Just when I thought it was all over.
Oct29

Just when I thought it was all over.

We arrived in Santiago yesterday, with the usual long haul to be expected coming in through the outskirts of larger cities. Slightly disoriented we found ourselves the perfect small hotel bolt hole right in the middle of this ancient city. We even managed to sort our certificates out after hunting down the well hidden cathedral office. All that was left to do after good food and sleep was attend pilgrim's mass at midday today.     Off we go to a very well attended mass in a really beautiful cathedral. Every church architectural style is represented here with the emphasis on 1075 Romanesque. Gold dripping from every orifice. The whole set as a cross with one slightly larger knave facing the alter. We were half way down the North aisle. A nun with an angel pure voice led some quiet chanting. Then the assembled male clergy made their way in. Dressed in striking red and white this time. We still cannot make out a word of ecclesiastical Spanish. On this occasion it was an advantage. As well as the hoards of religious tourists there were many recognised faces. I was able to wander and review in my mind. There was a genuine air of goodwill suffusing the cathedral. As I went up to receive the rites, I was quite surprised to feel a warm tear of emotion, I went back to my pew gave Ellen a hug. We had finished, job done all's well with the world. Or so I thought. The camino still tantalisingly had the power to surprise. Suddenly it was as if somebody had charged the air with static. There was an excited murmur. Four purple robed men strode purposefully from the four corners of the cathedral towards the great rope that tethered the giant censor (incense burner) otherwise known as the famous Botafumeira, that hung centrally above the priests head. It weighs 80kg and dangles from a 30m ships rope attached to some sort of 500 year old iron mechanism embedded into the top of the main tower with an accompanying Masonic eye. It is only rarely used and we had no inkling that today we would be lucky enough to see it in action.   The four men in practiced unison, manoeuvred themselves into position and lowered the giant receptacle. Each officiating priest shoveled it full of burning charcoal and incense. They stood back. There was a moment of absolutely ladened heavy silence. Then the organ broke the impasse, moving straight into top gear, each pipe ripping out sound. The nun serenely sung a gentle heavenly moaning chant, totally out of kilter with the...

Read More
Motorway life.
Oct21

Motorway life.

Well here we are. Only managed 20k today. Spent the latter half in a surreally steep wooded narrow gorge, abundantly beautiful. This was despite the random hunting shot gun explosions and the huge motorway that joined us. The motorway was like the background of a computer game. It was real, giant and stupendous but had nothing to do with us. It had no contact with us, we saw no vehicles as it was above our heads and only heard echoes as cars hit bumps above our heads. Finally our paths crossed. A junction and slip road led to the local village and service station. Where we are now. Yes we are staying in a service station! The reason. Ellen's feet are not to be beaten. Despite a valiant bacterial effort to render her ill and lame, they admitted defeat in the face of pharmaceutical attack. Reinforcements were called in and the other foot decided that it was going to finish the job. She now has peroneal tendinitis which has done the trick. Can hardly walk. The service station is a place of refuge. She is bit down about it, but I have to say I am not. We are in Spain and this is clearly where mainstream spaniards congregate. 3 random differences between a Spanish service station and it's UK counterpart. Guard Dog             Fountain of nectar               The knife cabintet. Sorry my photo does not do this male fantasy of space justice. It is big, glitzy and attracts just the sort of admiring looks from just the sort of people you would expect. So here we are with a perfectly adequate room, sitting at our standard service station table drinking beer. Ellen is studying the menu. Only 7.00 so a bit early yet. The menu contents and many other menus LIKE it will be the subject of another post. Needless to say, few surprises. Starters: Galician soup, soup stew, seaman's soup, soup of the day or omelette with eggs. Mmmmmmm. I like leaving in the dark, like we did this morning. In the old narrow streets just as the sky was starting to lighten we passed a battered old white 4×4 with a trailer. Shaded men were present as were camouflage jackets, rifles and dogs penned in a caged trailer. I know this is my soft mentality coming out here, but we were both disturbed. Especially as a few minutes later a small convoy of such vehicles passed us on the main road out of town, dogs fully pepped up howling and braying. Sorry it's just distasteful....

Read More
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....

Read More
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....

Read More
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...

Read More
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...

Read More
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……….....

Read More
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...

Read More
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....

Read More
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...

Read More