Chafing De Santiago - Part 1

My vertebrae pinches with piercing bouts of deep pain; my knees are adrift in a mess of ligament. Hobbit-foot bunions crunch and burn inside sweaty stained runners; they buckle together with my splinting shins beneath a 17kg pack strapped to the sweat of my back. Face skin scorches from the thirty degree Basque afternoon sun, as the hairs of my inner thigh and butt cheek grind on red raw skin, chafing wildly, like two hands warming furiously over a campfire, bolstered with the added friction of sweat and hair. Corns blister under ridges of both heels and make company with the growing pustules on my big toes and blisters on the edge of my pinkies. I stop to wipe the beads of sweat dripping across my faux aviator Ray Bans and for the first time in a long time I look up to the sun and curse the world.
‘Why in the name of Fuck am i doing this to myself?'
I mutter. I groan. I swear more and whimper. I am delirious. I feel muscles I didn’t know about. Crannies I didn’t know could produce bodily fluid. I felt like Scott of the Antarctic. Base camp too far away. Only 2km to go. I bit my lip. I ruffle the dust and mirk from my unshowered head. I tune out again and zone out into a world of meditative denial, hobbling up a hill to and from with legs wide apart like I have rickets, desperate to avert the very real possibility of developing bleeding, chafed thighs.

I blame all this on Brandon. Four days ago I was in Edinburgh, enjoying a comfortable existence at my canuck mate Pam’s apartment. Her mate Brandon rolled into town looking like a Dog’s breakfast, sporting the kinda mustache that made you instantly respect a man. His sunkissed and rugged demeanour suggested he’d been far, seen things and done stuff. We delved into conversation about his travels. He’d flown straight from Spain where he’d walked 790km across the Basque region from the French Pyrenees to the Western Coast of Spain – a famous pilgrimage called the Way of St James, or the ‘Camino De Santiago’. Back in the medieval day and beyond, it was believed that If you walked the entire length of this journey, mimicking the trail of St Jimmy, you would render your mandatory stint in purgatory void, affording your knackered soul a fast track to the great shiny staircase in order to hang with St Peter at the illuminated pearlies. Of course, this was if you happened to walk the trail on a holy year – for all other years your purgatorial quota would only be halved. It seemed like a good deal nonetheless, though I would later wonder how many pilgrims ironically fastracked the onset of their own passing as a result of thrusting their bodies through such a mammoth punishing.

Apparently this Camino was walked by 70,000 people a year, some who knock off the whole thing in one go, some who return each year to complete stages. Though it’s recommended that you take your time with the trek and allow yourself 6-odd weeks to get from one end to the other, Brandon managed to power through in just 26 days. Although the recommended maximum to carry on your back is 8kg, he did it with 24kg
I was soon to discover that Brandon was a certified lunatic and that my ailing body could not match the echelon of his madness.

I was spellbound by the glory and challenge around this mystical, enlightening journey and on a whim bought a cheap flight to Barcelona. The last time i was in Spain i received an offensive haricut that made me look like Forrest Gump. This time round i would be traipsing the better part of a country on foot like Forrest Gump. My sins would soon be forgiven forever. My body, never quite the same.

You know when you wake up after a couple of hour nap – you feel lethargic, rooted. Your body clock is smashed and the nap fails to quell your circadian basics. You feel heavy in the forehead. A little disoriented. And that might just be when you’re at home in your own bed. My head snapped foreward as a gruff, foreign voice sped through the p.a. I seemed to be on a bus. Where in God’s name was I?! Oh yeah. Spain. I’d caught a flight early that morning. Walked the streets of Barcelona like a wandering git, with a sack of personal effects unsuitable for long walks and barely vague knowledge of what the hell I was doing. I waited for hours at the Arc de Triomphe bus station. Bodies littered all over the shop, trying to catch desperate mid morning winks on concrete and plastic seats, under 1000 watt bus station lights. I watched as hours ticked on and the world of a new day slowly come to life. Excited and stimulated, tired but sparked. The excitement was severely deflated when I tried to buy a bus ticket to Pamplona. No seats left. No buses ‘til Monday night. I panicked as lethargy took over my logical mind. Foreign city, insecurity, no place to run. Shithouse grasp of the Spanish language. I worried about money, about my plans. Irrationalities and demons entered the mix and put me off track. What the hell was I going to do? My plans to get straight onto the Camino were in disarray. I regrouped stepped up to the mental plate, forcing logical thought, transforming the agitated pre-hysteria into constructive thinking. It would cost me more, but I took a punt and bought a ticket to Bilbao instead. From there I could get a bus to Pamplona, maybe even all the way to Roncevalles and start the walk the next morning.

So I woke on this goddam bus. Lunch break. I followed the heard into the bus shelter restaurante. Spanish life buzzed and screamed…marble benches lined with Spanish families, accents snipping and lisping, tanned heads sipping measures of Cerveza in front of plates of Chorizo and Tortilla Boccadillos. What a scene. What a shock to the senses! Shot all over the floor, wrappers and toothpicks and bottle tops. Jesus! But how riveting. My weary mind soon quelled it’s shock and regrouped with a Tortilla. At that moment it was clear that I was a long way from Edinburgh.

Fortune smiled on me as the day dissipated. I scored a connecting bus to Pamplona and found 20 Euro on the ground at Bilbao station. Though there were no buses from Pamplona to Roncevalles, two Spanish girls hovered at the desk desperate for a 3rd traveller to get in a taxi with them to Roncevalles. The price? 20 Euro. Something above seemed to be guiding me to my destination. Plonked randomly on a table with two Italian women and a French eccentric named Henri that evening, I dined over sparklingly bizarre conversation that was largely mime and partial primary school Italian. The four of us tucked into the free vino and everything seemed to make a lot more sense pissed despite none of us sharing a compatible native tongue.

I rose the next morning at dawn’s crack in a massive stone brick church-esque Albergue with 100 largely middle aged Spanish and Italian pilgrims. With the bunk beds clamped together, I literally did wake up at Dawn’s crack. I think she was French. Through fields and valleys I witnessed some of the most amazing scenes, the most alluring ridges and spurs coming down the end of the French Pyrenees, along through forests and clearings, hayfields and gravel tracks. Sun rose and I tuned in the Ipod. By chance, Lou Reed hit up the first tune…

“ Yes I am a nature’s son…and I’m the only one….i do what I want and I want what I see….it could only be me. Aiiiii’m so Free”

Lou’s words resonated. This was bloody amazing. was a free man! Free from the rut of my existence in comfort zones and boozy nights and debauchery. Free from sloth and breakfasts at the crack of noon. Free in the wild with nothing but my wits, my senses, my two legs to move me and my mind alight with the concoction of excitement and disbelief that I had so suddenly found myself in the deepest of Spanish countryside powering my being across the Camino De Santiago.

Morning became noon. I pushed myself through. Legs got sore. I kept walking. The back, the knees….they all began to feel it. I kept walking. I zoned out. Alone with my thoughts…alone with the thoughts of my favourite musicians. Sun began to sear and scorch. My back started to give in. When I finally arrived to Pamplona I knew I’d come a bloody long way. That’s when I looked up. I was starving. I hadn’t eaten for 8 hours. And Oh God, the chafing. Where do I sign to trade my half price Purgatory in for some thigh cream to ease the tenderness? Please Lord. Let’s make a deal. When I finally hobbled up that last hill to the Albergue hostel in Cizur Menor I realised that trundling 45km in one day is not only heavily unrecommended but might also be considered the action of a masochist. I have never relished so much in the everyday activity of sitting down. It was bliss. The most extreme elation. I’d conquered something massive. I reflected on the moments where I wanted to cry because due to pain so unbelievably intense that seemed to have truly no end in sight. I pushed myself beyond anything I’d ever done before. I sat and marvelled at my efforts. I ate dinner with a Lithuanian bloke named Ginteras. He didn’t like being called Gint.
It was the end of day one and I only just scraped by.

1 comment:

Tom said...

love it dool. great post.