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DAY 7: Racing to a Red Light

The day dawned as the hottest so far on our journey, a searing 39 Celsius (102 Fahrenheit) adding to the rusty glow the wilting forest trees emanated. It was only 8:00am but already my hair stuck to my back, a limp and drooping figure. I wasn’t only dripping with sweat but also with stress. Our occasional Albergue (Pilgrim’s Hostel) accommodation, the one piece of luxury we kept close while walking was in jeopardy and I turned into a fiery ball of distress when a bed was at stake. We had just learned from a fellow pilgrim and new friend that our destination for the night only had 20 beds available and there was no booking ahead allowed. Suddenly competition lurked everywhere, paranoia began to set in and I was determined to knock today’s 22 kilometres (13.5 Miles) straight out of the ball park.

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Channeling a streak of Emily Charlton surfacing from reading The Devil Wears Prada, I urged my family on at a breakneck pace that left our feet burning. We raced through the breathtaking Basque countryside, through a picnic lunch and finally through the unbearable heat that flamed up off the road in the final few kilometres. I had a panicked, half hysterical look on my face when we pulled up to the Albergue Hostel in a dreaded anticipation to find… fellow pilgrims lying on cool concrete in whatever shade they could find while they waited for the hostel to actually open. It was 2:06 pm and the hostel opened at 3:00 pm. We had basically raced to a red light. Setting our own backpacks down, Dad went to the corner bodega to buy whatever tropical fruit juice he could find and he came back 10 minutes later with two litres of pineapple and orange juice and an ice cold agua con gas (sparkling mineral water) As we cracked open the caps, we began to talk to our fellow Camino adventurers, each told a unique and different story and each coming from a different unique part of the world. There was the good-hearted Texan teacher who we had met last night in the town of Gernike, the half-Italian-American guy who had talismans to ward off curses and the all seeing eye in the form of tattoos, there was the entertaining German guy originally from Russia who arrived a few minutes after us in a mess of blubbering sweat, the family we had first met in Deba, the mother, father and daughter doing the walk together and then the extremely kindhearted and neighbourly older couple from France whom we dubbed the crazy hair French couple for their colourful and creative haircuts.

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I now realised how silly and mistaken it had been to see today as a race and these distinctive individuals as competition. There had been no need to worry, for as the Hospitalier opened the doors and counted the packs we turned out to be exactly numbers 17, 18, 19 and 20.

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‘It feels like we are in a completely different Universe to the one we left at the beginning of the Camino’ I pondered as our upbeat waitress with a contagious jolly attitude cleared our desert ice-cream cones away that came included in our 8 Euro Pilgrim special Menus. I was scrolling through my camera roll, scanning through photos I had snapped back in Madrid and Seville a mere 2 and 3 weeks earlier. Clicking on a photo of my brother and I that I had taken in front of The Torro de Oro, I realised how far away that person was. I was no longer in the mainstream world of technology where everyone is running from one place to another too busy to stop or slow for a few seconds. I was in the world of peace, where time seems to fade away and you march to your own beat. In this world, both young and old are asleep by 10:30 pm, conservation of energy the most important for the journey ahead. I hadn’t been going with the flow today, I had been sucked back in by the galaxy behind me and it hadn’t been pleasant. Taking in a deep breath of fresh air before exhaling, the setting sun ending my ties with its valiant and golden sword. While I wasn’t going to leave behind the human connections that stretch across my video camera or written words, I was certainly leaving behind that energy and with the cool wind’s final execution and the rising moon’s soft power, I was now free.

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