Madelyn Given took this photo in Los Arcos, Spain, on her el Camino pilgrimage.

El Camino: Making New Friends

You never know who you will meet when you are hiking. The hikers are very pleasant, helpful, and fun. In early September 2014, I had gotten to know a few of them and they were all so different. Albert is a man from Adelaide, Australia. My first impression of him was a grumpy old man, but after three days I began to understand his personality, and a trail friendship began when I saw him doing several acts of kindness. He was on the trail early in the morning like me and usually ended his hiking day in the same albergue.

Peter from Belgium biked the el Camino last year and came back to walk it this year. He is helpful and friendly to all the hikers and he likes to cook his own meal in the albergues. The dinner he cooked for us one night gave him his new trail name: Chef. A Dutch couple and a Swedish couple I meet each day. Now we compare notes as we walk the same distance each day and have formed a hiking friendship. An Irishman often joined a small group of us for dinner but he is now behind us. He is a jolly jokester.

I have met five priests walking the trail, one in his seventies, one just out of school, others in between, and all five from different countries. I have met several pilgrims from the USA but two have already quit. Another American woman had fallen and was quite bruised but after a medical checkup and some medications decided to go on. I met another woman from back in the states. It was her first day of walking alone, as her walking partner sadly had to quit on doctor’s orders and was flying home that day. A lot happens on the trail.

The group of eight Italians is very friendly and fun. Yesterday in the late afternoon, I was resting my legs and studying my guide book when three of them came to my albergue and asked for me. That night they were going to hike to the castle above the town for a view and also in hopes of seeing the castle ghost. One of them, a priest, had borrowed a key from a local municipal official to get inside the castle. I debated about going but it was a steep climb in the dark and my feet were very tender so I declined. Today the Italians passed me about mid-day and I asked how their adventure went last night. It was not a clear sky when they reached the top, there was not much to see, and no ghost appeared. They said I made a good choice of not going as they were now tired from the midnight hike; they said it wasn’t that exciting.

Today I crossed vineyards and fields all day. By 11 am, I had arrived at Los Arcos, where I took the photo at the top of this blog post. It was hot, but I headed straight to a bank. Although small villages often didn’t have banks and coming off the trail at odd hours made chores like banking difficult, most of the albergues, small bars, and restaurants along the trail only accepted cash, so as I left town I breathed a sigh of relief that the ATM machine had worked and I was on my way. I walked past the church, through the archway, across the Río Odrón, and out of town.

I also had made sure that I had enough water as it was 10 kilometers with no shade and no water stops until the old town of Sansol, which was in my sights the whole way from Los Arcos—all uphill. Then I continued on a gradual downhill over a red dirt track for a few more kilometers to Torres del Río. It is strategically tucked into a steep valley and survived many attacks throughout ancient history. The Iglesia Del Santo Sepulco church dates back many centuries to the days of the Knights of Templar.

Although the history was wonderful, I was glad to stay in a modern small hotel and start catching up on all that I needed: something to eat, a shower, and clean clothes. I borrowed a pair of scissors from the desk clerk, went to my room, and started cutting off extra straps and stripping my pack; it was not an act of craziness but a conscious attempt to lighten the load on my back. There was a very tiny spa with one attendant. She took pity on me and began working on my blistered feet: cleaning, disinfecting, and bandaging. After the foot treatment, a decent dinner, and a good night’s sleep, I felt like a new person. The hotel staff had gone out of their way to be kind and helpful, and I looked forward to seeing my trail friends as I set off again.

 (posted January 13, 2015)