Butch Bites The Bullet
Like much in life, unless one is 100% committed to a task it is sure to be a failure or at worst a disappointment. I know that if asked 5 years ago whether he’d attempt to walk halfway across Spain Butch would’ve said “NO!” Unequivocally. The only reason he did it was because Anna (his daughter) and I coerced him into it. Although I sensed his heart wasn't in it he would give it his best shot. After all we only had 3 days to go to Santiago de Compostello.
On his last day of walking we set off at a fairly brisk pace. He’d spent the previous day in bed recuperating from his overindulgence in Paella having forgotten his prawn allergy.
While early morning bakers, grocers and delivery men went about their tasks we set off, over the ancient Roman bridge across the quiet river watching the pinkest sky as the sun gently made an appearance. The silence is deafening, occasionally broken by the whirr of a bicycle or an engine starting up way down in the valley. Early mornings were the best time for farmers to get started on their daily chores, while bored farm animals kept a close watch on us as we passed by.
We’d be walking to Caldas de Reis all along natural pathways through forests and river valleys occasionally crossing the railway line. Fortunately there was much shade and lots of water fonts to quench our thirst. We met friendly hikers along the way and one even called us back as we trudged up a steep incline, we’d missed the waymark.
This would be a grueling day. Hot, hot, hot, according to my diary. Unless something changed drastically, I had to walk at a snail’s pace, which was a tall order or Butch had to step it up, which would really be too much to ask. We decided early on to part company, he promised he’d ask for assistance from strangers if needed.
Easier said than done. Believe me. Imagine leaving the person you love to slog on knowing full well they’re suffering terribly. He assured me he was a big boy and had managed for 67 years without help. So with that knowledge I set off. I’d keep him in my thoughts and I’d pray he’d make it to the next rest stop.
The Tabby cat following Lise, winding herself through her legs until she could walk no more and needed her ears stroked certainly had to be our housecat who always curled up on Lise's bed in the mornings, sunning herself in the warm winter sun.
It was Father’s Day! Although my dad was miles away I knew he’d be up with the sparrows and we’d be the first thing on his mind. I’m sure our feet would be foremost in his prayers as he prayed for our wellbeing and asked for traveling mercies. He knew where we were and would probably have the old map out tracking our every step. How lucky am I to have a father who always had our best interests at heart, even in difficult times. Who loved us unconditionally, prayed for us every day, was kind, generous and believed in us whole-heartedly, even when we flopped miserably. This dignified, reserved man is wise, patient and when I’m at my wits’ end comes up with an answer to appease my fears. Our patersfamilias, loves and nurtures my Mother, cares for her, is gentle with her, encourages her, even when she puts her foot down and refuses to go on. He is an example and an inspiration to us. Many of us have an inability to grasp the concept of a Heavenly Father because of our skewed perspective of our earthly fathers who often fail their children, their wives and society miserably. My brothers, our children, grandchildren and I are lucky to have him as our guide to living an exemplary life. He is a gentleman in the true sense of the word. These were my thoughts as I slogged on, inching my way to Caldas de Reis, our hotel and the hot water spa.
At 9o’clock, the very hour my father would serve my mom (Sleeping Beauty) her tea in bed Lise and I met up to enjoy coffee and croissants at the ever popular Peregrino cafe to wait for Butch.
For much of the way I was on my own, consumed by my own thoughts. I must confess I did worry about Butch a lot, it was hot and I knew he was tiring. It was while I was walking along a gentle stream shaded by the forest that I became aware of a tiny Robin.
She certainly had to make herself heard as my mind was on other things. Once she had my attention I was fascinated by her as she went from shrub to shrub or hopped along the path in front of me. I was able to snap a few pictures of her as she hopped and jumped ahead of me chirruping incessantly! This was a very poignant moment as it reminded me of my Aunt and Godmother, Robin Robbins, (believe it) who for many years lived in, and, loved a small fishing village Caiscais in Portugal. She lived to travel and would send us postcards from all over the world as she sailed on Mail ships exploring exotic places living an exciting, unapologetic almost nomadic lifestyle, sipping champagne or gin-lime-soda, relishing life and never regretting a moment of it. I’m convinced it was her spirit accompanying me that day. (Now I have a Cape Robin who regularly visits me in my kitchen, I see the signs she’s left behind as I open the Granola jar and a dropping sits atop it!)
Like a mirage an oasis appeared in front of me. Opening its doors for the first time that day, a new bar/restaurant! I had visions of sitting there, catching up with messages on Wi-Fi while waiting for Butch. Lise had gone ahead, she had one thing on her mind, to wallow in the pool all day she said, her gorgeously toned legs needed browning.
Our route according to Garmin was 23km, of which I think I spent 3km just pacing backwards and forwards waiting for Butch! The new restaurant still hadn’t connected their Wifi so I had no means of contacting him or Lise. After pacing for almost an hour, convinced he’d had a heart attack and was lying in a ditch somewhere, unable to speak, writhing in pain with no-one to comfort him in his final moments. I was wracked with guilt, worry and at my wits’ end. Finally, in desperation, I threw caution to the wind, fired up my SA mobile data to find Lise. To hell with the cost.
My SOS was answered almost immediately. I could relax! Both she and Butch were sipping long, cold drinks next to the pool! “Relax Mom!” I could’ve imploded, but, held my tongue in relief. He was safe. I later learned he hadn’t been at all well and might even have had a spell hallucinating and experienced some memory loss!
He certainly experienced an Ah-Ha moment on his Camino. An angel had stopped along the road in an old grey Fiat, just sitting there passing the time of day, when Butch came stumbling out of the vineyard. Fortunately he still had the presence of mind to ask the Angel whether he’d give him a lift to our hotel! I later learned he’d also asked for help from two very kind, young and gorgeous American ladies. I think they spotted his rather natty Thai hat, a chick magnet of note. They’d hydrated him and encouraged him by accompanying him for a stretch.
I made it without a fuss to our Hotel Balneario Acuna, an old lady who’d had her heyday in the early 20th century when dipping into the healing hot water spas was the fashion. I needed to take to the waters which I did without hesitation. Sheer bliss, staying under the hot water fountain until my skin whitened and crinkled. Lunch would be under flowering mauve Wisteria vines, a simple, relaxed meal. Our first.
Later on in the evening we made our way to a riverside restaurant where we met up with the kindly American ladies and their charming husbands. Four friends all the way from Boston. In celebration of our day and the forthcoming walk to Padron we enjoyed the acclaimed Padron Peppers, a traditional Tapas ingredient. Not hot enough for my crowd, they like red hot chili peppers.
The joy of hiking is that one's recuperation time is very quick, once one's got rid of the clobber, had a good relaxing shower and a cold drink one's ready to laugh and enjoy life again, one's memory of the trials and tribulations is short as one is always eager to start off on a new adventure. Like childbirth the joy far outweighs the agony which is soon forgotten.
Butch refused to budge when we woke up the next morning. He was going nowhere he said and would take the bus to Padron. No amount of coaxing would change his belligerent mind. In a sense I was relieved. He is a big boy now after all.
On our second to last day Lise and I walked amiably in each other’s company. Although her feet were still sore we set a good pace, but as the day progressed and became hot and muggy we tired and just slogged on hardly enjoying the beauty around us. To add insult to injury I misplaced my sunglasses, normally not an issue, but, that day it floored me. I went into a sulk, very unlike me. I think I was preparing for our final days together and Lise’s imminent departure.
Looking back now I regret my sombre mood as Padron was a picturesque town, we welcomed our walk through the tree covered promenade where locals gather during the day and play traditional games after work when the day cools. I was amazed at the beautiful artwork dotted around the city celebrating their citizentry. We lined up with other Peregrinos at the Cathedral to collect our daily stamp and had time to reflect on the day in the cool stillness. Butch and I wandered around while Lise caught her breath and rested her weary legs.
Santiago was in our sights and we had our game plan ready, Butch knew he’d had his moment with Angels, he wasn’t prepared to say another word, that, would be going where angels fear to tread. As I write, recall and edit my photographs I choke up and find the lump in my throat hard to swallow as tears burn behind my eyelids, I was happy then. Today, I'm sad it's all over.