Via Francigena

IMG_2278The day that I lost my will to live, is one of my favourite Camino de Santiago stories. My feet were blistered, making walking painful, and every time that I entered a small town it was “closed”. This is an admirable way of life, I mean the Spanish way, not the fact that I was walking with blisters. Unlike North America where people will do anything to make a sale, including staying up all night, providing drive throughs so that you don’t even have to get out of your car and home delivery that is just a click of the mouse or phone call away; the Spanish put more priority on quality of life.

The coffee shop does not open really early in the morning because the proprietor must first get up and have some breakfast and then open the shop. Also, the shop does not stay open all day because the afternoons have traditionally been too hot to work, so everyone goes home. This was a huge adjustment for me, a Canadian, who is only inconvenienced by distance, or perhaps price, if I want something NOW, at any time of day.

So, my morning began at an Albergue, or Refugio, that did not include breakfast. This was just as common as those that did include breakfast and it was not expected that there would be anyone at the Albergue awake or serving breakfast if you left early, or late for that matter. I set off knowing full well that I was going to walk through a couple of small towns that day and I was not worried much about it.

When I arrived at the first town, there was a coffee shop that had not yet opened. Most shops, I have found, do not have their hours of operation posted on the door or near the entranceway. There was no way to know if this particular place would be open in a few minutes, an hour or if by chance the owners were away on vacation. No way to tell. So, I trudged on.

The next town had been “open” just before I arrived, but it had now closed for the afternoon. I had several kilometers before I hit the next town so it was difficult to force myself to keep walking. I had not had my customary caffeine and I was developing a “caffeine headache” and lethargy. I considered seeing if there was room at the Albergue in this town, but I suspected that I would not be able to get anyone to answer the door, in the middle of the afternoon, so I kept walking.

The only thing that kept me going that day was the decision to go home and spend the rest of my time off there. I was home sick. I missed my bed, my pool, my privacy and I was aware of the fact that I would have the place to myself with no obligations at all. I promised myself that I would close my website, end my life coaching business, draw into myself completely and curl up in a ball in my bedroom. This decision gave me the will to continue walking.

I envisioned getting on a plane, flying home, hiding out and consoling myself. There was a symbol on the map, which I had come to recognize as a travel kiosk, in the next town. I knew that if I made it to there, I would be able to arrange a flight home. I could get home right away. I could throw in the towel, admit that the Camino had kicked my ass and go home. I did not have to encounter any of my family or friends for a while and I could lick my wounds, feel sorry for myself and hide.

When I arrived in the town, the travel kiosk was a historical museum that had nothing to do with booking flights. There was a medic, who had a side business tending to the feet of the pilgrims, working in one of the Albergues. He said that my heel was infected and that it was dangerous to use the compotes (a type of bandage) in Spain. This was something that I had personally realized by this time. The blister had been about 3/4 of an inch across initially and was now closer to two inches. I guessed from the pain that it was infected.

The gentle man cleaned up my feet, drained and bandaged my blisters and gave me the sense that all was OK with my world. I had a nice meal, some coffee, and a nap. The next morning, refreshed, caffeinated and bandaged, I set off once again across Spain.

I had learned how key of a role coffee plays in my life. I had also gained a respect for kindness, comfort and the value of a nap. I can’t wait to go on my next walk across Italy. I am planning to do the Via Francigena this fall. Have any of you done this walk? I’d love to hear about it.

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