Thursday, March 13, 2014: Day three with the ladies proved to be very interesting, to say the least. I got lost then found again, we ate some octopus, then we all had a mishap in the showers that resulted in a new friend and wicked laughs over some beer to end the night. This day will forever remain in my memory as one of my favourites from the entire Camino. Eirexe is a one bar town, quite like a Spanish Western movie. A light breakfast was eaten in the same place where we had dinner the night before. Adriana, the negotiator that she is, made an arrangement with the restaurant owners for them to open early prior to our departure so we could grab some food before we started our day of hiking. Even now I still believe we were the only non-locals in town during our stay there. We had a decent amount of kilometers to cover before we reached our end goal of Melide — a city nowhere near the coast, yet it’s famous for its octopus dishes — so we moved on out through the Galician countryside. Along the way we had picked up supplies for lunch, which we ate early once we found a picnic bench in a clearing adjacent to the Camino. The noon sun hadn’t yet pierced the Galician morning fog, so the bench was still damp and soaked our bums. Out came the cans of ham and tuna pate, an entire loaf of bread, crackers, cookies, and the dates I had been carrying around for days that I was still trying to get rid of. As we ate we discussed the route for the remainder of our pilgrimage. It was decided that Christine and I would venture ahead on our own the next day as the ladies were going to take it easy and hike to Arzua, a town which was about fourteen kilometers outside Melide. Chris and I were going to continue on to O Pedrouzo, which would see us hiking nearly thirty-four kilometers (we were feeling ambitious). With this new plan, lunch took on a bit of a solemn feeling as we knew we were soon to be separated. However, we looked forward to what would be our dinner that evening (pulpo), and our celebratory reunion days ahead in Santiago de Compostela. Over our meal we also decided that we’d stop in the next town, Palas de Rei, so the ladies could mail off some postcards at the local post office. Eirexe and Palas de Rei are only about eight kilometers apart, so it didn’t take us long to get there after our picnic. I had branched off from the group to pop into a shop (don’t hate me — I was buying cigarettes), and before I knew it the ladies were nowhere in sight. I had no idea where the post office was, but I knew that Palas had a multitude of pilgrim-oriented stores, so I figured that they got sidetracked with some window shopping (Christine and Johana especially). I continued my walk through town and picked a major intersection to stop and wait for them. There was no way I was going to miss them as this particular spot was adjacent to the Camino, was on a main through-way, and had many pilgrim-dedicated items (a fountain, shops, the street name…it was like a pilgrim piazza). So I sat down on the fountain’s ledge and waited. And I waited. I snapped some photos, and I waited. I turned my convertible hiker’s pants into capris, and I waited. I window shopped (lots of hand-carved hiking sticks in this town), and I waited. Then it occurred to me: maybe they were ahead of me and I was waiting for nothing. Once this thought was planted in my brain, a slight panic came over me. Those women had become my instant best friends and my support along the way, and now they were gone. It’s very possible to lose someone along the Camino, so I was worried that I’d never see them again. But then the rational part of my brain kicked in: our mutual stop for the night was Melide — no one was going to go beyond that, so I can’t lose them. Plus, we always stayed at the municipal albergue, which there was only one of in each town. Regardless of whether they were behind me or ahead of me, we would be reunited that evening. I instantly felt better. This trip was something I had originally planned on doing on my own, yet up until that point I had very few moments of being on the Camino entirely by myself. Instead of feeling sad for not having the ladies with me, I decided to relish in the moment and enjoy the solitude. Out came my phone, on came the Gipsy Kings (I’m in Spain, what else am I going to play?), and off I went towards Melide. Leaving Palas de Rei, you are once again thrown into a fairy tale setting. Walking through those woods I half expected Shrek to go bounding by with a courteous smile. In that moment, I felt like I was in paradise. I was walking alongside a trickle of a stream, purposefully splashing in the clean water to wash the cow shit off my boots, enjoying the birds flitting overhead while the sun beamed down through the cracks in the leaves. Then I was navigating over riverside boulders as the stream got bigger, hopping from rock to rock. For the first time in many, many years, I felt like a kid again. I was on the brink of turning thirty, yet I felt like I was ten. Then all of a sudden, I heard my name being called out frantically behind me. Turning around I saw wee, little Christine, standing on a rock at the bottom of a hill below me. As much as I enjoyed my time alone (which actually turned out to be only about an hour), I was thrilled to see Chris again. I found out I was right about the ladies window shopping, and I was ahead of them the entire time. Christine left the group at the post office to look for me, but once she realized I was nowhere to be found she went through the same thought process that I did and decided to just continue walking. If there’s one thing that Christine and I bonded over from the very beginning, it was our relationship woes. Now that we were alone, this subject took top priority. We hiked, we chatted, we commiserated about our relationships — all the way through those woods until we hit a café in Furelos, where we discovered a new group of pilgrims sitting on a roadside patio. There was still a table free, so Christine and I plunked our asses down and rested. We knew that there was no way we’d miss the ladies from here, so we got cozy, ordered some drinks (by this point in the trip I had developed a weird habit of ordering a Diet Coke, a beer and water at any post-lunch pit stops), and chatted with the other hikers. Turns out, one of them was Canadian. We bonded over our patriotism and my awesome KEEN hiking boots. It didn’t take very long for Adriana, Consuelo and Johana to catch up, but once we were all back together the laughs and stories ensued. Consuelo even made an impression of me power walking, making fun of the fact that I had gotten ahead. We finished up our drinks and snacks and once again reclaimed our roles as pilgrims. Somehow Christine and I got ahead again, and within an hour we arrived in Melide. Right on the edge of town there’s a pizzeria, waiting for weary pilgrims to approach. We sat, I ordered my cocktail of Diet Coke-beer-water, and we waited for the slowpokes to catch up (I’m pretty sure I got another power walker impression from Consuelo once they arrived). The five of us then made our way to a pulpo restaurant that was suggested to us, and we finally got to eat this delicacy that we’d been hearing so much about. I’m not a big fan of eating things with tentacles on them, so I’ll admit that I didn’t fully participate in the pulpo festivities. I tried a piece without weird bits, noted that it reminded me of calamari, then I ate my salad. I can still stay I ate pulpo in Melide, though. After our early dinner we found the municipal pilgrim’s hostel and staked out our bunks, then Adriana, Christine, Johana and I hit the showers while Consuelo rested. We were the only ones in the women’s bathroom except for another pilgrim who was bathing in the very last stall. Even these stalls were doorless. What’s a girl gotta do for some privacy? I took my usual route of getting the stall farthest away from the door, which just so happened to be directly beside the pilgrim whose shower was already underway. The four of us were all laughing and talking over the shower walls when, all of a sudden, the person who was beside me quickly darted out of their stall and made their way out of the bathroom. However, they weren’t able to move quickly enough as we all slowly realized that the pilgrim was in fact a dude. As he passed each of us individually, a gasp of surprise was heard. It was like a domino effect of shock. After a moment of silence, we all burst into a collective “What the fuck?!” followed by hysterical bursts of laughter (actually, Christine had no idea what was going on because her gigantic towel covered the majority of her stall opening and she’s five foot nothing — if you walked past her stall all you would see would be from her knees down). After that happened I had a hard time bathing in comfort, so I wrapped it up as quickly as I could, checking the sign on the door of the bathroom on my way out, confirming that we had in fact entered the women’s facilities. I found Consuelo in the dorm room and in my broken Spanish (that’s how we communicated, through very bad Spanish/English and lots of hand gestures) I said to her “Consuelo! Un chico!”, but before I could even finish she was gesturing with her eyes for me to look behind me. I turned around and there stood a freshly showered individual of the male persuasion. “Do you speak English?” he asked me with a European accent. He then admitted to me that it was in fact him showering in the women’s washroom, and that where he’s from (Austria), the men’s facilities are always on the left side of the hall, so without even checking he went through the open door on the left and found himself bathing with the lot of us. He was so apologetic he looked like a puppy that had just been caught making muddy paw prints on the carpet. And then, the best part of it all happened as he asked me “Would you be able to get my boxers for me? They’re hanging over the stall wall”. I nearly died of laughter. I hauled him to the doorway of the washroom and before I entered on my own I showed him the diagram of the woman hanging on the door and said to him “See that triangle on her crotch? That’s a skirt. It means ladies only.” Once the other girls were introduced to him, he got a firing squad of jokes and teasing aimed at him. We invited him out for drinks that night (me: “Well, you got a free show. You might as well buy us all drinks.”), and thus we made a new friend — Richard from Vienna. Little did we know at the time that our fateful introduction to Richard in that bathroom would result in a new addition to the group. We returned to the hostel for bedtime, and after a few pints I’ll admit I had a happy buzz going. Once we were settled into our sleeping bags and had said our “goodnights”, I was just about to fall asleep when a drunken German girl came barreling through the dorm. I can’t even remember her name (I called her Blue Hair, because, well, she had blue hair), but this was not the last time we’d have to deal with her. I bit my tongue to keep the angry West Indian girl inside of me from telling her off, and instead pulled my toque over my eyes and forced myself to sleep. It had been a good day. In fact, I’d say it had been the most fun I had up until that point of the trip. Looking at those photos of myself I can see how happy I was. Frankly, it might be due to the fact that I had a constant trickle of beer going through my system that day, but meh, who cares. We had covered close to sixty kilometers in three days, I learned that I didn’t have to be scared to hike alone if I got lost, and we had some awesome company. I fell asleep one happy girl that night.