DAY 16: Comillas – Dominion of the Angel
The early morning mist collided with an ombre landscape of dawn that was being painted before our very eyes. The strong stench of cow manure wafting out from inside a barn (whose colour could no longer be made out) invaded our nostrils and left us reeling. After sixteen days of enjoying this usual fragrant delight throughout the Basque countryside, I still could not say that I was quite used to it, but despite this, we drew nearer, our arms outstretched to pet a young black calf with sweet brown eyes who by the looks of it, had only been born last night.
My ears throbbed with pain from last night’s endless pop music that had blared until past midnight at Santillana’s campground. We were all feeling a few of the torturous results that came with over two weeks of strenuous walking on The Camino de Santiago del Norte. It is interesting to note how sensitive you become to mindless noise at the end of a day’s walk, as you try to savour every moment of rest that you can to recuperate for the day’s walk that lies ahead. Our legs, backs and necks ached in their individual ways and to top it off, Dad had lost his voice from (in his words) having to converse over the loud noise that had been present back in Güemes during dinner. The rest of us agreed that he simply talked too much. Feeling drowsy and a bit downcast, we veered away from the longer trail on the track and instead opted to take the shorter route for the day, along the road, while Lalika and I decided to entertain ourselves by playing our own version of ‘Who Wants To Be A Millionaire’ – Camino style.
We powered up a final hill to come face to face with a large clifftop that fell away to show off a beautiful sandy beach with languid rolling waves. In the background, the city of Comillas, our destination for the night sat in a relaxed formation, inviting us to explore its ancient streets. We made our way through the old city to arrive at the Albergue, only to find a row of backpacks lined up and our fellow pilgrims lying on the soft green grass eating lunch. Dad was dispatched to buy our own edibles while the rest of us massaged our sore feet. The feeling that comes with finally completing the day’s walk is so liberating and you feel as if you are an angel soaring through the sky, when you are without the weight and burden of your backpack.
One and a half hours later, after eating two large boxes of fluffy french fries/chips, a black car pulled up to the carpark just outside of the Albergue, tires screeching. Out stepped a woman whose personality seemed to be made of iron and steel. She marched to the front of the house where she unlocked the wooden gate and introduced herself as The Hospitalier. Opening the medieval doors, she suddenly barred the entrance and turned towards us. “The Albergue is only available for 20 people,” she barked. “No more, no less, respect the order the pilgrims arrived in and we will have no problems. There are only 20 beds, so if you are number 21 or later, you can leave right now. No negations will be held!” She finished eyebrows raised and eyes squinting menacingly. At least 10 pilgrims had to pick up their packs and head the extra 12 kilometres to the next Albergue, while another couple were turned away for lack of credentials. After having made the cut, we found out that this Albergue used to be a Women’s Prison, now converted. Even though the beds were extremely comfortable, I could feel the sensation of imprisonment running through these walls, the warden at the gate locking you in and throwing away the key…
Later on, in the main square, reminiscent of the middle ages, the four of us sat in the shadow of the tolling bells that belonged to the white-washed church as we devoured huge cones overflowing with sorbet ice-cream. We had entered the square to find many people in the perimeter eating the swaying towers of deliciousness and after our own dinner, we couldn’t help but indulge in one ourselves. We had a bit of a giggle in the ice creamery when the translation for Caramel Chocolate was written as ‘Brown Cream’. Soon afterwards, we witnessed the sunset that seemed to be a giant blood orange melting the sky and I smiled quoting the t-shirt that I had given my mum for her birthday to bring on this walk. “I walk, therefore I am.” Looking around at my family, I changed the words a little as another day on The Camino ended. “We walk, therefore we are.”