I´m in Belorado, Spain after 10 days of walking. My knee is a lot a better and I´ve learned to take it a little slower. The entire group of students seems to have equalized in pace. After the first week of walking (100 miles), I think everyone´s body has sort of broken down to some extent, and now we´re just maintaining a common functional speed.
We´ve been leaving earlier and ealier. In large part it´s the older folks who start rustling to get a head start on the day. Sometimes at 4am the crumpling and zzzzrrrr of zippers begins. It´s the craziest ruckus. It sounds like a frenzy and if you´re still in bed you feel forgotten in the face of danger. There is something very refugee-like about this trip. Each day we´re on the move with only the bare essentials on our back. The big hostels are either government or church-operated, and it seems very official when you show your ´pilgrim passport´and your real passport to check in. The large sea of beds is military like in configuration, and the schedule is obeyed by all. It´s not a like a typical european hostel where drunk kids can roll in at 3am. These door lock at 10p, which is early enough to conflict with the timeline of spanish culture. The ciesta is from 2-5p, and many restaurants don´t open until 8:30p, making it a little tight to make it back to the hostel. Ellen and I have been disappointed with the strange meals we get in the off-time of 6-7p. We´re going to start cooking at the hostels, which typically have decent kitchens. Most pilgrims make their own meals and the kitchens can get really crazy, but everyone is friendly and it works.
The community of pilgrims is really solid. Faces are becoming familiar as most people stay on the same schedule. There are many different hostels (aka: albergues) to stay at along the way, but we seem to keep the same company from town to town. Right now the wave is peaking. We´ve waited in long lines the last few days to get checked in, and two days ago a couple students didn´t get beds and checked into a hotel instead although they opened a nearby gymnasium for overflow, but they already paid for the hotel. Many hostels do this when they reach capacity. Last night we were in Santo Domingo at a very nice hostel that slept 134, but took in 198.
In the evenings the common areas become festive with everyone eating, playing cards, talking, writing, and tending to their feet. An older italian man with white hair noticed me icing my knee, and through the translation of another pilgrim I learned that he wanted to "heal" me. I think he was a reikh-practicioner. I ended up sitting on one of the many couches with him, my legs in his lap, and he just held my knee in his hands while he and his two friends carried on in italian. His hands were super warm, and I just sat back not understanding anything. Ocassionly the italian woman would ask me a question in English and translate it back to the two guys. This went on for almost and hour. Encounters like these remind me a lot of burning man, where the healers come out and seek patients. The evenings aren´t as crazy as burning man, but there is a similar vibe of community and openness, and it only works if you participate. So I was completely down with the italian man holding my legs for an hour.
We walked 15 miles today, which seemed pretty easy. It was cooler today and clouds blocked the sun from time to time. The landscape is starting to flatten out, making the walk easier on the joints. We leave before the sun rises, and within an hour we pass this wild old man from Brazil. He is 82 years-old with a big white beard. When Ellen and I walk past him we say the typical camino line: "hola, buen camino´!" and he sort of stops walking and stiffly turns to us and growls "ooos treeooos" with a big a smile. This guy is super fired up, and just chugs along each day. I have no idea what he barks at us, but I love hearing it each morning.