the del Norte/Primitivo route.
Spain: From Irun to Santiago de Compostela, 530 miles.
Post 42; July 12, 2016, Tuesday.
Day 28: Campiello to Berducedo. Stage 6 on The Camino Primitivo.
The Camino: A metaphor for life.
Start it, and keep going.
I’m sitting at a table in the bar of Albergue Privado Casa Herminia in Campiello. It’s 6:30 a.m. I’m all ready to go, backpack is packed, trekking clothes are on (set one of two sets), poles are ready, and I’m sipping my third café solo, those little European size coffees (or is it expresso?) where about five equal one Starbucks at home. Everyone is clearly more anxious than normal. Groups of trekkers are here and there, planning the long trek for the day, the big one, a 990m ascent—that’s big, believe me. I see the Indiana boys, Angelus and Ted planning away, in their relaxed meditative style, I see the Idaho girls, Jessi and her two sisters getting all organized (Jessi runs a tight ship), I see the Swiss girls, Carole and Kristina, and I see my team, Leo, Carlos and Willi almost set to go. We are clustered all around this little albergue bar. Carlos is always up for one more café con Leche, so he will never rush my last café solo. Everyone I know or talk to is taking the high road, the “Hospitales option,” the hardest route. This is the 28th day of the Camino for me and my friends, Carlos, Leo and Willi. We are really strong by now, and also a little beat up. But we certainly aren’t afraid of the biggest ascent on the Camino Primitivo. Not us! I believe this will be . . . the best day on the Camino Primitivo. We all feel that way. And no one would ever be willing to miss the high road, the hardest route, the best of the best.
And so, again, as we start trekking off, Carlos and I are talking again about how the Camino is a metaphor for life. We have to explain the word “metaphor” to our German friend Willi, because he doesn’t know the word in English. So I say something like, “you know, a ‘metaphor’, a word or phrase for one thing that is used to refer to another thing in order to show how they are similar, something like that, you get it?” Willie said he got it, and said the word in German. We all agree with the broader context, that on the Camino you experience so much of what all of life is: so much of the good, lots of the bad, certainly the hard and difficult, the painful, the joyful, the peaceful and just about every other thing you can imagine, day after day for about five or six weeks. And, on a day like today when it will be so hard, you know that the really good stuff comes—when it is the hardest!!!
. . .
990m is 3,248ft. This is a hard ascent. It’s either hot, or really hot, or chilly when suddenly you’re tucked behind a hill or some clouds come over and the wind kicks up. I choose to leave just my trekking shirt on and not to add another shirt as an additional layer. A few trekkers add another layer, but as soon as we’re out in the sun again, it has to come off immediately because it’s so hot. —Oh, then suddenly it’s cold, and we all put on an extra shirt or fleece. We’re going from warm to hot, to hot hot, to cool and chilly, then back to warm, then hot hot . . . . Everyone’s backpack is feeling really really heavy right now. I think we’re coming up on the Fanfarón hospital. We passed the La Paroiella hospital, and we still haven’t come upon the Valparaiso hospital. Okay, I get it, that’s why they call this “the Hospitales option.” These are all hospital ruins on the top of a mountain, where pilgrims really needed them hundreds of years ago. The ruins looked like they were abandoned at least eight hundred years ago . . . or more. One thing is for sure, the ancient pilgrims really needed help at this stage, because us, the modern pilgrims, sure as heck do! I’m going really slow now, step by step. I’m behind Carlos and Willi, and way behind Leo, and expecting the Indiana boys and the Idaho girls to catch up with me soon. Yes, the views are awesome, the landscape and the mountains are beautiful, but that gets overwhelmed with the step by step efforts. I couldn’t do this without my poles. Perhaps I’m leaning on them way too hard, which is why I blew out my last pair a few weeks ago.
It’s all worth it. It’s all worth it. It’s all worth . . . it. I repeat this to myself as I plant my pole over and over and take another step then another step up the path, the rocky dirt path. I drink water from my bottle. I’m running very low, but I could only pack so much. Eventually I take the last sip. I’m starting to assume we’ve done about 20 of the 27km day. Not sure though. And now, at the top of the mountain, it’s flat . . . finally, or mostly flat. Indeed, it looks mostly like a beautiful cow pasture up here. There’s cows up here, like everywhere in Spain. We take some pictures that make it look like we took a walk in the park, except the views give away how far up we came. So we rest a little and we recover pretty fast and we feel invincible, somewhat. It was all worth it we say, and we know it. More pictures in the mountain high cow pasture.
. . .
I do want to log in that this is the best and most beautiful day on the Camino. But, it’s hard when you’re finally eating, at least something. After summiting, we began the descent. It’s true that it usually feels just as hard to go down as it does to go up. So we descend for an hour, I guess, and we run into a crossroads of sort. I really don’t know where we are except that it feels late in the afternoon, we’ve descended quite far, and it got chilly again as the wind picked up and the sun is tucked behind a mountain. And . . . somehow a small café style food truck has made its way to this crossroads and set up shop as the trekkers descend, and none of us pass up the chance to eat or drink whatever he/the truck has to offer. He even set up some chairs and a few tables. We are so exhausted we slump in the chairs after taking off these massive appendages on our backs and drop them on the ground with a big thump. Then we get whatever we need from our backpacks, some leftover food, maybe another dirty shirt because it got chilly, maybe some blister-care bandages, whatever. I’m eating so healthy, potato chips, nuts, and some sugary lemon drink I bought from the truck guy, and I’m so hungry I would have eaten anything. Salty potato chips taste like the greatest health food on the planet right now. And the sugary lemon drink tastes like a Whole Foods veggie delight drink.
We’re all together again. Me, Leo, Willi, and Carlos. The Indiana boys are here, Angelus and Teddy, and the Idaho girls, Jessi . . . and her sisters that also have names I’ve been told, Allie and Cassidy, but when you’re this tired, can’t I just say Jessi and her sisters?
And so, I think it’s hours later that we reach Berducedo, our destination. I’m comatose as I sit here at a bar drinking a cold beer. I’m on a bench. Just sitting here. There’s others around me. And no one’s talking. We’re sort of staring ahead. Some want to find an albergue, some want to find any place they can to fall onto a bed of some sort, some are complaining about injuries and pain, some are quietly limping around, other trekkers are slowly, very slowly coming into town, a little Spanish village of a town, and stop at this same bar for a cold drink. I think there’s five of us now
just sitting here
sipping cold beers
and staring ahead.
That was a hard day. That was an intense day.
The metaphor holds true. This is the way life is
on certain days.
Like today. But we made it, didn’t we? We all made it.
Do we all make it in the end? Yes, just make sure you start it
and . . . keep going.
It’s all worth it.
. . .