DAY 20: La Isla Bonita
My feet pounded down the steep mountain side, ricocheting off the hard concrete path like a poor ball trapped in a pinball machine. Every step sent a jolt of pain racing up my legs in time to a high chorus of melodic “OW’s!” Yesterday’s 32 kilometres (19.8 Miles) were really taking a toll on all four of us and as our fellow Australians would say, “We were stuffed.” Even though we had just taken an early lunch break by the dark grey waters of the town of Ribadesella (7km from our starting point) where we had amused ourselves by watching a large group of kayakers circle around the headland, it was hard to deny the facts: all of us were battling individual niggles, sleep deprivation and the overloaded burden of backpacks. I tucked a sprig of rosemary behind my ear and inhaled its sweet scent. “This is where we have to dig deep!” Dad had motivated us as another large and rocky hillside appeared in front of us, waiting tauntingly for us to scale it. I muttered back, “Yes, but how deep must we dig?”
With limbs throbbing in time to the anxious beating of our hearts, we entered down into a small village of the Asturias, that I had spotted earlier on in the foggy horizon. We would be crossing our fingers and toes if they didn’t ache, but instead I began chanting under my breath, begging for our wishes to be answered…the wish to find a small cafe of sorts where we could quench our thirst with sparkling mineral water and abate our hunger with hot chips/french fries. The sight of a cluster of faded red umbrellas had us figuratively jumping for joy, as expending unnecessary energy at this point would have been ludicrous. The sun passed its highest point in the sky by the time we moved on with full bellies and full smiles.
Coaxed on by the thought of bunk beds waiting for us in an Albergue, we continued on making our way over and under the bumpy green and gold hills that looked as if they had been pulled straight out of a Dr Suess book, while a small fairytale-like sunbaked bridge had a babbling brook racing underneath its curved arch. It looked like it had been brought to life by the magical fairy godmother of Cinderella with a simple Bippity, Boppity, Boo!
Climbing over a final mammoth mound of Earth we found ourselves looking down upon what looked like a beautiful island. A long strip of pure saffron-yellow beach stretched across a bay of indigo-blue waters that occasionally dashed itself upon a guardian circle of jagged rocks lining the coast. Then I saw them. Was it the Polish women just out in front of us? How could they have gotten so far in front of us??? One of them was nursing a badly swollen ankle on which she was only able to put the most minimum of pressure.
I had again fallen into the trap of counting how many pilgrims we saw along the path during the day. According to today’s Eroski Consumer Guide to the Camino, I had calculated that we were close to the last few pilgrims who would find a bed of the available places in the Albergue ahead. I started to increase my pace, frustrated with the lack of back up I was receiving from my family. They were content to just go at the usual pace. My increased pace turned to a jog, and then a run, when I noticed another couple just behind the Polish women. I screamed and sprinted, with the burning sensation of fire under my feet powering me along. I had nearly caught up to the couple when I looked back, only to notice that I was about 800 meters out in front of my family, who were still sauntering along as if they were on a Sunday picnic! All the frustration welled up in me and I felt like I was alone in my quest, as if getting a bed didn’t matter to them at all, but I just couldn’t face the prospect of having to walk another 8 km up the road to the only other Albergue on this route. I screamed at the top of my lungs in frustrated rage and it was this action that snapped me out of my delirium and brought me back to reality. I gave in. What would be, would be. It was then that I noticed that only about 300 meters ahead the Polish women were sitting in the valley below, of lime green lawn, dotted like a Dalmatian, at one of the inviting wooden picnic tables.