Day -2: Waffle

Steve: My train booking is from Gleneagles to Grantham but Muriel took me to Stirling station this morning, the station after Gleneagles.  The Solheim Cup is on at Gleneagles Hotel golf course and the tiny country roads between home and the station are shut/diverted/who-knows so we thought we’d be safe and go down the A9 to Stirling.

Golf, as someone famous once said, is a good walk spoiled.  The contrast between the manicured-within-an-inch-of-it’s-life golf course ‘nature’ and the tracks across Spain of the Camino is marked (some wilderness purists would argue that the Camino is still a good walk spoiled and isn’t really nature at all but let’s not listen to them). The heavily logo-ed clothing of the golfers almost mirrors the equally heavily logo-ed gear of the long-distance walker but the intent is very different.  No sitting around with G&Ts for the peregrino.  Dodgy coffee in a dodgy café is a good as it gets – and I can assure you that’s pretty darn good.  By the time the 500 miles is done and you collapse at a pilgrim’s mass in Santiago, in a crowd of 1000+ fellow travellers, your gear is fetid and rank and, to use a good Scottish word, minging. But you’ve never been so happy.  The stink of eau-de-pilgrim is a thing of beauty.

Jen, Hamish and I did this same walk – the Camino Frances from St Jean Pied de Port to Santiago de Compostela – back in June 2017.  I blogged about that trip on this web site but the gremlins ate up all the posts (ironic given that both Hamish and myself are professional IT nerds and frequently lecture others on the necessity of backing things up…).  With any luck I’ll get it all back up at some point.

I started that trip as a moderately fit 56-year-old slightly overweight Type II diabetic who thought it might be fun to stretch things a little.  Herbie, my large dog, and I frequently walk the hills around our hometown of Crieff and I thought that the Camino would be a similar sort of thing.  A nice long walk in somewhere less damp than Scotland.

Well, the ‘less damp’ part is true.  But a ‘long walk’ is not a suitable description for what the Camino did to me.  Two years and much thought later I still can’t put it into words.  But let’s have a go…

I once went to lecture given by Alister McGrath.  McGrath is an interesting chap and a frequent sparring partner of Richard Dawkins in the endless ‘Is There A God?’ debate.  Someone asked McGrath how he views the notion of ‘materialism’ (note: not the Kardashian-give-me-lots-of-stuff materialism but rather the philosophical idea that everything is ‘matter’.  Everything is basically chemistry.  Neurons fire in the brain according to paths honed by millennia of evolution.  The reason anything exists and that anyone does any action is ultimately chemistry.  Art – chemistry.  Music – chemistry.  The fact you love your kids – nothing more than evolutionary advantageous chemistry).  McGrath posed the question ‘Why did the kettle boil?’.  A good answer to this would be to go through the technology involved.  The kettle has a resistive heating element that’s connected to the electricity supply, via which the electrons generated in faraway power stations heat up the element, in turn boiling the water.  It’s electrodynamics, thermodynamics and good old -fashioned engineering.  That’s why the kettle boiled. 

But, said McGrath, an equally plausible and correct answer would be to say ‘I want a cup of tea’. 

I’m an engineer, I spend my days writing computer code used in high tech aerospace engineering (I sometimes claim – tongue in cheek I assure you – that I actually am a rocket scientist.  If any of my co-workers are reading this then my face has turned red).  The first answer to the kettle question is undoubtedly true.  And appeals to my ‘materialist-everything-is-chemistry’ default way of thinking.  But, but…  The ‘I want a cup of tea’ answer appeals to a quite different set of logic receptors.  And I think that’s what the Camino did to me.  Yes, I physically walked in my 56-year-old bag of bones.  I walked around 1,200,000 steps.  My feet worked.  My legs worked.  By the time we were done I had the finest pair of legs in Western Europe.  But the change in my head was even more marked.  Apparently, I really really wanted a cup of tea. And the Camino provided.

A long aside: Paul, a very old friend of mine is a physicist, and is sliding slowly but inexorably into Buddhism. He visits every now and then from his home in the US and we take ourselves to the very splendid Mhor84 restaurant in Balquhidder, get in some seriously strong coffee and catch up on each other’s quests to find the Meaning of Life, The Universe, And Everything.  Paul is well into the modern interpretations of the old Greek philosophy of ‘idealism’ (again, nothing to do with the commonly accepted use of that word.  Go look it up on Wikipedia…) and, what with being a physicist well versed in quantum theory, he makes a good case that the physics of the quantum world indicate that materialism is wrong.  At the top of everything, says Paul, is consciousness (and some Christians, including myself, agree).  Out of consciousness comes matter, stuff, atoms, you, me, the dog, the trees and everything else.  In contrast the materialist would say that material or stuff is at the top of everything.  Out of stuff emerges consciousness, and you, me, the dog and so on. Paul put me on to the work of Bernard d’Espangat, especially his book ‘Physics and Philosophy’.  D’Espagnat is an idealist (I think!) and, amongst other things, he argues that the philosophers need to keep up with the physicists. He contends that any constructive philosophical thinking being done these days is by people who understand quantum theory (notwithstanding Richard Feynman’s famous quote that “if you think you understand quantum mechanics, you don’t understand quantum mechanics”).  

Now this book is both French (it’s in English, but seems to be largely a direct translation of the much more flowery French original) and it’s about philosophy.  Let’s just say it’s a dense read.  I don’t think I’ve ever encountered a book with so many ideas per page.  After 50 pages I thought I should try an introductory text so I got a hold of another d’Espagnat book.  That didn’t really help, either.  So, I bought John Gribbin’s “In Search of Schrodinger’s Cat”.  Which is a much more accessible tome. I’ll get there in the end… per ardua ad astra, as the Romans would have said.

French philosophers, quantum mechanics and this is supposed to be a blog on walking?  Pretentious?  Moi?

I fear there’s going to be more of this…

Day -2: Packing

Steve: I write this on the train from Gleneagles to York, and then on to Grantham where I’m staying with a friend prior to really getting started tomorrow.

The art of ‘getting ready’ for a Camino trip is tricky.  I’m going to be away for a month and I’ll be carrying everything I need on my back.  Which implies a certain level of rigorous planning.  But I’ve got a wallet with credit cards – the modern travellers ‘get out of jail free’ accessory – so, really, what’s the worst that can happen?  But nonetheless…

I write as someone who has tendencies to, how shall we put it, overanalyse things.  ‘Analysis Paralysis’ is a good phrase.  I have done this before, and I’m going with my daughter, Jenni, who has done three of these things.  I ought to know what’s what.  But the over-anxious part of my brain – the one that worries if I’ve left the cooker on, or forgotten the dog in the back of car (yes, that happened once…) – won’t let up.

However, a deadline to catch a train is a proper deadline.  And so my bright red Deuter Futura 42 pack is in the luggage rack above my head as we hurtle towards Newcastle on the 10:13 from Gleneagles to London.  It’s crammed full and weights a frightening 11kg.  Eeek.  I’m not entirely sure how that happened.  The only things I can think of that didn’t accompany me on my last trip are a blanket thing made out of sleeping bag material, a truly enormous Anker power pack for all the gadgets, and my raincoat.

Last time around I sent home a pair of shoes, my raincoat, and some other bits and pieces from Pamplona on day three.  Sending home the raincoat – a fine Rab jacket that can keep out a hurricane – was a mistake.  Once we hit Galicia and the weather turned, I had to buy a cheapish bright yellow thing that made me visible from space and, unfortunately, also made me smell like a chicken farm.  Given that this trip is starting in September and we’re heading towards autumn I think the coat will stay this time.

There is something liberating about having just the right amount of stuff.  It’s tricky to do and I don’t want to go all Marie Kondo on you, but it’s a worthwhile exercise every now and again. I think of Steve Martin in ‘The Jerk’ – “this ashtray, this paddle game, this remote control – that’s all I need” and fully understand.

Many thanks

Dear readers… I do believe we’ve just passed the £1000 fundraising target. Many thanks to you all. ME Research UK will be grateful. As, of course, are Muriel, Alister, Jenni, Hamish and Steve!

And a reminder that if you tried to donate via JustGiving it might not have worked correctly. If you are one of those kind folks can you check that your donation actually went through?

EDIT August 1st: Well, thankyou all very much! We’re now headed towards £2500 once we include UK Gift Aid.  Blimey!

Day 32 : The End of The World

Steve : Today we do not walk. Our primary purpose has altered. I’m not entirely clear on the details of the alteration as yet but we’ll see how we do.

We rise late and are the last three out of the albergue. We walk all of 10m to a cafe across the street for a breakfast of toast, orange juice and coffee. Fortified and somewhat zombified we head off to the bus station to get the 12 noon bus to Finisterre, the ‘end of the world’.

We do walk to the bus station.  It isn’t far but it actually feels quite nice to have the pack on and the shoes on and be walking.

The bus driver is a nutcase and should not be driving buses. He throws the bus around and is either on the brake or the accelerator hard the whole time. His primary goal seems to be to make up enough time so he can stop and have cigarette breaks. Two hours of his crazy stupid driving and we all feel sick. If I knew what I was doing I would lodge a formal complaint.

The vomit bus disgorges its contents

But Finisterre is a beautiful little town, full of hippies, and – as luck would have it – a weekend long blues festival.  Good fun.

We find our accomodation, the ‘Albergue do Sol e da Lua’, which is pleasingly hippy. We do the last clothes wash of the trip and settle down for an afternoon of reading and posting these blogs.

Albergue do Sol e da Lua

Jen disappears for an hour and comes back to tell us that she’s been for a swim in the Atlantic. A dare ensues and we all troop off to the beach on the Atlantic side of the peninsula. There are a handful of people on a gorgeous sandy beach. It’s around 6:30 and still warm so we strip off to our undies and in go Hamish and myself.

Bracing! H is complaining about the cold but, hey, I’m (a) from Scotland, and (b) possessed of a layer of lard that’s missing from the youngsters. Rarely are these attributes an advantage. I’ve been swimming in the Atlantic off Argyll. Spain is lovely and warm.

It’s a tradition to burn your clothing when you arrive in Finisterre…

We return to the albergue and get ourselves sorted out for the 3km walk to the lighthouse that officially notes the 0km mark of the Finisterre Camino. We want to get there for sunset at 10:19pm. We stroll through the streets and have veggie sandwiches at a hipster cafe that would work fine in Edinburgh. We sit outside with our backs to the square in which black clad roadies are setting up the stage for the blues festivals events of the evening. Just as the band is getting started we have to leave and head to the lighthouse.

It’s fun to be walking again and it’s more or less all uphill to the lighthouse – all the better!

Steve at 0km

Hamish at 0km

Jen at 0km

We arrive around 10pm and watch the mighty sun slip behind some clouds on the far horizon. The same sun that has both entranced us with jaw droppingly beautiful sunrises over the meseta and tried to kill us on the plains of Leon Y Castillo.

We watch it go down in silence.

We amble back to the albergue. Jen walks alone and has a major CALS moment. She says, next morning, that she just wants to keep walking. Not go back to work but just pick a city, put on your boots,

and

go

As for me, I agree. I shall go home and have a think.

 

Day 31 : Santiago, the end of the road….

The End – outside the Cathedral in Santiago

Steve : We’re here! Sometime after 11am this morning the three of us ran – yes, ran – the last half km into the square outside the Cathedral in Santiago.

Much rejoicing…

But first…

The day started very early. Our plan was to make it to Santiago in time for the noon pilgrim’s mass. We reckoned we had around 20km to go from Pedrouzo so, given our current storming form, we reckoned 5 hours max.  But to be on the safe side we were up just after 5am.

It was wet and very dark.  We headed back into town and picked up the Camino trail again and headed into the woods. Within minutes we hit a new problem.  It was simply too dark to see the trail. The sky was black with rain clouds and we were still an hour before dawn. On previous early starts this hadn’t been a problem as we could see plenty under a starry moonlit sky.

Somewhat disappointed we had an emergency committee meeting during which some jovial Spanish peregrinos who were wearing head torches passed us. So we dissolved our meeting and simply followed them.   They were a little slow but they got us to Breakfast #1…

…after which time the sun had come up enough to be useful.  Off we went. It rained on and off and within a few hours we passed the airport and came upon the ‘Santiago’ marker.

Santiago and Jen

Santiago and Hamish

Santiago and Steve

It always surprises me just how long it takes to  walk through a large town’s suburbs. Santiago is no exception. We cross big roads and pass carpet showrooms and the typical big shed retailers of the modern world. Eventually we reach a pilgrim monument on top of a hill…

…and there it is, Santiago Cathedral. Blimey.

You can see the towers of the cathedral over Hamish’s left shoulder

I am nervous! 31 days of constant walking plus another few months of planning and there’s the target. Visible with our naked eyes through the mist.

We walk on, down the hill.

We nip into a cafe to use the loo and have Breakfast #1.5 and I meet a man who went to school in my village back home in Scotland. He’s come out to Santiago to join his wife, who has walked from Leon, and I can tell he’s simultaneously impressed and baffled.

We walk on into the old town.

Dog and peregrinos share a fashion moment

Jen vaguely recognises where she is from her Camino trip last year and she dares us to run the last half km. I demur but she wins and off we go. 

So we race into the square, to find the last 10m blocked by a group of tourists who can’t seem to move out of the way.

We arrive in front of the scaffolding covering the front of the cathedral. There’s a man with an angle grinder making one heck of a noise half way up that scaffolding. Most of the square is closed off for some military event taking place later. We try and take it all in and collapse..

Jen just sits down. I wander on a few metres and Hamish a few metres more. I don’t know what either of them are thinking and, to be honest, I don’t know what I’m thinking either. My thoughts return to the two people who should be here, Muriel and Ali, and my sadness returns.

But then I think of my legs!  And I get Jen to take a picture…

I ask you, dear reader, are those not particularly fine specimens? Muscles. And muscles on top of those muscles!  Excellent legs in excellent socks in excellent shoes. Excellent.

We round up another peregrino and ask her to take a picture. Thankfully it’s a good one and here it is again. Happy memories already.

Overcome with something or other we retire to a cafe to eat churros dipped in chocolate. Diabetes on a plate. Very tasty.

We queue up for the noon pilgrim mass and find ourselves having to sit on the floor.  The place is packed. The mass is long, in Spanish, and a bit baffling but we are glad to be there.

You may have heard about the swinging incense holder – you can see it in the centre of the above picture. Sadly that wasn’t going to happen at our mass. Apparently, if you pay enough (rumour says 3 or 4 hundred euros) and organise it in advance the church will do the swinging incense thing.  I’m hazy as to what it’s all about but I can imagine that it’s very effective in removing the aroma of filthy pilgrim from the building.

This is a major Catholic cathedral and the quantity of gold around the supposed tomb of James the Apostle (Sant Iago) is considerable.

The mass finishes and we limp out back into the square. The rain has stopped and the sun threatens a return.

Square panorama #1

Square panorama #2

Square panorama #3

We find our albergue, ‘The Last Stamp’ (a reference to the stamps we collect in our ‘Pilgrim Passport’ or ‘Credentials’ at every albergue since St Jean) and go for a wander.

Central Santiago is a lovely old city full of tourist tat and interesting shops.

Hopeful

We stock up on souvenirs (we don’t have to carry it much further now!) and Jen buys two new dresses.

A scuzzy peregrino goes clothes shopping….

…and meets a very very large dog

The albergue is quite pleasant, though the ‘easy’ ways of the rural albergues have gone. This one is very much ‘business’. We make our beds and set out our stuff, then head out to collect our certificate and find some dinner.

The Pilgrim Office below the Cathedral is the final port of call for the peregrino. Here you show your ‘Pilgrim Passport’ and answer a few questions about your trip. Hand over 5 euros and you are given two documents, a ‘Certificate of Distance’ stating how far you have walked, and the all important ‘Compostella’ with your name scribed in Latin (sort-of). We queue up for around an hour and a half to get ours.

One of the hospitaleros tells us that yesterday they did 1400 ‘Compostellas’ and today they were expecting to do 1600.  And the Camino ‘season’ hasn’t really started yet.

We walk out into the square and feel much contentment.

Dinner is at an excellent veggie-friendly restaurant where we blow the budget and eat like kings.

We are back in bed at around 10:30.

Sadly Santiago is a party town and the drinking starts early. Along side the peregrinos who are walking the trail with purpose are the tourigrinos, who are basically here for a party.  Some didn’t even bother walking at all – we saw quite a few folks with boots and backpacks get out of taxis and only walk the last 100m into the square.  Not cool.

The noise outside the albergue is incredible.  I sleep fitfully until the last drunken idiot staggers into bed in the room above ours around 4:30am. In the morning I take great delight in not being quiet and revel in the ‘shhhh’s from the hangover brigade. Sorry, mate, you should have thought of that earlier…

Tomorrow we are no longer peregrinos. We will not walk. We’ll be on a bus to Finisterre, ‘The End of the World’, and we’ll watch the sun set over the Atlantic.

Day 30 : Ribadiso de Baixo to Pedrouzo

Steve : A reasonable night’s sleep, in spite of the snoring. We get up and ready ourselves for departure. Everything we own got a good soaking yesterday. All our gear has more or less dried out, apart from, sadly, our shoes. We stuffed them with newspaper last night, which does a good job of sucking out the moisture, but my left shoe still squelches when I walk. It’ll be fine in a few kms.

Roughly 30km to do today, so we look for a cafe for breakfast #1 and find a nice one in Arzua…

The cafe is attached to an upmarket albergue. Well dressed and sleek middle aged peregrinos in starched and pressed hiking gear are getting ready.

We consume toast, orange juice and coffee and we’re off…

I haven’t taken too many photos over the last few days, mainly due to the lashing rain, but above is a panorama of Galicia.

We walk through forested paths and stumble upon another cafe near A Calle, perfect for breakfast #2. Here we see the huge increase in peregrinos since Sarria.  They are on Day 4 of their short 100km walk and they are, probably, wet and miserable.

We try and book ourselves an albergue for the night but everywhere in Pedrouzo seems to be full. Hamish gets on booking.com and we find ourselves a Pension, a small cheap hotel and book a triple room for 60 euros. A little expensive but better than tramping the streets looking for three empty beds.

The cafe is very busy…

Peregrinos everywhere…

Later, we determine that it’s round about now that we reach our one millionth step. But we don’t know that just yet…

We power on up the trail, passing through some ancient trees…

Tall trees #1

Tall trees #2

J and H are having a surreal conversation about how they would survive a zombie apocalypse, and H wonders if vampires would be able to survive on other planets with a different sun.

I follow along, as we race through the crowds, and I marvel at my legs ability to carry me at this pace, and I have a major CALS* moment.

We arrive in Pedrouzo and find our pension. Our host is a star – super enthusiastic and helpful. He tells us that this small town has a population of some 400, almost all of whom are involved in the peregrino business. He reckons there are 2000 beds in Pedrouzo and they are all full tonight. Looking at the hordes on the trail, I can believe it.

We go to our room, unpack, and arrange for some laundry to be done. The room is splendid…

TOWELS!!! SHEETS!!! DUVETS!!!

Jen falls asleep whilst H and I do techie things. We emerge around 3pm to try and find some lunch and we find a terrific cafe called ‘Taste The Way’…

‘Taste The Way’

…that does a Peregrino Menu with veggie options. We eat ravenously.

We are in seafood country here, specifically octopus. You see them in big tanks in the windows of restaurants awaiting execution. Yuck.

Back to the hotel. Our TV has a USB port so we plug in my stick and watch ‘The Lady In The Van’. Ideal pilgrim entertainment. Then a trip to the vending machine for some junk food and we set up ‘Margin Call’ as movie #2. The antithesis of a peregrino movie!

We were going to attend the pilgrim mass at the local church but the movie is too interesting. Oh well.  Like I said, we walk through the country and experience almost none of it….

Dinner time arrives and we go out to try ‘Taste the Way’ again to discover that it’s closed for a private event. We find a horrible cafe, eat horrible salads and go to bed early.

Sleep is hard to come by, in spite of the comfy beds and duvets. Tomorrow we will be there.  We will have reached the end of our trail.

I check my watch and it reads 03:16.  I wonder if it’s a message…

*CALS, Camino adjusted lachrymosity syndrome

I’m not dead yet

Way back in the donativo in Bercianos I said to my fellow peregrinos that I was doing the Camino to prove to myself that I’m not dead.

As we approach Pedrouzo I feel more than simply not dead. I feel completely alive. My 56 year old legs have walked 1,000,000 steps on this trip and they feel great. This is what they are supposed to do. Walk. Move.

I follow Jen through the hills of Galicia in the rain. We are in amongst a huge group of new pilgrims, doing the Sarria section. They are a strange combination of slow and competitive. Small groups of young men see Jen approaching and they try to speed up to avoid the ignominy of being overtaken by a girl, and a 5ft 4in girl at that. They can keep her at bay on the downhill and on the flat but on the uphills they have no chance. Jen powers on by with Hamish and me following in her wake. We’ve been walking for five hours now and haven’t been overtaken once. It makes me smile.

Cartesian dualism be damned! This body is me and I am this body. We are one and the same. This bag of bones and skin and organs is working like a Swiss watch. Everything is in its place. The rain is making the path slippery but the eyes send messages to the brain and the brain tilts the leg and the foot just… so… and the foot hits the ground in exactly the right place. And again. And again. Thousands of times.

And suddenly I think of the two members of this family who are not here, whose bodies do not work like a Swiss watch and who will rarely, if ever, feel such utter joy in simply walking.

There’s Muriel, who has turned a life blighted by ME into a shining example of how to deal with adversity. And then there’s Alister…

Oh Lord, Ali…

I am grateful for the rain as it hides the river of my tears.

1,000,000 steps

Well, it looks like we did it. Sometime around when this picture was taken at this morning’s second breakfast…

Cafe dog gets lots of attention

… we walked our one millionth step on the Camino.

I’m wearing a Fitbit and have been recording steps, amongst other things, since we left St Jean.  When we started this morning the cumulative step count was 989,060. The cumulative count right now, as I type this in Pedrouzo, is 1,019,088. By our calcs the 1,000,000 mark was passed around Cafe Lino, near A Calle, where the photo was taken.

One million steps. Hmmm.

We all skipped the 70 km from Santo Domingo to Burgos. Jen has taken a few buses and taxis due to her foot issues. I jumped from Leon to Hospital de Orbigo and accompanied Jen on her bus and taxi trip to Herrerias. But Hamish has walked everything bar the Burgos jump. So he’s probably walked another 60,000 steps on top of the one million.

Jen says, hopefully (and possibly, accurately), that she’s walked more steps because her legs are shorter. When we get back home we’ll do some experiments to see if she’s right.

But, as of right now, we lie on our comfy beds in a Pension in Pedrouzo and feel the satisfaction of the righteous.

Everywhere is indeed walking distance, if you have the time….

Day 29 : Palas de Rei to Ribadiso de Baixo

Steve : There is great delight at having a private room for the three of us, with a private bathroom. Our alarm goes at 5:30am and is ignored. I crawl out of bed at six and take advantage of the TOWELS!!!! to have a pre-walk shower, the first of the trip. Normally you slide out of bed, pull on a shirt and some trousers and are out getting your boots on in 5 minutes. Today is very slow in comparison. Jen has a major I-want-a-lie-in grump but eventually we’re up and out the door at 8am.

The new peregrinos are milling around, looking lost and tired. These are the newbies who joined the trail at Sarria. You must walk 100km of the Camino in order to get your ‘compostella’ certificate, so the last 100km from Sarria onwards brings a whole batch of new, clean, fashionable pilgrims. Today will be day three of five for them and they all look exhausted. The make-up is bedraggled and the hair is lank. Good, we think.

We find a cafe to sell us croissant, toast and coffee for breakfast and we’re off…

The weather forecast for the day says 100% chance of rain so we’re ready for it. I have my luminous visible-from-space rain jacket, Jen has her Very Hungry Caterpillar thing and Hamish has his huge clear plastic bag that he blagged from a bakery way back on the rainy Estella day. We’re set, 26km to do today.

A man in a bag and The Very Hungry Caterpillar

It does, indeed, rain. And rain quite a lot. Because we’re up so late we are in the pilgrim rush hour. There seem to be hundreds of hunchbacked peregrinos wearing the huge all-in-one rain covers. It’s actually a little difficult to maintain a walking pace. We are quite fast, especially up hills, and the trail is narrow in places. Overtaking is difficult. A new peregrino with a huge rucksack in an all-in-one rain cover is quite an ungainly object. It lumbers around like a rhinoceros or an articulated lorry. Our 700km of race-tested familiarity with ourselves and our kit makes us Ferraris, in comparison. We confess to feeling more than slightly smug.

Crossing the highway, looking at the sign…

But the rain falleth on the new and the old peregrino in equal measure and soon we are all very very wet. It’s warm so we don’t really care and when the rain stops it’s still quite windy so we dry fairly quickly. Note to prospective peregrinos – ‘technical’ clothing is well worth the extra money. My Rab top and Montane trousers will dry in minutes in a good breeze.

We have a second breakfast around San Xulian and eat huge bocadillos whilst listening to a Spanish gent of consequence conduct business very loudly on his phone. I would guess him to be 60ish, with an ample belly, and he’s dressed head to toe in the latest Lycra cycling gear. ‘Tis a thing of wonder. He eventually mounts his bike, an incredibly expensive Trek electrically assisted mountain bike and waddles off, uncertainly, up the road.

The day is uneventful and quite long. It’s too wet to take photos and too wet to wear headphones. We discuss the best parts of the trip, our favourite gear, and what we’re going to do in Santiago. Jen wants us to run into the square. I’m not so sure. If we’re doing this properly we’re supposed to go in on our knees but that definitely isn’t going to happen.

Clouds over Melide

Melide brings lunch and we hide out in a cafe whilst the heavens open. My luminous jacket does a good job of minimising the rain soaking but it does, for reasons unknown, make me smell like a chicken farm. I decide I don’t care, but I do feel sorrow for any non-peregrinos who are too close by.

The terrain is up and down and we walk through the greenest of tunnels made by the old growth forest. If the weather had been better I would have some excellent pictures.

We approach the hill before Ribadiso and all of us are firing on all cylinders. We power up it. I think of the quote from the film ‘Gallipoli’:

Jack: What are your legs?

Archy Hamilton: Springs. Steel springs.

Jack: What are they going to do?

Archy Hamilton: Hurl me down the track.

Jack: How fast can you run?

Archy Hamilton: As fast as a leopard.

Jack: How fast are you going to run?

Archy Hamilton: As fast as a leopard!

Jack: Then let’s see you do it!

We overtake everyone and steam, literally, into town.

We’ve booked ahead and are staying in Los Caminantes. We arrive around 3:30pm and find some beds. The albergue is pleasant enough, if a little cramped.

We unpack and I discover that my Platypus water system in my backpack has sprung a leak. My sleeping sheet is now ever so slightly damp. In the grand scheme of things, given what’s been falling from the sky all day, it’s not a problem. The Platypus goes in the bin, after 10+ years of good service. I shall replace it on our return.

H looks like he’s got bed bugs, so we shove everything in a washing machine and do a full debug. Let’s hope it does the trick.

Bed bugs to peregrinos is the equivalent of shouting ‘Fire’ in a crowded theatre. They are absolutely the last thing you want. A fellow traveller, Zoe, from Australia, is wrapped up in an albergue blanket waiting for her clothes to dry. She spots a bed bug in her blanket and drops it with force. She informs the hospitalero, who seems indifferent and asks Zoe to put the blanket back on the shelf and get another one.  Oh dear. Not impressed. Perhaps best avoid this albergue….

Zoe takes the blanket and dumps it outside, in the rain.  And another few blankets for good measure.

We adjourn to the local cafe and eat a highly unhealthy dinner of yet more spaghetti, fried eggs and chips.  We are all crawling.  Hopefully from imaginary bed bugs and not actual ones. We return to our albergue and spray everyone and everything with anti-bed bug spray. And we wash H’s clothes again, just in case.

Bed is early, at 8:30, as we’ve run out of things to do.

We have a friendly room but a number of snorers. It takes two episodes of Jon Finnimore’s Souvenir Programme to pass the time until sleep.

Surreal graffiti

Joni Mitchell to Tolkein

Time for a strapline change. We now have

Not all those who wander are lost

…a line from the JRR Tolkein poem, ‘All that is gold does not glitter’.

All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost;
The old that is strong does not wither,
Deep roots are not reached by the frost.
From the ashes a fire shall be woken,
A light from the shadows shall spring;
Renewed shall be blade that was broken,
The crownless again shall be king.