Up before daybreak (and before me), Judi drinks the coffee con leche that she wisely purchased the night before and put into a thermos. She’s the light sleeper and always the first awake; she writes in her journal and does her yoga routine. I’m up soon after. No worries about what to wear: we only have a couple of outfits anyway and no one dresses for fashion on the Camino.
The bathrooms are communal, but since we’re up early, they’re empty, and we can soon be putting on backpacks and boots and leaving the building.
It’s blessedly cool outside but dark. With flashlight and headlamp, we find the blue signs with yellow scallop shell insignia or the yellow painted arrows on road signs, highway guardrails, or the walls of buildings. The moon was full a few days ago, and that made the wayfinding easier. Not many animals to see: a few bunnies, the occasional chained dog, maybe a snail or two in the roadway. In the distance, we sometimes see the lights of other pilgrims who have left early. The nights are quiet here, with only the occasional sound of a barking dog in the distance.
By seven, the sky starts to lighten in the east. We’re hitting our stride, still full of energy and walking at a good clip. We don’t talk much, each of us lost in thought, remembering events from days before, solving the world’s problems, or thinking about our loved ones at home.
After a couple of hours more, we stop at a roadside bar/cafe in whatever small village we’ve reached. It feels great to take off the 20-pound backpacks and walk unencumbered into the cafe. We’ve each settled in to our favorite choices for breakfast. Judi usually has freshly squeezed orange juice and an omelette on part of a crusty baguette. I want cafe solo Americano and a tortilla patate with a chunk of baguette. Cafe solo is espresso with extra hot water served in a small teacup. Very strong and delicious.
Sometimes Judi jokes, “Okay. Saddle up, pilgrim. We’re leaving,” and we wrestle the backpacks on and continue on our way.
By noon, we’ve usually walked over 2/3 of the way to our destination, our pace has slowed only a little, and we’ve greeted many fellow pilgrims. The way seems harder, and we’re more careful to choose our steps along the rocky way. Our patience thins a little, but Judi’s always upbeat and finds the best in every situation.
When we finally arrive at an albergue, we join the line of people checking in for the night. By this time, we’ve walked thirteen or more miles, and the only things that make sense are taking off our shoes and backpacks, sitting down, and preparing to shower.
The host at each albergue checks and stamps our pilgrim credentials, records numbers from our U.S. passports, and assigns us to a room and bed. It varies, but most rooms have ten or more bunkbeds each. I prefer the top bunk, and Judi, the bottom bunk, so we’re usually happy with our assignments.
After a quick shower (bring your own soap, shampoo, washcloth, and towel), we usually take a walk around the village, have an early supper at 4:30 or wait to enjoy a pilgrim dinner at seven o’clock. Meals in Spain are divided into courses. El primero is a choice of ensalada mixta, pasta with red sauce, vegetable or meat stew, or a local specialty; el segundo is a choice of cod fish, trout, pork, beef, or chicken. I can find a good vegetarian dinner by choosing two primeros, usually ensalada mixta and pasta. Meals are served with red wine, water, more baguettes, and desserts. Judi’s favorite dessert so far has been the homemade rice pudding. I usually choose ice cream, even though that means a pre-packaged cone like you’d find in the frozen food section. Ice cream is always good in whatever form it comes in.
The best part of the pilgrims’ meals is conversation with people from all over the world. The other night we heard the adventures of an Australian who had climbed Mount Kilimajaro and others of the world’s highest mountains. At the same dinner was a couple from Stockholm who had traveled around the world and were currently living in southern France for a few months. The man from Brazil talked about his trips to the Amazon. Such a wide world and such a variety of adventures!
“And so to bed,” as Samuel Pepys would write in his journal centuries ago. I conk out just about as soon my head hits my blow-up pillow in spite of lights, beeping alarms, church bells, and snores, grateful for friendships, clean beds, and much-needed rest.