Part 14: El Camino de Santiago
Camino Day 14
Buenos Dias Los Amigos,
Today’s stage took us the piffling distance of 18 kms from Hospital Orbigo to Astorga.
By rights, today should have been an absolute breeze, given that there was barely enough distance to raise a sweat and the fact that, ever since we left Beldorado, I have felt like the Camino version of Maximus, General of the Felix Legions. As with all things on the Camino, and I really should have learnt this by now, never think you have got it licked as there is always something around the corner to have a pop at you. Today was a pretty grim day all told, largely thanks to Tolga - a name to be noted and avoided at all costs!
We left the refugio this morning at a luxurious 8.00 am and, once more, as has become my preference, I decided to walk the day alone. This has little to do with my traveling companions, who are now Larry and Donal, and more to do with the fact that alone out there you really get the chance to think and reflect. Sure, Larry starts the morning like a greyhound released from a trap, which is completely beyond my capabilities but, in all honesty, the peace and quiet is a really welcome relief when compared to the hustle and bustle of everyday life.
I set out for a leisurely amble through the Spanish countryside, hoping to find a quiet bar at which to stop and spend a comfortable hour watching the other disciples pass me by. Approximately 3 kms into my journey, however, stopping to adjust my pack and remove my jacket, trouble rolled round the corner with passionate zeal and the name of Tolga!
Tolga is Finnish, about 55 years old and the kind of person who you want to avoid like the plague on the Camino. Tolga views the Camino much the same as a shady lawyer would view a car wreck, a good place to do business! Tolga is a religious zealot but, not only that, she is a religious zealot who feels that she cannot rest until the whole world has been converted to the Roman Catholic Church and all its glory. Unfortunately, today I was the only one on the road and she locked onto to me with all the strength and determination of a heat seeking missile! I have been told before that I am going to hell if I don't embrace God more fully, but this was by a girl who I was trying to sleep with, so I stayed in the game! Today, I had no such ambitions and, after about half an hour I was desperate to escape!
The only problem with this was that it was similar to a Jumbo 747 trying to outrun a jet fighter. Putting it quite simply, Tolga was lighter, faster and more maneuverable than me. I tried everything, chaff, flares, stopping to tie my laces, taking a toilet break and joining the path at a different place and even flat out saying, "You know what, I think I am going to walk alone today!" Nothing would shake the woman, and I mean nothing!
For 2 hours we walked, me shuffling and muttering under my breath, she raging on in full flight about the majesty of the Church, the wondrous benevolence of the new Pope and anything else she could think of. At one point I thought about asking her what she thought of the Da Vinci Code but, on reflection decided not to poke the bees nest with that unnecessary invitation. Eventually I had no choice, she needed to pee, she asked me to mind her bag whilst she went into a bar. I said yes. Then I pegged it as fast as I could and hid behind a coach until I had safely seen her past! She had told me that she planned to walk on past Astorga tonight, which guaranteed my staying in that particular town and, if I ever see her again, I am going to tell it to her straight - "Go Away!!"
I caught up with Larry and Donal, who were waiting for me just outside Astorga, and we walked into town together. The refugio was almost as good as the previous nights accommodation and, after a nice hot shower and an ambitious attempt to use a washing machine labeled in Spanish, I went to find the Cathedral.
For those of you who have not been to Spain, all I will say is that the Catholic Church was not shy when it built its houses for God. Even in the smallest villages, the churches are massive and all of them are packed full of gold plundered from the new world. A village might not even have a sewage system or be able to afford a new goat to mow the grass outside the civic hall, but you can bet your bottom dollar that every church will have enough gold to have Ronny Biggs sprinting there if he had half an idea!
In the large towns and the cities, the cathedrals are breathtaking, and Astorga is no exception. I walked in, showed my Pilgrim Passport which guarantees you free access to all God's nightclubs, sat down in a pew and stared at the massive altar and towering frescos depicting the last supper and the crucifixion of Christ. It was stunning - stunning that is, right up until the lights failed and the whole altar was plunged into gloomy darkness. I looked around, trying to see if anyone was looking like they cared, only to see a man pointing 2 American tourists towards a box on the wall. One of them walked up to the box, put a coin in the top, and all the lights came back on again - and God said, let there be light!
You have got to be kidding me I thought, as I walked up to have a look. There it was, on my mothers life, a coin box for activating the lights in the church - 1 euro for 5 minutes or, in layman's terms, if you want holy light shed upon your problems and your soul this day, you better have a bag full of change on you. I have never seen anything like this in my life - every picture and painting in the Cathedral had a coin operated light system, much the same as a peep show might in Soho. I have to say I was shocked and not a little annoyed as I left this wonderful building. Surely there is a better and less tacky way of paying the rent how about smelting down a candle stick or 2 or getting Tolga to waylay people on the way into town! All I can say is, only in Spain!!!
Tomorrow will be the start of the third week of our pilgrimage and I am really starting to believe that I am going to make it. This may be tempting fate, but only the mountains stand in my way now and, with the same luck I have had so far, in 10 days I will be laying my shell at the feet of St. James.
Thank you once again for you continued messages of support. I may not be able to reply to them at the moment as I do not have enough 1 euro coins to keep the meter going, but they are no less valued!
Buenas noches los Amigos and Buen Camino,
Chapter 14 Astorga and the lady from Mexico City
The next morning we stayed in bed until the early bird rush was over, had the sinks and bathrooms to ourselves and left at 8:30 after eating a breakfast that had been prepared by the proprietor. There was more than just coffee con leche and a sweet roll and I was glad to see the food finally changing. Generally speaking, the food was getting better as was the selection.
It was a good day. We got away from the freeway and its’ noise and pollution. 20K didn’t feel as far, as hard on the feet or as energy draining as it did in the beginning.
James had improved and that allowed me to walk with Donal and more at my pace. We, Donal and I are known as the fighter jets. My other pseudonym is Captain America, both from James. He claimed he was a Hercules, for those of you into airplanes.
That day James wanted to walk alone so he could think about what had transpired during his conference call so Donal and I blasted off at 8:30 after a big breakfast and were in Astorga by 11:00. The first hill was quite deceptive and didn´t look as big from the bottom as it did from the top. We were amazed that it had seemed so easy. The hardest part was the big rolly rocks, almost like walking on large marbles. A lot of people started in Leon and overdid on their first day. On the way to Astorga we saw many who were sitting by the road, lying under or leaning against trees or prone on benches at parks or coffee stops.
Somewhere in this stretch is where James first decided to use the jog/walk. He met a woman named Tolga who wanted to save his soul and eventually he had to resort to the jog/walk in order to put enough territory between him and her to feel comfortable. He also recounted some other experiences he had that day with overtaking others on the downhill sections. In his words, more or less, he said, “Fear was struck into the hearts of many today when they saw and heard what they conceived as an out of control 747 thundering down upon them at breakneck speed. Pilgrims were flushed into the bush like a covey of birds.”
At the alberque in Astorga we met a young woman from Mexico City. We talked to her while the three of us had something to eat. We’d seen her the day before or maybe earlier in Leon. One of the things that stood out about her was she always looked as fresh as if she hadn’t been on the Camino. A few days later we saw her again at the top of the mountain between Banal del Camino and Ponferada. It was a long climb and she was standing by the cross at the top, looking as if she hadn’t walked at all. I saw her again in Ponferada at the alberque but couldn’t remember her name. I had seen another woman, who was from Argentina, talking to her so I asked what the lady’s name was. The woman from Argentina didn’t know who I was referring to so I pointed toward the lady from Mexico, who was sitting in the courtyard. “Oh.” she said, ”You mean Rocio, the one who always rides from place to place in the taxi.” No wonder she never looked like she walked, she didn’t. We never saw her again after Ponferada, maybe the taxi broke down.
It appears that the Spanish government has low interest loans for alberques and many along the rest of the Camino were new or only a year or 2 old. Where we stayed in Age´s the alberque had been open about 2 weeks. I´m not big on dormitory life and the smaller, newer ones suit me better. When we got to the mountains, in a day or 2 the plan was to stay at least one night out under the stars, at least that was the plan at that time for Donald and me with James dragging his heels as far as making up his mind: we´ll see.
We also thought that when we got to the mountains it might be nice to walk alone for a day to see if we could get more in tune with who we are. In Astorga we went to the supermercado, bought pasta, chicken, salad makings and ate in. I was ready, none of us had eaten since breakfast since everything was closed for siesta by the time we checked in, showered, etc. With 7% or 8% body fat I have no surplus and 20K at a half-run leaves me pretty depleted for glycogen stores.
The cathedrals along the Camino are impressive. But, according to James who visited a couple of them, if you want lights once inside you have to put in 50 cents in euros, otherwise you sit in the dark. Once the lights are on if you sit too long you need another 50 cents. The Camino obviously has a large economic impact, and more on the small towns than the cities. Yellow arrows are numerous in the small villages, occasional in the mid sized towns and next to impossible to find in the large cities. In the cities you´re just another number, another moving target in the intersection.
When we checked into the hotel in Burgos, the desk clerks looked at us like maybe we had some serious disease. James had booked ahead over the Internet and I´d suggest that for anyone. The alberques in Burgos left a lot to be desired and I personally needed a soak in a hot tub to clear my nose and chest. I went back to the room at one point to get my camera and 2 maids stopped me. Until I showed them the magnetic key to the room they were less than friendly. That’s OK because they were doing their job.
Tags: Camino , Hiking , Trekking , Pilgrimage , Travel , Spain
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