My group out-walked me today. I am sure I will link up with them again. I craved solitude after walking with a group for a long time and I crave company after being alone for too long. Such is the swinging pendulum of being a contradictory mix of traits on the introvert-extrovert spectrum. I was walking at an extremely slow pace from pain and soreness. I talked to two innocent, kind Russian girls that were 27, who I doubted knew what it meant to be mean in any way. Their demeanors indicated they didn’t possess negativity receptors, the way sharks can’t breath air. They were only capable of understanding positivity so as a result, only exuded positivity.
After walking 18 miles for the day and arriving at my destination, Astorga. I came across a table of 4 other pilgrims, and introduced myself, timidly, as the dynamic of the group slowly revealed itself to me. They carried on their conversations after a few questions about my place of origin and age, etc. I didn’t know if this group had been together for twenty days or two. They were all the outgoing, well-adjusted types. Katrine sat directly to my left, we exchanged pleasantries and Camino start dates. She was from Stavanger, Norway, I later learned it was the third largest city in Norway.
“Are you coming?” she said, as her crew was getting up to leave.
“No, I’m staying here tonight. I said.
They set out to advance the last 5km of the day to the next town. I would catch up to them in the morning. I enjoyed a four hand massage that night from the Physiotherapy students of a college in Spain that were volunteering to treat bruised and blistered pilgrims in the hostel that night. They punctured my many blisters that leaked water, to my satisfied “Ahhhh.” Iodine was injected into my blisters as a cleansing agent. I joined a quirky German guy and a Polish girl to buy some 60 cent pasta and 80 cent sauce at the supermercado to cook our dinner at the hostel. The dinner was a mix of people from the Netherlands, Spain, Poland, Germany and America.
The next day started at 5 am. I loaded my pack for the day using a flashlight, careful not to wake the other sleeping pilgrims in the hostel bunkbeds. I began the walk in the freezing darkness, anxiously awaiting the sunrise. The sun began to peek over the mountain ridge slowly imposing its warmth onto my body after an hour. After 10 km of walking, I came across Matt, an affable Englishmen with long hair who stood at an imposing 6 feet 6 inches , who I had met the previous day. I struck up a conversation and continued the days hike with him and his friends Nicole and Katrine. The trio possessed a snappy rapport. We played the games Twenty-one questions, Would you rather? and Have you ever? Personal and embarrassing information was volunteered like we were talking about our favorite books or musicians, I could tell this crew was well-acquainted over many days.
Matt had a disarming manner and limitless supply of British irony and wit. He rifled off various absurd sexual scenarios in which we were tasked with choosing the more preferable of the two. Some involved witnessing and participating in sex acts with your own parents and lots of shit, and diarheaa. Each choice or preference was usually punctuated by a brief cost-benefit analysis or a weighing of the pros and cons. Katrine had a sexual energy that volunteered itself to say “I’m here and I’m available” I attributed it to the openness and lack of inhibitions that Norwegian people possessed when discussing sexual activities. I am the prudish American compared to them. When Katrine raised her hand for all three of…“Anal, threesome, and giving or getting a hand-job on a plane” I felt like I was seeing her naked or she was admitting something incriminating to me. I listened intently like a giddy schoolboy. I contributed occasionally with a “Have you ever accidentally made out with a tranny?” or “have you ever had sex with someone that you didn’t know the name of?” to two raised hands on the second question.
Matt regaled us with tales of disgruntled ex-lovers and wine bottles being thrown at his head. Words were exchanged as a currency of self-promotion with Katrine and this group, and I became intimidated by their comedic and intimate banter. We walked through a small town and I walked directly into a sign, banging my head, my ibuprofen dose was upped to 3000 mg that day. The days on the trail took shape quickly and existence was simplified to a yearning for the next meal break at a bar for café con leche, endless amounts of croissants, cigarette breaks that were well earned. Time off of our feet was savored.
We slowly walked ahead as me and Katrine were the speedy and more athletic of the walkers. “So do you have a girlfriend back home?” She asked.
“No, what about you?” I said.
“No, just these two keep me company most of the time. And tinder doesn’t seem to provide many suitable bachelors.” She said.
We advanced with a smooth and sometimes rocky rapport. She had a free-spirit attitude and a wardrobe that consisted of all black, down to the socks, baseball cap, tank top, make up bag, and even black Birkenstock sandals. She had an extensive library of good 90’s American rap that she blared from her IPhone. We saw a bright green colored lizard that was about a foot long on the trail and waited for it to pass.
At the end of the day, we reached a small cluster of buildings that was protruding from the edge of this beautiful mountain range. After descending, we found what looked like a luxury hotel with a pool and scenic view of the mountains, and they charged 10 euros a bed for all pilgrims.
After settling in and taking a dip in the pool. I went to sit on one of the beach chairs by the pool to write in my journal, Katrine came over shortly after “Can I join you?” She said, and laid out a beach towel, laid down and pulled her shirt and shorts up revealing a winding moss tattoo along her left rib cage. I wrote about her in silence while she sunbathed right next to me. I asked about her situation at home. She was working on a degree on Nutrition. Matt came by shortly after,
“Well, this is Europe for you Pete, beautiful women hanging out with goofy looking guys in speedos.” He said.
“So what’s the first thing you’ll do when you get home? Have a wank probably for me.” Matt said.
Katrine agreed, nodding and laughing. “I had one using one of the removable shower heads in one of the hostels, only once though. But that’s been it for me.” She said.
I blushed, shaking my head.“ I don’t know.” I said, recalling my frequent masturbation habit. My internal bully rebuked me for the remainder of the night for taking myself so seriously.
We were sitting on the balcony smoking cigarettes overlooking the mountains at sunset. Nicole came out with the laundry dried and folded.
“I found a suspicious stain on your shorts, Pete. I don’t know you well enough to make that joke.” Nicole said, smiling. I thanked her for doing everyone’s laundry as I took the clothes from her.
“Did you find me on Facebook?” Katrine said.
“Yeah, here you are.” I said.
“If you visit Oslo, I can visit you there, I have cousins that live there.” She said.
I fell asleep with nervous anticipation for the possibilities.