“The door is locked! We can´t get out!”
Instead of answering my morning greeting, this was how Isabel greeted me. The door which leads to the restaurant and the entrance of the albergue was locked. We couldn´t get out. This was absurd. The staff of this private albuerge couldn´t have just locked us in here. They perfectly knew we were peregrinos and we needed to wake up and start walking before sunrise. Something occured to me.
“Let´s try the backdoor!”
The backdoor was half open. Someone must have already left the albergue before us. Was it the Italian Josh Brolin who was fresh and bossy towards the waitress at dinner last night? Or was it the American girl? Or the German couple? Or the Italian lady who was sneezing a lot yesterday whom Isabel gave a pill to? We silently crossed the lawn and walked out of the gate stepping on the wet grass. Last night, it rained heavily. I was a bit worried that it might rain again today. The poncho-fiasco was still fresh in my memory.
The path was paved and straight. When I looked down, I saw bumper to bumper, or rather, shell to shell log jam in the middle of the road. Snails! All big and small were making their way towards the other end of the narrow path oblivious to our hurried steps; and eventually, dying a crushing death. This Camino was making me see the small wonders of nature I normally don’t pay attention to back home in the city.
“Guys! Don’t step on those cute little ones!” Warned Isabel.
Two kilometers later, the town of Moratinos came into full view. It was too early to find an open bar so we walked on to the next town. Going out, we bumped into a sign saying “376 km to Santiago.” It suddenly dawned on us that we had already walked almost half of the whole French route.
Seeing the light
Today was our second week. Fourteen days walking the Camino de Santiago. For Isabel and Mark, it was sixteen days as they started in St. Jean Pied de Port in France two days earlier than me.
“So, Nathaniel, have you seen the light in the Camino yet?” Mark and Isabel asked me.
“Uhm. I´m sure I am going to see the light soon. How about you?”
“Last week, we were walking out of Logroño, and I felt so tired and depressed and I was crying and crying. I was asking Mark why we were doing this. It was really bad. But, I think I am okay now. I don’t know if that is already my “light” but …let´s see.” Isabel replied.
It was really a difficult question. You just didn´t know when your “light” would come. I remember my first two days and they were really difficult and painful. My feet, back and shoulders were in pain. Blisters were all over my toes. I remember bugging myself with the question, “Why?” Fourteen days later, I seemed to have come to terms with my Camino. Blisters and body pain and all; I had resolved to go on walking up to my destination.
We finally found a homey bar in San Nicolas del Real Camino two kilometers away from the previous town.
Thank you, please
“Un cafe con leche y cafe Americano…y un croissant…” Isabel stopped mid-sentence while the waitress waited for her to finish her order in her halting Spanish.
“uhm…and…gracias por favoh!”
The waitress smiled as she handed Isabel her coffee and croissant while I couldn´t hide my giggles.
“Nathaniel, I notice that people smile every time I say por favoh? You just smiled when I said por favoh to the waitress a while ago. Something wrong with saying por favoh?”
I spruced my lips to hide my smile and explained to Isabel that people here don’t say por favor all the time compared to other countries. That you could just say, Dame este, dame esto, give me this, give me that, and it´s okay. I also told her that the waiters found it amusing listening to her por favoh instead of por favor.
We stayed a bit longer enjoying our breakfast while checking out the latest happenings in Pamplona where dozens of San Fermin revelers were trampled during the bull run. A video footage showed runners trapped at the narrow entrance to the bullring and more than six bulls were pushing their way in causing a stampede.
We paid our bills and prepared to take our leave. The waitress wished us a pleasant Camino and Mark and Isabel chorused, “Gracias, por favoh!”
I nearly dropped my backpack laughing out loud.
Eight kilometers ahead was the town of Sahagún. What makes this town special is its churches. Two days ago, I received a message from my friend Javi who lives in Madrid telling me to check out Sahagún´s brick-built Romanesque churches belonging to the mudéjar style architecture. He also has a friend who owns a bakeshop there; maybe we could drop by and meet her friend, Teré and say hello.
The golden Hermitage of La Virgen del Puente welcomed our entry into the town. Halfway through, my eyes feasted on the blooming sunflowers floating on a field of green. Walking into the center of the town, friendly locals greeted us “Buen Camino” to which Mark and Isabel happily answered with their enthusiastic “Gracias, por favoh!”
“Guys! You know that por favor means please in Spanish, don’t you?”
They nodded in unison.
“Because you have been saying, Thank you, please all this time.”
“You know why, Nathaniel? It´s because por favoh for us sounds like monsieur or madame. Gracias, por favoh! Thank you, monsieur! Buenos diás, por favoh! Good morning, madame.” They explained in between giggles.
And I died laughing again.
According to Javi, the bakery was just at the end of the street downhill in front of a small kiddie park. But the name of the street escaped him, so we asked a woman at a grocery store. The trip to the bakery of Javi´s friend was unexpectedly easy. But it turned out that Tere was out running some errands. Her husband was a bit surprised to meet a Filipino and two Canadians looking for his wife.
We sat on a bench facing the small bakery devouring the pastries that we had bought from Tere´s bakery. The park was busy with vendors mounting their stands and preparing their goods for the Saturday flea market.
“I think there was an accident in the kitchen when the baker was making this bread.” Mark commenting on the round bread with thick strips of flour and sugar spilled on top.
The church of San Tirso was a delight to the eye, a perfect example of a mudejar style architecture. Getting out of Sahagún, we crossed the bridge of Puente de Canto admiring the the waters of Río Cea flowing under it. The old man behind me sneezed loudly. I suddenly remember the Italian lady with an allergy.
“Isabel, remember the Italian lady whom you gave a pill to yesterday? The one who was sneezing a lot? I haven´t seen her today.”
“Neither do we. Maybe she is just around the corner. Walking behind us or ahead of us.”
“Or maybe your pill made her sleep all day. She was not able to wake up this morning. It could be possible eh.” I teased her with an admonishing look. She became defensive.
“That is absurd! My pill doesn’t have side effects and we will see her today, I am telling you.”
We saw a couple of peregrinos playing with a small bird who had landed on the man´s hat by accident. Instead of setting the bird free, they took it with them leaving the bird´s mother looking for its baby.
According to our guidebook, the next town would be three kilometers away. Passing through a myriad of tall trees, and a long and monotonous path by the highway, we reached Calzada de Coto. But the path didn’t lead to the town´s interior so we stopped to take a rest on a bench. It was time for Mark and Isabel to change their socks. The couple with the small bird walked past us. Isabel was tempted to tell them, “Let the bird free, por favoh!”
We walked for another seven kilometers by the highway and sometimes, in the middle of wheat fields to finally reach our last destination, Bercianos del Real Camino. The hostel was clean and had a nice view of the garden below. As soon as we had settled our things in our rooms, the three of us marched down to the restaurant to have our Menu de Peregrino.
Rewarding ourselves with a very sumptuous lunch after a very long walk had already become a routine after days of walking with Mark and Isabel. So here we were, waiting for our dessert to come. We had ordered Tarta de Santiago and Chocolate cake. The waiter arrived and served us our food accompanied by three “chupitos” or shot glasses of liquor for fast digestion.
The four peregrinos from the other table looked at us and the three chupitos wondering why we were given shots and they weren´t, considering that we all had the same Menu de Peregrino.
Isabel noticed the four and whispered to us.
“Maybe because I say por favoh and they don´t.”
We laughed and made a toast and gulped down the liquor when all of a sudden, Isabel saw somebody across the table.
“There she is!!! The lady with the allergy! See! The pill didn’t have side effects!”