It’s been two and a half weeks since the State of Alarm ended, and the Pilgrims have returned en masse. It started out slow but has gathered steam. During the Galician perimeter closure, we got only a handful each day. Now, hundreds walk in front of our house. And every day, the number doubles from the day before. The serious Pilgrims have arrived.
The Peregrinos now have large packs, not just the day pack. They are often in bigger groups and have come from farther afield. Perhaps Leon. Maybe even Burgos. We see more scallop shells swinging from their packs. And they have the look of the long haul Pilgrim. They’re tanner and leaner. And dirtier.
When you walk across northern Spain for weeks on end, you get dirty. Yes, some Albergue’s have a washing machine you can use for a few euros. But the majority of Pilgrims are washing their delicates in the bathroom sink with hand soap. Hanging them out on the line, and hoping they won’t have to spend the next day with their underwear safety-pinned to the outside of their pack praying it will dry by the time they stop for the day. You never really feel clean until your final shower in Santiago. The one where you won’t have to put on your Camino clothes ever again. Emilie and I did some serious shopping in Santiago and we felt like new people dressing in something that didn’t smell like hand soap or our shampoo.
Jeff and I had to go into Palas to get my Sergas (health) registration finalized and we saw this sign in the public medical center. It made me smile. The people in the Palas medical center have to treat the injuries of a lot of Pilgrims each year. And there are those who make it a point of pride to have the ‘real pilgrim’ experience. Meaning they don’t bring extra clothes and become riper by the day. Sadly, in the heat of summer, the medical staff in the town of Palas de Rei at only 4 days from Santiago are in a tough spot. These authentic Peregrinos, who are sick or injured, have been fermenting for weeks on their way to landing at the front door of the medical center. I can barely imagine sitting next to one at a cafè, let alone standing in a closed room peeling off a boot and sock to treat their blisters or a sprained ankle.
We went down to our local to have a coffee this morning. There were so many Pilgrims walking with us on our road, it felt a bit strange to be in street clothes holding my wallet and keys. When we arrived at the cafè it was packed. We got the last table and I took this picture.
Luckily, the woman who works at the bar recognized us and brought our usual. No more caffeine for me and she knows it. Jeff noticed a change in temperature.
‘It’s kind of nice. There’s more energy here. It feels like life has returned.’
I agree. The laughter and all the talking on the terrace had a welcome buzz to it. Spaniards are very social. The pandemic has been a killer for a culture that lives to spend time around a table with family and friends. We are not super social people, but even we missed the sound of people shouting and laughing without masks.
In August, we will walk another Camino for three weeks. Before we open our new venture next Spring and will be unable to be gone for so long. This time we are starting in Burgos. Jeff can only be away from work for this stretch, so beginning in St-Jean or Roncesvalles is out of the question. But it will feel strange. Just 3 days from Santiago we will stay in our own home, and walk the rest of the way in clean clothes after a good night’s sleep in our own bed. I wonder how different it will feel than it did the first time. When everything was unknown and I had no idea what to expect around every bend in the road. When standing at Monte de Gozo with Santiago at our feet felt like we had landed on the moon. It seemed such an impossibility that we had actually done it.
And how different it will be after having Covid and battling all the health issues I have in the past year. Will my heart hold out? Can I really do three weeks walking as easily as I did before? Or will something new present itself. One wonders if I will be able to regain what I lost. That part of me must be somewhere. Maybe the Camino can help me find it. Will I end this Camino with the same feeling as the first time? Infinite gratitude. Or will I just be relieved if I can finish at all? Perhaps, that’s my unknown on the Camino this time. And maybe, for now, that’s enough.