Friday, June 4, 2010

19th day of walking

Each day we follow painted yellow arrows through towns and along trails. The path is very well marked, to the point that it would be difficult to get lost. Occasionally our guide book shows alternate routes, which we usually take because it puts you a little further out and away from a main road if the trail happens to run parallel to one that day. We took one of these the other morning. The grass was overgrown and still wet with dew, soaking our shoes. There were large snails every few feet, the size of 25 cent gumballs. I was careful not to step on the ones I could see but ocassionally I would hear the delicate crunch of a christmas ornamnent. Stepping on the snails seems more atrocious than crushing an ant or a worm; they somehow command a higher value of life.

Eventually the alternative route meets up with the regular trail and there is more pilgrim traffic. It´s interesting how different cultures deal with the sun. There are two young asian girls who cover their bodies head to toe with clothing. They wear silk gloves and baby bibs tied just above the nose. They always seem exhausted. There is a spainard who has a tent-like structure attached to his backpack that cantilevers over his head like a pavilion. We refer to him as the tent-man, and for several days Ellen was convinced that he had a child under the tent...but it turned out that the particular child she was thinking about belonged to a hostel owner in a previous town. The americans seem to favor sunblock for cover, and we lather ourselves in the stuff.

Regardless of our sun protection strategies most of us are walkers, and anything else seems like cheating. I think this is a basic heirarchical structure of travel; if you're a walker then bicycling seems like an easy way out; if you´re a cyclist a motorcycle is going soft; and if you're touring the country on two wheels, roadtripping in a car is lesser. We usually encounter the cyclists who come up behind us fast, sometimes without the warning of a bell, which many are lacking. Ellen and I call them cheaters, we say "some cheaters are coming" and move to the side of the trail letting them pass, and often joke of shoving a stick in their wheel as they fly by. The cyclists look the part, decked out in spandex, they ride fancy mountain bikes with full suspension and disk brakes. Luckily they are branded with a handicap on the camino as the walkers take precedent in the hostels. Bikers have to wait until 6p to get beds, well after the slowest walker has made it in for the night.

Ellen and I stayed in a small hostel in the center of Terradillos the other night, a tiny town of 80 people. The hostel had a kitchen and they cooked a pilgrim meal for 8 euro, which consisted of bean soup or re-heated frozen veggies, pan-fried trout, salad, and fruit for desert. The dinning area seated about 45 people, and we sat at a table with 5 others. Two koreans, and three austrians. None of us could really communicate with one another, but it was intersting to pick up on table etiquette of each culture. The two korean women (who were not traveling together...just friends through familiarity) ordered a different appetizer, and proceeded to share both options between themselves. A clever strategy, I thought. The rest of us odered our own preference of starters. The wine was poured communally and we toasted as a table, the climax of our communication that evening. The best part was at the end, when the server plopped a bowl of fruit on the table, several banannas, a couple apples, and one or two oranges. I went for the bananna, peeled it and ate it. The koreans and one of the austrians each took an apple, and proceeded to cut it with a pearing knife. The asian lady had hers skinned within a minute, cored it, and offered a chunk to the rest of us. The austrian man quarted his apple, sliced out the remainder of the core, and then took care of the skin, finally making a similar offer to the table. Ellen and I both looked at each other in relief that we hadn't taken an apple because we would of just taken a big bite of our apples not thinking about offering to anyone....the americans at the table.

Terradillos, like many towns we pass through is essentially a small farming village. The buildings are very similar, brick construction with stucco or sometimes a mud and straw mixture that looks very 'organic'. Every structure has a tiled roof. Some towns are more plain than others with little decoration on the facades of the buildings, while others look fancier with complex brick and stone work, and sometimes hodge-podge mixtures of random bathroom-like tiles. But across the board these towns are working class villages depsite the romantic appeal of a quaint spanish town. The ironic thing for me is that the analog in the united states would be a deserted rural town or a trailer park, that is basically the socio-economic bracket of people in these places. Yet as tourists, we romanticize these picturesque places in large part, I think, because of the materials used to construct their buildings. If this were the US all we would see is vinyl siding and asphalt shingles. It´s amazing how much our american aesthetic sensibility is altered here. Many structures are completley delapidated, with caved in roofs or just the facade left, where nature has taken over beyond the wall and the view through the window looks like a jungle. But again, we can romanticize the ruin-like quality of this condition, and remained unalarmed....but I can't help to think about what this would feel like if it were a trailer park where half of the homes were abandoned. I don't think we would walk so freely down the main drag, saying 'hola' to each local we pass.

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