17.8.08

Chafe. The Climax.



Bolstered by the successful 34k frolic of yesterday and aided by the presence of a new team of pilgrim compatriots, I experienced the smug hope today that my days of vicious leg rubbing and unfathomable pain were well on the path to oblivion. It might just prove to be smooth sailing and joyous trekking from here on in. Ahh, the delusional rhetoric of an idealist.

Sleep was intermittent last night due to a grizzled Eastern European nugget who produced animal noise all afternoon and evening on the bottom bunk below Charlie’s bed. We later hypothesised that he was solely responsible for the drained red wine tap back at the Bodega, and must have sucked the old girl dry before floundering up the hill to an exigent Albergue pass-out prior to our arrival.

At crack o’clock the fabulous peregrino five hit the trail and burned at a steady 6km/h through magnificent, low-cutting vineyards of the famous Rioja wine region, past haystacks and tractors, and the sort of crossroads where Satan might hang out with ‘Hell’ brand chafe cream for the tender price of one’s knackered soul. Two days ago I would have considered the transaction. Today, however, legs, back and inner thighs all felt great. One thing I began to notice was a damp disturbance around the end of my left pinky toe. A pitstop at the following town revealed the worst - a gaping, red raw, pustulious gash of blister that from sight alone appeared to be doing my efforts very little justice. A tad disgruntled, I bit lips, joined the crew and soldiered on. A part of me had reconciled with adversity and was beginning to welcome the fresh pain. Call me a sadist.

I caught a fresh wind sometime later aibetted by some mighty conversation with Johan and Christy and sailed through the noon sun and steep gravelly inclines. Charlie, 46, fit and mad, went fully spare at one point and excused himself before bolting ahead like a lunatic into the far reaches of the distance. He made it to our main stop ‘Viana’ at least half an hour before the rest of us did. Johan foolishly kept walking a good k outside, heaving sweatily and suitably ‘pessed orf’ upon return, as any South African would be in his situation.

A drinks session was convened post-siesta with new faces to the crew were - two geezers that I would have a fair bit to do with in the coming days. Brothers from Stansted, Liam and Neil, proved to be extremely irreverent and highly entertaining sparks of English hilarity, duel-handedly fuelling the night from a few quiet cervezas into an convivial piss up. They told us about their first day of the Camino, where the two of them ended up getting wankered drunk and beating each other up in the street. I wondered how the relationship might be tested after an additional four weeks on the trail.

After copious examples of the local red, we remained late stayers until the wee hours, lapping up Thunderdome-era Tina Turner on the jukebox in the last waterhole open in town. It’s no surprise that sleep was even more destitute than the night prior, and this time I was the sole grizzled wino to blame.

A red wine sugar high managed to propel my exhausted and dishevelled carcass from bed into the Viana hinterland, smashing 10km in little over two hours. But at the town of Logrono I was hit by a wall. I hurt bad. I was hungover and in physical pain and the hideous blister on my violated pinky toe was yearning for that Luciferian crossroad in order to cut a deal. After ramming down a pastry and Spanish coffee I followed the crew’s motion and saddled up for more throbbing action. Something, though, told me I probably wouldn’t be making it much further than the outskirts of town. The left knee had shat itself; it was fed up, and it looked increasingly like Logrono was to be my bed for the night. Initial dismay from the team at their fresh casualty turned into good tidings and an invitation to rendezvous up north in Bilbao if I felt like burning some more ligament down the coastal route to Santiago. I expressed my best wishes and intent to keep it as a viable option. But my knee and subconscious knew otherwise. This tired, aching stiff was nigh on calling it a day. The knee was gone. My Pilgrim dream all but over.

Ravenous, and still very much hanging out of my ass, I took advantage of a supermercado that was actually open for business, and made a swift, robotic dietary purchase. It was a no bullshit meal bereft of nutrition. 1 x big fuckoff breadstick; 1 x tray of chorizo. I can’t deny I felt slightly ill after downing a whole 250g family lunch pack of chorizo sausage, if not a sense of colloquial pride, but I resolved that it was necessary under the exceptional circumstances.

With the reality of a subverted knee ligament, I came to a very natural conclusion that the Camino was over. It had been real - I’d learned what I needed, pushed myself well beyond anything I needed to and had nothing more to prove to myself, nor anything to prove to anyone else. I supped a snifter of the pilgrimage vintage and that was enough to whet my proclivity. Those other mad suckers could keep bloody walking. This pilgrim was cactus. No more masochistic lugging of an absurdly packed boulder on my ailing back; no more perilous bastardry of my tender thighs. I felt a new optimism. The madness was over.

After lining up at the closest Albergue with the standard array of oddballs, I noticed two familiar faces lumber in at the end of the line. It was Liam and Neil, my UK pals and Tina Turner aficionados from last night. Thrilled to see that I was still nearby and not four towns ahead with the others, we agreed to convene for another night on the town post-siesta.

It was a grande night.
The opening of the Olympics, a happening social vibe in the cobblestoned streets, and no shortage of licentious options. After a fat meal of lunch, the Spanish like to sleep in the arvo before waking up around 8pm and hitting the old quarter of town – crawling through a bevvy of assorted bars, each with their own tapas and vino specialty, and pigging out on sumptuous morsels of food and hodgepodge of piss to wash it down. It’s not a bad existence. Neil and Liam, never shy of a convivial tipple, provided solid support tonight in painting the town chafe red. Bar after bar, we ate the most amazing skewers of spiced pork, shells of scallop, black Spanish sausage, chorizo pockets, washing it all down with crisp glasses of cerveza and local vintage red.
We were pigs in shit.

Thanks to Neil and Liam’s pidgon Spanish we forged a number of new acquaintences, including budding red-painters, the Quebeqoise femininas Virginie and ‘Madamoiselle’ (can’t for the life of me remember her name), who joined us for the evening long haul. At one point a mashed old Spaniard attempted to initiate fisticuffs with Liam, mumbling something about always wanting to punch an English pigdog in the kisser. I relished in breaking it up, showering the glazy none-the-wiser Spaniard with some of my more colourful vocabulary, plum to his face, with a grin eminently disproportionate to the calibre of tidings expounded from within it. At the next bar we were informed sternly by the manager that if we didn’t promptly finish our drinks and vamoose we would be kicked out to the street. As staff members cleaning up outside confided to us that their boss was a colossal prick, Liam, manly in Virginie’s frilly sunhat, staged a monumental slapstick protest to the manager’s burly truculence. After copying the manager’s motion in kicking a disused winebox, Liam slipped plum on his ass into a large pile of swept rubbish, before trying to save face by pouring a bin full of the night's trash over it. A display as spontaneous as it was bizarre, it made the cleaning staff’s night, and at least gave the dense manager something to think about. Words give but a fleeting insight into the comic resplendence of this Abbot and Costello calibre scene. Complaints and anger have their place, but acts of sheer randomness and self-violation really get the adversary's head ticking over.

With enough shenanigans to pack into a 17-kilogram sack, a heavily inebriated Liam insisted on walking the girls 20 minutes away to their camp site. Neil and I stumbled back to the Albergue and were somewhat horrified to see that both front and back gates were locked solid. This was not good. After banging like madmen on the wooden doors and ringing the bell excessively for a solid minute, the very disgruntled old Spanish bloke running the shop opened up, sputtering gibberish and displeasure. Neil, fluent in Italian but not Spanish - also heavily inebriated, attempted to negotiate a re-entry into our accommodation. No cigar. He didn’t believe we were pilgrims at all. As the old git attempted to close the door on us, I stuck my foot in and demanded that we at least be able to get our stuff from upstairs. Now it was beginning to look like forced entry, as an aging Albergue owner jousted with an unruly Australian ex-pilgrim desperately trying to get to a bed. The police were called and the comedy of errors continued. Neil, in fine form, negotiated some leeway, claiming we were Catholic brothers from Ireland, accusing the policemen and the Albergue bigot of religious persecution. “Its enough that we deal with our hardship and persecution back home…but not in Spain, not in Spain!”. He would later berate the owner at not being of Catholic persuasion, taunting him with the impending reality of two years in purgatory. With Neil doing the talking, I was relegated to a role of desperate gesturing, and anything that might prevent us from being locked up. After threatening to abate Neil of his teeth, the officers ruled that we were allowed to re-enter the Albergue, on the proviso that we got the hell out of there by eight the next morning and never came back. Otherwise, handcuffs. Or, as it were, fisticuffs.

Morning came. In a blink, my bunk was being shaken by our mate Adolf Albergue. It was ten minutes to eight and, recalling the threat of the local constabulary, I decided it was in my best interests to get out of there and fast. I wasn’t up for a night in the local pen. Not with Neil doing the negotating. Plus I’d since booked a flight to Dublin and had to get up to Bilbao. I shook Neil a couple of times but the bastard was out cold. He wasn’t getting up for anyone. And Liam was nowhere to be seen. Shrugging my shoulders I saddled up and hobbled out of the god forsaken Albergue, giving my regards to the owner with my customary misleading grin.

It was the night to end all Caminos. I’d done what I came to do. Which, ultimately, was never completely defined. But whatever it was, I did it. So, I may not have traipsed the entire 790km of the Camino de Santiago. But I walked like the wind. I sang like the bush. I trundled like the invisible horseman. I went hard and did it in style. Nearly got arrested. My El Guapo was as good as conquered.

A valiant return to Dublin was in order. Plus, i'd scored a sweet and lucrative writing gig there, with the added fortune of free, luxurious accomodation. As Duck Dunne of the Blues Brothers band once declared, "If the shirt fits...wear it"

As the sun began to rise, I placed my hands on hips, twisted my head and thrust my crotch skyward. This amigo had done his dash, done it in style, keen to let El Sol set over yet another wild, of not ambitiously random adventure.



Prologue
Still mid-trek across the far reaches of the Camino, I would later receive word from the Stansted brothers…

From Liam
neil punched in the face by the police, am sure he´ll explain.
locked out the hostel slept in an abandoned house, awoken by a rat crawling across my face. found neil in the town plaza asleep.
oh well, was a good one. let us know if you head to london and we´ll rock it out.

good luck in dublin.

From Neil
Hey Cam,
Beaten up by the police the next day. Hope Dublin is treating you well. We have relaxed a bit since then, money has not lasted. Liam slept out, lost most of his stuff.
Let us know when you get to London.
Bye for now.

1 comment:

Lucas said...

Awesome.