The theme for the next two days of walking was consistent: foot misery in the daytime and, when the walking was over, recovery and camaraderie in the evenings.
This expected physical pain lasted for almost a week it encompassed all my thoughts during the day, and at night, I worried about the next day’s walk. It colored the entire experience. My journal entries are short but list specific pains in great detail.
I’ll spare you the minutia of blisters and aches and, for the sake of brevity, am condensing the two days into one entry.
Day 14: Santo Domingo de la Calzada to Villamayor del Rio
We called it the “Holy Chicken church.” It is a gorgeous and sacred cathedral which has featured living chickens for as long as anyone can remember (read about the chicken miracle here). Suffice it to say, the four of us had been yukking up the name for so long that we just had to see it before leaving town in the morning.
But you don’t need to pay 3 euro to see it. I’m happy to report that there were, indeed, live chickens in the beautiful church, though I heard no holy crowing.
I lingered over the icons and statues of the Madonna and Child in the interpretive area, marveling over the various costumes and hairstyles Mary has been given over the centuries.
Then, we (Marisela, Muriel, Katrin, and I) got on the road — and it all went downhill, as they say, from there.
Before long, it felt as if the day would never end. I barely noticed my surroundings (hill after hill of grasses and highway) as I kept putting one foot in front of the other, staring at the rocky, muddy paths before me. Hobbling.
I couldn’t figure it out. Yesterday had been decent. I walked 21km and didn’t rush. Yet everything hurt from my ankles to my toes.
At one point, I was changing from my shoes to my Crocs in the hopes that the pain would abate when a Spanish pilgrim hovered over me. He lectured me, wagging his finger, and told me that it was bad. I felt “kicked while I was down.” After he walked away, I started to cry. Hurt, shame, and anger accompanied me a mile or two down the road.
As we approached the town at last, I waved the girls ahead and walked solo the last kilometer or so. When we finally arrived at the albergue, I lay down on my bed for 20 minutes just feeling my feet pound.
“I don’t know how to avoid it,” I wrote in my journal. “Water? Food? Surface? Distance? Inserts? All I can do is pray that it’s better tomorrow.”
I felt discouraged and not a little homesick too.
Fortunately, dinner was warm and satisfying — and we played a game of international Bananagrams. Instead of carrying the heavy tiles, I’d made game pieces on tiny squares of paper. Our house rules said we could use any language present at the table (French, Spanish, German, and English). This was not only fun, but a great way to learn new vocabulary.
Two older French ladies looked on with interest in the game, but they demurred when invited to join us. After a couple of rounds, they took to “helping” the players closest to them. It was funny and sweet to see them come out of their shell.
Day 15: Villamayor del Rio to Villafranca Montes de Oca
We stopped in a small grocery store in Belorado, which allowed me to rest my feet. I sat in the courtyard of the plaza and attempted to sketch the trees.
Looking at today’s elevation map struck fear in my heart: a steep, upward slope to Villafranca for 13 km/8mi, followed three A-shaped peaks — and not a single available albergues between them if my feet fell off.
I was glad for my friends’ companionship. I was not sure how (or if) I could manage it alone.
Fortunately, we paced ourselves and my feet held up admirably. I discovered that it helped a lot if I took painkillers before getting started. (Hello, Captain Obvious!)
At one point on the path, I saw three older Spanish gentleman walking toward me with a wicker basket each hanging from an arm. When I asked to look in, they proudly showed me their treasures — chanterelle mushrooms of every size.
“En el bosque?” I asked.
They pointed to a far off grove of trees past the planted fields and described to me, in great detail, how I would find them myself if I looked. I felt included in some special local secret and grinned gratefully at them.
In a small town later on, I stopped to admire some roosters strutting around in the vacant streets, their dark and gorgeous tails iridescent and shining in the sun. While my friends bought bread from the panaderia on wheels, I made a quick sketch of the church door in Villambistia which enchanted me.
My fears about the day’s walk abated when we all agreed to stop in Villafranca Montes de Oca for the night (about half the day’s prescribed mileage), which turned out to be a sweet decision.
The little town’s hotel has a separate albergue in the back. We sprung for slightly more expensive single beds (not bunks) in a long, spacious, and light-filled room. It was a real treat. It was still sunny and a perfect time to do laundry.
I washed by hand every stitch of clothing I had and hung it all out on the ample laundry line to dry in the brisk breeze. This activity, however, left me wearing my green floral and pink striped sarong as a skirt, my burgundy Nanopuff jacket on top, and black Crocs. I was a sight.
Two older French ladies eyed me, no doubt in utter horror at my get-up.
Instead of withering under their stares, I struck a pose and exclaimed to them happily, “C’est le Camino chic!”
And — would you know — they burst out laughing!
I loved seeing their reserve drop. Later they spied me sketching the local church in my notebook and proclaimed me an artist (an opinion I quickly corrected). Still, it was nice to make some headway in thawing French/American relations.
For dinner, we had the pilgrim meal in the hotel restaurant and it was class-sy! Round tables, white cloth napkins, water goblets, and dressed-up waiters bustling around us. Mirrors on the walls and high chandeliers. I think Muriel satisfied a little bit of her inner bourgeoisie that night.
While we ate, a pilgrim couple approached our table to introduce themselves. Cheryl and Jim had heard through the grapevine that another person from Oregon was walking the Camino (me) and wanted to say hi — such nice people. I got to know them a lot better later on the Way.
Well-fed, tired, and happy, we headed to bed — Marisela was out like a light, and I was journaling when two older Irish couples across from us started giggling. It was technically quiet time, but the lights hadn’t yet been turned off. They seemed like nice folks, just having some good craic.
One of the Irish guys had just returned from the bathroom, having changed into his pajamas, a two-piece matching set, complete with a collared button up top.
“The old folks home called…” whispered one of his friends.
I started to grin, catching the eye of the teaser and detecting a little smirk.
“They’re ready for you to move in at any time.”
It was very hard to stay silent. When Muriel started to giggle, I almost snorted.
And thus ended two of my hardest days on the Camino. I was looking forward to Burgos, the next big city, and maybe another rest day like we’d had in Pamplona. Maybe.
One step at a time.