I have been on the road for 19 days now. I have covered 375km and the halfway mark is getting closer by the day. A few days ago, after having walked for 14 days, I decided to take a rest day in the ancient city of Cacares. The town has been awarded Unesco World Heritage status and the Old Town is a delight to visit!
As I go along, I am learning not to head straight towards the first Inn I encounter as I walk into a town at the end of a very long day! I found the perfect small hotel on the square in Cacares and after a full day of walking in the sun and aching muscles whispering in my ears, I decided to check in there for one night. It is amazing how one appreciates a tiny square with a bed and your own private bathroom when walking the Camino! I discovered later though that a few blocks away there was a pension where I could have had a little room with a shared bathroom for less than half the price. Well. They say the Camino is a metaphor for life, so there is a lesson in everything!
Cacares turned out to be the best possible choice to spend a rest day. I was lost in the beauty of the Old Town for most of the day that I spent there and if you ever visit this part of the world, I highly recommend that you spend at least a day there. You can discover more about the fascinating history of this beautiful city at: http://turismo.cacares.es/
Back to the walk. Tonight I am in a town called Carcaboso. I am staying at the local Albergue with a number of pilgrims, some who have already become firm friends! On this solitary route, it is nice to know that there are a few others heading in the same direction as you and sharing stories, confirming route directions and having a meal together on the odd occassion is a blessing indeed.
The set up today has been very unique and is the stuff books are written about and movie scripts are born of. So let me set the scene. I arrive in town, backpack on my back, walking stick in hand, with a Spanish accent that makes the local hounds howl. Coming down the hill, aiming straight for me, is a man on a red bicycle. His helmet sits at an angle which causes him to turn his head to the one side to maintain some form of balance. In true Spanish style, he immediately assumes I speak and understand Spanish. He welcomes me and asks if I need a place to stay. At least that's what I in turn assume he is saying. I start wondering if this is the son of the famous Senhora Elena that I read about. She runs one of the local Albergues (pilgrims hostels) and her son owns the bar next door.
I tell him that I probably will continue walking but I end up following him anyway. It turns out that he is indeed, as he later introduces himself to me, Pappa Francesco, the son of the famous Elena. I plonk my weary self on a chair at one of the tables on the sidewalk in front of the bar and decide to evaluate my options whilst enjoying the cold drink and boiled egg (not sure how that became part of my order...) that was placed in front of me. To cut a long story short, I ended up staying at Elena's Albergue in a sardine can of a little room with a shared bathroom. In turn I was rewarded with an afternoon of laughs and pure enjoyment as I somehow became the resident interpreter for a number of my fellow pilgrims. It was a bit like the blind leading the blind but I somehow managed to book rooms for us in a hostal for the next day, I managed to have the local church opened for a private visit and I was almost successful in arranging a bag transport to the next town for a French couple!
It's now 22: 20 and I have just returned from dinner. I had the standard 'pilgrim's menu', in this case home cooked by the mother of the two boys who run the restaurant I ended up at. I loved the mousse that they served at the end if the meal so much that I asked them to call madre and ask her for the recipe. They managed to get it for me and it's going to be fun trying to figure out the ingredients and measurements when I get home. I guess you'll have to watch this space!
I attended the local church service before dinner and the wonderful, kind hearted Father Jose-Antonio took time to explain the meaning of all the stained glass windows to me in a mixture of German, Spanish and English. I asked if they could give me the words of the 'Our Father' prayer in Spanish, as I really would like to memorize it. I promised a very special friend I would do that and I plan to practise it whilst walking - our Lord's prayer - such beautiful, simple but powerful words!
As for Senhora Elena and her son. They are true icons of the Via de la Plata. He leads the pilgrims into town towards their hostal while the bar he runs somehow continues to operate whilst he heads up and down the hill on his bicycle. The patrons clearly know how it works and they happily continue chatting away and they seem to keep a watchful eye on his cash register while he is away. His mother is there to show pilgrims to their rooms and you have to be prepared to sit a while with her so that she can catch her breath after negotiating the steps to the first floor of the albergue. During this time, in my case, I told her about my mom who has suffered from rheumatoid arthritis for many years now. She told me I should tell my mom to draw a bath, the water temperature should be no more than 36 degrees and to that she should add 3kg of sea salt, 1 litre of vinegar and a spoonful of olive oil. After lying in this water for a while, she should wrap herself warmly and rest. I'm not sure what to make of that, but I will be passing on the message, who knows, these words of wisdom might be worth gold - she seemed pretty convinced that this is a remedy not to be taken lightly!
Once again I am astounded by how we all manage to communicate with each other, even without a common language between some of us. Senhora Elena only speaks Spanish and yet she managed to settle a group into her hostal who collectively speak Afrikaans, English, Dutch and French. Most of us have a very basic knowledge of Spanish but yet again, everyone somehow figured things out. She even had us all gathered around a table earlier whilst explaining tomorrow's route and supplying a hand drawn map for us!
That's the Camino for you. You are always taken care of. Somehow things always work out and tomorrow is always another day. Somehow tired legs and feet recover overnight and every morning brings new enthusiasm and expectations. I know that I will never really walk alone. God sends angels along the way and when I do feel afraid at times, as we all do in life, for whatever reason, I choose to believe that my God is faithful and that He walks this walk of life with me, every step of the way.
If you are following this journey, may I once again appeal to you to somehow get involved with helping to make a difference in the lives of those living at the Ark City of Refuge? All the details are to be found on the links above on the righthand side of this page. Your involvement means the world to us and we thank you for joining us on this very special journey!