From my journal: “My feet are only sort-of sore instead of falling-off sore.” This was progress!
The walk to Atapuerca today lifted my spirits. I could have sung from the top of my lungs, I felt so happy. The sun shone brightly in the crisp air as we left the castle-like hotel-albergue and headed straight up the steep hillside — the first of three. I stopped for a moment to look back and was treated to views of distant, snow-covered mountains and rolling oak-covered hills, barely budding green, with wisps of ground fog settled into the far-away valleys.
From there, we walked through 7.5km/4.5mi of uninterrupted trail through pine glades and oak forest. With part shade over the trail and the air temperature about 26.7C/80F, it felt utterly enchanting. Fairies might appear anywhere. There were green glades and mossy puddles. I saw my first wild daffodil, dainty and nodding with its thimble-sized yellow cup instead of the big, frilly trumpet of its cultivated cousin.
Well into the day, we arrived on top of the last hill — an open, grassy pasture full of tiny blue flowers and, beyond it, saw even more gorgeous views. Breathtaking. The air felt different here, a “thin place” where everything felt magical. I wanted to roll around in the blue flowers and never leave.
Little did I know that from this hilltop, I was looking down into an area that has been settled by humans for more than 900,000 years. Almost a million. And I could see why: The bowl-shaped valley felt like a comforting cradle and the energy there felt palpably different.
We arrived late-ish to a very full albergue, but were glad to get the last few beds. Marisela and Muriel went to one room and I and Katrin to another. When we entered, I didn’t know I was about to meet my next Camino angels. They show up when you’re not looking.
But, not knowing this, I sized up the situation and didn’t much like what I saw: a tiny room with two bunks against the wall on the left, two single beds on the right, and all men. I felt a little awkward, to be honest.
As I got settled in my upper bunk, the guy below me said hi and then asked me if I’d brought earplugs. Uh-oh, I thought.
American, I knew from the accent, he had a friendly face, stylish glasses, and a trim lightening goatee; he seemed kind. He told me that he snored pretty well and that he normally used a CPAP machine at home. It was just too heavy to carry on the Camino – a fact I agreed with. He seemed to feel badly for inconveniencing others and he’d gotten some grief from others about his night-time noises.
“It’s not your fault, though,” I told him. “If you could do it differently, I’m sure you would. I’ve got earplugs. I’ll be fine.” And I meant it from the heart.
Well, he got a little choked up at this response. It was a really sweet moment. A thin place between two strangers.
That’s how I met Gary — along with his buddy, Scott, and their German friend, Mattias. Suddenly, I didn’t feel awkward at all. And, for the record, I slept halfway decently. Sunshine, fresh air, and a peaceful heart will do that to you.
Those, plus only “sort-of sore” feet.