The breakfast spread at Casa de Abuela looked inviting and I wanted to do it justice, so I took as much time as I could to enjoy what was before me. But I couldn’t linger too long as there was the small matter of a twenty-seven kilometre walk ahead of me to the City of Logroño. It was a walk I wasn’t particularly looking forward to as my limbs had taken a battering over the previous couple of days, and I would also have preferred to avoid trekking across a big City. Sue had left with the morning still bathed in darkness, while Manoel was coming to terms with losing his map and the consequence of its loss. The previous day’s experiences had left me feeling in an optimistic, positive mood so I asked Manoel if he wanted to leave with me, and my map, when daylight appeared.
Mid morning we stopped for coffee in a small village where some other pilgrims were already gathered, and I sat outside with Dublin John. He was on a two-week Camino, which he intended to finish in Burgos a week later. While I waited for Manoel to join us, our conversation focused on John’s injured foot. We pondered whether or not he would be able to make it to Logroño that day at all. Typically, feet and legs are high up on the Camino conversational agenda, but it could get a bit tedious, speculating on exactly what had been hurt, and how long it might remain hurt. I needed some light relief, which I hoped would come from Manoel, but when I looked around, I noticed he had joined another table. Interesting.
Just as Manoel and I were leaving the café, Elisabeth arrived. Earlier in the morning we had left her sitting at the kitchen table in the albergue. At sixty-eight, Elisabeth was an impressive walker, much better than me, and she caught up with us shortly after her coffee break. Soon Manoel and Elisabeth began to converse in French. He had lived in France during his Royal Air Force days, so he found speaking French easier than English. While they talked, I lost interest and fell behind, partly because I wasn’t part of the conversation, but mostly because I was feeling sluggish. In the distance I could see Viana, where we intended to stop for lunch. It looked deceptively close due to the flatness of the surrounding landscape, whereas I felt the reality of the actual distance with each step I walked – for me it couldn’t be close enough.
In Viana, my spirits lifted at the sight of the enticing and extravagant display of tapas that covered the entire length of the long bar, its beauty alone felt restorative. While we sat outside enjoying a delicious lunch Dublin John came into view and joined us. Quite soon I sensed Manoel wasn’t very keen on John being with us. That seed had been sown in my mind when he hadn’t joined our table at the cafe earlier, and over lunch he seemed to make very little effort to include John. Secretly, I hoped John would push off on his own after lunch so that the awkwardness wouldn’t continue further into the afternoon and he duly obliged.
As we rested outside in the shade Manoel phoned ahead to a private albergue in Logroño to book beds for the three of us. It was a relief to have accommodation secured and comforting to know that I would be staying in a private albergue. Before leaving Viana, Manoel found a supermarket nearby, so I was able to stock up on black tea bags. I had been missing my morning cuppa, as most albergues had vending machines that dispensed only lemon tea.
Refuelled, we set out on the remaining ten kilometres to Logroño, which for me was even more difficult than the hours before lunch. By then the day was very hot, and although I tried to keep up with the others, I really struggled. My knee joints were swollen and my legs felt like dead weight. Every step felt torturous. I knew I should just stop and take a break. In fact I should have taken as many breaks as I needed, but I was reluctant to either let the others go on ahead of me or ask them to wait.
As the afternoon progressed, walking in the heat felt almost unbearable, and by the time we got to the outskirts of Logroño I just wanted it to be over. Every step required physical, emotional and mental effort, so I left the navigation through the city to Manoel and Elisabeth. Then as we drew closer to our destination, I thought I spotted the albergue and I tried to point it out – they ignored me, and continued on. While I was annoyed at being dismissed, I still followed them, as I wasn’t entirely certain of what I had seen either. Within minutes we arrived outside the building I had identified earlier, having gone the long way round, which wasn’t very long at all; still, I was irritated as it confirmed I had been correct, although not confident, in my observation. As we arrived, we met Sue emerging from the albergue and I felt even more resentful. She was heading out for a walk around the City having arrived well ahead of us and seemed to have taken the twenty-seven-kilometre walk in her stride. I didn’t like her being so carefree when the experience had taken so much out of me. I was more familiar with seeing myself as the one striding ahead, rather than the one struggling behind and I didn’t like this new turn of events.
Inside the albergue, the check-in process was unusually laborious and I found my patience further tested. I needed to rest so badly, but the hospitalero moved at a snail’s pace and she had an appetite for collecting more information than I was used to providing. When we were shown to a large, thirty-bed dormitory, I felt really disappointed. I just couldn’t believe my eyes as I looked around at what was more akin to an open-plan office and not at all the kind of private albergue experience I had in mind.
When I lay down to sleep, it proved very difficult, as a group of young Spanish students were making a lot of noise, despite other pilgrims telling them to be quiet. As I sat up again in exasperation I caught the eye of a familiar Spaniard resting in his bunk across the room. ‘They are very loud,’ he said. ‘They certainly are,’ I replied before I burst into tears and lay down again in my sleeping bag. I sobbed uncontrollably. I didn’t know why I was crying; I just was. When Manoel realised what was happening, he stood by my bed and held my hand. Between the sobs I said to him ‘I can’t stop,’ he replied in his best English, ‘why you want to?’
When my tears began to abate, Manoel and Elisabeth asked what they could do, and I suggested a cup of tea with my newly purchased teabags. As I sipped my hot tea, the Spanish guy from across the room came over to enquire if I was all right. He wondered what had happened to cause the tears. Nothing had happened as far as any of us knew; that puzzled him, I think. After he returned to his bunk, conversation turned to plans for dinner and while I was absolutely shattered I though I would regret it later if I didn’t summoned my strength to join them. However as we walked around the City savouring the atmosphere, I was very much a follower, just as I had been earlier in the day. During dinner my companions began to speak again in French and I felt increasingly more excluded as it continued. Truthfully I felt hurt by Manoel’s insensitivity in particular, as he was the person I had the primary relationship with. To prevent myself receding into the background completely I asked him to speak in English. It took some courage to voice as I was speaking from a place of hurt, a small place, a child place, rather than from a position of adult confidence and strength. It was an awkward moment as he didn’t seem too happy with my request, although he did acquiesce.
After dinner and an eventful day, there was a lovely quiet hum in the albergue as people completed their bedtime rituals just before lights out. And as I sat up in my bunk the Spanish pilgrim from earlier mouthed across the room, ‘Are you okay?’ My nod indicated yes, I was feeling better. Sue observed the exchange, and I could see from her expression that she wondered what she had missed. But I chose not to enlighten her; I didn’t want to share my vulnerability any further.
Earlier in the evening, Elisabeth suggested that my tears were caused by tiredness. Although, it was certainly true that the difficulty of the day dismantled my defences, I also felt that something deeper was being exposed, without knowing what specifically it might be. With hindsight, I see much more in the symbolism of the adults walking ahead of me, speaking a different language while I languished behind, unable to let them go, get their attention or voice what I needed.
I met my inner child so many times on the Camino, this was just one of those encounters.