Hontanas ➡ Intero de la Vega ➡ Carrion de los Condes
Day 14, officially two weeks into our Camino journey, and I had spent most of it in pain. *Sigh.* Leaving Hontanas was no better. With a breakfast of ibuprofen we set off into the dark to beat the heat and arrive at our end town of Itero de la Vega before my ankle gave up on life. Cold and brisk getting lost first thing in the dark was not a great way to start the morning we had to backtrack around half a kilometre after missing an arrow veering off to the left. The road to Hontanas was rolling, not to steep, but my ankle protested none the less. As we walked into the month of October, the mornings were not only getting cooler, but the darkness hung around that little longer and our head torches were the only light to pick our way along with.
We reached the first town, and I slumped into an empty cafe chair, tears of frustration barely contained. I was sick of being in pain, sick of holding us up and scared and frustrated that I might not finish. I didn’t want to give up, not after walking on through my knee pain and making it here. I wanted to walk able bodied like everyone else, to carry my backpack and by a pilgrim. Feelings of inadequacy and failure overtook my thoughts. I didn’t want to bus ahead. Royce and I had discussed I might have to. We didn’t want to fall too far behind our schedule, and he reasoned a few days’ rest and my ankle might come right. I scrubbed away the dammed water from my face as Royce laid down a coffee in front of me and I downed more painkillers. I didn’t want to miss any part of the road; I wanted to see it all, anything else felt like a failure, but what could I do if I couldn’t walk?
Just outside town the trail got worse, a steep incline out of the basin we were in. I was still glassy eyed from pain and an argument erupted from Royce and I. He told me he could take my pack to ease my load on the uphill. I said I wanted to do it; I was delusional with frustration at myself. He was being logical; the fight in me drained away, I gave in and he took my pack on his front, carrying both bags up the steep slope. I felt unjustifiably humiliated. Why couldn’t I do it? Why couldn’t I just walk without pain!?
They say the meseta is a mental challenge, long open expanses of nothing but your thoughts. Many people skip this section if they don’t have time, it’s just open fields after all… But what you don’t understand how important that mental struggle is. It’s the time where you are sore and tired and only halfway. You have to look yourself in the metaphorical mirror and truly see yourself. I came face to face with my mental inadequacies, my self doubt, my anxiety, my self consciousness, the girl who just wanted to be big and strong and fix everything. It stripped away the facade I so often wear. This part of my journey through the barren landscape was learning I am strong despite these things, and I can’t fix everything, and neither should I try. It’s ok to stop, it’s ok to take a breather, it’s ok to ask for help, and it’s ok to accept help. Life will throw the weight of the world at you, but it does not mean you have to hold it alone. And if you ask, there is always someone who will help share the load with you.
I watched Royce bound up ahead, a man on a mission powering his way up the slope, while I struggled step after arduous step, leaning heavily on my walking polls to make it to the top. He looked back at me, the pain and frustration clear on my face, and refused to give my backpack back like he promised. I eventually relented yet again, the sane part of my mind knowing he was only trying to help. I took it back later that day; I didn’t want him injuring himself to help me. That didn’t make each kilometre any easier though, we pushed on slowly across the windswept plains.
Itero de la Vega was a tiny little blip of a town with barely a corner store, the municipal albergue was closed and the ones that were open didn’t have kitchens to cook our own meal. Which was a problem as I discovered the 50 euro note I thought I had in reserve hadn’t been reserved. Nobody in the small village took a card. We could thankfully borrow some cash from a Camino friend who we paid back the following day. It wasn’t a good day. That night as I climbed into my sleeping bag liner I prayed again for my pain to ease.
Despite knowing that I needed to rest, Inter de la vega was too small a town to stop in, no cash machine and no pharmacy. I sent my bag ahead 14 kilometres to Fromista. Half way to the end of the stage, we made the call if we wanted to go on further Royce would walk and I would taxi to Carrión de los Condes. I wasn’t thrilled with the idea, I really didn’t want to skip ahead. It felt like cheating.
The walk to Fromista was flat and cool. We came across arable fields and a big canal on our right that fed (and we guessed irrigated) the fields to our left using old open concrete drain lines. The canal held flood gates so each field could be fed independently. The canal also had a passenger barge that travelled up and down the river, and as we entered the outskirts of Fromista, we came across the small vessel and a dam that marked the end of the boats journey.
We found brunch in Fromista; A slice of Spanish tortilla, a snack common on the way and food we enjoyed a lot. I said my goodbyes to Royce and headed to the pharmacy; I purchased an ankle brace to match my knee brace and some homemade cream for the pain. I had been using voltaren gel, but was advised by the pharmacist that voltaren gel reacts with sunlight! And should only be applied if the area won’t be exposed to sunlight AT ALL. (We later met someone whose whole knee had swollen up for this reason!) He gave me a cream of the pharmacies own concoction of herbs with an arnica base.
The albergue where I had sent my backpack didn’t open its doors till after 1.30pm. Which at that point I found out that albergue’s don’t like you sending bags to them unless you plan to stay, so I had to pay 2 Euro just to pick my bag up off the floor! I then found some native Spanish speakers who helped me find a taxi and got in a car for the first time in weeks. Cars go fast! We drove along the road beside the path the pilgrims take and I watched as one after the other backpacks of every size, shape and colour swished past my window. The journey to Carrión de los Condes took 15mins and cost 25Euro. I booked myself into the municipal albergue; Albergue Parroquial de Santa Maria run by a small group of nuns. And sat down in the small welcome area under the stairs with a plate of complementary biscuits and juice laid out for incoming pilgrims.
I had arrived, but not the way I had wanted to. I didn’t feel so bad having watched the pilgrims along the road. I had missed nothing, and yet that feeling of failure sat like a heavy stone weight in my stomach as I elevated my ankle. I still hadn’t walked it all, sure I had seen it, but I hadn’t walked it. As much as I reasoned with myself that my actions had been for the best, for the benefit of the rest of the journey. That weight in my stomach just wouldn’t budge. If it means I can continue, I thought to myself, it will have to be worth it.
Royce made good time and arrived shortly after me, without anyone to slow him down, he had a chance to really push. He powered along and shaved half an hour off the expected journey. The end of another day. It disappointed me, I wished I hadn’t had to taxi, but I hoped after a rest day that it would benefit my ankle enough to carry on.
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