The reason for the stretches to be so long has, most times, been due to having no other option along the way, in regards to hostels and facilities. Over the past weeks, I've spoken with many experienced walkers who have walked different routes in Spain. And everyone says the same: this particular Camino is a tough one, because there are limited hostels and facilities along the way. Apparently on other routes, after every 5 or 10 kms, there are places to sleep and eat. But that's not the case on this route, and it's therefore become known for it's level of endurance. As this is my first Camino, many walkers have been intrigued WHY I chose this route instead of the more popular, easier and better facilitated one. The answer to this question, was IN the question; other routes (especially the traditional route of Frances) are too populated and heaving with tourists. This particular one - Via de la Plata - is less popular. That's why I chose it; I'd be sure to have more space.. And if long distances between hostels is a price to pay for receiving more silence, then it's not too high.
So I'm not sorry AT ALL that I chose this particular route. Yes, I've been challenged but these challenges have taught me so much, and the people I've come to meet, whilst facing these challenges, have even been like teachers to me.
Last Sunday for example (when my legs were to take me 32km from Grimaldo to Carcaboso), I met a man from Valencia as I set out at 07.30am. Manuelle. He's one of the strongest and fastest walkers I've met, for someone who could be my grandfather. I was well-impressed, as he was with me. His pace fitted mine, hence the reason for us to walk together. Without him speaking English, I sourced some of my very basic conversational Spanish. It was all very simple, but that didn't matter. After walking 32km together, it was as if we'd been friends for ages.
What I learned from him - simply by observing HOW he'd approach his walking and be successful in maintaining his pace with as little frustration as possible after walking 2 full days with him over a stretch of 70kms - was the importance of storing energy and building physical strength from within. As well I could see how a certain level of experience and preparation means the mental ability expands and makes it more possible to walk certain stretches, without feeling the stress or pressure is going to break the physical self.
On the second day (Monday, the 20th) we walked together. It was the biggest day I was to have; 40km without a town or facility of any kind in between. I was feeling strong at the start. But after only 20kms, I started to fade away. I was clearly overdoing it, but I'd started that stretch, so I'd continue (it's crazy how hard it can be, to STOP when you've started something. If you're so obsorbed, it can take MORE effort to step away than to actually go on).
At one stage, with 10km more to go, I started to feel physically ill and felt I was screaming from within, as I pounded on the pavement for the 4th or 5th hour. The fact that I didn't know what terrain we were about to walk on, what circumstances I still needed to go through, if my legs would carry me or if the heat would melt me... were uncertainties that accumulated and I let those worries zap my energy, until I had no choice and simply HAD to STOP.
On the side of a motorway, I felt my body was going to fall apart. But I wasn't alone. I had my walking companion. And in such situations, words aren't needed. We don't need to express what's going on inside - there's simply a level of understanding. And the smallest gestures then are enough to feel as if the heavens have opened up and GOD has sent the saving grace. There Manuelle stood, with a piece of fruit and half a bun... (my own food supply had run out). Well, I nearly cried inside... realizing that all my body and mind needed was MORE food (so much in fact, that my backpack didn't have enough space for a big enough supply to see me through the 40kms). Some fruit and a bun later, I was smiling again. Exhausted, but sure I'd eventually make it... Slowly but surely, my legs brought me to my bed for night....
The mental ability that's needed in order to stretch yourself out over such a distance, is quite daunting. It's impossible to know what the circumstances will be before heading off on the road. But how we deal with certain circumstances that arise, totally depends on our own selves, our level of energy and our peace of mind when taking on whatever our situations present us with. This is why I was so inspired by Manuelle; he's got this constant state of calm control, in all situations, and knows he'll get to his destination. He's totally IN the journey, moving through the motions and not wasting his energy on certain mental drawbacks.
That day was the toughest by far. My fatigue blinded me to the ability I have to overcome challenges. And it was the accumulation of kms, since leaving Casares, that exhausted me. I was hitting 130kms in the space of 4 days. My mental capacity to deal with such pressure, nearly broke me. But I was able to understand it. It brought home many many revelations. As well, the importance of food and rest, hit me, on every level. Wow... such simply things we otherwise take for granted.
The following day Manuelle had to go back to Valencia. So, we said goodbye, promising to keep in touch. I was delighted to have met him, but also delighted to be out on my own again.
That day, there was the possbility of doing only a 10km stretch. And it meant I was able to slow down the train I felt the Camino to have become. It gave me a chance to rest, to sit, to write, and to eat MORE. I was simply listening to my body, doing what it was telling me to do. And the day before, as I stood on the roadside, my body felt as if it was going to fall apart. It was terrifying almost; a feeling that pushed me to go further beyond my boundaries where food is concerned. I felt the only thing, besides rest, that would keep me together, was mountains of food. It didn't even matter what or when it was. So the ill-varied food that's available here, was suddenly my glue. And how grateful I've become for the simplest of sustenance to keep me satisfied, energized and sustained along the way.