Sept 19, Arzua to Armenal (23km): Just one more day to reach Santiago de Compostela and my tour group finally got the chance to take a group shot: 13 Irish, two Americans and one cute Singaporean. In the past 2 decades, I’ve grown accustomed to travelling overseas on my own and enjoying it. For Mi Camino however, I’m glad I made the decision to go with a tour group rather than winging it on my own. I was blessed to get a cool, fun group of walking enthusiasts who showered support and encouragement by the truckloads, without which I doubt I would carried on walking till the end. As we started out from Arzua, ex-teacher Sorcha said to me, “I’m really impressed by your spirit. Despite your problems with pain and all, you just kept on going.” Aw shucks. I’m not that brave. I just hate losing to myself…
IT’S TOO DARN HOT: Though slopes are less steep towards Santiago de Compostela, it’s not exactly a breeze for me. Country tracks are still rough while tarred roads are tough on the feet as well. Despite bursting my blisters – yes, I finally succumbed to that method – my feet were hurting quite a bit. Didn’t help that it was rather hot for a mid-September day and there were no decent thick bushes along first 5km to take a pee either. Thank God then for the roadside cafe which actually had a signboard saying, “Ask for toilet!” It cost 50 euro cents but it was worth it.
TALK THE WALK: I discovered that singing songs that I can’t remember the lyrics to help me not think of the pain shooting from my feet. Speaking to Jesus (the guide) when not gasping for breath after a steep slope also helps. After our first pitstop at Calzada, a very long and rough brownish stretch of track was made easier when one of Jesus’ fellow tour guides, an elderly Irish gent with a wicked sense of humour, chatted with us along with his companions till they decided to move on ahead.
Soon I was on my own as Jesus walked ahead as well. I continued at my slow pace, taking in the greens of Galicia. The pines were beginning to show autumn colours, there were still rows and rows of corn, and for the first time, we started to see lots of flowering blooms of every size and colour on the route (pictured below).
TALK THE WALK II: By the time I caught up with Jesus at our 2nd pitstop at Salceda and way past noon, I’d decided that I was going to cab back for the rest of the journey. Jesus, as usual, exclaimed “but we’re almost there!” Not. There was another 11km or so to go and I know I won’t make it till dinner time and I wanted to rest well before the big day tomorrow. Still, Jesus managed to coax me to trek on to our lunch point another 5km away and I reluctantly agreed. Physically I was fine, it was just the pain from the lower back downwards that was killing me.
After a quick stop to the nearby Farmicia (my new best friend) for yet another supply of Compeed blister plasters – they are arguably the top money makers in Galicia, next to Galicia beer and cheese! – off we went. Soon after, we were caught up by the London trio of Joanna, Graham and Penny. As Joanna and Jesus walked on ahead, Graham and Penny kindly accompanied me at my pace and we had a good conversation going talking about everything about London to Singapore which made my pain easier to bear, bless them. One thing they couldn’t help was the hot weather which I swore was about 30C! “Graham, the one from Singapore is saying it’s too hot!” quipped Penny at one point, when I kept complaining about it for the umpteenth time!
GALICIAN GRUB: At our lunch stop at Empalme, after walking 15km, I waved the white flag. I was awfully tired and drained. Jesus promised to call me a cab after lunch and I heartily ordered a Galician beer, a Spanish hamburger and stole his tasty basil-laced French fries. We discussed interesting topics such as the Spanish economy, employment rate and how much Jesus could make if he works in Madrid instead.
HAVE CAB WILL TRAVEL: After lunch, Jesus walked on, whilst I waited for the cab. One thing great about Spain is that there is free Wi Fi practically in every retail outlet which was great as I get to whatapps my friends back in Singapore. I also waved to every pilgrim cyclist who passed by. Cyclists have to travel at least 200km to get the certificate at the end. My two cab rides covered some 14km. As our starting point Sarria is actually 111km away from Santiago, I had already resolved to walk round the Santiago Cathedral 3 times when I get there to make up for the 3km short fall. I had no regrets cos I know my body need to rest before the trek into Santiago which demands a very early 6.30am start in order to reach there by noon. I doubt I will make it by noon but by the Grace of God, I just want to get there in one piece…