(This story is part of a continuing series based on my adventures walking 500 miles across Northern Spain on the ancient pilgrimage route El Camino de Santiago. The first part begins here.)

March 24, 2005
Day 25: Hospital de la Cruz to Melide, 29.7 km/18.5 m

There’s really no good sleeping in a full refuge. People and their night noises kept me on edge. So at the first signs of morning, I was packed and on the move. Of course, I didn’t have a crumb of food and nothing was open yet so I decided to make a three-hour beeline to Palas del Rei for breakfast. About halfway there in the tiny village of Eirexe, a sleepy Martin appeared outside the refuge talking with a few other pilgrims. He grinned when he saw me, opened his arms and said, “I’ll take that kiss now.”

I don’t know, something about the look on his face, the cockiness, the performance in front of his friends or, quite simply, my own fear of him made my defense shields go up. I turned my head as he approached and gave him a hug.

He said he wanted to walk with me, which I was open to, but he wanted me to wait for him to shower, pack his bag and get ready. I still had more than an hour’s walk to my next meal, so I told him I’d walk slowly and he could catch up. When he did, he was jovial but distant, which was more than likely my fault. I listened to him talk about nothing for a very long time. Then I finally asked if we could address the emails, and we sunk into a real conversation. I was able to tell him that for the first two days of my time with him he was sensitive and adorable, but the more attracted to me he became, the more possessive he was. I felt claimed by him, and he got aggressive in his behavior. I was no longer able to be open with him. He listened intently and compassionately. Then he copped to it all and apologized. He agreed that the more attracted to me he became, the more his behavior changed. He said he didn’t know what to do with his feelings, that he knew he was being rude at times but couldn’t stop himself. His teasing was an attempt to deflect his fears—feelings for me he didn’t know what to do with. I liked his honesty and defenselessness. He was able to express how much he’d thought about me and his behavior toward me, and how frightened he’d been of me. It was all very beautiful.

We stopped for breakfast and sat across from each other a little like old lovers. What had transpired between us was over for me but still, the reconnection was warming and welcoming.


His traveling companions caught up with us—Nick, a scruffy Englishman, smoker, a bit dirty and older than his 36 years; and Enrique, a 40ish cute Spaniard with his dog, a yellow Labrador Retriever wearing its own backpack. Natalie, a diva actress from Madrid appeared, and we all walked together for the next few hours.

The more we walked, the more I began to like and appreciate Nick, a man I probably would never have hung out with in any other place. My eyes teared up as he talked about his mother who had died the year before: he was walking the Camino for her, for her faith. He’d even stopped smoking pot for the month of his journey, but after he reached Santiago, he was planning to buy “contraband” and have his own experience as he continued walking to the coast in Finnesterre.

Our motley crew arrived in Melide for what was one of my shortest travel days in a week, but my bag felt heavy, and I was looking forward to putting it down for the day. It was challenging finding a place to stay because everything was booked. The rest of my companions had claimed a bed in the refuge, but I was insistent on having my own space. They were sweet to accompany me on my search, and we eventually found an overpriced dive in a downtrodden area with only a tiny half bath. But I was happy to have landed and even more grateful to have a gang of men looking after me.

I soaked, did some laundry, rested and wrote in my journal.

I walked what seemed like an easy few miles into Melide and promptly checking into a dumpy room with a tiny bathtub. Even so, I love the soaking. It’s funny but I could make it to Santiago tomorrow if I kept up my pace, but at this point I want to slow down and relax a little. I feel my body looking forward to relaxing.

I’m trying to decide how long I’ll stay in Santiago and if I’ll walk to Finnesterre or just get back. I would love to empty my bag a bit and walk to the coast, but I am beginning to think of home. I’m also beginning to look back at moments on the trip—an apple under the bridge, the woman selling pancakes, the snow on the mountain. From now on, this trip will be a memory. Hard to incorporate it all. But, alas, it’s not quite over, and I’ll savor the last two days as best I can.

I’m really interested in seeing how much weight I’ve lost. After this diet of white bread, pasta, chocolate, cheese and lard, my pants are significantly larger. It’s the Camino diet of all the wrong things and a whole lotta walkin’.

Am I really thinking about weight loss!? Yes! Apparently I’m no more spiritual than before!

After some downtime, I met up with my travel companions in town for dinner. As we were trying to decide where to eat, I eyed the handsome man I’d passed several times on the way to Sarria. He smiled in recognition, and I waved to him as if we were old friends even though we’d not yet met. He quickly came over to introduce himself: Kristopf, from Germany. I told him that we were looking for a place to have dinner, and he said that he’d heard about a famous Pulperia where they serve pulpo—octopus—and so we followed him in this culinary adventure.

pulpo-brewPulperia Exequiel is reputed to be the best in all of Spain. Weathered, hunched old women were stewing the slimy, tentacled sea creatures in huge copper pots, like witches hovering over their brew, and then cutting them into bite-sized, purple chunks. We sat down at one of the long, picnic-style tables, and almost immediately bread and wine appeared in the middle of the table followed by a mound of pulpo drenched in oil, paprika and sea salt. It didn’t look appealing in the least, but when in Melide…

pulpoThe delicacy was certainly lost on me but the novelty was fun. I found the octopus to be slimy but not offensive, and I was happy to have a feast of protein as a departure from the mounds of carbs I’d been inhaling for most of the trek. With a good salad and some other food selections, it would have been a fine meal but just the mound of pulpo was, well, it was odd.

After dinner, Nick, Martin and I went back to a bar we’d passed, and we played darts to pass the time. We were waiting for the magic hour of 10:00. That’s when Martin had requested that the bartender make us quemada—another witch’s brew, this one of 80% alcohol and fruit, set on fire. It was a beautiful spectacle and a fun thing to do…once. But after I’d hung around long enough to partake in this other Galician delicacy, I was off the hook. quemada I would let the boys spend the night indulging in their boyish ways, and I would get some rest. Martin made me promise to meet him in the morning so we could travel together, and I did, though reluctantly, before darting off to my room where there were no snorers I’d have to contend with.