For Valerie’s birthday, Kath and I wanted to plan something fun. I went hunting for candles in the grocery outside our gite, while Katherine searched for champagne. After much discussion and worry of whether we’d have enough to share with everyone, we ended up buying three bottles of champagne and an extra bottle of wine.
You know. To be safe.
It turned out, at first, to be a good decision. When we arrived, not only was Lukas waiting for us, but also Raffael, Renilde, Remi, the other Rafael (apparently, we pick up a lot of people with ‘R’ names), and a slew of other guests.
What we hadn’t planned on was Lukas having bought a bottle of gin as well as tonic to go along with it.
Needless to say, the evening ended up being absolutely lovely. Remi knew how to play the ukulele, so we swapped playing after I begged him to let me rest. He left for a while and came back with a guitar that the owner had laying around, and thus we tossed songs back and forth as the crowd drank, sang along, or just plain enjoyed the atmosphere.
As I was beginning to grow tired (and out of songs to play), Remi asked if I could play Hallelujah on the uke while we sang together. It sounded so perfect and sweet, I couldn’t resist giving him a hug and kiss on the cheek before we departed to bed.
Later, Valerie saw my interest and asked whether I could ever like such a guy, to which I replied, “Absolutely. He was cute, creative, and seemed up for anything. Except for that damn language barrier.”
By the next morning, I’d swapped emails with Remi, both of us hopeful to see each other in Spain.
Kath and I had been wary of Renilde that night. I hadn’t been expecting to see her again, and it was still raw with Ludo having left. I could tell Kath had completely blamed her for the changes in Ludo, which just led down a domino effect that we were now dealing in the aftermath. I had to agree in a sense. The group had definitely gone from a friendly, joking atmosphere to that of an awkward sexual energy.
At least, for me it was. While well aware of adorable, musically-inclined Frenchmen, sex wasn’t at the forefront of my mind while walking the Camino.
Valerie admitted that Renilde had seemed to change from our last meeting as well, but she pointed out that she thought it was because Renilde was trying to prove something to Kath and I, that she was a strong female, too. Kath and I could be considered World Travelers with no fear or worry, and it could be considered rather intimidating, she thought. I tried understanding that thought process and couldn’t fully make it. I’ve never fully understood how women get when they are jealous, making a situation a competition due to it. It didn’t seem healthy, and it seemed rather energy sucking in comparison to having a good time and relaxing.
I’m unsure if I do this or not, but the idea has caused me to be much more aware of my own actions in case I ever did.
When we awoke, Valerie was thirty-four years old.
Ludo had texted Valerie ‘Happy Birthday’, which I was happy he’d done, but also found myself being irked with. He was messaging Katherine and Lukas at that point, had had lunch with Renilde the day prior, and now he was texting Valerie…but he didn’t seem to think it was important to contact me at all. I was feeling hurt at having such a reaction to his leaving as he did, and then being forgotten about when it came to keeping in contact otherwise.
What kind of friendship did we really have?
The gite owner put the candles I’d bought on a piece of bread. Lit, he brought them over as the whole breakfast table sang Happy Birthday. She blew them out with a smile on her face.
Then, we cracked open a bottle of champagne and drank to her health.
It was only after we’d barely managed to finish off that bottle that we realized we still had two more to go. And a bottle of wine.
If you aren’t aware of what a difference a kilo can make in the backpack you carry for thirty kilometers, let me tell you right now — it fucking suuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuucks.
After ten kilometers, we stopped for lunch and opened a bottle to drink and share with passersby. It ended with me having a fourth of the bottle left to carry, which I left at a pilgrim station because I was suddenly sick of champagne.
The four of us meandered, knowing we weren’t going as far as the rest of those who left the gite that morning. Valerie had a way of with picking the most beautiful and welcoming gites, so she’d made reservations for us as a last goodbye–she was supposed to end her trip on her birthday, meeting up with her friends at a beach for a relaxing trip after walking for three weeks, then going back to her humdrum life as a teacher. By the time we made it to the gite, we were tired, but amazed by what we saw.
It was a small paradise: a pool, grape vines, apple trees, peach trees, plum trees, a large hill for a landscape view, and even a small shop in their home so we could buy lunch or dinner to make. It was fabulous, to the point where I quickly said I’d be taking a rest day to catch up on writing, although I really just wanted to laze at the poolside with little to no worry. Kath agreed.
Valerie’s goodbye was quick. We had all been debating as to whether she would stay an extra night, but the timing of the buses was too perfect, and we found ourselves sitting in a circle, beers in hands, awkwardly clearing our throats.
Of course, I made it an emotional event, causing a fuss as I gave cheers to the woman that Valerie is.
I told of my enjoyment at Valerie’s way of being in touch and comfortable with her body. How she wasn’t ashamed of her luxurious curves, to be naked in any sense. It wasn’t meant in a sexual sense, but that she was just at home in her shell. A factual thing that she was a woman.
Kath said it was similar, and loved how wise Valerie was.
Lukas barely said anything and just drank. I could tell he was struggling to keep what he considered his masculinity in tact rather than becoming sensitive or emotional over our parting.
Not wanting to be taking all of the attention, Valerie went around to give us compliments as well, getting me all teary-eyed. By the time we were done, she had to give us the quickest of hugs as the van taking her to the bus was ready to leave. It was perfect timing, the ripping off of the band-aid.
The three of us left then took our separate ways at the gite. Kath and I swam for a bit, taking the heat off of our skin. Lukas lay in the shade, presumably sleeping.
I shuffled around the property, finding a bamboo patch with a hole in the side. When I made my way through the nook, I saw that it was a ring of bamboo that surrounded a dirt patch, a slab of stone in the middle with a large disgusting spider on a web protecting it. With a huge “NOPE”, I turned the other way and left it be, shuddering and pretending that I’d never seen what my mind thought I’d seen–a sacrificial area for some sort of crazy god the gite owners worshiped.
I didn’t want to question our little gite of paradise.
Lukas and I cracked open the bottle of wine that I’d made him carry after halfway through our walk that early afternoon. Our supper was a feast of cheese, meat, and bread. Kath announced that she was quitting smoking and drinking from that day forth, to which he and I raised our glasses. My parents had quit smoking a while ago, and it had been a tough process. To quit smoking and drinking wouldn’t be fun.
We played Bullshit, taking out some random cards to make the process tougher between the three of us. When we saw the sun was setting, we raced up the hill to catch the view, contemplating the last few days.
Kath was still very interested in staying in contact with Ludo while I continued to struggle with my irritation at his ignoring me. I was really beginning to feel like chopped liver, the moldy kind that not even those who liked chopped liver would want. I kept wondering if he’d ever thought of me, the girl he’d first met when we started the walk together all those weeks ago, when we’d started in Le Puy. I couldn’t fathom the mindset he had after what we’d accomplished thus far, and I was getting tired of the constant chatter surrounding someone who, yet again in my life, decided I was an afterthought (if that).
How did I keep managing to gather these people in my life, the ones who I would be there for and help, but whenever I needed something in return, they’d avoid me or show me that the friendship wasn’t quite what I thought it was. Did I just hope that by showing them love and acceptance, they’d automatically give it back? Was I setting myself up consistently because I gave this love in an assumption that it would be given back, unrealized expectations?
We went to bed late. I’d forgotten that Lukas had asked me to write a post for his own blog, Luke’s Letters. I quickly summed up a decent meeting experience with him, which you can find here. Lukas is walking for charity, so I was more than happy to oblige, plug my own blog, and take a chance to poke fun at him. Especially since I knew his walking and writing was becoming a strain for him.
The next morning, I was shocked to find Lukas still around at 8am, eating breakfast and slowly making his way out the door–mainly because he claimed he would be walking the 40k to St. John Pied de Port. I watched him pack his bags while I wrote my blog, raising my brows in the way my friends know I do as he finally said his goodbyes around 10am. Kath and I were snuggled on the couch, me writing, her reading, and we didn’t get up as we gave him high fives.
We’d see him again.
After writing for a bit, I decided to enjoy the late morning by getting into my proclaimed swimming shirt and underwear, then laying in the sun with peaches, grapes, and the rest of the bottle of wine. I lazed for a couple of hours, for once not feeling like a pilgrim, and as if I had to walk in order to feel fulfilled.
It was quite the life.
When I was done, thinking of lunch, Katherine spoke again about Ludo, but I expressed a small amount of my exasperation on the subject. I was tired of the same conversation over and over again, but I also wanted her to see that I wasn’t okay with each passing day how I was not being treated as a friend in this situation.
When I came back from another writing binge outside, Kath had called Ludo. He had told her that, if she asked him to, he would stay the extra two days it would take us to get to St. Jean. I gave a rather heavy sigh; I struggled to keep anger out of my face. After the weeks we’d traveled together, she noticed.
“Yes. I’m angry he seems to not really be thinking about this, that he is in contact with everyone but me.”
“The thing is, I don’t think he understand that,” she said. “I don’t think he gets relationships at all. All he knows is that you are this American who is a bundle of warm emotions that comes to you with ease, asking other people to share these feelings. He doesn’t get that, doesn’t understand any of it.”
“I just expect too much,” I said. “I think I just give and expect something back after a certain amount of time, and I thought I was getting it when I really wasn’t at all.”
“I didn’t ever expect anything from Ludo,” Katherine admitted. “I wanted to give him an unconditional love that he obviously needed, but I didn’t expect anything in return because I knew he could never give it in the end, you know? He doesn’t get it. And maybe that is why it hurts you more than it does me.”
“Yeah, I guess.” I could feel the irritation I had toward him and myself.
“What is it about this that is so hard for you?” she asked. We’d already expressed our irritation at him making this our decision rather than him saying he’d stay and wait. He couldn’t seem to ever make a choice for himself, rather wanting everyone else around him to take the reigns. “Why is this an issue?”
“Because,” I said, finally getting to the truth of my matter, hands in hair, eyes tearing. “I don’t want to go home and have people say ‘what did you learn while walking the Camino?’ and me say, ‘I don’t know, I was too busy taking care of somebody else’.”
There was silence as this sunk in for both of us. There was a moment of fear for me, thinking she’d find me the selfish person I felt I was for even thinking of putting myself first. I kept thinking, over and over, about the lady from Norway, who had someone tell her, “The Camino is for you and you alone. Don’t allow anyone to ruin your Camino.”
I was worried Ludo was overrunning my Camino. That it would forever be about his issues with no time to figure out my own.
“All my life,” I said, careful, “I have catered. I’ve been patient, I’ve been helpful, I’ve been a friend, to the expense of myself. These past two years, I’ve been working on allowing me to come first. This walk was a gift to myself, to allow myself to be me, to show me I was worth the attention I gave others.”
“And it should be,” Kath agreed. I nodded, holding my knees to myself. I drew a shuddering breath at wiped at my face. After a moment, she continued. “It’s such a great quality, what you have, giving so much. It really is. I don’t think I’ve ever met someone quite like you.” She paused again. “It’s not that you should change yourself, but…” Another pause. “When I think of myself, who I am, deep inside, I imagine me inside, like, a snow globe. It is like a defense against the world. Very, very few are allowed in that snow globe. I can still shower love and show affection, sprinkle it around to those nearby, but…” She sighed. “I don’t think you should change, it is such a wonderful gift to show such love to everyone who crosses your path. It just really does set you up for disappointments and a lot of hurt.”
“It really does,” I said bitterly. “I always know it does. I just always end up being the bad guy when I finally choose me.”
“And you aren’t. That’s why I have the snow globe, that bit of defense. It helps to stop that hurt. Again, I didn’t expect anything from Ludo. He’s just too messed up, you know? He’s not in that snow globe.”
I contemplated her words and didn’t like them. What she was saying felt like a regression, the opposite of what I had been working toward, which was allowing my heart to be open and free, including everyone in the love. I wanted my old self back, the one before the world knocked me off my feet.
But I saw that she was right. Knowing myself, truly, I needed some sort of defense, or a way of giving this love without that constant hurt when I didn’t get it back as I expected. I would always be expecting something from those who were closer, who took my love but never left anything in return. I had to have something in place to be okay with that, and to know when to let someone in for those who returned what I gave.
“Maybe instead of a snow globe,” I said slowly, “I could have more of an astronomy globe. You know, where the lights shine out constellations in the room when the lights are out.”
I knew I was cheating. In my head, I thought of each constellation, the light, as a gap in my being for people to creep in where that love poured out.
Even my mind was leaving loopholes for my progressions.
“That could work,” she said, and I smiled.
“I will have to work on it,” I said. “I don’t know if I know the difference between showing love and it being the same as me having my heart open.” But I had to try.
Later, I saw that Ludo had emailed me, around the time Katherine had spoken to him on the phone. He said that Kath had told him I was upset and not to be, that he was just doing as he needed to, and to continue along the way without worry. I wrote back, feeling my heart lighter at my email, and Katherine was crossing the room when I got his own response.
“You were right,” I said, waving a hand for her to come over. “He doesn’t get it.”
I showed her our emails back and forth, where I’d said that I was only upset because I’d figured after all we’d been through, he would know I would have liked a bit of closure in some sort of goodbye.
He’d responded with “What have we been through?”
“That’s terrible,” she said, pointing at those words. “That’s just…wrong.”
It was then that I realized that this situation was a repeat of every relationship where I put on my heart, my soul, and would do anything for my friend, but the reciprocation just simply wasn’t there.
And I was tired of it. So tired. I was tired of believing I had a good friend, and then it proving not true in the end, being the last to be thought about because I am considered “strong” and “resilient” and the last ditch effort when no one else would listen.
I’m a fucking human being. And I deserve friends who treat me as such.
The moment of clarity was like a light switch. And all of the cockroaches in my mind scattered from the light, no where to go but completely out of my brain.
“He was always different with you, though,” I replied, mulling over my new thought process. It felt easier to let him go when I realized what I wanted in friends. I didn’t want to put effort into something that didn’t have any effort toward me. “Even in the beginning, when he left for his reunion? He was different with you.”
“Yeah, but he was good with emails,” she said. “He emailed me all the time, then.”
“Not me,” I said, bringing up the few we’d passed back and forth. “He got to the point where I said I’d stop bugging him because he was so terse. See?” I showed her his short responses, and the last email he’d sent about his sexual thoughts about the doctor that had me say I’d just see him on the trail later. “He didn’t even tell me when he was back on the trail. You told me. In fact, all of his emails always said to keep meeting other people and dismissed me. He was different with me.”
She stayed silent as she looked the emails over.
“I know he’s a mess, but he obviously has you in a different light. And he doesn’t get relationships.”
“What he said there is just terrible,” she said again, tapping the line ‘What have we been through?’
Later that evening, getting ready for bed, Kath fashioned an email to send to Ludo as to what he would be doing in the next couple of days. Her calling card had run out. When she was done, she showed it to me.
She’d told him that he should walk back to meet us in the next town we’d be staying in.
At first, I thought she was being rather pert, as it sounded like a woman playing games with his heart. I now saw that Ludo did find himself in love with Kath, despite what she thought, and wasn’t sure whether to point this out to her. But then I thought about it and saw the meaning behind what she was telling him to do as well–he was making us speed up to meet with him, to feel guilty making him stay an extra day to wait for us when, really, he was the one who left and had done wrong.
It seemed to fit the crime in a way.
“Quite brilliant,” I finally said. “Not sure how you came up with it, but if he’s throwing a ball in our court, that’s quite a curve right back.”
“And I like that this is backwards for him, that it shows him The Way doesn’t have to be straight forward.”
“Another good point.”
“He won’t do it.”
“You don’t think so?” I was thinking how if a man truly loved someone, even just really liked, he’d walk back twenty kilometers.
“Oh, no, Ludo will never walk back the way he came.”
We both heard a buzzing noise.
“What in the OH MY FUCKING GODS THAT IS ONE HUGE FUCKING BEE.”
“THAT,” Katherine said, jumping from bed, “IS A WASP.” She was already in the hallway by the end of her sentence. I was right behind her, dodging the wings from the devil himself, half wondering if it had dunked itself in some secret ooze to get to his size. I looked at the size of my palm, trying to compare the two.
They were pretty dead on.
“Fucking Jesus Christ,” I muttered, shutting our door, then opening it again to see where it was, if the insect was smart enough to go straight back out our wide open window, which, like most of France, had no screens to protect one from this sort of mess.
It wasn’t smart enough to leave.
Kath was failing to stay calm while I quickly thought of our options. Sadly, this wasn’t my first wasp rodeo. Fortunately, this was in our favor for my plan.
I went to the cupboards in the kitchen next to our room, searching for the largest rimmed cup I could. I chose one, like a holy grail, gave a big breath to guarantee a steady hand, then opened the door and spotted the wasp walking along the wall above my bed, as innocent as the sky. I think Kath was either asking what I was doing or giving all sorts of advice on avoiding the wasp as she watched me climb onto the bed and ever-so-carefully eased the glass as best I could over over the wasp’s large body and wings.
It barely fit.
He immediately fought his new environment, banging against the glass in a way that the vibrations hit my fingers. I reminded myself that a wasp couldn’t break through glass. I was not excited about the next step in my plan.
“Kath, do you have a stiff piece of paper or something? Like, a postcard. It can’t be too thick.”
“Yes, from Ludo!” She scrambled through her things and yanked a postcard out of a book I’d lent her.
“Thanks, Ludo,” I said, slipping it carefully under the glass, trying to be considerate of the wasp’s legs. It buzzed and tried climbing the glass walls.
It can’t get through, I thought. It is big, but it isn’t Jumanji big.
“What now?” Kath asked.
“Well. Uh. Now we bring it outside.” The last time I’d done this, I’d left the poor wasp buzzing in the cup outside, with a door to slam and me not having to worry about it again. I was sorely temped to leave the wasp under the cup on the stoop, but couldn’t bring myself to doing it again. “Could you get the door?”
Kath ran ahead of me as we walked across the kitchen. She yanked the outside door open, which was down the stairs.
“Now, Mr. Wasp,” I said, staring at the insect that had mostly stopped buzzing like a person wrongfully thrown into an asylum. “Let’s make a deal, shall we? I set you free, you don’t tell your friends about what happened, then come back and kill us.”
“This is the hard part,” I told hath, who was hiding behind the stairs’ railing, halfway back to our room. “I am going to let him go, and we race back in, shutting the door so he can’t follow us. Okay?”
“Okay. Um, okay.”
I took another breath for steady hands.
Slowly, I slid the postcard from the glass rim, watching the wasp cling to the bottom of the glass. I started to jolt away, assuming the fresh night breeze would cause him to fly out, but the wasp didn’t move. I shook it a bit, and it moved closer to the center of the cup.
“Come on, fucker,” I said through my teeth, shoving the glass into some flower vines. As soon as it emerged onto one of the flowers, I leaped onto the threshold with a quick, “Remember our deal!”, then slammed the door behind me.
“That was brave,” Kath proclaimed, and I laughed because it really wasn’t. It was stupid. I should have just killed it. “No, really! Good on you!”
At least I tried to keep it alive. I’ve killed enough spiders in my day, maybe this was a bit of an atonement by not killing all the creatures in my path when they don’t pose huge threats.
Yes, spiders are a threat.
As we got back into our room, I checked around our wide open windows to make sure another wasp hadn’t taken up roost, as maybe this wasn’t the first time they’d made their way into the house and more were trying to get in. I hesitated, feeling I should close the windows, thinking, “Maybe something else could wander in our rooms in the night.”
I shook off the thought because I love fresh air and I refused to let the thoughts my mother would have determine how I live.
Around 5am, I awoke to the sound of flapping wings, muffled by the ear plugs I’d put in earlier due to local dogs barking to wake me up every few minutes.
My first thought was that Kath had turned the lights on, so moths were swarming the lamp nearby. Both of us had insomniac tendencies, so it wasn’t too far-fetched. I peeked out from under my eye mask in her direction and saw a shadow of a lump, un-moving. I took out my left ear plug and, indeed, heard wings flapping.
Yup, I thought. Large moths.
My sleep-sunken mind determining it wasn’t worth my time, I plugged my ear once more and shifted around to get comfortable again, placing the new flapping noises into the Harmless category so I could sleep.
Moments later, I heard Kath shifting her bed. I heard the click of the lamp a moment after that. I heard her say something which I thought would be something to the effect of “Those are big moths,” but I couldn’t really decipher between my ear plugs and tired mind. I pulled back my eye mask fast enough to see her scurry from her bed to the door, yanking it open and see her frantically beckoning me to follow. I plucked my earplugs from my ears and heard Kath say, “I think they’re birds.”
I rolled on my back, thinking that the birds above me were rather absurd to be flying around our ceiling at 5am. Without my glasses, the two shapes seemed to be almost battling each other, hitting the walls with their wings. They seemed confused as fuck.
My brow crinkled as I tried to make out those wings.
“Those moths are huge,” I said rather slowly.
“Mallory,” Kath said. “They’re bats.”
I took a moment or two, blinking and comprehending what that meant. It made more sense than birds. Or large moths.
With that, I tossed the blanket I’d been using over my head, groaning and thinking of what I knew about bats. They weren’t stupid creatures, and I knew their capabilities at searching areas was astounding–but they were in a completely new environment with bright lights turned on a two people making noise. I wouldn’t put it past them to accidentally latch themselves in my hair without meaning to.
Blanket protecting my hair, I slid from the bed and crouched on the ground to make my way towards Kath, who was making noises of disbelief. As soon as I made it to her, she shut the door, and we took a moment to whisper loudly to each other, assessing the situation. While we had a room to ourselves, there were three other rooms holding other pilgrims, and we wanted to figure this out with as little noise as possible.
We gave out a little shriek as a bat swooped over our heads into the kitchen, making it’s own little bat noises as it frantically tried to find out where it was.
“How many bats are in this house?!” I opened our door to see that there was only one bat flying around. “One of them followed us out,” I groaned, shutting the door.
“Maybe the one in there will figure out that the window is as open as it was when he got in,” Kath whispered.
“Then what the fuck do we do with this one?”
Kath was walking down the hall as I walked into the kitchen, blanket firmly around me and my head. I opened the kitchen window fully, thinking that a bat had to be smart enough to echo-locate this exit.
It didn’t as it swooped out to avoid me instead, going into the hall and deeper into the house.
“Fuck, fuck, fuck,” I said, going into the hallway to see that Kath was nowhere in sight. I opened the door to the toilets to see she was hiding in there.
“Shut the door!” she hissed, shutting it for me as I went in.
“Okay, so, it is now in the living room.” I made a face. “Gods, it stinks in here.”
There was a sign above the toilet that said that flushing hours were from 6am to 10pm, so please be considerate during the sleeping hours.
“So, a bat in our room, a bat in the living room. What the fuck do we do?”
“I saw blood in the toilet,” Kath responded.
I paused, wondering where this was coming from.
“Do you think these are vampire bats, or–”
“I’m just saying, it was everywhere, even on the toilet rim.”
“Okay. Well, I know you know I have my period right now, but you can be certain it wasn’t me because I don’t pay attention to those stupid signs and flush every time I go to the bathroom, so…” My head was wondering whether I’d have to fashion a bucket onto a broom to deal with this other bat. It was also wondering whether it would turn out like those YouTube videos where the bat is never caught and the humans look like fools as they break everything in the room trying to catch it.
“I think it is someone’s prostate.”
My mind was too tired for this chatter. I couldn’t tell if she was derailing from the bats or genuinely concerned that someone was dealing with prostate issues.
“I’m going to the room to see if that other bat figured out the window was open. ”
“I don’t like this,” Kath said. “Bats have rabies.”
“I’ll be right back.”
I slid out, blanket still covering me, and eased our bedroom door open. There was no fluttering. No bats were clinging to the corners of the walls, on our beds, or near the lone wardrobe. I shut the door behind me and looked under the beds, trying to make a bit of a fuss so the bat would fling out in the open if I came near. After I was sure it had figured out to leave the room via the open window, I shut the window and slipped back out into the hallway. Checking in the living room, I waited until I heard a squeak that let me know the other bat had not figured out that its best bet for an exit was back in the kitchen.
I opened the door to the bathroom and said, “Okay, our room is clear.”
We hustled back into the room.
“Jesus, fuck,” I said as she did her own quick review of the room.
“You’re sure it isn’t in here?”
“Yes, I checked. But I’m debating on what to do with the one in the living room. Once the sun starts coming out, it will just find the darkest place and stick it out until the next night. Like, what then?”
Neither of us had a plan. And it was 5:30am.
“I’m going to get breakfast,” I said, which was leftovers from the night previous, still in the pan we’d cooked it in, covered by a cloth in the fridge.
We ate straight from the pot, sitting on the floor of our room, giggling at our situation.
“Fucking wasps, now bats,” I said.
“That was a hornet,” Kath said.
I stared. “A hornet? Like the ones that come in groups and kill villages?” She nodded. “Maybe I was brave last night, then. Or even stupider.”
By six in the morning, we were packed and ready to go, the earliest we’d been in weeks. And she’d gotten a response from Ludo.
He wasn’t going to walk back, and how dare she even suggest a thing.
I was honestly a bit surprised.
“I don’t want to carry this,” Katherine said, holding up the champagne bottle we’d yet to drink.
“Let’s leave it on the table,” I said. “Maybe it will be a good enough apology for having one of the bats hiding in the house. Oh, shit! We still have to pay for yesterday!” We’d paid for one day, but they wanted us to pay by day rather than all at once.
“We can leave the money by the champagne.”
But when we left the house, we saw that the owner was eating breakfast with some other pilgrims, so Katherine went back inside to grab out money so we could pay face-to-face. She spoke to him in French, and he told her the directions we’d need to get back on the trail by the town.
“He told us to be careful because it was dangerous at this hour with the roads and traffic,” she said as I took out my flashlight. The sun still had a long while before it would rise. “And he said we’d be taking a left turn just before town to get back on the path for the Camino.”
We walked down the path, onto the road, joking about our night. I joked that the bad luck had been because of that weird alter I’d found in the bamboo, and she told me to shut it. She was so impressed with how calm I’d been in both situations, and I said I’d always been rather good in stressful situations, pretty clear-headed.
We came to a sign that said “CAMINO” with signs. I looked up and said, “Huh, there’s the town. This must be it. I thought it’d be closer to town, the way he was talking about it.”
“Yeah.” She shrugged and we turned onto the path.
We drifted to walk close enough to still see each other, but far enough away that we could be in our own thoughts without feeling we had to talk. Just as we crested a large hill, the sun was coming up.
“Do you see a sign?” Kath called out just as I was wondering the same thing.
“Yeah, right up here,” I called back. But I was thinking how the next town was only supposed to be about three kilometers from the last town, and we’d been walking for almost an hour already.
An hour after that, after going up and down hills, through a forest, and clamoring onto a normal road, we passed the first town, long after my FitBit let me know we’d walked eight kilometers. We didn’t go through the town, but rather it stayed on our right as we continued to walk, passing it by.
“I feel like we made a wrong turn somewhere, but we’ve seen signs our entire walk,” I told her as we left the town behind us. We both looked back and someone was walking with their dog, someone from our gite. “What the fuck,” I said. “We left way before anyone else. How in the hell did he get right behind us?” We’d kept a very good pace, not even stopping.
“I have no idea,” Kath said, looking just as confused. “He wasn’t behind us before.”
“He came from the town,” I said. “How is that possible?”
More people from our gite came around the corner from that town.
“How are they catching up to us?” I asked. “I don’t understand.”
“We need to sit and I need to smoke half a cigarette,” Kath said. I pulled out my guide and marveled that we had passed a town in eight kilometers that we should have passed in only three.
“We took some wrong route,” I said. “I don’t know how since we were on the Camino, but we added on an extra 5k somehow.”
Katherine didn’t say anything as she snuffed out half of her cigarette, her first in a day and a half. She was quitting drinking and smoking, I was on my period. Two women to be reckoned with.
“Let’s just keep walking and figure it out later.”
And we did. We walked until we got to our destination point, feeling bedraggled by our adventurous night, and the extra time we’d walked that morning hadn’t been planned. While we hadn’t called ahead to reserve anything, it was only 2pm, and we figured that was early enough for a town with three gites.
The first gite we tried said to come back in an hour as there were some reservations, but they’d been bought three months prior, reserved but not confirmed yet that day. She called and left them another message as those openings could be for us. We went to another gite/bar to have a drink and see if there were other openings.
They didn’t have an opening either. And a call to the other gite proved that to be full as well.
“Well,” I said, sitting down. I was tired and beat. Kath got a beer, giving up her quest for a better liver for one day, while I got a glass of wine. “Now what?” I took a sip of the wine and tasted vinegar.
“There is still a chance we could get in that other place,” Kath said.
Two other Germans we had seen before took out their books to help us. There was a place about a kilometer ahead of us that could have some openings, as well as another three kilometers after that.
We called and they were filled.
“We could sleep in the church,” Kath said, voice low. We’d joked about it before, and while I was up for it, I didn’t think it was as much of a possibility as the other church had been. It was smaller with no extra buildings. “Or,” she said, “we could just walk to St. Jean.”
I tilted my head up, lips pursed, considering. “Well,” I said. “That’s a possibility.”
“Yeah?” Kath asked.
“Oh, yeah,” I said, smiling as I thought about it more. “Dude, fuck yeah. Let’s walk to St. Jean!”
A younger couple saw me paying for our drinks and she asked if we’d found a place to sleep.
“No,” I said. “I think we’re going to walk the rest of the way to St. Jean Pied de Port.”
The woman’s eyes went wide. “What? No, you shouldn’t do that. It’ll get late, and you’re still twenty-five kilometers away!”
“Yeah, but there isn’t anything available here. What else will we do?”
The bartender asked what we were doing and I told him. “No, you need to find a place,” he said, grabbing a phone. “You’ve called other places?”
“Yes,” I said. “No one else has a spot.”
This lasted another ten minutes, people trying to convince us to stay while Kath and I explained there wasn’t a place to stay.
Finally, we left to check on the gite that had turned us away in the first place.
“Yes, they finally called,” the woman said.
“Okay, then! That settles it!” I looked at Kath. “We walk to St. Jean!”
“Wait, what? No, it is too late,” the gite owner said, and I laughed a bit at how opposed to this everyone was. “You’ll take a bus,” she said. “They have one last bus you can take.”
“No,” I said firmly, looking at Kath. “Maybe you want to, but I’m not taking a bus for this last leg of our trek.”
“I agree,” she said. “I don’t think I could do that either.”
This lasted another ten minutes, the woman trying to convince us to take the bus while Kath and I explained we could never bus the last kilometers to the ending point in our Le Puy trek.
Besides, the last glass of wine I’d had was vinegar. The gods were practically screaming at me that we had to leave.
When we finally were able to leave with everyone in the town understanding we were going to walk to St. Jean whether people liked it or not, I felt odd knowing that we had been doing our best to slow down as we’d loved France so much, and yet now we were doubling our day.
The irony of taking a rest day just before this wasn’t lost on me either.
“We’re walking over forty kilometers,” I told Kath. “With that added on amount from this morning, it’s way over what it is supposed to be.”
We both talked a big talk of being strong ladies, but I had to wonder if we would be changing our tune if we passed a gite that had two openings for the night.
And we asked. The first three gites we passed, we asked if there was room, but there was none.
Our fate was sealed without us having a choice–we were walking to St. Jean Pied de Port whether we liked it or not.
The first twelve kilometers or so weren’t half as bad as I thought it would be, although my feet were killing me. I couldn’t quite understand how Kath could keep on walking without needing a break.
We passed a resting area that was supposed to be closed early afternoon, but I saw a woman walking around the porch and told Kath that I needed to sit and get something in me before we tried to climb the large hill that was towards the end of the trek. It was almost 6pm and we hadn’t had anything to eat since our light lunch and a few crackers a local had pressed on us before leaving town for St. Jean.
The lady was very kind in allowing us to have drinks and some cheese. I re-filled on water and took my feet out of their shoes. We weren’t even halfway done with our walk to St. Jean. I apologized to my feet over and over.
I bought some local goat cheese that was region renowned, and we were on our way again.
After a few more kilometers, we passed a sign that said another gite was up ahead.
“Okay, let’s stop and talk,” I said. “I need to let me feet rest proper again as I feel maybe a blister happening. It’s just tender. And we can discuss if we’re actually going to make this last mad dash or allow this gite with a bar attached, this very appealing bar after this kind of day, will take over our senses as we pass by.”
We sat down and I took off my shoes. As I massaged my feet, I continued. “How much are we willing to pay for a gite.”
“Good question,” Kath said. “Because I was wondering if it would be worth taking that gite. What are you feeling?”
“I’m feeling,” I said, swapping to my other foot, “that we’ve come this far and fuck if we should stop. I’m debating if my common sense is even being considered. Because all I can think about is being able to say that I’ve walked over forty kilometers.” I smiled at her as she laughed.
“I was thinking the same exact thing.”
“Okay, so. We keep walking. If this gite we pass by is something extraordinary, we stop because that is a sign. Otherwise, St. Jean it is.”
“What about where we’ll stay when we get there?”
“I don’t know. Lukas has a tent. Do you know where he and Ludo are staying?”
“Do you really want to stay in that stinky tent?”
“No,” I admitted. I started taping my feet. I passed it to her and she took off her shoes to tape the bottoms of her feet as well. “But it is better than sleeping in the frigid wide open.” I looked at the time. “Okay, we have at least another two and a half hours to go, maybe more depending on how big that hill is. After that hill, it’s only, like, a hour. We’ll get there around 10pm.”
“Okay. We can probably just knock on every gite in town until we get a spot.”
“Didn’t you tell Ludo to call you back?” I asked. He had called her earlier in the day, accusing her of playing with his heart and generally angry. By the end, she had told him to call later.
“Yeah, maybe he will and we can get him to reserve us a place.”
“Best plan we have. Beside walking to St. Jean tonight.”
“You know, usually when I think of a guy, they call me.”
“Then put every ounce of energy into thinking about Ludo calling. It’ll save us some time when we get there.”
We lugged ourselves to our feet, feeling a bit more refreshed, whether from giving our feet some TLC or from having a more solid plan, I wasn’t sure.
We stuck closer together as encouragement as we walked from that point forth. We kept trying to figure out when that huge hill was going to hit us, pointing to every large mountain nearby that had trails. But we passed them all, staying on a paved road.
We finally got to the gite that had been advertised, feet stopping. We both stared at it.
“Nah,” I said, and I walked past.
Kath lingered for a moment. “No?” she said.
“Fuck it,” I replied, and she followed me off toward the hills.
As we complained about how much further the hill was, as the sun was on the verge to start it’s descent to setting, we came across a sign that said we were at the top of the hill we’d be dreading.
“Are you kidding me?” I asked, glancing back down the paved hill that had barely felt like anything. “The guide book had me thinking we were going up a fucking mountain. And it’s this? There isn’t even a place to sit and eat.” We’d both been psyching ourselves out for a hill that we could have run up without losing our breath.
Disappointed, we both walked on, coming to the next town after the hill.
“We’ll probably get to the outskirts of St. Jean as the sun sets,” I said. “I know you don’t want to, but I’m going to need some sort of rest for my feet then. But I want to pass these towns first. If it is going to be dark, let it be right next to where we want to be.”
She agreed, and we kept walking.
My adrenaline was starting up again. When we’d first left the town that early afternoon, Katherine had been excited and chattering like a fool. Now, she was starting to drag while my mind seemed to be as quick as a fox.
We passed through the two towns, trying to beat the setting sun. One town had a gite pointing off up a hill, and we ignored it, not even bothering to ask the other if it were an option. As we left that last town, the sun sunk below the horizon.
Now that it was dark, I took out my proper light. We were getting to the outskirt town of St. Jean, which was only three or four kilometers from St. Jean proper.
“I want to stop for just five to ten minutes here to let my feet rest,” I said.
“I need to pee,” she replied.
We stopped in a park-like area, my legs protesting their bend to the ground. While she found a place to wild pee, I stretched everything I could, apologizing to my body over and over for the abuse I was giving it today, and complimenting how wonderful it truly was to keep going as it was.
Kath lay down next to me, closing her eyes. I let her sit for a while, but after a few minutes, I tapped her.
“No sleeping, we’ve gotta another hour or something ahead of us.”
She grunted, but as I started to get up and brush myself off, she slowly got back up herself.
We passed by three bars on our way out of the town. I felt like we were doing our best to keep magnets apart as I thought of how good a glass of wine would be just then.
The path led us through a dark forest area, my light dodging around to look for any sign to make sure we were still on the right path, that we weren’t missing any turns. It was just us on the trail, and so Kath eventually asked me to start singing to take away the eeriness of the night. I belted out the songs I knew as we passed through trees until we got to the main road, where we saw St. Jean.
Only another fifteen or twenty minutes.
And they were a mixture of excitement and complete exhaustion.
I kept my mind sharp by singing, being alert of all of our surroundings. I didn’t want to accidentally walk down the wrong path as we’d already done that in the morning. When I didn’t want to sing anymore, and Ludo still hadn’t called, I said, “Fuck, Ludo. Kath, play some music.” We’d been trying to save her phone battery on the chance he would call. But she agreed–fuck Ludo, let’s play some music. And as we started up the painstaking hill that was to get to St. Jean proper, I told myself that our night wasn’t even close to over.
We still had to find a place to rest.
Katherine took a video of us for her family as we stood in front of the sign claiming we’d made it to St. Jean Pied de Port. Then, we started the actual walk to the center of the town that would actually hold a place for us.
Every gite we passed, I glanced hopefully at Kath, who ignored them as it wasn’t in town.
My feet pounded, screaming that we’d done enough for the day.
We entered the part of town we were looking for ten minutes later, all on cobble stones.
My feet were not pleased.
We started to look in on the gites as we descended into town, hoping to see someone we knew inside the brightly lit windows. It was dark, but the streets were empty. A glance at my phone told me it was almost 10:30pm.
“I’m hoping we pass a bar and find a drunk Lukas and Ludo to surprised,” I told Kath.
“I was just thinking the same thing,” she replied.
But we didn’t see any bar, although there were two people we passed who were drunk.
We saw a few people standing outside of a building, one of them wearing a red beret. “Are you one of us?” he asked.
“What does ‘one of us’ entail?” I asked warily.
“Mallory, come in–this is what we need!”
I went inside to find that it was a special Pilgrim association, dedicated to helping pilgrims finding what they need when coming into town. Just as I was wondering why they were open so late, one of them said, “Are you the girls from Facebook?”
Apparently, the people from the town we couldn’t find any gites in had decided to contact that association, telling them look out for two women who would be arriving very late into town. We got our credentials stamped as they called for a gite that would take us in this late in the night.
“Mallory,” Katherine said as they worked on our papers. “How much did we end up walking?”
I checked my FitBit information on my phone.
“Forty-eight kilometers,” I replied.
Everyone in the room was wondering if they should be impressed or find us insane instead.
The man with the red beret ushered us out to walk us to the gite. I hobbled behind him and Katherine, my feet pounding and utterly finished. We were walking uphill on uneven ground that wasn’t giving in the least bit. I couldn’t understand how Katherine wasn’t in the condition I was in.
When we finally got to the gite, we thanked profusely. The lady took us into the bar area to pay for the night and stamp our credentials again, and we paid for two nights.
We’d definitely be taking another rest day.
She started to take us upstairs when I said, “I know you’ve already done a lot for us tonight, and it is ridiculous that I should even ask for more, but…is it possible to get a glass of wine for the each of us? It’s been a very long day.”
The woman gave us a knowing smile and turned back to pour us some wine. We took them up the stairs to where she quickly showed us where we’d sleep, wash, and put our things. I practically threw my shoes and socks off as if they were poisoned.
As soon as we sat, I took out my food. I didn’t care what time it was, we’d walked over forty-eight kilometers with no dinner. I was starving.
“Cheers, chica,” Katherine said, and we clinked our glasses.
The wine tasted like victory.
“I can’t believe we fucking did it,” I said, mouth full of cheese and bread. “And I don’t think I could have gone much longer. My feet want to strangle me.”
“We’re so fucking awesome,” Katherine said. We laughed together, drinking more wine. “I want more wine. I want a bottle of this wine. I don’t know if it is the forty-eight kilometers talking or what, but this wine is amazing.”
“I think it is the wine,” I said. “This is the best I’ve had this whole trek, I think.”
We sat there, contemplating our awesomeness.
Then we went to take showers.
Then we settled into our beds.
Then I lay in my bed, practically laughing.
That morning, we’d woken up to bats flying around in our room. It seemed ages ago. And now, we were in the last main city before starting our Spain trek to Santiago.
If you’d asked me to attempt a guess at how I would have gotten to this point, hornets, bats, and walking forty-eight kilometers wouldn’t have been in that agenda.