Camino 14 – 2 October 2014
By Parson Thru
Arzua to Pedrouzo
I woke from a heavy sleep in our tiny room in Arzua. It was pitch-black. The alarm on N’s mobile seemed like an intrusion from another age. She hadn’t heard me snore through her earplugs and told me she’d been comatose. Once the light was turned on, the clutter of walking-shoes, rucksacks, sticks and scattered clothes brought things back into focus.
We swung out of our bunks and tested our aching legs and sore feet on the ground. We’d sorted everything but tooth-brushing and toilet the night before.
Routine: find bed for the night; peel off sweaty clothes, socks adhering to blister plasters, which adhere to skin flaps; shower, inspect blisters, season with Betadine and dress with Compeed plasters.
It left us with little to do in the morning other than gather our few possessions and head off.
As we walked down the stairs and past the dorm, weary pilgrims were shouldering packs and setting off. We decided to stop for breakfast in the bar. There was no sign of Ziggy. We ate pastries, washed-down with coffee and fresh orange, said our farewells and headed out into the street. It still wasn’t fully light. We stopped for the morning selfie beneath the sun canopy.
Rua Ramón Franco took us past the supermercado to where Camino signs directed us left through a small plaza into the old town. It’s a shame we had no time to explore. Next time, I’d like to have longer to loiter and detour off to see more of the history of the Camino and take in some of its story through the buildings and monuments that remain. There was no shortage of spiritual interest, just bumping along with so many people, but I’d like the luxury of soaking in whatever was secreted in those old walls.
We’d done ourselves a favour by continuing on past Ribadiso the day before. Not only was the climb to Arzua behind us, but, the day’s walk was reduced from twenty-three kilometres to nineteen. It had been at the cost of walking thirty to get to Arzua, but we were feeling pretty refreshed after our sleep.
For the most part, the path avoided the busy N-547, though it followed the general route. Eucalyptus trees reached high above us in some places, providing welcome shade.
Again, the walk was sociable. As small groups brushed by each other, conversations struck up. We spent some time with Andrés and Javier. Their sense of fun overcame any language barrier and my Spanish was slowly improving.
We found Kirsten at a rest area. She told us she’d also stayed in Arzua, in the pension overlooking the fair. “Oh, it was so noisy.” she complained. “The fair didn’t finish until quite late.” We couldn’t help smiling a little as we told her how glad we were we’d carried on further into town.
N got chatting to a man who was walking along with a group. He turned out to be a Bulgarian dentist, living in France. His name was Boris. He introduced us to his wife and brother. We kept bumping into them along the way and picking up the conversation again. He seemed a lot of fun and at the same time earnest and friendly.
We also made the acquaintance of a girl from New Zealand called Nicola. She was probably around thirty, tall and very pretty. She walked effortlessly – breezing along in a loose trouser-suit and had a warm, friendly demeanour. We occasionally bumped into another New Zealander called Chris. I seem to recall he’d done some serious sailing in his time. Conversations like these eased the kilometres along.
David and Astrid were usually somewhere in sight and there were many others whose names we never knew – just someone to chat to along the way.
We began to sense that Santiago was getting close. Almost everyone we spoke to was feeling the anticipation. Some were nearing the end of a month of walking. A few were doing this stretch as the culmination of years of pilgrimage. The idea of finishing was bitter-sweet.
Some, like Kirsten, just wanted to get it over. Others couldn’t imagine starting the day without their pack on their back and walking sticks gripped in their hands. The routine and the company of peregrinos was something that got under your skin fairly quickly and the idea of it suddenly not being there seemed odd – imminent, yet somehow distant.
Somewhere along the way we bumped into Ursula and Jurgen. We walked the last uphill section chatting with them, through woods along the shoulder of Alto de Santa Irene, and crossed the main road. We then dropped steeply down until we came to a fork. To me, it seemed pretty obvious that we should continue along the path. N agreed. Jurgen was pretty convinced that we should cut off along the road. He showed us where he thought we were on the map.
In the end, his conviction was so strong and we were so weary that we agreed and started along the road to our left. We took a cut up a bank to our right and were soon walking into a broad boulevard. Just before a filling station, set back behind an area of asphalt, was a bland building that turned out to be an albergue. A number of tables were set out in front of it in the sun. It wasn’t the prettiest of stops, but we decided it was good enough to bring the day’s walking to a close.
We asked at the albergue whether they had any rooms. A waitress took N and I to look at a room around the side of the building off a small gated courtyard. She unlocked the uPVC door and we went in.
The bedding was bright orange and looked like Terylene and the room smelled damp – it could have been the shower that was right off the sleeping area. We were weary, aching and just needed a last overnight stop before Santiago. There was always the albergue, but the room looked the better option. It cost twenty euros. We took it. Jurgen and Ursula decided to stay in the albergue.
First job was to get the shoes off our sore and swollen feet. The insides of my socks were stuck to the plasters again where the edge had rolled over. I pulled the plasters away with care, always expecting to find the blisters infected and oozing. They were blanched and swollen, but seemed otherwise ok. The thickness of the skin under my feet made the damage look worse than it was.
I padded into the shower cubicle, walking on the edges of my feet. Somewhere deep down stirred a feeling of achievement and the beginnings of a celebration, but we still had a long walk into Santiago ahead of us in the morning. It was while discussing this that N suggested I check the booking for the hotel in Santiago.
We’d booked key stays months before from the UK: the Premier Inn at Stansted, a night in Oviedo, the pension in Astorga and our last night in Santiago. At the time we booked them, we’d been planning to catch a bus out to Finisterre on our last day to find the hermitage and look out across the endless sea. That would have meant skipping a couple of sections. In the end, we stuck with our fellow pilgrims and kept to the route – with the exception of the bus-ride to Villafranca.
I pulled the booking confirmation out of my rucksack and read it. Our reservation was for the 2 October. Today was 2 October. Fortunately, we’d booked two nights. It wasn’t the end of the world, but we’d pushed the boat out a bit and paid nearly a hundred euros a night to treat ourselves, knowing we’d be tired and sore. It might be possible to cancel the first night.
There was a phone number on the confirmation. I rang it.
The receptionist answered.
“Hola!" I replied. "Me llamo Kevin Buckle. Tenemos una reserva de una habitacion para dos noches.”
“Si. Kevin Buckle.”
“Estamos solo en Pedrouzo. Una mas dia a Santiago.”
I knew it would be too late to get a refund for the one night, but I tried anyway. Or I thought I had.
“Si. Por supuesto. Quieres cancelar la?”
He thought I wanted to cancel the whole reservation.
“Necesito el habitacion manana por el noche.”
The first night’s hotel bill was a write-off. I decided to leave the booking as it was for safety and just take the hit.
I was pretty sure that’s what we agreed by the time I hung-up.
Ursula and Jurgen had asked us to meet them outside the albergue at six. That left us more than an hour to crash for a while. Damp and gaudy the beds may have been, but we slept like babes.
We met Ursula and Jurgen and walked into town to a café, where we sat and ordered drinks in the sunshine. They headed off to a Pilgrims’ Mass while N and I sat and chewed the fat for a while. As we were chatting, the footballers, Javier and Andrés came walking up. They were staying in another albergue opposite. After a few minutes they headed off into town.
We ordered pizzas. Kirsten wandered up next. She sat down and ordered a drink. Soon after, an Australian couple, Nick and Deborah, came and landed heavily in the seats next to us. Tired legs were finding rest anywhere they could. They ordered beers and we began catching up on the day’s walking and who we’d caught up with along the way.
The drinks were going down and the conversation was flowing. In no time Ursula and Jurgen were back and drew up a table to join to ours and the Australians’. Pizzas were ordered. The sun set, but left its warmth in the night sky. Chris and his wife, the New Zealanders, came up and joined us and I found myself in a long intense conversation with him, but can’t remember what it was about for the life of me. Their compatriot Nicola came floating along, smiling, and sat down.
For some reason, N and I had assumed that Kirsten knew Jurgen and Ursula, but she didn’t. They vaguely recognised each other from along the route, but they hadn’t spoken. It wasn’t long before they were chatting like old friends. More food and wine appeared on the table.
It seemed an impromptu party was underway. A whole day early, but the last night before Santiago held its own magic. The California Girls wandered up and stood talking for a while. Names filled the air as people enquired about folks they hadn’t seen recently.
“Have you seen the Irish lads?”
“Yeah, they were in Ribadiso.”
“He’s fine, but Stephen’s feet were bad. They were going to rest for a day.”
“Anyone seen Cyril?”
“No. He must have stopped off somewhere.”
I felt a slight pang. I hoped I’d speak to him again before we left.
At some point, someone thought it would be a good idea to order shots of orujo, the local spirit. The evening became rather boisterous in a good-natured way – a coming-together, a letting-off of steam and a dress-rehearsal for Santiago itself. It was just a case of trying not to peak too early.
Around ten, everyone was beginning to flag. Javier and Andrés came walking back, but were heading to their beds. We all began to drift back to our albergues and pensions.
Ursula and Jurgen arranged to meet us outside the front door at six a.m. At their suggestion, we were going to walk the final day together. They were both much quicker than us, but they said they wanted to do it. Somewhere inside, the flutter of anticipation I’d felt earlier made itself known again. N and I squeezed each other’s hand as we unlocked the room door. One more night.