June 17:  Laredo to Noja  41,098 steps

The route from Laredo to Noja follows the coastline swearing in and out of the villages that propagate the countryside.  The difference between the route that a car or truck would take (meaning the shortest distance between two points) is that the pilgrim way wants you to see every depression and ascension in the terrain requiring you to walk along the shore than up into the hillside, then down again, only to ascend.  No surprise -- we have been doing this for over two weeks now!!!

Today's map had us primarily on paved roadways.  Sometimes they were the main artery to the next town resulting in many cars and trucks, other times it was a gentle old country road that saw nothing but an occasional cow strolling down its pathway.  Now -- it should be noted here for those of you have never been to Spain or have never walked on the road where Spaniards drive -- unlike in most countries, the Spaniards think that speed limits are made for someone else and that the white line on the side of the road is a guide as to how close they can come to a pilgrim.  It is like "pilgrim target practice".  They are not intentionally cruel -- matter of fact they cheer us on as they pass -- it is just that they haven't quite got the depth perception thing down.  A pilgrim is about -- at max -- a foot and a half wide -- the drivers calculate in about a foot into their GPS!!  Result -- a lot of jumping aside and waving that pilgrim wave!!!

Today was suppose to be an easy day of only 22 kilometers.  The weather was not in our favor from the start -- drizzle and slight wind_-- but we are a tough bunch.  Four of us immediately unfolded our new shiny blue ponchos and rain hats, while the other three fixed their gaiters to their legs, pack covers to their bags, and rain hats to their heads.  We looked ridiculous, but we were dry.  Everyone else in town was walking by laughing at us as they passed with an umbrella, which would have worked much better, but was excess weight.  But, hey, we were the Santiago Pilgrims!  Walking a few yards back I noticed that we looked more like the monks from the Royal Order of Blue Flapping Tarps, then anything on a spiritual mission!!!

As the day unfolded the sun tried several times to come out, but never quite got there.  The clouds acted as a shield which prevented us from being cooked alive.  The humidity was once again high, so climbing up the hillsides produced a flood of sweat the made one think it was really still raining.  But all said, the scenery was spectacular.  The hillsides are doted with small villages or single homes encircled with meadows of all colors.  Far in the distance to the left are the high peaks of the mountains with far to the right the sea crashing against the shore.  It is hard to have a negative thought here as we take step after step.  The only device that is being used to keep us in reality is the constant pounding on the feet.  Each of us has a different level of tolerance and toughness, but each of us is determined to make it.  Where there is a will there is a way!

Coming down the hill toward Noja we asked for directions to our hotel falsely assuming that our map's mileage quote was right and we were within sight of that shower.  Little did we know that the kilometers in Spain change in length depending on who you asked.  We stopped one very kind man at the corner and he said, " Oh not far -- just around the corner and about 5 kilometers."  6 kilometers later we asked again -- " oh not far, just around the bend and 7 kilometers"  Now we questioned that but being too tired to go back followed diligently -- to the next person.  "oh, not far, just down that driveway and up that hill to the church and then ask again!"  Three hours later we were still in sight of the town, but not one inch closer!!!  Finally, a old man took pity and said "Up the hill to the church, they help pilgrims!!"  I think God put taxis on this earth for pilgrims that are too stupid to follow directions!  In any case all of us made it to the hotel, very tired, very sore, and very happy to know that it had showers and a comfortable bed.  We had walked for 12 hours -- a supposedly short day!!!  And tomorrow is suppose to be longer!

Angela: "Aren't we at the top yet?"