Well this is my first Figs Ahoy! chapter written at my new home in Vauxhall, London. I’ve been here one week now, having moved from my apartment in Deptford which served me well for my first two months in London. I was living with people I met at the Fringe Festival, two of whom are still in that apartment (they’re dancers and returned only a week ago from ‘panto’), and one of whom went back to Australia yesterday after being overseas for about a year. Her name is Meg, and she has been my sole housemate and best friend since October. She has been such a huge part of my life here and I honestly don’t know how my move away from home would have gone without her. We’ve butted heads a few times, which I like to blame on the fact that she is an Aries and I am an Aries rising to avoid any further conflict! Despite that, I do believe we are kindred spirits and her departure means that life is going to be really different from here on in. Luckily, I don’t feel that we were ever co-dependent and I can honestly say that my life here is rich in so many ways. I still feel calm and happy, which has been the overall ‘vibe’ since I left home last April. I was supposed to be back in Perth a month ago today, but I decided to stay here. I guess I’ve achieved what I set out to do 9 months ago; I’ve found a new place to call home!

Anyway, following that brief update here I’ll continue with my camino story:

Day 3 – September 17th, Rates to Barcelos (15 kms)

After travelling 20 kms the day before and knowing that this was going to be a relatively short walk, neither El or I were feeling any particular urgency to depart. So we were a bit surprised when everybody got up at 5am and we were the only ones left in the albergue at 6. The moon was still in the sky and there was thick fog enveloping the buildings when I was disturbed into getting up and venturing outside to the toilet. I hadn’t been disturbed in the dorm mind you, I had been disturbed on the couch in the communal space where I’d gone to sleep at 3am due to almost being driven insane by the herd of middle-aged snorers in the room. I admit I snore myself, and I know that one day my body will turn against me and somehow become a  resonating chamber perfectly designed to amplify my respiratory rumblings. However, for the time being, I am a young, average-weight woman in my 20s who feels justified in her indignant RAGE against people bellowing like injured buffalo in their beds.

So, we ended up leaving alone at 7am, doubling back to the town square to get the requisite strong coffee or two. An unfortunate addition to this morning’s routine was my trip to the Pharmacist. I, regrettably, had some ‘lady problems’ that I had to try and convey to the middle-aged, presumably heavily Catholic male Pharmacist. I had made sure to look up the phrases I needed to use on the internet the night before, and had written them down in preparation as well as practising my pronuniciation to perfection. I don’t know whether that damned Pharmacist understood everything I said and just chose to fuck with me for his own entertainment or whether my pronunciation was not as perfect as I thought… but it was one of the most embarrassing moments of 2011. Other early morning Pharmacy-goers stood by and watched with looks of amazement and horror as I started gesturing wildly towards my nether regions and performing an appalling mime. I won’t go into detail… but he eventually presented me with a range of possible medications from which I could take my pick. After we came to an awkward moment of mutual comprehension, I then pointed to the huge coldsore that had developed between my nose and upper lip. ‘Ahhhh… herpes’ he said. Yes, ahhhh herpes (the nether region problem wasn’t herpes by the way).

In a strange way I’m glad I got that coldsore at that stage of the trip. For over a month I had for some reason been obsessing over every minute detail of my face and worrying that it wasn’t good enough…. nothing like a huge disgusting herpetic blister to make you realise you’ve been taking your regular face for granted and as long as you don’t regularly go around repulsing people, things are looking up! I pushed a snickering El out of the Pharmacy and we walked back through the square.

We ran into Tough Girl with her huge backpack on the way back through the square and out of town. Of course, she wasn’t going in the same direction as us… she was heading towards the coastal route to lug her torturous backpack across soft sand for hundreds of kilometres… alone and with barely any waymarking. It didn’t seem right throughout the whole camino to add people on facebook… or even mention it at all. We just asked each other our names (I can’t remember hers), hugged, then she walked off into the fog. With her long hot legs. Damn her.

There’s not a lot I remember about the walk from Rates to Barcelos, I’m pretty sure this was the day that we ran into a random dog on a dirt road as we seemed to pass through the middle of someone’s farm. I had earlier remarked that the soundtrack to this trip would be the sound of barking dogs… but the dogs had always been safely behind fences until this one. As we pondered whether Portugal ‘had rabies’, the dog ran up to us and before we knew it we were getting licked and nuzzled against… we had made a friend! We named her (the teats gave it away), Sheila and she followed us down the road for about 200 metres. Then, tail wagging and a happy grin on her face, she stopped at some invisible olfactory boundary and watched us walk away. We felt like travellers in an epic fantasy novel who meet helpful characters along the way to fulfilling their quests. Or I did anyway.

I am quite sure this is the day that a man with a huge shotgun walked across the path in front of us… his house on one side of the track, thick forest on the other. We sort of awkwardly stopped in the middle of the road, waiting for him to cross in front of us and disappear into the trees. I don’t think he even looked at us… but it was a bit of a reality check that we were sort of in the middle of nowhere with no one else around.

We rolled into Barcelos very early – around 2pm. After walking across the pretty bridge and into the city, we were directed back across the bridge and to the firestation to ask about the albergue. A very strange and overtalkative man then arranged our stay in the lovely, clean and surprisingly uncrowded dorms right on the riverbank (we realised most people must have just pressed on to a town further along the way, or else they were staying in hotels that day). The remainder of our day and night involved avoiding crazy talking man, walking through the entire town twice to find earplugs, deciding we were getting fat despite walking so much every day, buying crackers and cold meats from a supermarket as well as a bottle of green wine, and sitting on the bank of the river looking out over beautiful Barcelos. A combination of exhaustion and slight drunkenness meant that we stayed up giggling in the common area, chatting to some guys from Germany. By the time El crept into the dorm and I went to the bathroom to brush my teeth, everyone else was fast asleep. I found a 6-pack of yoghurt that El had decided to store in a bathroom cupboard for some indecipherable reason, and returned to the room to whisper in genuine puzzlement – ‘Did you, like, store our yoghurt in the bathroom cupboard?’ We caught each other’s eye in the dark and fucking. lost. it. I had to crawl under the bed and try to smother myself as I cried and convulsed and hurt myself with laughter. After I finally recovered, I climbed into the top bunk, closed my eyes… and the albergue started shaking with the bass doofing from a party across the river. We lost it again.

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