Part 2 in a series of snapshots of my journey on the Camino de Santiago, Spain, February and March 2013.
It is so ridiculous: I laugh in disbelief. Mud. A lot of it.
I have only seen mud like this on TV; footage of Glastonbury, watched in my friend’s living room on Rathlin, of festival-goers in the June rain, rolling and dancing in the mud, caked and joyous. It always looked kind-of fun, especially viewed from the comfort of a settee, but what I see today does not fill me with joy.
Here, on the descent from Alto del Perdón, I assess the situation. The path has degenerated into a great, sprawling mass of mud, made larger and messier by people attempting to create viable paths around the perimeter. The mud is pocked with footprints and skid marks left by the countless others who have somehow made their way through. I soon realise that ‘through’ is the only option, as there is no convenient alternative, no easy route. I try here and there, this way and that, but it’s too slippery and I can’t balance myself with the rucksack. Bits of discarded, half buried, fresh orange peel, vibrant against the brown background, catch my eye and provide me with sudden hope: there are other survivors somewhere beyond. Eventually, I sit down and slide. My hands, supporting my body as I ease down the slope, sink into the smooth earthy substance somewhere between solid and liquid and find the hard rock underneath. I feel self-conscious, as if I am at home sliding down the carpeted stairs, as I did when I was a young child.
I pick myself up at the bottom of the slope, struggle my way out of the remaining mud, and trudge onwards. I wipe my hands on my legs to clean them off a little, smearing beige lines across the black waterproof material.
In the Albergue there is no-one about. Even after reaching my destination on this first day of the Camino, tired and lonely, I still feel lost, and wander the building, looking for signs of life. I tentatively knock and let myself into a room, assuming that it is a dorm, and am greeted by the welcome sight (and smell) of mud-caked boots, socks, and waterproofs spread out to dry all along the radiators, sleeping bags flung onto the simple bunks, phone chargers plugged into the sockets, half-emptied rucksacks leaning against the walls with clothes spilling out of them. At last: my first Pilgrims.