Christina Has a Meltdown – Just One More Day Until Santiago

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In my mind’s eye, Dear Reader, I see Christina leaping across the  desk, grabbing the clerk by his t-shirt, and giving him a slight, yet intense, shake, as she says, between gritted teeth:

“I. Need. A Bed. And I Need. One. Now.”

She gives me a look out of the corner of her eye, looks back at the clerk, her eyes narrowing, and adds,”

“No. I Need Two. Two Beds.  PRONTO!”

How had we come to this uncharacteristic turn of events? We would be in Santiago the next day. What was happening???

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This crisis had begun earlier in the day. Christina and I had separated during our walk, as usual. We knew we would run into each other later in the day. I was the faster walker and prone to long, leisurely stops for bocadillos and beer,  she was slow and steady.

We were Camino family.

As we got closer to Santiago, there were fewer and fewer beds available. The crush of pilgrims who began their Camino in the city of Sarria was surprising and overwhelming. There were the same number of albergues, but there were more pilgrims to accommodate. Survival belonged to the fittest. And the fastest.

Christina and I were neither.IMGP4520

At lunch time, I had pondered (over my bocadillo and beer) the real possibility that there might not be any beds available for many kilometers. The weather was blisteringly hot and sunny.

Christina came along as I sat there eating and drinking. We considered our options.

I had noticed the warning signs of no room ahead and was thinking about getting a taxi to take us to the nearest available albergue. Christina would have none of it.

She reminded me that catching a ride at this point would betray weeks of  decisions to walk rather that catch cabs, buses, vans, etc., as so many other pilgrims had done.  Walking had made us a family.

She was right. I could not give in this close to the end.

(blubbering like a baby) “I can’t do it, Sarge! I just can’t do it (sniveling). I wasn’t cut out for this (wailing, moaning)!!”

(slap) “Snap out of it,  Private! (slap) You’ll do it ’cause it’s your mission!! (slap, slap) It’s what you came here to do!! Now get back in there!! (slap).”

I snapped out of it.

By hook or by crook, we would continue walking and, somehow, we would find an open albergue for our last night on the Camino.

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We set out in the hot midday sun. This was why people got up at 0430 and left before dawn – so that they would not have to walk in the middle of the afternoon.

But, you, know, it just wasn’t our style.

So we walked.

As always, we split, me ahead, her behind.

I walked along highways and villages, beginning to see more and more of the trappings of suburbs and not of abandoned villages. More stores, fewer dogs lying in the sun.

I passed an albergue which looked inviting. There were young people lying on the nicely mowed grass as their clothes dried on the nearby clothes lines. I heard music. There was  gentle conversation and laughter. I think I hallucinated people playing badminton in the backyard while a little white dog got a belly rub.

I approached the door and saw the dreaded sign which filled me with a sadness that I was becoming accustomed to – “Completo.”

Full.

I trudged on.

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It was later in the day than I had ever been walking. There were few pilgrims on the Camino now. Most had stopped for the day. But I, and I knew Christina, still hadn’t found a place for the night.

I came to a small town with a tourist information booth. It was a small log cabin with a bulletin board outside, brochures, postcards, and a friendly young man getting ready to close for the day.

I asked him if there were any albergues in the area that might have beds available. He didn’t know but there was an albergue a few kilometers down the road. If that one was full, there was another a few kilometers from that.

I began to consider the possibility that I might be spending the night under the stars, in the suburbs of Santiago.

As I looked at maps and brochures, in walked a very exhausted Christina. We were happy to see each other but we looked bedraggled and faced a serious problem.

I told her that there were no albergues in the area and no guarantee that there were any beds available down the road for many kilometers. It was so late in the day, you see, Dear Reader, that most beds were already taken.

This is when Christine had her virtual meltdown.

This is what I saw in my mind’s eye. Nostrils flaring. Eyes widening. I saw Christina’s spirit reach across the counter and grab the innocent tourist information clerk.

What Christina actually did was politely ask if there were any places in the area which might have space.

I heard the tiny twinge of desperation in her voice (she kept her hands to herself).

The clerk must have heard something and seen the “Don’t-you-DARE-give-me-an-answer-I-don’t-want-to-hear” look in her eyes.

Uhm, yes, the clerk replied, there was a hotel up the road.

She looked at me. I had been standing at the other end of the counter, flipping through brochures but mentally weighing my options.

She and I were both on a strict pilgrim budget. We could not afford to spend more than the usual 5 or six euro for beds, especially this close to the end. She had a plane to catch so she had time constraints. I would soon have to pay some to-be-determined dollars for a t0-be-determined way to get home.

We both knew we couldn’t afford to spend a night in a hotel.  And we couldn’t afford to waste time.

And then, Christine pulled a silver bullet out of her wallet.

“My Dad,” She explained to me, “gave me a credit card to use in emergencies. I haven’t used it yet. This is an emergency.”

I explained that I didn’t have enough money to split the cost.

“My Dad won’t mind,” she said.

The tourist office was closing in five minutes.

I said, sure.

She made the transaction, I thanked her, and said a big prayer of gratitude to my Saints. I also added Christina’s Dad to my list of people I say a rosary for.

She headed towards the hotel, and I stayed back to make a reservation for my time in Santiago. Christine and I would arrive at the Cathedral in Santiago the next evening, after dinner and I did not want to wander around without a place to stay,

I left the tourist information booth, having made a reservation in Santiago.  I followed the clerk’s directions to get to the hotel – go up, turn left  at the corner, and it would be less than five minutes away.

I misunderstood.

I walked out of the booth, the clerk locked the door behind me and took off in his car. There were no people in the narrow street, no voices, and no sign that said “Hotel this way, you idiot,” which was what I needed.

I walked to the corner, turned left and went straight ahead to a house with an open door.

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It was very quiet.

Too quiet.

I hesitated at the door.

“Hello??” I called from outside the doorway.

There was a bucket just inside the door with some cleaning tools, as if someone was in the middle of washing the floor and had left the door open.

This didn’t feel like a hotel. It felt like someone’s home.

“Hello? Christine?” I called again, still not entering the building. These were the directions, but this didn’t seem like a hotel. And Christine had only been about ten minutes ahead of me. Surely she would be on the lookout for me. I heard conversation in a back room.

Should I walk in? What kind of low-key hotel is this?

I slowly realized that this wasn’t a hotel but someone’s house, someone who probably did not speak English. Sweaty, smelly, dusty, with hat and sunglasses, I stood a very good chance of scaring the crap out of a family watching t.v. and eating dinner.

Imagine as I walk in, drop my backpack and say, in my faltering Spanish, “Hola! The gentleman said you have a room for me and my friend??” Imagine as their forks fall from their hands, mid-bite, dropping paella all over the just washed tile floor.

I decided to quietly back away from the door and look around town a little more.

I went back to the main road, went up a few more blocks and found the hotel. I went to the reception desk (real hotels have one) and told them my friend had just come in. They directed me to the room and there was Christina, stuff already spread out around the room.

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Within minutes it looked like our backpacks had exploded. Stuff was everywhere, airing out. Girls gone wild. We each crashed on our very own twin beds. No sleeping bags tonight!! Nice clean sheets, soft mattresses, and a bathroom we only needed to share with one other person. We didn’t even worry about leaving our stuff out while we each took turns in the shower.

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After washing clothes in the sink (yes, we still had to do that), we headed down to the bar.

We were handed a drink menu. It had been many weeks since I had seen one of those.

The day called for one particular drink.

Not beer.

Not wine.

The perfect drink for this most interesting day?

An icy gin and tonic.

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The Old Man and the Race to a Bed

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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As I Fall Asleep

IMGP4500I hear the gentle snoring of people falling asleep.

I hear grown men in bunk beds laughing uncontrollably like school boys at summer camp, one softly saying a word that sends the others into giggling fits. Then the other whispers something that leads to even stronger bed-shaking hilarity. On and on. I know tears flood their eyes – they are hysterical yet trying soooo hard not to wake anyone  up.

I hear the creaking of  upper bunk beds and mentally assess how new the beds are and the weight of my own upper bunkmate.

I hear women snoring. Yes, it happens.

I hear sleeping bag zippers being zipped slowly to not disturb people. Unfortunately, like undoing velcro, it can’t be done silently.

I recall the sound and sight of a group of gray-haired, slow-moving grandmothers laughing uproariously like teenagers, in the showers at the end of the day.

I smell the sickly sweet odor of that God-awful ointment that someone is rubbing on their feet and calves. Do they know how horrible it smells? I will never get that “fragrance” out of my brain.

I smell the body odor of those who don’t wash themselves and/or their clothes.

I hear the soft pad of bare feet on the tile floor as people head into bed after lights out.

I hear the loud clunk of something accidentally falling out of an upper bunk in the dimness as a person tries to roll over.

I hear the echo of a group talking and laughing down the hall in the living area.

I see the light of someone reading an e-book in bed.

I hear the very soft scratch of someone writing in a journal.

I see soft twilight still glowing at 1030 at night. For a night owl like me, it is perfection and I smile.

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Goldilocks and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Situation

[Continued from the previous post – if you haven’t read “No Photos, Just a Terribly Embarrassing Albergue Story,” you might want to read that first]

The problem slowly became clear to me.

The young pilgrim wasn’t especially annoyed at me, but I had messed up, without a doubt. There was no one to blame but me. I had caused a major problem.

Can you see it? Please say no.

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Maybe now? Experienced pilgrims are slapping their foreheads at my stupidity.

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I had to look a dozen times before I saw my mistake.

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The day before, the Xunta was small (20 beds) and the friendly hospitalera had given me the receipt, telling me not to lose it since it was my proof I belonged there. This day, the not-as-friendly hospitalera had given me the receipt and waved me along.

I hadn’t noticed that I was assigned a specific bed in a specific section of the building.

I had just put my pack down in a good location, as everyone had routinely done when arriving at an albergue since Day One (I add, defensively).

Today was the first and only day it would be different. I had unknowingly taken this guy’s bed.

I can’t imagine the domino effect I must have caused when he got to his assigned space, saw me dozing peacefully,  and said to himself, “Someone’s been sleeping in my bed – and THERE SHE IS NOW!”

As my error flashed into my brain, I instantly offered to vacate and go downstairs, tail between my legs, and ask for another available “cama.” He graciously declined my offer since he had already gotten another bed.

I desperately showed him my tickets and explained in my broken Spanish that I hadn’t known I had been assigned a bed, based on my experience the night before.

I don’t think he really cared. I was so apologetic, though, that he may have begun to feel sorry he had brought it up.

Did he feel badly about how badly I felt at my mistake?  Did he really excuse my mistake? Or did he think I was just another arrogant and/or stupid American (had he seen the American flag sewn on my backpack)?  I was mortified and humiliated. How could I have been so dumb to not have seen the markings on the receipt and ask questions?

After walking for more than four weeks and 700 kilometers, I still didn’t know what I was doing.

I had a loooong talk with my Saints that night.

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If it’s any consolation to that unknown pilgrim whose bed I inadvertently took, a pilgrim came later that afternoon to the upper bunk. He had a “bed bug” sheet with him to prevent bugs from getting to him and I helped him slip the cover on his mattress.

This was the first time during the trip that I had thought about bed bugs in albergues, even though it was a common thread in the on-line forums I’d studied in preparation for my trip.

My infestation-obsessed bunkmate climbed up into his bed later that evening, having spent a raucous night on the town.

I, however, tossed and turned all night long, imagining that every itch and scratch was a you-know-what crawling on me and into my pack.

It was all in my imagination. The only souvenirs I brought home from my trip were all bought and paid for.

But the Camino (St. Julian, I’m looking at YOU) continued to keep me humble.

No Photos, Just a Terribly Embarrassing Albergue Story

The walk to Melide was easy and uneventful.

As I neared the city, I was surprised and amused to see that the tall apartment houses I had seen from the distance were surrounded by meadows where sheep, goats and horses grazed. I imagined it would be nice to look out your apartment window and see a flock of sheep where a parking lot would otherwise be.

I knew that Christina was somewhere behind me and would probably need a place to stay. We hadn’t talked about it when we had separated but I assumed she would stay in the municipal albergue, which was where I was headed.

I found the albergue on the other side of town – a large, modern building, very clean and well-kept. It was spacious, could hold more than 150 pilgrims without feeling too crowded, and only cost €6 per night. I had to wait a bit before the hospitalera arrived, although some pilgrims had already checked in.

I liked the municipal albergues, called “Xunta” in Galicia. The only drawback was that the ones I’d stayed in had beautiful, modern and spacious kitchens with no pots, pans, or cooking and eating utensils. I never saw anyone use the kitchens, not even to boil water.

I suppose that is why they were so sparkling clean.

The day before, I had asked the hospitalera why there were no pots and pans in the Xunta kitchens. She suggested that the “less prayerful” hospitaleros walked off with the equipment so often that the municipales stopped replacing them.

Times are tough all over.

I signed in at the Xunta, got my receipt (as I had for the other Xuntas), and walked upstairs, meeting pilgrims heading downstairs for the showers and laundry on the ground floor.

I found a quiet corner by a window facing away from the main street. I put my things on a bottom bunk and put some things on the bed across from me to save a spot for Christina when she arrived.

I showered, washed my clothes and found space to hang them to dry on the short clothesline outside (definitely not enough space for 150 pilgrims to hang their clothes). I decided to take a short nap.

I must have really slept soundly because when I awoke, about an hour later, all the beds around me were taken.

Including the one I had set aside for Christina and not by Christina.

I was sad but not annoyed. Camino etiquette dictates that beds can’t be saved for people who haven’t arrived. This mainly applies in small albergues where beds are limited, but it is the unspoken rule everywhere so I couldn’t be upset at having my things moved off the bed.

But I had messed up more than I realized.

As I rose and prepared to walk around town to find a recommended restaurant for dinner, a young pilgrim approached and began to speak  urgently in Spanish.

I couldn’t understand a word he said but I knew he was telling me something very important. We walked into the sitting area and, as he and I struggled to understand each other, the horrible and embarrassing truth began to dawn on me.

[To Be Continued]

Dads and Oranges – Day 38 – Eirexe to Melide, part two

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I’m a sucker for cute old men with something to show me.

I was enjoying my last days on the Camino. I had left my Camino family member, Christina, back in the albergue about an hour earlier, since she was just getting packed as I was heading out the door.

A very unusual situation for us.

But I knew we would catch up with each other before our travels ended. She had a ticket to fly back to the States in about a week and, once out of the albergue, she would be focused.

I, however,  was free to dawdle.

My daily routine had settled into enjoying a steaming, sweet, cafe con leche and a croissant about an hour after I started walking every morning. That way, I could get the cobwebs out of my eyes, get all the joints working, and get some distance before my first stop of the day.

But there were not many cafes on this part of the Camino. I had walked for 7 kilometers and was anxious to find a place for breakfast.

I approached the town of Palas de Rei, which seemed especially white and gleaming. The streets were empty because I had missed the early morning rush hour and the pilgrims who had stayed in the albergues in town had already left.

As I walked along, lost in thought and on the lookout for a cafe, a gentleman came up to me on the right. He began talking to me in Spanish and, though my language skills had improved over the weeks, I clearly needed coffee to kick those skills into high gear because I couldn’t understand a word he was saying.

But it may have been that he was speaking Galician, a Spanish dialect that is different from Castilian, the Spanish taught in American schools and spoken around my grandparents’ houses.

Eventually I caught what he was saying. “Are you hungry? Would you like coffee?”

The last time an old man had approached me and offered something, it had turned out well. It had been a few weeks earlier and I had been able to fill my pockets with cherries, my mouth with cookies, and my camera with photos.

It had taught me a Camino lesson – keep your guard up but take a chance when something is offered on the Camino. The benefits usually outweigh the risks.

Remember, this is a pilgrimage. The Saints have your back.

I looked the gentleman in the eye and saw earnestness and honesty. I couldn’t imagine where this would lead but sensed benefit, not disaster.

I followed him down the street. We walked about a block (downhill and I realized I’d have to trudge back uphill to return to the Camino) and then turned into a pristine, but empty, cafe.

In the front window was a pool table, then a folding screen, then the bar area. The room was sparsely decorated, as if still in the setting-up phase. The walls were white and the ceiling was high, which increased the spacious feeling. There were half as many tables and chairs as could easily have filled the space.

The impression was of a clean and well cared for cafe, waiting for customers to arrive.

I was the only customer there, but not the only person. Behind the counter was a young woman who smiled. I heard activity in the kitchen.

I asked for a cafe con leche, which can be found everywhere on the Camino, but didn’t see any bread. I asked if they had a croissant or something similar. “Tiene usted un croissant o pan como algo?” I sputtered. The woman replied that they didn’t have croissants but they had toast.

On the Camino, many cafes and bars offer toast and coffee as a standard breakfast menu, so this was very fine for me. Picture a toasted baguette, not a toasted  slice of white sandwich bread, with lots of butter, jelly, and sometimes honey. I ordered coffee, toast, and orange juice. I took off my backpack and took out my phone and guidebook.

The juice was fresh squeezed, as was all the orange juice I bought in bars on the Camino.

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I had lingered in many bars in the mornings, watching automatic juicers squeeze orange juice out of freshly cut oranges.

The barman or woman would open a mesh bag of oranges, slice two or more in half, and drop each half down a chute in the top. The halves would be pressed between two rollers and a waterfall of  juice would come out the bottom and go directly into the glass, the peel falling into a container.

The barkeepers always used enough oranges to fill a good-sized glass. These oranges were bred for juicing – they were 99% liquid.

This orange juice was cold and just sweet enough to stick in my mind forever as the gold standard for orange juice.

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I ate before I realized I wanted to take a photo. Sorry. The orange juice was delicious.

This cafe/bar was, in fact, relatively new – it had just opened the November before. The daughter, who was the woman behind the counter, had recently opened it as an albergue and cafe for pilgrims on the Camino. There were beds upstairs, although by that hour all the pilgrims had left.

She was making a go of this new business and her mother, who had made my toast in the kitchen, and her father, who had snagged me on the road, were helping her. Her parents owned another place on the other side of town. I imagine that they helped her out financially, also, which perhaps was why they were there.

The daughter told me that, like many bars on the Camino, they would be open until the late hours of the evening. This explained the pool table in the front.

I gained a new appreciation for the father standing on the corner, selling pilgrims on the idea of stopping for a bite to eat. The location of this bar, just off the beaten path, did not work in their favor.  But the food was very good, the service warm and friendly, and the prices perfect.

I left about an hour later, having eaten and rested, and another pilgrim having arrived (Dad had been pounding the pavement again). This place, Cafe Bar Santirso,  deserved more traffic and I would be happy to stop there again on my next Camino Frances.

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http://cafesantirso.wix.com/cafebarsantirso

To put icing on the cake, Dad showed me a shortcut back to the Camino, no hill climbing needed.  Maravilloso!

Back on the road, I continued towards Melide. Had Christina passed me? Probably. Would I find her in Melide? Probably not, it is a city with many albergues.

But I knew I would see her and Andres and Juan Carlos, my Camino family, soon, although I didn’t know where or how.

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I’m An Idiot But it Turns Out OK – Day 37 – San Mahmed to Ferreiros

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The albergue was deserted by the time I left.

My hand-washed clothes from the night before were still damp so I used the dryer for 20 minutes before I packed out. Most of the people had sent their bags ahead (yes, they transported their bags). A few were waiting for vans to get their bags before they headed out.

The dining room was empty – the hospitaleros were not there. But they left hot pots, toasters and coolers with items for breakfast such as cereal, coffee, and  pastry and pilgrims simply helped themselves. I had a simple breakfast while waiting for my clothes to dry and charging my phone and iPad.

The road was easy and flat and a short 3 kilometers to that final landmark city before the end, Sarria.

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Sarria is a little more than 100 kilometers from Santiago. Since one must have walked at least 100 kilometers from Santiago in order to earn a Campostella, Sarria is the place where you find an influx of pilgrims whose goal it is to get the piece of paper that proves they’ve been on a “pilgrimage.”   They start their Camino in Sarria, getting two stamps each day, and present it to the Pilgrim Office at the Cathedral in Santiago. Then they get their Campostella.

I have my guidebook with me and re-read the words of the author – “. . . remember that many of the new arrivals may be nervous starting out and the last thing such a person needs is aloofness built on a false sense of superiority. A loving pilgrim welcomes all they meet along the path – without judgement.”

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It is early morning and Sarria is just waking up. It is too early for me to stop for breakfast so I easily climb up, up, up, past the mural near the castle at the top. I drink in the sunshine and wish a sincere “Buen Camino” to the new pilgrims huffing their way up to the top of the hill.

And, then, as I gaze down at the city I have just passed through, relishing the view and the early start I had on the day, I get a sick, sinking feeling in my stomach.

I still have no cash. I had to use plastic the night before in order to stay at the albergue. I need to find a cash machine.

I ask a few locals briskly trotting to work where the nearest cash machine is and they point back down into the city.  Down, down.

Which Saint shall I thank for keeping me humble? I want to blame all of them. Couldn’t they have made me think of this 15 minutes earlier? This is going to cost me alot of time.

I have no choice but to head back down into the city. I run into many pilgrims heading up as I head down, some of them people I had briskly passed an hour earlier on the Camino. I have to keep asking locals for the nearest ATM. I feel like an idiot when the cab drivers point across the narrow street we are standing on and the bank is right in front of me. I am one of the first on line. But I am the only one with a backpack and hiking poles.

I fill up with enough cash to last to the next large town and retrace my steps up. This time I pass no one. All the morning pilgrims have gone. I am the last one.

However, I am jubilant to see my Camino companion, Christine, when I stop to get breakfast. She had gone the other way with the boys up the ridge. She said the views were great but the route was challenging. It was shorter than the way I had gone through Samos so they were quite a distance ahead of us, close to a day. The two routes had joined again at San Mahmed. She had slowed down and was now with me.

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If I hadn’t gone back for cash, I wouldn’t have run into her.

Sorry, saints. I should have trusted you.

We walk together the rest of the day. We pass the 100 kilometer marker, an important photo-op for pilgrims.

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A group of new pilgrims pass us as we walk up a wooded trail. They are family and friends from the U.S, Canada and Australia who are doing this as a reunion. They are chatting happily and loudly and rambling up the trail, toting tiny packs with just enough room for the paper map given them by their tour arranger. They carry bottles of water in their hands.

I am slowly going up the trail, which is much steeper to me than to them. I smile and wish them a “Buen Camino.” I realize I may be the first person to give them that particular Camino experience.

“Where did you start?” “How long have you been walking?” “Did you walk the whole way?” I don’t have to ask them these questions because I know what their answers would be. But they ask me and I answer amiably, remembering the author’s words. Their joy at being on the Camino is infectious.

However, they do catch me off guard when they ask, “Wow. Are you carrying everything in your backpack?”

Dear Reader, you have seen the photos. Does this look like a daypack to you?

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God bless them. They sent their “luggage” ahead because, they explained, they “didn’t have time.”

Christine and I get to the albergue, only to find it full. This is not good. We had forgotten that we would be meeting this problem from now on because of all the new pilgrims joining at Sarria.

Fortunately, we are among the first to arrive at the next albergue, which is clean, quiet and one of the ones operated by the municipality. There is no store to buy food, the only store in town having turned itself into a private albergue (the one that was already full). So we go to the bar next door and have a great meal. We catch up on e-mail, I catch up on blogging, and we have a quiet, restful night.

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