Sunday, June 13, 2010

El Acebo - the worst day ever!!!

It happened to me, the worst day ever. I was told it would come, that some day I´ll just stand there and wonder why, or at least feel totally lost and miserably. But, even with my leg hurting like hell on the Camino de El Salvador, and believe me, it DID, I never came close to crying. But here it came, heavy and hard : the worst day ever. As mentioned before, it had started raining in Astorga. The next day it wasn´t any better. Everybody wrapped up tight and I got my long-johns out and was incredibly happy that I hadn´t been able to send my rain coat ahead to Santiago as I had planned (the post office at the time only opened only between 1pm - 2pm, so I just motored on, parcel with the jacket in a bag). Now I opened the parcel again and thanked my lucky stars! That day I met YangJi, from Korea on the road, an absolutely lovely girl. We clicked instantly, and YangJi takes about as many pictures as I do, which was brilliant as we both would more or less exclaim in unisono: "Oh wait, I HAAVE to take a picture of this!" We motored through the rain, which wasn´t going to stop us from making a little detour to a little place called Castrillo de los Polvozares, which apparently is totally enchanting. Our detour though involved taking the wrong field path, where the grass eventually grew higher and higher, which meant that our pants and boots got more and more soaked (remember, it was still lashing rain!) until the path suddenly ended and we found ourselves in the middle of a couple of fields. Since we still could hear the road and didn´t feel like backtracking all the way, we decided to cut across all those fields to eventually get to that road which would hopefully lead to somewhere with a warm bar. Well, you should´ve seen us hauling ourselves over stone walls and fences, through thigh high dripping grass, passing a sleeping "wolf" and actually appearing like drowned cats on the roadside, hilarious... BUT - just a few 100meters ahead was that little town! If we´d stayed on the path beside the road we coul´ve been long there, and dry-ish, but we were convinced to have found a brilliant shortcut or the right way anyways...., well the main thing was we were there. And.... everything was closed. Why was I even surprised? This town apparently lives a lot on tourists with its cobbeled streets and restored little red sandstone houses with green shutters. All that rain meant no tourists, so no business, so let´s shut everything down. We were dripping and had so much hoped for a warm bar to dry off in, and then, with a very loud ringing noise, the bread van arrived and a very helpful woman, buying bread, led us to a restaurant which was actually open. They were so nice inside and we almost managed to dry off completely, helped by huge bocadillos and hot caffee/chocolate. (A bocadillo is a sandwhich. And if you´re thinking of a flimsy, overpriced thinny, soggy little thing like you´d get in Ireland you´re sadly mistaken. Here you get a massive, half a baguette with f.e. cheese about 1 inch thick for roughly about 2 Euro!) By the time we got on our way again, the rain had stopped and we marched talking and laughing (and taking pictures) to Rabanal, where we arrived around 6pm, quite a bit later than anticipated. Unfortunately we had to part the next morning. YangJi had found her former korean marching partners here in Rabanal (which must be a lovely, lovely place when it´s sunny - gorgeous little mountain village!) and needed to walk further than me, so we parted with a lot of hugs and heavy hearts. And that´s how the worst day ever started....... (swelling music....) Outside was a rainstorm. I kid you not, it was a veritable storm. I was the last to leave the albergue (again) and continued packing the rest of my stuff under a big oak tree. When I put on my rain poncho over the rain jacket it pulled on me like a big top sail. As soon as I started to walk I felt the rain flying into my face like sharp little needles. It was impossible to look up. I tried to tie the poncho tighter around me and began my march. Bent down, leaning forward against the wind, I looked at the tip of my boots and maybe a meter ahead. The countryside was spectacular. I believe this must be one of the most exciting walks of the Camino - in good weather. Around me was pink and white heather in full bloom, big yellow broom bushes, an incredible amount of wild flowers and an lovely nature path to walk on. The view, which consists of the surrounding mountains was lost in rainclouds and fog though. It was just a question of motoring on and trying to stay dry and warm. Again I was very happy about having had the foresight to bring gloves. I was wearing the windy gloves with the woolly little thinny gloves inside. Both are not really made for wet weather, but are a whole lot better than nothing. Until Fontebadón I didn´t feel too bad. And since I had made some cool pictures of bad weather I got the idea to warm up an bit and write the blog in the the bar there. And then....: I cracked the memory card while pushing it into the card reader. . . . !!! I don´t know why I used so much force but "crack" it went, and snapped right in the middle. I frantically wiggled it around a bit, and for a second the pictures appeared on the computer, but then they were gone again and nothing I did could bring them back (so, if anyone of you out there knows of a specialist for this kind of thing, please, PLEASE let my know!! I´ve wrapped it in sellotape now..). To say I was destraught was putting it mildly. Still cold, with the wind and rain lashing out at everything and everyone on the outside, and all my pictures since Leon lost - and that includes all the funny pics of YangJi and a couple of people I met since Leon - my mood dropped to quite a low point. I gathered my things and set up into the clouds again, which surrounded the mountain at this point. Walking further and further my mood didn´t get a chance to raise as a lot of cross country bikers decided to choose this particular path as their training ground. You can´t hear them, certainly not when you´re wearing a hood, a hat over the hood and have a loudly flapping poncho wrapped around you. Instead of using the road, like the cyclist pilgrims, these bikers in their little pants and shirts suddenly appear out of nowhere behind you and make you jump to the side on some rocky ground or muddy path, which they widen every time their tyres dig through them, thus creating bigger puddles and water flowing in their tracks. After what seemed like forever ( and it wasn´t really that long a walk) I reached the Cruz de Ferro. That´s a tall pole with an iron cross at the top, surrounded by millions of stones. Every pilgrim lays down a stone here as a sign of putting down a load, a load they´re carrying from home, some burden they carry in their life, so you´re supposed to have brought a stone from your country. Which I wasn´t aware of. So, instead, I collected all the stones that fell into my boots and made walking hard, plus one stone from a particular painful walk on the Camino de El Salvador. This is supposedly a great moment for any pilgrim, it was a very wet one for me. I climbed up the hill of stones, added mine to the others and continued my way. 12.1km were still ahead of me. Again, I must say that the path was gorgeous. One of those beautiful nature paths that I love, and sometimes in the distance you could just make out that there was a spectacular panorama to be had on nice days, but all I saw were the tip of my boots and the dripping off the water off my hat and clothes. At some stage I passed by the "Templar´s Albergue" - some guy decided to open up an albergue in the middle of nowhere, with just the bare minimum of comfort, that means no showers and a latrine across the road. Seems like good craic (= irish for fun) in good weather again, and I think I would´ve liked to check the Templar out on any other day, but on this occasion it was just a sharp reminder that I had only walked 4.7 km since the cross, which was a bit depressing. Walking on and on I got wetter and wetter. On paths with steep stone slabs I was forced off the way again and again by mountain bikers who rode their bikes at a ridiculous speed. One of them almost crashed into me and if I hadn´t been so cold and wet I would´ve given him a piece of my mind. At some stage I thought I ´d lost my way as the next village just wouldn´t and wouldn´t appear and my spirits sunk with every step. Then the boots started to fill up with water and every bit of my clothes couldn´t hold up against the hours of the wind relentlessly throwing the water against me. There was no dry layer left on me and the swapping of water in my boots made walking harder and harder. Finally, FINALLY El Acebo came into sight. This had´t been my village of choice, mine was still another 3.3km away, but there was nothing for it. As soon as I saw the lights of the albergue/bar I stepped into the place and, dripping and shaking all over, asked for a bed. Which I got, thankfully. A bed under the roof of a place, cold, with damp matresses and one of the windows had a cardboard instead of glass. When I gor out of my boots I could pour the water on the floor. And that was when I guess my inner last straw broke and the tears came. I felt SO miserable, cold and awful. I had dreamt of a dry, warm place at the end of this hellish walk and got this - I just couldn´t see the bright side here. But there was one! I was given a heater and during the night no other pilgrim was brought into this damp attic. Which meant that I could string my washing line over the heater, move a chair close to it with wet stuff on it and dry all my clothes this way. After stuffing my boots twice with newspapers during the night and leaning them tight against the heater I had them more or less dry the next morning. I found a thick blanket which I put over the damp matress before putting my sleeping bag down, which thankfully is very warm (and light as well!). The heater was right next to my bed and I didn´t have to share it with anyone, what a luxury! After peeling myself out of all my wet clothes, wringing them out and hanging them up, I slipped into my only dry thing: a little summer dress and ran over to the bar where I treated myself to a pilgrims menue, which warmed me up and made me feel like a person again. Arriving back in my attic I actually didn´t sleep too bad, though I woke up every now and then, checking that the heater was still working. Which it did. I immersed the heat all night long and so when I woke up the next morning the attic wasn´t all that cold any more, AND: I could slip into warm clothes! Warm pants and socks - have you any idea how lovely that is?!! The breakfast in the bar was heavenly since they had the most gorgeous toasted hazelnut-and-raisins-bread and freshly pressed orange juice. That´s how the Camino works: for every down you get a lot of highs, and you should never give up cause you don´t know what´s around the corner. Maybe a lesson to be learned for life. Who knows if I´d gotten a bed in a dorm with 20 other people and only one heater if my boots and clothes had been dry the next morning. The fact that I´d spent the night in that attic had worked out the best for me, and I just have learn to trust the Camino, it works its own magic. After that spirit lifting breakfast my worst day was definitely over and I set of into the slight drizzle and dense fog outside with a happy heart again. Though...... if anyone of you out there knows anyone or any business, shop etc. who knows how to retrieve information from a broken memory card, you´d totally make my day!!! Thank you!! :))

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