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Time walked – 8 hours, including two coffee stops, a lunch stop and two stops for foot care

Total distance walked – 16.6 miles

Miles to date – 496.45 (Ray) and 486.65 (Wendy) + 5 miles each on horseback

Weather – Cool morning, mid 60’s to hot, 78 degrees F

Terrain – gravel path, some rocky trail, pavement

Ray and I left the wall air conditioning unit on to blow all night on the wet clothes hanging on the line Ray had draped across our room. The white noise from the air unit kept us asleep until the alarm on my phone started dinging. I carefully placed my feet on the cold, tile floor. While they did not appear to be swollen, my feet felt rounded on the bottom, like I was walking on swim noodles. The new blister on my heel was red and painful. I was afraid that it might be infected, but Ray mentioned that the skin was not broken, reducing the likelihood of infection. Although I wasn’t sure if he was correct, I chose to believe him because he said what I wanted to hear.

I stood over my limited clothing choices. It was cold in the room and I remembered being cold the morning before, so I decided to pick something long-sleeved. My hooded jacket had been buried in the bottom pocket of my backpack for several days. It was too warm for my jacket, so it was not hard to eliminate. That left my purple shirt or my red Smartwool top. Carmen had talked about how much she loved wearing her Smartwool tops. They kept her warm in the mornings and cool in the afternoons, shading her arms as well. I was bored with my purple shirt, and chose the red top for a change. No reasoning was needed to pick the gray shorts over the green ones or the sandals instead of the trail runners.

Fortunately the new blister formed below the back strap of the sandals that I purchased in Burgos after the first round of blisters. My double-layered, blister-resistant socks that I had worn the day before were damp, so I secured them to dry outside my backpack and pondered my sock selection. I had mid-calf pair of double-layered socks that I didn’t want to wear with shorts, a pair of multi-colored Darntough wool socks, and the thin, no-blister socks I purchased in Burgos. In theory, the thin socks would be the best with sandals, but the one day I wore them, the seam rubbed my small toe resulting in the blister that went from behind my toe, under and over my toenail. I shuddered at the memory of a sight too horrendous for me to snap a photo. It looked like a green grape had been stuck on my little toe. I eliminated that pair leaving the wool socks, which I had not worn for hiking but to keep my feet warm in the evenings. I risked my feet getting too hot, but could change to the damp socks once they had dried. I unpacked the orange, sleeveless top that I had rarely worn to layer underneath the Smartwool top, please that the colorful wool socks matched my outfit. I smirked as I stuffed my orange bandana into my shorts pocket. The bandana was the icing on the cake of my coordination. It had been a month and a half since I’d worn make-up or fashionable clothing, and I was most satisfied with the outfit I had put together.

Ray was buttoning his faded, orange fishing shirt, and I affirmed that we would have a burning party for some of our worn-out clothes when we returned home. Mentally, I started to make a list of what I would keep and what I would burn, picturing the scenario in my mind. Ray snapped me out of my daydream, asking me how much longer I needed before being ready. There was no time to dawdle in the mornings. For a split second I longed for my peaceful mornings in Panamá but quickly refocused to the adventure of the Camino.

Ray and I were not impressed with Melide as we walked to rejoin the Camino. We wondered, however, if it was because we had stayed in a commercial area rather than seeing any historic parts of the city. Not seeing other pilgrims around our accommodation made us feel isolated. Although we slept much better in a private room, the advantage of staying in an albergue was the community of peregrinos. I told Ray that I hoped to finish the day in Salceda, but there were only a two albergues that I could find. I kept it to myself that the new blister was painful, shooting sharp pangs up my leg. Salceda was at least fifteen miles away, and I did not know if I would make it. Making it to Salceda would give us the option to walk sixteen miles the next day, arriving in Santiago in the late afternoon or breaking up the sixteen miles into two days, arriving in Santiago on Friday morning.

I loved leaving the town and pavement making our way back to the tree-covered trail. We walked between a grove of eucalyptus trees that filled the air with their clean, fresh scent. This was another unique and unexpected experience of the Camino. Even with all my planning, I could never have imagined the sights, smells and sounds of the past few weeks. Ray stopped on the trail in front of me, inhaling deeply. He turned around asking me if I could smell the leaves. I nodded my head and smiled as we walked together. Ray wondered what we would do next, and I wondered what we could ever do to top our Camino. We were not ready to find the answers. Instead we walked in silence, appreciating the moment, enamored with our adventure.

We rarely caught a glimpse of the sky as the Camino cut through the forests. Reflecting back on the three distinct regions we had traversed, I could not pick a favorite. The province of Navarra, distinguished by the hills and mountains of the Pyrenees, provided an outstanding backdrop for the most beautiful photographs I had ever taken. The plains of Castilla y León reminded me of growing up in Kansas with the fields of wheat extending to the horizon. Those seemed like distant memories as Ray and I again contemplated the how the Camino pilgrimage paralleled the journey through life. The mountains and pastures of Galicia were lush and humid from the frequent rains. The farmland was divided into smaller sections, farm animals were a common site, and trees were plentiful.

As Ray and I walked along the trail, we saw a familiar pink hat peeking above the backpack of a pilgrim in the distance. We were excited to catch up to Jeri and walk together. Ray told Jeri that he had wondered what it would be like to walk with her and glean from her two Camino adventures. She laughed and said that she was trying to figure out what the Camino meant as well. Jeri said that she was glad to see us and was grateful to have some company. She too had been more philosophical as the Camino was coming to an end.

We arrived in Arzúa at lunch time and looked for a bar restaurant with tables on the busy sidewalk. It was strange to see several pilgrims walking along or sitting at tables but not recognizing any familiar faces. We chose a restaurant and ordered lunch. Ray and I ordered a the usual sandwich to share with a side of green olives. Jeri ordered a cheese plate with bread and vegetables. We offered Jeri some olives and she shared the creamy, local cheese with us. The cheese was delicious, and I decided that Ray and I had too often ordered what we had become familiar with instead of looking for something different. The foods of our Camino were limited to a half a dozen dishes.

As we grabbed our backpacks to gear up for the rest of our day, Jeri joked that she would love a picture of her backpack. Her laundry had not dried in the albergue, and she had attached them to her backpack. Sarcastically, she said that she would love to show her children her homeless look while walking the Camino. I hadn’t even noticed until she mentioned it, but grinned while snapping an action photo without her knowing.

Among the three of us, I had the slowest pace, nursing my blistered feet. Thankfully the trail was mostly smooth and flat so that I could follow closely enough to participate in the conversation. As we knew from before, walking with another pilgrim helped make the time go faster. Ray enjoyed having a new audience, entertaining Jeri with his imitations of different styles of hiking pole techniques. We talked about our Camino family members andwhere they were and how they were doing. Ray challenged Jeri to skip down the trail in her backpack. Without a comment she skipped beside me and I joined her. We hollered at Ray to take a video, but he was laughing so hard that he couldn’t get to his phone before we stopped. He tried to get us to do it again, but it had taken all of our strength. Walking with Jeri proved to be more fun and I hardly noticed the pain in my heel after awhile.

Jeri had also planned to stay in Salceda and made a reservation for a bed in a private albergue. She offered to let me use her phone to call, but I got the number from her and sent a message to see if there were two more beds available. It was easier for me to send messages in my limited Spanish than to call. I could also see if the message was delivered or seen. I got an answer that I could reserve two beds so I sent the required information, glad to have the pressure removed.

It was hot before we reached the albergue. Ray and Jeri were comfortable in their long sleeves, but I had removed my Smartwool top early in the morning. The wool-blend had been too hot for me as soon as I warmed up. I was baffled how most everyone else could be comfortable in their layers. The albergue offered laundry services, for which we gladly signed up. My wool socks had performed well and I wanted to wear them again the next day. The albergue owner, a peregrino himself, gave us a tour of the property and a choice of beds. He had three top bunks in one room and one bunk bed in another. I felt a little guilty choosing the bunk bed for Ray and I, leaving Jeri with a top bunk in a different room. She assured me that she was fine with that as I explained that I didn’t think I could negotiate the bunk bed ladder with my feet and we wouldn’t want Ray’s snoring to keep her awake. She joked with me that she had been fine without us for the previous forty nights, but I couldn’t shake the feeling of selfishness having chosen first.

We made our beds and got showers, then met in the common area to have dinner together. Similar to some of the other stops in Galicia, Salceda wasn’t what I considered a village as much as a group of various buildings along either side of a highway. We found two choices for dinner and chose the dirtier of the two because we could order dinner before 7:00 p.m. Ray wiped off our table as we waited for our hamburgers. Our Camino family started checking in and we learned that Jeanette, Mike and Sue were only four kilometers ahead of us. Jeanette had fallen early in the day, landing on her face and cutting her eye and cheek. I gasped reading the message to Ray and Jeri. Fortunately she was not hurt other than the cuts and would be able to continue on to Santiago. We were thankful to hear that she was alright, especially within the last few miles. It reminded us how easily something could go wrong. Happily, Yung Mi and Claudia had each surpassed their daily goal giving us hope for a reunion in Santiago.

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