At the beginning of the camino, walking a 17 km stretch without any facilities, bars, albergues or even much shade, seems almost impossible. What if you get thirsty, hungry, tired, or worse – need the loo? The trick is to take enough water, snacks or food and have something to sit on, which you’ve already got on your back. On a hot day you will sweat the excess water out rather than need the loo, in my experience, so just go before you go and you should be good to get there. (If not, use common sense and leave no trace, which means picking up and packing out your toilet paper.)
Other than that, there is nothing else to do but walk. One step at a time, as fast or as slow as you like, alone or in company, and sooner or later you will get there. How’s that for a life lesson …
Some people try to hurry it, some put ear buds in and go into a bubble of music, some drag their feet overwhelmed with the long stretch, forgetting that they probably walked more than 17 kms the day before. Some keep to themselves and pray with their feet, some seek out company to make the day go faster, some look down to avoid the seemingly neverending straight road ahead, some take in the massive sky knowing they might not experience something like this again for a good while.
We all move in the same direction, under our own steam, each in our own preferred way, and then, suddenly, we smell it: barbecued meat! And some of the laughter and voices we hear aren’t moving at a constant speed – they are coming closer!
Yes, the man in the van, with his wife and the barbecue, are there, exactly where we hoped they would be, with their grilled sausages and burgers and fresh bread and cold drinks. There are concrete benches to sit on, though most are sitting or lying in the grass. So we stop for a while, take turns cramming into what little shade there is, and I buy and thoroughly enjoy a cold Aquarius, even though I’ve got a warm one in my pack. The grilled sausages smell divine but I won’t take a chance; I prefer to have some peanuts and a banana to refuel. Nobody talks about how far we have left to go; the numbers are still too intimidating. We just have to soldier on.
So we do, and who knows how many conversations and steps later someone gasps and says I think I can see it! Not a mirage, the outline of Calzadilla, with its promise of all that we have sorely missed: albergue beds, plastic chairs, TV blaring in a corner, freshly pressed orange juice, the whirr and hiss of the coffee machine, the yellow wheel of tortilla and the rock hard bocadillos on the counter. We made it! And now we spread out, each according to our most pressing needs, towards the albergues to bag a bed, towards the queue for the toilet, or the queue for the bar. Trust me, no clara in the world tastes better than the 17 km one! Also, taking the weight off my feet and removing my shoes is heaven. I could stay there forever … but the rumour is that the first albergue is already completo, as expected, and the second won’t be far off.
Though the first stretch of the day was long, it wasn’t really taxing, so I decide to move on towards Ledigos. I make a quick call and secure a bed there before I start walking again, and no sooner am I back on the road before I notice a familiar, but worrying niggle: pressure blisters on my heel. Nothing I can do about them but get to my bed so I can inspect the damage. Crunch, crunch, crunch. Ow, ow, ow. Chat, laugh, sing. Somehow the 6.5 kms seem even longer than the 17, and takes nearly two hours in the heat. But I get there. The Ledigos anchor beer gives the 17 km clara a run for its money – I have to get a bottle of cold water and neck that so I won’t neck the beer.
The albergue Morena is completo today, full of sunburnt, tired, elated pilgrims in varying stages of the arrival process, some still dusty and sweaty-backed, some freshly showered enjoying a drink, some already half way through a full meal. I am so tired and warm I know I have to hit the shower soon or I will wilt and end up falling asleep. Anchor beer safely disposed of, I do all the things a peregrina needs to do before dinner, including inspecting the budding blisters, and then go out again to join the others.
Some of my extended camino family are staying here too, and some are at the Paloma down the road, so we all meet up for yet another pilgrim menu meal – more salad, and beef ribs instead of chicken this time, with Santiago cake for dessert (good walking food, obvs). I stay away from the wine though and have another beer instead, still rehydrating.
Some now reckon there are three days to León, some reckon four. That camaraderie that carried us past the 17 kms, when we were all aiming for the same end point, is dissolving – the choice of accommodation, the difference in walking speed and alotted time, will probably split this little group up over the next couple of days. Some will have a rest day in town, so we agree on a bar near the cathedral in León where we will meet when we get there, in three days and again the evening after. As for where to go to tomorrow, the best answer is a shrug. Time and trail will show.