I was finally having serious misgivings.
I had left the albergue early and hoped to get some distance before it got too hot.
I had come to the final kilometers of the Camino Frances. Unfortunately, so had hundreds of fellow travelers. Most of them were in better shape than I was because their loads were lighter and they had just started out.
Most of these new pilgrims had started on the Camino a mere 80 kilometers earlier, the minimum distance one had to walk to get a Campostella. The Campostella is the certificate issued by the Cathedral in Santiago that verifies that you have walked a minimum of 100 kilometers on the Camino de Santiago de Campostella.
Getting the certificate had stopped being of major importance to me. I would get it because it would be something concrete to show people – see, I HAD walked all across Spain. This says so. In Latin!
But for me, it was no longer a goal.
My goal now was to find a bed for the night before they were all gone. This was my last night before arriving in Santiago and I was finally stuck in the “bed race.”
I stopped for a cafe and assessed the situation. The temperature was hotter than it had ever been and it was still early in the day. My pack was bulky with my raincoat, fleece and wool from when I had started.
As I was wondering whether to order a second cafe or not, along came Christine. We had split the night before, staying in different albergues, but I knew I’d run into her today.
I also knew that somewhere – in front, no doubt – the boys (Andres and Juan Carlos) were also marching to Santiago. Like a three-pronged attack, my Camino family was making its way to the finish line.
But now there was a serious problem. We were being passed by large groups of young people on school holiday, bicyclers, families, all energetically passing us. Most had little or no packs because they sent them ahead by van. They would all get to the albergues before we would. They would get the beds. We would get a sign that said “Completo (full)” and have to keep walking.
Some pilgrims were calling ahead and making reservations. I didn’t because I disliked the idea of having to be at a certain place at a certain time.
But, instead, I was kicking around the idea of catching a taxi to get to the town we were hoping to stay in. It was hot, I was tired, and we were running out of options.
Christine was dead set against taking a cab. We had walked the entire way, she pointed out. It would be admitting defeat to succumb to a ride now, so very close to the end, she insisted.
She was right.
Her argument, laying out the big picture, was correct. Although we both knew we were going to have a hard time fighting the heat and the growing, faster paced crowds racing for the limited number of beds available, I had to surrender.
I enjoyed the last few sips, grabbed my hiking poles and backpack, and we headed off.
We walked through towns and villages and it slowly dawned on us that we were walking through the suburbs of Santiago. We came to a town with parking lots and sidewalks and people doing their daily business.
An elderly gentleman stopped to ask Christine a question. Christine, whose Spanish had not improved in spite of all these weeks in Spain, turned to me for translation.
I explained to the gentleman that my companion did not speak Spanish but I would try to translate. He spoke to me.
The old man found Christine charming and wanted her to have a drink with him.
He was “hitting on” Christine.
Oh, Camino, you never cease to amaze and amuse.
Clearly, she and I were pilgrims walking together. We were not out for a stroll, we were carrying backpacks, hiking poles and Christine was slathered in sunscreen. We’d been wearing the same clothes for five weeks (washed each night, of course).
Like the world’s strangest wing-man, I found myself translating while a stranger hit on my amused friend (were we getting punchy??). As the person who was doing the actual talking, I was the only one who understood both sides of the conversation.
I kept a sharp eye out for any unwanted moves on his part – a surprising native New Yorker instinct on my part. But we were on the Camino, surrounded by pilgrims and townspeople.
I couldn’t let a rare opportunity go by, so I kept egging them on. Christine and I giggled and rolled our eyes.
Ninety percent of Spanish men do have a mysterious charm about them. This elderly gentleman, I’m happy to say, was one of them.
We finally had to beg off, thanking him for his diverting conversation. I gracefully indicated that hitting on pilgrims on the Camino was not, shall I say, the best use of his time and could be threatening to some. But neither of us felt threatened in the least.
This conversation gave us hours – no, days, of inside jokes.
We stopped a few hours later for lunch. We found a clean and bright little cafe near the top of a hill at a tight turn in a road. Locals and pilgrims were having a good mid-day meal.
We sat inside, where it was cool, keeping an eye on our backpacks which we had left leaning against the door outside.
We chuckled about the old man (old enough to be MY grandfather). We were enjoying what was turning out to me a surprisingly good day.
Then, faster than we could react, we watched a little neighborhood dog lift its leg and pee on Christine’s backpack.
Dumbstruck, we sat there, watching as the dog’s owner called it over and took it home.
“Hmmm,” I thought to myself, “maybe we should have taken a cab.”