Uterga to Villatuerta

I am still one day behind after splitting up the Pyrenees day, but I will find a chance to catch up soon.

We left Uterga before the sun came up, buying a few snacks and a small cup of surprisingly acceptable coffee from a machine outside the albergue. I nostalgically nodded goodbye to the memory-packed hostel, somehow feeling like it wouldn’t be the last time I’d sit at those beloved patio tables.

There’s something sacred about hitting a stride after such a challenging beginning. The body and the brain adjust to a shift in living; little changes eventually build up to an unspoken system. We wake up to the sound of a low-toned cell phone alarm, slowly remember where we are, and wiggle and stretch the all necessary muscles to see how things held up from the day before. The first steps onto the albergue floor are the hardest, pins and needles shooting through to your ankles, sensitive from weeks without rest.

After switching from my pajama pants to my hiking pants (I often switched my shirts at the end of every hike), and slipping on my socks, I shuffle to the bathroom, pop in my contact lenses and brush my teeth. Silently, I gather my things, delicately fold my sleeping back into my arms and take it all into the hallway as to not to wake anyone still in bed.

I’d tie my hair into a low bun, slip my hairband over my forehead and slather on a thick layer of suntan lotion. If I waited too long into the day, the dirt from the early Navarra roads would mix with the lotion, further pissing off my heat rash–so doing it early was crucial. Then there were my feet. I was still in the Compede phase at this point–a thick bandage that embraced blisters until they healed. I later gave up on these and created a system on kinesthetic tape over gauze and threaded blisters so they could drain as I walked.

Once you slip your pack on your body and balance the straps, you fill your water bottle, tuck it into the side pocket and give you walking buddy a silent nod–it’s time to go. Headlamp mounted to your forehead, you hit the road.

Despite the usual aches and pains, I didn’t feel half bad this morning, and I was excited to walk through Ciraqui, a town with a very strange personal meaning to me. I’ve always had vivid dreams. Though they’ve generally mellowed out, I still occasionally have vibrantly colored, emotionally intense dreams–the ones that stick with you for years. I have one reoccurring dream about standing at the top of a Spanish village in the middle of a square. Every detail is incredibly sharp–more brightly colored than I’ve ever experienced in real life. I’m calm and happy, hanging out with a friendly group of people that always look very familiar. Someone usually asks how I’m doing, I say I’m good and that I’ll see them later. Then I wake up. That’s it. This dream always leaves me feeling incredibly calm and centered for the rest of the day. I’ve had these vibrant, calming dreams ever since I returned from my first Camino (and I’ve heard of other people having similar ones as well).

“So this is the location of my heaven dreams,” I told Christina–like it was no big deal–as the village on the hill appeared in the distance. I don’t believe in a place such as heaven–though who knows, right?–but I still call these my heaven dreams. In Ginny’s dream brain, I’ve registered this town as the afterlife. I should never do hallucinogens. My brain is crazy enough without them.

The heat intensifies throughout the day, and we take our time to accommodate. After heading through my dream town without any crazy events or revelations (though I did accidentally walk into an office building in the hunt for a bathroom), we walk on, spirits high and pace steady. In the last village before our destination, a group of pre-teen girls greets us with a friendship bracelet stand, charging a euro for their handmade works of art. Trying to be clever, I attempt a phrase in Spanish to complement their craftiness, and the young little business lady looks at me and answers in much-better English. Fair enough. I buy a bracelet and add it to the collection on my wrist.

Today’s mascot

During lunch before the last 4k, we chat with Regina, a kind, muscle-bound woman from Austria, whose using the Camino to train to hike the Himalayas with her guru.

We step back into the sun and the heat hits us with a threatening shock. Four more, exposed kilometers to go, and it’s past 1pm. Not ideal for safe walking.

Realizing that we’ll need something to get us through this final push, Christina and I synch up our phones with a “1-2-3-go!” and begin a silent dance party to Hamilton. With only an occasional pilgrim to hear our super-cool rapping abilities, we dance and sing, switching between playing Geoge Washington to Aaron Burr in a state of sun-fueled delirium.

By the time we reach Villatuerta, I barely noticed that we’d been walking an hour in the sun–or that I have a nasty sunburn.

The addition of technology between my first and second Camino worried me at first. But without it, we wouldn’t have been able to book a bed at La Casa Magica–an albergue as magical as it sounds. Private albergues–often run by former pilgrims–popped up all along the trail, weaving their personalities into the experience.

With heat knocking out my senses, the host hands us both glasses of ice water and makes us take a seat before we deal with the exchanging money or talking logistics. After choosing single beds (not bunk beds!), we head out back to an open plaza, decked out with a small above-ground book, a spot to soak your feet in Epsom salts, and even HAMMOCKS. To the savvy traveler on vacation, this was not five-star hotel. To a pilgrim, this place lived up to its magical name.

Between the naturally cool, stone meditation room in the basement and a group vegetarian dinner, we were both in heaven. We spent the afternoon sitting with our new favorite friends, Christine and Sam, a couple who currently lived in Germany and remain the inspiration of how I want to live my life. A new set of twins–“the twins with the hats”–shared our room along with badass hiker Regina.

At a long family table–the type I’d daydreamed about returning to during the eight years in between my Caminos–and we dove into a homemade meal and a few bottles of wine.

I can’t say I slept well that night, but I have no explanation as to why. Maybe it was the heat? Sleep was shaping up to be my greatest challenge on this trip, and I accepted that there must be something I had to learn from all these nights lying awake stuck my head. I sure wish I’d learn it soon though. Tomorrow was the wine fountain, the 12k of nothing, and another weather forecast in the 90s. Shuteye would have done me some good.

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