In October and November of 2015, I walked the Camino Francés, one of the traditional pilgrimage routes to the Spanish city of Santiago de Compostela. It was a deeply emotional journey, with far-reaching implications for my life, and I’m slowly but surely capturing the memories and musings here on my blog. Read the entire series at Anna’s Camino.
It was nothing new to wake up in pain by this point on the Camino, so when my legs were swollen and stiff on the morning of Day 22, I shrugged it off, gave myself a quick calf massage, popped an Ibuprofen, and joined the other pilgrims in packing to leave. The mood and energy level in the dorm seemed rather low, overall. No one was really hustling to get out, and there were groans from those pilgrims who realized their boots hadn’t dried out completely overnight. I was proud of myself for having worn sandals the day before, so that my feet could be warm and toasty this morning. Once again, I realized that it’s the tiniest details that make or break a day. Even though my legs were really hurting, warm feet on a chilly morning improved my mood greatly.
The other thing that really made my morning was seeing hobbit houses! Somehow, I’d missed the memo about the bodegas in Moratinos, so seeing these perfect doors cut into the hillside was a wonderful shock. The bodegas are underground structures, primarily used for wine storage (or perhaps general storage) by families in the municipality, but they look exactly like something out of Hobbiton. I was told that they are also sometimes used as drinking dens / man caves, but didn’t get to see this for myself first hand. Instead, I had to be content with visiting Bodega Restaurante El Castillo de Moratinos, a bar and restaurant set up in an old bodega. We had a quick snack, and walked on, making it to Sahagun shortly after lunchtime.
Since we were both so beat from the day before, it was decided that we’d stop early, get beds in a nice albergue, and just relax. The reviews for Albergue Viatoris were excellent, so deciding to stay there was a simple choice. From the extensiveness of the grounds, was pretty obvious that the place was its own bustling city center at the height of pilgrimage season, but when we arrived, it was a ghost town. Despite the proverbial tumbleweeds blowing through, things were looking up when the hospitalero led us to a nicely appointed room with only six beds – only half were bunks! – and showed us a kingly private bathroom down the hall with a lovely shower. We each took a non-bunk bed, and drew straws to see who’d shower first. Jakob won. He was only gone for a few minutes before coming back, looking cleaner, but not too enthusiastic about it. It turns out that our posh digs had no hot water. We mutually decided to move on with life instead of complaining, so I took my own icy cold dip, then we headed out to find food.
What happened next was one of my favorite dining experiences on the entire Camino – an Irish pub with Spanish beer and Italian food. I don’t know if it was the sheer relief of not having to exercise anymore, or if it was just the simple economics of pouring more alcohol in, but the rest of the afternoon was exceedingly pleasant. Jakob and I sat and bullshitted for awhile in the bar, enjoying beer and each other’s company. We had chicharrones at the bar, as well, and I was surprised to find out that he had never tried pork rinds or cracklins before. It made me weirdly proud to have been present for the first try, especially since he liked them.
Afterwards, we decided to pick up some snacks for dinner so we wouldn’t have to leave the albergue again that day. On the way to finding a grocery store, we ended up wandering into an Asian general store. There’s at least one of these in every slightly large town. These stores are a cheap one-stop-shop, with strange and varied wares, and I loved to visit them all along the Camino to see what kind of random stuff I could find. In Sahagun, I found cheap Halloween decor, masks, and sparkly top hats. I was too pleased with the hats, and ended up wearing one for a few minutes. I was brushing glitter out of my hair for a couple of days.
At the grocery store, I got to experience another first for Jakob – his first packet of Double Stuffed Oreos. It turns out that he loves Oreos, but they didn’t have the double creme version in Germany. He was pretty much overjoyed to see the packet in the cookie aisle, and I realized that he got just as excited about food as I do. Along with the typical wine, cheese, bread, and sausage, that packet of Oreos had to come back home with us.
The rest of the day was very laid back. We did some preliminary reading for the next day’s walk, then caught up on posting photos to Facebook and getting in touch with family who were waiting to hear from us. Once it was apparent that no other pilgrims would be joining us in the room, we spread out a little. I actually ended up feeling weirdly exposed to not have a bunk above my head, so I moved down to sleep in the bottom of one of the two bunks in the room. Lights were out early, and I fell asleep quickly. Since it was just the two of us, I didn’t bother with my ear plugs.
Around one or two in the morning, I woke up to a strange rustling sound that took a moment for my brain to interpret…until I heard a crunch, crunch, crunch. It was the middle of the night, and two beds away, my new friend had woken up to eat Oreos in bed. I couldn’t have loved anyone more in that moment. I laid awake, listening to him eat a couple more cookies, then roll the bag shut and put it aside. I fell asleep smiling. As I recall, he had a stomach ache the next morning.