Spain 2018, part 23 (Way of St James: San Xulián do Camiño – Melide)

The albergue at which we stayed in village San Xulián do Camiño consists of two parts separated by the main road and the Way that leads through the village. On the one side, there is a bar-restaurant and some of the rooms, while on the other side there are several other rooms, one of which was assigned to the three of us. While Francesco and Gabriel were well into their daily resting phase in this room, I was sitting in the bar-restaurant on the opposite side of the road, waiting for my backpack and writing a text I was to post on the Facebook. Since the gadget for downloading photos from my camera was in the big backpack, I could not post any photo to go with the text. That was, however, the least of my problems at that moment. The time was passing by, my backpack was not coming and the host assured me that this happens and that the drivers certainly made a stop somewhere to have a beer and that my backpack would arrive soon, but I started to feel very nervous and bad, hence the final comment in my text – as if my friends could see that there was panic and drama at the moment, but I wanted to reassure them and convey to them they should not worry since I was physically well.

That was both true and not true. I’m thinking about this thing being physically well. I had no new blisters, no new pain in any part of my body and no new problem with my body, but I was just sitting there in my t-shirt sticky from dried sweat, all dusty and tired, and instead of lying in a bed, freshly showered and clean, with my feet up above the horizontal line of my body in order for the legs to rest better, I was sitting in the bar-restaurant, gloomily waiting for Godot in the shape of my big, bright red backpack. Like any other Godot of this world, my backpack was not coming either.

At some point I started (again) to talk with the host-bartender on the subject and this is where my detective work started. First I had to ascertain which company actually transported my backpack. There was a change in the system in Sarria, new players appeared in the field of the luggage transportation, but they also all charged a little less – instead of 5 euros, the price was now 3 euros per stage. Back there I took an envelope of a transportation company recommended by the host there and in fact I didn’t remember the name of the company, but I did remember what the “envelope” used for leaving the data and for putting the money in looked like. Finally, I managed to convince the host to dial up that company and when he finally did it (kindly, but very much relaxed and carefree), the company said they did not even see my backpack that day!

  • “WHAT???!!!”

This was exclaimed only by me, since the host just continued to chat calmly with another guest with whom he obviously shared much more interesting stories than the mine. I could see there was no use of him, so I went to Francesco, woke him up and asked him if I could use his mobile. Of course I could.

So, I returned to the bar-restaurant and since as of a few days ago I had all the phone numbers of the albergues we wanted to stay at written down in order for me to call and book the accommodation for the three of us, I first dialled the one in Sarria. As I stayed there for two days, the host knew perfectly well who he was talking with, so I first verified with him the name of the company for the transportation of luggage. Just to be sure. Then I called the company again. They reiterated that they did not see my backpack that morning in Portomarín. Then I called the albergue-hostel in Portomarín, explained the situation to them, they said that no luggage was left behind that morning, but they went to check again, just in case (the hostel has entrances from two streets, the reception is close to the lower street, while the luggage is taken from the upper entrance), and then they said that everything had been taken away.

  • “WHAT???!!!”

At first, everything in my head was empty and flat. There was nothing. And then my brain decided to concentrate on the “challenge” – how to solve the problem of the missing backpack. The next step? The police. I said to the host I had to call the police, he got a bit confused for a moment, but then it dawned on him and he explained it to me that the police is not called for such things, but the civil guard. As if that mattered to me, I just wanted him to call somebody who I hoped could solve my problem. Not my personal problem, but the problem of the missing backpack.

My personal problem was starting to come up to the surface in all of its clarity and there was actually nobody who could solve it. I only had my sticky, dusty clothes on me, I had nothing clean to put on, I had no towel, no toothbrush and toothpaste, I had no deodorant, I had no pyjama or something warmer to throw over me if I felt cold during the night, I didn’t even have the charger for my computer and it was Friday afternoon and I was in a tiny village where apart from the bar-restaurant and the church there was no other facility of the “general purpose.”

By now the host had called the civil guard and then he passed the phone to me. I explained the situation to them, they first proposed that I should somehow go back to the previous town of Palas do Rei where their office was, but I guess they realised from my voice that I was feeling rather lost, so they said they would send a patrol-team to me after all. Two civil guards came soon enough and then I explained all the details linked to my missing backpack, including also the exact time when I left it, as well as a description of all the details that potentially made my backpack different from any other. I also told them I had no valuables in the backpack, but I did have my things. Then they practically repeated the same steps I had already taken, calling the transportation company and then the hostel in which we had stayed the previous night, all with the same results I had obtained. My backpack was nowhere to be found and nobody had seen it.

While a civil guard called the company and the hostel, the other one comforted me that my backpack was certainly not stolen. But, he actually did not have a clue about what really happened to this backpack of mine. It was not clear to me either. The backpack itself was of a very good brand, but this was certainly not the best backpack on the Way, and it was rather old as well. In other words, it could not be of real interest to anybody. The things in it even less. I was completely clueless.

The civil guards told me that the hostel had a CCTV in the part where the luggage was left for further transport, so they would go there to see what actually happened. I asked them if I could go with them, but they kindly said no I could not and should stay where I was and wait. So, they left and I stayed at the albergue to sit and wait, just as they told me.

Everything calmed down and I turned on my computer sporadically in order to check whether I received any messages from my friends, while making sure it was not on all the time, since I had to save on my battery. In-between I tried to work on the Sudoku puzzles in a booklet I had bought for myself a couple of days earlier. All of this was permeated with my tears that fell down my face from time to time, mostly silently, and only occasionally a deep sob would come up to the surface from the depths of my soul and disturbed the peace and quiet.

My head was mostly empty, I did not think of anything, I could not think in fact nor did I know what to think. I felt empty, sad, desperate, abandoned and confused, with no firm ground under my feet… I think I mostly felt sorry for myself. I wondered: “How much more?” Not, why me or something like that. It was clear to me that different things happen to different people and all these things were in it for me. But, after struggling with my body, pains, blisters, tiredness and dizziness for so many days, and now with this problem of missing backpack with things, I really asked myself what else was there for me for these last three remaining days.

I did think at one moment that at some 60 km, which is only a couple of hours by coach, at the Post Office, I had a box with 4.5 kg of clean things. I even checked on internet how I could return to Belgrade in the next day or two, but this seemed rather ludicrous, so I gave up on the idea and continued to sit in the bar-restaurant. Waiting… With no idea as to what and when I may expect any news.

In the meantime, Francesco and Gabriel got up and came to see me, where with the tears in my eyes I explained to them what was happening and they felt very sorry about my situation, but there was nothing they could do about it in order to help me. I actually did not expect any help at that moment and was in no mood to talk, which the two of them understood and left me to sit there lost and alone with my desperation.

The hostess of the albergue, as well as one American lady that was on the Way with her family, did offer to lend me a towel and soap so that I could at least take a shower, but although I was very appreciative of their kind offer and care, the thought of putting all of my dirty clothes back on seemed just to horrible and I found it somehow easier to stay such as I was.

And then I realised that I was not thinking at all about giving up. I found this to be completely interesting, although also puzzling. I was only thinking about how I would spend the night in all of this dirty clothes I had on me, and whether I would be cold that night, and whether I would smell the following day, but I also thought that none of that constituted a real concern of mine. I would have to bear it and so would others. The following day we were supposed to spend the night in a small town and although it would be Saturday, I was hoping I would be able to find at least one shop where I could buy a t-shirt, the pants I had on would simply have to do for three more days without being washed and there would certainly be some kind of supermarket where I could buy a deodorant, a toothbrush and toothpaste. And that should be enough. What? “How things change,” I smiled bitterly to myself. I left home with 20 kg of the “necessary” things and now I came down to 200 grams!

And thus a couple of hours passed by. I didn’t receive any news in the meantime and at some point I realised that the battery of my computer was slowly being drained out, so I thought that perhaps one of the chargers of Francesco or Gabriel may do. As I was crossing the street in order to get to our room I saw the two of them sitting at a table trying to solve a Sudoku puzzle together. They were wonderful and I was very proud, just like when a master is proud of his good students. And that was the only nice moment in that gloomy and depressively desperate afternoon.

Still, led by my intent, I was trying different chargers in the room, but none of them was suitable. While I was fiddling with the cords and chargers, the host of the albergue came and told me that the civil guards had come back and that they had brought my backpack. I dashed to the bar-restaurant and yes, my wonderful, huge, bright red backpack was there! I hanged myself around the neck of one civil guard, thanking him, and with a corner of my eye I noticed that the other one moved slightly away. As if I cared and as if he could avoid my tactile expression of appreciation. I hanged myself around his neck, too, kept thanking both of them and then I offered if they wanted and, of course, if they were allowed (since they were on duty) to have something to drink, but they said it was all right and they did not want anything. They only briefly told me that the company for the transportation of luggage that worked for the religious group that had sung at our hostel the night before picked up my backpack together with the luggage of that entire group and then they drove it away. This no longer mattered to me. And yet, it was interesting that my backpack still had the envelope with my name, my phone number, email address and the destination at which I was that day, and there were still 3 euros inside of it.

Finally I could take a shower and change, and soon there was the time for the communal dinner. In addition to the three of us, there was also the American family, as well as a couple of American girls who lived and worked in Germany. Although the atmosphere was pleasant and although even I chatted a lot and laughed occasionally, I was essentially completely empty on the inside. I had an impression that the great shock and stress I had gone through that afternoon, as well as the tears and the sobs that had kept piling up unexpressed over the previous weeks and now finally came up to the surface here, left a huge scratched-out void within me that could not fill up so easily.

Why was that backpack and all the things in it so important to me? Just like one of my friends very astutely commented the following day, that backpack and all the things in it were my home on the Way. They were my connection with the normal, with the feeling of security, rootedness and grounding, and their disappearance just shot me into the limbo in which I only floated not having anything to hold on to and stabilise myself.

Another problem was quite concrete. Because I was only sitting that afternoon, instead of lying down and resting, I did not keep my feet up while being in a horizontal position and thus my legs were rather swollen with the blood and liquids that piled up in them and when I took my socks off I could see a mark in my swollen ankles. At the same time, this completely annulled any good effects of the massage back in Portomarín and had a decisive impact on my physical state during the following three days.

The following morning, the three of us left very early again. It was one of the coldest days, so much so that I had to put on a shirt with long sleeves although my muscles had warmed up by that point. Also, it was good that I put on my long pants, i.e., that I zipped on again the lower part of the pants, since I felt less cold that way. The main reason for going back to the long pants was that I did not have to stop every now and then and shake small pebbles out from my shoes. And it really functioned well. Nothing went into my shoes and that significantly facilitated the overall situation.

Although it did not rain, the humidity was incredible that morning – as if tiny droplets floated around us. This was particularly evident when I tried to take photos on a couple of occasions and I turned on the flash because there was still not enough daylight. It was no use, since I could mostly see the reflexion of those droplets through which we were walking. At one point we came across a hedgehog crossing the Way, so we stopped in order to take photos.

A hedgehog and Francesco on the Way

When we got to village Furelos it was already day, but the fog still did not release its pressure on the earth. In order to enter the place, we had to cross a local Roman bridge.

Roman bridge at the entrance into village Furelos

Even when we left the place, the fog kept covering the entire landscape we were walking through. Everything around us appeared mystical, but on account of this high humidity, it was rather fresh.

Galician landscapes in the fog

After covering around 11 km, we finally came to the town of Melide and we made a break there in order to have breakfast in one of the bars that were open. The breakfast was fabulous, but there were still 14 more kilometres to cover that day, so we did not stay for too long. While we were going through the centre of the town, Francesco wanted to go to the local Church of St Peter (Iglesia de San Pedro de Melide), but Gabriel and I decided to continue straight on the Way, since there was a slight detour one had to follow in order to get to the church, so we parted for a little while. The tendon on my right leg had started to hurt me more and more, and for me it was important to make as few steps as possible.

Still, at some point the two of us got worried about where Francesco was, but he soon caught up with us. Just in time for the three of us to decide which way exactly to follow at one forking after Melide. This concerned only two short versions of the Way and we opted for the shorter one, although it entailed more of the going up and down. And thus, we entered a forest.

Verica Ristic

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