“Death is more universal than life; everyone dies but not everyone lives” –A Sachs
Or as William Wallace famously said in Braveheart “Every man dies, not every man really lives.”
I was reminded of both these quotes in the last two hours from different sources. I wonder what I’m being told? Any thoughts?
Today I am in Villafranca del Bierzo and I am about 185Km from Santiago. Most will end their journey there, but I intend to head on a further 100 or so Km to Finnesterre. It’s interesting to think that I am less than 200Km to Santiago having come so far.
Of my friends, one couple have caught the bus from Burgos to Saria, so they will have finished or will be about to. The other couple are four or so days back, so I might try and slow up a bit and either walk the last bit in with them or try to be there when they walk in, cheer them on.
Villafranca is a beautiful city with a fabulous history. It was known as the “Little Santiago” because pilgrims who were ill, if they could convince the monks that they were ill enough, would be given their Compostella without having to go all the way to Santiago. The architecture here is amazing and covers a whole range of eras and influences. The food and the wine here is also memorable. The region grows its own varieties and they do not export the ones they consider to be most special. I have been lucky enough to be invited by one of the locals to a winery here and I have tried some spectacular stuff. It is currently grape harvesting time and it has been fun to watch the activity as I have been walking through the villages and vineyards. Tractors with mothers and grandmothers hanging off the sides driving up and down the main streets. People bent over picking by hand, walking down streets and being overwhelmed by the smell of fermenting grapes and the castaways emanating from dark doorways. Fun stuff. I have decided that if I lived here I would be a fat, Spanish alcoholic.
My main travelling companions over the last few days have been two ladies from Ireland and one from England. They have been fabulous companions and have given me both great company and much to think about. We have covered pretty much all of the taboo subjects, religion, politics, death, relationships gone wrong. It’s been like therapy while walking. They have now continued on while I gallivant around this town of great wine and architecture.
It occurs to me that I have not really described what a day for me on the Camino looks like, so let me have a short go here. A true pilgrim would stay only in Alburgues or Refugios (hostels), I usually do this with an occasional hotel thrown in so that I can get a good sleep…and wash.
So these Alburgues would typically hold between 4 and 50 people in a room, usually bunk beds. We would typically rise somewhere between 0600 and 0800, although there is often some knucklehead who wants to head out earlier and makes a bunch of noise preparing. I’m usually out the door 20 or so minutes later and like to walk to the next village before I have breakfast, which is usually a coffee and croissant or eggs if I can. I will then walk a further 20 or so Km stopping for lunch somewhere along the way. A typical walk is around 25 Km a day give or take 10. Upon arriving at the next stop I will wash me, then hand wash my clothes and often have a short nap, then off to look at the town, maybe a snack and something to drink. The evening meal is often the Pilgrim Menu, which many of the local bars and cafes put on. It is a set menu with usually three courses, bread, water and wine and it is usually under 10 Euro. I have not yet had one that I did not enjoy, though often one that I would not have ordered. It is usually shared with other pilgrims that you have met on the day, sometimes with no common language. Then it is back the Alburgue where I stuff earplugs in my ear and am usually asleep by 2230. The next day, start again. Wake, walk, eat, walk, wash, eat, sleep.
Two days ago, upon waking I went to the clothes line to recover my clothes that I had washed the day before to find my shorts missing. I was miffed and had a bit of a sense of humour malfunction. The missing shorts created a whole gamete of issues for me. I would have to buy another pair, it was Sunday so nothing is open, I would have to sleep in the pants I walked in, etc. I was one of the last to leave the Alburgue and found a pair of shorts left behind which were similar to mine but about three sizes too small. I could conceivably have worn them, but probably only to a gay night club. So I set a plan, I walked further that day than I had intended with these shorts hung in open view on the back of my backpack. Sure enough as I was walking through a village about fifteen Km up the road, there was a short, skinny Frenchman wearing my shorts. I wasn’t sure, you can’t look too long at a man’s shorts without starting an interesting conversation, so I sat down at the next café and waited for him to come up the road. They were definitely my shorts and he looked ridiculous. I stopped him with the classic conversation opener “excuse me but I think you are wearing my pants”. It turns out he picked up the wrong pair, my excellent North Face pants and left behind his crappy, gay night club pants. We exchanged on the spot and so became pants brothers.
Tomorrow I start the climb into the final mountain of this walk, it is a two day journey over the top and the part of the Camino where I am most likely to see a wolf. I would so love that. I also find myself liking the climbs, the honest labour required to get to the top.
I’m loving the walking and thinking bit in all this and I feel like so much is getting both resolved and birthed. There is much I would share here, but I already admire you for having read so far.
I’m sending you a big hug.