Day #20 El Camino
Monday 2nd October
Valverde de la Virgen > Astorga
Distance walked: 36km
The Japanese orchestra last night continued their symphony in the bedroom. A lovely mix of snorers. There was also some daft idiot who left their phone on loud, probably where everyone had their electronic devices charging overnight at the communal powerboard. It was that annoying whistle tone – you know the one (did you just do it out loud?), no not that one, the other one… yeah that’s it! For a moment, I was thinking to switch them all off but I wouldn’t know how to undo the screenlocks, so my other scrooge thought was to unplug them all, but that’d be unfair on the innocent victims. Instead, I rammed my earplugs in as far as they could go and hoped for a good night sleep. Every now and then I woke to the noise, I assume they were text messages, whoever it was, they were popular via text, but not in the room.
I like to think I’m pretty handy with a map and even without one I’m good with directions and on the Camino, there hasn’t really been a day that has troubled me. The series of yellow arrows or shells to follow have been ample and if they aren’t present, there’s usually a string of other pilgrims to follow. Today however… I left with my GPS on with walking directions set to Astorga, my aimed destination. It gave 2 options, one seemed to go immediately alongside the highway and the other looked more pleasant. This was according to google maps and none of it can be trusted. As I approached the point where I needed to choose a path there were definite arrows leading the more pleasant route, so I took the longer way. Nobody else it seems does this!
Not only did the yellow arrows disappear, there was not a single other person in front or behind me for the next 2 hours. Without “camino” directions to follow, I was resorting to the blue dot of google and some lines that may or may not have been roads. I ened up walking through farms, dirt roads and across train tracks. All the roads were correct and not once did I feel in danger or lost. I could still see where the highway was on the GPS and knew I was going in the right direction, it was just taking me a lot longer than a straight line. It was more pleasant though. I passed through a field that reminded me of Field of Dreams, I was half expecting to see Kevin Costner appear from the corn and whisper “if you build it…” and I came across a trailer park where carnies live. I was not exactly happy to return to the main path to be honest, my first sight of other pilgrims brought me down a little. There’s that saying about follow your own path and all that. And it was kind of fitting today. I wasn’t just going from A-B. I got “lost” in some form, but I found myself in another. “Shut up hippie!” I hear you say. No. You can’t make me.
As has been the case a couple of times, I had to decide if I’d do a shortish day or push on a longer day. I went for the latter. I wanted to cover some ground so that my days would balance out better and not leave me with a silly half day walking to get to one of my preferred destinations. My legs got tired, the heat got hotter and although the terrain at times was pretty, it was still rather desert like. I passed a weird guy in the middle of nowhere offering free fruit in a hippie shack, there’s many of these sorts set up along the route. They’re playing the generous card, but they’re also likely making a few quid from the ever-growing tourism of the Camino. They do however get a little bit snotty if you don’t stop I’ve noticed and it shows their true colours. As I came down a loooooong hot hill, my legs began to hurt. I came to train tracks and there was a ramp up and over and down again. It wasn’t so strenuous but inconvenient all the same just adding to the pain for no reason.
I checked into the gigantic Albergue in Astorga around 5pm. I was pretty exhausted and ready for a shower. Of course the process wasn’t going to go smoothly. Before me were a few older Italian men and a German guy. The woman, maybe German or Dutch, working was speaking in English and had the manner of a matron or grumpy librarian. Her assistant looked like her husband who’d be deprived of smiles for several decades. They were a great combination.
Nobody could understand each other. Maybe it was because I was overtired or going delirious, but this was hilarious to witness. I started acting as a translator to hurry things along, but I was enjoying the spectacle unfold too.
I genuinely had a sore leg and requested a bottom bunk for easy access. I prefer bottom anyway, but my acting skills come out when I want to get my way for a bed. They normally only allow elderly pilgrims to use them but if you put on a smile and search for a bit of sympathy, it’s amazing what you can get! I’ve done well in airport lounges and other places for the same effect.
I was asked by the German man, who was maybe in his 60’s, about my leg and how long I’d walked today, I had just done a good 36km day in quite hot temperatures. He immediately shot back. “I’ve done 2000km total and 40km today.” He had started in Cologne or somewhere else that arrogant ‘I’m better than you’ people live. What is it with older German and Swiss men that need to swing their dicks around?
I followed him into the showers to see how big his dick was just in case we were in an actual dick swinging battle. No comment. His bag is hooked up to a single wheel trailer that he pulls behind him- similar to pushing a wheelbarrow- but it trails him. It can hang off his hips also to free his hands, connected to a harness he wears. A pretty cool looking contraption. And I understand now why he has to pull it, considering what he has to carry up front.
I was invited to drink wine with a group but declined, then was asked by an English girl “Why don’t you want to meet people, this is the community Camino?” I’d been getting the hashtag wrong all this time! #communitycamino it is from now on! I think I’ve met enough people in my life to warrant some days off. With my job and my constant travelling, I think I’ve met more people than most. And forgotten most names too. I’ve also heard enough travel stories to last me a lifetime. I just wanted to read my book. I walked by a mother and daughter sitting on a park bench and sat down to read. When I retured to the Albergue to prepare some food I ended up chatting to them, they are from Spain. It turns out I was not done with being social, just wanted to meet more Spanish speakers, as was my intention before the whole trip. We had a short but nice enough conversation over dinner and I got to practise my language skills. See, I told myself, I’m not a complete hermit and socially awkward dork. I was just bored of getting drunk with a group of backpackers with the same stories. I need to exercise my brain more. But no more tonight, it was getting late, I’d just read of the Las Vegas massacre and I needed to sleep and switch off.