In the Winds of Change We Always Find Our Direction
Day 24: A Walk to The Twilight Zone
“Bring Ring!”The musical chime of bicycles made us all look up from the breakfast we were eating under the coveted shade of a regal oak tree and wave. In front of us, four figures waved enthusiastically back, and we called out goodbyes in our best Spanish and then watched our roommates from the previous night (Clemente, María Teresa, Sergio and Marta) cycle off down a narrow street and disappear from our sight. Our new friends would have biked over 100 kilometres in a 12 hour period, while for us, the same length would take 4 days. “Well, we best get a move on,” Mum rallied, as we all stared off into the distance in a dreamlike trance, wondering what it would be like to complete the Camino de Santiago del Norte in a minuscule 10 days instead of the average 35. Unfortunately, we did have a few setbacks like No.1: My brother and I had refused to learn how to ride a bike without training wheels, and No.2: We didn’t intend on starting right now. So humbly hoisting on our backpacks, we headed off onto the open road.
The poisonous fumes of Aviles fell away behind us, the dark smoke unable to entrap us with its choking claws any longer. The moment we were clear of the city, we were thrust into a punishing domain of slopes that made up the suburban areas. We ascended mound after mound of startlingly steep hills, beginning with a vigorous determination but ending with exhausted wheezing as we crawled our way to a street-side water fountain, where I promptly tore off my cap and soaked my entire hair in the invigorating water. My spur of the moment action kept me somewhat cool as we tiptoed through valley after valley of dusty tracks, trying to take extreme caution and not ruin our relatively new shoes. Unfortunately, we emerged from the trees spluttering from the fine particles of the Earth and our shoes caked in shades of mustard.
We soon stopped for a small break at a Peregrino Cafe where we were thoroughly entertained by the yapping antics of a tiny coal black Norfolk terrier puppy that wound its way, playing through the legs of his best mate, a giant labrador. The two were extremely adorable and kept us tittering in memory for the rest of the day.
When we turned the corner to see our final destination for the night and got our first look at the campground we would be staying at, I had a sudden feeling of apprehension, as if something was off about the place. I had no idea where this feeling was coming from as staring out onto the lush green lawns and seeing the edges of the lagoon style swimming pool, everything seemed to be pitch perfect. But as we crossed through the gates of the campground, I felt as if I could see the spirit of Rod Serling introducing us into an episode of The Twilight Zone.
We made our way up towards the reception booth and stood in line to check in. As we were waiting, a girl with bright red lipstick (who turned out to be the assistant of the manager and who was at the time helping another family check in) sashayed over to us and peering over the top edge of her large smartphone, questioned us irritatedly, “Yes…?”
“We are Pilgrims on the Camino de Santiago and were wondering if you had any campsites available for tonight,” Dad said smiling.
The girl turned her nose up at the question and sighed, a displeased expression etching itself into her face. “Maybe,” she returned and then disappeared before returning a few moments later. “It is 30 Euros a night,” she grumbled.
“Are there discounts available for Pilgrims?” Mum asked politely.
“No,” the girl replied exasperated.
“Ok,” we nodded. “We’ll stay for one night.”
The girl jerked her head towards the glass window where her co-worker had just finished up helping a young woman check in.
“Thank you,” I called out but if the girl had heard me, she showed no sign of it as she sunk down into a swivel chair and resumed playing ‘Candy Crush’ on her phone.
“Maybe we’ll have more luck here,” I thought as we stepped up to the check-in window.
“We’d like a camp spot for one night please,” Dad expressed as Mum handed the well-known Pilgrim passports over to the girl. Stamped on the front in large green letters signalled the fact that the four of us are Camino walkers.
The girl took the passports and stamped them with a runny red ink before looking up at us. “Do you have a car?” she asked.
I blinked, wondering if I had heard right.
“Uh, no,” Mum stumbled, also confused by the fact that this question had been asked. An awkward silence ensued which Dad broke by asking: “Do you have free wifi here?”
“Yes,” the girl answered, “for 1 Euro and 20 cents an hour. You just insert your money into that machine and the wifi code will come out.”
“Oh, ok,” Dad nodded, eyebrows raised bewilderedly.
Lalika returned from exploring the onsite camp store and excitedly relayed the fact that they had in stock gluten free pasta.
“Do you have a kitchen?” I asked.
“Why?” the girl asked icily.
“Just so we can perhaps cook some dinner,” Dad intervened.
“Oh, no, we only have barbecues.”
My shoulders slumped as I had really been looking forward to a home cooked meal amidst the constant Pilgrim menu meals.
Don’t worry Reka,” my brother comforted. “Barbecued pasta wouldn’t have been yummy anyway.”
After setting up our tents onto our own private sprawling green campsite and each of us taking long hot showers that made us feel human again, we made our way down to the campground’s strangely empty restaurant. Sitting down, we examined the menu, looking for the options that we could alter into a slightly more vegetarian meal. Being non-meat eaters has been no easy task along the Camino and so we’d gotten used to asking for a combination plate of rice or chips and salad without the chorizo, which is exactly what we planned to do tonight. The waitress arrived, but before we could say anything she rolled her eyes and informed us that the outdoor tables we were using were only available for the cafe guests and not the restaurant guests. “But there is nobody here,” Dad replied. The waitress just shrugged her shoulders.
Sighing, we got up to go inside, but mid-walk the waitress continued to ask Dad what we would be ordering.
“Uh, this combination plate please, if possible without the meat.”
“That is not possible.”
“Why? Are the meals pre-cooked?”
“No, it is just not possible.”
Here we were only met by a shrug of the shoulders.
“I think maybe we should just go,” I whispered
“Agreed,” my family nodded.
We turned around and marched away. I looked back but the waitress was already gone.
An hour later we sat on the soft green grass devouring two large pizzas that had been delivered piping hot to the front gate. “This is much more enjoyable!” I thanked my parents as I ate up the chunks of sweet pineapple that my brother left behind. A clap of distant thunder marked my words, as I pushed the empty pizza boxes into an already overflowing dumpster. Then the four of us climbed into our pop-up tents as the rain began to fall.
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