The breaking point
DAY 8: June 10th, 2014. Logroño – Nájera, 31 km
I struggled the first couple of kilometers; after that, I warmed up and walked with no problem whatsoever. It was a lonely walk, except for a small part when I chatted with two Spanish couples before we split in the next village. 20 km with no water spring were ahead of me, but luckily the clouds were retaining all the heat. I sang during my whole way to Nájera to avoid boredom and the pain that is now caused by more blisters.
They say that in the lonely days in the Camino one tends to think a lot, and to take decisions about the future. I wonder if Tim has decided what to do with his life, and whether he’s going to quit his job or not. He said he was already half the way close to the decision, and that he would have the full answer once he reached Burgos, which is going to be soon.
On my side, I haven’t had any moment of revelation or whatever. I guess this is because I am used to thinking a lot, no matter how busy I am in the daily life.
I enjoy walking alone, but I prefer to do it in the early morning hours, when it’s fresh and I can feel the city still asleep and the nature that also seems to be waking up. I like to walk slowly, and to take my time to pass among the ancient buildings, touching those stones that like sponges retain so much history. I like to imagine the pilgrims who have walked the path before me, hundreds of years ago, and I think of Diego, Miguel, Xavier and the others who have passed these very places just yesterday.
But during the evening, the heat is sometimes unbearable, and then it’s better to walk with someone and get distracted by the conversation.
These days I have been surprised by familiar feelings in unknown circumstances. I felt emotions that brought back memories from a time that I had forgotten about, a time when I was younger and thoughtless. The taste of a sour cherry reminded me of those afternoons in primary school spent building huts using our parents’ old sheets, and the ubiquitous nine-spotted moths brought back memories of me as a child playing in the park with Aunt Lucia.
I arrived in Nájera in the late evening, tired and literally starving. I got a bed in the Parroquial con donativo and after doing my laundry, I fell asleep on my bed in no time. Hunger woke me up a couple of hours later, so I went exploring the village looking for a place to eat. The outskirts are really ugly, but the old town is quite pretty. I stopped to buy tobacco, betadine and a new pen, then went for dinner. I got a Pilgrim Menu for 9 euros from “El Buen Yantar” that included a delicious cocido, chicken, wine and a cheesecake. Some chit chat with some fellow pilgrims, then back to the hostel to take care of my daily present: four brand new blisters.
DAY 9: June 11th, 2014. Nájera – Santo Domingo de la Calzada, 21 km
I left Nájera together with three Spanish guys that were sleeping next to me. After a couple of kilometers, though, I was walking alone with José, 38 years old, from Santander.
We walked fast and had great fun together. We only stopped after 14 km in Alta Golf Club, where we had a beer. Ahem, it was only 10.30 AM, but we had been awake and walking since 5 AM, so it was kind of well deserved! We ordered two more beers talking about walking further today, maybe until Grañón or Redecilla del Camino, but when I arrived in Santo Domingo I liked the village so much that I decided to stay. So, after the third beer (it was not even 12 PM), I said goodbye to my new friend and let him continue.
I chose the Albergue del Abadía Cisterniense Nuestra Señora de la Asunción, and there I met Justina and Carlijn, the first one from Poland and the latter from the Netherlands. The three of us ended up sharing a small room for three, with proper beds – a luxury on the Camino: I have never slept with less than 7 people so far.
Then, what started with “We were thinking about going shopping and cooking some pasta for dinner” became “But, wait, you are Italian, why don’t you cook?” and then I found myself cooking carbonara for 17 pilgrims! It took two hours for the water to boil, but we had a great meal and lots of fun! It was Nora’s birthday, the Hungarian girl that I had met in Logroño together with Richie, from Ireland, Nathan, from Australia and Kieran, from New Zealand, so we had the excuse to drink more wine that we should have. We went to sleep only because the nun came to kick us out.
DAY 10: June 12th, 2014. Santo Domingo de la Calzada – Belorado, 21 km
I left early and spent the first hours alone with my knee pain, surrounded by the familiar golden fields.
On the way I met Kathy, and American ginger liquor producer. She told me about her husband, who had walked the Camino a few years before. He told her that everyone’s Camino was marked by two key moments: “There is the physical breakdown, and then there is the emotional breakdown, and you will experience them both”. I told her that I hadn’t experienced any of them yet, but that I knew that with one would come the other.
We met Nora, Richie, Nathan and Kieran and we split when I decided to stop for a beer with the guys. Despite the heat, it was an easy day. When we arrived in Belorado we were happily surprised to find an albergue with swimming pool. We jumped in right after checking in and leaving our backpacks. The fresh water had a miraculous effect on our bodies and we laughed at each other’s “Camino tan”.
We had lost track of Carlijn and Juju, until they showed up a couple of hours later. Car had a severe accident, stumbling on her hiking boots, and had to be brought to the nearest hospital by an ambulance. She has scratches all over her face, and got a few stitches, too. The accident has really affected her, and we all did our best to get her good mood back. We ate and drank together until late, singing “O Bella Ciao” with a group of older Italians. Invisible threads were connecting all of us in a way we didn’t know yet.
DAY 11: June 13th, 2014. Belorado – Agés, 27.4 km
I left together with the guys. I really like their company, and I think that we will keep walking together.
In Villafranca Montes de Ocas we stopped to get something to drink before facing the big climb that was awaiting us. Pedro, the owner of the bar, and I started to talk. He told me that he had already walked the Camino a few times, and he told me about the time he ended up walking in a group of five men and five women.
One of his friends passed away, but a few romances developed along the way and a couple of them got married. “Make friends, and always walk with the same”, he told me “because you will make friendships that will last forever, and you will know these people better than the friends you have known for your whole life back home”. He repeated it several times: “Always walk with the same people”, like some kind of mantra that stuck into my head.
I translated for my new friends, but Nora’s eyes were already filled with tears, as she was feeling the emotions in the old man’s voice and reading the passion in his eyes. And as he was repeating to keep walking with them, I suddenly decided to do it. They are nice, smart and fun, and despite being quite different, we have some very deep conversations. We still have three weeks ahead of us, and I am sure we can become very good friends.
We all left in silence, rethinking the words of old Pedro. We stopped in a picnic area after the climb, then I spent the 3.5 km before Agés talking to Nathan, who had taken a year off his IT job and was thinking whether to quit for good.
Once in Agés, we got a room all for ourselves in the Casa Roja. We shared an amazing dinner in the bar El Alquimista watching the Netherlands winning 4-1 against Spain. Car’s happiness was contagious and we celebrated “Camino style”. Aka, lots of red wine.
DAY 12: June 14th, 2014. Agés – Burgos, 23 km
We started walking at dawn, climbing a small hill and watching the sun rise. It is amazing to see nature waking up and to enjoy little things like the sight of butterflies and bees flying around the blossoming flowers.
We had to stop to let a flock of sheep crossing our path. After a few kilometers, Nathan, Richie and I lost sight of the others, and we stopped in a village to have a beer and some delicious pimientos rellenos. As I started to smell roasted meat, I headed to the park and asked around what was going on. It was the village festival, and the people were celebrating with a barbecue in the park. We were offered meat and wine, and as many refills as we wished. It was just great.
Three long, hot and painful hours were still ahead of us though. When we finally arrived in Burgos after walking alongside the river and through the city park, we left our backpacks at the Municipal, a big and nice building that lacked of a smart ideas on the inside: the bathrooms were separated from the dorm by a transparent panel with a strong light that would turn on every time someone would use the restrooms. Hard to sleep, especially if your bed happens to be just next to it. But, well! Kieran and Nora were there, in the same room!
We went sightseeing a bit, but it was Richie’s last night so we followed him to a bar in Plaza Mayor and then I suggested we had dinner at the 100 montaditos. They loved it! It was someone’s buck’s party, and some people were dancing and playing in front of the Cervecería. It is amazing how you always find something in Spain, no matter where you are or which day of the week it is. But I was very tired from the day, and finally decided to leave my friends drinking and to head back to the hostel. I kept in touch with Diego and he decided to spend an extra day in Burgos so we could continue together. I’m happy to have my buddy back.
DAY 13: June 15th, 2014. Burgos – Hontanas, 31.5 km
I hardly slept. My knee was hurting like crazy, and a brand new blister apparently got infected. Remember what Kathy said: During the Camino, you will experience a physical, and an emotional breakdown, and I thought they would both happen at the same time.
And so it was. Today was the day. 13 days after starting my Camino, I broke up. I had somehow got used to the knee pain and used my stick so much that it had already got a few centimeters shorter, but this new blister in a critical place was threatening with putting an early end to my journey. It was when I tried to stand up from the table after breakfast that I realized I wouldn’t make it.
I went outside, where I met Francesca, an Italian pilgrim. I tried to hold the tears, but it was beyond my power. She understood and hugged me, and such a simple gesture actually helped a lot. She gave me some Gentalyn and, applying a considerable amount of it and a few plasters quite helped to relieve the pain: at least, I could walk.
Tears were still flowing from my eyes like rain in a crazy spring day, I just couldn’t help it.
I think this was the moment when I realized that with this Camino I wanted to prove myself right in something I strongly believe in, which is that if you really want something and you work hard, you will achieve it. No matter what: step by step, day after day, you can arrive as far as you want. 790 km seem impossible to walk. On Day 1 you already think that you will never make it, but you walk 20 km today, 24 tomorrow and then it might take 40 instead of 30 days but yes, you can. I ended up walking over 31 km today, and I thought I wouldn’t even be able to go around the corner!
We stopped for a break in San Bol, a rural albergue that until last year had no running water nor electricity. I really wanted to sleep there, but there was not enough space for the 6 of us, so we walked 5 more km to Hontanas, where we shared two rooms and more moments of fun together.
DAY 14: June 16th, 2014. Hontanas – Boadilla del Camino, 26 km
We left early and headed to our destination through the fields. I stopped to take some pictures of the remaining of a church at dawn and then continued alone, signing “The Circle of Life” at full lungs. In Castrojériz we met Diego again and continued together. We arrived in Boadilla del Camino pretty late.
DAY 15: June 17th, 2014. Boadilla del Camino – Carrión de los Condes, 25 km
My knee hurts like hell. After only 6 km of walk, we stopped in Frómista for breakfast and I took Carlijn to the Centro de Salud, where they removed her stiches. I also had my knee checked, and they told me I have nothing but pain: I feel so relieved! I kept a wide smile for the rest of the day: I will make it to Santiago!
Our second stop was Villalcázar de Sirga, where we stopped for lunch. I just turned my head and saw Xavier! He had to stop for a couple of days because of his knee, too.
In Carrión de los Condes we stayed at Monasterio Santa Clara. It is the first village of some relevance we have found for a while, so I went with Houliané to have my glasses fixed and to look for a pair of shoes for her. She’s been walking the Camino with Crocs for the past few days, crazy! I met this French from Armenian origins in Agés. She is just 18, olive-skinned, with shiny dark braided hair, and will go to Med school next fall.
DAY 16: June 18th, 2014. Carrión de los Condes – Terradillos de los Templarios, 25.8 km
Today we had to walk 16.5 km in the middle of the Spanish Meseta: no shade, no water spring for over 4 hours. We had a crappy sandwich in the only open bar and got ready for the walk. Despite the heat and the weight caused by our extra bottles of water, we walked quite well and stopped just a couple of times for a bite of something.
My feet are dotted with an ever-increasing number of blisters that it was easy to lose track for the amount. I got maybe the tenth today, but kept walking easily. Diego, Juju, Nathan and I stopped in a bar in Lédigos short before reaching our destination.
Here we met Ismael, from Guatemala, and I spent around one hour talking to him. Around 60 years old, Ismael is a civil engineer and professor at the University of Canada, to where he emigrated for political reasons. Writer for passion, he has already published his autobiography and is now writing a journal for his book “Paso a Paso Hasta el Fin del Mundo” (lit.: Step by step until the end of the world).
We exchanged addresses and he said he’d send me the book once it will be printed, in October. In Terradillos de los Templarios we had dinner with the other pilgrims and then went to the garden to chill. Jasper found a guitar and he and Nathan played while sipping yet another bottle of wine.
It was a lovely evening. Justina decided today that she will continue alone. She has already walked the Camino before and she finds that this time she is somehow frustrated and is not enjoying the way as she would like to. It might be good for her to spend some time with herself and go back to her good mood. But tonight she was happy, and it was great to see her smiling.
DAY 17: June 19th, 2014. Terradillos de los Templarios – Calzadilla de los Hermanillos (desvío), around 32 km
In Sahagún, we split. None of us slept a lot, but Nora can really feel the tiredness. She decided to stop here today, we will meet again in León.
While getting closer to Sahagún and walking alongside the highway we saw a signpost reading “Provincia de León”. How many emotions can a simple road sign cause? The mixed feelings of joy and nostalgia filled my eyes with tears and my mind with the word “Home”.
I have been living in León for only a few months, and it took a bit longer than usual to adapt, which was surprising. But after 8 months in this little pearl in the North of Spain, it felt just like Florence, Trieste, Barcelona, Turin and Grand Baïe. It was home, and I now realized how much I missed it.
Jasper, Diego, Nathan and I walked until a mini village called Calzada del Coto for lunch. An animated class of Italian hand gestures mixed with too much red wine are to be blamed, for we took the wrong way and ended up following the ancient Calzada Romana.
So we walked 15 more kilometers in the middle of nowhere; tired, sweating and thirsty but happy we arrived in Calzadilla de los Hermanillos after finding a source of fresh water when we least expected.
But the good surprises were not over yet, and as soon as we stepped into the only albergue, we found out that Egidia and José had been assigned to it! It was great to see the Brazilian couple of volunteers again.
While the guys were cooking dinner, Egidia took me to the local store to buy some breakfast for tomorrow. The smallest man I’ve ever seen somehow appeared from behind the desk surrounded by a crazy amount of flies and insisted that I buy his cheese (that I eventually did) and some olives “riquísimas!”. We got two rooms for the four of us, a real luxury on the Camino.