Recognizing quickly that the main Peregrino fold advanced from town to town per guidebook suggestions, this pattern was dodged quickly. My preference was to hit the in-between towns, avoid the bigger town bustle and crowds and find those diamond-in-the-rough hostels. I had landed in one of the bigger, suggested itinerary Camino towns, Logrono, for meeting up with my friend, who was arriving via rail.
I woke again early at the municipal hostel. Not wanting to venture out in the dark, I entered the kitchen to hang for a while. There was a handful of folks opening and digging into plastic bags that held grocery staples. Some were cooking up breakfast while others boiled water for hot drinks.
Noting a vending machine in the corner advertising espressos and cappuccinos. I fumbled for coins to fill my morning coffee craving. I was humbled as I watched these huddled, hunched over folks eating their breakfast quietly before the sun rose. I had nowhere to go at this hour, since I was chilling for the day.
Of course, my bed still had to be vacated by 0800 per hostel rules, so that the cleaning staff could enter and give the hostel a quick makeover before the next Peregrino onslaught. Pilgrims could stay only one night in a hostel so as to keep them moving onward.
I dug out the guidebook for suggestions for a room tonight. Accommodations for all budgets are available on the Camino. Beds ranged from donativo hostels (give what one can afford), to 5 plus Euros for municipal or private hostels, up to 30 plus Euros for pensiones or hotels. Some hotels offered Peregrino discounts. I figured a private room would be nice on several accounts.
After various inquiries around town to find that perfect, quaint European stay, I ended up at the first hotel visited. The toilet was located down the hall like many older European hotels. How odd it would be not to have a dozen roommates tonight.
The thought crossed my mind to look for a smaller backpack today. Mine was old and made from heavier material, and was perhaps one of the reasons my legs felt so heavy. Consideration was given to use the transport service that would forward one’s pack to Santiago, should I purchase another lighter version.
At one store visited, the sales clerk bared his chest revealing scars from bedbugs on the Camino. Speaking in Spanish, he named the place and town where he had acquired these pest bites. Vowing to remember the name, I departed, however by day’s end, it had slipped from memory. Undecided about a pack and wanting to rest I returned to the hotel room. I felt strangely alone.
My arriving friend heralds from Austria and would be walking with me for the next few weeks. I will choose Kashi for his pseudonym, one of several nicknames given to him, depending on the countries we had travelled together. Kashi is the ancient name for Benares, (Varanasi) India. This spiritual epicenter in India is where I met Kashi, who has since become one of my closest traveling companions.
During our serendipitous first encounter, the festival of Shivratri celebrating Lord Shiva and his marriage to Parvati was being held. Benares fills with ascetic, sometimes naked, Sadhus traveling from all corners of India for this very auspicious celebration. Bhang lassi (a cannabis laced yoghurt drink) is the festival nectar of choice for the many devotees of Shiva, as is the inhaled form. Shiva himself loved to partake. The atmosphere can get wild, especially among the groups of young Indian men roaming the streets. This major Hindu festival symbolizes the overcoming of darkness and ignorance in life, perhaps similar to walking the Camino, but I digress.
Kashi and I have traveled to over 10 countries since India. Romance has drifted in and out over these encounters. Skype calls carried the friendship across the Atlantic between travels.
We have mused that on one of our international rendezvous’, to meet in a predetermined bar. Whoever arrived last would approach the other as a stranger, introduce one-self and smoothly entice further.
I decided to trial this whim and in my last email sent, I stated the designated place. I was to be found in one of a handful of cafes on a square surrounding a church. I chose a table with a good vantage point.
Maybe, he was at the hotel waiting.
Panic started to slowly seep in.
Gulping the last swallow of Rioja, I scurried back to the hotel.
I sat on the hotel steps.
Neither of us had cell phones with us.
Time slowed to a standstill.
A few sentry-like promenades were made back and forth down the alleyway.
I sat back down.
And just when I was about to despair my tall, lanky, unassuming friend stuck his head around the hotel doorway.
So, in a re-write of the script in my head, we embraced, shared smiles of familiarity and then slipped into a nearby bar to catch up and make a toast with the local famous regional vintage. Hollywood movies are generally overrated and unrealistic anyways.