It’s COVID of course, but you won’t hear it mentioned on the Camino unless you are talking to me. I am recovering from COVID, and yes I know it was COVID, because I took a rapid test when I was first ill and those two red bars on the test popped up right away. Everyone else who is hacking and fighting a “cold” are walking their Caminos with their heads very intentionally buried in the sand. Pilgrims want to believe that the pandemic is not a concern any longer and that somehow the Camino is virus free. I’m like that with bad extended weather forecasts. I don’t want to hear them, and will plug my ears and sing la la la until they finish.
The word COVID is just not spoken here. Even when Gord was talking to our host in Puebla de Santabria about my illness and about all the children missing from class right now, it was never specifically said. When I mentioned that I had it on our WhatsApp group of pilgrims that we started with, they wished me well, and then remained silent.
Since Spain’s indoor mask mandates were lifted just after Easter there has been the expected rise in cases. Colder weather in Spain has kept people indoors when they would otherwise be outside. Currently there are 22,000 people sick in Galicia, which is 1 in every 120 inhabitants.
No one really wants to be reminded about how our exposure to each other is practically unavoidable in the albergues and bars along the route. Some of us will be lucky, some of us will have only mild or few symptoms, but some of us, like myself, will get sick.
I still have three COVID tests that I would happily share with other pilgrims complaining of cold symptoms, but no one wants to know. Unlike Gord and I, pilgrims are generally on a tight schedule that doesn’t allow for a period of self-isolation. Many also have budgets that don’t give them options to stay in hotels where contact can be limited. The people who are traveling right now are really less concerned.
No amount of magical thinking or faith in the intervention of Saint James is going to protect you from the gamble of getting COVID on the Camino right now. If you are immune compromised in any way I would take the risks seriously.
I’m back on my bike and riding slowly. So slowly, apparently, that two cyclists stopped to ask me if I was ok. It feels good to be moving again. I was sicker than I expected with my three vaccination shots. I’m still coating myself in hand sanitizer, wearing my best N95 mask and trying to avoid people, but people don’t avoid me! Even after telling people that I am recovering from COVID, as I just did with a German woman, they suggest we have a coffee together. When I mentioned COVID a second time she just smiled silently and then sat down at the outside table with us.