
So, in a nocturnal burst of activity aided by a good internet connection, I was able to cancel my hotel in Mérida and book one in the much larger town of Cáceres, several days farther north.
So now-no more rest days. I’m walking at least 14 miles every day (!). My pack is still heavy, but I’m hating it less. I still have to walk out the kinks every morning; I still have to talk to myself sternly at midday (doesn’t do any good), but that annoying muscle in my shoulder has stopped complaining, and I sometimes get myself to the albergue with energy to spare. I’m cautiously optimistic and slightly amazed.
What I’m finding–and this is a good thing–the Camino is an excellent pilgrim experience in the traditional sense of the word. It’s long and hard. They aren’t a lot of creature comforts along the way. (Except vino tinto and café con leche) I am often alone. I take up my pack every day for a reason–I carry intentions and my own need. I’m heading to a holy destination that has been blessed by the feet of millions before me, and that I hope will bless me and those I pray for.
Along the way I experience a modern Canterbury Tales. People come and go. Some are kind and funny and lovely; others not so much. The Camino lends itself to both solitude and any level of interaction one seeks.
But I’ll tell you–without a reason to walk every day and without that destination, I wouldn’t have the stamina or motivation to complete this endeavor. I’ve walked in greater comfort and beauty at home. Here, I’ve met folks who “do” the Camino every year. They bust out 25 miles before dinner. That won’t ever be me.
Lo mas importante es los kilometros en tu alma, no es los kilometros en tus pieds, said Izarra, a Basque woman who is a force of nature on the Camino. (The most important thing are the kilometers in your soul. Not the kilometers on your feet.)
At this point I’m losing track of the villages I’ve passed through. Mérida was memorable, however. It was built during the reign of Ceasar Augustus, who reigned during the lifetime of a certain Jewish carpenter. The city was originally named Emerita Augusta. It has the most extensive and impressive Roman ruins outside Italy. The entire city is built over Roman grandeur, which pops its head out of the rubble at odd places on random city corners.
Other than that, here are some random but positive observations that I have accumulated to change the negative chatter in my head (Not in order of importance):
I can eat all the chocolate I want because I’m burning so many calories. However, it melts in your pack now that afternoons reach 90 degrees.
Red wine here is always good, and it’s $2.50/glass.
The weather’s been fabulous, except it’s getting too hot in the afternoon (There’s a reason for the Spanish siesta. It’s a great idea.)
No blisters. Not one.
Coffee is always good, too. Just your basic, good not-too-frothy latte.
Haven’t had any intestinal disturbances since I stopped drinking the water.
Cities and villages smell like orange blossoms because the trees are planted everywhere.
And because I promised I’d tell you:
Request #2: I was walking through the Plaza Mayor in Madrid. It was jammed with tourists and buskers and people selling stuff and general lightheartedness. I had my purse across my body and my favorite Patagonia fleece, which I expected to keep me warm in the weeks ahead, draped over my purse.
Suddenly, thwip, it was gone. I felt the slight brush on my arm. I spun around, confused. Although the plaza was crowded, no one was close by. Especially with a nice Patagonia fleece stuffed in his/her shirt. It was like some ghost hand had invisibly messed with me.
When this happens it is hard to:
- Believe it.
- Get over the emotional upset and the feeling of violation.
- Figure out what to do without the item.
For me. #3 was the big deal. I’m not traveling with anything superfluous. I really needed that jacket, and it wasn’t going to be easy to replace. It had to be light and warm. Durable. Comfortable. And I didn’t want to break the bank on a new one, although at the point. I probably would have. This wasn’t an optional item.
As I wandered around in a daze I asked God to help me find another, since the original obviously wasn’t coming back. I reached for equanimity. I tried to be peaceful. Can’t say I succeeded. At that point, I was strolling down a fancy pedestrian street in the center of Madrid. I wandered into a couple of shops. Nothing.
I needed a more specialized sporting goods store. Then, right there on my left was a Decathlon store. The window display looked promising. I walked in and beelined to a rack of down jackets on sale.
You know how this ends. I found a down jacket in my size on sale for $30. With a stuff sack. Even though I miss the comfort of my fleece, the down number probably is performing better because it has some windbreaking ability. It’s light as, um, a feather and has been great for the breezy cold mornings in southern Spain.
Decathlon has now moved on to its spring line; I caught the tail end of the winter sale.
PS: For some reason I haven’t been getting email notifications when you post comments, so I just assumed I wasn’t getting any. WELL. I just discovered all your lovely sentiments. It was like Christmas in April. I think I’ve answered everyone. Thank you so much.