When I opened my eyes the next morning, I felt a bit heavier from the sleep I’d gotten. While I know I’d woken up a few times due to the heat, it had been the sleep of the dead when I’d been out. And I’d purposefully slept later than normal, getting up at 8am rather than 7am.
What an odd difference that makes on the body.
As I used the toilets before going down the stairs for breakfast, the thought I’d had before I went to sleep about staying an extra day flitted through my head. An immediate ‘no’ resounded with a sigh. As much as I loved this house, I’d gotten what I needed and had to move on.
I went downstairs and saw that most of the people had already left. Only the lady from Germany who was ending her 12-week stint and Gabby, the other owner, were left, along with my spot to eat breakfast.
As I ate and slowly woke up for the day, the ladies asked how I was and if my feet felt better. They didn’t. I officially had a terrible blister between my large and second toe on my left foot. It hated to be touched. But I shrugged because this wasn’t news to anyone on the Camino.
I watched Gabby work around the kitchen. Yesterday, I’d noticed how at home she’d been. Now, I found myself admiring her as she moved with such purpose, even while thinking. She lifted a net lid over her fruit and chose the last pear and handed it to the other woman, telling her something in Dutch and handing her a peeler. While the pear was taken apart, Gabby deftly measured out ingredients from memory, which was then poured over the cut and peeled pear.
It was a chocolate cake.
In this small amount of time, I saw how grounded Gabby was. She wasn’t a large woman, by far, but you took notice of her form when she was in a room as her presence felt like that of a queen. She wasn’t afraid of who she was; she was at home in her body. And she had a twinkle of mischief in her eyes that just made me want to laugh and smile whenever I looked her in the face.
I wanted to be like her, instantly.
I had to move quick as Gabby needed to clean our beds, so I yanked my items from the wash line and went back to the attic to get myself situated. Unfortunately, my clothes were still mostly wet since I’d done them so late when I arrived.
Always up for new things, I went without my bra and in my walking t-shirt.
Katherine would have been so proud.
As I looked in the mirror, I realized that I had lost some weight. While obviously not intentional, I will tell you, if you’re looking to shed a few pounds and nothing seems to work, apparently wandering around in the mountains in the south of France for a few days helps. I recommend it, anyway.
I packed my items and got ready to go. Both ladies waited for me at the door, smiles of encouragement in my direction.
I hugged the German lady first.
“You go to Carjac?” she asked.
“Yes, I don’t think I’ll make it much further with how much I did yesterday,” I said with a small laugh.
“Maybe I see you there. That is where I will be later today when I’m dropped off.”
“Sure.” We hugged. “I hope you figure it out, what you need,” I said. “You’ve already come such a long way. It’s bound to come up soon.” I turned to Gabby. “Thank you so, so much for everything here at this house. It did me good in the small time I’ve been here.” I hugged her, feeling my eyes mist up yet again. When I pulled back, she was smiling with that twinkle, and she tutted.
“No need to cry,” she said.
“Oh, I know,” I said, taking the deep breath you take to ensure your tears won’t actually fall. “I do it because it helps me let go. I’m a crier.”
They watched me until I turned the corner, and then I was alone for the first time in days.
It was an odd feeling.
I thought of my companions over my time on the Camino.
Henry, and his way with singing so loud and without reserve, you’d never want another karaoke partner.
Xavier, full of positive energy.
Michel, curious about everything.
I missed Sergo, who always could make up anything on the spot, especially if I asked for something to be translated.
I wished Katherine had been there since we only seemed to be able to have half-conversations about life. She had so much more I wanted to hear and know.
And Ludo, who I think has a special kind of blood that is dedicated to helping anyone who needs it. Maybe he has some relatives from the knights of the round table or something.
And, now, it was me again, just as I’d been when I started. Me, myself, and I.
The first thing I thought about was Esther, and what she’d said to me the night before. New beginnings. She had been right on two separate accounts. All of the people I started out with were now either completely off of the trail or I wouldn’t see them for quite some time.
When I looked back at how I reacted the night before, I thought about how I’d felt. My heart hadn’t been broken, it hadn’t been heavy with sadness, I hadn’t been afraid… it was more as if I’d been crying to let go. So much had happened, particularly that day, and I just had to let it go.
And I thought about what it meant to ‘let it go’. It struck me that, perhaps, I was taking this statement as a bit too literal (my friend Tamu is currently nodding her head and saying, “You think?” — shut up, it takes me a while to realize this!). Letting it go doesn’t mean I’m forgetting the experience or saying it isn’t important enough. I usually associated this idea with a “Fuck It” method, where you perhaps do the most extreme thing you can think of, like jumping out of a plane.
It took me two weeks, but I was understanding that I tend to need time and distance to let it go, and that it was, indeed, possible.
With this thought, I felt a bit better about everything that had happened the day before. I’d see Ludo and Katherine again.
But now I had to get through the day with me and me alone. As I walked up hills and turned curves, I slightly expected to see someone I knew somewhere. But I didn’t run into anybody. It became odd to only have myself to talk to after so much time with other people. Even with Sergo, he and I would ebb and flow in our distance and conversation.
And I was tired. It is amazing how much more tired you get when you don’t have someone else to cheer you on.
As I was settling into being by myself, I realized that I’d not really been alone with my thoughts for a while. I wondered if I’d been a bit afraid to hear what I’d come up with.
The first thing that came into my head was from a psychic lady I’d seen a few years prior.
I’d held out my hand for a palm reading, and she took about thirty seconds to feel my deep creases before looking at me in the eyes to say, “Honey, you need to see that you can’t save everybody. I know you want to, but you’re hurting yourself in the process. Not everybody can be saved, and it isn’t your job to save them.”
I thought about the people I’d come into contact with.
I realized I’d been trying to save them all in some way.
I was a fucking lunatic.
We’re all on the trail, saving ourselves, being adults. What was I trying to do, putting my energy into something the Camino would eventually help them find? I shook my head. I didn’t regret anything I’d done, necessarily, but I certainly needed to put more focus on myself and just listening.
More things to figure out on how to do that properly.
It then came into my mind that I wouldn’t really be seeing anyone I’d previously seen, which meant that I’d be doing this all over again, continually, for the rest of my trip.
Oh my fucking gods, I had two months of meeting and opening up and letting go of the people I came across on the Camino.
What the fucking hell had I gotten myself into, I thought, shaking my head. I was the worst at this game, yet I’d signed up and said I’d participate. And I was stubborn as fuck to never give up. I looked up at the sky with no humor on my face, imagining whatever force was laughing at my realization laughing harder as I gave them the finger.
The heat started to come down again, and when I got in view of Carjac, I knew I had even further to go. Mostly because I was on top of a mountain, and I saw the path that descended like the fire-hail Moses set on Ramses.
With a heavier sigh, wondering how ten kilometers had taken it out of me already, I readied my knees and went down the path.
It sucked. I saw some people climbing up and didn’t envy them, although they didn’t seem to mind the trek.
About halfway down, a cave-like opening was on my right. I moved in to see what it was like.
It was like a cave.
When I got to the bottom of the mountain, my feet were angry again, scolding me with memories from the day before. The people had told me the next nine kilometers at the end were flat. They had lied. Profusely. And my feet didn’t like that I was trying to repeat that situation.
It was almost noon and I was hungry, so when I saw a menu at a gite, I stopped, even though I was only a kilometer or two from town. I asked for lemonade and got the next best thing–a Perrier with a lime I got to cut and juice into my drink. It was fucking delicious.
I hobbled my way into town thirty minutes and got confused by the signs as they didn’t want to actually go in to town. Figuring I’d just see what the Office of Tourism had to say, I walked that direction until I heard my name being called out. I turned to see the nice German lady from Volets Bleu waving her hands at me from the nearby bar.
I grinned and joined her at her table. I also ordered wine. Because, damn it all, wine.
She had forty minutes to spare before she got on a bus to another town, not back home. She had been so sure she was going to stop walking, but then as she was driven into town, she started to think she may walk again instead. It was such a close thought process to what I’d had that morning, I laughed.
“Enjoy a day or two off in the city,” I said. “Even if it means a little later than you thought, you may just see yourself back on The Way again.”
We parted a while later with another hug and I made my way to the tourism office, which wouldn’t be open for yet another hour. I knew I had to write because I was far behind with my notes and putting it all together to feel at least a bit intelligent.
By the time I was ready to post at least one, the internet had gone out and I realized that they only gave out free internet in thirty minute increments, wherein you had to wait two hours for your next increment. I used my phone to get some more internet time and saw I had an email from both Ludo and Kath. Ludo’s said not to worry and to keep up, Kath’s was an apologetic email from the day before when we’d lost her. I teased them both in replies as the door to the office opened so I could figure out where anything was in the city.
I got directions to the gite I planned on staying in, which ended up being decent enough. It was the first time I’d figured out a gite by myself. The man knew no English. I got through almost everything, except he had to ask a few more complicated questions. After a couple of minutes of us doing our best to figure out what was being said, he called to the rest of the room to see who knew English and French.
A young man was pushed forward. I was highly embarrassed as he translated between us as to whether I cared if I had a boy or girl roommate (the room held two beds, and it was possible one last pilgrim would come in), and the rest of the directions for my room (like pulling off the sheets the next day for easy clean up for him). Not that the questions were embarrassing, but that we couldn’t figure out enough between the two of us to add a third person.
When I got into the room, I opened my tablet to finish my post when that was when my Surface Pro 3 decided to upgrade to Windows 10, even though I didn’t have internet to connect to. I left to take a shower, and when I came back, a lot of what I had written was lost.
I spent the rest of the evening writing. It was nagging at me to get it all out, everything that had happened. To the point where I realized I was way past dinner time by the time I’d finished.
In France, everything but bars/restaurants close at 6pm. Dinner starts at 7pm.
It was almost 9:30pm.
Resigned to my dinnerless fate, I walked to the internet point and quickly got up two posts before calling Tamu since I hadn’t been able to talk to her since I’d left on the airplane for Scotland.
Hearing her voice was bliss. It was almost as if I’d expected it to have changed, as ridiculous as that sounds.
I spewed forth everything that had happened, as good friends do, the word vomit we get when we know we don’t have to have any filter.
“So, nothing like being a good hot mess in France,” I finished.
“Gods, you should just relieve that tension and have sex already.”
My laughter was abrupt.
“Yeah, because that’s why I left the states and got onto a spiritual journey walking trail–for sex!”
“Get it girl!”
“They do have condoms literally on every corner in proper towns. There will never be a time when France cannot have unsafe sex.”
“Um…maybe?” I kicked my feet on the ground.
“You know, I think everyone here is a bit too messed up right now at the beginning of this trail to really think about having sex. And the fact that there isn’t really a room alone to do it in. These gites be packed like sardines, yo.”
“Uh-huh. Get. It. Girl.”
“So, how was California?” I’m a master at changing the subject.
Turns out, while I was suffering through heat and blisters and my own mind, Tamu had been in what I decided was a Sex and the City situation. Except she was just an extra in the background while it all happened. There was a lot of laughter. And then the internet cut us off too early to properly finish the conversation as the thirty minutes were up.
It felt good to connect with a friend beyond the trek again, to talk to someone who already knew me. I thought about how, while I knew a lot of things about the people I’d trekked with, I couldn’t say I necessarily knew them. It was this odd feeling, knowing someone so fast and yet not really knowing where your boundaries were. Whereas I knew where my boundaries were with my close friends at home, not just because it was necessarily natural, but because of the amount of time involved.
I guess time really is the defining factor in relationships.
The next morning, stomach ready to devour the path itself to the food, I was a bit perkier to walk alone. I’d noticed I hadn’t sang on the trail the day before, the first time, and I didn’t like that. I had a lot more to ponder, and my conclusions from before were still new enough to need more confirming, but I wanted to sing again.
That’s when the Other American crossed my path.
Her name was Caitlyn, and she was from Portland, Oregon. She’d heard me talking from before and sat down to see how I’d heard about the trek and where I was headed to.
Let me just tell you, it is the oddest experience to be overseas where all you hear are foreign accents that by the time you hear your own accent, it is foreign to you.
She was a French teacher who spoke French with an American accent. It was a delight to hear her talk. This was her third time walking along the trail, the first being the full trek in Spain, and now she was doing parts of the French way as she could.
We parted saying we’d see each other on the trail at some point.
And we did.
Towards the last five kilometers or so, we ran into each other, me having somehow gotten ahead of her. We talked about the normal things you do as you walk, and she gave me some advice on train tickets if I needed to buy online since I hadn’t been able to before. It would be helpful for when my trek ended.
We were at our destination by lunch, so we stopped to eat before getting to a gite.
After we ordered food, we talked about France as she had lived here for a while before moving.
“You know, the funniest thing about the French is how much they talk about food,” she said, and I laughed in surprised because I’d thought it’d just been a Ludo thing. “It isn’t enough to just have food, but you have to talk about it all throughout the meal as well.”
“It is interesting, when I mentioned to friends about how easy it was to get in France over Scotland with my passport, one replied that the French were much more concerned about food than who came into their country. At first, I thought it was just a stereotype. Nope. Just how it is.”
“Yes, they will discuss food into oblivion.”
“Can I ask, is the Coca-cola thing a French thing, too? Because I feel like people talk about it here as if we’re in an American commercial or something. I honestly feel as if people are getting paid to talk about it.”
“Yes, it is loved over here.”
It was weird to have this discussion. There wasn’t a lag because we couldn’t figure out how to translate, and I didn’t have to worry about having too many intricate words come out of my mouth to explain something.
I suddenly got how Ludo felt when he got to speak French after taking care of two English speaking gals for two days.
I hadn’t made a reservation at the gite we stayed at, so when I arrived with Caitlyn, he was a bit hesitant, but not willing to throw me away. After about an hour, he had rearranged to have a couple in a big bed and I had a roommate named Iona.
There was internet, so I checked emails and Facebook. Kath was still behind me, but in Carjac, where I’d last been. I asked if she wanted to meet up in another area before Cahors. Ludo wasn’t telling me how his appointment went with the doctor, so when he made a lewd comment about the female doctor and his thought process, I said ‘adieu’ in a joking manner and promised not to bug him any further. I’d obviously been nagging him.
I practiced ukulele until dinner, learning a few new songs and debating if they were worth writing down to sing later.
Caitlyn sat next to me, but we didn’t talk much since she knew French so well. When the next course came out, I began hearing the words I’d been refreshing my memory about in my French app, about ducks and beef, and something about bread. I turned to Caitlyn, about to ask if they were saying what I thought they were, and she leaned over and said, “First, we talked about the wine, and now that the meat is served, we talk about what we’re eating and how good it is.”
I couldn’t stop from laughing.
When dinner was finally finished and I wondered about writing, one of the pilgrims at the table mentioned that Limegne-en-Quercy, the town we were staying in, had a yearly photo showing that was that night with live music. We all agreed to go together, and I was excited to see what the town had put together. I wasn’t sure what to expect.
It turned out to be a very moving piece. They had been doing it since 2010, La Nuit De La Photo, and it was people who would take a series of photos during an event of sorts. They’d be compiled like a gallery, then shown with live music for the town. It went from Je Suis Charlie to Je Suid Bardo to Haiti…
I cried, of course. There’s just something about seeing the photos of children from Africa learning how to load and shoot guns for militia that makes you wonder what kind of fucked up world we’re in.
It was beautiful, and at the end, they sang a song that everyone seemed to know since they were clapping and singing along.
By the time I got back to my room, it was almost 11pm. I checked my social networks real quick since it was almost the end of the day for my US of A friends, and a few messaged me quickly to give love and support, which always helped me along my way. I talked to a few who were finding so many similarities in what I was currently working on in myself, and to see my experiences meant it was helping them as well.
It is one of the first times to see how this ripple effect of my writing touching others.
One of my friends and I got to talking when she brought up a subject I thought I’d left behind before my trek. It got around new feelings and old issues. By the time we were done talking, it was almost 1am, and all I could think about was how things always come up when you need to deal with them. It had been a good conversation to have, and while it was now closed, I knew I’d have to have the extra time to really delve into whether I was through with the emotions and feelings as I thought I had been. Nothing had changed. But it had been hurtful to hear more about it on the home front, especially with already working on letting go of other fantastic relationships.
Letting go of the sour ones seems so much harder. Why is that? Why does negativity seem to devour our time and space? It can take such a hold of us when we’re so sure of ourselves and where we’re at. And why do we allow it, for that matter.
I promised myself to have a better answer beyond “That’s life” by the end of my trek. I hoped it was that, with time, you don’t allow it to anymore.
I got a normal start the next day, and I thought about how far I wanted to go. Kath hadn’t replied to my email, so I figured I’d just see how far I could go instead of waiting to hear an answer. If there was one thing I’d learned already, it was that everyone had their own way, and I didn’t want to instill on hers, as I’m sure she wouldn’t want to instill on mine.
I thought about relationships the whole way. Particularly one that I kept being hit at with over the head as I remembered details of things that should have been a dead giveaway to it not lasting as long as it did. Hindsight is always 20/20.
I should have been paying attention, speaking of hindsight. I was so lost in thought that I missed the town that carried a small grocery store, which I found out by passing through another town. I figured I’d find something along the path, and when I didn’t, I was by the next town, which were steadily getting further and further to get to, rather than the GR-65 route that is the Camino going straight through it.
I started to stop at gites early, thinking I could get lunch or at least a room for the night so I could wait for supper.
All of the gites were full I stopped at, and lunch wasn’t being served.
I kept walking.
After another gite being full in the last town before I was to be in Le Pech (nine kilometers away and supposedly one of the ending towns), I asked one of the ladies who had just gotten there (who had a reservation) if I could look at one of her guides that had more details about the gites around. She complied, then mentioned that there had been a group of German boys who had called everything around the area to find that everything was full for the night. They’d eventually called a cab to Cahors, which was another twenty kilometers from where I was, skipping Le Pech entirely.
I was worried whether I would get a gite in Le Pech.
I was worried I’d have to walk to Cahors.
And then none of the gites would be open.
I took my leave to walk another nine kilometers to take my chances at Le Pech, feeling good about my life choices thus far. Even if I was hungry beyond belief. The lady had mentioned something about turning back to try one last gite, but that would have been nine kilometers behind me. Better to just keep moving forward.
My feet didn’t struggle to remind me that I’d promised them a light day, and yet, here I was, slowly moving along the trail and wondering if I’d find something not too far from the path. All of the gites I was passing by where up to two and a half kilometers out of the way of the trail. I didn’t want to chance walking the whole way there to find them full.
This is what fucking happens when you decide to be cheap and not get a burner phone, I thought to myself. I had taken my first thirteen days with helpful French people for granted. I was getting the messages loud and clear for my new life lessons.
I heard huge crash, then another, what sounded like something running hard and fast, behind me to my left. I spun around, hands up, as if my Isshinryu training from a teenager would help me all alone in the middle of a trail that looked as if Wringwraiths were about to appear at any moment. With a twenty pound backpack on.
A deer shot out in front of me with another crash, scaring the shit out of me as it jumped across the trail into the bushes.
I stayed a beat longer to see if that meant a wolf were going to descend next, but whatever had scared the deer, and thus me, didn’t seem to think it was worth pursuing.
I kept walking, feeling like the startled deer and I had a lot more in common with each other today than I would normally think.
After about an hour, I saw a sign that showed Le Pech was .8 kilometers off of the path. Then, it was twelve to Cahors.
Sighing in defeat, I began to ascend the mountain to find a gite the sign promised was there.
Is this how the virgin Mary felt? I wondered. Going from gite to gite, asking for a place to stay? Hungry? Wondering how many critters would get you in the night if you had to use your sleeping bag on the cold ground?
I shuddered at the thought of spiders making their way into my bag as I slept.
I’d walk all the way to Cahors before I’d sleep like that. It was only 4:30pm, after all. I’d be exhausted, clearly in need of all life necessities by the time I’d walk another twelve kilometers, but I’d do it on the chance of not meeting a spider.
I shuffled into a gite area and saw a familiar face–Iona, my roommate from the night before. She was shocked to see me since I had said I wouldn’t go too far that day, but she nodded when I said everything had been booked.
“I don’t understand it,” I said, shaking my head. “How can everything be booked when I have barely seen a soul trek the Camino today?”
I came off with pure luck–they had one bed left.
Deciding I’d tempted fate, and my luck, enough, Iona allowed me to use her phone so I could find a place in Cahors the next day. Luck was in my favor again because I booked the last room at a hotel.
“Is this a problem to reserve for you?” someone asked me and Iona. “Since you know English but not French?”
“Yes,” Iona replied. “It is difficult because while I may know how to ask, I can’t always understand anything else they say.”
“And you?” They looked at me. “How do you reserve?”
“Oh,” I said, cheeks burning a bit. “I don’t. I just kind of…show up and beg.” Everyone laughed, and someone mentioned I should bring my ukulele to help with my pleading, which I found to be a fantastic idea.
“Yes, she has done this at least two other times,” another person of the gite I recognized said. “She did the same thing a couple of nights ago, asking nicely and pleading.”
I smiled, but I felt a fool, my face warm. I hated strolling up and making people work extra to help me.
I made a mental note for when I got internet next to look up specific phrases so I could write them down and practice. I felt okay asking to use another’s phone, but I wanted to reserve of my own accord. No more “What do we do with this chick?” moments.
I practiced my ukulele while people talked. I loved that they didn’t mind me plucking away. I wrote down some new songs I wanted to learn. I saw that there was a third installment of the Dexter series in English on the shelves, as well as Sword and Scimitar. I debated taking Sword and Scimitar, but didn’t on the principle of weight in my pack, and that I had enough stories around me as it was–I just had to ask the people around me.
Dinner had a ton of baked beans, which I couldn’t quite understand why they’d serve ten people this meal knowing they were later sharing a small dormitory.
We all talked about how much confidence we’d have by the end of our Way. Everyone was so impressed with my trek, but I kept telling them that we all were going a great distance. I said that I was certain that there was a way we’d walk after The Walk was complete.
The Walk After The Walk.
One of the french ladies from Paris said that she had a friend who did large distance in the northwest of France to Le Puy. When she got back, she did end up having a different stride, one of more confidence. So much so that another one of their friends, a singer and composer, made up a song called Chemin de Compostelle, which sounded an awful like Like A Virgin for the first lines.
It was a song that peacocks could strut their stuff to.