We get a nice early start from Cizur Menor and we’re out the door by 7am. Masha has not forgiven us for failing to turn out the light sharply at 10pm, as she had demanded.
On the road, Masha passes us, but makes a wrong turn and ends up behind. Perhaps she is embarrassed and doesn’t want to see us again, but she strikes up a walking conversation with another pilgrim, not from out hostel, just behind us. Her voice is loud, and to escape it, we bust our butts to move a bit further ahead.
Not long into the morning, we reach the Alto de Perdon, the “mount of forgiveness” which hosts an impressive pilgrim monument composed of two-dimensional metal statues making a silhouette of a pilgrim procession. The view earned a place in the movie The Way, which is a common point of reference among English-speaking pilgrims, even though the less sentimental pilgrims (and there are a few of us!) tend to take a dim view of it. Appearing forty-eight minutes into the film’s run time, it marks about the 40 percent completion mark for Martin Sheen’s cinematic journey. But at km 81.5, we’re just over 10 percent of the way to Santiago (not to mention Finisterre, which is our ultimate goal).
Later in the morning, we see Anthony again, and he tells us he plans to go all the way to Estella by the end of the day. We wish him well. We also meet a Serbian, who has lived in California and has a son there, but says he moved back to Serbia after retiring because California is no place for an old man.
We stop at a town called Obanos, and eat lunch, purchased from a grocery store, in the shade of the church. We get peaches, a Twix bar (uneaten until the next morning), and sandwiches of cheese and really good jamon (31 euro a kilo, though we only get 4 slices). The Serbian joins us, and offers us olives, so we have a feast, all for 8-something euro. We walk through Puente La Reina, a Brierly stopping point, without spending much time there, just admiring the old bridge as we pass.
We make good time and stop, as planned, at 2pm, after 14.9 miles. In a sleepy town, which is described only as a as an old Templar town in our guidebook, called Maneru. I make for a hostel bar and we drink orange juice and water. I want to stay, and Dorcinda initially agrees, but then decides that the town is too boring and tries to convince me we should go for our stretch goal and walk another 1.6 miles to Ciraoqui, which is described as more charming in our guidebook, though it too only warrants a sentence. She fails to convince me. Its about the journey, not the destination, I say, and the journey, in this heat sounds horrific. My legs still hurt, despite help from the pole today. The afternoon sun is brutal.
The Serbian walks by, and I rush out after him to tell him we plan to stay here, rather than Ciraoqui, which is what we told him in Obanos. He doesn’t seem to care much, and says he plans to walk on the Ciraoqui, in the heat, and probably the next town after that. He is a fool, I think.
Dorcinda is still sulking when I return. After an hour of sitting around, I get impatient with her and surrender, walking to Ciraoqui to avoid a whole afternoon spent moping and brooding.
As I walked in the hot afternoon sun from Maneru to Ciraoqui, I considered the pros and cons of murdering Dorcinda. I recalled the legend of St. Felicia, and St Guillen, a brother and sister who traveled the Camino, which we have just learned about in Obanos.
According to the story, they were children of the powerful Duke of Aquitaine. Felicia went first, and, after her pilgrimage, renounced her wealth and position to live as a maidservant. Guillen tries to talk her out of it, reminder her she’s engaged to be married, and has her family’s honor to consider. But she refuses to return, and Guilllen, in a fit of rage, murders her. Then, overcome by guilt, he makes the pilgrimage himself, then renounces his title and dedicates his life, in a hermitage, to helping poor and the pilgrims. Obanos has a relic of Guillen’s skull, in a silver case, and had commemorated the legend with spectacular theatrical productions beginning in 1965. The costumes have become relics of a kind as well, and are preserved and occasionally displayed, from what we heard in town. I figure I’m already on the way to St. James, so if I murder her here, I think I have a pretty good shot at redemption, and working in a pilgrim hostel doesn’t sound like a bad way to spend the rest of my life. I put the odds of murder at about 50-50.
I move as fast as I can to get out of the brutal sun, for once leaving Dorcinda far behind. She catches up to say thank you, but I can barely grunt out a your welcome in response. I leave her behind again. My balls are chafing and it is a pain unlike any I’ve ever felt before. Sweat pours into my eyes.
We arrive at Ciroqui around 4, and it’s a reunion of sorts. Sydney, whose name is actually Anthony, is there, considering whether or not to stay. He thinks its too expensive, 11 euro a night and 11 euro dinner, so he moves on and tried out his tent, which he’s been toting and hasn’t used. The proprietor, a kind woman, suggests a nice spot by a river up ahead, sheltered in his bridge. He decamps.
We shower, and I almost cry from the pain and relief that comes as water washes my chafed balls. Wash our clothing in a basin and hang it out to dry. We buy two beers and an orange soda, and write in a covered alley that seems to be the waiting room of a doctor’s office, sunflower seeds littering the floor. It’s not exactly quiet – women from town walk by and say hello, and a car drives around blaring advertisements for a circus – but its fairly secluded and I make good progress.
Dorcinda finds out about a fountain in the day’s walk ahead that offers free wine, and we enthusiastically add it to our itinerary.
At dinner, we are seated by two Italian cyclists who have arrived late. The hostess is apologetic, which we don’t understand at first, but they are cartoonishly loud characters. Marco, high strung and grey haired with glasses, and Salvatore, a sunburned bear of a man. Marco asks, then takes out picture, but we foolishly decline to reciprocate, and have no visual momentos of them. Their accents are ridiculous, Marco’s piping voice would seem offensive if we had cast a non-italian to play him. They are larger than life and they joke constantly. The hostess asks if they are friends from Italy, or perhaps brothers, given their easy rapport. But no, they met yesterday on the road from St. Jean Pied de Port.
Dorcinda asks if they plan to go the whole way together, which strikes me as a partifcularly weighty question, given the pace at which we’ve picked up and dropped companions. They hesitate and Marco answers yes, all the way, they have a pact. Marco says we don’t look like brother and sister, and I try to make a joke, saying wait until her beard grows in, you’ll see it then. Marco laugsh and translates to Salvatore, who doesn’t speak English. Success! Marco says we must try pulpo gallego in Galicia, and we say we never grew up eating octopus, the first time was when I was 16 and our fisherman uncle caught one for dinner one day in Puerto Rico when we visted. It’s not that common in NY I say. Marco, seizes on that and says “ What?? You mean they are not crawling all around the streets, flopping around?” he laughs uproariously. Marco complains dramatically about the routes that Salvatore chooses – he is quiet, but apparently quiet ambitious on his bicycle. Marco waters down his wine, which he says is too strong. Salvatore makes sure Dorcinda eats first when food arrives, and when she clears her plate, threatens to tall the hostess that she hasn’t eaten anything at al. Again, when an extra dessert is brought out, he insists that she eat it, and she has to decline several times. Eventually Marco goes for it. After dinner, we talk about the heat of the day, and I ask the Italian word for lobster, pointing out Salvatore’s dramatic sunburn. Marco laughs and translates to Salvatore, who smiles.
My appreciation for the Italians dims a bit when, after dinner, they stop to argue right in the doorway of the hostel, forcing me and two Spanish women, walking behind them, to wait as they discuss at some length whether the bell in the church across the square will continue to ring all night long. Salvatore says it will, and Marco doesn’t believe it. The Spanish women and I exchange glances unsure of how to proceed. The Italians gesture so wildly that there’s no chance of sneaking past without getting backhanded, and they are so loud that getting their attention to interrupt them seems like a fools errand. They are totally unaware of the traffic jam they’ve caused. Eventually, running out of ways to say “yes” and “no” they move inside and we follow.
I sleep horribly. First someone (I later find out it is Salvatore) snores so loudly that my earplugs seem ridiculously inadequate. Second, the bells do, in fact, ring all night, on the hour, quarter hour, half hour, and three-quarter hour. The church is just across the way, so the bell comes into our room, clear as, well, a bell.
Later, we find out that other travelers regarded Salvatore as a kind of monster. The gay Canadian priest jokingly warns the ecumenical hostel where we stay the following night about him and tells them not to let him stay there. He says the Italian was rude, for not responded to his hello/hola, and for shuffling loudly in his bag after other had bedded down and for not turning the light out when he was done. An Englishman, Steve, said that the snoring was so loud that it shook not only the Italian’s bunk, but the one adjacent as well, which is quite a feat, since we had already been impressed by the sturdiness of the frames (after the creaky beds in the convent, we checked). Apparently, several people from our room, fleeing Salvatore’s snores, decided instead to sleep in the open air of the terrace above, despite subjecting themselves to even more direct noise from the church bells. Salvatore is their bugbear, their Russian. I get the sense that the next time they tell the story, the walls of the whole place will shake in rhythm with his breathing. Which seems like only a slight exaggeration.
The next morning when we leave, Marco reminds me, “Don’t forget the octopus!” I think to myself, Don’t forget the lobster.
There’s no breakfast there, and the self-service coffee machine is broken, so we leave uncaffeinated around 630 to 7. At the net town we meet the Scots woman from the convent, Eileen, and her new friend, an Australian pilot named Chris who had begun walking at 3am. And also Anthony again, who is pleased at his camping experience, calling it the best nights sleep he’s had. It seems to be a theme – an older american couple from California tell us the same thing – they stayed in the boring town we abandoned, the very place where we had orange juice, and had a wonderful nights sleep – there were just four people in a room meant for a dozen. I bite my tongue.