Friday, 11 October 2013

Lucky lucky me

The otter was the high point. A fat sleek otter, not 100 yards away, hunched on the rocks in the rapids eating a crayfish. We stood on the path on the bank overhead, he didn´t see or hear us. We watched him finish and turn and flow over the rocks like he was water, too, into and out of the deep little pools, until he hit the main stream and slipped inside and floated south underwater. Beautiful.

I never saw an otter in the wild before. We were only about 20 miles outside the big city of Leon, but here was serious wildlife, in a river clean and clear enough to support fish and crabs and big riverine  mammals! Yet another reason to love the Camino San Salvador, the ancient name of the path we walked this week.

Not Ready for Formalwear
"We" being me and Kathy from California, my longtime walking friend. Kathy only could come for a week, and she wanted to walk in the wild. So we did the front end of the Camino San Salvador, from Leon city up and over the mountains to Puente de Fueros in Asturias. Four days, walking easy through the woods and along the babbling Rio Bernesga and up into the Cordillera Leonese of the Picos de Europa. We slept in pristine little pilgrim albergues, carried most of our food with us, met only one other pilgrim -- An athletic Spanish soldier who caught up to us in a mountain village called Buiza, at the old school-turned-albergue. He walked in a day what we´d done in two. His name was Julio. ("We and Julio, down by the schoolyard," Kathy sang out).

When Kathy arrived she had two little spots of poison oak on her left arm. By the end of the first day of walking it had blistered and spread. It was OK, she said, she´d had poison oak before. We put gauze pads on it, wrapped it up. We kept walking, the weather was spectacular, the mountains were harder than I remembered. We chatted, said prayers, sang songs. We walked from dawn right up to dusk, we cut it too close a couple of times, but each day we made it.

I realized how much I needed that walk, that talking with Kathy. How good it all was, how lucky I am to have her, to have caminos within easy reach, to see otters, to still be fit enough to take on this kind of challenge and then just jump on a train and come home. Lucky, lucky me.

But unlucky Kathy. Her arm went from bad to worse. The spots spread to her hip and her collarbone, and the itching kept her up at night. She hung on, though, through Friday, to today. She´d promised to help me face down a phobia, and she delivered.

This morning we drove to Palencia and met Lucía there, my Spanish tutor from Carrión de los Condes. The two of them took me in hand. My son Philip is getting married in December, and I needed to buy an elegant dress for the occasion. They took me shopping.

I like wearing nice clothing, but I detest shopping for it. This explains why I wear the same few items and outfits for (yes) years between shopping trips, why I am not often seen in dressy clothes. The fitting rooms, the glaring lights, the horrible music, price tags and colors and wondering what underclothes I must buy in order to wear this dress with those shoes and that little jacket... realizing that being fit does not equal being thin or lovely. That my blistered toes make trying on formal heels a painful, shameful proposition. That the beautiful, costly dress I buy in the shop will look just okay once I get it home. That no matter what clothes I wear, it will still be me inside them.

They did their best, they made it happen, they made it almost fun. They said they had fun. I bought the dress, the best one, a very Spanish number from Purificacion Garcia, a hot Spanish designer. A great load rolled off my mind. We had a nice lunch. Lucía headed home, and so did Kathy, a few days early. The arm is really bad. She´s been putting on a brave face, but she finally admitted she had to get back to her home and her doctor. She took the train to Madrid straight from Palencia station.

Kathy told Milagros she´d help harvest grapes tomorrow, but she will instead be on an airplane. I was sad for a while, driving home alone.

But I was grateful, too. Two good people helped me do something that would have been anguish on my own. I came away with something nice I would not have found otherwise.

I got to walk a spectacular stretch of trail, in the best of company. We made the best of the last of the fine weather. Kathy came halfway around the world to do that with me, and I am lucky lucky lucky.

And all dresses and shops and poison plants aside, I saw an otter.


K Samulis said...

How lovely to know that whenever and where ever you where that dress now, it will be flavored with memories of the best of friends and wild otters!

Anonymous said...

...and you looked and will look fabulous in that dress!

love, k

Anonymous said...

I have to smile at the buying of the dress. I still have, and wear, the outfit Terry bought me for our daughter's wedding - 19 years ago!! Enjoy it.
We have an otter sanctuary near home. How lovely to see one in the wild.
Tia V