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Okay, no need to panic! Gábor is old enough to look after himself. The other Hungarians have disappeared too. Gergő remembers them talking about getting an early start, so it’s more than likely Gábor has gone off with them. The chances are they’ll be waiting for us at the next refugio but we’re annoyed that Gábor has done this without telling us. After breakfast the four of us get on our way.
We see a sign announcing that we’ve entered Galicia and that means we’re only a few days from our destination - Santiago de Compostela. This area seems poorer than other provinces we’ve travelled through: some houses are in disrepair. Most of the rural people make their living out of breeding cattle.
Walking through a small village, I stop to drink from the fountain. The water is cool and very refreshing. As we move on we see an old woman lead her cows to drink at the same fountain. Cows have a nasty habit of emptying their bowels wherever they are and that’s exactly what this animal does. As we hit the road I wonder if it was wise to drink that water.
A NIGHT ON THE TILES
Soon we arrive in O Cebreiro which has a completely different character from anything we've seen before. There are no houses but huts and there's not a single building you'd call conventional. There's something else which strikes us: nowhere else did we see this many people. There are pilgrims now in great numbers.
I’d read that none of the refuges in Galicia charge because the community supports the pilgrimage and so we had high expectations. When we enter the refuge, the hospitalera tells us that many, many pilgrims start their journey here and because of this there are no available beds. Worse - he says the same is true in the next two refuges along the route. I feel like screaming: we've travelled the camino for 600 kilometres, and Galicia greets us this way. In the end we’re allowed to sleep on the floor which is very hard and in the morning I wake with a serious backache.
What is even more annoying is that there’s no sign of Gábor or the other Hungarians and no-one has news of them. Will we ever see him again? Csaba - always the logical one - asks who has the key for the car. I recall that Gábor has it. Oooopps! If we don’t find him, we’re stuck!! So what do we do now? I try to text him but my phone is out of juice. If we come across someone we know with a functioning mobile phone we’ll ask them to send Gábor a text asking him to let us know he’s safe.
SIGNS NEVER LIE
The next major stop is Triacastela and there are traffic signs showing the distance. I suspect they made too many signs with the same information because, although we've been walking for at least 2 hours, the distance to Triacastela is always 17 kilometres. It’s not until we can actually see the town that the signs change and tell the truth.
THE NEWBIES ARE HOSTILE
We set foot in Triacastela at about 2 o'clock, but there's already a big queue in front of the auberge. Those who have just started the camino in O Cebreiro are somewhat hostile: they're still used to comfort and don't want to give it up. We have a little dispute with a group who jump the queue but then we realise that they won't have beds either. In fact, none of us get beds here - we’re all turned away because the place is full.
From Triacastela, you can choose where to go: to San Xil which is closer or to Samos where there's a monastery. The two routes meet again in Sarria. It's not easy to outwit the other pilgrims but we decide to go to Samos. The route there shows us beautiful scenery, but it’s a tough walk - up hill and down dale all the way.
FLOORS BUT NO DOORS
Finally, we descend to Samos which is very tranquil. Soon we reach the wonderful ancient monastery which is also the refuge. It's full!
We're told to find the sports hall and when we get there we realise that it's one of the worst accommodations. There are no separated showers, and what's even worse, the toilets - meant both for men and women - don't have doors!
Andi and Gergő and I are very tired, and Csaba can barely keep his eyes open as we eat dinner. We meet two Norwegian girls who, like most pilgrims, are really astonished when they hear we started off in St. Jean-Pied-de-Port. We also meet up again with Rafael, a cyclist from Córdoba, who wants to ride his bike to Iceland next year. He generously offers to send a text message to Gábor for us but it’s not entirely certain that the message has been received.
IT’S ENOUGH TO BE ON YOUR WAY
We go to a local bar and sit outside for at least an hour talking and enjoying ourselves. The street has an air of tranquillity. As the sun goes down, the people in the town tell a wonderful story of humanity as they go quietly about their business. I feel inexplicably at peace and happy and unruffled. I feel I could walk everyday for the rest of my life. Walking is the right pace for human beings, not rushing, not racing, not running.
WAS WALKING - NOW RUNNING
Peacefully, we walk back to the sports hall, and zip our sleeping bags. In the middle of the night I awake with a feeling of discomfort and have to run to the toilet. It's very humiliating to have diarrhoea on a toilet without a door but right now I don’t have time to worry about it because I have to throw up. I go back to my sleeping bag, but after less than an hour this fit repeats, all in all, four times. It's an infection. I think the cows at that drinking fountain are to blame. Their excrement might have leaked into the drinking water. Or was it the ‘Not Drinking Water’ I drank at the petrol station?
GRATUITOUS ACTS OF KINDNESS
Sarria is a nice town but I feel dreadful. Most Spaniards are very friendly to pilgrims but because there are so many pilgrims around, they don't know what to say, so they say nothing but commonplaces like 'Hay mucho calor' - It's very hot. They tend to blame everything on the weather.
I only want juice and grapefruit, nothing else to eat, because my stomach is bad. In the supermarket, I have a fit again, and desperately, with my head turning red, I ask the saleswoman to let me go to the toilet because I ... oh, I don't know the Spanish word for nausea ... I am ill. But what if she says no? In Hungary not many shopkeepers would allow me to use their property like this.
Luckily, she takes pity on me and tells me to follow her. We go up a stairway, slow-paced. Endless seconds! I’m really desperate... and then there’s the toilet! Bliss! She tells me that she'll wait for me outside. I dash in, do what I have to do and then come out. “Is it better now?” she asks. “Yes, much better” I say. “It's very hot” she says. I don't have any problem with the heat, only with the infection but after a few seconds of inner struggle I reply, smiling and grateful to her: “Yes, it is.”
A FRIENDLY TIP:
Please let me give you a friendly tip: if a sign says “Not Drinking Water” it probably means exactly that.
Genuinely, I feel much better. I can go on walking. I will survive. In silent meditation I think about generosity. It seems to me that it’s a good idea to look after each other - even people you don’t know well. It usually doesn’t cost anything.
From Sarria, we go to Barbadelo where Csaba treats me to a good tea. The refuge here is also full, but we are beyond caring! These days, we don't even expect to sleep under a roof. If someone said we must sleep up a tree or suspended from a clothesline I’d simply nod and do it. All I need is air to breathe, some food and water and the occasional pair of clean socks and I’m happy! Add to that the freedom to think and speak my mind and I’m in Elysium. I have changed or to be strictly accurate - I’m in the process of changing. Maybe existence is an endless round of dying and becoming new again.
What do you need to make you happy?