The Evening I was brought down to my knees [The Camino Portuguese] May 14th 2022

The Cottonian Pilgrim

Humbled.. The Evening I was brought down to my knees ( The Camino Portuguese) May 14th 2022
…the day was excruciatingly hot ..40C
I had so far walked 375 km and was struggling to get into the next town Lourosa ( Portugal)
My camino gear was very unconventional; no rain gear, no dark dreary clothes… over the last years my trademark, my standard was slim red cotton jeans, a coloured check shirt with a bandana, long flowing cotton scarf and on top of this an army green jacket with a host of pockets that had my water bottle, almonds, an apple and an orange, two energy bars , a few boiled sweets, my passport, my pilgrims passport, my mobile phone and my stash of doe concealed in small numbers within the various hidden pockets. I always donned my camino hat, oversize to protect against the raging sun, in the evening my Old Cottonian Cap, my shoes too were oversize trail runners with gore tex, not hiking boots. And my shock absorber walking sticks with the faded line “These sticks have walked over mountains valleys rivers hard asphalt and more…”

..and the sweltering heat…terribly unbearable but I just kept on .. pressing on with my backpack pushing down. I was losing excessive salt, every drag of a step increased my tired quotient, every sluggish step added more weight on my back and soon it felt like a solid brick of iron weighing 10 kilos..yet i pressed on was dead slow ahead or as a senior German asked me what KSO meant … Keep Straight On ..

.. But i needed to get from Oliveira de Azmeis to Lourosa a blistering 24 km walk to the local Fire Brigade station; the operator on duty that early morning assured me I would get a bed for the night ..she spoke in Portuguese and I Spanish and the connection was clear audible, well understood.. and I smiled proud I could comprende Portuguese …her name was Marian.

Now I was struggling with the sun in its zenith and layers and waves of dragon heat.. this section of the camino was pure asphalt and super highways with long trailers hurtling down towards me; it was safer for me to meet these beasts head on, eyeballing the driver to swerve away rather than a beast of metal come hurtling towards me from behind .. at least facing these gigantic roaring machines I had a chance of maintaining a somewhat safe distance but the incredible jet stream these metallic monsters churned up frighteningly driving past was so deadly, they either sucked you into the whirling tunnel of a swooshing air tunnel or flung you away on to the hard shoulder; I was lucky and got away walking firm with my head down, my eyes shut and my hat protecting me from shooting stones ricocheting from their ten axle howling tyres that could shatter windscreens and pulverise your face at 120 km an hour … Peligroso ! Cuidado Peregrino… Dangerous! Be Careful Pilgrim..
…and I kept at it..

….around 1700 hrs I touched the outskirts of Lourosa a nondescript town that had nothing to write home about .. a plaza, a Lidl supermarket, a farmacia and the local fire brigade station. And my head was hammering, I was nearing an ugly cough and had a deadly suspicion I may be approaching the “ C – factor “or was it heat stroke ..?

The Bombeiros Voluntarios, The Fire Brigade Volunteers in Portugal are both firefighting-cum-paramedic girls and boys who also work the ambulance service. Lourosa FF jurisdiction covered an area of over 100 square kilometres.

The last few metres the last few steps to the destination are the toughest.. tired exhausted and hungry I staggered in to the 24 hr control room of the Fire Station… it felt good as I threw down my backpack, my jacket, my sticks and slumped on a chair…

Marian was still on duty though soon end of her watch in the next fifteen minutes. She remembered my name, the interchange and then.. .. she again spoke in Portuguese and I in Spanish and the more I thought I understood her the more I had misunderstood her …I had not understood a word.. nada .. nada..
she kept shaking her head in the negative ..! She kept saying no no and I kept questioning que que que ( what ?). Soy el Peregrino recuerdo ? I am that pilgrim remember? Si Si yes she said but again no no no ..
I mean like what’s happening here ??
It took coaxing pleading and more before the final truth dawned upon me… with final comprehension ..
“ what I said to you” she said “was we have no beds.. you can take a shower wash your clothes and leave ..”☹️☹️Good Holy Grief bordering on 😖irritation bordering on near exploding anger😡…24 km I had trudged with an assurance of a bed and lo and behold i was totally wrong .. Portuguese Spanish audible, comprendo .. and all that crap .. I was one sour unhappy pilgrim and definitively not one happy Cottonian..

After ranting and pleading my sorry exhausted state Marian giving me a hard piercing look beckoned me to follow her to the first floor…I did like a timid tired lamb… climbing those painful steps we arrived at the upper landing and with a key unlocked a door opening on to a gym used by the team.. it was bare with a very hard wooden floor.. pointing to one corner and then she indicated if i was agreeable… “‘the floor is yours” and she left me as I stood in confused shock .. no sleeping bag, no underlay but only my backpack and the stuff I wore …

What a letdown….from flying business class with upgrades to first round the world, sleeping on hästen mattresses and Canada goose feather sumptuous pillows, pure white Egyptian cotton sheets I had arrived at the end of the line; a hard pit stop as I sank to my knees, a voice whispered “be thankful for small mercies”… I had no choice, no alternate plan no diversion.. there were no Albergues around; Porto was another 26km and in my pathetic state it would take me until midnight at the least to get there…

Just as I decided and knew I had no choice I saw the common room adjacent to the gym.. and smiled .. for there waiting for me, for this pathetic pilgrim was in one corner a really massive expansive super comfy looking three seater sofa ! I chuckled with delight.. dreaming with my eyes opened I could see me sprawled across on this bed of luxury dreaming of everything wonderful except that hard wood floor of the gym. I walked to the room, checked it had no lock and thrilled to bits planned to sneak in at lights out and crash out…. “ don’t even think of it “ a voice stung behind me..! Turning around I saw Marian and a dude who spoke English with a yank accent…. “We have hard rules in this place “ he continued … “ pilgrims can arrive to rest, shower and wash; sleeping on the sofa is strictly prohibited. We have a standby force 24/7; if anyone sees you flaking out on that sofa you will be kicked out of the premises immediately..”

That was it; ashamed of my scheming plan i fell on my knees..truly humbled..

Bonnie ( Vivek) Bhasin
The Cottonian Pilgrim
On the camino Portuguese to Santiago de Compostela..
I made it to Porto the following afternoon as I got out of the Fire Station with a hurting back, a stiff neck at 0400 “ truly humbled …”
05 July 2022.

The Gals and Boys of the Portuguese Bombeiros Voluntarios.

My slept corner in the Gym

una experiencia humillante