A Time of Ups and Downs

The past week or so has been a challenging one – physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually.
Don’t get me wrong, there have been some wonderful moments and awesome experiences, however it seems like a lot of the time has been working through one thing or another.
Shortly after the walk started, I developed a nasty rash on the inner lower part of both legs – angry red and somewhat itchy. I tried treating it with a herbal healing cream to no effect. In Pamploma I consulted “Dr Google” and was able to eliminate some of the more serious things. I visited the pharmacy and was given a cream for allergies to apply once a day for twelve days. I proceeded with the treatment with some improvement, however at the end of each day there were new patches, and I had no clue what I was allergic to – maybe it was walking!!!!

As mentioned in my last post, I had also developed a blister on the sole of my foot, which obviously hurt when I walked, particularly on the stony paths – it sometimes felt I was walking with a razor blade in my boot.
I also had my first Albergue experience in Maneru – the Pilgrim hostels that provide cheap and basic accommodation along the trail. Bunk beds in dormitories – the bottom bunks claimed by those who start early and finish early. Of course there is also the shared bathroom thing as well – not really my cup of tea all round. I went to boarding school, so I don’t really feel the need to repeat the whole communal living thing.
Trying to clamber up onto the top bunk in the dark, endeavouring to not wake the man sleeping below, I really began to question what I was doing – how ridiculously delusional I was about the whole thing.
With the Exit light shining in my face the whole night, and the combined noises and energies of 12 people crammed into about a 3m x 3m area, sleep was quite elusive.

Trudging off the next day, carrying my pack, blister padded up as well as possible, given I still had to be able to get my boot on, I endeavoured to adopt a soldier on attitude with no coffee!
The day held more mountain goat tracks with steep ascents, and even steeper descents – the temperature was up too, at least in the low thirties in the full blazing sun – although the weather forecast is always 22 degrees and showers – it has only rained once – the first day.
Refuge came in the village Lorca in the form of another Albergue – although this one had separate rooms available. We sorted the room, and sat down to have some lunch after a breakfast of yoghurt and vending machine coffee. In the meantime, there had been a miscommunication between staff, and the room we had thought secured was given to someone else. No problemo – we were given a small domitory that slept six for ourselves. During our pilgrim dinner four latecomers – two Brazillian men, and an elderly French couple came in seeking refuge….. and so we ended up sharing our room with them….. another virtually sleepless night. My family will vouch for the fact that I am not pleasant company when I am very tired – add pain to the mix and it is positively ugly.
I was ready to quit the whole thing – it was just more than I was willing to tolerate. My travelling companion is a living, breathing saint – and after some discussion and pacifying, we ordered a taxi into the next larger town Estella. Leaving our packs at the Pilgrims’ Albergue, we decided to play tourists for a while and a little retail therapy bolstered my spirits a little.

We found accommodation on the outskirts of Estella – a bungalow in a holiday park. It was a Sunday afternoon and the place was filled with families – the kids were playing games and sports while the parents enjoyed food and wine with gusto – the noise of people having a wonderful time was music to my ears and lifted my spirits somewhat. The holiday park was right on the Camino path, and after breakfast we set off walking through a forest full of life. Even things that were dead supported new life.

We had forwarded our packs and set ourselves the task of walking just over 20kms to the town of Los Arcos. The first village we came to was Azqueta – as we came in I was drawn to a little church in the side of the road – the first time along the track that I had decided to go into a Church – I generally admire them from outside – their ancientness and artisanship is quite spectacular. I walked through the door and found my fingers dipping into the holy water – and blessed myself – although I couldn’t tell you the last time I darkened the doorway of a church, my Catholic roots still respond accordingly. I sat in the back pew and was surprised at how moved I was. I noticed some vigil candles burning, and decided to light one in honour of those close and dear, and those far and wide. I often use candles at home for this purpose, so it felt right. An old Spanish man, the custodian I think, assisted me in lighting the match and took great pride in telling me about his Church – even though I couldn’t understand a word he said. I put my intentions forth as I lit the candle – he insisted on stamping my Pilgrim Passport with the seal of his church and helped me gather my gear. He opened his arms to embrace me and kissed me on both cheeks, wishing me a Buen Camino. It was a strange (in a good way) experience overall, and certainly not one I was expecting. We found a cafe and enjoyed a coffee, and a chat with some Aussie and Kiwi women.

We journeyed on, slowly climbing toward Villamayor de Monjardin – the peak of the hill behind the village imposing with the ruin on a castle dominating the landscape. Ruins of other medieval buildings dotted the landscape, providing a distraction to the walking. By this time a stop for lunch was in order – the usual Tortilla – a sort of egg and potato frittata. It is quite nice, however it has become pretty much our staple diet for breakfast and lunch, particularly in the villages where choices are somewhat limited.

What goes up must come down – and at the half way mark of the day we began the 10km descent into Los Arcos, travelling through vineyards and orchards, mainly on stony country roads. It was hot, and as the day progressed my pace got slower and slower – my blister causing me no end of grief by this stage. Accommodation was scarce, and we had booked a room in a Pension. At about 6.00pm my phone rang – the owner of the Pension wanting to know where we were. Again my limited Spanish was frustrating – I was praying she wouldn’t give our room away. I translated a message with ITranslate and sent it off to the Pension, and messaged my travelling companion who was way ahead of me at this stage, to go straight to the Pension. She was in her own grief due to a couple of falls earlier in the day – she kept getting the lace of one boot caught in the other boot and coming a cropper. Fortunately she hadn’t hurt herself too badly, however had jolted and twisted herself and hurt her thumb.
Eventually I trundled into town and found my mate and the Pension. We were both so knackered dinner consisted of ricecakes, apricot jam and Moo cheese sitting on our beds in our room.
The following morning my legs were much worse and I decided to see a doctor, the cream was helping a little, however there were new outbreaks every day, and it was spreading. Another interesting experience – he spoke no English and me no Spanish. With the wonders of technology we communicated using a computer and translation site via Google. His diagnosis was allergic dermatitis from the herbs and grasses that line the paths. He prescribed antihistamines and reassured me it was nothing grave. An unscheduled rest day was on the agenda, along with the challenge of finding accommodation for the night. Once again, I was very close to quitting….
Where was that Faith, Trust and a little Stardust – it was eluding me…..

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