Aug 5, 2009
|It was 5.50 am and the sounds of The Small Faces 1967 song Itchycoo Park gently increased in volume massaging me from dreamless sleep:
“Over bridge of sighs
To rest my eyes in shades of green
Under dreaming spires
To Itchycoo park, that's where I've been
What did you do there? I got high
What did you feel there? Well I cried
But why the tears there? Tell you why
It's all too beautiful, it's all too beautiful”
It was still dark and the floor boards creaked and the torrent of water flushing from the cistern seemed to echo through the tiny hotel. Fortuitously, we three companion couples were the only residents at the establishment and I reasoned that they needed to rise from their slumber too, so I spared no noise.
We stepped into the faint dawn just after 6 am, snuck our way down the short sidewalk and past the imposing church wall, through a small collection of modern abodes and headed west towards Logroño, our final destination for this walk. Other walkers, keen to avoid the scorching afternoons, were already afoot but my desire to move swiftly meant that I readily overtook many. The blisters were painful but bearable with rest stops once again being my undoing. Resuming one slow foot after the other following a pause of only a few short minutes created a picture of a very old man grimacing with every truncated step until, miraculously, after a 100 metres or so, the discomfort was pushed into the corners of my mind.
As the early pink sky pushed the greys away to reveal the azure day we walked through easy country often surrounded by vineyards and olive groves. By 8 am we approached our first village of the day, stopped at the very first merchant offering promising vitals from her stone encased store and greedily munched on fresh rolls filled with scrambled egg and bacon. My feet were inspected and more tape applied.
The rest of the day unfolded much as expected with the countryside similar to the previous two or three; rolling hills punctuated by hilltop towns, farms and occasional small plantings. The track varied from rocky to dusty to hard surface with barely a shady haven in sight except within a village. The heat sat vaguely at our shoulders mustering its might, ready to pounce and debilitate at any moment. By mid morning I succumbed to some analgesics provided by Pharmacist Bloss in consultation with Nurse Peggy, swallowing in the process a large portion of misplaced pride. Drug fuelled, I sped off just like a professional athlete only to find that within the hour I needed to increase that speed further to chase down Bloss for further chemical advice.
With 20 or so kilometres conquered we had entered the ‘badlands’. There was nothing pretty about this countryside with its scarred barren low hills and dead dry earth and unsympathetic paths. I was sure the badly blistered right foot was floating on liquid filled sponges each harbouring a thousand sharp knives.
Passing the sign indicating that we had entered the autonomous district of La Rioja, rightly famed for its wonderful red wines, we once again hit a paved path which not only sent stabbing darts into my feet but reflected the increasing heat in double dose. None of this discomfort would be of great concern if surrounded by wild country or if one was well removed from the trappings of the modern world, but the path was a near urban thoroughfare of no redeeming value. A pilgrim of old, of course, would have seen the value in their destination of Santiago de Compostela however, this was not our purpose; our purpose was to enjoy each day and as many moments within each of those days as possible. Unfortunately this section only offered such satisfaction in miserly measure.
Crossing the Puente de Hierro into old Logroño I felt a sense of relief. Fifteen minutes later we were sinking ice cold beers with our mates in a welcome café. Peggy-Ann, suffering from a dose of heatstroke, emptied the contents of her stomach into a plastic bag, then rallied quickly after the empathetic waitress promptly delivered her a soothing tea of some sort. It crossed my mind that I may not be able to get up and walk to the hotel but of course, 'medical supplies' have very useful therapeutic properties, so these false musings were just wasted energy.
It was the end of our time with Joe and Carol. We had shared fifteen excellent days of fun, discussions on the meaning of life, laughs, many satisfying meals, suspect yarns and much joy; there is always some melancholy in parting mixed with the anticipation of new directions. They were heading elsewhere on the morrow whereas we, together with Pete and Bloss, were continuing to Santiago de Compostela by road. There was no way I would miss St Jimmy’s resting place after his Camino had delivered such an affliction to my well used feet.
Hugs, smiles and kisses and then we were four.