Many years ago, I watched a film and it changed my life.
Martin Sheen played a father to a lost son, at first bewildered by his grief, then determined, against all expectations, to walk the Camino de Santiago in his honour.
For no good reason at all, I decided that I would also walk that path one day.
Four years ago, I finally followed in his footsteps, walking from St-Jean-Pied-de-Port to Santiago de Compostela, an 800km odyssey that rewired my soul.
The following year, I walked the Português route to Santiago from Porto. Now here I am walking the Inglés from Ferrol.
I would not have been able to have any of these experiences if it were not for the support of my family and close friends, who each said the right thing at the right time, freeing me to let slip responsibility and expectation.
As I walked through one gorgeous Galician landscape after another today, the gratitude for the circumstances that placed me here washed over me in waves.
The song that came to mind throughout was “Thank U”, by Alanis Morissette, which featured in the film that first taught me about The Way.
This is my Thank U.
Mind you, Left and Right Calf had entirely different opinions about that this morning as I strapped on my boots, sending up howls of protest and rather refusing to cooperate.
Perhaps they had seen today’s map, which showed 24km of fairly relentless inclines to the stage end at Méson do Vento.
It might have been another cool crisp morning, with ice on commuter cars as they zipped along Betanzos back streets, but the leg muscles were soon screaming on the steep ascent out of town.
One curve in the path led to another incline, with little relief, pounding asphalt and forest tracks in equal measure.
Some say this Camino stays too long on tarmac roads, but I’m sure that Spain quite likes not still being medieval too. It’s a modern country, after all, not a theme park.
I may have been among the first to leave Betanzos this morning, but everyone else caught me up quite quickly, with Alberto from Spain, Birgitta and Anne from Denmark and Chris from the U.S. powering up the hills past me.
Alexandra and Marie were next, blisters under control, but dazed by a poor night’s sleep in the albergue, woken frequently by the cold, as well as the snoring. My decision to choose a hotel took on extra merit.
Next came the Advanced Years Guys, Felipe (who still owes me a coffee) and Javier. We had a quick photo shoot and then they shot off into the distance.
Soon the only sound was the screaming of dogs from a faraway kennel, which prompted me to listen to Alanis instead.
I suddenly realised that there was a pleasing absence of flies, at least compared to previous Spanish walks. As soon as I thought that, they arrived.
After eight hours, I finally arrived at the highest point on the Inglés (only 460 metres, no biggie) and the cooling breeze at the alto was magnificent.
The cooling cerveza at Casa Avelina, even more so.
Once again, for all those who made it possible for me to be here, Thank U.
You know who you are.
Betanzos to Méson do Vento
Stage distance: 24km, almost entirely uphill. Ow.
Dogs irritated: 27
Slips, trips and falls: 0 (2) Steady now.
Number of times Buen Camino was said: About a dozen. I tried being less congenial, and the results are clear.
Unexpected Song Played In My Head All Day: New Slang by The Shins. And Thank U.
Hotel Cainama, Méson do Ventos
Knowing I would be last to arrive, therefore risking a full albergue, I opted for a preemptive hotel booking. So did Meave from Glasgow, and we’ve chatted about Iceland, music, illness and much more.
A 75-year-old man in a 53-year-old body – that’s how it feels right now. But the body is remarkably self-restoring and tomorrow is largely downhill. Did you hear that, Left Calf?