Feet and Philosophy

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To Larrasoana

On the first day we were so proud of Harry, on the second Ben deserved our admiration. He dug deep and he came out the other side,

It was gratifying to see how well he recovered, yes he had a bed to himself while Harry and I shared the other single, but he slept well and shouldered his backpack in the morning without flinching.

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I on the other hand went from Lara Croft to fallible over next two days.

I stoically developed blisters on the balls of my feet coming down off the Pyrenees with the weight of the two backpacks. They’re about the size of 50p coins, then there’s a couple on either little toe that dwarf the poor things, and two double-concentrate, mighty, tiny ones inside my heels.

But the Little Voices repeatedly worrying about notching up the allocated kilometres, carrying our backpacks and sticking to the plan is a force to be reckoned with. On top of that I was trying to get in step with what we’ve taken on.

It only occurred to me to wash out our socks at 10pm that first night, I had to use the hotel shower gel sachets as I hadn’t got anthing, we weren’t up at 6am, we ate breakfast where we stayed, we weren’t in the rhythm at all. We were the last to leave, by a long way, and we had to ask if it was left or right out of the village as we didn’t even have our eyes tuned to looking for the yellow shells on a blue background that mark the way – mostly.

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3km down the road, outside the much needed cash dispensing ATM, we were sitting in the mid-morning heat at the fork in the road where we turned right to go down the trail, watching the digital temperature reader over the pharmacy door opposite click over another degree. We had every reason to make today easier.

I got the bank to call a taxi to carry our backpacks to the next stop.

We had to wait 10minutes and at 9mins 30 I asked the boys if it would be a horrendous idea if we actually got in it too?

The relief of speeding through the baking hot hills in the cool interior of a taxi made us deliriously giggly. Although, I couldn’t shake the nagging Little Voices that said we were cheating.

However, by the time we picked up the trail again we had the 10km left of the day in us, and the littlest things were a delight!

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A trickle of a stream was a wonder of naked nature. A foal was a symbol of young energy, the butterflies danced. It was getting hotter and we took advantage of any shade.

And it’s not all picturesque, nor was our patience with our different paces yet settled.

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but that’s OK, even in paradise there are mosquitoes.

Suddenly the English man, Matt of the Lucozade tablets, caught up with us. It was like seeing an old friend. When we had arrived in Roncevalles the night before Ben had said he’d like to shake the hand of the man who gave him Lucozade tablets. Then we had attended the “blessing of the pilgrims” mass, we’d never been to one obviously so we were open to the experience. During a traditional Catholic service you shake hands with those around you. As we turned behind us there Matt was. Ben got to shake his hand.

So it was fun to walk along with him for a while and find out he’s a pastoral carer in a school in Cambridge. We chatted about motivations, and circled around faith and religion, and swapped expectations of The Camino to find we all shared a hope that we’d do things like swim in waterfalls.

Around the next corner was the unmistakable sound of falling water.

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We spent a happy hour sitting in what felt like a natural spa, just off the path, at the base of a small waterfall.

We said we’d send Matt a picture of him in the waterfall, we’ve lost him and don’t have his contact details so; “Matt, here it is and we hope you find it.” If anyone recognises him, please say thank you from us.

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The next corner found Larrasoana simmering the other side of a bridge at the bottom of the track. As we crossed the river running clear and cold under it the air tingled with the frisson of an invitation.

We checked into the municipal Albergue, which only houses 54. It was the first hostel experience for the boys. It turned out to be the widest collection of body shapes, ages, ethnicities and temperaments, packed into a large shed of metal bunks with plastic coated mattresses and pillows. One cold tap sink outside to launder clothes, and a washing line.

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It was however a little haven. There was one place to have dinner, a grocery store with wifi and the river.

Which was one of those moments I’ll remember for its extraordinary contrast with the time around it. It was nature applied with its gentlest touch.

You don’t actually need anything else.

Larrasoana was the perfect space to teach us the basics. Our boots were outside, I vaguely covered the smell of sweat with the smell of shower gel in an attempt to wash a few clothes, and we wandered off down the road to buy breakfast about ten minutes before they closed.

It was 7pm and the temperature had risen a couple more degrees to 37C

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We were trying to find ways to cope. I cut 4inches off Harry’s hair, Matt gave both boys bandanas. I popped my blisters, fluid spurted across the space and big sacks of empty skin hung on my feet. I slapped Compeed patches on them, and thought I was lucky compared to some of the other feet around me.

I was still wrestling mentally with the the power struggle between sticking to the plan and having to compromise on accomplishing the task somehow. But I was deep down grateful we had made the call to take the taxi, I actually couldn’t have walked much more on my feet, other people’s were bleeding and swollen with puss. The reality was absolutely clear that if your feet can’t carry you it’s game over. They take us through everyday, we really can’t take them for granted.

The pain in my hips was not easing either, and we were also staring down the track of three of the hottest days on record.

We decided to set the alarm for 5am, and walk in the dark.

At the end of the day when I look back, I see that if we’d stayed at the monastery hostel at Roncevalles we’d have been up at 6am and got pulled along with everyone walking and would have had a lot more to deal with. So their curt dismissal turned out to be our advantage.

PS It turns out Compeed is only for hobby hikers and commuters in heels, it really doesn’t stand up to the heat and pressure on The Camino. As I found out the next day, when they had melted, and opened up my blisters peeling the skin back further as they were removed.

PPS it’s going to take me at least another day to finally learn the lesson … I know from researching Toasters Don’t Roast Chickens that your mind and body are inextricably linked, that pain is a communication and you would do well to listen. Your body really is the only one you have. We have to live with our body for the rest of our life, treat it well.

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6 thoughts on “Feet and Philosophy

  1. Take care. Dad got terrible blisters on his feet walking across England, he never really got the feeling back afterwards. A rest is the right thing to do! Love the pictures!

  2. Amazing family, I wouldn’t have survived the first blister! I’m all for taxis when necessary! No shame in that, just good common sense. The tree that bends when the gale blows strongest is the tree that is left standing for another day!
    Bravo, this is your journey, your rules, you do what you need to do. What great courage and stamina you all show.

  3. I think you are becoming one with the Camino and it is watching over you. Or maybe it is Santiago Peregrino who keeps an eye on you? How else do you explain lucozade tablets when you need them, a car coming round a bend on a remote road, a man called Jacques, a wish to shake a hand and then find it there, behind you. A waterfall when you want it! A monastery that turns you away onto another an better path!
    Switch the Little Voices off sometimes and listen to what El Camino is telling you.
    And keep washing the socks! I can see a trips to the shops is going to be a priority in Santiago!

  4. When I did the Fish River Canyon,a bunch of seasoned hikers burst my blisters and put mathyalate (Spelling) directly into it – it hurt like hell but it did work – but believe me it REALLY REALLY hurt – for what its worth!

  5. Mel, you & the boys astonish me. I am loving sharing the journey with you. Pole, pole & you will overcome. Looks like that donkey Mum & I are contemplating may be our “taxi” if we are priveledged enough to dream the dream next year!

I would love to know what you think?

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