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Monday, 18 October 2010

The end of the French water bottle

Spain day 12 . Carrion - Terradillos de Templarios 27km

Started today as yesterday, late and slow. More of the meseta and today following a roman road so was a bit doubly lacking in interest. Straight straight track through fields and fields. Lack of accomodation and lack of beds meant i was very lucky today to get one of the last spots in a private albergue. A few late peregrinos were turned away and i did not envy their options. Met lovely spanish lady who was having some issues with her feet which were quite swollen and mishapen form her ill fitting boots but she was in good spirits as once again the french quartet arrived and sang. Lost my water bottle in the flurry for bed space and spent a good hour searching the entire albergue, includung the bins, for it. It was unnecessary to be so attached to an easily replaceable plastic bottle but it had been with me since france and i felt a little sad that it would go no further. You needed very little on the camino but what you had was everything and so it became a part of you. The pack, hat, stick and water bottle were companions on the way and other pilgrims shared jokingly with me how devastated they would be if they lost their walking stick for example, and i was surprised and pleased that they even empathised with my loss of a plastic bottle! (i think you had to be there to appreciate it)

A road less travelled

Spain Day 11 Boadilla - Carrion de los Condes 26km

Happy to find i could stand and indeed put one foot in front of the other this morning. However, took heed of the warning and decided to take very slow day. Had morning coffee dispensed by lively man with huge hot kettle of coffee in one hand and huge hot kettle of milk in the other which he deftly poured at the same time into large glasses. Left the albergue last so as not to be encouraged to speed up by the sight of another pilgrim ahead and practically crawled along at snails pace. This was actually a really nice change, followed a canal for quite a while with the morning mist sitting on the water in the early light and had very peaceful amble. Spent several minutes with a camel who was part of a circus on the edge of another town which was quite unexpected. Took route along river which was certainly the path less troden and met ´Pepe´, a friend of the camino, or so the talisman around his neck stated. He sat by his car on a quiet road giving sweets, chocolate and a credencial stamp to any passing peregrinos while his friend tended his vegetable patch. He declared us friends forever and wished me well on my way. Picnicked under bridge soaking my feet and iffy tendons in the icy water...what a great day. Reached my destination late but without any leg problems just as the Polish family were boiling up the pasta and tomato sauce.....ahhhh

Pilgrim luxury

Day 10 Hontanas - Boadilla del Camino 28km

Very early morning setting out in the dark and guided only by the stars since i don´t have a head torch and my wind up penguin torch is of course in the bottom of my backpack where it will undoubtedly remain til christmas. Spent half an hour trying not to trip over til the first light meant i could just about see where i was going, again....daylight saving time??? Still unsure of how to solve the problem of my rapidly dilapidating boots the camino provided a solution, or temporarily at least. Having had a vision of gaffa tape being the answer to my problem i chanced upon a small shop just opening which looked like it might just about sell everything you could possibly ever imagine needing and a lot of other stuff too. I spent a few moments trying to tell the elderly shop owner what it was i was looking for by means of random related words and descriptive gesticulations and he seemed to get it for just a few minutes after shuffling off into the back of his store he shuffled back from the sets of high shelves with none other than a roll of gaffa tape in his hands, not only that but it was affordable too. I taped up my boots in fine style, for sure they would get me to Leon now. Picnic pickings were meek today, a crisp sandwich and some hedgerow brambles before once again into the desert.Passed through a real oasis at lunchtime, again in a dip in the landscape, a small village surrounded by trees and clinging to the banks of a tiny river, before pushing on the last 9km to Boadilla. To pass the time i listened to music and perhaps chose a beat slightly too uptempo as i was flying along for little over an hour on my ´disco camino´ before arriving in Boadilla. This proved to be most foolhardy as i had developed over the morning a new pain on the front of my lower shin....a sure indication of potential tendonitus and skipping along at 7km an hour with 10kilos on my back was the exact opposite of how i should have behaved based on this discovery. Sure enough by 7pm that evening i could barely walk anywhere. At least i was in the best place possible. Boadilla had a fabled albergue that was true luxury for 4 euros. As i sat with other peregrinos in the beautiful garden with my feet cooling in the pool and an ice pack on my leg, a quartet of french pilgrims sang and entertained us as the sun shone and cold beers were passed around...this was a good day to be a pilgrim. As for my leg, there was nothing to do but wait and see.

Morning by starlight and bedtime in the sun

Spain Day 9 Burgos - Hontanas 31km

Slept well and managed to produce something of a breakfast from my leftover bread and pate and the subsidized vending machine. Set of before 8 into darkness and heavy clouds and made easy progress out of Burgos. I really needed to do something about the boot situation but again it was a sunday so i figured they could get me to Leon?!? Stopped in small village to find some picnic food and shop proprietor gave me a small Saint Apostal pendant as a well wishing token. Onto the meseta now which meant days of flattish straight tracks through nondescript fields and fields and fields of stubble.....a mental challenge rather than physical. This dull and featureless land was much like a desert with gently rolling dunes of bleached shades of yellow swallowing up everything within it. Saw signs to the small village of Hontanas, hopefully where i would find a bed for the night, indicating it was a mere 2km away, yet i could see no view of anything all the way to the horizon, just this ´desert´. Where was this town? Soon it was 1km, then 500m and yet still there was nothing but fields. Then, i almost quite literally fell into it. Situated in what could easily be described as a hole in the ground was the beautiful ancient settlement of Hontanas. Spent a leisurely afternoon watching the children playing in the street and the old men continually moving the street bench into the sun as it shone between the buildings. The speedy French guy, Josef, was also here as was the Polish family who invited me to join them for the popular pilgrims dinner creation of pasta with tomato sauce.Bit concerned about strange twinging in the back of my left knee, anything that is not a blister or muscle pain is always more of a worry as plenty of people have scary stories of the dreaded tendonitus which, it seems, can put you on the first train/plane/boat home. Went to bed whilst the sun was still shining, i´m sure some use could be made of daylight saving time here!

Thursday, 14 October 2010

How far?

Spain Day 8 : Tosantos - Burgos 48km (*¿^! - much expletives)

After another communal breakfast which thankfully didn´t include any type of food that Italy was famed for I headed out just after 8am. Passing through many quiet villages arrived at San Juan de Ortego at lunchtime which had a very well thought of monastery and be fair they were very pretty. Saw the French couple again as they were diagonally heading across the field behind me and an Italian couple whom i had thought were with them but they walked around and i saw them in a new light. Walked at a fair rate of knots through 12km of oak and pine woodland tracks where for the first time i started ´wolf watch´.....pretty slim chance but a pilgrim can hope.Did see quite a few deer on the hillside in the morning mists so wolves might not be an impossibility. Again i arrived too early to want to stop in a very lovely village on route but decided i´d just ´pop over´to the other side of the big hill and stay somewhere there. Things went from summerry balm to scottish highland bleak in a short space of time and i was soon battling the wind and rain over said blessed hill. I found one of El Boracho´s friends battling with his waterproofs on the horizontal rain engulfed summit and helped him pull his poncho over himself and his backpack which then blew out sideways giving me a feisty slap in the face. He intended to reach Burgos and i wished him well as there was no way i intended to go that far, nope didn´t want to, was no way.

So, as i found myself with no other choice but to be walking on to Burgos i was substantially miffed. The place i had intended to stop didn´t exist so there was nothing for it.....13 more km and boy were they drudgy kilometres at that. Walked around airport boundary for an age then followed long busy roads through industrial outskirts that outskirted for miles. Reaching the long slog into the city centre proper the guiding yellow arrows decided to have a bit of fun directing me down dead end streets and then disappearing completely...a bit like an early version of sat nav. Was suitably in a proper mood with myself by the time i arrived at last at the ultra modern, organised and swish city albergue opposite the cathedral which charged 4euros for the night. A lipsticked cyclist i had seen a few times today patted me on the shoulder and then the equally drained friend of El Boracho crashed through the door, his poncho twisted around his neck. Oh, how we laughed.

Hospitality versus Vinyl mat

Friday? Santo Domingo - Tosantos 28km

Today was one time when i had a goal for the day. In other words the ´Cuatro Cantones´ alburgue in Belorado as i had read that it was a true oasis of lushness. Made easy progress in the morning passing the usual familiar faces and the french couple who were cutting across the corner of a field and i arrived at 12noon. I sat outside the wondrous place of rest but felt uncomfortable.....this was no time to stop, there was a whole afternoon ahead and how special could it be? Generally a decent matress and workable shower constituted a pretty lush albergue by camino standards. So i got up (which wasn´t the easiest maneuover from pavement level) and ´saddled up´and walked away, leaving some slightly confused pilgrims at the door.Stopped instead at very small parochial in hamlet in the usual ´middle of nowhere in particular´. While waiting for the hospitalero who´d gone out for lettuce i popped in the bar over the road (as of course these middle of nowhere in particular places could never be without the obligatory bar) and had myself both a coffee and a glass of red wine AND change from 2 euros.
The albergue was of the mat on the floor variety which was slightly less than impressive but i thought perhaps i had harshly judged the experience in Logroño and maybe it had been the noise that had kept me awake not the cold hard floor and sweaty skin stuck to vinyl side of the matter, so would give it the benefit of the doubt. Not as if there were any other options open to me anyway within the next 12km.Six people stayed here this night and we prepared food together under the watchful instruction of the hospitalero who often came under criticism by an italian man who clearly felt that, as an Italian, no one....and i mean absolutely no one, could tell him how to cook pasta and was getting decidedly ´cheffy´about it all. We left him to it which worked best, and the rest of us prepared salad and poured out the wine which seemed the better end of the deal anyway. It was a wonderful evening though ran so late (9pm) that some of us were falling asleep at the table and didn´t make mass..oops.
Yes, and slept badly again...cold hard floor and having to peel sticky limbs off vinyl definitely the culprit. I was going to have to avoid mats in the future, which was a dilemma as these albergues had been the most generous places to stay.

Sunday, 3 October 2010

Cockerels in a golden cage

Spain day 6 : Ventoso - santo Domingo. 31km

Strange night...nodded off at 9.30 ish, slept for hours then woke up and went to bathroom, slept for some more hours then woke again and tried to see what time it was. My mp3 machine suggested it was 7am but this had to be wrong as everyone was still and not yet rustling sleeping bags into rucksacks. Thinking it might be the time difference i decided it might be 6am, but still this seemed a little late. Switched on my mobile phone which read i was really confused and lay awake til 1am in disbelief. Eventually went back to sleep. having bought individual eggs yesterday i was able to have substantial poached egg breakfast. The older french couple (who cut corners across fields) wished me well and i set of again with Antya from Berlin. We missed a yellow arrow early on though and were left stood on the edge of the village unsure where to go next. i decided to retrace and pick up the arrows as we seemed to be turning in the wrong direction but she wanted to continue on as she thought ´maybe, it is this way´. Not entirely comfortable with a ´maybe´ that might involve walking several unnecessary kilometres extra i turned back and soon found the arrows we had missed which did indeed point in the opposite direction. I perhaps should have tried to catch her but it would have taken a long time and i was sure she would realise and retrace the way soon enough. i never saw her again.
Took picnic stop in the shade of a church belltower atop of which sat the most collosal birds nests i have ever seen. They surely belonged to a kind of prehistoric creature or else it was some kind of economical house share system in the bird world.
As i picnicked El boracho and the Mexican passed waving and calling salutations and then stopping up the street by an old woman who was chargrilling peppers on the pavement outside her home. later i walked with Lugomir (whom i renamed Boromir, for sake of ease, as in Lord of the Rings), from Bulgaria who had been living in Asturias in northern spain and sold me on its charms even further than my already keen interest. He told me a very sad tale of the events that had led him up to walking the camino and was very candid.
we arrived in a small place called cirueña where i had expected a rustic albergue and little else but a few trees. Instead there was a brand new housing estate with parks and play areas and community outdoor swimming pool, just no people...not a soul. The shutters were closed and ´For sale´signs hung around. Most pueblos seemed deserted when walking through but they were usually old villages and it seemed fitting enough but this was just disturbing. We walked on through quickening our pace as it felt a little as if a 3 minute warning siren had gone off and everyone had disappeared down their fallout bunkers and we had somehow missed it. Downhill to Santo Domingo where after some odd ´miracle´occurred years ago involving some chickens in the church tower they now keep a pair of chickens, hen and cockerel, in a gold cage in the belltower and the town is famous for it. Everyone comes to see them, indeed that evening at least 20% of spain were there. Cockerel souvenirs abounded and you could even buy cakes in the shape of roosters. Still it made a change from the usual preoccupation with the Camino. Though i did find a Peregrino Pastry in the bakery alongside the sugar hens.

A rest day

Logrono to Ventoso 17km.

So, after the exhertions of yesterday decided today was to be a day therefore i walked 11 miles....well, almost a day off. After the brothers forced endless amounts of hot chocolate and biscuits into us i set off with a girl from berlin and walked with her all day. She had quite a good pace but liked to stop very frequently for a variety of reasons and only walked half a day. For today this was fine by me. Bizarrly she had lived for a while in Guatemala so we talked at length about the situation there. Leaving logrono a long bearded ex pilgrim kept a table in the park where he dispensed free shots of moscatel and gave everyone passing an apple along with their credencial stamp - again he just did it for the love! Arrived at a windy ´Ventoso´at 1pm and that was it for the day, i kicked off my dillapadated boots and got an early start on the usual routine of shower, laundry, food. A young italian couple were working their way through the vending machines supply of Mahou beer cans and building a pyramid from the empties, i suggested they build a sculpture of the cathedral of Santiago and they took this idea on with gusto. I did not see them the next day. Later ´El Boracho and the Mexican´arrived with a few other guys from the fiesta at the wine font the other day. They were in good spirits and probably got stuck in to the beer can santiago cathedral sculpture too.

A mat on the floor

Spain Day 3 Montjardin to logrono. 41km!!!

After a free breakfast provided by the kind sisters who were up at 5am chopping baguettes I set out in the still dark, stars in the sky of 7.15am, though was still the last to leave. Lots more walking through vineyards which was cruelly tempting. I passed a couple of speedy french guys a few times and on the third passing they had succumbed to the tempting bounty of grapes and shared their booty with me, though did try to leave me with the evidence. Ran out of water rations today in the relentless heat and arriving at the public font of Lorca was like reaching a welcoming oasis where quite a crowd of pilgrims had amassed, one stood with his feet under the taps, but i drank from it anyway. For some unfathomable reason i decided to walk a seriously long way today though the building black clouds behind me did keep my pace up a bit, they never reached me with a downpour however and i was left to slog on into Logrono in the sweltering afternoon sun, always just one more hill. An old lady on the side of a road gave me a stamp for my credencial and a fig and a smile to keep me going before shouting and shaking her fists at some cyclists for speeding dangerously down the hill, this she did on a daily basis just for kicks. Finally arriving in Logrono i entered the gates of the albergue and thought i had reached heaven itself as pilgrims sat around with a cold beer on the lush lawn and others cooled their feet in the sunken had been worth all the struggle.......not so, however, as the hospitalero came out shaking her hands saying ´completo completo´....full! So i miserably plodded on to the parochial at the monastery where after struggling with some secret benedictine password at the door i was allowed admission and shown to my mat on the floor.....ah, the harsh cruelty. It turned out to be a wonderful evening though as the not at all pious brothers in charge were extremely jolly and made a huge free dinner for everyone and would never allow you to refuse just one more meatball. A grand fiesta was wildly playing out on the city streets but after the camino the crowds and noise were just a bit overwhelming. Spent the remainder of the evening chatting with the bandy legged french Georges who also covered the same distance today and shook my hand for it. He spoke french and italian and i spoke english and spanish which made it a completely unintelligible conversation but i enjoyed it nonetheless. With the combination of the late night revellers outside and my mat on the floor inside not too much sleep occurred this night despite the copious amounts of the communion wine that the brothers had been splashing about during dinner.