I’m definitely not ready to return to the normal, post-Camino de Santiago world just yet. The day after I finally arrived in Santiago de Compostela I ended up sneaking into the municipal pilgrim’s hostel without paying for the night. You might judge me for this, but after being a pilgrim for nine weeks you develop a certain level of willingness toward things one doesn’t normally do, such as sharing laundry with complete strangers, or picking recently fallen fruit off the ground to eat.
Villain or not, I used the money saved from my free extra night in Santiago to buy a train ticket to Vigo, a blue-collar city about 80 km to the south of Santiago situated on a series of small mountains overlooking the Atlantic. This is where Dara, a friend from Brandeis, happens to be going on her second year of teaching English in one of the local public schools, and she was a gracious and friendly hostess while I continued to recover from the Camino.
As you might imagine, the urge to walk everywhere is rather pronounced in someone who has done nothing but walk pretty much every day for more than two months, and I did a lot of that while I was in Vigo. Dara knows the city inside and out, so she took me to a broad park with lots of trees, a playground, and tons of open grass, and we walked all the way down to the port as well. At one point I noticed the ubiquitous yellow arrow marker of the Camino painted on a trashcan in the park, and I felt an instinctive, Pavlovian need to follow it. That’s probably one side effect of the Camino that will be around for some time.
Vigo has a cruise ship terminal adjacent to the old city, and when Dara mentioned that there was an American food store situated in a mall next to the terminal, I insisted we go. I didn’t realize how nostalgic I was until we entered; unassuming cans of Campbell’s soup, boxes Kraft mac-n-cheese, and stacks of Butterfinger candy bars radiated an aura of Americana (or maybe that was just all the preservatives). Either way, I couldn’t resist: I purchased a Butterfinger, and Dara had herself a Reece’s, just because.
Not too far from the port is the old city, and Dara showed me a really cool store that had a ton of awesome books, music, and other memorabilia. We navigated our way around the multitude of loud and obnoxious, mostly middle-aged cruise ship passengers back into the heart of Vigo, where we shopped for food to make lunch back at Dara’s sumptuous—and dirt cheap—apartment. It’s definitely a sign of how potent the crisis was here in Spain that an apartment straight out of Ikea’s best and newest design catalogue goes for a fraction of what I paid for my dingier, smaller apartment back in Boston.
What was most important, though, was being able to see a familiar face. In college, Dara and I were basically acquaintances—I only knew her because I dated one of her friends—but being so far away from home makes such trivialities seem even more petty than they already are. Vigo has its charms, yet what I will remember most about my visit there is not the city, but the new friend I made while I was there.