Last night when my head finally hit another plastic covered pillow I couldn’t help but smile. I was cocooned in my sleeping bag staring out the window at a moon that seemingly positioned itself at the top of the church spike where it balanced ever so gently in its spot of glory. I’d secured myself a bed next to the window which is the ultimate gem of a find and I had the great fortune of cold air flowing over my face. At that moment all I could think was that I had hit the jackpot. Here in this little yellow town in the middle of nowhere Spain, I had found the recipe to extreme bliss.
The day had started in another little town about 30km away at 6am. It had been another day somewhere on the meseta in Spain, a piece of landscape that has the ability to make you feel like you are a lost soul wandering without aim, without a goal and without a destination on a dry flat road leading to a very uneasy unknown. If you happen to add the backtrack of Eagles Hotel California to this aimless wandering you could be forgiven for thinking that you are walking the path to hell, that is if hell was riddled with the odd stop with milky coffee and loafs of white bread. I’m not saying that it is not beautiful in the meseta, in some ways it is one of the most beautiful parts of the Camino but there is no escaping the feelings of emptiness it nurtures inside you.
I walked most of the day on a long stretch of road next to a highway counting the cars that came past me often fighting the urge to ask for a lift to the next town. Every so often I considered the option that I might have lost my mind for walking this road and as I hovered between extreme boredom and step counting I somehow found a rhythm that seemed to stimulate my senses just enough to keep me going. At one particular harsh point I passed an old Spanish man standing in front of his van by the side of the road. As we came shoulder to shoulder he grabbed my hand and rather aggressively filled it with a handful of nuts and then sent me off with a pat on the back and some well wishes for the walk. I couldn’t help but wonder whether this man was there saying his goodbyes. Was he in fact an angel giving us pilgrims the last bit of comfort before our ultimate end?
At around 3pm I finally arrived at Carion de los Condes and took a sharp left into the town where I was set to meet some fellow walkers for a night of cooking and relaxing. At first I was overwhelmed by a feeling of escape, I wanted nothing more than to not stay in this brown hot empty place but my feet were killing me and I had the promise of a bed waiting.
After a few navigation issues and some very flawed Spanish conversation, I found the hostel where we would all meet. My hope for a beacon of light at the end of this long day was not met, this hostel was a sterile looking building with a big courtyard of concrete and a few plastic chairs scattered around. I don’t think that the addition of a tree could have saved the desperation of this place yet here I was to stay. Arrival at a hostel is followed with a routine that by now feels like second nature. Secure bed, bag drop, make bed, shower, wash clothes, hang clothes, food and then the celebratory drink. Another day conquered, another experience in the bag.
On this specific day I knew that there would be no way I would stay in this concrete courtyard and so with my broken feet and a few simple belongings I set out to find a quiet spot with shade in this lost town. I expected to find a bench next to another brown building but I was delighted to stumble upon a river where I set up a little picnic on my poncho, beer in hand and eating fish from a can. I was joined by another walker and we shared stories about life and our possible futures over a carrot, cucumber and one lemon beer.
I realised at this moment that my day was in all its simplicity rather perfect. These simple things in its abundance joined forces to create something special. I kept thinking about this concept as I walked back to the hostel where I was then greeted by a big table of Camino friends. We would continue our night by sharing stories, sharing wine and sharing food.
This day of simple pleasures was dedicated to a dear friend of mine who I think has in the rat race life of London long since learned to appreciate the simple things in life. He once explained to me that surviving cancer will make anyone appreciate life for the small moments and the joy they bring.
It seems that the Camino has the same effect.