Mood Swings, Puffy Feet and Cobblestones

Posted in Santiago de Compostello

Mood Swings, Puffy Feet and Cobblestones

Right from the start this day did not auger well.  Lise’s jet-lag was settling in nicely and with it came a few gremlins.  The madam she was moody, she’d lost the spring in her step. My bag felt a little heavier but my mood, I thought was quite chipper! Silence at breakfast.  Bad waymarks and directions and our “Bible”, the guide book, confusing. Of course the tourism office was closed.  We were at loggerheads finding the Cathedral, our interpretations at sixes and sevens.

We set off at 8h30 knowing we had a long trek. Our destination was Barcelos, we’d stop for lunch in Arcos. I had some unfinished business with Antonio. 

A mother always looks out for her chicks! Look at ducks; they walk in a row with the Mommy in front. No matter how old a child is when they’re in our presence we mother, it’s instinctive. So, I reached out and in a commanding voice asked Lise to get off the road as a car was hurtling down upon her.  I didn’t expect the backlash though, does one ever?  “Mom! Your attitude sucks!” she retorted.  Yikes, I’d better shoosh. Today she's fighting fit!

We found the markers and were traipsing through an industrial area after a peaceful walk along the river. This would be the beginning of our battle with cobblestones, those ancient relics we admire and find so fascinating and old worldy.  Soft, pampered and pedicured feet and cobbles are a challenge.

Lise’s feet were excruciatingly painful, but she reckoned she could soldier on. Thankfully after 10km she decided she’d had it and changed her shoes and I managed to persuade her to take some painkillers. This is when I firmly believe “Drugs are good”.  

With the new shoes on her mood changed by one degree, but I couldn’t help asking (out of concern) how the new shoes felt.  Eish!  She turned around, and said “like slippers Mom, slippers!” before turning around she gave me the finger!  I could not stop the unbridled belly laugh pouring out of my mouth! As the pain subsided we regained our equilibrium and good humour and managed to make it to Arcos for lunch.

Initially we would’ve stayed over in Arcos, which in retrospect, might have been the better option, but, Barcelos offered us a rest day, we would need a day to recuperate I thought. I had made a reservation at Quinta Sao Miguel de Arcos in January and paid a 16EU deposit, which was refundable when I cancelled our reservation.  Antonio and I agreed it would be easier to pick up the money, as at the time he did not have the facilities to repay me electronically.   I was reimbursed and we set off to have lunch with other Pilgrims in the village.

We must’ve looked a terrible sight as we came lumbering around the corner, hot, tired and in agony. The very intuitive owner took one look at us and made us sit down, offered us some cold water, delicious baguettes filled with crispy lettuce, ham and the reddest tomatoes. We pulled off our socks and boots, the relief! Relax, breathe.We got hooked up to free Wifi (WeeFee as it’s pronounced). We had free Wifi everywhere.

In a moment of painful frailty and desperation, and at the end of her tether I suggested to Lise that she take the bus and meet me in Barcelos.  My heart ached to see her in such agony.  She had just come from another continent and a 7 hour time difference to this reality.  A long, cold Prairie winter makes it impossible to exercise outdoors, her training was solely in a gym and that’s not good enough. A treadmill, although an excellent alternative, doesn’t prepare one’s body for the rigours of an outdoor adventure, especially 8 or 10 hours on your feet. Walking for hours on cobbles, uneven gravel and tar all take their toll. Our waiter said there was a bus stop at the end of the road.  She could relax and even take a nap on the bus. But.

It would not be an option.  Determination and bloody mindedness kicked in.  She’d made a commitment to me and she would walk, alternatives were not negotiable. "Regret and disappointment would last a lifetime the pain wouldn't" she said.  She would take more painkillers and anti-inflammatories and we’d walk.  Her music helped, without it life wouldn’t be worth living she lamented.  I had to hum, “It’s a long way to Santiago” to the tune of It’s a long way to Tipperary.  We did have the kindly restauranteur’s assurance that the road ahead would be easy as he gifted us a shell each.  He was very intuitive, wise and empathetic and could see more than he let on.

It was during the heat of the afternoon that the Madam she had another moment, she was unloading, not emotionally, thank goodness, but her pack, out came the soaps, creams and essential hair products.  I didn’t comment! The liberation of unpacking the things she thought she couldn’t manage without was emancipating, one could sense her lightness.

Our paths took us through farmlands, forests and small cobblestoned villages. Farmers were harvesting grain crops and their friendly waves and shouts of “Boa Camino Peregrino” could’ve been from a film script.  The lady accompanying her husband on the tractor looked so romantic.

Vineyards are covered in the palest green leaves with bunches of tiny new grapes.  Ancient walls still saturated are bedecked in flowering vines, mosses and lichen.  Here one can still live a simple rural life.  Spring flowers are still abundant, whitest icebergs, purple flowering onions, lavender, hydrangeas and tiger lilies reminded me of our gardens at home.

 It was during the afternoon walk that we had a German couple over taking us and then the race was on and the competitive me picked up speed. They were going at a good clip when they passed us in the forest and I have to admit it irked me somewhat.  So it was with glee and unprecedented gloating that I noticed the man had foot problems. He was sitting on a rock, his head in his hands, down in the dumps.  I zipped past! I did a little jig, air pumped my arm with an Amandla fist and bellowed “YES!”

Ha! It was not 100m later while whistling away that my littlest toe "popped", it literally exploded. I was done for.  I couldn’t put a foot down. I thought my toe had ruptured and burst, convinced the profuse bleeding would saturate my sock and soak my leather boots.

My laboured squeaks to Lise went unheard as she had her earphones in and music on.  I was dumbfounded, didn’t know what to do as I hobbled on trying to catch up with her. She has the strides of a Giraffe. Fortunately, we have hiker’s rules, the person walking in front must always wait for the walker at the back, or at least have her in their sights. 

There she was waiting, resting against a wall.  My sweet child.  Bless her. Bursting into what could be seen as intemperate tears I told her what had happened.  I was mortified. Insufferable. What’s more the Germans were going to overtake us.  Talk about eating one’s words.

As gently as she could she removed my boots, socks and there sat my toe, looking perfect, not a sign of damage. No blood and no blister, inconceivable.  An internal injury.  I’m sure I broke a bone or tore a ligament.  Lise strapped it and bound two toes together while she stripped a piece off me for not wearing my socks insides out!  Oh Lord! How much more must I endure? I gulped down a handful of painkillers, silently thanking my wonderful GP. We waited a while and then I laboured to get up, a geriatric. I inserted my swollen foot and throbbing toe as gently as I could into my boot, I was ready to crawl into Barcelos if I had to.  Every muscle in my body had seized up, a case of acute musculoskeletal pain and stiffness.  My child was gleefully smiling again, much easier when one has an accomplice, we were in the same boat.  
Moral of the story. Never gloat.  After pride comes the fall.  The irony was that the smallest most insignificant appendage on my body was causing the most pain, discomfort and grief.  A reminder that the small things count.  Pain and exhuastion kept us focused today, how we dealt with it was the challenge. Best medicine - Laughter, seeing the bright side and focusing on the bigger picture which was our commitment to each other and why we were there.

The smallest villages have beautiful churches, we’d stop and rest and sometimes just sit and let our thoughts go. Fountains with freshest, cold spring water would come to our rescue just when we needed to fill our water bottles, the few minutes respite would be enough to boost our morale and send us on our way, rejuvenated.

Once again we’d been misinformed about distances.  My Garmin had let me down once more, it had packed up hours and kilometers ago.  I vowed that I’d not believe another word anyone told me about distances.  Away with our "Bible", not trust a road sign, Google Maps are for roads, TripAdvisor only good for showing you to a restaurant or hotel and the only way was by following the yellow arrows.  What a relief that decision was.  Trust is a many layered thing and although I do believe that advice is always given with good intentions, I wasn’t going to be led down the garden path again.  We learned that city limits are almost like our districts, so when we saw a sign saying  Barcelos, it was the district of Barcelos and not the actual village, it was like seeing a Worcester sign in Rawsonville or signage for Hermanus when driving through Fisherhaven the kilometres were still stacked against  us. We estimate our distance at 42km for the day.

There are always silver linings and we encountered many.  We picked delicious plums and added thick slices of old fashion thick-skinned lemon to our water, the lemon peels were sweet and delicious, a good Vitamin C injection. The walk through the forest was a cool relief and the new green fern fronds were a magical picture. I could imagine Goblins and Elves among the leaves.  But, I might’ve been hallucinating!  Along the way we found stones and other momentoes left by pilgrims on walls and niches.  We weren't unique.

We made it to Barcelos, exhausted.  Bunting was billowing as we entered the square, one would like to think especially for two weary Pilgrims.  We couldn’t wait to get our packs off, take a nap, refresh, take a long leisurely shower, slip into a little black number and go out for a meal in the square. It was time to celebrate. 

The next day we could sleep late and take it easy, relax, recuperate and go shoe shopping.

We met some lovely people along the way, just long enough to encourage us and make us smile.

An auberge for pilgrims on the way.

"Pain is temporary. It may last a minute, or an hour, or a day, or a year, but eventually it will subside and something else will take its place. If I quit, however, it lasts forever." Anon.