My guidebook had vigorously warned me that the trek from Carrion de los Condes was long and boring. It said virtually nothing about the 34km between Sahagun and Reliegos. I would call it hell.
“The camino consists of a 2m wide gravel path. Trees have been planted to provide shade. Can be hard going in wind, rain or great heat”
What the guide book failed to mention is the psychological effect of those young trees stretching far and straight ahead. Ostensibly, they provide shade; practically, they force me to practice counting: how many steps between each tree? how many trees? how high can I count in Korean?
Much of the appeal of walking long distances is losing track of time and distance, or at least learning to measure time and distance in diverse and non-numerical ways. The trees provided a constant measure amidst an otherwise featureless landscape.
I also was struggling with a small water bottle and few tiendas from which to purchase another. Every once in awhile I would see five or six trees ahead a structure that looked, I hoped, like a fuente. Without exception, each time I arrived at the hopefully a water fountain I found it to be a memorial to a dead pilgrim.
Did it not occur to anyone that the most powerful memorial would be one which gave life rather than one which reminded us of its inevitability?
My thirst grew so desperate that I ventured off the camino, walking 2km out of the way to the fountain in the plaza of a dusty village. Who lives in these places? How do they fill their days?
Newly refreshed, I returned to the Way and my counting: 7km to Reliegos, 330 km to Santiago, siedem steps between trees, nine days until my return flight, douze trees before the big tree . . .