My pain threshold is rather high. Ask my masseur or reflexologist. “Pain or not?” they always ask as they knead with great strength onto my pressure points. “Of course pain. But I won’t scream till it’s REALLY pain,” is my usual reply. For someone who suffers from lower back pain (leading to sciatica) and other body aches due to the digital age, chronic pain is something I’ve grown accustomed to. Indeed it would take a severely unbearable pain to make me yelp like a hound dog. Which brings me to Day 3 of Mi Camino…
Sept 17, Palas de Rei to Melide (15km): At 15km, today should be a breeze… Well, it started bright enough. Despite two heavily plastered feet covering 5 huge blisters, it was a miracle alone that I could insert me trotters into my hiking shoes. (Which on hindsight was probably a mistake – should have gone with open-toe sandals.)
TEA BAG LADY: Tour mate Katherine (far left in pink) and I were the first to reach the hotel’s dining hall for breakfast. Katherine is a special agent. Though pots of tea were available, her group of 7 friends prefers branded tea and Katherine is the guardian of the tea bag stash. Whenever someone needs one, all they have to do was to approach Tea Bag Kat to collect it from her. Certainly not a woman to mess with!
TOWN SIGHTS: As you weave in and out of Palas de Rei, you’ll find old and modern buildings with interesting sculptures at nooks and corners. One common yet unique structure you’ll see at almost every farmhouse is the “corn shed” (below right) – some centuries old, while others modern-looking. To get a pilgrim stamp, check out the rustic San Tirso Church (below left).
BLISTERING AGONY: A couple of downhill slopes, rocky and sandy, proved to be my undoing. My blistered left little toe was now super sore, as were the other blisters on my feet. I only realised how slow I was when I took 3 hrs to travel 6km to Casanova! With another 9km to go, I would not reach our destination Melide by noon but a good 4-5 hrs later . Urgh!!
My agony was lighten somewhat when a solo Irish trekker asked to join me and my guide Jesus for a short while. When we remarked that we have met a lot of Irish, she said Irish Customs had told her that there were 3,000 of them on the Camino as we speak! As she was a nurse, we discussed “to poke or not to poke blisters”. Jesus says he does, while we ladies say no in case of infection. It’s definitely a subject for continuous debate.
I don’t remember much of the scenery after this. All I could remember is having to find a rock to sit on and check my miserable toes, and the nice people who stopped to ask if I were fine and offered their sympathies when they heard it was blisters. There was the German blond lady with a huge smile, two brunette American ladies with giggly voices, and this goateed Caucasian guy who claimed he was from Singapore. I’m still amazed that the latter could recognised my Singaporean accent despite my screaming through clenched teeth!
A MARYTR BE, YOU NEED NOT: By this time, I had already decided that I was not going to be a superhero and asked Jesus if he could call me a cab at our next stop Casa Rural. As providence would have it, there was a taxi sign just off the cafe which flanked a residential stretch. Hallelujah! I was now walking in my socks cos I can’t get my feet back into my shoes.
After a quick bite, Jesus decided to walk on while I waited for the cab with a wavy-haired – yes, you guessed it – Irish lass named Mo who had badly twisted her ankle the day before. In the cab, Mo said she had planned to walk the camino, party in Ibiza, before going to London for a power meeting. She thought she could walk off the strain but it got worse. “I wasn’t planning to be a marytr anyway,” she attested. We reached my Melide hotel, Carlos 96, in no time which caused Mo to quip, “You could have walked,” before quickly adding with a laugh, “I’m kidding!” I waved goodbye as she went on to Arzua another 13km away.
NO PAIN NO GAIN: At the hotel, after a good soak in the bathtub, I proceeded to re-bandage all my blisters. I’m not going to show you the graphic pictures but basically I lost my entire toe nail on my little left toe and half the skin on the little right toe. The rest I left them be hoping they will subside on their own.
Though I was downcast about not being able to complete today’s trek by foot, coming back early allowed me to do two things which I didn’t get to do in the first two days – having drinks with my tour mates and touring the town we are in. About 2pm, I joined Jesus, Jacintha, Sorcha (“Irish for Sarah”, I was told) and Mary (3rd of four) in the hotel bar. Sorcha sweetly bought me a beer for “making it to the hotel”, bless her. With nice cold beer and free potato salad, we discussed everything under the sun including tourism and the myths of the scallop shells. The American ladies from the morning arrived at the same hotel and I teasingly greeted them with a “Haha, beat you!” to which Mary III retorted with a laugh, “That was mean!”
MELIDE: Thereafter, I walked into town to check out the sights. Praise God I was able to walk comfortably in my Teva sandals. Attractions here include a 7th century church (above left) which looks stunning against a clear blue sky and next to it is reportedly the oldest cross in Galicia dating from the 14th Century. A town of 14,000 people, Melide is self-contained with shops, supermarkets, pharmacies, and restaurants including a famous one that serves octopus. (My tour mates didn’t like it though.) Most shops however observed siesta from 2-5pm.
Along the way, it was a thrill to wave at people whom you recognised from the camino. These include the German lady and her walking companions and a curly-haired brunette in a red coat whom I would get to know better the next day.
It was then back to the hotel to blog and have a nap before dinner. A friend whatapps to tell me not to be so downhearted but to remember that taking a cab is also making use of God’s providence. If not, I may not get to enjoy my rare afternoon activities. Always look at the glass half full, rather than half empty. Alrighty then…
THINGS TO NOTE:
1. If you have pain of any kind while walking, sing or talk to fellow trekkers as it help to forget the pain albeit for a short while.
2. Bring along sandals or slippers in case your feet get too swollen to wear hiking shoes or even track shoes. And thick socks.
3. “Worst case scenario, there’s always taxis, m’am,” which was what my tour agency CaminoWays.com told me before I arrived in Spain which helps a lot. Cabs are available in every town – you just need to know the number and have a working phone. Fares ranged between 7-10 euros for distances between 5-10km (and also depending which town the cab is coming from).