The Albergue Victoria in Ciruena is very clean and friendly, it’s also open all year round for pilgrims who opt to come at the least crowded times. I had dinner with three American ladies, two of whom were from Missouri and were travelling together, plus a piercing expert from Minneapolis. Trump and Brexit were top topics. None of the ladies had voted for the current President, a fact that they wanted everyone to be quite clear about! The three of them were genuinely worried that someone with a serious mental illness had been handed power over the red button and that they might not survive the next four years.
Breakfast was less politically charged as I ate with some lovely Irish ladies and their adult children. Then I was off to follow the yellow arrows to Santo Domingo a mere 6km away. I had originally booked to stay in Redecilla del Camino 17km away, but common sense from a variety of friends and, especially, from Pete made me see that I should find another physio and bed down in Santo Domingo for a day with a good book in the hope that I could coax my ankle back to normal.
Leaving Ciruena was as weird as arriving in it. It is a complete ghost town of rather lovely luxury housing … all for sale. Apparently the government thought that if they built a beautiful new town people would go and live there. Wrong. The whole place feels eerie. It’s a pity nobody mentioned the excess homes to all the poor people who were thrown out of their houses during the crisis, although I suspect that wasn’t the clientele the builders were looking for.
Once out in the countryside there were fields of peas, wheat and a huge area of runner beans. As usual I was soon being overtaken on all sides and singing out “Buen Camino” to a selection of disappearing back views. A young man whistled past me without a word and about five minutes later a very large American drew level. I gave my usual “Buen Camino” but he didn’t sally onwards like the rest so after a while I gave him a glance. At nearly 2 metres tall and with a mop of white hair, he carried a huge backpack. He was sweating although the morning was still chilly. His left leg was encased from mid-thigh to mid-shin in a black contraption, which made the one France wore look like a small plaster.
“That looks serious,” I said, waving one of my poles at his leg.
“Oh, it’s not so bad. I’m having a knee replacement when I get home …”
“And you decided to walk the Camino before having the replacement?”
“Yeah, it’s like with an old car, you want to get the most mileage out of it before you get a new one!”
… and I was wondering if I would make Santiago with a pulled ligament?!
We continued to walk together and it became obvious he was going to be by my side for the next 6km.
“Are you retired?” I asked
“Yes, I had to retire, I used to be in banking.”
“Do you like it?”
“No. I’m hoping this Camino will give me some ideas of what work I can still do.”
I kept quiet. You soon discover on the Camino that people tell you the most amazing stories if you just keep quiet. I think it’s a bit like going to Confession, or what I used to find happened with children if I kept cooking in the kitchen so that they thought I wasn’t really listening when I knew they wanted to off load about something. It just all comes tumbling out.
“I can’t do anything where people rely on me to always be available. I have thyroid cancer and every time I have an operation I’m out of action for a month or so.”
The young man who had steamed past without a word had stopped to do energetic stretching exercises in the middle of the road.
“That’s my son, he’s not capable of speech before noon but don’t take it as a slight, he’s a good guy once he’s awake!” We walked passed with a nod and soon after he galloped in front of us again.
“Coffee and breakfast at the next town please!” His dad hollered at his back. “Yesterday he had me do 33km. I have to remind him I need sustanance breaks!”
Thirty-three kilometers with a leg contraption that looked more suited to Hannibal Lector’s head?! Every time I begin to think “I can’t” and kick myself roundly for the name of this blog, someone comes along and reinvents the meaning of “Can”. If I were at home and someone said to me “can you come for a bit of a trek in the Tramuntana tomorrow”, I would have no hesitation in saying, “sorry, I’ve got a busted ankle there’s no way I can do that for a week or two.” Here, however, you see countless people walking with bleeding feet and many others limping onwards day after day.
“So when you say you ‘have’ thyroid cancer, it’s an ongoing problem?”
“Yes, it can’t be cured but I’m at the Mayo Clinic which gives excellent care. It doesn’t respond to chemo or radio therapy so they just have to keep chopping now and again. I was meant to have another operation in May but I said I wanted to go and walk the Camino first.”
So, in fact, the knee replacement was the more minor of his problems!
“How many operations have you had so far?”
He rolled down his collar to reveal a long scar and wasted tissue around his neck which would have done Frankenstein proud. His breastbone also bore a scar disappearing beneath his shirt buttons. “This will be my third. They’ve said they’ll have to open my breastbone again and then I’ll be laid up for a month, but I’ll get a new knee at the same time. If I’m honest I don’t want to have it done again, but there’s really no option, unless the Camino gets me,” he said with a wry grin.
“At least you’re trying to work out what would fulfill you after this one’s over …” I offered gingerly.
“Yeah, and even if I don’t work that out, I’m going to lie back and think of these Spanish skies and my time out in the open roaming over all these fields with my son …”
… And I had even considered the words, “I can’t”? People out here humble me, so deeply, every day, just by being their incredible selves.
We walked into Santo Domingo together where his son was doing some more impressive stretches, and left each other with a cheerful “Buen Camino” as I went in search of a physio and the post office.
I got an appointment with sports physio Maria at 11am, and managed to book a second night in another hotel a little further out of town. Santo Domingo looked interesting, I was going to be fine here for a rest day. Things were looking up. When I left Maria’s I Whatsapped Pete to tell him I was heading for that day’s albergue along the Camino.
“Send me a location so I can see where you are …”
Ten minutes later a man wearing my straw hat with a plastic red rose accosted me and the day got even better. 🙂
“Thank god you didn’t keep on walking like you said you were going to last night, I’ve had this booked since last weekend and you’d have hated to go backwards!”