DAY 21: A Thirsty Day to Wash Away
The rising sun’s streaming amber light was just visible from behind the decorative wooden walls of the cozy corner cafe that I was sitting in. We were having a traditional Spanish breakfast of ‘Tortilla de Espanola con pan’ An omelette of potato, egg and onion cut precisely into a pie wedge shape and fitted in between two slices of toasted Ciabatta bread. However, this breakfast was a bit more special than the others we had had of late, because today, we were celebrating exactly three weeks on The Camino de Santiago del Norte. “Three weeks!” I marvelled. Time had flown so fast with one day melding into the next, my tired memories only picking up on the most important details like food and beds.
“Do you remember the city of Laredo?” Lalika asked.
“Huh?” I looked back at my brother confused.
“It’s where you had stir fried noodles for dinner, and we slept in the tent.”
A sweet chime of a bell rung through the cafe, signalling new arrivals. Looking up, I saw a group of our pilgrim friends and remembered exactly what made the experiences memorable. After devouring a large cinnamon roll that I would burn off before the clock struck noon, the four of us got up and waved a temporary goodbye to our Camino friends. One last question was posed before we headed out into the cool morning air. “Do you want to get some water?” Mum asked.
“Nah,” Lalika and I shrugged “We’ll just fill up our water bottles at the next fountain. This walk is riddled with them!” As the door shut behind us, I didn’t realise that I would regret this decision so very much.
Soon the refreshing temperatures of dawn dissipated and we were thrust out from under the cool shade of trees and out onto the road that was so scaldingly hot, that the inky black mess of tar began to melt in blobs. I started to feel my throat slowly drying up as if a drought had occurred, but none of us was worried yet. A tap would be just around the corner. Until now, every day, at least three or four drinking fountains graced our path with their stony presence, so why would it be any different today?
We continued along the road with the roasting heat rising from it like smoke. We passed cow paddocks teaming with life and the pungent smell of poo, passed traditional platform raised wooden granaries, called hórreos that were made for storing precious crops, including apples, that this cider country is famous for and continued walking past small crystal gurgling streams, which were surrounded by forests of thick churning mud. By now Lalika and I were both thirsty, panting like man’s best friend, as we tried to cool off. Our hopes were raised every time we came around another corner, but they were dashed every time, when after looking around frantically in vain, we found nothing. “This is ridiculous!” I complained, “We’ve been walking for over 7 kilometres now!” Suddenly out of the corner of my eye I spotted a long green hose, attached undeniably to water! I raced over, feeling my backpack becoming lighter with every step towards the oasis. I started the tap and filled up my water bottle to the very top, the sun’s light shining upon its blue outline and casting an azure shadow around me. I began to guzzle the water, my parched tongue and throat only processing the taste a few seconds later. A bitter, goopy flavour erupted in my mouth. I spat the water out with as much force as Vesuvius. Trying not to shed tears I hung my head, forced to continue on.
“Sobrayo is the next town and that will be our best bet for water,” Dad comforted as we trudged down the path in silence. “It’s a fixed point on the Camino map; there is even an Albergue there! No doubt we’ll be able to buy some water at a mini market.” Even though we didn’t respond, I hoped with all my might that my Dad would be right. Another 5 kilometres scraped by in a mix of unrelenting torment. It was agony ascending and descending steep hills on this hot ash tar, my mouth drying out more and more with every step I took.
Finally, we saw the sign that we had been waiting for, signalling our entrance into Sobrayo. By this point, we were already drinking our first few gulps of the crystal cold water from a one and a half litre bottle, bought from the mini market of our minds. “This can’t be Sobrayo!” I cried. “There’s nothing here!” Crickets chirped. We could count on both hands the number of houses in the town. Other than these abandoned looking homes, there was the one Albergue that would only open at 3:00 pm and one measly sign that read ‘Restaurant, 800 meters’ in faded letters.
“Well, we’re definitely not walking an extra 1.6k, so let’s keep going,” Mum said.
I was so frustrated I could almost cry, but I didn’t want to lose the water from my body. To top it off, there were no outside taps at any of the houses and no one around at all to just ask for a glass of water.
Another 1.5k out of Sobrayo I was ready to sit down in the dust and not take another step. That was when I looked up through my blurred vision and saw the sign. A sign that read ‘Rest stop for pilgrims, picnic tables and ice cold beverages, 20 meters.’
The next door neighbours watched in amusement as a family of bedraggled and wild eyed pilgrims went to town on a lone vending machine, buying waters and sweet cold juices to quench their thirst at exorbitant prices. It was only afterwards that we noticed the granite stone outline of a water tap. We filled up our water bottles, kicked off our shoes, sank into the outdoor chairs and closed our eyes, thirst quenched at last!
One and a half hours later, after a remarkable comeback, the four of us stood on the outskirts of the city of Villaviciosa, our destination for the evening.
Here, a cozy Albergue would wash away the thirsty day from our memories, and we could just relax in peace. We didn’t feel the pressure of rushing like we did yesterday, as the Eroski Consumer Guide told us that today’s Albergue had over 22 places, and we knew for sure that we would have one. That’s when I noticed an argument start to break out between Lalika and Dad. As we threaded our way through the streets, following the familiar yellow markers, using our built-in honing devices to find the supermarkets, I thought I heard Lalika say, “No, that’s not here, look closer that’s 9 km from here.”
“You’re wrong Lalika; it has Villaviciosa written here.”
“Yes, but that’s not where it is! It is still 9 km from here.”
My heart started to sink when I heard Dad say “Oh, Sorry Lalika, I think you’re right.”
Sure enough, the Albergue, our budget accommodation in a monastery, was another 9kms from Villaviciosa. Dad had read Concejo de Villaviciosa, which means Council of Villaviciosa and took it to mean that it was in Villaviciosa. The address was actually Valdedios, 9kms up the road. We had already walked over 22 kms today and the prospect that we were only two-thirds of the way there, literally brought me to tears. It is funny how the thought of having to walk even 200 meters extra can completely and utterly demoralise you to the point where you just want to sit down and cry.
So we had to take stock of our situation. Mum suggested that we stick to the plan to find a supermarket and then we would decide what to do once we had eaten. We were sort of wandering around in a daze and in the end we asked the kind old man in the news-agency where the Supermarkets were. He pointed to the only place we hadn’t yet walked to in the town. Of course!
Once inside, we bought a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables, including my new Camino favourite: donut peaches. I closed in on a large vegetable quiche while Mum, Dad and Lalika grabbed a couple of tubs of Hummus, a family and Camino favourite. Outside once more, we found a grassy area in front of a row of apartment blocks and dumped our packs on the ground. We used a retainer wall in front of the apartments as a picnic table to eat our late lunch. We popped open a bottle of non-alcoholic Sidra (Apple Cider), the thing that Villaviciosa is famous for all throughout Spain. The bubbles tickled my throat as we watched on a group of local boys playing football. We relaxed in the park, letting our aches ebb away into the soft grass.
“So where to now?” we questioned, turning to Lalika, our designated “Destinator” for The Camino. Within five minutes, Lalika had three options for us to consider. All were a little out of budget, but Lalika discovered a quaint little hostel just on the main road that all of us couldn’t resist. We walked the short distance from the supermarket, and as we stepped inside, we ran smack bang into Annie, the young Canadian girl we had met back at Casa Belen. We asked whether they had vacancy, and while they did, it would mean that our sleeping arrangements would be all over the place, with Dad one whole level down from us, and Lalika, Mum and I having to share an apartment with a group of young men. It mattered not, however, as the fluffy pillows, warm showers and communal kitchen made up for it in droves. Knowing that we would be able to cook dinner ourselves for the first time in two and a half weeks, in what was a supremely well appointed and immaculately clean modern kitchen, left us all feeling weak with pleasure. Dad went a little wild, sautéing, blanching and frying the kitchen into a frenzy. He emerged an hour later with steaming platters of vegetables, fried rice and a lentil stew. We finished up the meal with fruity icy poles and pleasant conversations. Besides Annie, we met a delightful French couple who were biking The Camino. They didn’t speak English and with Dad’s fading school-boy French, it was funny to see how they communicated. It was great when Annie joined us. Being French Canadian, she was able to translate the storm of the conversation, which was the perfect entertaining end to the evening.
Soon our curfew notifications kicked in, and we made our way upstairs to sleep. By 10 pm the entire Albergue was silent, sleeping, soon to be ready for another coming day on The Camino.