Saturday, August 7, 2010

The Day in the Life

6:33 PM, August 7, Arzua, Via Lactea Albergue, Room 4, Bed 4

(It’s about time I give you the pilgrim’s experience, finally sharing what a true day for me is like. Get ready and don’t forget to pack anything!)

You hear the person in the bed next to you jump down, but you don’t want to open your eyes just yet. You hear them grab bags and start packing. You make a silent prayer that they will respect the silence of the room and the fact that you’re still “asleep.” Your prayer fails, and you hear as they spend an agonizingly long time getting some damned plastic grocery bag into their backpack. You open your eyes.

Your iTouch reads 11:10 pm, which clearly means it’s 5:10 am and about time to start your day. You lay in bed for another few minutes before climbing out and beginning to gather your own stuff. Since you’re a respectful pilgrim, you grab all of your bag’s fillers Rachel-Ray style and carefully balance it all as you carry it into the dimly lit hallway of the albergue. You pack your stuff, get on your shorts and shirt for the day, fill your pockets with your iTouch, wallet, camera, and pilgrim’s credential, and then find a good place to sit. Once seated, you rub spf 50 all over your body, paying special attention to the back of your neck so that the others don’t have a “real” excuse to call you a redneck (true story). You deodorize, obviously, and brush your teeth.

And then you deal with your feet. First, you put Betadine on a ton of band-aids of varying sizes and apply those band-aids to all of the open blisters. You then wrap athletic tape around the last two digits of each foot, around the balls of each foot, around the big toes on each foot, around the heel, and under the heel. You then carefully slide on your socks, being careful not to damage the excellent tape job you just did. Your shoes come next--slowly of course, as you wouldn’t want to hurt your feet by jamming them in. You put on your backpack and you’re ready to go!

As you set out in the darkness of the morning, your first job is to locate your first yellow arrow, pointing you in the direction of the newest leg of the Road. As odds would have it, you will pass a church (since the Camino chooses to pass every single rundown church in Northern Spain) and there will be a potable water fountain outside. You stop at that fountain to fill up your Camelback, and you move on. Within minutes, you are outside of the small pueblo that you stayed in for the night, and you are out into the wild world of rural Spain.

You walk for 5-10 km.

You come across another pueblito, some tiny city with a name almost as unmemorable as the last. It’s breakfast time and you find a small bar. Perhaps you order a bocadillo de queso, or if you want something sweet you could order a pan de chocolate. Perhaps you order a café con leche, or if you want something sweet you could order a cacao. But don’t forget! You’re in Europe, so the coffee is small in quantity and has no refills at all. Ever. You ask the bartender if she has a stamp, and she does; you pull out your credential and add another splotch of purple ink to your proof-of-journey card.

You walk for 10-15 km.

You’ve passed quite a few more pueblitos at this point, but you’ve been holding out on your next break for the big city, and here it is. With a farmacia, 4 bars, a hotel, and two albergues, this city of 900 citizens is a massive city, at least as far as the daily Road is concerned. This time you have a bit more of an appetite so you order a tortilla de queso and a Coca-Cola. Don’t get too excited, my Mexican food fan: a tortilla de queso is a scrambled egg and cheese sandwich on French bread. Go figure. The Coca-Cola is cool and refreshing, perhaps because it is a blistering 32 degrees outside, or perhaps because it’s made with real sugar. (Hear that Coke? Stop using high-fructose corn syrup!)

You walk for 8-10 km.

You’ve finally made it to your stopping place for the day! You find a local albergue, most likely by asking your friends which one is rated the best in their guidebooks, since you weren’t smart enough to plan ahead and bring a guidebook in your own language. (“This one has three shells! Quick, head left!”) You choose your albergue, and enter at about midday. The hospitalero takes your money, takes your name, and stamps your credential and then leads you through to the room. Boots go there, walking sticks in this bin, showers on your left, bathrooms on the right, this is your bed. Lights out at 22:00, and silence please to respect the other pilgrims. Leave by 8 but please don’t leave before 6 so that everyone can get a good night’s sleep. (You’re still yet to rest at an albergue where everyone listened to that last part. You’ll just blame it on an apparent language gap.)

You slowly peel off your socks, and peel off the tape. It’s painful to you. Very, very painful. You pop any new blisters (there’s always at least one), grab your soap and towel and clothes, and head to the showers to try to it while the hot water lasts. After your shower, you return to your room and grab your dirty clothes. (As Jason Mraz might say, What time is it? It’s LAUNDRY TIME!)
You walk to the back garden area of the albergue with your clothes and detergent soap, and find a sink with a washboard attachment and know that its time to start scrubbing. You clean your clothes in the sink, wring them out, and then find a sunny spot on the clothesline, hoping they are dry by nightfall.

You then grab your wallet, ready to head to the local panaderia or sweet shop to pick up an afternoon snack. But, alas, as always, it seems as though the annoying siesta has already began and you can get nothing because nothing is open in the entire pueblo. Ah, the siesta.

As such, you climb into bed and nap.

When you wake up, it’s a little before dinnertime. You’re starving, but, really, it’s too late to take advantage of the fact that siesta is over and grab some cookies--you’d spoil your dinner! So you read, write, blog, emaily your mom and tell her you’re fine--the usual.

Finally, it’s 19:00 and dinnertime. You and your friends head out of the albergue together to find the nearest bar that has a menu peregrino. You find one, and an un-personable waiter takes his sweet time coming over to your table to take your orders. When he does arrive, he stands there with his pen just staring until you start ordering. For your 10 Euro prix fixe pilgrim’s menu, you order the vegetable soup as your starter, and the filete de ternera (translated “steak,” but this translation is as good as calling a bag of bush trimmings a tree) as your main course. Ice cream is a good choice for the postre, and the waiter is going to bring a bottle of wine and a bottle of water for the table, along with bread. When you ask for salt to flavor the bland, oily food, the waiter brings the usual tray that has two shakers of salt, an olive oil bottle, and an identical bottle of lemon juice and vinegar mix.

After dinner, you get back to your albergue and realize it’s already nearly 21:00. Perhaps you head to a bar with the German-Austrian group who always want another beer or three before bed. Perhaps you sit and talk with a fellow English speaker in the gardens. Perhaps you relax alone, writing or reading in your bed. At any case, as 22:00 nears, you climb into bed and get comfortable. You put in your headphones to hear a little iTouch music before you fall asleep, and you slowly close your eyes.

But you forgot to take in your laundry from the clothesline! So you quickly hop out of bed, put on your sandals, and flip-flop-flip down the hallway to the garden to grab your clothes. You return, throw them haphazardly on your backpack, and return to your music.

A nice slow song comes on, and you feel as though you are in limbo where your body is stopping its daily churn to relax for the sleep that is crawling over you. You pull out your headphones, roll over, and prepare for sleep.

And that’s when the guy in the bed next to you (the same one who is going to wake you up with his grocery bag tomorrow morning--you’ve already seen the bag!) sounds like he’s choking on air in a gigantic snore. Amazingly, he is one of the masses who has mastered the art of snoring on both the inhale and exhale. You sit there thinking, I am never going to get to sleep, for about 20 minutes while listening to him saw an entire forest down.

At some point, your eyes close and you are transported to a world of Camino dreams. Your dreams will often take characters from your “real life” and put them on the Camino with you so that you can have meaningful conversations and interactions.

But before long, you hear the person in the bed next to you jump down…

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