Camino De Santiago in Photos: Part 5: New Friends and Gift Economies on the Way

The day after my ankle gave in, I went outside to give it a test run round the block. It didn’t feel any better, I had developed a strange lump and I was worried. I spoke to Timo and his friends, some German pilgrams we had met the night before who were outside. They said that they had all started getting this type of pain coupled with a strange lump in different places on there legs.
They said it was due to the weight of the bags.
 So I shaved all the excess weight I had in my bag (I was carrying all my kit for South America too) and decided to post it to Santiago for when we finished (this is a very cheap service for pilgrims, and held in Santiago for free).
We went to the nearby post office and were invited to sit down inside. After an hour of broken Spanish it transpired that this was just a sorting office and we could not send anything from here. The nearest post office was in Leon, just over 40 km away.
I decided I would try and make it to the next village carrying my excess weight in a plastic bag rather than on my back. On the way to the next villiage the pain got worse and Anthony offered to carry the plastice bag. And as if by magic in the next 20 minuets the pain slowly disappeared until I could walk freely. It was the weight after all (I was carrying 14- 15 kg with food and water for 30+ km each day).
We arrived at the next town and both felt good, really good, so we decided to just keep walking until we found a suitable camp spot.
 Safety first: walking on a main road lablled as an offical Camino path.
This was about 25 km into the day, and the most interesting thing I had seen for about an hour.
As we continued to walk we got more and more confident that maybe we would make it all the way to Leon that day. No small feat considering my injury and the fact that Anthony was now carrying 18 kg.
After walking 35 km we were slightly delirious.
Anthony smelled so bad that I had to walk at least a meter away from him. But after a mega 40 km, swollen feet, blisters on Anthony’s hands and incoherent thougths and speech we made it to Leon.
This was probably the toughest day we did, both physically and mentally, but well worth the struggle. Plus we had walked two days in one so got to have a rest day in Leon.
Suprisingly, it was raining again on our rest day.
Vale and Greg.
We had arranged to see our new friends in Leon, but had not arranged a place or day for that matter. We had arrived a day early, but the Camino had aligned our paths and we all ended up staying in the same hostel by chance.
A very welcome reunion.
That night we all wandered around Leon eating tapas, crepes and drinking wine.
The magnificent catherdral of Leon.

 

Right to left: Vale, Juan the glove man,  Jonghe, me, Stella and JongSe.
The following morning we set off together for another mega day. Vale had heard about a vegetarian Albergue 36 km from Leon, and being vegetarians (and wanting to stay with our new friends) we couldn’t pass this offer up.
Juan had already lived up to his incredible reputation for speed and was nowhere in sight after less than an hour.
There were two alternative routes for this day. As the Camino progressed this became the case more often, and the choice was often between a shorter road-side walk or a slightly longer countryside walk.
We always chose the countryside. What’s a few more km to 800….
Horse seemed to be the most common form of transport in this town.
This turned out to be an epically long day, especially 10 km of it for JongSe 😉
There was a 10 km stretch that just kept going, and when you thought you had reached the turning for the next town it turned into nothing. But we did make it to Albergue Verde in the end where Juan was waiting for us.
I think this was the best meal we ate on the whole Camino. Most of the food was from their garden and it was all vegetarian. The best beetroot soup I have ever had, followed by incredible cauliflower cheese (I don’t even usually like this dish) roast veg, pomegranate salad and courgette cake to die for. We also got a song before dinner from the wonderful hospitaleros.
The Albergue was an eco-lodge with a yoga room and there were lashings of herbal tea and cake with a suitably decked-out sitting area.
That night we stayed up until the wee hours singing and playing instruments (even I had a go at drumming and singing, thank you Stella for helping me recreate Hotel Californa into something else altogether!).
The gent in red had the most amazing whistle.
The following morning we had a brillaint breakfast and then Vale, a very talented yoga teacher, led a yoga session before we set off again.
This actually changed my view on yoga and I have since started trying to practice at least three times a week. Although, it is never as good without your friend helping you on your way. Let’s hope that can be rectified in Puerto Rico soon.
Anthony being very British and getting his legs out in the freezing weather.
Note that Juan is fully covered up.
This was a stunning days walk with all the autumnal colours.
I would highly recommend walking the Camino in Autumn.
On top of a hill in a clearing we saw a colourful brick building. As we approached we saw a sign saying “Tu casa”or “Your house”, a small refreshments stall, and a sofa with David on it. He was the most relaxed person we met on the whole Camino.
He spoke in Spainsh and so I didn’t understand a lot of what he said, but he had such a way of talking that even with the language barrier I knew what was being said. Vale and Juan translated some points for clarity.
David had come from a very wealthly Spanish family. A few years ago he had walked the Camino de Sanitago and had a life altering experince which in turn had lead him to his current life.
He rejects all his inhereted wealth and instead decided to set up a free Albergue, where he offers a free bed (donations welcome where people can afford them) free refreshments, but more importantly, he offers some of the most awe inspiring conversation you are likley to have on the Camino.
David is an inspiring example of a living gift economy. He offers anyone everything he has and asks for nothing, but his generosity inspires people to reciprocate this to him and others on the Way. His ideas about money, the universe and life are too vast to comment fully on here but there is one thing he said that has stuck with me, and which I often tell people. He said:
“If you are hungry and want an apple, you want an apple. You do not want the money to buy it”
He used this to describe his way of living with little money and the reasons behind it. It seems simple enough, but at the time me and Anthony had not really thought about living without money, we had just worried about running out. The things David said that day began to shape and change our way of thinking without us knowing, and would ultimatey change our lives.
Anthony and I decided to split up from the group that night as we were short on cash and wanted to camp to save money. We arranged to meet at the legendary Thomas’ house the following day if not on the Way.
Anthony and I made the mistake of leaving too late and ended up looking for a camp site in the dark. After walking a further 5 km and finding nothing but a villiage and ominous darkness the other side we decided to stealth camp in the garden of one of the closed Albergues. We then had to make our dinner on a bench in an intersection.
It was the coldest night we had experienced yet and began to push the limits of our sleeping bags, but not too far: AlpKit are awesome.
As agreed, we left a “sign” so the others would know we had already set off. One of Juan’s (and Anthony’s) favourite films is the Lion King. Though Anthony would have drawn a dinosaur if he had had the time because Jurassic Park is the greatest film of all time.
Also, turns out that the ominous blackness was miles and miles off prime camping spots.
Snowed-capped mountains. I was very disappointed when I found out we were not headed for these mountains.
We had set off with no food as there were no shops in the only two towns we had passed through and the previous day was a Sunday so nowhere was open then either. Anthony fell into one of his sugar lows and was VERY grumpy for about an hour. Here he is feeling sorry for himself.
Pimped out church, but no sign of a donativo for Pilgrims to stay at.
We found a restuarant and gorged ourselves. As is expected with a Pilgrim meal we were offered vino and we took it. We were given a litre and drank all of it. Probably not the best idea with 10 km still to go (high in the mountains) but it was a very fun day thereafter.
This is me (behind the giant bag) drunk and running into nowhere.
Found some snow and made a snowman. Boom.
We found out later that Juan did exactly the same thing in exactly the same place.
Still drunk and now dancing.
One of the dying villages in Spain. Most of the houses here were abandonded and falling apart, bar an Albergue which had the wedding march blasting out of the windows.
This is the highest point on the Camino. People leave things here, sometimes things they have bought with them, and sometimes things they find on the way.
There are many photos of peopled loved ones who have died and a variety of other things. This place caused an overwhelming feeling of saddness and I had to leave.
Manjarin, total population of 3.
This is Thomas’ place, the place of legends. He is famous on the Camino as he is a modern day templar that you can stay with. The facilities are basic, water from a well, outside toilet but the experince is rich.
You stay on mattresses in the attic, where you can look down into the kitchen, and up at the sky through the skylights.
That night we met everyone else at Thomas’. Thomas’ friend Miguel welcomed us and began to cook dinner. He seemed ecstatic that there was such a large, livley group of people in the house that night, and explained that there hadn’t been many people staying recenlty. We had a good sing before dinner.
These are two Hungarian brothers that we met at Thomas’ house. They explained that they had walked from Hungary to Sanitago and then lost all their money. They had no choice but to walk back home with no money. On hearing this I remember thinking “How on earth can they be doing this with no money?”.
Their bags were heavier than everyone elses, weighing 20kg, and they carried musical instruments with them (although they had to leave there digaridoo in Santiago. No idea how they got it there from Hungary!)
They explained that they camped and stayed at donativos ( which Thomas’ is) and ate whatever people could spare them. They also told me about the map. One day when they were really hungry and busking had not brought any money in, they found an old table cloth and began drawing on it in the street.
As they draw things people started to ask what they were doing. They explained that they had no money and were trying to raise money for food. People then started to add their flag to the map and donate money to them. Before they knew it they had made enough to eat.
That night Thomas and Miguel not only invited us into their house, cooked us all dinner and gave us wine, but passed on some valuable stories and experiences.
Thomas explained how this year was the year of the young pilgrim. He said that never before had he seen so many young people walking and that this was an indication of how things are changing, how restless people have become and how people are searching for something they can’t find at home, especially in the current financial crisis.
It was interesting agian to see how the people with the very least wanted to offer the most, and expected nothing in return. Another gift economy. That night we fell asleep looking at the Milkyway and listening to the wolves howling.
Vale, Miguel, Anthony and I
The next morning I accidently left my head torch in the attic. When I realised what I had done I was at first gutted, but then very happy. The night before I had noticed that the only light we had was that of the log fire and of one head torch that both Thomas and Miguel shared.
Now they have one each.
Thomas
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