DAY 26: Mud, Mayonnaise and a Majestic Sunset
I stepped into an oozing marshy mud puddle for the 100th time in the past hour. I lifted my once hot-pink hiking shoes out of the squelching swamp prison with a sigh. You could no longer tell what the original colour was. Behind me, I heard the indignant cries from my family, who were also being swallowed whole by the murky waters of this bog. The bog of eternal sludge. There was no way out. We were trapped beneath a thick layer of oak and elm trees, who were slowly being choked to death by strangling vines that competed fiercely for any chance of the weak pallor of sunlight flitting down into the depths of this sombre forest. We continued onwards on our Camino, criss-crossing under rotting logs stained green with moss, over trickling slush streams and through endless inky black, churning mud. The light at the end of the tunnel burned like a miracle and when the four of us managed to crawl through the opening and back out into the real world of civilisation, we rejoiced immensely.
Ignoring St James’ yellow arrows, which would have lead us straight back down into the bog, we turned to the left and journeyed out to the scenic route along the road, while whistling the seven gnome’s catchy “Hi Ho.” Yes, that’s how thankful we were to see the sky.
While the road did save us from having to throw out our shoes altogether, walking it is always draining, both physically and mentally. Somehow, some way, the black tar drains the life force out of you, makes each step somehow prolonged and taxes your mental resolve. That’s how the first four hours on the road ended up feeling like a whole day of walking had already past. We were all craving a break, but as villages were few and far between on this leg, we were wondering if we would actually find a place to rest at all. We approached the outskirts of a village and my Dad immediately asked a couple of local people standing by the roadside whether there was a decent place to eat. They assured him that just 400 metres down the road we would be well fed! The words were music to our ears, and the joyful hum of “Hi-Ho” returned. Sure enough, soon we were sitting in a tiny hotel cafe, which was the only place that sold food for miles around.
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We had just ordered a couple of plates of snacks that would keep us going until our final destination for the day. The kitchen’s silver doors swished open and a waitress appeared, expertly balancing a sandwich order of ours. Walking up to our table, time froze to the pace of a snail as I watched in horror at the chaos that played out in front of me. Turning around to get some salt from an apposing table, Dad’s hand flew up into the air and collided with the small porcelain plate in the waitress’ hand. It went flying, causing the contents of the sandwich, which included asparagus, tomato and mayonnaise, to elaborately soar downwards in slow motion, and come to a halt, smack bang on the floor in a crescendo of shattering plates. The murderous look on the waitress’ face didn’t falter, even after we apologised profusely and offered to clean the mess up ourselves. So the best we could do was smile kindly and watch as she brought out the rest of our plates. I know it was an accident, but I feel so badly when food is wasted and also the extra work we had created for the waitress. This moment brought me gratitude for what I had received and I let that gratitude radiate throughout my body in kind of an energetic way that recharged me for the last part of our journey for the day.
Returning to the road, we wound our way through the slight mountain ranges of Asturias and the last 8 km of the day entertained us with stark contrasts of deep valleys and steep climbs keeping us in check. We even felt that we stood a chance of getting the last few places at one of two Albergues, so the race was back on again! During the day, we had been passing or were being passed by a young Brazilian man, another group of three and an older man walking alone. With only 2 km to go, the young Brazilian man surged past us with an unearthly reserve of energy. One less place! It is funny how your mind plays the silliest tricks with you when something like this happens. I had to stop myself from imagining the scenario which always jumped to the front of my mind; the one where we would get there and they would say, ‘Sorry, but we only have four beds left and these guys just got here a minute before you.” We saw the older man just in front of us and with Cadavedo just 1500 meters up a steep hill, we knew we had what it took to pass him. It was now our turn to draw on our unearthly reserves of human energy and sure enough, we powered up the hill as if we were freshly starting the whole journey. I insisted immediately that instead of us all trying our luck to get the last few beds, Dad should just throw off his backpack, take our pilgrim credentials and run to the Albergue, trustfully beating even the young Brazilian man. He sprinted off, leaving us in a heap to wait out the dreaded verdict.
When Dad returned, one look held the answer. So it was off to the local campground for us. I felt somewhat apprehensive about the campground, having had such a tumultuous experience last time we had camped. But I needn’t have worried. The kind receptionist quickly made us feel very welcomed.
Setting up our tents in the communal camp-spot, however, turned out to be a bit of a challenge as we dillied and dallied about where to let our pop-up tents explode. Finally, we found a section that had slightly softer grass than the rest. Turns out we had pitched our tents right next to the goals of an impromptu football (soccer) game, whose strikers (forwards) were 5-year-old children who hadn’t quite perfected the art of aiming just yet. It wasn’t too big of a surprise when our tent was hit numerous times by the chequered white and black soccer ball. However, hearing the delighted cries and celebrations after every goal was scored, made it all thoroughly bearable.
After setting up, it was time to get sustenance again. We walked down to a cafe at the end of the village and here, we were again able to catch up with our Peruvian friends; a couple who had crossed our path now four or five times along our journey since Aviles. They were taking the opportunity to do the Camino now that their son was grown and making his way in the world. They were amazing – always able to beat us to locations, having the discipline to get up at 5 am and start into the day with a dogged determination to get to the end early. This is what I really like about the Camino! The way it weaves you into the story of those with whom you walk. The opportunity to take that moment out and connect from that mutually shared level of understanding, which comes from a common goal of transcending the ordinary. It was the last day we would see them on the walk, but not knowing this, and living in this moment, we were able to enjoy every second we shared together.
Later on, we were eating our dinner in the same small cafe, entirely reminiscent of our South American dining experiences. Sitting by the panoramic window, we had a magnificent view of the golden sunset boiling down behind the dark green stances of the mountainous cliff edges facing the coast. With the sting of the cooler night air, it was perhaps a sign that the summer had already started to turn, its zenith already reached. In the morning we would visit the coastline of Cadavedo, which is known as one of the most beautiful tourist attractions to see in Spain. But for now, there was nothing more to do than zip up our jackets, race through the rain, which had returned – the clouds darkening the night sky – and walk home. We made small jokes and spoke of dreams that lay ahead, all the way back to our haven of the football ball battered tents.