October 8th, – 43km
First light, olive grove.
Out of sight, a man´s whistling.
So begins the day
* * *
It was a marathon walk today, literally. Forty-three kms. I simply couldn´t bear staying in Torremejía, 16km back, even though all my friends are there, and it´s Jacques´ and Frank´s and Jesus´ last night, and I´d already paid my 12 euros. The private albergue had been our only option because the municipal one is closed on Monday and Tuesday nights due to funding cuts, or, as people tend to simply say, “La crisis”. And it was just a bit nasty. Aside from the albergue, Torremejía despite its pretty name is a planned settlement here on the semi-outskirts of Mérida, the capital of Extremadura, so is missing the true heart of the pueblo which is of course the Plaza central onto which looks the local church and at least one of the bars. It´s where everyone gathers at sundown and the kids kick a ball and ride their bikes and the old folk do their gossiping and exchanging of news. If a pueblo hasn´t grown up naturally around this nucleus of exchange and warmth and conviviality, it is very hard to manufacture it. As those of us who live in Australia and the States know, it takes more than just planting a city to make a place.
So despite Frank´s mock weeping protest don´t leave us, who will I have my evening salad with? and the slight feeling of abandoning my friends, I repacked, changed back into my walking clothes and left at 1:30, or just in time to catch the truly hottest part of the afternoon for the three hour walk to Mérida. It was hot, yes, it was a hard road yes, and virtually shadeless, yes. But truth be told it was not so bad. There was a cool breeze that suprised me and as Robert Pirzig says in ´Zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance´ (something like), hardship is only a problem if the mood is wrong. If your spirits are good then discomfort hardly matters. If the mood is bad, then you will find any discomfort and make it the cause of your woes. … So the walk was fine because my spirits were, not exactly buoyant, but well enough. In Torremejía, Vito one of the Spanish chicos, had said Eres una machina – You´re a machine! – as a compliment and vote of confidence on my ability to walk on. And it got me thinking. And what I thought was this: I´m not a machine! I am a human being. And actually, this is what humans do. We walk. And we walk with poise and stamina. Bloody designed to, anyway. And a human being fully alive is capable of feats infinitely more noteworthy than being a quick walker under the kind circumstances of the Camino.
So I guess I don´t think we´re like machines.
It was such a good decision to keep going. The city of Mérida has been welcoming travelers and delighting them with local wines and views over the Guadiana river since Roman times, and the Camino approach takes pilgrims over an original Roman bridge into the old city. A fleurry of French cycling pilgrims overtook me at that moment and thankfully pointed the direction of the albergue because I had the tireds by then and my squinting wasn´t producing any arrows showing the way. It was actually only upon arriving, paying my 6 Euros. Bargain! and checking into my mattress on the floor because all the beds were taken, that I realised quite how tired I was. I don´t think I moved for an hour and mostly lay there with my feet up the wall and my glazed eyes staring at the ceiling. Natty French cyclists picked a path around me as they unpacked their natty paniers, showered and changed out of their nylons and into natty casual wear. Hee hee.
But joy of joys, I found some friends of some days ago: Pete from Rotterdam and the Norwegian sisters Tone and Kari, and Gunter and Emmy who had had to take the bus ahead to a doctor for a bad stomach. When I could contemplate sitting up, I ate some trail mix, drank and showered, and then, ahhhh felt human again.
So outside Pete is getting a foot massage from a well-traveled Spanish guy wearing a bright yellow teeshirt and shorts which occasionally show his tan line which is as stark as a stark thing. Next to him I look like Snow bloody White even though I think I´m bronzing up nicely. Boo. This guy Javier, is clearly an expert and is making use of Pete´s rosemary-infused rubbing alcohol which is the shiz, apparently. I get in the queue, oh boy do I get in the queue. The alcohol feels cool initially, the ´penetrating the skin phase, and then Javier gives this quick friction rub which is designed to warm up the joints and muscles. I´m just sitting back in my chair thinking what a lucky goose am I. Afterwards it´s amazing. My feet really don´t hurt at all. Nevermind that it´s kind of brought into sharper relief all the other body parts that do. Time to hit the town!
All roads lead to the Plaza de España of course, so I parked myself on a terraza and ordered a vino de tierra, a local red wine, probably produced from an area I walked past today, and some olives, which judging from the brine full of E-numbers, probably weren´t. This is a favourite time of the day when I write my journal and watch people. Kari and Tone turn up, and we say hi and by. They´ll walk on super early tomorrow and do a long day, whereas I´m going to have a day off, wait for my friends and have a farewell meal, then see some of the roman sights!
Back at the hostel, Veni, Vidi, Dormivi.