If I learned any new, important vocabulary on this pilgrimage, it was the word tranquila.
Many of my interactions with the Spanish people included this word as advice to me. Be calm. Be at peace. Be at ease. Be relaxed. Be serene. So many meanings embedded into this simple word. Every reminder I received to be tranquila illuminated the many ways I struggle with fear and anxiety without even realizing it.
Apparently, I’m one uptight chick.
In the morning, I awoke feeling terrible – coughing, congested, and exhausted.
I never considered not walking, but the meseta was wide open and the sun was rising in a clear sky. Without any shade to protect me, I worried about the effects the sun and heat would have on my ailing body. Martha walked with me some of the way which provided a distraction, but her presence grated on me for the superficiality of our conversation in her non-native tongue. I wanted depth or I wanted to be alone.
By noon, with only 14km/8.7 miles completed, I reached Hospital de Orbigo and knew I was done for the day. I felt deeply fatigued and dizzy, and the strange lingering cough felt deep and uncomfortable. I checked into an albergue requesting a private room – budget be damned. I didn’t want to get anyone else sick and also wanted some space to be sickly by myself.
I explained my malady to the hospitalero to justify my request, but when he regretfully told me that no private rooms were available, I almost cried.
“Tranquila,” he said, and led me in a room that had yet to be filled (and wouldn’t be until much later in the day – I’m still not sure how he arranged this). He suggested I take a bed by the open window for better air. I felt touched by his kindness.
I plunked down on the bed, not even undressing, and slept deeply for several hours. Not a single soul interrupted me. Later, I wandered around like a zombie, going through the motions of arrival. I showered and washed my laundry by hand while I waited for the farmacia to open after siesta.
Now a little more rested, I noticed that the albergue was a truly lovely place. It had a beautiful two-story mural painted within its a grotto-like courtyard and an open, shady backyard by a stream. It’s run by a German Catholic association who, in my experience, embody Jesus’ teachings of compassion in how they treated me.
At 5pm, I wandered down the street to the first neon-green plus sign I could find. The pharmacist there was a kind and quiet soul, an angel of mercy. After a thorough verbal exam, she confided in me that she was very concerned about my ears (which had been quite painful) and suspected that I had an infection.
“Tranquila,” she said to me.
She went into the curtained area at the back of the pharmacy, and returned a few moments later carrying several bottles and small boxes. In painstakingly slow Spanish, she carefully explained each medicine she chose for me: Amoxicillin, cough suppressant, and decongestant – all in formulas that decreased weight in my pack, she said, but powerful enough to heal me.
She explained when to take each one, and then asked me to repeat it all back to make sure I understood. Her care and attention felt as healing as the remedies themselves.
When I returned with my medicines to the albergue, I was greeted at the entrance by the hospitalero who’d checked me in earlier. Beside him was an older man, who turned out to be the local priest. They’d been talking about my case, apparently, and I told him of the pharmacist’s verdict. The priest raised his hand over me and made the sign of the cross. A tranquila from the Divine. I grinned gratefully.
Later I attended the lightning-fast Mass, hoping to receive extra healing. When I went up for communion, the priest’s eyes met mine and he smiled at me in recognition.
That night, I slept terribly and probably kept my bunk mates awake with my coughing. After the previous days’ struggles with solitude and loneliness, I was happy to be ensconced in the bunks with fellow (if unknown) pilgrims.
On the lintel of the albergue‘s entrance was a sign which reads, El turista exigo, el peregrino agradece. The tourist expects, the pilgrim is grateful.
In a town coincidentally named Hospital, I began to heal the strange illness I had picked up. Supported by the love of strangers, I felt grateful indeed – and considerably more tranquila.