Today I woke at 5am and couldn’t get back to sleep. There wasn’t even anyone snoring in the dormitory of the monastery, so I don’t know what was keeping me awake. I decided to put on my sandals and go for a walk with the moon still high in the sky and the shadows on the old stone walls eerily following my every step. There was such a calmness surrounding this historic place that I felt fortunate to be able to experience the silence and the stillness all for myself. The bitter cold morning air forced me back inside after half an hour of roaming through the centre of the city. I went back to bed, fell asleep, and the next thing I felt was my foot being shaken by the cleaner telling me in Spanish I should have already left. I looked at my watch which said 9:15am, then at the empty dorm room, then back at the cleaner and just said ‘ok’ in my semi-dazed state. I couldn’t remember hearing everyone leave the full room of at least 30 beds.
I went to the closest bar feeling a little like a kid who had been left behind at school camp. It was already 10am and by the time I had two coffees and a muffin it was 11. I didn’t feel in a hurry as I had already decided I would likely camp somewhere close to Arzua 23km away, which is where the Northern Way meets the French Way. The idea of colliding with hundreds of pilgrims was enough to slow me down to a shuffle today, and I basically stopped at every bar just to savour the peacefulness of the Way before the inevitable crowds invade.
While I had coffee this morning I read a post Leigh had forwarded me from her blog called ‘Breaking bread with strangers‘, about trail angels and the generosity she received near Reds Meadows during her JMT hike where we first met. I’m fascinated by the way Leigh views the world and how accurately she communicates her observations and philosophies. Interestingly enough today I met a few unknowing trail angels. I went into three cafés today asking if they had food and they all shook their heads. I thought I must have been saying the wrong phrase in Spanish until the last woman changed her mind and came out with a calamari sandwich. It was the last thing I was expecting to eat, but it was delicious, especially with one beer to wash it down. There was the usual group of older men at the bar making lots of noise, and just as I finished eating the woman from the bar came and told me one of the men had paid for my lunch. He shyly turned around to acknowledge my thanks and then left with his mates with a wave and a smile. I was stunned, and momentarily didn’t quite know what to do other than to smile and feel incredibly grateful.
At the first bar I went to I was short 5 cents which the guy let slide, and at the final bar in Arzua when I asked for bread after the woman told me the shops were closed, she went outside and came back with a full loaf which she gave me for free. Arzua was full of pilgrims. Some in big groups all wearing the same t-shirts or coloured bandanas, many in pairs and some on their own. They were filing through the town like a parade and I was so glad to have my tent tucked away in my pack offering me the freedom to escape the masses.
I’ve set up camp in a perfect spot less than 1km (0.6 miles Barbie) from Arzua. I could have walked for longer as it was only 7:30pm with over an hour of decent daylight left, but I decided to rest early in this beautiful spot, ready for one of my last big days tomorrow.