Day 2- 27 km’s
Today´s reflection: Get informed and don´t be afraid to ask for help.
Wow. What a day…. One of those days that will go down in my personal history as bringing me to my knees. This is the first time I have finished out a day walking sitting at a bar, drinking red wine and crying, before going to my lodging for the evening -a store room at the municipal pool with no access to hot water, or any running water for that matter. Truly dismal. Hardly triumphant. And it is only day 2! With approximately 70 or so days left before I reach Santiago, this day has me wondering if I will actually be able to make it. The thing is, I am pretty sure that there are going to be other days like this-this thought makes me shudder. What in gods name am I doing here?
I say that this day was 27 kms long, but in fact it should have been a 15 km day. My bad. I took a wrong turn, wasnt watching where I was going, and ended up missing the yellow arrows………After leaving the asphalt coming out of Santa Fe, the camino takes you down into what looks like a wide, barren riverbed. The arrow tells you to go right, but dont be fooled by the inertia to just keep following that path because pretty soon after you will have to take another path that moves away to the left. Please don´t ask me where this path is, because from where I was walking I honestly did not see any such option. The issue was that I did not look at a map or an outline of what to expect, I thought that just putting one foot in front of the other and following the arrows would be all it would take. How wrong I was.
But for this rookie stuff up, I would have said to you that it was a glorious, solitary walk. This camino gives the walker solitude in spades, buckets and buckets of it. Following what was the dried out riverbed, the camino (that I took) ended up merging with part of the old way between Almeria and Granada, taking me up and over desolate stony hills, across train tracks and through ghost-town like villages. I wound up in Las Alcubillas sooooooooooo far out of my way……..I do love this landscape though. It connects me with the arid spaces of my childhood. With the innocent mysteries of open space and total silence. A chance encounter with a goatherder, the conversation that I had with a man off in the distance, asking directions, and a camino angel by the name of ana in Las Alcubillas, who took pity on me a few hours later by feeding me a coke, a massive bocadillo de jamon serrano, and 6 sweet mandarins, were the only human contact all day. Yep, I came for solitude……I sure got it. As well as a healthy reality check.
For anyone planning to do this camino from Almeria, I think there is a really important piece of advice that I should give you. Don´t do what I did and think that you can just go with the absolute flow and not plan. Well, you can, but (unless you are carrying a tent), you had better be prepared for the possibility of suffering (can you see me now, huddled in a smelly backroom of the municipal swimming pool- surrounded by the corpses of dead blowflies, smelling the dried sweat on my skin each and every one of the five thousand times I awake throughout the night?). These days of walking are very unlike the walking you do in the North because it is usually the case that you will walk without passing through other towns, and if you do, in these rural areas of the south, there may not be a shop open or a bar or a bank. You need to carry water and snacks with you -I am reminded of Tony Kevins advice in his excellent book “Walking the Camino”. Importantly, before you start, get in touch with any one of the pilgrims associations that are affiliated with the Camino Mozarabe and get information. Tell them when you are starting and stay in touch with them as you move along-at least until you get past Granada. Why? the camino in this part of Spain is only in its initial stages of existence. The people in these associations are very serious about getting things going in this part of Spain-they will be the ones to make sure that you have a bed to sleep in, and a hot shower at the end of your walking day. I thought that it would be a case of just walking into the local bar, announcing that I am a pilgrim and that someone would just offer me a bed for the night. As the camino is a new thing, it feels like people are not so trusting as to just let anyone into their house (even if you offer to pay). Pilgrims associations have networks set up on social media like Whatsapp and FB and if you are walking, the usual practice is for them to inform each other as you move through. As they live in the community they are in a much better position to organise such a thing. Let them know that you are coming well in advance. Another important point is that if you do this, and if you should happen to go off the grid, someone is going to notice. Someone will look for you. Now, this is no joke. I recently commented (rather flippantly) that I wasnt going to walk across Afghanistan…….but only today I was walking in a very lonely place that if I had taken a wrong step, I would have gone tumbling down a very steep and deep mountainside. If the people in the association didn´t know that I was there and where I was headed, if I survived a fall like that, I would be toast anyway. Nobody would ever find me. Oh, and by the way- if you have a mobile phone with a plan from Orange, that is not going to help you. It is going to give you a headache. I have encountered very sporadic mobile phone reception because I am with Orange. And the locals all look at me with a very sad, compassionate look in their eyes when I tell them I am with Orange. Choose Vodafone or Movistar-they are more expensive but are a lot more reliable in these parts.
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