This morning on the Camino de Santiago

This morning I wake up in a I-don’t-even-know-which century monastery in the tiny town of Samos, Spain.  The lights flip on at 6:30 (which is as late as I have yet managed to sleep in while staying in an albergue) and we are asked to be out by 7:00.  The 100 of us who had slept on the bare bunks (most places provide a pillow and a thin mattress, some even have blankets upon request, this one just the mattress) get up and ready for the day.

I lower myself down from my top bunk, cautious to see how the legs and feet are feeling this morning, after yesterday’s 30+ kilometers.  They feel good, so I head to the bathroom line with just a slight limp of tight tendons.  Brush the teeth, roll up the sleeping bag, stuff any odds and ends in the bag and I am ready to go within half an hour of waking.

(In the normal world I prefer showering in the morning, but showering leaves your feet wet and soft, so more vulnerable to blisters.  Plus, upon arrival in the afternoon one is generally in need of a shower pronto.)

The Galician morning waits outside the door, chill air and mist sliding down green hillsides, sections of which have modest-sized trees in the rows of timber plantations.  Winding my way through the small town I pass a small park area with a pilgrim statue.  I feel like an early breakfast today so sit on the bench and eat some bread and cheese as other pilgrims filter by, starting the day’s walk.

Finishing my meal and saying goodbye to the ants who are swarming my crumbs, I swing the bag on, cinch the waist-belt, and start walking.

Within an hour in I encounter the first metaphoric lesson of the day.  I had heard the first 11 kilometers today are alongside the highway, but only a few km in there is a sign indicating a choice of paths.  On the left is the familiar, flat tarmac, heading straight to the next town.  On the right a patchier road climbs a fairly steep slope through trees and vanishes around a curve.

The two Norwegians in front and the Spaniard in between had all headed straight down the flat road after a glance up the hill.  The choice: the flat and known path, which everyone seems to be taking, or the steeper unknown.

Ten minutes later I am around several of the turns up that hill and come around a bend to find a panorama of Galicia waking up below.  The sun has made it up over the horizon and it highlights the hills as the farms in the small valleys stir to life.  Cows wander here and there, taking themselves to the pasture untended, water emerges from hillsides to blumble down ditches, and towns too small for signage pass by, their names known only to their residents.

I see no other pilgrims for the next half hour or so, before I overtake the two Swiss women who I have been leapfrogging with for the last two weeks.  They look up and smile, “Bon jour Teem!”  We walk together for a little while, wandering through French, English, and Spanish as we greet each other and the day, then I move ahead and continue.

An hour later I am in the relatively large town of Sarria where I have written this for you while eating my customary mid-morning meal of a bocadillo de tortilla.  Tortilla Espanola is completely different from tortillas in Latin America, to the point that I don’t understand why they have the same name.  A Spanish tortilla is basically a simple omelet with thin slices of potato.  Hopefully freshly made (today’s is) and put on dry white bread, it is carbohydrates and protein and my best friend.

Buen provecho.