A Travellerspoint blog

A warm Galician welcome (not)

I had expectations about Galicia before arriving there, both good and bad. As a celtic land, I knew it shared many historical and physical similarities with Ireland, especially the West. I knew it's reputation as a poor agricultural society, mocked by the rest of of Spain as being backward and devastated by generations of migration. On the other hand, stories abound of it's strong cultural and spiritual wealth, enriched by it's own language, Galega. I guess I was quite fascinated to see what echoes of Ireland I might stumble across. I also knew it would probably be wet, very wet. Yet this was somehow balanced out by tales from my Spanish colleague Alberto of some excellent nosh, especially shellfish. The final gem of knowledge came from my sister. She had dated a rugged Galician man whilst living in the states, she warned me the men were bastards.

I'm afraid my initial experiences were not good. After a four hour steep ascent in the lashing rain I arrived at O'Cebreiro, a village at 1200m and barely visible under a blanket of thick swirling fog. I was soaked to the skin with rain and sweat and cooled down so quickly upon stopping in the village that my teeth were chatterring madly within minutes. I stopped in one of the bars, excited at the prospect of my first bowl of caldo gallego, the thick hot soup of the region. The couple behnd the bar had enough negative energy coming out of them to kill a herd of cattle. I was told no hot soup and had to settle for a cafe con leche and some cake. I then ventured to the shop to buy another plastic rain mac. They are nothing but a piece of plastic, but when you are in dire straits they add another layer of warmth and rain protection. I was promptly overcharged. The 9th Century church of Iglesia de Santa Maria Real is a beautiful, calm and serene place. However I felt very strange in it; very emotional, as if my sensory perception had been altered. Dear God I thought, am I about to have a spiritual experience? Is a vision about to appear, is this the moment that my life changes imperceptibly? Part of me was saying bring it on, the other part was petrified. At the back of my head I thought I might be getting sick.

The fog continued to be impossible and the visibility was bad enough for the locals to shoo us off the path and onto the main road. I was finding it increasingly difficult to put one foot infront of the other. A few hours later I arrived at a place called Alto de Poio, essentially an albergue/ bar and a hostal on opposite sides of a main road, way way up high in the mountains. Nothing else. Nada. Asides from the cold and the rain of course. I couldn't manage any further, I would have to stay there, despite my sense that the place was to be avoided. But there was a fire in the bar, maybe it would be ok.

Needing some hot food in my system, I made my second attempt of the day to order a caldo gallego. The girls behind the bar looked at me as if I'd asked for a glass of champagne and a zebra burger. I sat down by the fire and had been there no longer than a minute before the granny of the outfit promptly told me to sling my hook, she wanted the fireside all to herself. Oh the joys of a warm Galician welcome. I ate my soup accompanied by a glass of red wine. I wasn't looking forward to entering the dorm and I thought some vino tinto might dull my senses. Despite the alcohol the dorm was filthy dirty, putrid. I didn't want to think about what might be in the mattress or indeed the blankets as I would need to put them on top of my sleeping bag to keep warm. Within a few minutes of lying horizontally I started to gag and just about managed to get to the filthy bathroom before throwing up alovely mixture of cabbage soup, peanuts and red wine. So in the one and only bathroom for the 16 bed dorm, I had sprayed a layer of vomit over on top of a thick layer of grime. Although all I wanted to do was crawl back into my sleeping bag I had no choice but to head back to the bar to explain the situation and ask about cleaning materials. I brought a spanish speaker with me. Once all was explained, the girls did nothing but give me their death like stare. The granny eventually emerged from the kitchen with a filthy dirty cloth and told my spanish translator I was to clean up and chuck the cloth way. Hospitality eh. And thus poor Jane found herself giving the bathroom it's first clean in a decade, heaving and gagging throughout. That evening my fellow pilgrims returned from from the bar across the road with horror stories. The landlord had been dubbed our place as an abbatoir and convinced them they had already contracted some contagious disease and would either perish during the night or die a slow death. I obviously had a bit of a fever on the go. Being hot and reasonably delerious, I found the whole thing hilarous. But I knew that first thing in the morning I needed to get the hell out of there.

Next morning I was still too ill to walk. My plan of action was to to seek help from the bar across the road. Surely they would take pity on my plight. I explained my situation in pidgeon Spanish and a little bit of acting. The bar man's response was to put his palm out for money. He took an euro off me before getting out his mobile phone to calll a taxi. In the hour I waited, I had plenty of time to examine the photographs of half naked women that adorned every wall in the bar. It felt like a rural pub in 80's Ireland. Although to be fair to the proprietor, the women's toilets had their very own picture of a well endowed senor in a very small pair of speedo's. So no sexism there. The taxi came and took me the 10k to the next village, charging me a hefty 30 euro for the priviledge. I tell you, I was cursing the Galicians that day. And then it all changed, I was in lovely Tricastella, I had a bed in a comfy spacious modern Albergue, my clothes, which hadn't been washed in 10 days were placed in a washing machine and the sun came out.

Posted by noratheexplorer 03:48 Archived in Spain Comments (0)

Leon to the Galicia

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An air of solemnity surrounded me as I left Leon. I knew it would be tight enough to reach Santigo in time and that by necessity, my days of dilly dallying were over. I also was determined to do this last stretch properly, with no buses or indeed any form of cheating. However what lay deeper was the knowledge that the mountains lay ahead and my sense of dread about what would await me; would I be fit enough, would the weather be appalling, would my gear be warm enough. Dread is a pretty common companion of mine, I allow it to spoil the build up to many events in my life, knowing full well that everything generally turns out fine in the end. I was pissed off that after being away for a while, dread had arrived back.

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The dead heat remained for a day or two and despite the red dusty soil, the landscape increasingly began to remind me of home. The distant mountains were navy and green, just how the foothills of the Mournes look from Omeath. The gentle rolling landscape surrounding me was purple and yellow, the familiar colours of the Cooleys in Autumn. But while the yellow looked like gorse it wasn't and the purple turned out to be French Lavender rather than heather. I had never seen French Lavender growing in the wild, it looks far too dainty and manicured to be growing in a bush on a windy hillside, but I guess it added an exotic touch to a familiar scene.

The cold kicked in when I reached the city of Astorga. After weeks of heavy, humid heat it felt really gloomy (and yes, familiar) to be walking through a town braced against the cold and wind. And then it was time to slowly ascend into the mountains. Every footstep west lead to a landscape more and more familiar. And the sky too. Often a brooding sky, full of dark clouds with the potential of the dreaded rain. A sky that you had to keep your eye on. After weeks of being on a high, I could feel my mood descending. However the walk from Astorga to Rabanal del Camino surprised me by being both dry and beautiful and I was very pleased to find a bed in a lovely Albergue run the English Confraternity of St James. It was spacious and had comfortable beds, good facilities and a lovely garden. Best of all I was in a dorm which was all female, so a more peacful night would be in store. Lawrence, the Irish Hospitalero had dubbed the dorm 'the convent'. Hospitaleros are the people who run the Albergues. The majority are volunteers who give up 2-4 weeks of their time as a 'thank you' for their own experience of walking the Camino. Furthermore their giving of hospitality to the pilgrims is another way of continuing in the spirit of the spirit of the Camino, after the physical walking has ended. Some are very kind. Some are not. Quite a number are control freaks, but I will not digress. Anyway the three running the nights show were Lawrence and his Mrs from Derry and another lady from Dublin. They were a credit to our small nation, even putting on a communal afternoon cup of tea for everyone. The biscuits were the only disappointment in the whole event. In my humble opinion a Marie biscuit is not up to scratch at all. But others may beg to disagree.

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So after the usual ablutions, I headed for my siesta. At some point during a very deep sleep I was sure I could hear my name being called out. Slowly I was able to rouse myself of the dream; I pulled my eye mask down, pushed myself up into a sitting position and gave myself a shake. When I came too I realized I was eyeball to eyeball with Lawrence and an old man in monks robes and very thick glasses. Lawrence introduced me to brother Thierry who shook my hand and tried not to notice that I was only half way in my sleeping bag and wearing nothing but a vest top, pair of knickers and an eye mask on my head. Lawrence told me that brother Thierry would like me to read a psalm at Vespers that evening. I was still struggling at being face to face with a monk and a cheeky Irish man in an all female dorm, (where a girl should feel safe to go to sleep in a state of minor undress) never mind where the hell the Monastery was, or how I might spontaneously ignite when I began the psalm. So even though I desperately wanted to say no, I said yes. I was a good girl, just like when I was a teenager and had to 'do the reading' at 8.30 am mass on a Sunday morning. I hated it every bit as much as way back then.

Not only does Rabanal have a lovely Albergue with a monastery next door, but it posses 2 fine hotel type things with lovely food. After Vespers I bolted to the poshest looking one and sat down at a table on my own, excited at the prospects of a top quality 'big feed'. A reasonably insane looking man waved me over. Like previously with Lawrence and Brother Thierry I so much wanted to say no, but of course I did what I did then, smiled politely and said yes. Fillipe was Spanish and obviously a larger than life character. That was all I could ascertain, given that after a minute we realized that he only spoke a few words of English and I a few words of Spanish, food items on the the menu being my area of greatest expertise. Although I am often game for conversations that are based on hand signals and drawings, the sweat broke on me that evening. How the hell was I going to get through a full dinner with a totally hyperactive Spanish man. A minute later another man came through the door, I had seen him in the Alberque and assumed he was American or Mexican, I literally grabbed him and pulled him onto the seat next to me. He looked rather nervous. But God had obviously sent him. An Iranian living in Los Angeles, Ghobad spoke both English and Spanish and what ensued between the three of us was three hours of wonderful conversation and laughter. We were pals for life, I had no doubt about it.

Fillipe had been walking from Sevilla, on one of the Camino routes known as the Via de la Plata. The heat had been so intense on his first day of walking that by the evening of day 2 he was in A&E. A blister under his toe nail was such that it forced his toe nail off. He was back in hospital by day 7, his other foot had become infected. In between courses he proudly displayed his mutilated feet, the old injuries now toppled by new daily blisters. Dear God, they were in a terrible state. Over the next few days walking I would often stumble upon Fillipe sitting on a rock or on the grass, patiently undoing the bandages and plasters of the previous few hours and then reapplying fresh ones. He was often in terrible pain, but bulled on enthusticially. By Jesus, he was going to get to the end and take not even one short cut, detour or soft option. In Ireland they'd call him a 'terrible' man. He was a hoot.

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The next morning we climbed further up into the mountains. It felt more like Nepal than Ireland now. The villages were tiny, the houses were wooden and dilapidated, looking ready to topple over at any moment, the temperature was freezing, the air seemed thinner and smelt of wood smoke. It was sort of exciting.

Then it was time to greet another symbol of the Camino, the Cruz Ferro at the pass of Monte Irago. The Cruz Ferro is a simple iron cross which stands ontop of a weathered pole. People interpret it in different ways, but most people leave behind a stone or other token, sometimes taken from home and dutifully carried to this very point. For some the stone is left simply as a symbol of thanks and blessing, others use it to represent something they would like to leave behind here in the mountains; an event, an emotion, a phase in life. It's yet another simple ritual which we could all do any day in our life, but rarely do. On the Camino many such opportunities arise on a daily basis. That is one of the wonderful things about it. For those of us who had been walking for quite a long time, the cross also marked another stage in our journey. Dear God we well over half way there by now, although there was still a long aul trek to go.

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The next day I had a short walk to Ponferrada. On hearing a number of horror stores about the local Albergue, I promptly boooked myself into a room complete with comfortable double bed, clean white sheets and it's own bathroom. I climbed into bed at 2pm and did not leave it till 8 the next morning. Sheer bliss. It was my first private room since day 4 in Pamplona. Obviously it was an absolute joy, but it also dawned on me that despite living on my own for almost 20 years, I really hadn't had any problem with living in a dorm full of people for the previous 3 weeks. I guess it shows how adaptable the human spirirt can be.

And then I walked into yet another landscape, the lush gentle valleys of Bierzo, a green fertile haven resplendent with vineyards and fruit trees. The town Villefranca was breathtaking and a part of me wanted to wander the streets and take it all in. But a larger part of me just wanted to get into bed and rest my weary bones. I was officially knackered. Days later, it was interesting to speak to many other pilgrims who reported that same sense of physical exhaustion at that very time. Was it just purely physical, or also a detox moment from the psychological or spiritual realms? Certainly the previous 3 weeks had been unlike any other 3 weeks of my life, especially in terms of their simplicity. You don't have the normal distractions of daily life to contend with; your job, the bills, the weeds in the garden, what's for dinner, washing the bloody dishes. In essence it is just yourself and your body that you face every day. And at times that ain't pretty.

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Then it was time for the final few days trudge up into the mountains and into Galicia. Right on cue the rain started within ten minutes of stepping outside the alberque and accompanied me until my next resting spot, 25km away. It was a pretty unpleasant and miserable day's walking but I was cheered up by a plate of warm lentil and chorizo stew and a bed in cosy attic dorm in Ruitelan . Like the previous day I needed to get into bed to rest as a matter of necessity and spent a lovely afternoon and evening snug in my sleeping bag listening to the rain in the roof. I think I thought the worst was over me, which was far from the case.

Posted by noratheexplorer 11:33 Archived in Spain Comments (0)

Leon to the Galicia

large_DSCF7296.jpg

An air of solemnity surrounded me as I left Leon. I knew it would be tight enough to reach Santigo in time and that by necessity, my days of dilly dallying were over. I also was determined to do this last stretch properly, with no buses or indeed any form of cheating. However what lay deeper was the knowledge that the mountains lay ahead and my sense of dread about what would await me; would I be fit enough, would the weather be appalling, would my gear be warm enough. Dread is a pretty common companion of mine, I allow it to spoil the build up to many events in my life, knowing full well that everything generally turns out fine in the end. I was pissed off that after being away for a while, dread had arrived back.

DSCF7340.jpg DSCF7287.jpg

The dead heat remained for a day or two and despite the red dusty soil, the landscape increasingly began to remind me of home. The distant mountains were navy and green, just how the foothills of the Mournes look from Omeath. The gentle rolling landscape surrounding me was purple and yellow, the familiar colours of the Cooleys in Autumn. But while the yellow looked like gorse it wasn't and the purple turned out to be French Lavender rather than heather. I had never seen French Lavender growing in the wild, it looks far too dainty and manicured to be growing in a bush on a windy hillside, but I guess it added an exotic touch to a familiar scene.

The cold kicked in when I reached the city of Astorga. After weeks of heavy, humid heat it felt really gloomy (and yes, familiar) to be walking through a town braced against the cold and wind. And then it was time to slowly ascend into the mountains. Every footstep west lead to a landscape more and more familiar. And the sky too. Often a brooding sky, full of dark clouds with the potential of the dreaded rain. A sky that you had to keep your eye on. After weeks of being on a high, I could feel my mood descending. However the walk from Astorga to Rabanal del Camino surprised me by being both dry and beautiful and I was very pleased to find a bed in a lovely Albergue run the English Confraternity of St James. It was spacious and had comfortable beds, good facilities and a lovely garden. Best of all I was in a dorm which was all female, so a more peacful night would be in store. Lawrence, the Irish Hospitalero had dubbed the dorm 'the convent'. Hospitaleros are the people who run the Albergues. The majority are volunteers who give up 2-4 weeks of their time as a 'thank you' for their own experience of walking the Camino. Furthermore their giving of hospitality to the pilgrims is another way of continuing in the spirit of the spirit of the Camino, after the physical walking has ended. Some are very kind. Some are not. Quite a number are control freaks, but I will not digress. Anyway the three running the nights show were Lawrence and his Mrs from Derry and another lady from Dublin. They were a credit to our small nation, even putting on a communal afternoon cup of tea for everyone. The biscuits were the only disappointment in the whole event. In my humble opinion a Marie biscuit is not up to scratch at all. But others may beg to disagree.

DSCF7306.jpg DSCF7314.jpg

So after the usual ablutions, I headed for my siesta. At some point during a very deep sleep I was sure I could hear my name being called out. Slowly I was able to rouse myself of the dream; I pulled my eye mask down, pushed myself up into a sitting position and gave myself a shake. When I came too I realized I was eyeball to eyeball with Lawrence and an old man in monks robes and very thick glasses. Lawrence introduced me to brother Thierry who shook my hand and tried not to notice that I was only half way in my sleeping bag and wearing nothing but a vest top, pair of knickers and an eye mask on my head. Lawrence told me that brother Thierry would like me to read a psalm at Vespers that evening. I was still struggling at being face to face with a monk and a cheeky Irish man in an all female dorm, (where a girl should feel safe to go to sleep in a state of minor undress) never mind where the hell the Monastery was, or how I might spontaneously ignite when I began the psalm. So even though I desperately wanted to say no, I said yes. I was a good girl, just like when I was a teenager and had to 'do the reading' at 8.30 am mass on a Sunday morning. I hated it every bit as much as way back then.

Not only does Rabanal have a lovely Albergue with a monastery next door, but it posses 2 fine hotel type things with lovely food. After Vespers I bolted to the poshest looking one and sat down at a table on my own, excited at the prospects of a top quality 'big feed'. A reasonably insane looking man waved me over. Like previously with Lawrence and Brother Thierry I so much wanted to say no, but of course I did what I did then, smiled politely and said yes. Fillipe was Spanish and obviously a larger than life character. That was all I could ascertain, given that after a minute we realized that he only spoke a few words of English and I a few words of Spanish, food items on the the menu being my area of greatest expertise. Although I am often game for conversations that are based on hand signals and drawings, the sweat broke on me that evening. How the hell was I going to get through a full dinner with a totally hyperactive Spanish man. A minute later another man came through the door, I had seen him in the Alberque and assumed he was American or Mexican, I literally grabbed him and pulled him onto the seat next to me. He looked rather nervous. But God had obviously sent him. An Iranian living in Los Angeles, Ghobad spoke both English and Spanish and what ensued between the three of us was three hours of wonderful conversation and laughter. We were pals for life, I had no doubt about it.

Fillipe had been walking from Sevilla, on one of the Camino routes known as the Via de la Plata. The heat had been so intense on his first day of walking that by the evening of day 2 he was in A&E. A blister under his toe nail was such that it forced his toe nail off. He was back in hospital by day 7, his other foot had become infected. In between courses he proudly displayed his mutilated feet, the old injuries now toppled by new daily blisters. Dear God, they were in a terrible state. Over the next few days walking I would often stumble upon Fillipe sitting on a rock or on the grass, patiently undoing the bandages and plasters of the previous few hours and then reapplying fresh ones. He was often in terrible pain, but bulled on enthusticially. By Jesus, he was going to get to the end and take not even one short cut, detour or soft option. In Ireland they'd call him a 'terrible' man. He was a hoot.

DSCF7334.jpg

The next morning we climbed further up into the mountains. It felt more like Nepal than Ireland now. The villages were tiny, the houses were wooden and dilapidated, looking ready to topple over at any moment, the temperature was freezing, the air seemed thinner and smelt of wood smoke. It was sort of exciting.

Then it was time to greet another symbol of the Camino, the Cruz Ferro at the pass of Monte Irago. The Cruz Ferro is a simple iron cross which stands ontop of a weathered pole. People interpret it in different ways, but most people leave behind a stone or other token, sometimes taken from home and dutifully carried to this very point. For some the stone is left simply as a symbol of thanks and blessing, others use it to represent something they would like to leave behind here in the mountains; an event, an emotion, a phase in life. It's yet another simple ritual which we could all do any day in our life, but rarely do. On the Camino many such opportunities arise on a daily basis. That is one of the wonderful things about it. For those of us who had been walking for quite a long time, the cross also marked another stage in our journey. Dear God we well over half way there by now, although there was still a long aul trek to go.

The next day I had a short walk to Ponferrada. On hearing a number of horror stores about the local Albergue, I promptly boooked myself into a room complete with comfortable double bed, clean white sheets and it's own bathroom. I climbed into bed at 2pm and did not leave it till 8 the next morning. Sheer bliss. It was my first private room since day 4 in Pamplona. Obviously it was an absolute joy, but it also dawned on me that despite living on my own for almost 20 years, I really hadn't had any problem with living in a dorm full of people for the previous 3 weeks. I guess it shows how adaptable the human spirirt can be.

And then I walked into yet another landscape, the lush gentle valleys of Bierzo, a green fertile haven resplendent with vineyards and fruit trees. The town Villefranca was breathtaking and a part of me wanted to wander the streets and take it all in. But a larger part of me just wanted to get into bed and rest my weary bones. I was officially knackered. Days later, it was interesting to speak to many other pilgrims who reported that same sense of physical exhaustion at that very time. Was it just purely physical, or also a detox moment from the psychological or spiritual realms? Certainly the previous 3 weeks had been unlike any other 3 weeks of my life, especially in terms of their simplicity. You don't have the normal distractions of daily life to contend with; your job, the bills, the weeds in the garden, what's for dinner, washing the bloody dishes. In essence it is just yourself and your body that you face every day. And at times that ain't pretty.

DSCF7318.jpgDSCF7333.jpgDSCF7321.jpg

Then it was time for the final few days trudge up into the mountains and into Galicia. Right on cue the rain started within ten minutes of stepping outside the alberque and accompanied me until my next resting spot, 25km away. It was a pretty unpleasant and miserable day's walking but I was cheered up by a plate of warm lentil and chorizo stew and a bed in cosy attic dorm in Ruitelan . Like the previous day I needed to get into bed to rest as a matter of necessity and spent a lovely afternoon and evening snug in my sleeping bag listening to the rain in the roof. I think I thought the worst was over me, which was far from the case.

Posted by noratheexplorer 11:33 Archived in Spain Comments (0)

A blister and a bus

After 2 days of walking with considerable oomph in my step, the oomph decided to pack it's bag and move on. I returned to a speed somewhere between 1st and 2nd gear. The landscape had become populated by people and lats of roads, indeed this was a section of the Camino where large stretches of the pilgrim path ran alongside the main road. I was not impressed. My feet had also started to ache and I knew I was walking differently in an attempt to protect my little toe from hurting, but was actually creating more problems for my big toe. When I arrived in Villarmentero de Campos that evening (Population: 2), I was grumpy. So too were my 5 fellow Pilgrims, most complaining of sore feet and blisters multiplying like rabbits. I couldn't really be bothered with the Campos 5. One was a young American pumped up with hot air and bull shit, 2 others were French and scored a whooping 8.5 on the lemon sucking scale.(The Pilgrim qualities of love, acceptance and non-judgement obviously had left town with my oomph). So when I was offered the option of sleeping alone in a tipis I jumped at the chance, despite the omnious dark clouds in the sky above. Oh joy of joys, I wouldn't have to see them, make small talk bla bla bla. The tipis had a raised platform with 3 plastic matresses and I had it all to myself, the first time to have a space to myself for two and a half weeks. I had a great time rolling around, doing yoga stretches that I hadn't attempted for years and best of all, emptying the entire contents of my rucsac onto the matress and just letting it be. From a social point of view dinner was pretty painful. In a desperate attempt to avoid speaking to the American kid, I actually did converse with the French couple who turned out to be reasonably friendly people who had had a pretty adventurous life (their score decreased to 3). That night I added some new calculations to my lemon sucking scale (this calculation relates only to those of French extraction). If you are skinny, in a couple and over 60, then the likelihood that you will score over 7 is pretty high. Don't know quite what that's about, but the skinny variable is very important. Answers on a postcard please.

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You all know where the story is going to head now, so I will keep it short. The rain started to come through the canvas within about 20 minutes of me going to bed. I stayed calm and contained and moved the matress to a dry spot where I would be safe from getting wet. But the noise of the water hitting the plastic matress was really loud and potentially bad dream inducing, so again calmly I moved my matress that little bit further to the right and put in my ear plugs. By jaysus I was not going to be denied my night under canvas. Two hours later I woke up. Fair play that I had managed to get to sleep, but jeepers I was wet. By the time I had packed my stuff and managed to run to the Alberque I was even wetter. Thank god their was an empty bottom bunk and a blanket to keep me warm. Next morning I asked the Frenchies to take a picture of me by the tipis. They looked at me as if they had never seen me before and I was asking them to wash my underwear. My iniyial lemon sucking estimate had been the accurate one after all. A picture was taken nonetheless

My grumpy-ness had grown overnight. What had slowly dawned on me was that because of my dillydallying at the start, their was no way I was going to make it to Santiago in time for my flight back. So on top of the ongoing rain and my sore feet I had another reason to to pissed off. That day I only walked 10 kilometres to Carrion de Los Condes. I checked into the Santa Clara convent and I stewed. I went for a cafe con leche and I stewed. Then the sun came out. Then the lovely Maria and Kristina from Sweeden arrived. Then I decided there was nothing for it but to take the bus to Leon, skipping a full 90 kilometres. Now I could tell you that I was distraught after making the decision, that much wailing and nashing of teeth occurred. It didn't. I think I was quietly pleased. Well to be honest I was overjoyed. I had heard the following 4 days were the most tedious of the entire Camino, in fact Linda who I met a few days previously described it as 'the long march'. Indeed it was she who had put the idea into my head in the first place. Shame on you Linda. St James is watching you.

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And that left only one more thing to do. Burst my blister. I had been avoiding doing so for a couple of days, but the bugger was growing and I was worried it would do what other people told about, spreading in between the toes. Aaarrgghh. I retreated to courtyard of the convent with a pack of needles. It was Sunday and the shops were shut, hence I didn't have the 2 other tools, namely some cotton thread and a pack of matches. The 'operation' involves sterilising the needle with the flame and then threading the needle (with thread) through the blister. Apparently the thread helps the drainage of the fluid. That's the theory. Then began a game of charades which involved on me knocking on various doors, pointing at my foot, enacting sticking a needle in (while making aow noises) and then pretending to light a match. Many people thought a mad woman had mistaken the convent for a psychiatric institution. However one clever clever French lady twigged what was going on and a few minutes later had gathered up a bottle of iodine (which sterilizes) from one of her dorm mates and some thread from another. The actual process was much less gory than I had imagined. In fact rather than being squirted in the face by a litre of puss, none of the fluid came out at all. I had a shower, had a snooze, walked around a bit with the thread still attached to my toe and when I next looked the blister was gone. Result.

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I had a lovely evening having dinner with Maria and Kristina. Later we attended a classical guitar concert which had been organised for the Pilgrims. I had a lovely nights sleep in the convent, having paid an extra 2 euros to be in a room with only other 3 people. Life was good. The next morning I got a bus to Palencia and then a train from Palencia to Leon. It was strange to be on a train and speeding through the landscape than than be in the landscape. The land looked flat and dry and endless and golden, the only obvious landmarks were the spires of the little churches that every village seem to posses. It was so easy to place Don Quixote and his donkey right there. I later learnt he hung out in La Mancha. Darn. I was in terrific in form and when I switched on my Ipod (the first time on the trip) I had a very strong urge to stand up in the aisle and start dancing. Yes folks, lots of exercise, early nights and communal living can do strange things to you.

Posted by noratheexplorer 08:24 Archived in Spain Comments (0)

When did you last have your feet kissed by a stranger?

In a church, that is

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At 5.07 am the Koreans got up, banged doors, turned on lights, annoyed people etc. By 5.08 Nora the Explorer had descended from the top bunk. By 5.40 she had washed, got dressed, packed her bag (quietly) and eaten Breakfast Number 1. About ten minutes later she was on the road.

I sped along the path in the dark. I reckoned I was one of the first few people to be out of the trap that morning and by jeepers, I was going to remain in pole position. Twenty minutes later I suddenly wondered if I'd gone the right way. It was still dark, so I couldn't see if there was anyone infront or behind to reassure me. At around six the sun began to come up. I often become quite emotional when I witness a sunrise. And yes I was that morning, a bit. But only a bit. The bigger bit was feeling outraged as I suddenly noticed all the other Pilgrims on the road. Where the bleedin hell did they come from? How did they sneak past me? At that moment I gave up my ambition to become a female rival to Forrest Gump.
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I arrived in Castrojeriz at about eleven. Twenty kilometres done by 11a.m, including a coffee and cake break. Wow, even I was proud of myself, although I must admit that walking on the flat really does make a difference. Normally that would be me done for the day, but today I had my hopes set on getting one of the 13 beds at St Nicholas, I had heard it was a really special place to stay. So at around noon, off I set to walk the last 10km. Their was an extremely steep climb in the journey that afternoon. At times I felt that my blood had reached boiling point and that I was on the verge of passing out. It was one of those times when you can hear your heart thumping in every molecule of your body. Now a steep climb in the heat is no big deal in the grand scheme of things. But for me, it was a moment when I was very aware of my mortality. All along the Camino there are little monuments to Pilgrims who have died along the way. On that very stretch, there was a commemorative stone to a Japenese pilgrim on the way up and to a Spanish Pilgrim on the way down. Yip, they died doing exactly what I was doing as I passed by the stone. Later in the trip I bumped into 2 men from Drogheda who had started on the same day as me. They confidently told me that of the possey who set off from St Jean on May 20th, 3 had died before getting to Burgos. Of course part of me was guffawing when I heard this 'fact'. Where the hell did they get this information, the death notices on LMFM? (you have to live in County Louth to get the joke). But the rest of me was very subdued by it. But as they say, onwards and upwards.

The Meseta continued to intoxicate me; the heat, the vastness, the emptyness. Honestly, fields of barley, little birds and sky, that was all. Oh and I forgot, heat that sits ontop of you like a big heavy wet blanket. I think I was a tad delirious when at 3 o'clock, I arrived at Ermita San Nicholas. I almost fell in the door. And they had a bed for me, the last bed! San Nicholas was a Pilgrim's hospital and church about 800 years ago. It was restored about ten years ago by an Italien Confraternity who refrained from installing electricity. That was all I knew about it. I expected to be washing myself with a bucket of cold water and sleeping on a plastic mat on the floor. And yes, there was no electricity, the hospitaleros cooked our food on a gas stove and dinner (delicious) and breakfast (even more delicious) was eaten by candlelight. We had comfy beds in the church and the showers were in a separate block; a beautiful, clean, sparkling construction with huge windows which opened out into the barley field. San Nicholas was right on the Camino path, so after the usual rigmarole of washing oneself and ones clothing there was nothing more to be done but sit on the bench outside and watch the world walk past. I even gave up my afternoon snooze to just sit outside and take it all in. The building seemed to glow with energy and the weather had changed into that heavy, humid, windy ' a storm it be a comin' type weather. I looovee it when a storm is brewing. Once again I was besides myself with happiness. An immediate and strong bond developed between us 13 pilgrims, we knew we were very very privileged to be staying there . There was even talk that, as a symbolic gesture, the Hospitaleros would wash our feet before dinner was served. I rubbished the idea, killjoy that I sometimes am. But lo and behold at 7.45 a gong was 'gonged' by the Hospitaleros who were dressed in long navy capes, festooned with scallop shells. They lead us to the alter in the church where we sat in a semi-circle. Our feet were washed and dried and then kissed, as a symbolic act of care, humility and hospitality to the us, the pilgrim. It was very moving.

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There was no rushing off at the crack of dawn the next morning. We all slept beautifully, although admitedly I kept my eyes tightly shut throughout the night for fear of spotting a ghost . The breakfast was exquisite (given we were in a chuch with no electric in the middle of nowhere) and by candlelight. I think we were all reticient to leave the place and to say goodbye to each other. Lookin back, it was one of the most magical experiences of my Camino.

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Posted by noratheexplorer 13:26 Archived in Spain Comments (0)

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