Monday, July 31, 2006

Day 14 - Palas de Rei - Santiago de Compostella

On the road to Santiago and I’m super excited. It’s a really weird feeling, although it’s hilly I haven’t much felt it, I’ve been counting off the kilometres. We’ll do 63 today to get there. When the road counters get to 100 we’ve made it.

I was outraged this morning, there were a group of ‘walkers’ gathered outside a bar all with backpacks, staffs and scallop shells, bustling us along and very determinedly not moving out of our way as we tried to park the bikes. It was certainly not the friendly ‘Buen Camino’ welcome we’d had every other morning at breakfast. Then we found out why they were so keen to stay in position, they were queuing for the bus to Santiago! I was overtaken by murderous rage - my first burst since the trip began. These folk took priority over us at refuges, yet were a coach party!

We both feel less trusting here, there’s less camaraderie as there are more day trippers and they are far less friendly. We are getting plenty of ‘hoots’ of support from returning minibuses of pilgrims, mostly with ugly, mangled looking feet sticking out of the windows.

As we got closer I got faster! I was really excited but had a weird sense of it being the end of something. We were just 12km out, only as far as Leamington. Unfortunately the road became motorway so we had to go off onto a different track. This got annoying in places where the day trippers walked six abreast, blocking the road completely.

Other, tired looking pilgrims were happy and helpful. The road was very hilly and I had to walk quite a few sections. At one point cheery Spanish walkers cheered us on in a Tour de France stylee, but I couldn’t keep it up and they passed me on foot. After over taking me three times one ran up behind me and pushed me up the hill, much to the amusement of his buddies and Lou.

The closer to Santiago we got the weirder it felt with tourists cramming the path. We got to Monte de Gozo, the recommended overnight stop before Santiago – it was hideous. We’d expected some form of monastery, but it called itself a vacation city and had blocks and blocks of dormitories, along with restaurants, cafés, shops and a launderette, blasting out Celtic music. Any ‘real’ alburgue would not stand for the noise during the day!

We couldn’t get out of there fast enough, we went on down a series of steps where we saw fresh horse poo and joked about Tonto from Rabanal. Entering Santiago I just felt plain scared as there was traffic all over the place and no yellow arrows to guide our way. We got lost and really struggled to get into town. The guidebook was worse than useless, so eventually we just cycled in the direction that the statue of Santiago faced, and that brought us into the old town.

The town was jam packed, and I found it quite intimidating. Eventually we found our way to the Cathedral and as we parked up our bikes Tonto arrived! His mate recognised us first, to much laughter, and a curious cycling mime. Tonto was loving the attention, and was more interested in getting his photo taken than letting his horse have a drink, so the horse got stroppy.

We went into the Cathedral – big mistake! It was noisy with hundreds of tourists, accompanying tour guides and camera flashes. The coin operated electric candles were unappealing and we decided to get our Compostela and get out. We joined the queue, assuming it to be for pilgrims. It wasn’t until I asked the person in front if it was for our ‘credencials’ that she explained, “No, it was to hug and kiss a statue of Santiago” – bite me! Other people were queuing to kiss the other little statues and have their photos taken doing it. It was all so awful. I really thought I might cry! We came all this way just to be part of a circus.

We went to the pilgrims office and joined a queue of tired, smelly, battered looking people with faded, stained clothes and absurd tan lines. It was nice to be with people like me! The Australians from the day before joined us, it felt good that there were people to talk to in the queue, and we recognised a few faces, as well as lots of bikes we’d seen on the road. The Australians took a photo of us both standing outside the Cathedral.

I found the Cathedral depressing, disorienting and confusing. We decided to cheer ourselves up by checking into the Parador. It took us a while to get past the security guard, and when we asked the receptionist for a room she scurried off to get the manager. He really didn’t want us smelly folk staying, so quoted the room price, which was steep, but we knew that already. We agreed to the price, at which point he said he had no rooms, only suites and quoted a much higher price. I asked Lou if she was OK with that, and as she started to nod he said, “oh no, I only have suites with one bed”. I finally took the hint and we left!

We settled down for a cana con limon at a café bar in a busy pedestrianised street. A Mexican mariachi band came to play by us, they were pretty good. I gave them some money, but that only seemed to encourage them, not make them go away. The people on the next table were hidden behind a pillar and decided to sing along. I thought Lou would spontaneously combust with embarrassment.

Getting a cheap room wasn’t easy either, so we walked a little further out of town and nabbed a cancellation at a great 17th Century Jesuit place that had been converted into a lovely hotel. We got a great deal on a triple room with a lovely garden courtyard, and even an invite to enjoy free wine in the hotel bar.

I rang mum who seemed delighted that we made it to Santiago alive, and after a few attempts got through to Dad who was excited about the whole trip. I raided the garden strawberries which were nowhere near as nice as the ones I’d harvested on the way across the Pyrenees.
After getting cleaned up and raiding the mini bar – for pop! – we strolled back into town to get some dinner. We were spoiled for choice as there were fancy seafood restaurants everywhere. We picked one and I ordered oysters followed by a Galician bouillabaisse which had swordfish, hake and monkfish steaks in it. Lou had a salad followed by steak and chips! We split a great bottle of rias baixas red wine.

We took another walk by the Cathedral which looked very impressive from the outside, and dramatic lit up at night. There were plenty of people about in the square singing and dancing, which was more comforting. There was a band playing, including a strange local bagpipe type instrument.

I had a great nights sleep.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Day 13 - Portomarin - Palas de Reis

An early start, despite limited sleep. The coolest temperate overnight was 32°C, at 5am. There was a tough climb out but a great descent of about 5km of gentle swoops down and then a short climb up to Portomarin, a town re built on the hill when the river was dammed for a reservoir. It’s scarily like Portmeirion. I expect to be chased out by a giant bubble at any minute.

We seemed to climb most of the day from here with lots and lots of long steep ascents and all too short descents. The Camino is getting busy now. We’re into Galicia and past the last starting points for people to qualify for the Compostela. Strangely people are starting to seem less polite and friendly. Some of the walkers, particularly those with just one or two sellos, spanking new boots and a spring in their step seem downright hostile and pushy.

We are seeing more folk we know on the road though, which is refreshing and oddly comforting. It’s nice to know people along the way, if only by sight. We met up with some Australians who helped me pedal up a particularly nasty hill by talking to me and taking my mind off it. We stopped at a really nice refuge with friendly hosts who offered free water, coffee, and loo services to all pilgrims. All they wanted was my soul for Jesus. I gave them a couple of euros instead.

At a small bar in the middle of nowhere we stopped for pop and sat outside. A big fat Italian chap from Napoli came over to bum a fag. Lou didn’t understand what he was saying so I explained. He looked in fairly bad shape, breathing heavily and sweating profusely whilst drinking loads of water and Aquarius. We had a quick chat about where we were from. I accused him of being a Juventus supporter, but was unable to provoke a physical response. He clearly thought Lou was not the full ticket!

We arrived at the outskirts of Palais de Rei, despite the efforts of happy clappy walkers who were fresh on the Camino but felt it was their right to occupy the whole width of the road, not just the path. We had a ‘cana con limon’ to cool off.

We rode into town and found no room at the inn, or at the refuge which had plenty of room, but not for cyclists. I’m starting to get bitter and twisted about walkers who started in Galicia but who claim special treatment – not very pilgrim spirited of me! We finally found a spot about 10km out of town, another motorway café type place that boasts German speakers, but no assumption that we are German, just slight disappointment that we’re not. It’s called ‘The Two Germans’ and is painted pink with pink candy striped shades. I slept as soon as I got in the room, just zonked out for a couple of hours. I have only had a Ritter Sport to eat all day and can’t seem to feel hungry, although I know I must be.

We had a rather unpleasant dinner with really nasty wine, but quite nice local cider.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Day 12 - O'Ceberio - Portomarin

Holy cow! We were awoken at 6am by the sound of Ave Maria super loud. I opened my eyes and saw dark wood above me barely visible in flickering candle light. I thought I was dead, only to look around and see a statue of Madonna and child – argghhhh! Then a chap in the bunk below farted, clearly I was not dead! It wasn’t candle lights, it was just electric light from downstairs and other peoples torches and headlights. The wood was the roof beam. It appeared to be the alarm to get the cyclists out as all the walkers were either finishing off breakfast or already on the road.

There was much rustling and plastic bag stuffing going on but I stayed resolutely where I was, until a few other people left. Up and into the shower. The shower was interesting, a glass door in a communal bathroom, giving us a little more information about our fellow travellers than I needed, but I guess some of them now know more about me than is entirely nice.

Then down to breakfast. I was dipping Magdalena’s in honey, not terribly healthy but a great way to absorb carbohydrates fast. We sat outside with a couple of English blokes who were walking but not much slower than us. The older one burst his CamelBak water carrier and went berserk because he couldn’t fix it. It was really quite funny.

We started the climb straight past the Spanish family who had cycled out ten minutes earlier and already stopped to walk. We saw the motorway towering above us, it was an intimidating sight as we knew we had to cycle above it. The climb wasn’t so bad though, it was long and only occasionally really steep but it was pleasantly cool with Simpson’s clouds all the way.

Reaching O Ceberio was wonderful. The highest climb of the whole trip and we’d made it – woohoo. There was a little café playing absurdly loud Celtic music, and serving people painfully slowly. The church was beautiful, very plain with a story of a miracle – A local shepherd struggled through the snow to get to mass, but the monk performing the ceremony hated him for being so dedicated, when it got to communion the wine and bread really did turn to blood and flesh. The chalice is stored in a gold box to the side of the church. I lit some candles and sat three rows in from the back on the right for a few minutes quiet thinking. The town itself had stone age round buildings with thatched roofs.

I was nervous about the valve on my front tyre sheering as it was at an alarming angle. I decided to fix it, but was really struggling to pump up the tyre so German ‘Dad’ types got a young Italian chap with a super pump to inflate it – in nine seconds.

The descent was really scary. I kept stopping and told Lou how nervous I was, she wasn’t finding it frightening at all so I suggested I’d find it easier if she took a stint as ‘lead rider’. Half a kilometre down the road I was back in front – Lou decided it was scary after all. It gets frightening because you feel like you are going much faster when in front because you can’t see where you are going. The road is just a string of hairpins, with just a metal crash barrier to stop your bike, but probably not you, hurtling down the mountainside if you don’t turn quick enough. Cycling clubs came whizzing past us, some waving and some not holding onto the handlebars at all.

Whilst stopping every couple of kilometres to cool the rims we watched the helicopters water bombing the forest fire on the next mountain, although the wind was blowing our way so we didn’t want to stick around long.

We stopped in Samos to cool off and enjoy some lunch. The ride on was hot and tiring, although we were cheered on by a nice stamp from the monastery, but disappointed that the church he directed us to didn’t seem to exist.

It was absurdly hot, over 40°C, even though it was after 4:30 when we set out. Hot and tired we made our way over several hills before reaching Sarria. It looked a little grim and it was more difficult to navigate because they no longer speak Spanish as we are now in Galicia and the road signs are incomprehensible.

We found the Hostale Londres, as recommended in our book. It was grim, very, very grim, but Lou had a bug in her eye and really wanted to stay somewhere. On balance we agreed that it was preferable to lose an eye rather than spend a night in the Bates Motel. I was glad, I’d rather have stayed in a school hall. We rode around to the fancy looking Hotel Alfonso XI, but it was ‘completo’. The receptionist took great glee in telling me that everywhere in town was ‘completo’. I stopped at a bike shop to pick up a functioning pump. I managed to mime a CO2 canister, which wasn’t easy, but he didn’t have any so it was all rather wasted on him.

We toyed with going back to the Bates Motel but really weren’t keen. We cycled down the main street - nothing. We decided that if we headed for the church we’d pick up signs for the Camino and the alburgue, and we’d be able to ask there for a bed, or floor space, or school gym floor space! Outside the church a chap offered us rooms. He spoke to Lou in French and she went with him to check it out. Slightly smelly, hot single rooms with a shared, but clean bathroom and a garage for the bikes, all for 7€ each. Perfect.

We strolled out to pick up stamps and cash. Shop security throughout Spain has been non existent. Shopkeepers work out what you owe on a piece of paper, check it on a calculator, then put big notes in a box under the counter and smaller ones with the small change in a little drawer. It’s quite sweet really, and refreshing that they can do so without fear.

After failing to find a restaurant we had dinner at our Casa’s owner’s mate’s bar. Salad followed by all sorts of veal choices were on the menu del dias, which, as ever was not written down so I guessed at most of it. I managed to negotiate a tuna and cheese omelette. If I’d known more words I would have had more ingredients! Some of the people who had helped us out on the mountain were at the next table and seemed rather disappointed that we needed no help translating. They were itching to be useful! We shared a bottle of truly dreadful wine. They were staying at the same house as us.

Back to our rooms. It was nice to have a room to myself even though it had no outside window, just shutters out onto a corridor. My shutters were fine left open but through the night Lou realised hers weren’t. Having sprawled out to keep cool she awoke to find the light on by her feet. Assorted folk who were visiting the bathroom had to pass the end of her bed.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Day 11 - Ponferrada - O'Ceberio

The day started very slowly as I was definitely not on form. We took a meandering route out of town, taking in a fair bit of the Camino track. I could really have done with being on smooth tarmac as I felt so ill, but on our attempt to get back on the road an old lady yelled at us from a window that we were going the wrong way and wouldn’t leave us alone until we turned back onto the track. We passed an old couple ploughing their field with an ox; something that I just didn’t imagine would happen in Spain.

I realised just how slowly I was going when we were overtaken by a walker! He stopped to chat whilst we bought stamps at a small village, and we parted company as he followed the track and we got back on the road. We passed by several vineyards before we arrived at Villafranca del Bierzo, where we met up with four people from the Netherlands who had cycled from home. They were keen to exchange route notes for the final section and to compare maps with Lou. They planned to be in Santiago Saturday, but as I didn’t know what day it was, that wasn’t very helpful for me!

We strolled around but the church was shut and we’d already seen the castle on the way in. We sat down by the church door and each had unintentional naps. By that time my stomach was feeling a bit better, but still very tender. We went to a bar and I drank water until I nearly burst. I was so thirsty as I’d struggled to take even a gulp of water all morning without feeling sick. I topped that off with magdelenas a miel, a Twinkie type sponge, honey flavoured, without the filling.

It was almost 5pm when the temperature dropped to below 32°C in the bar and we decided to set off. It was a bit of a fiddly road to find out of town. I was frightened that we would have to cycle through a 9km tunnel, but it was a good steady climb on a smooth road with plenty of shade. We stopped to buy cherries from a man in the back of a van, although I didn’t dare eat any. Soon we were on the village roads to Vega, and were therefore compelled to sing ‘Viva Las Vegas’.

I was starting to feel really rough. I wasn’t hungry although I knew I should be as my legs just weren’t holding me up. I had a cereal bar, one half first then the other half a kilometre later. It was staying put but making me feel nauseous. The heat wasn’t helping. My watch registered my skin temperature as 42°C, not recommended.

The first refuge was ‘completo’, and the chap advised us to carry on 3km up to the next. There was a pension sign so we tried that – also ‘completo’ but we could sleep in the gym at the schoolhouse. We decided to try further up the road, and if we didn’t find anywhere we would come back. I was feeling bad – light headed and dizzy with no internal temperature control.

At the next refuge Lou went in to check availability whilst the bikes held me up. The alburgue had space and offered dinner – woohoo!

It was even hotter inside in the barn attic bunks we got. The nicely refurbished room downstairs was for walkers only! I tried lying down but felt worse, so I had a cool shower which helped, as did dinner which was all divine – gaspacho, feta and tuna salad, pesto linguini and crème Catalan with jugs of cheap red wine - but I stuck to small portions for safety. A quick stroll down the road for some air and in bed by 9:30 despite chickens fighting in the road and cows mooing as a kid drove them along.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Day 10 - Astorga - Ponferrada

We got on the road late at 8:30. It was a steep climb. Strangely we found ourselves caught up with all sorts of other cyclists, notably a team of six Italians, an older French couple who seemed to have packed everything they owned, and an older German chap, Harold, who became our ‘Dad for the day’. I first spoke to him when he was stood by the road, sweating profusely, as I thought he needed help. I asked if he was OK. He said, “fine, it’s shady here”. I pedalled on and later Lou walked with him up the mountain.

As we reached Foncebadon which our big, fat, granny pants book says is abandoned but actually has a refuge with a bar and café. I stopped there to wait for Lou and Harold arrived, calling out to walkers “Agua?” and as he looked knackered I quickly offered him a spare bottle I had in my panniers. He said he didn’t need it, he just wanted to check that he could get fresh water before he threw the hot stuff out. Lou caught us up and after an emergency cigarette break we set off together for the top. The first top! There were two – unfair. The first was marked by a pile of projectile sweating cyclists and a couple of chipper chaps from a Basque cycling club who had overtaken us many times along the route.

Another climb, the first on which I’d got off and walked, partly because we met up with the Madrid guy from the previous evening and I’d stopped to talk to him. From there we cycled on to the Cruz de Ferro, a cross on a pile of rocks, left by pilgrims as a symbol of unburdening themselves of sins and asking God for forgiveness. Oddly there’s no need to carry the rock or even a pebble there in any kind of penance, you just pick one up there and throw it on. That seemed rather shallow to me. The pile is older than the cross and the Christian tradition, but no-one seems to know how or why it started.

I poured on the last of the wine from Irache and sat and looked for a while in a moment of reflection for everyone who has helped us on our way. There have been lots of them, from Captain Birdseye at St Jean, through all sorts of direction givers, translators, bike fixers and accommodation finders.

The Italian bike team had lots of fun taking comedy photos whilst a couple of other folk adopted meditation positions that they appeared to be taking way too seriously, and they adopted seriously sanctimonious attitudes towards everyone else.

Down an alarmingly steep descent and we took a break to cool the rims, but too late. As we got ready to move on Harold’s tyre burst. The rim heat had melted a hole in the inner tube. We waited with him while he fixed it. It seemed mean to leave him, although every passing cyclist offered help and he had 2kg of tools to work with, but no tape, so we were of some use as he could fix his odometer with Lou’s insulating tape.

I’d been looking forward to the descent but it was horrible. It was absolutely terrifying. We stopped frequently to cool the brakes and rims, but it was tough to stay below 20mph and my fingers hurt from all the braking. We wound our way down to El Acebo where Harold wanted to wash his hands and we stopped for lunch. It was the best sandwich in the world – yesterday’s spicy tuna mix bocadillos, dipped in egg and deep fried, served tepid.

Descending then on cobbled streets was dodgy but not as dodgy as the super speed descent through the hairpin bends. Terror. When we got down to Molinaseca there were people swimming in the river. It was dammed at one end to allow enough water to build up for swimming. I took off my shoes and vest, leaving on my cycling shorts and bikini top, and went in very gingerly. It was icy cold and the cobbles were dangerously slippery. Lou’s ear meant that she could only paddle, but Harold was off and away, whittering about childhood holidays by the Rhine. He hadn’t been able to swim as a little boy and had always wanted to swim in a river, this was his first chance.

Into Ponferrada where we said goodbye to Harold. We booked into a schmanzy hotel in a quiet square, with a great balcony for laundry drying. Unfortunately it was only quiet because it was siesta time, and turned out to be the main square. There was a statue right in front of the hotel that people wanted to have their photo taken with, so everyone’s photos had our underwear in. We even saw some people taking their photos deliberately at an angle to be sure to get our laundry in shot.

We strolled about looking for somewhere to eat, but nothing until 8:30. After a drink in the Chelsea Bar, a strange take on an English Sixties theme bar we walked up to the Knights Templar Castle, which was impressive, but we were tired and the ruins were badly marked up so it was difficult to understand what was what. Then it started to hail, great big chunks of ice that hurt when they hit, although it was still warm.

The Basilica was quite unpleasant and had ‘candles’ that you lit by putting € in the slot and then a bulb came on for a time allotted according to how much money you had paid. I left, outraged.

We headed back to the hotel for tea, lots of tea – squid in ink, prawns, mussels, and mushrooms, washed down with yet more rosada. I regretted that the moment I woke up when the seafood fought back. I sat in the bathroom feeling shivery and cold and hot and faint – not a good mix. Luckily we’d packed Imodium, which did the trick.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Day 9 - Leon - Astorga

We got the bikes out of the cellar and on to the road to Astorga. There was lovely flat tarmac, and rolling hills. A big climb before Astorga meant we had a cool, long descent into the suburbs. Another big hill into the city centre, guided in by the Cathedral which had a decidedly cheap look about it compared to Leon.

We sat down on the wall outside the Cathedral and looked longingly at Gaudi’s Bishops Palace. It’s fantastic and we were so looking forward to going in but “Cerrado todas de Lunes” – swines. We went to the Cathedral which was nice enough but I fear Cathedral overload is setting in.

The walls were largely covered in really horrid colourful sculptures with scarily muscular cherubs. We paid our 2.50€ to go into the museum – no pilgrim discount here. Strolling around there was plenty of bad art, with lots of disembowelling and beheading, but a disappointingly low relic count. We saw a few, but with no attribution. There were a couple of gross silver cases with bone bits in that had writing on it in ink, but we couldn’t see it. They were designed so you could carry the relics with you in your pocket for divine protection.

We have stopped off for lunch and a rest. We need to kick around here for a while until it cools off. Lou just calculated our statistics so far. 560km done, 290km to go. 18,200 feet climbed. She also set to work on the injury list. Mine was way longer than hers so she just chipped a tooth in a pathetic attempt to get back into contention. I ate some top cakes, including some form of butter buns which are famous in Astorga, whilst Lou had chocolates. We then stopped off at an Alburgue to pee, pick up a sellos, and stock up on water.

We started on the ride out, helped as ever by a random stranger. Up and down a few hills, but still really hot out. An old bloke flagged us down and insisted that we visit his village. Despite the fact that I’d pinned a Union Jack I’d found onto the back of my panniers, he still assumed I was German. I wasn’t keen on seeing his village but he kept touching Lou’s arm and it was clearly freaking her out so off we set, walking up the hill as it was too cobbled and steep to cycle. Castrillo de los Polvazaras was indeed pretty, but we were soon cursing it as another ‘helpful’ chap turned around his bike to offer us advice.

Steep rocky tracks took us out of town and we soon met a three way junction with no signs, and no real road for that matter. We knew which way was west, but were focussed on getting to a paved road so walked up to a peak so we could see further. I spotted a village and decided to head towards it, and after about a kilometre of very slow combination of walking and cycling we got there, and much to our delight it was the village we were originally heading for, El Grouchi.

A couple of lemon ice lollies and a chat with a somewhat confused Irish lad later we set off. The climb was long, but not particularly hard. We’re about 900 feet up from Astorga. It’s still hot.

We happened across Rabanal del Camino a little quicker than expected but disaster struck. There was no room at the nice refuge, no room at the nasty refuge and no room at the church refuge. A lady gave us advice – just go over the mountain, there’s refuges there. That advice would be a little easier for her to follow as she hopped back into her Renault Espace and drove off.

We scoffed sandwiches and pop to boost our energy levels. I got talking, again against my will, with Tonto and his mates, they were doing the Camino on horseback, and we saw their horses tied up outside. In a pathetic attempt to win sympathy we asked the refuge guy for help. He couldn’t even put us up in his barn as it was full, with sleeping bags all over the floor and Tonto’s horses were occupying the stable – he pointed us to the church. It was full, so we went on to the hostal – completo – but the barman clearly took pity on me when I asked in an exhausted attempt at Spanish, “donde esta una camal en Rabinal” which I think meant “where is a bed in Rabanal”. He told us to wait. He introduced us to Joe who he appeared to say he had a room at his house. At that point it didn’t sound so weird so we followed him home. He had a sort of holiday house, a Casa Rural, we got one double bed and our own bathroom – fantastic. We love Joe!

The only rule seems to be don’t wake Joe. We whizzed out to the store and bought loads of scrummy rations and some local wine then I had a quick chat with a family from Madrid who were staying at Joe's house too. We shared a kitchen and dining room with them. They were watching the news on TV and the Dad translated the news for me. Europe is in the grip of a heat wave with forest fires everywhere.

We’ve got into a routine with the strangers that stop and laugh at us in the street.
Spanish person: “Caliente?”
Us: “Si”
Spanish person: “Haha, Cansada?”
Us: “Si”
Spanish person: “Hahaha, Camino? Santiago?”
Us: “Si”
Spanish person: “Hahahahaha, Buen Camino!”
Us: “Gracias, adios!”

After a trip back to the refuge bar for a rioja, it was getting dark and we saw the mountains burning fiercely to the south. It looked impressive, but also worrying. We certainly couldn’t outrun a fire on the bikes. Madrid Dad assured us that they were far enough away and that there would be warnings posted on the road if the fires got too close.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Day 8 - Religios - Leon

I slept OK, considering. All our roomies were men and the dawn chorus of escaping gas was interesting. Lou’s ear is painful after our water fight and there was some blood in it so we’ll find a hospital in Leon today.

I’m writing this bit in hospital! It’s a very nice hospital and the nurses are as helpful as they can be with my little Spanish-English dictionary. We got on the road early, there’s really little choice once the walkers start rustling their plastic bags from 4am onwards. We were in Leon by 10am – lovely Cathedral. Lou saw the ‘bike boys’ from Puenta del Rey, who seemed bemused that we got there first. They were pointing at our bikes in a confused manner, but waved happily when they saw us. I think they’re convinced we ride through the night.

We wandered around aimlessly in search of a taxi. We eventually got a cab by flagging down one that was already occupied and getting him to radio a friend. He took us straight to ‘Urgencias’. Pathetic efforts to get admitted followed, with Lou pointing at her ear, looking sad and waving her E111 form at anyone would look at it. I think there are four people ahead of us but I don’t suppose it’s sequential. Nobody looks horribly ill, although we were overtaken by a lady on a stretcher from the ambulance.

It would be quite nice if they could patch up my finger, which hurts, and take a look at my ring fingers, which have developed a strange circulation issue, my knees which are creaking and the nasty saddle rash on my bum, oh, and my lips which are burned and really sore today.

I’ll be glad to move on from the high plains – I’m even missing hills. My map bag has gone all melty in the sun and my thermometer is bust – it couldn’t take temperatures above 120°F/50°C and the red mercury replacement stuff has all broken up.

The hospital trip wasn’t too bad – for me. Lou got poked around and there seemed to be some confusion as to how she got ill. I said “Feunte”, the doctor said “Feunte? No!”, I insisted “Si, feunte, si!”, mimed sticking my head under a fountain and showed her the word in my dictionary. A light bulb moment – she said “Camino de Santiago” and laughed. She went to get another doctor who spoke English, but once again he wanted to talk to me in German. I’m getting paranoid, I think it’s a combination of my height – this area is full of tiny people – and my thighs, which are becoming decidedly East German. I stole some Mefix from the hospital. It worked a treat on my knuckle, which kept bleeding and the Band Aids kept coming off.

The doctors seemed concerned about Lou’s ears over the mountains, but they are not infected, they’re inflamed. We struggled to get a cab because although I tried to call one I really couldn’t make myself understood. Eventually I used my phrase book to ask a porter to help me to call one, he went to the front desk and sorted it out for us.

We got a prescription which we managed to fill in a curious old pharmacy where a chap with unfeasibly long eyelashes was waiting in the queue. I like to think he was waiting for his eyelash cream. We had a coffee and no sandwich at a fancy café by the Cathedral. They had no cheese apparently, but Lou had a ham and cheese sandwich. From there we went to Gaudis strange castle here and had a quick look around, then on to lunch where a deeply unhelpful waiter is refusing to give me tomatoes. I’m grumpy now. I’m sure the Cathedral will cheer me up.

We saw a monk in his full brown habit with rope belt, but with a modern colourful backpack. It was strangely disturbing. The Cathedral was good with acres of stained glass everywhere but it was a bit dark. There was a mass going on so we couldn’t investigate fully.

I scoffed some of the teeny cakes which Leon claims to be famous for, they were very good. We picked up some postcards from another unhelpful shopkeeper. We’re way behind as the last couple of town have been too small to stock postcards. I have a new theory that the closer a person works to a building of great beauty the more unhelpful and surly they become. That certainly applies here, and I know it applies in London and Paris.

Once it cooled off we decided to ride out of Leon and just see how far we got, based on how well Lou’s ears held out. It was a beautiful ride out alongside the river and past an old monastery, but also past the first McDonalds I’ve seen! It was nice to encounter hills on the way out. We got about 10-15km out and Lou was tiring as the tablets were making her feel strange so we stopped at a great looking hotel only to be instructed by the intercom to go down to the hostal fifty yards on. I thought they may have seen the stink lines coming off us and didn’t want to let us in, but it was the same company and the fancy hotel wasn’t open yet.

The chap at the bar was very pleased with himself that he’d talked to us on the intercom and after a couple of pops to cool off we took to the room. Compact and bijou! Dinner was fabulous – paella and grilled squid (chipirones a la plancha), Lou had salad and salmon. A bottle of the best rioja rosada in history helped it down they brought us coffee-esque liqueurs in frozen glasses for pudding – divine!

I slept like a very sleepy person. Morning still came as a surprise though. It was already over 30°C before 8am.