You would think that staying well-fed wouldn’t be an issue on the Camino with places to stop for a snack or a café con leche every few miles, but today I managed to get so hungry I couldn’t think.
Before we left this morning, we checked on Lies to see how she was feeling. The patient looked much better and her fever had gone down dramatically. Not perfect, but good reason to be relieved and even a little hopeful. I felt torn between wanting to keep her company and needing to go my own way.
If you’ve walked the Camino or look in a guidebook, you’ll notice that the pace of my journey was not going to get me into Santiago in time for my flight home, much less with enough time to walk to Finisterre. Not being especially strong in the math department didn’t help.
Katrin tried talking sense to me in the morning about how we “had” to make 22km per day for the next four weeks in order to get there. For whatever reason, this activated my inner rebel rather than appreciating her common sense.
I wanted to dawdle. To be a free spirit. I’d had enough of planning and schedules in my life just to get to Spain. I’m also remarkably bad at math. “There’s plenty of time,” I thought to myself.
But Katrin was right. We had to walk.
Using them for the first time, I fell in love with my new walking sticks. Their inner spring protected my elbows from jolts and gave my feet rocket boosters. I’d been a walking stick skeptic until that day, but now I felt like a four-legged animal moving powerfully across any terrain.
We walked though one impossibly scenic field after another of grape vines just bursting into leaf. We cleared a hilltop and were met with stunning views of the snow-covered mountains in the distance (more snow fell that night).
As I stood alone for a moment at the top of that hill beside an oak tree, the words of a friend came to mind at that moment, “If you were my daughter, I would feel so proud of you for doing the Camino.” I got teary remembering our conversation about challenging ourselves independent of others’ approval. I felt a kinship with this avid hiker and, before I began walking again, I took a deep breath and dedicated that hilltop to Declan.
Muriel and Marisela trailed behind us, so I wrote them messages in the mud up the steep hill to encourage them. “Si, se puede!” and “Courage!” with my new sticks. Love notes to my friends.
Despite the sticky mud, my feet did okay in the morning as I alternated between my two new inserts. As the day wore on, my arches started to stab with pain once again. This time, there was nowhere to stop and rest. I kept on.
Three and a half hours later, Katrin and I arrived in Nájera and stalled on the bridge. We didn’t know where to go. Though Navarette’s signage had been clear and helpful, Nájera’s was nonexistent. We wanted something small and quiet, not the huge albergue to the left nor the overpriced one to the right.
But we were hungry. Do we get a bed first? Or food? …Maybe the beds will be gone if we take time to eat. But we were so hungry, we couldn’t think straight enough to decide. (Have you ever had one of those days?)
It seems obvious to me now that I just needed food, but we wandered around, confused, trying to find beds. Street noise overwhelmed me. A locals woman leaned out her 4th story window and tried to point us to the big albergue. I tried speaking Spanish to ask where a little pension was, but to no avail.
Eventually, brain-addled, we stopped in front of a restaurant (having circled it thrice already) to look at our guidebooks for the nth time, and just ran out of steam. We must have looked pitiful, because a pilgrim from Dublin came out of the restaurant (interrupting his meal) and asked us how he could help.
He encouraged us to get food (so sensible!). Then he told us as soon as he and his companion finished eating, they’d go back to their pension and reserve two beds in a private room for us.
Looking back on this series of events, all I can feel is astonished gratitude for his initiative and helpfulness. While we ate, this kind Irishman returned to confirm our reservation and give us the address of the pension. We were profuse with our thanks… and I never saw him again. (Do you see what I mean about Camino angels?) I could not have asked for better help than what he offered or for more perfect timing.
The hearty food was just what I needed. And our quiet room provided the rest to meet a new day.