Day #9 El Camino
Thursday 21st September
Najera > Grañon
Distance walked 28km but it felt like 100.
Total distance OVER 200km! Woo Hoo!
The sound of classical music can be painful for many people at the best of times, but the sound of it at 6am before the lights are on or your eyes are open can be excruciating. I honestly found it to be quite welcoming. Even the thought of being in a 90 bed dormitory was a bit daunting for some last night, I didn’t mind, I’ve slept in better, I’ve slept in worse. I’ve seen a lot more people worse off than me so I’m thankful to have a roof over my head and a bed any night (shut up hippie). The wake-up call was brilliant. It’s been 8 days of irregular sleep and pilgrims rising anywhere from 4-7am. The sound of rustling plastic bags, zippers combined with coughing, snoring and the odd flashlight in your face or chatting and eventually the lights coming on I think is much worse, but when the staff set the rules and decide that all the lights will come on at the exact same time and you’re gently woken by classical music, it was heaven to my ears and nobody can complain because it’s the same for all. Almost military like I suppose or like communism? They just might be onto something… Better than a dozen personal alarm clocks on watches and phones beeping intermittently. My bed was on the top bunk side by side with a stranger. That’s all the room there is in a long hall shaped building. They don’t do this to make more money because it’s a donativo, they do this to fit more pilgrims in because they’re genuinely accommodating to all. They even pull out extra mattresses and roll them out on the floor if desperate. How nice is that!?
You’d fear the smell of all those feet would be overwhelming, or the noise of snoring, but for whatever reason it is, I had one of the best sleeps I’ve had in the 8 nights of this Camino. Probably had something to do with the long walk yesterday in the heat. Today there was a communal breakfast, tea and fruit and a few odd snacks. I didn’t have anything, I’d overloaded myself with enough snacks so set off at 7am. It was dark and I was behind 2 Spanish guys I’d not yet met before but had seen around. We helped each other out in the dark at some intersections and eventually sparked up a conversation. Now call it chance or a good omen or just coincidence, but today I wrapped a ribbon around my stick (not a euphemism) and it was the rainbow colours which is also used as a symbol for the LGBT community. The gay pride flag. I’ve been watching with interest and disgust at the backward government in my home country as right now there is a plebiscite regarding same sex marriage. As it turns out, one of the two guys from Spain I walked with were gay, he mentioned he was marrying a man and would like to honeymoon in Australia, so the discussion naturally arose about the current situation. He was a former Catholic boy and no longer religious, his mother is now accepting after her first fears that he’d change and start dressing like a woman. We had a nice conversation yet I couldn’t help but feel ashamed to be associated with a country that can’t accept such a thing. I suggested he honeymoon in New Zealand instead.
As I had a longer walk ahead of me than they did, I took off at a quicker speed after we stopped to share a breakfast and that is when my muscles above the left knee started twinging. The downhills being the worst of it. It lasted the rest of the day and it was so far the hardest of walks for me. I was in a fair bit of pain but pushed through. I caught up with a Swede and a German and in the heat of the afternoon hobbled into the little village of Grañon where the sight of a bar and beer was too good to resist. But first, the taks of accommodation was essential. The smaller towns have limited beds and if you stop for drinks and others arrive well you might just miss out. I’d heard of a church you can sleep in the attic which sounds kind of cool and spooky and it happened to be across the courtyard from the bar so why not!? They had matts we used in primary school in gym class to sleep on. It was a very basic operation and again it was donation based and included a meal and the opportunity for those who wished to, to attend a mass and an evening reflection session. At hearing of this I had full intentions to attend both with an open mind and of course with the thought that perhaps I’d get some material from it if nothing else. However the sun shone brightly and the beers were too good to resist and time slipped by. I missed the mass but joined in the communal dinner. About 40 of us on two long tables eating a vegetarian dish with wine and of course bread. I sat with Italians, Belgians, French & Spanish. The conversations were plentiful in several languages and the atmosphere was great. I retired to bed a content boy, stomach and heart full and my legs relieved not to be walking.