Walking on broken glass – Annie Lennox

Finally we see the descent into Astorga below
Finally we see the descent into Astorga below

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The Guadi museum
The Gaudi museum

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The cathedral
The cathedral
That's a big pack.
That’s a big pack.

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The day of reckoning into Astorga

Today we hadn’t set an alarm, but we knew we had to be upvearkybfir two reasons. 1) Gerrard was coming to our room at 7am for a kettle full of boiling water. 2) everyone was trying to get accommodation in Astorga and couldn’t find any.

I had forgot to mention that we had a kettle in our room. This wouldn’t be any good without cups and coffee and those were there too. Milk was two weeny cartons of carnation milk, but who cares when you have he fortitude of luxury with a kettle. I made us a morning coffee in the room, something we had not had since we left. Then at 7am it was re boiled and both Gerrard and Kyle opened doors at the same time so Gerrard could fill his flask so he and Sylvie could have a coffee en route.

We had noticed yesterday, that the pathways were busier as more Peregrinos had begun walking. We also know it will get much worse as we get nearer to Santiago as many people only walk the minimum amount of 100Km and start their journey into Santiago from Sarria. Other lifers (those that started in France), or those that have done the Camino before, know this too. So at 7.15am when we went to get our boots to put on, ours were the only ones left. Everyone else had up and left in a race to Astorga to secure a bed. An American man last night said he had started getting up at 4.30am and walking at 5am. I don’t mind early mornings but it wakes everyone else up too when the do that. So I’m fairly sure that the next days to Santiago will be very early mornings. That’s fine with me if I can get my 8hours sleep but as they are noisy until 10pm I fear that will be unlikely.

My legs were ok and my head wanted to walk but my poor feet. I walked like someone with different length legs, with a limp and had an accident. It was going to be a long 13.5miles to Astorga.

We had been told that the one town between here and Astorga, call Hospital de Obeiro, was having a festival this weekend. When we got there it looked lovely. The streets were decked with medieval banners and flags. Across the bridge there were tents all set up for a jousting tournament. Every street you could see was full of stalls ready to sell drinks, food and trinkets. In fact it was like the German market in Birmingham at Christmas only this was medieval, Spain and June.

The Cyclist said it looked like fun and wondered if we should stay here instead of Astorga. It was only 8.30am and the idea sounded tempting but staying meant we still had the distance to Astorga and beyond and every step forwards was one less so the pain and discomfort could stop. My morale was in a bag and being dragged behind me along the floor today and I just wanted to get to Astorga so I could get my shoes off.

Once through Hospital there was a choice of routes again. This time the Cyclist was ok with going the slightly shorter path that followed the road rather than the dirt tracks. This was because he knew what I was suffering and that I needed to get there ASAP. The path wasn’t bad actually DNS we were not actually on the road for the majority of it. I was walking as fast as I could which for us was slowly. I wasn’t walking properly either. I could not put my heels down and walk through my foot as you do normally. I could just about put my left down flat but I had to walk on the balls of my feet only on the right. Consequently as this was for the entire distance I was getting new pain on top of the existing.

Finally we came to the edge of a plateau and could see Astorga down below in the distance. Only 5km to go. Only. “Three bridges” the Cyclist said. As we walked from home in Bewdley to Arley and back, along the river Severn, as part of my training I had an idea of how far that is. You see there are four bridges between home and Arley. Bewdley bridge, one carrying water pipes, an old bridge where there are now just pillars left, Victoria bridge where the steam locomotives cross the Severn and the the foot bridge at Arley (Arley being the first bridge you can cross the river after Bewdley). He also says there is a mile between each bridge making the round trip eight miles. So each time we have been getting towards our destination and knowing from the guide book how many kilometres it is, the Cyclist talks to me about bridges. This way I know I can get there and have an idea of where I would be on the Arley walk so I can picture it in my mind and place myself by the river. It’s psychology to help you do the last bits that are more difficult.

The last couple of Km I was in bits. Emotionally and with my feet. Every step was excruciating but you can’t stop as you will never get there so you walk and torture yourself more. As I sobbed the Cyclist hung back. Nothing to say is there I guess. I’m the only one who has to put one foot in front of another. I hadn’t seen much of anything for the last two days as my face was looking to the floor gritting my teeth and focussing on just walking forward. I had the earphones too so I could try to help myself with music. When the Nancy Sinatra song came on “these boots were made for walking” I had broke down on the track. The irony of the song, the pain I was feeling from boots and walking and the fact that I used to love the song but since it was used at my dads funeral, I now can’t bear to hear it. The next was “Summer Wine” by Nancy Sinatra too. My dad’s favourite. This wasn’t helping lift me however I said I would walk this for him and I’m still walking, discomfort and all.

We tried a hostel on the edge of town and it was fully booked. It was Saturday and as this is a nice town, the Cyclist had said that it may be busy with other tourists as well as pilgrims. After the Hostel we followed the signs to the tourist information. They are supposed to be helpful and I thought they may call a couple of aces to see if there was a room. Instead they gave me a map and a list of aces to stay and told me to go door to door to try to find one. I could not be in these shoes a moment longer than necessary and there were hoards of pilgrims still to arrive so we found an Albergue near the Cathedral and checked in there. This was a really ancient building with a small courtyard with two sinks and a cobweb of washing lines. We were on the first floor in a room with four sets of bunk beds and two low ones in the middle. You could see daylight through the floorboards above as there was another floor. At least they apply some logic when allocating beds and rooms. There were two other couples in this room and after us they filled the room with singles. One couple were a French couple from days ago when we were in a small Albergue with private rooms only and there was us, them and an Italian guy. We were given a attic packet with a paper sheet and pillow cover in. The mattresses were soft foam and looked dirty. I was given the top bunk but could hardly get up. What a state. And being in this ace didn’t help. There was a room of showers and one of toilets both shared sex facilities. I went for a shower as soon as we had got the stuff out of the packs as the Cyclist had carried my pack today and I his. This is because mine had more capacity and he loaded it with most of our things to try and ease the weight bearing down on my feet today. The shower was what you eod call tepid and was one where you pressed a button and got a shot of water for 15 seconds. Then you had to press it again. As much as I would have liked to wash my hair I couldn’t. It wasn’t dirty, it had just been so very hot today. Once done I went to the courtyard to rinse my stuff through and put to dry. Then we got our valuables and headed out to find something to eat and discuss a an to deal with the issue of my walking.

This was another old maze of streets that were quite dark as they were so close together and tall, that no direct sunlight got in. At the edge of the town you could see across the roofs of the newer bushings and in to the hills from whence we came. Using the town map from the tourist office, we navigated to the Plaza Mayor. We now now that I’m any town, this is where there will be any shops or cafe bars. It didn’t disappoint. I get to choose as I have to find one with something I will eat. We sat under a huge umbrella at the front of the tables, drank and ate while watching the comings and goings of both pilgrims and others alike.

Gerrard and Sylvie wandered across the other side of the square and towards the cathedral. Then Herman walked past and this time the Cyclist attracted his attention. He came over and sat down. He had done the same distance as us today and had checked into the municipal Albergue. It was €5, 120 people and was now full. We are in a privately run one, €9, still basic, 150 beds and was probably now full. He told us that he had been to see the Cathedral, been around the Gaudi museum and was now off to see something else on his list. He chatted for about 6minuted but after that, the pull off exiting more was too strong and he was gone.

The Cyclist commented that he liked Herman. He said he hadn’t met someone so enthusiastic to be alive for such a long time. Everything is exciting and must be experienced. He also commented on how fit he must be and that he obviously works out. His calves are the size of my thighs and he speeds everywhere. Of course we must remember that his name isn’t really Herman. I don’t know what it is. I keep wanting to call him Helmut for some reason. Next time we see him, if we do see him. We shall have to ask.

We sat for a long time just chilling watching the scurrying of people. There is no point going back to the Albergue as there is nothing to see or do and frankly it’s a depressing place. I’m sure my dad would have had something to say about the electrics and the ancient switches. These aren’t new made to look old. They’re old!

When we did go back I checked nobody had pinched my washing. That happens more than you would guess. It was still there luckily so I got it in, to get ready for tomorrow. I somehow got to the top bunk and lay on the bed. I couldn’t lie straight as the pressure on my heels from the weight of my feet was too much. The Cyclist went out to try to find a pharmacy as it is Sunday tomorrow. He came back with cotton wool balls, marine salt and a bottle of iodine. We went into the courtyard to soak my feet in salt water as the blisters on my heels were inflamed and the right was seeping puss. This was a race to stop infection from being serious and salt and iodine are both antiseptic.

The was a Glaswegian chap with an American guy who was jesting about me soaking my feet until he saw the blisters. He asked if I had used compede. I had but apparently, he said you have to leave them on for seven days to let the skin regenerate underneath rather than taking them off each afternoon and re draining the blister.

Basically, I had walked for days when I shouldn’t and had done more injury to myself and drained myself of sleep ( the pain was too much to sleep), morale ( dragging myself forward in sheer determination to achieve a goal when my body couldn’t take it) to the point I could hardly stand, I had an infection in my tonight foot and I was on my knees.

The Cyclist was surprisingly supportive. He had pushed and pushed me to keep me going over the last few days telling me that others had blisters and we’re still walking, but after watching my grief as I tried walk as fast as I could today and the now infected foot, instead of pushing he said in his eyes I was already in Santiago. That I had done serious miles over difficult terrain in all weathers day after day, that he was proud. I could walk tomorrow. I needed to give my feet time to heel and out of my shoes. I was distraught at a thought of failing but he explained that my head, motivation and body could do it but I had an injury and now I needed to give it a couple of days so I could do the final days into Santiago. We have come so far and we have the finish line in sight.

Once I had battled my conscience over missing a bit if the journey it was agreed. I couldn’t make it over the 1551m mountain tomorrow as the descent came with a warning for being difficult. I would have to catch a bus and wait for him to arrive. I’m not giving up, I’m trying to let my head rule my heart. I was so upset but the Cyclist said no one cares. If I walk it, if I bailed or if I did serious injury trying to get there. The only person who cares is me. And it’s not that I’ve been a coward as the last days proved I will battle on against adversity. Is this my lesson from the Camino. Strength? Determination to achieve? Knowing when to step back? I don’t know yet I really don’t.

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