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DAY 17: New Neighbours

My hair hung in limp clumps, escaping the loose hold of my bedazzled cap. The sun beat down upon us like Mongolian Tatars transcending the barrier of time to ruthlessly round up their victims. We struggled up the steep hills of the hectic highway, zigging and zagging from left to right to escape the extra few meters that were added on from the deep set curving corners. It had been over 2 hours since we had bid adieu to Meg and Mark, and Bob and Julie, the two Australian couples we had met back at the paradisal beach of Pobeña. We had shared a small lunch of traditional Spanish fare together in San Vicente de la Barquera before heading on our way, not too sad, as we were sure to see them again somewhere soon along the captivating routes that are the Camino de Santiago del Norte.

Aussie friends on The Camino: (from left to right) MEG, BOB, MARK & JULIE

Aussie friends on The Camino: (from left to right) MEG, BOB, MARK & JULIE

Stopping for the 3rd time in three kilometres, we ripped open the caps on ice cold fruit juices and icy poles with shaking hands and wild eyes. Devouring the refreshingly crisp items under a pink umbrella with palm tree prints, I began to dream of a portable air-conditioning system that could transcend the barriers of cable-supplied electricity to assist the Camino walkers through Spain’s sizzling summer months. Unfortunately, I left my PHD in wireless electricity at home so there would be no respite from the scorching heat of the afternoon sun. Where was Tesla when you needed him?

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Arriving in San Vicente de la Barquera

We continued climbing a gradual mountain, winding our way through narrow passes of shrubs that were too small to provide shade, until we made it to the small town of Unquera. Hobbling into a small cafe, we collapsed into the plastic red chairs and didn’t move for the next two hours, passing the precious time with writing and working as the sun slowly forfeited its dominance over the sky. Indeed as Dad and I were making our way to the only small supermarket in the town to stock up for tonight and tomorrow, I marvelled at the peaceful change in temperature.

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Without any Albergues around for miles, we turned our attention to finding a campsite for the night. Tonight, like in Gernike, we would be stealth camping in the Spanish countryside. So we climbed up out of the city where twilight was now coming to claim its haven for the night and continued upwards using the grey cobblestone road. Emerging from under a cluster of trees, we came face to face with a beautiful lush green lookout that gave way to a magnificent view onto the city below. Walking through the soft grass, we dropped our backpacks to the ground, looked around and declared “Welcome Home!”

 

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Ten minutes later our pop-up tents were set up and our socks drying in the warm breeze. We were about to head the 30 meters slightly down the mountain to the wooden picnic table we had spotted earlier to have dinner when a guy, dressed in neon yellow cycling outfit, puffed past us, dragging his bicycle along with him. On the back of his bike, saddled over the wheels, were two large army green coloured saddle bags, a telltale sign of cyclists who had also embarked upon The Camino adventure. Though for the cyclists it only takes 10-15 days to complete the 838 kilometre pilgrimage as opposed to the 5-6 weeks for the walkers, each of us no doubt felt the wearing effects of each day.  Just as we passed each other this stranger called out us, asking if we could speak English.

“Indeed we can!” replied Dad cheerfully as all our smiles grew.

“Would it be possible for me to pitch my tent next to yours?” he asked, a strong Slavic accent melding his words.

“Absolutely!” we smiled. “Welcome neighbour, and once you are ready, come down to the table and have some dinner with us, there is plenty for all!”

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Fifteen minutes later we were chatting away as we shared our food and our new neighbour brewed tea for us as the sun set and left us with a mirage of a blood orange bath. In a quarter of an hour we had learnt that our cyclist friend was called Pavel or Pasha to his friends and family, and he was from the Ukraine.

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New camping neighbour and new friend, Pasha Nykytiuk from Ukraine

Pasha hadn’t flown across Europe to do this Camino – he had cycled! On the very bike parked next to our tents, he had ridden over 2800 kilometres, through rain, hail and shine, in less than three weeks! Now he was cycling down The Way of St James and afterwards he was set on exploring Portugal before cycling back to the Ukraine for his father’s upcoming 50th birthday! This amazing achievement kept us talking until the sky had turned a shade of midnight satin and the faint diamond shine of stars pinpointed its delicate fabric. We trudged back up the hill to our makeshift campsite and the spectacular view that it came with. The city below us was now glowing neon orange. With goodnights ringing out to each other, we closed our eyes and fell asleep as the glow of the city below us glistened in the night.

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