The tale of the camino continues…

Day 2 – Vilar do Pinheiro to Rates

This 20km stretch is where I feel our pilgrim experience truly began. After an amazing sleep, we departed Vilar do Pinheiro at 7am, doubling back on a stretch of highway and cutting through to the country lanes via a  stone-walled path. The morning was crisp and clear, as were our heads as we had had our first alcohol-free night in weeks. We dawdled as our feet warmed up and we took photos of gnarled trees, impenetrable walls of corn and crumbling farmhouses that looked like they had been built according to the imaginings of a thousand idealistic city-dwellers seeking romance in the countryside.

Most of the landscape consisted of cornfields and rustic agricultural land, though we did pass some modern houses that contrasted sharply with their surroundings like businessmen at a bush doof. My memory is hazy but I remember the approach to Rates seeming quite barren and bright as the landscape changed and light reflected off limestone. Rates has the first albergue on this camino and is a more picturesque and historical place than Vilar do Pinheiro. Pilgrims who want to take the coastal route split from the trail here and head West towards the beaches (a far less marked and populated Way).We arrived in the early afternoon and went to receive our sello at the general store. We were expecting to have to pay for the albergue and it took a moment and some interpretation to realise that it was donation based and you just took a bed and put some coins in the wooden box when you left. We walked down the street to the albergue which was like the most basic, hardcore, pilgrimmy, sparse, nunnery-style hostel we had ever seen.

We slept in a room with 30 other people, most of whom were overweight retirees. The dorm was filled with a malodorous tang – a heady mixture of hiking boots, foot spray, bodies and poor ventilation. We spread our cotton ‘mummy’ sheets (I still don’t know why they’re called that), over the plastic-covered mattresses and passed out for a good hour. I woke up before El and decided to have a shower. As I walked outside to the shower block (which was huge and clean), I noticed a very tall, well-built man of around 35 walking around the yard in a pair of tight blue jocks. He was chatting away to a seemingly bemused older couple as he did his laundry (which for him appeared to involve a lot of bending over from the waist). I thought this was kind of strange… why would you not wear pants, particularly when your legs are like tree trunks and your height places your genitals roughly in line with short people’s faces? It was necessary that I pass through the male shower blocks to reach the women’s… something the builders had accommodated for by providing each shower cubicle with a dressing area for increased privacy. After a long and satisfyingly hot shower I dried off in the cubicle, got dressed and walked back towards the exit. As I did so, something caught my eye and I looked to my right to see Jock Man standing in the middle of the men’s area with one leg up on a stool, vigorously drying his balls. He glanced up, gave me a perfunctory nod and continued to assault my eyes.

Don’t get me wrong… I’m not a prude (far from it), but I think people are entitled to have some say about whether or not they see a dick. Especially one that’s being jiggled about in an alarming manner (and is particularly huge!?). When I got back to the room, El was up and getting ready for a wash. Before I could tell her about Jock Man, she started telling me in hushed tones that one of the aforementioned retirees had stripped off his clothes and wandered around with his wang out… El being the only other inhabitant of the room at the time. Two penises in as many hours! Is it necessary? I manage to not be naked most of the time.

That evening we walked to the amazingly gorgeous town square and had dinner at a restaurant/coffee bar/internet cafe/pool hall/local hangout until around 10pm, when we headed back to get some sleep. To our absolute horror, the albergue was LOCKED. On the quietest of streets, in the middle of nowhere, with no one answering the door or responding to our hesitant calls, we were seriously thinking we were in quite a bit of shit. We trotted back to the bar in a panic and spied two girls around our age (well, my age as I’m 5 years older than El), who looked as though they might be staying there too. We explained the situation, they responded with “Oh SHIT!”, and we pulled together to perform the most pathetic-cutesy-girly plea for help to the bartender. He turned out to be the most lovely guy ever and drove us back to the albergue after calling the unimpressed owners and arranging to have us let back in. What a champ.

El went to bed and I stayed up smoking with Swiss and Tough Girl. Swiss had never walked a camino before and was describing the various ways her feet were killing her and how much she disliked Germans. Tough Girl had walked a 500km camino a few years ago with her boyfriend and decided halfway through that she would much rather be doing it alone. Which finds her now taking her tall, toned, lithe and graceful frame from Lisbon to Santiago with no less than 17kgs on her back (our packs were around 8kgs – two more than was recommended for our weights). Tough was absolutely stunning – a beautiful face, a healthy tan, spirit that oozed out of every pore and stories that made you fall in love with her on the spot. She was carrying a tent, and had camped by herself in the middle of foggy forsaken fields. One night when she had not been able to reach the albergue, she had simply knocked on someone’s door and asked for help as she was a pilgrim. The family had taken her in, cooked her dinner and given her a bed for the night. Where El and I were planning on walking an average of 25kms a day, she had been covering 40kms a day for over two weeks. I asked her how the fuck she was doing it… was she impervious to pain?! Was camping alone in the middle of a foreign country just no biggie to her?! After giggling at me (making my heart ache even more), she disclosed that there were days when the pain of walking became so much that she sobbed for hours. She had been terrified when she camped in the field but eventually was so exhausted she had passed out, awaking to find herself intact and facing another day. In an amazingly humble and helpful way, she tapped her temple and said “It’s all up here. I am determined to reach Santiago and to do this on my own. I don’t walk with others,  I don’t listen to music. I have to know I can rely on myself”.

As I lay in bed thinking about everything she had said, Jock Man entered the room and decided to rifle through his bag which was, of course, a couple of metres from my head. His blue-clad ass waving and straining in my face was the last thing I saw before I fell asleep.

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