Friday, 8 August 2014
Madmen, Piglets, and Sun-stroke: Three Days of Big Fun
It was only three days, supposed to be five. I only made it partway, and I should've stopped after the first day, but I kept on going. I thought it would get better, that I would get better.
I didn't. I got worse. It got bad, very quickly.
It was a really self-serving hike anyway. The day of the last blog post, the day we saw through the neighbors' house, was the day Momo Cat was last seen. Time went on, he didn't come back. Pad and I both started looking glumly at one another, started giving up hope. So I did a Spanish thing. I made a promesa to Santiago. Momo comes back okay, I will go to Valladolid on the train, and walk home, as a thanksgiving. I said it out loud, in front of witnesses (Paddy and the outside dogs). And once the neighbors came back for the weekend, Momo reappeared, shouting loud outside the back door, not a scratch on him. We think he somehow got inside their house while it was open, and was locked in all week when they left. Thank God they're coming back on weekends these days!
Thank God indeed.
You'd better start walking, Paddy said.
And on Monday, full of expectation, I took the 11.05 train to Valladolid with my backpack good to go for a short hike across the meseta on the Camino de Madrid.
I've been wanting to walk the Madrid for a long time. I was willing to do just the top bit, from Valladolid, just for a taste -- it is hard leaving Peaceable for longer than a few days, seeing as Paddy can't drive the car.
I should've taken the 7:30 a.m. train. Should have got an earlier start. In Valladolid I knew which bus to take up to Simancas, where the Camino Madrid passes through. I knew which bus, but I could not find a bus stop for it. I wandered the city for an hour and a half, from bus stop to bus stop, like an idiot. No one knew. I finally took a taxi. By the time I hit the trail it was 1 p.m. The sun by then was cranked up to 10.
Only seven kilometers to Ciguenela, an easy two hours.
In August, only mad dogs and Englishmen do that. And mountain-bike riders. Everyone with an ounce of sense stays in the shade with a cold drink.
I walked long and hard, I was thankful for each little breeze that blew up the lonesome country road. Roads out there are Kansas-quality dirt, mostly straight, angled around property lines. Towns hide behind hills, you can see the church tower for hours before you get close. If you've walked the big Camino Frances, you'll remember that long strip after Carrion de los Condes. This is something like that, but it goes on for days.
I fell into my long-distance stride. Heat shimmered up off miles of stubble.
About four kilometers in, I saw two figures on the road ahead, moving toward me. Bicycles. Two men, sweaty, weaving and laughing. Maybe heading home after a long, loaded lunch, I thought. As they came closer I realized they were not drunk. They were mad.
Their handlebars waggled because their bodies shuddered. Their faces were like clown masks, they greeted me with wild hilarity and a wave that almost took one of them over. I played it cool, smiled and waved back as they passed by -- I didn't want to give them a reason to stop.
They rolled past, up the hill I'd just come down, very slowly, out of sight.
I walked on. I heard my pulse rushing in my ears. I felt light-headed. Soon as I stopped walking, a headache started. And a cold. I met the only other walking pilgrim on the Camino Madrid, in the lovely albergue of Cigunuela. He was very happy to see me.
He had not seen two crazy guys on bikes, he said. I wondered if they were real.
His name was Luis, from Aranjuez. He was dark and slender, a runner. He worked in an auto-parts factory outside Madrid. I could not keep awake to chat. Later on, through a haze, I saw him soaking his feet, then putting himself to bed. He was beautiful.
In the middle of the night he woke me up. I was crying in my sleep, he said. He gave me some water.
I was sweating hard, but I felt cold. My head pounded. Only a couple of hours of sun had done that.
Luis was gone when I got up in the morning. He'd been doing 40 kilometer days, but his lightweight trainer shoes were shredding his feet.
The early-morning walk was superb. I said all my prayers. I saw rabbits and hares, sheep and shepherds and sheepdogs, a weasel, a kestrel, and a hoopoe. My nose ran, I snorted and coughed and hacked. I was glad to be alone. I still felt light-headed. I drank lots of water, wore sunscreen and a hat, I walked in the shade at every opportunity.
I saw Luis again in Penaflor de Hornija. He was slowing down. He'd see me in Castromonte, he said. I had trouble forming Spanish sentences. I drank two quick claras. (half draft beer, half 7-Up). I left Hornija just after 11, and the thermometer read 30 degrees. I went slow. A beautiful, medieval sunken lane, all dappled and dark, opened onto miles of endless wide-open blast furnace. An Allman Brothers song played an endless loop in my head.
Lord have mercy. Lord have mercy on me.
Miles on I could see a line of scrubby oak trees. As I drew closer I saw some enterprising person had set up a piggery among them, and dozens of fine black swine browsed behind makeshift fences. Acorns. Black pigs. These were Spain's famous Bellota hams on the hoof. They were friendly, they nosed up to the fence to say hello. And in the next pen were mother pigs, and a vast number of wiggly, wormy black piglets. They squealed and swarmed and ran, ran, ran, full of energy and joy. The moms were pretty active, too, at least the ones not fenced inside numbered concrete bunkers.
Luis was there, snapping photos, grinning. It was impossible not to smile. We walked on, and on the right heard something crashing in the bushes next to the trail. Out burst a line of leaping piggies, escapees, playing chase through the woods. They saw us, screamed, and split up, some running up the trail ahead, others diving into the bushes. They kept us company for a half-mile more, the most joyous pigs I ever met. Maybe that's why the jamon is so tasty -- their lives may be short, but they have them some fun!
Me and Luis straggled into Castromonte in the heat of the day. It is a gorgeous albergue. We did not see much of it. We slept. We walked into town and banged on the butcher's door til he opened up and sold us some food. We saw inside the church, with its images of 25 saints -- they take them all out for a parade every year, the Saturday before Pentecost. Beautiful adobe houses, leaning every which way, plaques marking birthplaces of forgotten fascists.
We ate simply -- pan-fried pork loin and cheese on bread. Olives. Plums from the tree outside. The scrap-end of a chocolate bar.
Luis made me a "isotonic cocktail" with energy drink and powdered minerals. I repaired his blistered feet as well as I could, with the minimal first-aid supplies I had. Tomorrow, Medina de Rioseco, I told him. There's a health center there. They can give you a proper bandage job.
There's a bus station there, too, he said. I can pick up there next year, walk on.
He'd made a promesa, he said. His mom, last year, a cancer scare. She's fine now. And so now he has a promise to keep, even if it takes him three years of holiday time to get to Santiago. (I did not tell him about my promesa.)
We both were asleep before the sun went down. A man painted a wall outside. The roller went shush-shush-shush.
I said goodbye to Luis in the morning. I did not see him again.
It was another beautiful morning.
I do not remember it very well, but I liked it at the time.
At Medina de Rioseco I toured the churches of Santiago and Santa Maria -- the equal of any tourist attraction in Spain, and pretty much unknown outside this region. I had a horchata (an Arabic almond milkshake, cold and wonderful) at a bakery/bar run by a jolly family, but I couldn't taste anything. I enjoyed that beautiful little Castilian town -- it is known territory, a place I have always liked. But I do not remember it clearly.
I stayed at a hotel. I took a bath with salt, I drank a lot of Luis's isotonic cocktails.
I came home the next morning on the earliest bus. I thought I might try walking if I felt better, but I had the shakes in the night.
Defeated by the sun, smitten, I am taking my time getting back my energy.
Paddy is being kind and patient. We've had few pilgrims, and none since my return, and that's probably good. I am not fit company.
Momo cat slinks about, utterly ungrateful. I didn't exactly fulfill my promise, but he is only a cat.
Do not let me walk in August any more.