On the fourth or fifth day, Albert asked me ‘what did you expect? A nice walk?’ and honestly, yes, I did. I expected it to be a bit tiring, but the reward of good food and wonderful weather and the contentment of an exhausted body and great night’s sleep would more than compensate for that.
I didn’t know that I held expectations for the pilgrimage. Until I didn’t get what I didn’t know what I was expecting.
And that was 12 straight days of rain. I’m not kidding. May 2010 – look it up. Its in the record books as being the wettest month for something like 40 years, and also the coldest. It was snowing, hailing, storming. And still we trudged along.
We made jokes about stealing images off the internet and posting them about our trip, while secretly heading down to any tacky holiday destination. (Ibiza was top of our ‘joke’ list).
Yes, yes, its all funny, in hindsight, but when you are walking about 30 kilometers a day, your clothes are not quite dry from the day before, you can’t look up because you get slashings of rain in your face and so you only look at the orange mud on the ground and watch it being caked to your soaking hiking boots, its not that appealing.
It was Albert’s worst time. He was sweating, and cold, and we really thought that ‘soon’ it would have to end, this out of season weather, but it just kept coming. Strangely enough, there was some relief. There were many others ‘suffering’ along with us. People would comment with different levels of sarcasm, or just out right complain, or even tell us stories of how when they first started it snowed and covered all the signs, so they didn’t know where they were going.
Nobody was prepared for the weather. I’d bought light summer clothes, and finally we had to buy a few things to keep me warmer. Most of the people wore all of their clothing both day and night. We stopped more often than not, just to warm up in coffee shops, rather than to seek out rest.
Albergues – Refuges – Hospitals – Hostels
On the Camino de Santiago, the pilgrims (whether religious or tourist) usually stay in Albergues. These are cheap (ranging from 3-15 euro) establishments set up specifically to meet the frugal means of pilgrims. That is, they have a bed, a shower and somewhere to wash/hang clothes. Every Albergue is different. Some are surprisingly comfortable, and others are downright spruce with cold running water and no doors on the showers. There are municipal Albergues and private ones. Of course, usually the private ones are a bit more expensive, and offer varying services.
Sometimes there were four to a room, and sometimes one hundred. Sometimes people were smelly, or snored, or talked, or let their alarm go off, or let their phone ring, or generally didn’t care at all about other people in the room with them. But one thing you can be guaranteed of, and that is one person, at least, getting up at about 4 in the morning, with a torch, or worse, a light attached to their forehead, that started to repack their bags, slowly. They would look around, and flash everyone in the eyes with their headlight. It was an amazing thing.
If you had an ache, or a pain, or suffered in anyway, other pilgrims would come at you with their bag/s of medicine and offer you all sorts of pills and creams for your well being.
No matter what had happened to you, someone else would always have a worse tale. You can never outdo an Irish for complaining, so don’t try.
And for every bit of complaining I’ve done, I have to admit, I loved it. Every bit. Even the pain, even the weather, even the snoring. It was all great. It’s a wonderful experience, somehow, lifted out of the world, and yet, in it. Some people we met do it every year. They get addicted to the kindness of people. They get addicted to the helpfulness and pilgrim spirit.
I must admit, with a bag of only a few changes of clothes (I started off with two but because it was so cold ended up with three), no makeup, one pair of sensible shoes, one set of toiletries between us – and the absolute bare essentials) we were all stripped of out typical armour. It made us similarly naked of the modern entrapments. We just walked, carried our small bits and pieces, and ate and slept. We shared some stories, some food, sometimes some wine, and we shared the remarkable spirit of the pilgrim. It was in and out of time. The past, the present, it was all mixed up in the moment.
Beginning the Camino de Santiago
Part Two of Our Camino Memoirs