Sunday, September 7, 2014

Camino Eleven – A Taxi, Templars and Terribly Ill


Hmmm, even in a room of three ...  John snored.  Vanessa, tucked away on the far side, was too tired to notice.  However when she woke she was still in pain and the pair of us decided to levitate beyond Ledigos – in a taxi.  John would walk, he was a ‘bush basher’ from way back, he said, and had sturdy legs to show for it.  

We had the kindest driver who sat without his meter ticking while we stopped to explore the gorgeous Real Monasterio San Zoilo, the old convent once the court of the Kings of Castille and León, on the way.  Sumptuous, cloisters of golden stone Gothic, orchards to wander in, out of the town in a world of its own; we wished we’d stayed as the peregrino price for a three bed suite was affordable.

The Way all along the road was one we were glad to have missed, no secret ways less travelled here, we pass John striding along the footpath that runs beside the bitumen just about all the way to Terradillos de los Templarios.  Another 25 kms day for him.  Lucky for us we arrive early at this tiny hamlet with only two albergues and a many kilometres further to the next one.

We book, dormitory only, into the grand sounding Jacques du Molay, he who was the 23rd Grand Master of the Knights Templar.  He had died a shocking death and I wondered at his connection with this tiny place. 

 We lay on our backs with our legs up against a tree trunk in the tranquil garden, patches of sun between clouds keep the temperature mild, the air so dry it would cure parchment.  I lay here wondering if I’ll bother putting my journal notes into a book, who would be interested in reading yet another Camino chronicle?  My thoughts drift with the clouds above me and a would be title pops into my head: Same Skirt, Different Day by Poppy Peregrina. 

 I love it and turn my head to tell Vanessa but she is sound asleep.
Late in the afternoon John arrives, and countless tired pilgrims are turned away, some look exhausted.  John said it was not a pleasant walk, and he can walk anywhere.  V. and I are so glad we followed our instincts.  I have a not very nice chicken soup for lunch, little except water from the pots of boiling chicken being prepared for the evening meal, with the addition of a barley seed floating in it. I decide not to eat in the evening but V. Has the chicken stew and John has the other dish offered.

Everyone has one Bad Day on the Camino.  I woke to beautiful weather, began to walk through beautiful country, redolent with the intense scent of broom from hedgerows eight feet high planted as a baffle between the Camino path and the main road. 

 I walk more and more slowly, pain and nausea bring me almost to a standstill but I put one foot in front of the other, lean on my walking stick, lurch into an uneven balance while my head disengages from my body which is down there somewhere crying out for attention.

Every step was agony.  The Lovelies were far ahead, the morning rush of pilgrims had passed me by, my hips almost crumbled.

After many miles walking in a kind of delirium I stop.  At that instant Vanessa, a distant speck, must have sensed something seriously amiss.  She turns back.  A goodly wait and she reaches me.  She stays with me, step by slow step, and we make it to the mediaeval bridge and the Hermitage of Our Lady of the Bridge.  John is waiting on the other side.  Once over it I fall down heavily on the grass in front of the ruined Hermitage.  I can no longer move.  Sahagun is another 3 kms or so.  After a while Vanessa props me up, John takes my pack, and somehow I reach the first hotel at this edge of the town; a hotel with a grand foyer and a sympathetic receptionist who takes in the scene in front of him at once.  He calls a taxi.  Vanessa comes with me and just as well for by the time we reach Bercianos del Real Camino we both fall out of the taxi.  She is also ill.

I fall in a heap on the front steps and Vanessa lays flat out on the bench by the old stone wall of this impressive building.  The door opens.  An American says the albergue is closed until 2 o’clock.  I hear it but can’t move.  Vanessa is out of it.  Then I hear a very English voice exclaim in dismay and I look up.  Obviously we are ill.  Spinning through my brain is the blessed coincidence of meeting two English speaking hospitaleros.  Though speaking is not necessary now as David produces mattresses for us to lay in the garden until opening time and Patricia tells me she is from Shalford. 

Synchronicity indeed.  Who would have heard of tiny Shalford unless they knew it personally?  Old and dear friends of mine from Father Bede and Shantivanam days live in Shalford, which is more or less between Godalming and Guildford.  Later we learn that Greece and Australia link us too – but first the pair are off to Sahagun to shop for the evening pilgrim meal and will leave us to sleep in the garden.

Hours later the garden begins to fill with pilgrims, John arrives, and 2 o’clock comes.  I am carried in by John and Patricia upstairs to a small room of two by two bunks.  Vanessa manages to walk upstairs.  We each collapse.  Patricia brings in bowls for us to vomit in, tells us we must stay two nights to recover.  Suddenly V. throws up; three days worth of food three times in succession.  Later I manage to throw up the gruel I had eaten at Terradillos.  

John is so kind.  Patricia tells us a number of pilgrims arrive ill from Terradillos; those who had eaten chicken at Jacques du Molay.  V. said their kitchen was spotless, it was more likely to have been the source of the chicken that caused it. 

Patricia is a joy and delight, pops up to check on us and talk.  She and David met on the Camino last year, knew it was a meant-to-be meeting, stayed together, learned Spanish for four months in Peru or somewhere, applied to be hospitaleros at this beautiful parochial albergue and had arrived two days beforehand for their two week volunteering.  How’s that for timing – we laugh well over our own good fortune at meeting.  Patricia wants to live in Australia, hopes David will warm to the idea too when they go later in the year.  Meeting the Australian Lovelies adds to the amalgam of synchronicities that touch each of us. 

I have been walking for 22 days, 354 kilometres less a couple of short lifts.  Two days rest and we are well enough to move on.  Vanessa and John will walk and I may not see them again.  In my heart I am sad at saying goodbye, they are special, my Camino enriched by knowing them.  I wish, fleetingly, I had a life in Australia, they would surely be part of it.  I, with the wisdom of Caroline’s Camino before me, and still feeling too wobbly to walk the distances demanded today, decide to take a taxi to León, offering to carry the hefty mochila’s of two charming young men who intend walking the entire 45 kms in one go, today

I name the young Frenchman Johnny Depp and he poses to perfection.

My taxi driver is a delight, expresses concern that I walk alone, is astonished that I have walked from Pamplona.  He drops me at the door of the hotel Patricia recommends for being exactly behind the Cathedral whose façade is right there.  He smiles warmly, shakes my hand, wishes me buen camino and leaves me to my fate.

To be continued ...

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