Anytime two men spend as much time together as we did on the Camino, there are bound to experience some awkward and embarrassing moments. But we seem to have a special knack for this. Over the next several weeks we will be sharing some of our awkward/embarrassing moments. Please enjoy our first blog post from Justin Skeesuck.
Wheelchairs are a bit of an anomaly on the Camino. We did encounter some fellow wheelchair users in a few of the larger cities, but small towns were always a place for uncomfortable social situations. Especially in a town of less than 800 people. When we were about halfway through our Camino, Patrick fell ill and we had to stop earlier than we intended, in El Burgo Ranero. Since getting my wheelchair in and out of smaller buildings was a challenge, Patrick parked me outside the first ablergue we came to. As he engaged the brakes of my wheelchair, I smiled at a table of Spanish gentlemen in their mid fifties who sat to my right.
While Patrick walked toward the building's entryway to seek a private room for us, I sat in the warm sun next to these men who were enjoying cold beer and vivid conversation. But after Patrick disappeared inside, their conversation quickly died and all attention was focused on me. Apparently they had never seen a man in a wheelchair before because all five men sat in silence and just stared directly at me. I don’t mean the mildly awkward stare you unintentionally fall into when you see something interesting and then look away when you're caught; I mean a stare that is deliberate and focused, a stare so intense and uncomfortable that I was squirming in my seat. No smiles, no nods of hello, and certainly no glances away. Ten eyeballs were glued on me with such intensity that I could feel their gaze on my body.
Every few minutes I would glance toward them to see if there had been any change. Occasionally one of them would lift a beer to their lips but their eyes never wavered. After five minutes of no words spoken, I decided to engage... in a staring contest. The challenge had been thrown down and I was ready to answer the call. I turned to my right just stared back. We locked eyes for another five minutes. This was one of the strangest social interactions I had ever been a part of. Think about that, ten total minutes of staring and not a word spoken.
When Patrick finally came out to tell me we had a room and take me inside, he was greeted by a staring contest of Olympic quality. As he unlocked the brakes of my wheelchair and started to push me inside, I continued to maintain my locked stare with the five gentlemen until they were lost from view.
"What was that about?" Patrick asked me.
"I'm not sure?" I replied.
Laughing he asked me, "Who won?"
"Let’s call it a tie."