I’ve had out of country visitors for almost four weeks, then I was out of the country, and next week more out of country visitors!!!
All beloved and happily received and anticipated family and friends.
However, all the visiting has kept me away from the blog. Only physically, though. Mentally, I am in Spain and arriving at Santiago within days.
In fact, I’m heading out the door to give another Camino talk as I write this mini-blog (forgive any typos). I’m always excited to tell people about my trip and to relive the adventures as I remember my dear Camino family.
So, thank you for staying with me, catch up on your reading if you haven’t read some of my posts, and I am (sadly) looking forward to the last days of my Camino adventure.
Did you ever think of bagpipes when you thought of Spain?
I never did.
I thought of vineyards and museums. I thought of bullfights and oranges. I thought of the architecture of Barcelona and of paintings of Toledo.
I never, ever thought of bagpipes.
But, there they were. And I was loving every minute.
I had walked into town to find the “Ezequiel” restaurant, which is known for its octopus. Octopus – pulpo – is the regional specialty, cooked, seasoned and cut into bite-size pieces.
Are you feeling squeamish, Dear Reader? My upbringing is Hispanic and eating octopus is not a new thing for me.
Plus, my Dad was an adventurous eater. Frogs legs? Check. Snails? Check. On those very rare occasions when Dad purchased those weird, almost unheard of foods (in Flushing in the 50’s), he could always count on me to tuck in my napkin and enjoy.
Chances were nil that I was going to pass up this regional specialty in its heartland.
I walked around in the sunshine, soaking up Melide, saying a rosary in the nearby grand Church, and searching for a grocery store to pick up a snack or two for the next day’s journey, which promised to take me through few towns.
I found a grocery and who should I see wandering the aisles but Christina.
She had settled into another albergue earlier and was also preparing for the next day. I told her about how I had tried to save her a bed at the Xunta and about my big mistake.
I would have to be on my very best behavior at the albergue that night to restore the honor of my country (no sneezing, snoring, coughing, getting in late, dropping things on the floor, taking up too much floorspace with my pack/poles/boots/clothes, etc.)
We laughed about what a strange and unexpected journey the Camino had turned out to be. It was still providing adventures and keeping us humble even though we were so very close to the end.
I told Christina that I was going to try to find the octopus restaurant and we decided to go together.
After a few wrong turns, we found the place, simple, unassuming, very local. It was relatively empty and the evening light reflected off the polished picnic tables and benches. It looked like a big BBQ shack, not a touted restaurant.
There was a big screen T.V. hung up on the wall with the news/weather/sports playing on the local channel. All this information had become irrelevant to me as a pilgrim.
We looked at the menu. Poor Christina. She immediately knew that she did not want octopus but the other choices were slim. She settled for salad. I admit it looked really good, especially on a greenery-deprived journey like the Camino.
I, however, dove in. I asked the waiter what the specialty was and ordered it, along with a nice cold beer. I didn’t know what to expect and was not completely ready for the plate put in front of me within minutes.
It was a pile of one-inch long pieces of octopus legs. Olive oil and a reddish seasoning were sprinkled all over. These were big octopus legs, not the small ones I was used to in the luscious black rice dishes of my family
These octopuses (Octopi? Nope, dictionary says octopi is very incorrect, so octopuses it is) were big suckers with big suckers. They looked like they could be doing tricks on a late night talk show. They could be twisting caps off jars. They could be unlocking their own cages. They could be scaring the bejeezes out of little kids in an aquarium.
And I had a plate full in front of me.
Well, millions of Spaniards had eaten these before me and raved, so I dug in.
I couldn’t say “tastes like chicken” because it had the rubbery texture of squid (Oh, come on, now you’re going to tell me you’ve never eaten calamari???). But the flavor was fantastic. The olive oil and seasoning was really good.
I polished off the plate very quickly, then ordered another. And ate it quickly, also.
Christina looked on pityingly. How crude to enjoy such disgusting food. Then, we both laughed. Ah, Camino!!
Meanwhile, the restaurant had filled up. A rowdy group sat at the table in front of us and spilled over onto our table. We were all in a great mood. Suddenly, someone started singing. And playing. Playing what?
The traditional Galician instrument called the gaita. It looks and sounds like a bagpipe. I was told that the person at the table next to us, who was playing, had made this one himself and was carrying it on the Camino. I have no reason to doubt it.
The groups were as joyous as any I had met on my trip. Their happiness spread throughout the front section of the restaurant and I would have joined in if I had known the song and spoken the language.
The restaurant manager encouraged the music and the songs continued.
Eventually, a bottle of homemade Spanish ‘grappa” appeared from the back of a shelf and we were asked if we would like a glass. How could we say no?
Excellent, burning heat slipped smoothly down my throat.
The meal, the music, the drink. One of the memorable meals on the Camino.
By the way, are you wondering how to cook pulpo? Get coolers full from the fish monger. Put them in boiling water. And, then . . .
I 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.
[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.
Maybe now? Experienced pilgrims are slapping their foreheads at my stupidity.
I had to look a dozen times before I saw my mistake.
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.
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.