(Blogger’s Note: This is a sidebar exerpt from my book draft #PilgrimStrong, an account of my 500-mile pilgrimage across Spain on the Camino de Santiago.)
Tired. Hurting. Cold. Eventually, even pilgrims with the most agreeable tendencies can wear down and get a little out of sorts.
Day 30 was such a day for me.
With 100 kilometers to go from Sarria, our destination for the day was Portomarin. It was cool, and a heavy dampness hung in the air (yet again), but the winds were favorably calm. Severe tendinitis was a huge aggravation slowing my pace considerably, and I encouraged Naomi and Aida to go on without me knowing I’d catch up to them by the end of the day at our designated albergue. It was a point in the journey where I’d tell myself regularly, “…just keep moving.”
Just two kilometers short of Portomarin I passed through the tiny village of Vilachá, where a small, but well organized donativo stand with fresh fruits, cookies and two plastic chairs was more than I could resist for a moment’s rest before the day’s final steps. I really just wanted to sit, and that’s exactly what I did. I slipped off my pack and set my walking stick aside. The fruit looked good, but I was too tired and grumpy to eat, instead just taking an occasional sip from my water bottle.
It was quiet, and there was no indication of a soul anywhere around. Peaceful solitude.
You know how sometimes, two people inadvertently get off on the wrong foot from the first moment they meet? That’s what unfortunately happened here … and it was completely my fault, the combined result of exhaustion, pain, frustration, and very bad timing.
From nowhere, a thin woman with long hair, passed through a door into the common area where I sat, and she greeted me in Spanish, asking my primary language. “English,” I said, not really looking up.
“Bound for Portomarin?” she inquired, clearly indicating a heavy English accent.
“Yes, ma’am. I just need to sit here a moment,” I replied.
“Do you have a booking?” she asked, the accent seemingly heavier.
I lifted my guidebook to show her. “Yes, I have a guidebook,” I responded, knowing she was trying to help, yet not wanting help. I didn’t realize I’d misunderstood.
“NO. A booking!” she raised her voice, frustrated with my misunderstanding. She was asking if I had a reservation ahead. I didn’t. I never made reservations, and just took things as they came. We were in a cultural misunderstanding with escalated tensions before I knew what happened.
I responded in a way that I shouldn’t have.
“No, I never make reservations ahead. I don’t plan things. I have friends ahead and I need to find them wherever they are. I’m very tired, hurting and just wanted to sit here a moment.” It’s that tone I get when I’ve already turned someone off. Very bad habit.
“Well, you’re not being very sociable, I can tell you that. I’m only trying to help, and I can save you some steps on those weary feet if you’d only be agreeable.”
“Am I really in this conversation?” I wondered to myself, head hung low.
It’s never good when you begin a sentence with “Lady…” As in, lady this, or lady that… The addressee never hears anything after that. I get it.
“Lady, I’m just sitting here, not really bothering anyone, but I’m going to move on down the path now and get out of your way. I’m sorry to be such a bother,” I said.
I threw my pack over one shoulder and scurried away, but before I could get too far, she got the best of me on our unfortunate exchange. She threw the last knockout punch.
“Well, you’re the most unpleasant pilgrim I’ve come across in weeks!” And she slammed the door bidding me good riddance.
And I just laughed my way off into the distance. She told me – and good.. And I pretty much deserved it.