The lady who laughed (but didn’t get the last laugh)

In September 2014, on a brilliant walking day – warm, not too hot, the odd cloud giving a little shade – L and I were walking, as usual, side by side, laughing and talking. A few days earlier I had suggested to L that she empty her heavy pack and really have a look at what she carried and why, and possibly let go of a few things. She did – and she did. In Sarria she put her pack Carlo on the scales at a farmacia and he weighed only 9 kgs with water, a huge improvement! This was without doubt one of the reasons for her chirpy mood; me, I am just a happy kind of pilgrim. Also my Fitbit had just buzzed, meaning we had walked 10 kms and were entitled to our daily half-way Clara.

So when we saw a bar with outside seats in the shade, we happily waltzed in and found a table with three plastic chairs – one for her, one for me and one for Blisterfoot (my left) who needs elevated rest when possible. On the table in front of us were a handful of women I would guesstimate to be in their mid to late fifties. While L went to the bar and I put Blisterfoot up, I couldn’t help but notice that they were speaking German. L is German, and I understand some German, though we only speak English while we walk.

When she comes back with the Claras, I have lifted my pack on to my lap to dig out my sandals. I drop them with a bit of a thud, one of the ladies at the table in front of me whispers something and they all turn (not very discreetly). After staring at me for a while, and then at L, one of them says:

“Why do you carry all that?”

L and I look at each other. I smile.

“I’ve only got this little thing.” It’s an Osprey Aura, 35 litres of pure carrying bliss, still room for souvenirs.

The lady turns to the others and quickly translates. Then she laughs, and the others laugh with her. I can see that L wants to say something, but before she has a chance, the lady triumphantly lifts up her little drawstring bag probably containing a water bottle and the fleece she is now wearing.

“Mine is much smaller.”

I smile again. Good for her. Then I lift my glass to L and hope the conversation has run its course. It hasn’t.

“So why do you carry all that?”

L excuses herself in English and goes to the toilet – I am guessing she doesn’t want to let on the can understand what they say. No need – I understand enough to know that this lady is mocking me in front of her friends.

“So I can do what I want when I want,” I say – I am on a pilgrimage, I won’t lie even to sarcastic women. “It gives me freedom and flexibility. And it only weighs 6 kgs.” I am actually quite pleased about my pack weight and have no intention of telling them about L’s pack Carlo and his recent weightloss.

Again she translates and they all laugh. Six kilos??

“Why don’t you get your suitcase sent to the next place?”

OK. I have a sip of my Clara and hold on tight to my Zen.

“Because I don’t know where the next place will be.”

“Well … if you had booked and sent your suitcase then you would know where the next place would be!”

She translates this exchange to her friends, rolls her eyes I bet, and now they are all in stitches. It is beyond them that anyone would not know – or not want to know! – where they will be sleeping in the night.

When she turns again, I don’t give her time to say anything.

“I carry my sleeping bag and a few toiletries with me so I can walk as far or as short as I like or need to, and stay at an albergue or hostal or hotel. I carry one change of clothes in case I get wet or cold. I carry my first aid kit because someone might need it. I carry my sandals in case it gets really hot or I get a blister. I carry water and snacks in case I get thirsty or hungry. I carry my raingear in case it rains and my sun cream in case I get too much sun. None of them are any use to me in a suitcase in a hotel 15 kms further down the road. And it only weighs 6 kilos.” I tell her this as earnestly as I can.

This time her laughter is not so convincing. L is on her way back from the toilet and winks at me. The lady doesn’t turn towards us again. Afterwards though, L tells me that she has informed her group that I am obviously stupid, look at me, leg on a seat, obvious that I am injured from carrying all that unnecessary weight – and besides, she had added: I had the wrong shoes. Flimsy approach shoes. Pfft. While she, on the other hand, had invested in proper leather mountaineering boots, and she had no problems!

When we saw her in Santiago though, she was limping, supporting herself on a walking pole and walking gingerly on a bandaged foot. I was in my sandals after taking two short days to let my foot rest a bit, taking advantage of the aforementioned flexibility of my kit.

I suppose I could have had the last laugh but I was far too Zen – plus I don’t laugh at other people’s pain – and I hope she had a buen camino.

5 thoughts on “The lady who laughed (but didn’t get the last laugh)

  1. Oh this Zen is a wonderful thing. I wonder how I would have reacted being in your position, possibly differently? At least we can gain solace from the fact that we will always have the Camino, while I doubt she will return to Santiago.

    1. Very true. Also can I point out this is not an attack on Germans, it was just that L could understand what they said – and it wasn’t very zen or charitable. I was just so shocked I was being laughed at for carrying my own pack on the camino! I had Zen of steel though 😀

      1. I have met people from other nationalities who are the same, but very much in the minority. Another one of the “challenges” of the final hundred kilometres I feel.

      2. Oddly I think carrying my own pack makes the walking more comfortable – I have my Altus and wind jacket available, I can change/add clothes if I get wet/cold, stop anywhere, got all my things to hand. I wouldn’t like to walk with just a fleece and water bottle! And when I get to my bed I still don’t need anything other than what I have. (What’s *in* those packs??)

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