This is a funny one and please take it in the true spirit of A.A.Milne (the original author of the Winnie the Pooh stories, Disney did it later!) Many of you will know that in my family I’m known as Eeyore (the donkey) because of my tendency to take a morose view of things. I am definitely an Eeyore alonside thamitheen’s Tiggerish optimism! Well today I got another name.
The morning was taken up with getting certified (no, not sectioned: certificated, given credentials and ritually counted into this year’s 100,000 pilgrims). That was a strange affair: you queue up, yesterday when I found the office, which has moved since some guides were written, there was a queue of over a hundred people moving slowly so I was glad I could put it off. Even this morning at 10.00 the queue was in 10s and I found myself talking, in a mix of my very few words of German and their fairly few words of English, to two German women who had met on the road from Sarria. You go through to a line of desks with a flashing number system and of course I found myself with nice clerk who seemed to speak pretty much no English and to find my clumsy Spanish incomprehensible as I found myself in the odd situation of being able to work out what she was asking and even thinking I was answering it (how hard can “London” and “Bicicleta” be?) but it baffled her as did looking up the Latin for “Chris”. Yes, that’s not a misprint, the Latin:
I offered “Christopher” as she read out “Christina” (perhaps I should have gone a little bit trans, as many of you know, the idea of doing psychotherapy as a man has long intrigued me as a bit gender bending in our culture). If you look closely I’m now “Cristophorum Evans”, with no “Ch” but with a “ph”. Hm, was that just her miscopying? I wasn’t going to try to find out. I also got a second certificate in Spanish with the distance on it, I felt OK rounding up the Garmin total from 2,519.5km to 2,520km knowing some 10km at least didn’t get into the Garmin for one reason or another.
That actually produced some whistles and fun from the man next to her, who clearly spoke and understood English well, and from the man next to me who had walked from Saint Jean Pied de Port. He was from Slovenia, like so many people, about my age, and to my pleasure and surprise high fived me! Hm, thinking about age, I think there’s very much a bimodal age distribution: a lot of young uns: mostly very late teens and 20s with a few 30s, then a lot of “we oldies” in the 50-70 range I’d say. I confess to feeling bit choked walking out of there: such a bizarre experience and again, in those brief overlaps with the German women and the Slovene man, something touchingly simple, trusting, shared, in our brief conversations and heightened by the fact that we were all there because we had “done it”, and were all facing “what next?”
Then I was off, decamping from the one hotel, loading up Toto and getting him to the bike shop where he has even now had bits amputated and packed with the rest of him, and with some of my luggage, in a large cardboard box. And, if an Email from the shipping company is to be taken seriously, and I think it is, he is even now racing me back to the UK.
The older man in the bike shop spoke quite a lot of English and first came to London in 1973 and again about 10 years ago and we talked about getting more people on bikes and out of cars. He had a flyer on the notice board for just that with the slogan “global intentions, local action”. Yes!
We talked about my fantasy that I might one day to the Camino Norte along the Basque and Galician coast and he looked grim and said it was hilly and I asked if it could be worse than the climb from Saint Jean Pied de Port and the last four days and he agreed not as high but more like the last two days, lots of smaller ups and downs with no level stuff at all, at least, he had slipped back into Galego or Spanish and gestures for that bit but I’m pretty sure that was the message. At that point, when I was saying I’d found the recent hills tough he switched back to English and said “Yes, I had looked at your gears and thought you must be really strong!” (That’s a very polite bike person’s way of saying: “You’re bonkers and obviously don’t understand gearing but all power, literally, to your quads mate: you’ve made it.” Another of those funny moments of great amusement and almost tiggerish pleasure for me. Wasn’t there a bit in the Pooh stories where Eeyore gets complimented and doesn’t quite know how to eat it?!)
That left me needing a bag for my baggage so I would only pay one huge surcharge for hold luggage, not one ransom per pannier, so I legged it way up the bike shop road, past Bill & Ben on a balcony:
Hm. That did need a short telephoto lens really but I couldn’t pass without snapping it. That got me to a little Chinese run “we stock everything” store quite out of the run of every other shop I’d seen in Santiago. They indeed had a cheap sports bag so my remaining baggage, now minus the panniers which are sticking with Toto, can go in the plane hold tomorrow. The man in the bike shop had pointed me off to the “Chinese shop” and it was odd to find it, all other Santiago shops seem either quite confidently small and proudly Galician (as was the bike shop) or else expensive looking, large, international chains.
So there I was, lumbering back with this sports bag on my back wondering how walker pilgrims do it, when I was accosted by one. A woman a bit older than me with huge black Audrey Hepburn shades and a pilgrim’s staff and rucksack:
Oops, no, that’s not her, that’s Audrey Hepburn herself, except that I’m pretty sure that Ms Hepburn is deceased and actually that seems to be a cat. I digress.
I responded “Non hablo Español, lo siento. Inglese?” in my best, well, hm, let’s skip over, that, with my best intentions. At which the unrecognisable language that had clearly been about being lost turned into relieved and lightly accented Australian English and a request for the bus station. (Now remember, gentle reader, that I never did see that bus station the guide book had said I had to keep on my right as I came into Santiago: these things come back to bite us eh?) I said I didn’t know, but, rather against my base distrust of Google maps, whipped out my semi-smart ‘phone as she wanted to get the bus to Finisterre and I wasn’t going to let envy stop me helping such a good cause. Google maps, like me, didn’t seem to know of any bus station to keep on one’s right, but it helped us find her a nest of fairly promising looking bus stops and people. We talked as we walked. She’d had started in Sain Jean Pied de Port but had wisely taken the bus across much of the Meseta and, I think, some of the horrible hills of the last few days. She claimed that the temperature on the Meseta had reached 45°C. I’m not sure about that but maybe she’s right. She also said, and I think this had clearly hit her that “people had been going down like flies”. As far as I could tell she had walked alone and the last days had given her “shin splints” and she was clearly limping a bit and in pain but wonderfully determined and, like me, hugely pleased and proud to have done this and had such an experience. As we parted she dubbed me “a camino angel” which cracked me up but hey, I’ll take any names going really.