I met the smiling donkeys from my dream today.
I woke with both girls in their respective beds. I dressed, walked downstairs, retrieved three coffees and croissants from the albergue’s honor kitchen (take what you need, pay what you can), and returned in time to walk in on both dressed and ready. We ate and drank, brushed our teeth in the small sink in the room, and left at sunrise.
Behind Castrojeriz the Way ascends… again. Why is it always the first thing in the morning?
But before that hill, we met the donkeys. Two donkeys, and I swear one smiled at me knowingly.
Meeting friends from earlier stages wasn’t new, but meeting one from a dream, that was. The Camino is weird.
Slogging up the hill, I cursed every smoke I’d enjoyed since St. Jean, panting and trying to not look too ridiculous in my efforts. Half up the hill, I stopped, turned, and the most amazing of sunrises greeted me. While clouds diffused a blood red Meseta sun, shining onto Castrojeriz in the distance.
We marveled over the beauty of the Meseta in the morning while Eva continued on. A couple passed us, greeted Inga enthusiastically, and introduced themselves as “the Texans.” We descended behind Eva, listening to the Texans’ tales of their religious awakening and the husband’s “conversion” from sales manager at Fry’s Electronics to Preacher, their decision to walk the Camino, and their love for the area and people here. Eva had almost disappeared distantly when, suddenly, a loud scream made us race towards her.
At the side of the road, holding her ankle, tears streaming down her face, we found her. Inga immediately sprang into action, the Texans looking terrified. “Not broken,” she declared.
The details emerged between sobs. Deciding to run the final feet of the descent, Eva had slipped on someone’s discarded half-an-orange in the middle of the path. She’d felt the pain almost immediately, before falling, then — trying to put weight on her left leg — realized that she could not, and tumbled into the ditch she had just crawled out of.
“We’ll have to get her to a Medico,” Inga decided. I agreed. With Texan Preacher and Inga grabbing Eva’s and my backpack, I took Eva, on my back, and we walked. The Texans called ahead and, as luck would have it, the doctor’s office was open in Itero del Castillo, a kilometer diversion from the Camino.
My legs burned and my back was killing me when we arrived. The Medico resided in a small shack outside town, reminiscent of a witches’ den. She begged us in, Inga and I identified ourselves as being able to help with whatever she needed, and the medico, obviously more than happy to simply return to her book, let us work.
I was, again, amazed how well we worked together. After checking Eva’s leg and ankle, I started a body check while Eva started to bandage the injured limb. The physician put down her book long enough to hand me a bag of medications, some useful, others probably illegal to carry, three syringes and needles, struggling to find the right word in English: “síndrome compartimental,” I nodded. It wasn’t likely, but should Eva’s ankle swell to a point where blood vessels and nerves were impacted, we could let some of the pressure out.
We tried to pay but got a “no tomo dinero de colegas” (I don’t take money from colleagues) and left the shack. Eva decided to try a night’s rest, calling a cab to Boadillo de Camino, the Texans, Inga, and I walked.
We soon left the Texans behind who decided to peruse a small shrine to the Virgin Blanca along the Way, and our conversations were filled with worry about Eva, contemplation about how quickly things could be over, and reassurances that it was a good thing we’d been there with her.
We passed San Nicolas, a former church which had been converted into an albergue. A friendly padre offered us coffee for a donation, and we rested for a few minutes under the trees, chatting with the shortly thereafter arriving Swiss, Rainer in tow. Hu also arrived, indicating with Si and No on a map that he, too, was on his way to Boadilla de Camino.
The albergue has a reputation for being the “real deal” with traditional foot washings, communal meals, and no power or warm water. “Next time we stay here,” the Swiss decide.
Rainer fills our following kilometers with stories from his life as a surveyor, drawing out words and sentences, emphasizing random parts of each, and chucking to himself after most. Most of his stories are bland, but his delivery and chuckles turn it into a play of Shakespearean magnitude. Sweaty, my legs and back aching more than usual, we arrive in Boadillo, where we split up to find Eva.
I find her and enough beds for everyone, go fetch the gang, and we’re just in time for dinner and a swim in the albergue’s pool. After the swim we lie in the grass, Eva looking pained, Inga worried, and talk about home. She studies Spanish and English, wanting to move to Mexico after her Master’s Degree. This was her last vacation before her final thesis and defense, “and now it’s all over,” tears running down her cheeks again. Inga hugs her shaking body, while I try my best to make her hopeful. “Tomorrow we’ll take it easy, we’ll send you backpack ahead, and in two days you’ll be good as new.” But deep inside I fear this to be wishful thinking.
We retreat long after dark, fleeing from a multitude of mosquitoes and a small group of aging hippies smoking joints and playing (badly) on their banjoes. My bed is between Inga’s and Eva’s and as I roll myself into my blanket, Inga’s face appears in a sihouette. “Mikka, I think I have a massive crush on you.” She kisses me good night, I fall asleep, and dream of bears taking a bath in a pool surrounded by banjo playing and pot smoking hippies.