Despite waking early (Ginny being our alarm clock) and leaving before sunrise, we now were surrounded by pilgrims. It seemed that, until Santiago at least, the days of quiet walking solitude were over.
We climbed a hill behind town, to-go coffee still in hand, and, at its peak, ran into a clearly unstable peregrina. Leaning against a tree, her eyes glazed, her hands shaking and her responses short and mumbled, indiscernible.
“We need an ambulance,” Inga decided and Eva, Spanish wizard, went to call one. Ginny, in the mean time, kept other pilgrims from staring, a skill I, after twenty years in emergency medicine and pre-hospital care, still have not mastered. “And she’s a computer programmer,” Inga gave her a glance, “isn’t she amazing?” “Yeah… whoa whoa, grab…”
The peregrina collapsed. “Go look for a diabetic pass or something like that,” Eva suggested. “Not comfortable sticking my hand into her pocket,” I responded, but noticed a leather band around the neck. Hoping it would be a chest wallet, I pulled, and, indeed, it was.
Inside a baggy of something resembling oregano or, more likely, “the Devil’s lettuce,” weed. And, to my surprise not one but six different IDs, made out to women of all shapes and ages, from all parts of the world. “I have no idea what this woman is, Mikka, but be careful, OK?” Eva looked very concerned, while Inga, checking vitals, looked even more so.
“Look at her skin,” she asked. “Exicosis,” insufficient amounts of fluids, I responded, more for my inner checklist than Inga’s benefit, who had already begun a body check.
A pilgrim closed in, passed an angry looking Ginny, introduced himself as a physician, and, upon seeing Inga’s masterful handling of the patient, left us two sets of latex gloves and left.
Better able to continue, we had the peregrina supported and shielded from views and the sun as well as we could, when the Ambulance arrived. Two paramedics emerged, Eva explained the situation, translating Ingas and my diagnostic steps and assessments as well as therapeutic measures done (none, other than shielding her), and handed them the wallet with half a dozen IDs and the baggie of devil’s oregano.
“He’s saying we should continue on, but see a police officer in Palas de Rei and tell them who we are, they’ll want a statement for the Guardia Civil,” she explained.
We handed the patient over as well as we could, thankfully perused the ambulance’s basin and disinfectant dispenser, when Eva, looking in, had a plan. “Remember Matías, from Valverde? He has a crush on me, he gave me his phone number and has been texting me since we left there. I’ll give him a call.”
A few minutes later, Eva first having to explain that, no, this was not a booty call, but she wasn’t totally excluding the possibility of one in the future, and then the situation, Matías offered to take care of things. We should text him when we’re in Palas de Rei and a Guardia Civil buddy of his would come and take the statement. No muss, no fuss.
Two hours later, hungry and thirsty, we stopped at a restaurant. “Eeek,” Ginny exclaimed, pointing at a pot next to our table. In it a, clearly still alive, octopus being boiled to death. “Let’s leave,” Inga ordered, and we did, a group of old Spanish men laughing from toothless mouths at the squeamish pilgrims.
We repeated our attempt at food a few minutes later in a bar surrounded by massive metal statues of ants. The food was OK, the coke ice cold, and the conversation centered on boiling octopi and rescuing peregrinas.
Palas de Rei in sight, Eva texted Matías who, again, offered to come visit, and we were picked up mere minutes later by two Guardia Civil police officers, a female and a male, the female clearly the boss, who took the whole affair pretty easy. “It happens every year a few times,” she explained in flawless English, “those are eternal pilgrims, got stuck on the Camino, party at night, walk between Santiago and Sarria, pickpocket or do other things for money, and at some point they overdo it and that’s when they either … don’t make it … or someone like you finds them.”
“Other things, you mean like…?”
“Hospitalera mostly, but, yeah…”
The Camino. Nothing you won’t find on it.
We ate dinner at an overpriced bar, clearly catering to the thousands of pilgrims passing every day, then retreated into our hostel, an amazing place with “privacy bunks” and chargers in every one of them.
We sat on the balcony outside, Ginny telling stories from her first 2000 kilometers to St. Jean, and Inga suddenly jolted… “I KNEW I’d seen you before…” she shouted. “You were next to me in SJPdP at the pilgrim’s office.”
I grabbed my phone. “I did take a picture when you two were inside.” We flipped and… there it was. Ginny, Inga, Lilly. “Who’s the girl next to you,” Ginny asked. “Someone who can go to hell,” Inga responded. “Ah, I see. I am asking, because she made out with some Polish guy who was trying to talk me into paying for a hotel for the two of us…”
We retreated to our privacy bunks at sundown, and I was about to fall asleep when the curtain moved. Inga crawled next to me. “I am sad,” she said, “I don’t want this to end. Can you please hold me?” And I did.