The Camino (part three)

Being able to predict an event as prosaic as the weather was also empowering. Being proved right about something after observing the natural course of events was satisfying. It proves that one is correctly evaluating what is happening; the immediate environment is changing. This scenario often occurred when approaching or leaving a small hilltop town in northern Spain. Such towns are scattered along the Camino especially in the formative stages when walking beside numerous Rioja vineyards. In the height of summer one may stumble upon a festival and find oneself immersed in the celebrations surrounded by crowds that blanket the main plaza where local people form bands or processions in a convivial atmosphere of colour and sound. Further on I ambled into an old town and slumped down on a black iron bench located at the furthest extent of an open space and opposite an ancient church. Its appearance resembled that of a Norman church in England except that its highest point was more reminiscent of the familiar Romanesque architecture. At the top of the tower two storks attended to their young on a large nest composed of long dark twigs. Gigantic white wings swooped down and then up beyond the tower. I watched for what might have been hours as each pair took turns in leaving and arriving on what seemed a perpetual search for food.

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It was good to rest after a day’s long walk which often meant getting up out of a bunk bed at 6.00am or earlier and to walk for about six hours before the heat of the sun felt too oppressive. In temperatures approaching 40C it was wise to wear a hat and always keep a spare bottle of water handy. Without a hat one is liable to get sunstroke, without water, worse. Only once did I forego usual preparations and leave early in the morning without water anticipating that somewhere along the line there would be a place to fill up empty bottles.

On walking a zigzag path up a large hill with a six kilogram rucksack on my back the need for water grew especially in arid conditions typical of a Spanish summer. The weight one carries is a very personal thing and it all depends on how much you are comfortable with carrying and the fact is you never really know until you do it. The need for water is something no-one can avoid. Without chancing upon the generosity of another pilgrim I would not have been able to quench my thirst and continue much further.

On this journey, it was essential to carry water, a rucksack and a hat and a not entirely straight stick. I bought the latter in Burgos as if to remind myself of Kant’s description of the crooked timber of humanity. If it is possible to be fond of an inanimate object, I was. I took this stick everywhere like a dog on a lead. Although, it did not bark nor need food, it stuck by me through thick and thin. I would instantly recognize it if I saw it again; walnut, slightly knotty, shades of dark and mainly light brown, polished and finished with a ferrule to add strength and longevity.

The newly acquired staff had a practical value in providing leverage up or down hills or mountains but it also became something of a talisman. Some pilgrims became temporarily distraught after losing their stick. I recall some pilgrims not wanting to talk much about it. One day, during the last week of my journey, I was dismayed to realize that I had set off without mine having changed my routine, which had usually meant sleeping in low cost communal accommodation. The search for somewhere to stay the night is an ever-present concern while walking on the final part of the Camino when thousands more pilgrims join this ancient path.

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