In front of me at security coming off the plane in Lourdes, a young Australian woman starts talking about Camino. Her name is Matilda. She’s full of beans. She plans on doing it in stages over time. Walk, fly back to London, do some work, fly to where she left off, carry on until finally she gets to Santiago. Auspicious that she’s there in front of me. She’s getting the train to St Jean before she starts though. It’ll take me more than a week to get there on foot by the look of things.
We say goodbye and I go to the baggage reclaim. My rucksack has made it. But it’s wet. I open it. The order of things has changed. It’s been inspected. And someone has taken the stopper off my deceased mum’s sixty year old holy water to check it’s not a bomb. I’m walking the water out to Santiago – what’s left of it. They haven’t put the cork back properly. There is still some water in the flask, but the bulk of it is now soaked into my clothing. A little impromptu blessing for the trail gear, perhaps. I take that as a lesson that nothing is sacred, and I head into town. They don’t sell flasks like this tin one now. It’s all plastic. I don’t buy one. Leaky tin flask is just a little extra difficulty.
In 1858 – not so long ago really – a young woman called Bernadette Soubirous followed that great French canonical tradition of hearing voices. Unlike Joan of Arc, she wasn’t told how to beat the English. She was directed by The Holy Virgin Mary herself to a spring of water. Holy water that heals the sick. It was immediately scientifically analysed and found to contain nothing out of the ordinary. But it still has a great reputation for healing. Science be damned. Faith can move mountains, or at the very least it can change your attitude to them. I fill my drinking flask with the stuff. Then I go for a stroll.
Up the hill nearby, big gold Romans persecute Jesus in an elaborate series of stations of the cross. Groups of devotees follow monks bearing crosses, and are devotional in Latin at each stop. I’ve realised I don’t know the call and response here so I just go “mumphy mumphy mumphy” and cross myself like my mother taught me. She’s with me, her big flask, mercifully a bit lighter for the spillage but still a heavy burden. I light some expensive candles for her, for my uncle Peter and for my grandpa – all Catholics. Then, with all the holy water swimming in my veins I make a somewhat rash decision. I’m gonna keep walking until I hit fifteen miles. Even though I’m sleeping here in Lourdes. In a circle. Pointlessly. Let’s find out how this is going to be, I think.
It’s going to be HARD guys. I’m lying on my back in the Airbnb and my feet hate me. I booked a luxury stay for the first night and I’m glad of it. Hot bath. Rubbed sudocrem into my tootsies. I’m gonna find out a lot about my feet in the next month. And my shoulders. I might actually HAVE some shoulders when I’m finished here. But the little things I have today ache. After just one day I’m feeling it. I warmed down nicely but I didn’t warm up. I feel a daily routine coming on if I’m going to minimise damage to myself. I’ve got a lot of ground to cover…
Break it up into stages though and it seems smaller. Tomorrow I’ll walk to Asson. A little bit north and a long way west. About 14 miles but I’ve got the whole day. And I’ll remember to bring lunch so I don’t get to Asson starving and unwilling to walk anywhere further for food. That cost me two taxi fares this evening, to find a cheap bowl of pasta and a glass of table wine. You live and learn.
Before I leave though I’ll unpack my whole bag and seriously establish if there’s anything I can dump from my packing. Bits of packaging. Unnecessary clothing like that smart shirt Anything. I need to lose as much weight as I can without losing practicality.