In the morning I awoke to the uplifting sound of Gregorian chanting as it wafted up the stairs from below. It felt like such an appropriate way to greet the day and I climbed out of my bunk to meet it. Over breakfast downstairs, I spoke to Debbie, an American lady who told me she was allowing her Camino to take as long as necessary. I saw the wisdom of that, of course, and although I had a return airline reservation, I had a little contingency that gave me some flexibility. Yet somehow I seemed reluctant to use it.
When we left, the morning was still covered in darkness and Manoel, Sue, Elisabeth, Debbie and I were immediately in dispute about whether to go left or right to rejoin the Camino. For some reason I felt certain that we should go left and they followed me. But then we met a man going in the opposite direction and Debbie decided to turn around and follow him. Later we discovered that both directions worked, although perhaps we had taken the longer route. In any event we were rewarded with the most glorious sunrise after about an hour, and I felt that the experience softened any residual resentment about the extra kilometre or two!
By then we had fallen into a rhythm of walking about twenty kilometres a day and this day was no different. However, half way through the day, the combination of the high temperature and my inflamed knees meant that I was struggling once again. Although Elisabeth, Sue and Manoel were ahead of me, I was able to get Manoel’s attention to say I was stopping and he relayed the message up the line. Everyone was agreeable to taking a rest, but Elisabeth suggested going a little further as she could see in the distance a more fitting resting site than the roadside spot I had chosen. I too had seen what looked like bales of straw and although my fatigue needed to be addressed urgently, I saw the wisdom of her suggestion.
We had begun to routinely book our nightly accommodation in advance and we were heading for a private albergue in the small village of Cirueña. When we arrived we found our albergue, Virgen de Guadalupe, painted in a lively shade of blue with lots of homely and inviting potted plants and hanging baskets outside. However, inside was a different story. The house itself was in disrepair, but more important than that, it felt more like we were staying in an army barracks where the resident sergeant was on patrol. After meeting us at the door, we were instructed to follow the hospitalero upstairs, where he sat us all around the kitchen table to complete the registration process. Included in the offering was an evening meal, and before arriving I had imagined a warm, convivial evening with a welcoming host and fellow pilgrims. However, our host didn’t have the welcoming touch. It felt like we were more of an inconvenience to him than anything else, so when he showed us the evening’s menu, one by one, we all said we wouldn’t be staying for dinner.
When we got to our room, I noticed the absence of the usual stack of blankets. So in anticipation of feeling cold during the night, I asked Manoel to see if he could get a blanket for me from the hospitalero. Manoel agreed to make the approach while I listened to the exchange from the safety of the dorm, and although I didn’t understand Spanish, his tone told me all I needed to know. In fact the hospitalero came into our room to shut the window we had opened. ‘If you kept the window closed you wouldn’t need a blanket,’ was the gist of what he said in Spanish. I wasn’t optimistic about my chances of a blanket!
Unlike other places, I didn’t feel I had the freedom of the house. It felt too much like we were intruding on him and his domain and when the others wanted to go to the pub I joined them, even though I would have preferred to rest and journal. In the bar, we had a couple of hours to wait before they offered dinner service and passing time felt challenging. I knew I was going through the motions until we could order dinner and then sleep. Manoel was using the local services to access the internet while Sue was on her phone; we were all there but not together. Part of me wanted to tell them to put away the gadgets, but I knew I had no right. We did discuss the route for the following day and having consulted my guidebook, and read about Santo Domingo, I knew I really wanted to spend some time in the town. I didn’t want to walk through it and out the other side without experiencing it. Elisabeth and Manoel, too, were open to the idea, but Sue seemed less interested.
Back in the albergue, my comrades offered me their jackets to keep me warm during the night as the hospitalero had not softened his stance on the blanket situation. And as I lay in bed, I began to acknowledge that although being in this group had real advantages, if I tied myself to it I might be compromising my own needs too much. In any event I knew we wouldn’t all finish together as Elisabeth’s Camino would end in Burgos a few days hence, and I thought that might be my exit too.