Leaving from Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port you find that most towns, on the Camino in Spain, can be seen 10-15 km away. This is a good news, bad news sort of thing. The town appears close, but when you approach you realize that you must first climb up because the town is usually at the top of a hill. This can seem daunting after a long day of walking, but there is comfort in the fact that there will be coffee after the ascent.
On the Meseta, a flat, sparsely inhabited part of Spain, this changes. I found myself crossing an expanse of over 17km, with little shade and no access to water. I had prepared by bringing food and an extra litre and a half of water, or put another way, my pack was eight pounds heavier.
I walked part of the way with a man from Iraq. He said that it wasn’t really that hot. My phone told another story. There was an alert about the heat from the weather network. I explained to him that he had a different perspective. He was used to the heat in Iraq, but I was from Canada. I feared that at 40C I would enter a liquid state and possibly evaporate. The ubiquitous windmills, for electricity, stood still. There was no breeze to help cool you off. Just direct unrelenting sunshine from a cloudless sky.
It was disconcerting that there were no landmarks or any way to gauge the distance covered. I took comfort in the density of pilgrims on the walk. As a slow walker, I get to meet many people as they pass and it is customary to say, “Buen Camino ” which sounds like ‘boing’ if you are pronouncing it right.
As noon approached the other pilgrims seemed to drop away. I was into my last half litre of water and I began to panic. With no idea of how far I still had to go, I was reluctant to drink all of my water. A bird, that appeared to be a vulture, started to circle overhead. I hoped he was being overly optimistic.
My mouth was so dry that I was having difficulty swallowing. I got down to 200 ml of water but I refused to drink the last bit because I did not want to find myself with no water at all. What are the signs of dehydration? I was still sweating, check. I was becoming forgetful, not good.
I could see two buildings, several kilometres away and I hoped that I did not have that far to go. I thought I saw a building but it was the same colour as the landscape and I worried that it might be an illusion. I couldn’t reach my water without taking off my pack and for the first time no one was behind me, thwarting my hope that I could ask someone to hand me my water bottle.
As I came over a small rise in the land, I could see buildings. The town was nestled below the surrounding land. I almost burst into tears, but I’m not sure there was enough moisture left to form drops. I’d arrived. I had neither melted nor been eaten as carrion. Buen Camino!!