Preparation, so they say, is the key to a happy and succesful Camino. I'll tell you something for nothing, I've never trusted the shady but ubiquitous they; they don't so much proffer advice as demand you do things in the clear and chronological manner which they stipulate. They invariably want you to go about your Camino business in exactly the same way they did. They will broach no deviations for they are über didacts par excellence.
Let's get things straight, I like to do things my way, even if it means cutting of my nose to spite my face - a rebel without a cause, a rebel without a clue. The truth is that I set out from Artix to join the Chemin du Puy without any physical preparation whatsoever; I had eight weeks on the road, the Way would sort me out, turn me from flabby geograpgy tutor to finely-tuned perambulatory goddess. The Pyrenees would make a woman out of me.
And so they did. By the time I reached Los Arcos I was beginning to feel the burn, my body was begininng to revel in its new-found liberty; was becoming aware that it would go on for a very long time.
I hadn't intended to take a rest day in Los Arcos. It's a small town of only 1200 inhabitants and while it counts with all the necessary facilities, it's the sort of place you might breeze around in a couple of hours, whilst waiting, for example, for cold-beer-o'clock. But then again, I hadn't intended to spend the entire night in a bar on the plaza, knocking back the vino tinto - I don't even like red wine! - and watching an extraordinary evening of spontaneous Camino entertainment draw in both pilgrims and locals. I'm told it went on until two in the morning with only the threat of calling in the local policia bringing the festitivities to an end. My fellow pilgrims, staying at the same pension as myself, somehow managed to rouse themselves for a curtailed 8km hike to Torres del Rio where the previous night's alcohol-fuelled shenanigans repeated themselves.
Being both pilgrim and researcher puts me in possession of a trump card. I'd already flourished it in Pamplona and, suffering from the sort of hangover that only red wine can induce - it doesn't happen with gin - I played it again. I'd take advantage of the peace, quiet and excellent wifi to write up my notes.
So did I spend all day labouring at my impromptu desk? Did I eff! Once again I took the fine art of procrastination to new heights and spent most of the day listening to eighties-flavoured big-haired bubblegum pop-rock, as is my wont.
Tell me, dear reader; do you believe in a god? Any sort of supernatural being or prime mover will suffice. As a bit-part, small-time theologian I suppose I have to, that is, after all, why I walked the flipping Camino in the first place. As a rule, my god is a benevolent creature who bears a striking resemblance to Joey Tempest's twin sister but on Day 12, over chicken and chips in the plaza, she turned nasty and loosened the filling on my front tooth which promptly fell out.
Ugh! There's nothing so off-putting as a pilgrim's smile with half a tooth missing. 'You should have gone to the dentist beforehand' tweeted one of my followers, rather unhelpfully. Strange how a missing half tooth came close to calling time on my camino after less than a fortnight, in all my summers hiking across Latin Europe I've never succumbed to physical injury beyond a sore knee occasionally precipitated my steep descents with a heavy rucksack*.
The following morning, feeling a little more level-headed, I jumped on a bus to Logroño in search of a dentist. I wasn't the only pilgrim, beside me sat a sixty-something American who I'd met on the climb from St Jean Pied de Port. His knees were giving up on him so he was taking a break. Back in 2012 I skipped a couple of stages of the Camino Francés, this time I was determined to hike the whole hog but already my plans had been scuppered. True, I'd be spared the tedious 10km plod into and through the outskirts of Logroño but as the bus wound its way through the vineyards of Rioja the first pangs of regret began to make themselves felt. And those ominous twinges of guilt that curdle in the pit of the stomach, insisiting and insinuating that I was commiting some sort of venial sin.
With 24 hours to kill before my dental appointment, I had time enough to return to Los Arcos and complete the stage but retracing my steps to retrace my steps, as it were, seemed, to my simple soul, quite contrary. Going backwards was not an option; once Logroño had been reached, by whatever means of mobility, it had been reached. The stage had been completed, it was time to move on.
I'd intended to get back on the trail as soon as the tooth was fixed but by the time I left the dentist, complete with numb mouth, it was close to noon and the thermometer was climbing so I wandered back to my hotel and booked in for another night.
So one rest-day - brought about by a hangover and the heat - metamorphosed into three. It was a curious intermission, I felt strangely lethargic and out-of-place. Three days of not-walking, enough to drive an obsessed pilgrim crazy; I can't imagine how those who suffer more serious, debilitating injuries cope. I've come across them, even tended to them once; it's an ill-fortune the likes of wish I'd only wish on those who voted 'Brexit'.
Yes, it's that bad.
* Ironically, I returned from the summer's hiking with a mild case of backpacker's palsy, more of which anon.