Friday, March 7, 2014: My first official day of hiking the Camino de Santiago turned out to be entirely different from what I had in mind. Before I set out for Spain I had this mindset that I was going to be alone during my hike; that I’d be left to my own devices to decide my hiking distances, my break points, and my sleeping arrangements (all with the help of my guidebook, that is).
That Friday morning, everyone in the monastery woke up at the same time (which is what usually happens in a pilgrim’s hostel — one person starts to stir and the rest of us stir with them). I found myself getting ready and packing up my gear alongside the Canuck mom from Ottawa and her son, so as us Canucks do, we stuck together and left Leon as a group.
Leon is known for having a rather ugly industrial area on the outskirts of town, so it was decided that we’d take a local bus to a drop-off point outside of the city centre in order to begin our hike. My meager Spanish came in handy to get us on route, and eventually we found ourselves at our starting point.
One tip that is constantly offered in the guidebooks is to stock up on food and water for your day’s hike the night before. This we didn’t do. So, once we were off the bus we found a local café and cleared them out of their bocadillos and enjoyed a café con leche. Sitting on the counter inside was a fruit basket, so I asked the waitress for an orange to go. Or at least I thought I did. After a few minutes I realized she was making me orange juice. How “Yo quiero uno naranja” sounds like “Yo quiero jugo de naranja” beats the hell out of me. I know my Spanish accent sucks (though I realized that a national language with a lisp suits me well, seeing how I struggle with speech sometimes), but I also know I didn’t say “jugo” in my order. The waitress was just as confused as I was.
Once we were sufficiently stocked up, our Camino finally began. We hiked along the road to a turnoff that brought us into the grassy countryside, and within an hour the first layer of clothing was being removed (in the middle of a roundabout…good times…). Thirty minutes later, we were peeling off yet another layer. That Spanish sun is hot, even in March.
My goal for the day was to reach a town called Villadangos del Paramo, which was approximately five hours away on foot. I figured a modest day of hiking would be a good way to get me acclimatized and in the groove. Along the way we stopped for a potty break and a coffee in a small town. As soon as we walked up to the café, this gimpy, adorable cat made his way to us and proceeded to make my pack his bed. I took it as a sign of animal-related incidents to come, seeing how my mother and I have a penchant for injured strays (needless to say, we love St. Francis of Assisi).
Within a few hours we were in the town that I was to call home for the night. We celebrated by having a beer and a bocadillo, as this was to be the last time I saw the Canuck mother/son duo. I unfortunately can’t remember the name of the albergue (“hostel” in Spanish), but the wall lining its bar was full of doodles and autographs from past pilgrims.
My fellow Canucks took their leave, and I found myself alone and not liking it. I ordered another beer, flipped through my guidebook, looked at the doodle wall some more, then quite spontaneously picked up my pack and left the joint. That photo above that shows the quote “Pain is weakness leaving the body” might have had an influence on me.
My new destination was to be Hospital de Orbigo, which was where the Canucks were headed. I had another four or five hours of hiking ahead of me, so I popped my headphones in and played some music that would keep me going (Muse, in case you were wondering).
Heading towards Hospital, this was the view. It’s not very inspiring, and makes the journey quite daunting, but considering I still had two weeks of hiking ahead of me I knew it was just one of the multitudes of landscapes I’d be seeing.
I was only back on the trail for twenty minutes or so before I caught up with my friends. I hate to admit it, but hiking with them for the first part of the day was a bit tedious as I’m naturally a fast walker. Catching up with them so soon just proved to me that our hiking styles didn’t vibe very well. However, I stuck it out with them for the second half of the day’s journey.
It was a hot, sweaty, stinky hike. Due to the lack of natural shade along this portion of the route, the hiking was difficult. At one point we stopped to sit on a bridge and I could barely get back up. I actually considered taking a nap there, sitting upright, with my pack still on.
After what seemed an eternity we made it to Hospital and found our albergue. Some of our fellow pilgrims from Leon arrived before us and were already settling in. One gentleman from Italy (who worked as a chef back home), decided he’d make us all dinner as long as we pitched in for the food. He actually started this trend the night before in Leon, and seeing how delicious the food was then we made him the official cook of the group.
I’m horrible with names when I first meet people, and I still can’t remember his name. We ended up referring to each other as “Italy” and “Canada”, and as the helpful, solo, Canadian girl, I was recruited to assist him in getting the ingredients for dinner.
With “Italy” cooking in the kitchen and everyone else loitering around the open-air courtyard, I made myself comfortable at one of the picnic tables outside. By eight that evening, dinner was still being made but I was falling asleep where I sat. I gave in and went to bed without eating.
Two hours later I woke up as everyone was coming into the room and immediately I knew something wasn’t right. Despite being in my sleeping bag, fully clothed, with a wool blanket covering me, I was still cold. I couldn’t stop shivering for the life of me. To top it off, I had developed a wicked cough. I asked the lady running the albergue for an additional blanket and found my toque. Using the extra blanket, I wrapped myself like a mummy and slid myself back into my bag. I used the second blanket to cover everything and brought my toque so low on my head that I’m pretty sure all my fellow pilgrims could see of me was my nose.
I barely slept that night and the next morning I woke up with a fever. We hiked about twenty-eight kilometers that first day on the trail, and I did it with jet lag and little sleep. I set myself up for overdoing it. However, my spirits were still good, so I decided to push on and hike to Astorga, which was a humble fifteen kilometers away.
I let the others leave before me so I could be alone. I knew it was going to be a slow day, so I didn’t want to keep anyone behind. I also started using my hiking poles, and I can honestly say if it weren’t for those poles I’d probably still be in a ditch somewhere in Spain.