Back to the hills.
Oct20

Back to the hills.

Haven't posted since the lovely small city of Astorga, so here are some diary details. We left at 8 in the morning, sunrise is 8.36. Very quiet everywhere, with just the occasional ghostly pilgrim in the distance. Our peace was disturbed by an early morning troop of running club enthusiasts and four noisy late middle aged men in identical shiny smart track suits out for what I presume was a regular morning promenade. We generally decide to delay breakfast and get a few km's out of the way before tucking in. I really like Spanish coffee and most bars do properly squeezed orange juice, using one of a variety of complex juicing machines. I would love to have one at home with a giant sack of oranges. Drinks are accompanied by a pan chocolate or tortilla sandwich. Since leaving Leon and especially Astorga the camino has become much more busy again. Lots of new people just doing the last few sections and I think quite a few people who skipped the Meseta and used wheels. Consequently compared to the mean and lean lot entering Leon, five days down the track there are a lot of hobbles again. Some really don't look in a good way. I am currently looking over my beer at a giant German with an equally large ice pack strapped to his ankle. Not a happy looking German. I'm keeping quiet. Ellen has had her little battles. Her feet really don't stand up that well to pounding. Yesterday a manky looking little toe, escaped to affect the rest of her foot, which swelled up complete with a red line of infection going to her ankle. Medically this is not great so I fired off a quick text to Jeremy the base camp doctor, requesting pharmaceutical advice. Ellen did some nursing care on herself and this morning we spoke to a pharmacist. She was very helpful and a few minutes later we came away with dressings, loads of ibuprofen and the erythromycin recommended by Jeremy without prescription. I must admit I though the EEC had its rules, but maybe not in Spain. Ellen is now lounging in a bath soaking the sore toe and generally chilling out. She has been pretty brave, as the toe / foot thing looked pretty inflamed and tender. Yesterday was a really lovely walk mostly through mountains, still getting used to the larger number of pilgrims. We got up to over 1400m, so it was a bit chilly but the weather held out and the views were great despite the wind farm paraphernalia of turbines, pylons and scarring paths littering the landscape....

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Poetic detail.
Oct17

Poetic detail.

My sister Sarah was a fan of the detailed observation of a lamp that Ellen made during our stay with the nuns in Leon. In the spirit of editorial collaboration I feel the need to replicate this level of poetic detail, but as I look up from my bed at the simple metal lamp hanging from the rose in the ceiling above my bed, I am overwhelmed by the shiny black satin knickers she has hanging and drying from one of its arms. Maybe I'll stick to politics....

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Restored in Astorga.
Oct16

Restored in Astorga.

In the dark days of the Meseta, it was easy forget the camino. It had become a dusty barren trail, most of our compatriots had vanished and the food was just awful. We had forgotten about comradeship, the pilgrimage, food and views. This lingered into Leon, so we left early. Being in Astorga, the bad days have been forgotten. We realise lots of people have been ill or using wheels or both. We are becoming reunited, it feels like a camino again. We have lingered in Astorgia for another day as it is such a nice little town. It has the mandatory cathedral and a rather strange Gaudi bishops palace that was never used but stands in its full glory. More importantly it has a prosperous busy air and very good food. The weather has also improved today, no rain and warmer. The nuns don't provide breakfast so I quite fancied hot chocolate and churros. Both are served in a unique way and we are in chocolate town so no trouble finding what I was looking for. Astorga is for opaque reasons, the historic centre of the Spanish chocolate industry. Cadbury's it is not, the hot chocolate is what it says it is. Chocolate that is hot. It is thick, extremely filling and not to be drunk lightly, one a day would constitute a major health hazard. Luckily the churros (a Spanish favourite) come to the rescue. Long thin sausages of serrated dough deep fried and covered in sugar, thus ensuring this has to be the most unhealthy breakfast. Churros need to be served hot and fresh, but today's offering was possibly an hour old so a little disappointing, oh well. Astorga marks the point where the Meseta is dead and buried. We have a 550m climb all day tomorrow. We may stop before the top at a small settlement, or go over the top. The guidebook comfortingly informs us that should we flag in the perpetual cold mantle of foggy rain there is a small welcoming Albergue. It has no heating, no food, cold showers and an outside kitchen. Knowing there is backup like that available we will probably reign ourselves in and stop short. Discretion and all that. We have used the day for some sight seeing, a luxurious afternoon kip and shopping. Check out the hats. The rare camino youths shamed us into buying some more 'awesome' stylish head gear man. My most treasured acquisition is a pair of socks, words of excitement fail me but it is a great moment, putting a new pair onto the old feet. Speaking of which I have no further...

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Dealing with the Meseta.
Oct15

Dealing with the Meseta.

This is officially a retrospective post, six days after having lost my mojo. Being ill saps the mind and body, so the will to write has been somewhat reduced. Dare I think it, the sap seems to be rising again, watch out Ellen. I really was pole axed for a night, day, night. Most orrifices kept me busy. However as with other things on the camino I discovered I was not alone. Mid grot I received a text from our pathfinder Edwina, saying there were water problems with the water and many pilgrims were dropping. She has spy like qualities our Edwina, but how could she have perfected her timing so. At least the episode was not infectious but more toxin related. A short sharp shock. I was sapped but not fully wilted. I awoke after 36 hours of sleep pretty keen to get out of there. Ellen couldn't believe her luck. She had exhausted the tourist potential of the settlement by breakfast the day before. She had a taxi number and was prepared to bundle me into a vehicle before I could raise any objections. The girl was not for staying. We manage 23, 32, 25 (not my beer belly figure) to get us into the fine city of Leon. Coincidentally it was a city in full fiesta party mode. Not desperately enticing to tired pilgrims. To cap it all, despite the best efforts of some old friends we met in the fiesta mayhem, the inns were most definitely full. I have to admit my fuse was growing a little short at this point. The tourist information girl who told me that helping people find accommodation in the city was not her job almost received both barrels. But no, calm prevailed. We headed for the Benedictine nunnery Albergue knowing it was pretty basic. Happy volunteers told us the doors shut in three hours and dorms were segregated. Mmmmmm. Not happy, but no problem, let's go outside and consider options, this was the first accommodation hitch of the trip. Sitting on a wall overlooking the adjacent square I happened to notice another door next to the medieval Albergue affair, clearly part of the same building. A give away sign said Hospedaria Paxa. Mmmmmm again. Wander in, habitacione doble, Por favor. Si, came the reply. The nuns really had come to the rescue, this was their posh hotel venture, and very nice too. We were saved! Today we are 2 days beyond Leon. Don't think the moment was right to enjoy all it's offerings so we only stayed one day. I must mention this Meseta business once more. We put...

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Convents & Communions
Oct14

Convents & Communions

The lamp in between our narrow white beds is handmade. The base is made of three little statues melded together, but it’s the shade that I can’t stop looking at. It looks like someone, a nun probably, used a bit of altar cloth, a metre of dusty ancient gold braiding and some other material ; a semi opaque parchment like stuff with Latin drawn on it. Wasn’t there an unwholesome trend in the past to use human skin in lampshades? I can’t quite bring myself to touch it but lying here I can’t drag my eyes away from the thing. Skin of heretic, fallen nun or false pilgrim? I may be becoming subject to the catholic ghostiness of the place where we are staying, in Leon. It’s a very old monestorio full of Benedictine nuns, where some of the rooms have been converted to bedrooms using the ancient stuff from the church and rest of the old convent. The place is cavernous, white plaster, marble, huge dark religious paintings featuring perpetual mourning and live sized painted statues whose accusatory eyes swivel as you go past…….. We wandered into mass this morning which included a remembrance service for someone who died last May. Confusingly a few of the congregation were dressed in clogs, big woollen skirts and mantillas- was this a sort of Sunday morning ritual? Also so many saturnine older men in black with their coiffured stiff wives – not at all sure what we have wandered into. Paul stayed in his pew today at that moment when people start to line up to take the communion. He had had a disconcerting moment the other week. He’d been told that if you didn’t want to receive the Eucharist you just bent your head and crossed your arms at the appropriate moment, then the priest would bless you. Imagine the consternation that broke out on the priest’s face when confronted with this bewildering pilgrim who wouldn’t just open his mouth and swallow. The holy wafer went up, then down. A whole load of semaphoring went on, at one point I thought the thing would be placed on Paul’s head, like a little halo. I’m not sure where it ended up. The congregation was agog. Los peregrinos del Norte, eh……….....

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Straight talking. The Meseta stole my MOJO.
Oct11

Straight talking. The Meseta stole my MOJO.

Line, not homosexual, edge, face, man (comic's foil), laced, edge, ahead, bat, down, jacket. The most important one today is 'as far as the eye can see'. (Late additions from Martin…to Jail (do not pass go). And narrow. Dire). We walked, Ellen listened to music, we walked some more, the music replayed and so it continued in a pretty well unbroken straight line. Deciding that nuns were altogether too distracting, I switched to thinking about not much at all. Any additions to my straight words would be much appreciated. Finally we pitched up at the third of the advertised picnic spots that punctuate the route. This was change, this was excitement. We turned off the straightness into a service area and sat on a covered bench, little knowing that many compound eyes were watching us. Still, there we were, shaded bench, rucksacks off, legs spread, food emerging from various pack orifices. Just a single wasp joined us, but we are English, we know how to deal with them. A quick wave of the arms and he was off. Or so we thought. This was scout wasp, an advanced party of one. Soon he was back with a few mates. Never mind, we are still English let's hurry off to that other seat over there. Well no not really. All his mates had joined by now, they smelt blood or at least food. Being English we really knew we were beaten, at least we hadn't taken our boots off, we ran. A hundred meters down the straight the final wasp buzzed goodbye, they hadn't had any of our food but neither had we! We managed 23km finally pitching up at Calzadilla de la Cueza, a one donkey town but to give it it's due a multi tractor town, serving the infinity of cultivated fields in these parts. We met Philip walking back the wrong way, maximising his distance before catching the daily bus to Bilbao and home to Hamburg, very sorry to see him go, swapped blog addresses. I really must mention agriculture at this point. We pass enough of it, and something here just had me absorbed. As you may recall from a previous entry, there are numerous sunflower fields, all becoming blacker as the season progresses, and no blacker than the field I was looking at as I enjoyed my evening cervezas. First of all a big 4×4 Tuareg and and an old Peugeot went by and turned off into the field. The Tuareg left the Peugeot and both drivers set off back to the hotel. The sun was setting. A few minutes later over the horizon, all...

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Bluegrass
Oct09

Bluegrass

Today I have been plugged into blue grass, moby, bakermat and some music from Adams playlist. My ears are still buzzing, every time I looked up the same thin cream path, same shaven fields, the only option was to turn up the volume and watch the tiny stones a metre ahead getting closer. Never mind Paul's nuns what I want is a horse. I can see myself as a sort of El Cid, or maybe a female Clint Eastwood galloping along past all these weary peregrinos, yee ha………. What I didn't hear as the music swelled to epic volumes were the twanging bicycle bells as three riders charged past chewing up those kms. Before the dust had blown away they had crossed the event horizon. Another big preoccupation is food. Today I made a fresh red cabbage salad with pine nuts , lemon juice and coriander along with a koftas and lightly fried rice………. but i know it will all evaporate to be replaced with another another ensalada mixta, some anaemic floppy asparagus and the inevitable flattened meat!. What are you eating?……. Do tell me….. So I can salivate vicariously. So , I'm sipping my beer, watching a giant sunflower harvesting machine scrunching by, the massive engines throbbing at the same rate as my pulsating feet. Off to scrutinise the menu for minute variations....

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Meseta Miasma
Oct08

Meseta Miasma

They are wearing chiffon sheer gossamer white habits. I notice this as they unlace and release my imprisoned feet. As they undress my feet and replace the toxic garments with holy aromatic potions, the nuns slowly massage my wretched stumps. I am entranced by their come to my altar eyes. Hours of bliss. Then Edwina tells me they are monks and we passed them a while back. The whole edifice crumbles. Still it was good whilst it lasted, and there isn't much else no do crossing the Meseta. Most pilgrims agree that a different mindset is now required. Once the feet have been trained to walk a few paces in a very straight direction then not a lot extra skill is required. The boots can be pretty well left to their own devices, although we did come accross a slight five degree bend this afternoon, a good job the nuns were not too engrossing. Dreaming and listening to Adam's spotify play list with its absorbing beat are the accompaniment to the endless Meseta. I have to say that it really is not boring. I think it is beautiful. It lacks dramatic features but has subtlety. As for the human built environment, it is a little different. Villages are stretched out further and measured in populations of less than 200. Even these lowly figures seem a little exaggerated. We haven't seen a child for two days, which for Spain is remarkable. The villages are not well kept and one of the main architectural features appears to be rubble, lots of it. Having said that, tonight's stop is clearly a superior village. Despite the best efforts of the only hotel who were not helpful inxxxx, I managed to scout out a dormitory in a very peaceful Albergue, complete with wifi, garden, showers and a good bar. The young element of our posse lingered earlier in the day and have only just arrived as we oldies are drinking our first beers. Well showered, clothes washed and wifi code acquired. Usual routine. Finally a slightly different taste sensation for the standard ten euro pilgrim's menu. The pollo was still on the bone unlike all previous occasions where the bones had been removed and the meat flattened by a huge hammer in the Spanish chicken bashing factory. Herbs and spices had also been added, but alas no greenery. The waitress was clearly delighted by the enthusiastic responses these new tastes elicited from the assembled pilgrims. This morning started with a cold thick fog which only lifted after our customary 7km walk and then breakfast. Our morning couple time (we like to start the day...

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The Meseta
Oct05

The Meseta

Hey guys we are on the famous Meseta. Lots of pilgrims head for the bus at this point. Hot, flat, boring endless are adjectives that immediately spring to mind. I must admit that we have thought about giving this section a miss. Even this morning in the very slight gloaming, all felt normal. Sweet old convented village, clear skies and small surrounding hills. Climbing gently in welcome silence, away from roads, rail and pylons we came upon the Mesata. Not a dramatic revelation more a walk up the fairway after a good drive. Pale limestone colours amazing vastness without being flat, but no skylarks. They really should be there, but Spanish farmers are inclined to disagree. This is a big country. It came as a shock to see a car speeding over a field in the near distance. Of course it was a road, but so out of place. It is not flat, there are hills, mini, giving the impression of a fully mature landscape but our route is straight and flat. It is not unlike the sea. Indeed our behaviour has become rather seaman like. Faced with large distances and occasional spartan ports we have become a convoy. All the people from last night met for breakfast at the first village and stopped at the second for overnight shelter, all be it at 1 in the afternoon. It is really difficult to imagine anything going on in this one sheep town but there is a sort of lively safety in numbers going on here. Another convoy that set off from Burgos arrived later this afternoon, so the Meseta port feels quite busy now. Our convoy is looking industrious at present. Ellen is listening to Michel and perfecting her Spanish. Birte is drawing peoples faces and looking Germanically serious. Edwina is trying to clean her camera in a Mr Bean fashion and I am slightly drunkenly listening to Philip an even more drunken German Honk Kong pilgrim making merry with a bottle of Rioja....

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Goodby Burgos
Oct05

Goodby Burgos

Been a bit busy for the last few days. Main news is that Ellen had a muscle injury to her leg. We limped into a small place called Bellorado, after a day of showers. Foolish me dived into the first Albergue, a mistake. It was attached to a church and run by Swiss volunteers but was a bit basic, cramped, a bit dirty and distinctly lacking in toilets. Even though it was free, we wouldn't have been in a hurry to stay. Never mind we slept reasonably, met yet more Irish pilgrim tourists out for a good time. In the end Ellen and Birte our German young female friend decided to bus it into Burgos two days walk away. After my favourite coffee con leche, freshly squeezed oranje juice and a pan chocolate, I decided to walk it. After a couple of wrong turns I found the camino again and off I went, like a train. I finally managed the first day's distance after 6 hours and had a tuna pasty (empanadas). I realised I had caught up with the French fit brigade who had set off an hour earlier. All female, all independent and all female over 60. What is it with French women walkers. All four were on their second thousand kilometers, all small and a little dumpy. Antoine who I manage to chat to en francais thanks to Sophie, was typical. She was 64, set off over a month ago, walks 30 – 40 km a day, and walks bloody fast. We walked for 9 km together into the second days milage, but could I shake her. I really went my fastest for a while after she had the cheek to take a photo. Less than a minute later she was back up with me, fully caped cruising by. I give up. What is a full blooded Englishman to do. We finally said goodby after 34km on the road. I went on!!! What the hell, I can make Burgos. I warn Ellen, and off I go. Only to be met by a large limestone ridge and pissing rain. Have a surreal conversation in the rain with an older American couple about Doc Martin, say goodbye and make the final push to Burgos. It is of course a big city, with all the outer big city stuff. First posh executive village, then over motorway where I was greeted by an Eddie Stobart lorry, circumnavigated an endless airport perimeter and finally a railway shunting yard. Eventually I reach a massive out of town roundabout with a road that led straight and endless into the distance. I had convinced...

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