The Day When We Almost Lost Our Walking Sticks:
This could also read as the day when we almost lost our shit because when Lizz and I woke up in an albergue in Pola de Siero to find that someone had stolen our walking sticks, we were devastated.
And then a new friend offered to help us hunt down the thieves, and we set out on a Nancy-Drew-style adventure on the Camino de Santiago.
Stickgate: The Full Story
In an albergue, all boots and walking sticks are often kept in a communal storage room near the hostel’s entrance. Until Day 22, it never crossed my mind that anybody would steal from this communal space. For a fellow pilgrim to abscond with another pilgrim’s shoes or sticks is something close to stealing the presents out of the back of Santa’s sleigh.
Who wants that kind of bad karma?
But, on Day 22, I walked into the communal space and stared at the bucket that had once contained our sticks. Our shiny blue, adjustable sticks with their attached blister-preventing gloves were nowhere to be found. Left in their place were two crooked sticks – like actual sticks from the woods.
I poked my head out from the walk-in closet and called out to Lizz: “Hey, we left our sticks in here, right? Right??!!”
Lizz was instantly in the doorway, confirming that we had, indeed, left our sticks in the bucket. She nearly turned over the shelves searching for our missing sticks.
Lizz laughs easily and it’s tough to bring her spirits down, but I remembered her horror when we had accidentally locked our sticks in a hotel lobby before locking ourselves out. She wasn’t laughing about our missing sticks. Not. At. All.
While Lizz ransacked the closet, I told Roberto, the friendly albergue operator who we had sipped wine with the evening before, that our sticks were gone. This involved a lot of miming to bridge our language barrier, but between my exaggerated walk with fake walking sticks, and the destructive noises coming from the communal closet, Roberto grasped the issue.
He mimed to me the motion of someone driving a vehicle, spun on his heel, and ran for the door.
Before long, Lizz and I were seated in Roberto’s car while he careened along the Camino. When we saw a man and a woman walking with sticks that looked just like ours, he slowed the car to a crawl and drove past the culprits while we stared at our beautiful sticks in the hands of two perfect strangers.
As soon as Roberto pulled over, Lizz was out of the car and rounding the corner at a dead run. Roberto called to me to stay put, trying to explain in his broken English that if we waited, the thieves would be forced to walk right by the car. But it was too late, Lizz was already around the corner, fast approaching two known thieves who were carrying, let’s all remember, sticks.
I followed and, by the time I rounded the corner, Lizz was holding two pairs of walking sticks while two very embarrassed pilgrims walked away from her and toward my camera. Naturally, I stuck my camera in their faces.
An Honest Mistake?
I like to believe the best in people. I really do. The stick thieves told Lizz that they didn’t think anyone was left in the albergue. This is a possibility, considering that Roberto had given Lizz and me a private room and that we – as usual – slept later than the other pilgrims, emerging as most people were leaving.
Except our shoes were in that communal room as well. Two pairs of shoes, sitting alone on the shelves next to two pairs of walking sticks. Those pilgrims would have had to ignore our shoes while they gathered their own shoes from the very same shelves.
In the end, we decided to give them the benefit of the doubt, and I chose not to show their faces in the video (though you can see the man for the briefest of moments in the hilarious moment when he and Lizz make eye contact as we drive past).
We ended up having breakfast with Roberto, who had driven to the first café on the route in order to watch the thieves walk by (without sticks).
This day would turn out to be my favorite day on the Camino. Better even than the day when we finally arrived in Santiago. We could not stop laughing at how Roberto had whisked us into his car and took off down the Camino at NASCAR-like speeds, or how Lizz had run toward two strangers carrying sticks without any concern for her own safety. The real threat, she said, was facing miles of walking without her sticks.
That night in Oviedo, perhaps because we were still on a Stickgate high, we splurged on an expensive dinner out at a restaurant with real vegetables. We then stayed out way too late at an Irish Pub, indulging in being a tourist for the night.
The evening was a perfect ending to a day that will forever be my fondest memory on the Camino de Santiago. It just goes to show that the Camino will provide.
Tips from a Post-Camino Perspective:
(Offstage detour) Miles: 10
Actual Miles Walked: 10
Bus forward Miles: 1 (thanks to Roberto and his car!)
Total Miles Walked So Far: 261 (419 kilometers)
Up Next: Day 23 Oviedo to Cadavedo
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