The story of the banana

or Explain me figs!

I left St. Jean Pied de Port just this morning to hike the Camino. The first stage ended in Roncesvalles, a small little village in Spain with a monestary where all pilgrims found a place to stay and something to eat for dinner. Dinner was served in a big room at big tables holding maybe ten people. I happend to sit next to Peter from Switzerland, a guy I met a day earlier on the train to St. Jean Pied de Port, some guy from Brazil to my left and Hannah from the States in front of me. Hannah and I had a quite interesting talk about this and that and especially with Hannah I came to talk about all the „why’s and but’s“ which have gotten us here to hike the Camino. We talked a little bit about our answers which we hoped to find while hiking this spiritual old pilgrimage-trail. We finished the evening by wishing us all the best and looking forward to Santiago de Compostela, also hoping that we can match up again and talk about the outcome.
The next morning I started my day with Ken from Canada and it happened to be that I hiked two regular stages that day and I finished in Pamplona. I wasn’t really happy about this accomplishment, because I figured that, if I keep that pace, I finish my Camino in less than three weeks. I surely didn’t want to be that quick. So I decided to take my first zero-day on day three. Pamplona is a beautiful city, the decision to stay there for one day was quickly made. I remembered the nice trail-angel culture I have experienced hiking the PCT in 2016 so I decided to provide some fresh drinks at the bridge of Pamplona, where all hikers come into town. In the morning I went to a store, bought some coca-cola, a few beers and a bottle of wine. The bottle of wine was supposed to be for a girl I met in the monestary of Roncesvalles. She came from the same town in Germany and we thought it was a strange coincidence that me meet on the Camino. It happened to be that we had a bet about the number of inhabitants of our town; I lost the bet and owed her a glass of wine. Anyways, I started to sit at the bridge waiting for her and other hikers at around 10 o’clock. I waited until about 12 until the first hiker crossed the bridge. It was Hannah – what a surprise! We had a couple of beers and at around 1 o’clock, after I had given away all beer and cola, we decided to go for some sight-seeing in Pamplona. (Just if you’re curious: I still owe the glass of wine, couldn’t manage to meet yet…). As Hannah and I explored the city and went to a Museum we became hungry. We chose a sweet little restaurant, had a beautiful late lunch and had a very nice talk. It comes as it comes in restaurants, the bill has to be paid. As we both didn’t want to make it hard for the waitress to split the bill, we made a pact, that one of us pays this bill in full, the other one pays one in Santiago de Compostela, which is about 800 km (500 mi) or about 4 weeks away. A game of “rock, scissors, stone” decided her to pay now, my turn had to wait until Santiago. Later that day we split and again hoped for a new meeting at the finish-line. Over the course of the hike we happened to meet several times and, as we befriended each other on facebook, we kept in touch to see how our hike was going. For most of the time we were only a little bit apart, usually I was a day or two ahead and then I fell behind a little bit.

It was in Burgos when I first saw them. I was cleaning my stove in the kitchen-area of the municipal, the city-hostel. They sat at the table next to me enjoying their time. As one by one left, there were only two guys left – Tomasz and Jared. I then had no idea of how important they will become later. Tomasz was handling fresh vegetables, Jared was sitting around and socializing with other pilgrims. By the time I finished cleaning my stove, Tomasz has gotten up and went somewhere so I turned to Jared, introduced myself and let him know that, as the kitchen did not provide any kitchen utensils, I would offer “the other guy” my stove to cook the vegetables. I waited for about 10 min., the other guy didn’t come back and I decided to go up to my bunk bed and then hit the city for a while.
The next day I hiked to Hontanas, about 30 km away. I didn’t want to hike that far. I planned only 24 km, but the hostel there was closed and I had to keep hiking. Hontanas is a little village on the Camino like so many others with the only purpose, as it seems, to provide food and shelter for pilgrims passing through. I found a little private room for the night, had a shower and then sat outside watching for other pilgrims to arrive. It was always nice to see fellow hikers arriving, some you know, some you don’t know but usually will get to know by the end of the day. We are all a big community. It was after dinner when I stepped outside again and saw this group of people sitting together and enjoying themselves. Among them I spotted Jared. I went up to him, said “Hi’ and asked if I could join. I was invited to sit down, introduced myself and really tried to remember all names. We had fun talks, shared some laughs and had a good evening. I was the first one to excuse myself to go to bed…
The next day on the way to Itero de la Vega I passed Jared again. Last night we agreed to become friends on facebook the next time we meet, now was the time to exchange data. In Itero de la Vega I talked to Alice for the first time, another person of the group. It was the last time I saw them. As I have picked up some pace the next days, I thought that I probably would never see them again.
Three days later I arrived in Leon and I decided to stay for a couple of days, mainly because I wanted to wait for Hannah. The hostels on the Camino usually let you stay only for one night before you have to leave, so I had to stay in a different place every night. In my third hostel I found them again – the group! They just arrived and stayed at the same place as I. Again we had some nice talks and a fun time. The next morning we split again as I wanted to stay in Leon for the day and leave later, the group however wanted to continue. But only for a few km. We agreed to meet there in the evening. So we did! I arrived there at around 19:00, just perfect for dinner. The group cooked dinner and invited me to join in. At that evening I came to contact with everyone else of the group. I became part of the group. I was part of the trail-family, my trail-family. We were the Misfits! From there on I hiked with them for the next days.

A few days later we came to Ponferrada and on that day Hannah showed up there, too. We talked a bit about the last couple of days and the plans for the next few ones. She told me that two days from now the Camino offers an alternative route, longer and more difficult but definitely more scenic. As the walk wasn’t much challenging so far I decided for myself to consider taking the alternative. That would mean that the next day would end in Villafranca del Bierzo, roughly 30 km away. The next morning when we sat at the table we would discuss the plan for the day and I offered mine to the group. However I couldn’ t really convince anyone to take the alternative with me and Villafranca didn’t sound for a good stop to them, either. While hiking everyone of us followed their own pace, usually hiked by themself or maybe in small groups of 2 or 3. On that day I decided to hike by myself because I wanted to do some thinking. Half way through the day I met Jared and we hiked together for the rest of the day. As we were hiking and talking he told me that he decided to hike the alternative and that he stays in Villafranca with me. “Nice!” I thought. As we hiked up the last hill, about 6 km before Villafranca, we met Alice sitting there all by herself enjoying the scenery. We joined in and hiked the last 1 hour together to Villafranca. We told her about the plan of hiking the alternative tomorrow and she told us, that she wants to keep on hiking a little further today. As we arrived in Villafranca we came to the crossroad where Jared and I go into town and Alice keeps following the Camino. We saw a little Cafè on the other side of the street and decided to have a coffee first. So we did. We sat, we talked, we laughed. As time went by everyone else of the group arrived at the Cafè joining us. As we all sat together, Jared said that he wants to walk the alternative route tomorrow. A few minutes later we were already 6 people wanting to take the alternative, 7 didn’t. That night we all stayed together again at the municipal-hostel. The next morning we split. 7 people took the alternative, 6 didn’t. I took the alternative route, too, and I must say, this day was challenging. It was long! It was hard! We took an alternative to the alternative, we got lost, we had to bush-wack our way through the woods. We were scratched by thorns on the arms and legs. But after 12 hrs and 2 min., 44,89 km, an elevation gain of 2.278 mtrs. and an elevation loss of 1.505 mtrs. we finally arrived at our destination in O’Cebreiro and joined the rest of the group. I wish I could say more about that day but I can’t. It was strenous but beautiful. Days don’t need any special reason to be, they just are and I try to enjoy each and everyone of them. However this day became to play a major role in the days to come.
The next two days were to Triacastella and then Samos. It was in Samos, I hiked with Leo this day, when we found Alice again sitting on the wall. The group decided to stay at the beautiful monestary in Samos. Leo, Alice and I arrived early and while Leo and I decided to take a nap at the park, Alice finally wanted to hike a little bit for herself and kept walking.
Samos is only 125 km away from Santiago and I texted Hannah to find out where she was. Her response was shocking to me. She would arrive in Santiago de Compostela in two days. After we last met in Ponferrada she was hiking long days and was about 60 km ahead of me. Oh no, what can I do? I really wanted to have my last dinner with her, I still had a promise to keep and I wanted to know all about the answers we discussed on the very first night in Roncesvalles! Well, I decided to take two hiking days, 60 km each. That would mean I had to split with my family again and had to hike the same distance two days in row – a distance I’ve hiked only once before, my last day of my PCT (all about that you’ll find out later). I couldn’t really believe it, but I told myself that at least I need to give it a shot. So here’s the plan: eat well, go to bed early, sleep tight, start early and just do it!

100 km
I really wanted to start early, 6 maybe. But I didn’t. Dinner lasted longer than expected and I couldn’t get out of the monestary before 6:30, Still I was convinced that I was the first one to leave. I was wrong. About 8 km into the day I saw this strange light in front of me. It was Tomasz trying to fix his headlamp. His batteries were going out of power and he couldn’t get much light out of it. As he was the only person of the family I haven’t talked to much before I took the chance and decided to walk with him for a little bit. He needed light, I needed destraction because my plan was stressing me out a little bit. We hiked, we talked. We agreed on many things and I felt that meeting him this morning was a good thing. He left early because he wanted to meet a trail-friend, too, and he had the plan on hiking around 50 km this day. As we were talking about our past experiences of hiking and life we arrived in Sarria, 16 km after Samos at around 10 o’clock. We had a good breakfast and we decided to keep hiking together until we meet Alice. Alice had stayed in Sarria last night but already moved on. It would take another 14 km for us to catch up with her. I don’t remember the name of the little village where we met her again but I do remember that it was while talking to her Tomasz and I finally openly communicated the idea of hiking 100 km that day. We thought we were crazy! Of course, while hiking this morning we had this funny sentence that one could hike 100 km a day but didn’t take it seriously. His longest day ever was 80 km and he described it as a very tough day with lots of pain. My longest day was 60 km and I remember it being very hard, too. But while we, Alice, Tomasz and I, were sitting together it felt so right to say it. It was only 13:00 or 13.30 and we already hiked 30 km. We made the plan to hike another 70 km that day. 100 km in total in less than 24 hrs. Alice was laughing at us, told us we were crazy. Tomasz and I got up and started hiking. We set little goals. We tried to keep our pace up above 5 km/h, that would give us another 3 hours of break-time. We planned to reach his goal, 53 km., first and then see. I was looking forward to reaching 60 km and then we’ll see.
What a day that was! After 40 km we arrived in Portomarin. We planned on going into Portomarin to buy some food, bananas especially, but the Camino touches the city only a little bit and we didn’t want to waste any time and decided to keep on hiking. Instead of food we found Jördis. Jördis is a woman from Hamburg which I have met in Leon also and she hiked with us for a little while. Her plan was to hike another 8 km and then find a place to stay. We told her our plan, she also thought we were crazy but stayed with us for the next 8 km. While walking with her we talked about this and that, about science, nature and god. She said, she doesn’t believe in deity, Tomasz and I gave her our points of view when we found a fig tree. Even though many people have been harvesting this tree before us, we found a few figs for us. How delicious they were! We came to philosophize about all things when someone came up with the sentence: “If there is no god, please explain me figs!” As noone had an answer to that, we started hiking again, trying to keep the taste of the figs in our mouths for as long as possible. A few km later, Jördis came to her destination and we split.
We kept our pace above 5 km/h – I was constantly checking with my gps-device and we arrived at the 53 km-mark by around 19:00. But there was nothing, no hostel, no food. The next town was at least another 7 km away and if we want to get there before any stores close, we had to hurry up. It was getting dark. We arrived at the next town just before 21:00 and hoped to find a store to be open. But there wasn’t. We were hungry, it was dark, we were getting a little tired but our motivation was still sky-high. We asked some strangers if there’s a possibility to find a place to buy some bananas. They looked at us and pointed to a bar across the street. We entered and while everyone was looking at us we asked if one could sell us some bananas. We woman behind the counter grapped below the desk and reached us some bananas. Crazy! We thanked, paid and left. A few meters further down the road we spotted a little bar. We decided to go there and look if they have something to eat on the menu. They did! As we were hungry, we ordered half of the menu and ate like starving barbarians. It was then when we realized that we can do it. We can hike it. We actually can achieve hiking 100 km in less than 24 hrs. It was only 40 km left and we had 8,5 hrs left. If we can keep our pace around or above 5 km/h we still have at least 30 min. of break-time left. We started again. Fully motivated and full of food we headed towards our finish-line. It took us maybe 20 minutes to get the speed up again, our muscles were tired. But we made a pact that we won’t start whining and complaining before we hit the 70 km mark.
I don’t know when it started, but at some point Tomasz and I were certain that someone was following us. We both had this deep feeling of intuition we both couldn’t ignore. And we both knew who it was. “Jared is following us!”, Tomasz said it first and I fully agreed. There was no doubt. We kept ourselves busy with imagination of how Jared is behind us, talking about how he might feel, where he might be by now and so forth. Once in a while we heard dogs barking a few km behind us and we were sure it was because Jared passed by. There are a lot of houses with a lot of dogs on the Camino. And they all bark at all by-passers. It’s quiet at night, you hear them a long way. It was a beautiful night, almost new-moon, no clouds. The stars were shining. I know it’s been said many times, but they sparkled like diamonds in the sky. It was just plain magic. Tomasz and I have stopped talking. There wasn’t much to say. The night was cold and everytime we stopped for a few minutes it took us 15 minutes to get the speed up again, the muscles were cooling out very fast, we were tired. At around 2 o’clock, we had finished about 80 km, we decided to take another break and sit down for about 20 minutes. We talked about how Jared may feel. We didn’t know that he was following. Of course Tomasz stayed in contact with the group via whatsapp and we knew that the group has safely arrived at their destination, but noone mentioned Jared nor he has ever responded to anything. That wasn’t too unusual as his connection wasn’t the best.
Just when we wanted to start and tackle the last 20 km Tomasz came up with the idea to leave our last banana here on a little wall waiting for Jared. So we did. We placed the banana on a must-see spot and put a little note besides it. “Keep on going!” is what we wrote on it.
We started hiking again. It became tough. There were no words left. But we kept hiking. One more little break at about 5 o’clock and then we were on our last 10 km
It was a little after 6 when we touched the 100 km mark. We did it! What an experience! 100 km in 23 hrs and 42 min.

The connection!
Right at the mark, it was still dark, there was a nice little, waist-high wall next to us. Even though Tomasz was talking about keeping on hiking earlier, we then decided to take a nap on the wall. We slept for about 2 hours before the first pilgrims and the rising sun woke us up. We were freezing cold and decided to pack our things, find a Cafè and have a coffee. So we did. It took about 30 minutes before we found one, but we arrived happily, ordered coffee and breakfast and were just hyped about what happened the last 24 hours. We couldn’t believe ourselves when the first whatsapp messenges arrived at Tomasz’ mobile. “Congatulations!” it said by almost everyone of the group. Everyone but… “Where’s Jared? Is he with you?” was the next message arriving. Tomasz and I were looking at each other and grinned so hard. That was the proof that Jared did follow us. But he wasn’t with us yet. We started calculating: At what time did we start? When did Jared start maybe? How fast could he go? Did he take brakes? … we were puzzled. But the only result we came up with was, that if had followed us through the night, he should be here maybe now or within the next few minutes or so. I said to Tomasz: “Wait here, I go outside!” As I stepped outside and looked around the corner I couldn’t believe my eyes. He was still maybe 200, 300 metres away. Could it be? As he came closer, thoughts became certainty. It was Jared! Unbelievable. He arrived at that exact moment. What a moment that was! We saw each other and celebrated this moment really hard. “Come on in” I told him, so he followed me inside where Tomasz was still sitting there looking in another direction. “Look who I found!” I said and the Celebration continued.
After a good breakfast we continued together for a few km. I stayed in one town, Jared and Tomasz went to Monte de Gozo.

Santiago de Compostela.
The next day I went to Santiago de Compostela where I did meet Hannah again. We had another beautiful day and we talked about all the things happened to us while hiking the Camino. She found answers to her questions, I found mine. The Camino truely is a special way!
The next day I returned to Monte de Gozo to meet up with my family again and spend my last evening with them. My plans were to hike all the way to Finisterre, the end of the known world of the old times. It was a marvellous ending.

Monte de Gozo
Two days later the family was re-united again and we all embraced each other and told each other the stories of the last couple of days. It was while we all sat together when I asked Jared if he saw the banana. “Yes, I have. And I knew that you guys left it there for me!” Our all response can not be put into words.

It was sure that after that night, the family will break apart. I leave to Finisterre, Wietse had to catch a flight, Tomasz wanted to stay in Monte de Gozo, Sara needed to catch a flight, too.

Thank you to my trail-family: Jared, Tomasz, Shahar, Andreas, Anna, Leo, Sara, Florian, Alice, Wietse, Claire and Gosia.
Thank you Hannah.
Thank you Ken, Larry, Stephanie, Manuel and Paulina.

Tomasz has written his view on the 100 km on facebook. Find it here, read it, like it:

**English Below**23.10 – 24.10.2017 O przejsciu 100 kilometrów w 24h, ''niespodziewanym'' gościu i spontanicznie…

Gepostet von In&Out – Journeys Back Home am Sonntag, 5. November 2017