Pilgrims Jane from CaliforniaI am at peace enjoying the solitude, a warm day and a gentle pace. No hurry, it’s a short stage, a day to enjoy and savour. Then, suddenly, Jane from California appears. She matches my pace and starts to talk about “the deep state” followed by the “dangers of contrails”, “microwaves”, “fake vaccinations”, “fake moon landings’, the “Kennedy assassination conspiracy”. The tedium increases, I speed up, she matches me still talking, unstoppable, relentless. I stop for a pee, she waits. I slow down, she slows down. How do I loose her and regain my day? She moves seamlessly to the “Illuminati” followed by “UFO’s” and what she calls “the Roswell Conspiracy” and on and on. Prattling and babbIing she does not stop. What the hell do I do now? A village comes and goes, no chance enjoy it. The next appears, it has a bar and I need coffee. Outside the bar is Alice, a friend of Jane’s. Someone help me here there could be two of them now. Much Hi’ing, much hugging, much cheek kissing and she stops to talk with Alice. Thank you God. I walk on as fast as possible, desperate for coffee, find a bar off the route and hide. The camino has given me another lesson.TappersThen there are the tappers, on they come. From far behind you hear them Tap, tap as pole tips hit stone. Tap, tap a constant ticking in the background. Tap, tap as a blind man with his cane or Father Time telling you he’s on the way. Tap, tap they are getting closer, now right behind TAP, TAP. Ease to one side, they pass striding with purpose.“Buen Camino” the inevitable greeting.“Buenos dias” my replyTap, tap, a little fainter now as they pull away. Tap, tap and they fade into the distance. Silence returns, drops heavy on the path, the weight of the sun and drowse of insects, faint bird sounds, a welcome breeze, the endless heavy peace of warm days. I sink back into reverie. My legs move, the world unrolls without effort beneath me. Then faint, behind, on the edge of hearing, tap, tap.CoupleThey walk together these two. She small and tough black braces on her knees for support, sandals for comfort, he tall and stringy, his cane in front sweeping from side to side as an insect probes. They constantly murmur small encouragements to each other, “There is an edge just ahead”, “The road becomes rocky now” and he slows slightly his cane swinging, touching lightly, confirming. “There is a lovely church on the right. It has ……”. He asks “Your knees are good?”, ”Your pack OK?”. She walks with care, always at his pace, always in contact, her steps matched to his. They give and accept from each, other a simple confidence, a simple reliance. Together, attuned, they pass quietly on. I drink my coffee thoughtful, humbled.ZealotHe is the driven pilgrim, what pushes him no one knows, perhaps, not even him. A light of zeal in his eyes and the day’s target ahead. He is striding fast, there are miles to cover before he stops and they will be covered. His legs are a whirl, perhaps he has no legs, perhaps there is a wheel rolling below him, driving him. He passes, not a word, short of breath. He is hot, his face glistens with sweat, he attacks the hill with fury. It will not defeat him, will not slow him, only add to his penance. He passes out of sight a blur of energy, not to be seen again. I pause, breath deep, feel the autumn sun and watch deer feeding on the distant forest edge.SparrowsThey gather, a flock of sparrows, all flutter and turmoil. The weekend walkers, local ladies out to walk and picnic. Day packs, colourful clothes. It is a day of ease, a social day in the hills with friends. They walk in a loose flock strung along and across the path, difficult to pass, easy to become entangled. One starts a tale, the next joins but louder, she must be heard, and then a third and a fourth each louder than the last. Finally all together at the top of their voices. Do they listen to each other? It does not matter, speech is the thing, companionship. One leaves the murmuration to look for a shop or visit the church, the others pause and then, she has been gone too long, they call to her across the village, she calls back, the conversation resumes over the village roofs the flock in raucous contact. I pass on, walking faster, and hear them enjoying their day, twittering across the valley for hours.YouthA group of young guys, 20ish, are sitting after dinner enjoying late sun, beer and a little gentle flirting. The talk turns to tomorrows destination. The proposal is an easy 25Km, the discussion rolls on. “The romans did 45Km with arms and armour”.The beer goes down, the proposal becomes 35Km. Easy through the forest in some shade they say. More talk, how good they feel, how straight forward today has been, how easy tomorrow will be. The beer goes down and the proposal becomes 40Km, “……if we start early in the cool of dawn and go fast………”They are up early and gone before the rest of us, not to be seen again, until, in mid afternoon, in the high heat of the day, 25Km on, there is a pair of them. They sit outside the cafe.“How are you, I thought you were going further today?” “We were”,they say, “but the legs, the feet” The bar is open, ice collected and placed on legs, paracetamol swallowed, boots and socks removed. Raw steak revealed. Washed in water and salt, left elevated to dry then dressed, a visit to the farmacia a hobble to the nearest albugue.Beer, testosterone, indestructible youth, a wonderfully bad combination in the hot hills.RustlerWHAT THE HELL IS THAT! It is dark, pitch dark, RUSTLE, RUSTLE, FLASH. Why is there a lighthouse in the dorm? Damn, it’s a flasher, a sub tribe of the rustlers. What time is it? 02:30Hrs., 3Hrs to dawn! He can’t be leaving now! The lighthouse blasts my eyes again, searing my retina, leaving a red fog. RUSTLE, RUSTLE. I will kill him! Blind him with his own searchlight, suffocate him with his own plastic bags! But, it is too early for such mayhem, my sleeping bag is warm I roll away from the light and doze. The bunk shakes, an earthquake? No, despite having the lighting of a small city he has walked into my bunk. I WILL KILL HIM NOW! But despite his death sentence he escapes, oblivious, and slams the door before I can untangle from my bag. He’s gone, the peaceful rumble returns, slowly I slip towards sleep. Thankfully, starting this early I won’t see him again, unless, unless, perhaps, just perhaps, he breaks his neck, in a ditch, in the dark. He, he, he, zzzzzz.