SCROLL DOWN FOR THE FIRST DAY
Over the years I have been dealt a fairly decent hand when it comes to blisters. People deal with them in different ways. For me, as soon as the blister is ripe I pierce it with a pin and force the fluid out by pressing on it. It squirts out like a fountain and when empty I put a Compeed plaster over the blister sack. It then heals. That has always seemed to work for me. I have seen some horrendous blisters in my time on others.
In some hostels there is a resident who lives in and deals with the admissions. They have a technique for dealing with the most vicious of these little demons. First they swab the area with iodine. Then they thread a needle with thick twine and force it right through the blister, pull the needle out the other side and leave the thread hanging out both sides of the blister. Overnight the thread drains the blister and in the morning it is withdrawn and the remains dressed. It seems to work but, thankfully, I have never had one that bad.
People are another facet of the Camino that never cease to fascinate. Many days back now I came across a young American girl in a hostel. She was, to put it politely, of generous proportions. She described the trouble she had encountered on the route and how her feet were really hurting to such an extent that she would often take a taxi when the going got too much. I noticed that she had several packets of biscuits and fizzy drinks spilling out of her already overflowing rucsack. It was obvious she was carrying too much weight. The food items may satisfy a craving but they induce a sugar spike that ultimately leads to a low and sagging energy. But, come hell or high water she was going to make it. Now how she gets to Santiago is her business but one thing was for sure. She would be as entitled to her certificate when she arrived at the cathedral as any of us. A pilgrimage is a subjective effort and each individual has to do it in their own way. If she were my daughter I would be proud that she had overcome to succeed.
There was another, a Spaniard, who seemed to turn up at each of the locations. He had a Beagle dog with him called Lola. Sometimes I saw him in a car with the dog on the back seat. It appears that each day he would leave his car in a village, walk the next stage with his dog, and then get a taxi back, pick up his car and drive to the location he has just walked to. He would repeat this at each stage. It meant the dog, which would not be allowed in the hostel, always had somewhere to sleep. It was obvious that dog and master where devoted to each other and that the dog was treated exceptionally well. And the good thing about him is that I got my doggie fix each day.
Then there was the elegant French couple in their sixties who appeared always as if they had just stepped out of a Vogue photo shoot. Unlike me who always appeared as if he had just stepped out from emptying the rubbish bins. Each day madam would brush out her long black hair and tie it into pigtails which she then secured on the top of her head. Her lipstick was fulsome and carefully applied, and her black end of day shoes displayed pink laces which always complemented her designer chiffon tops and immaculate body warmer. If she ever was elected President of France I could never imagine her making any decision until she had applied her lipstick.
Another person that comes to mind is a Geman girl in her mid thirties. She moved away to Spain to work as a translator. She has five brothers and wanted to prove herself capable of an independent way of life. After ten years she was now thinking of returning and was walking the Camino to clarify how she really felt.
I came across her in a couple of hostels and she was always in the forefront when it came to helping others with problems when translation was needed. She was the size of a sparrow and weighed about as much as a butterfly's kiss. If she had jumped in the air it would have only taken a zephyr from the west to waft her over the Pyrenees and home. I suspect she was preparing to take that jump.
Then, of course there are the residents of the countless villages I have passed through and whose life seem to revolve around the local cafes. In each there is a television on which the sound is raised to ear bleeding proportions, and over which they shout at each other.
I am currently sitting in a bar. It is a Sunday. I have bought an orange juice as my entry fee for using the cafe's wifi. I did have four chairs at my table when I started but gradually three have disappeared as various card games have started up. There is hand waving, a lot of shouting and slamming of cards on tables as angry faces confront. But this is merely passion. This is a weekly encounter with no malice.
Above all I have found the Spanish to be the most helpful and kindest of hosts. Despite my inforgivable ignorance in being unable to speak their language they have never failed to help with directions when I'm lost, to provide water when I am thirsty or to wish me Buen Camino when I step out at the start of each day. I could ask for no more.
A short distance from the village of Villanueva is a dilapidated 14C convent that merited a look. I had to wade through considerable foliage to get inside and was lucky when I stepped on a wooden plank. I could feel a nail pierce the sole of my rubber shoes and press against my foot. I managed to stop it penetrating but I had a bit of a cold sweat at the thought of it going right in. I came across a wall inside as shown above. It was of mud and stone construction with holes. I can only think it was for keeping pigeons for eggs and food. But any suggestions you might have would be welcome.
Zamora was my next stop, a large town on the north bank of the river Duero, and a place with a Carhedral and 22 Romanesque churches. Rain was forecast and on a flat track I tanked along for all I was worth, stopping only to photograph the many granite pillars that marked the route, each with staff and drinking vessel sculpted against them. I assume the pillar was to indicate that this was a Roman trading route , and the other artefacts because this was also the main pilgrim route for the Mozarabe, Arab Christians, who came from North Africa to get to Santiago de Compostela.
By now the sky had turned as black as tar and, almost running, I managed two more photos before the heavens opened. I found the Hostel and rang the bell, two men came to the door and told me they would not open until 2.30pm. I have heard good reports about this hostel but could not be bothered to hang around and I thought it was about time to have another room to myself. I found one in the main square, next to the cathedral. And do you know, it stopped raining and the sun came out.
Talking of domestic matters, which we weren't, but I'm going to, those of you who read the first day of my trek will recall I had trouble with spray when the inside of the tops of my legs rubbed
together. Well, the rush to Zamora brought the problem on again. This time I foreswore the use of butter and visited the chemist. I tried to explain the problem to the lady behind the counter and that I wanted cream for it. I pointed to my legs and rubbed my hands together. I suddenly thought what that must look like from her side of the counter. I only hope I wasn't leering too. She, understandably, had no idea what I was talking, or rather, not talking about. There was nothing for it but to give a full demonstration. She called for her boss who understood instantly and sold me a cream.
Back at the hotel I applied it, it stank. I examined the box, it contained halibut. The up side is that it really works. The downside is that I have every cat in Zamora following me around.
It is probably the kiss of death saying this but I am usually pretty good at not losing too much on my treks. But today, at my hotel, I found I had left a pair of boxer shorts, the ones I wear at the end of the days walk when I have showered, back in the previous hostel. I would not see them again. How wrong I was. While walking the streets I came across a French husband a wife with whom I had shared a room the previous night. He produced my underpants and presented them to me In a plastic bag. How fantastic. No greater love hath man than he walks 20kms with another man's underpants in his rucksack. I am now complete again, and due to buy someone a drink.
I also have to give top marks to the lady from whom I bought a large sandwich. There was one on a plate on the counter and it contained cheese and ham. I wanted cheese and tomato. No problem. She took the sandwich, threw away the ham, sliced a tomato and put that in it. Exceptionally practical, I thought. I spent the rest of the day sauntering around the streets, including finding how to leave the city for tomorrow's hike. There is nothing worse than wandering around in the dark trying to find your way out. The directions are indicated by brass shells imbedded in the pavement. You have to be sure to follow the head of the shell and not the lines that go to it. All technical stuff, but if you don't get it right you end up going in the opposite direction.
And so it was off for the twenty kilometre trek to the little village of Montamarta. The rain had,stopped but it was cold. A south-west wind blew across unprotected fields and although it gave some help in pushing me along I was looking forward to the hot weather that was promised for later in the week.
As I entered the village I was approached by a man in a station wagon. He spoke to me rapidly in Spanish, which he would do this being Spain. I gathered that he was offering me a room. Well, no harm in looking. I entered what appeared to be a private house. It had two immaculate shower rooms, a large sunny courtyard and a well specified kitchen. The bedrooms with their double beds and headboards with built in radio looked appealing. 'How much?' '20 Euro,' came the reply. I shook my head. He then led me upstairs into the loft area. Here was a mixture of eight single and double beds, all well spaced out and all with sheets and duvets and blankets. This was better. '15euro', he said. With the GPB at a very favourable rate to the euro it was good value.I nodded. I had secured another room for the night.
If I had followed the yellow arrows out of the village the following day it would have been interesting. They led through a reservoir which was normally empty. The recent rains had filled it and I had to find another way round. Not to difficult as it turned out. If you look at the photo you can clearly see the path into and immerging from the water.
Twenty kilometres separated me from another bunk bed as the early morning mist wafted across the reservoir with the submerged pilgrim track.
After this the going was mundane. A rough track through undistinguished fields and a circuitous navigation around some major road works. The reward for this, though, was a wonderful forty minutes of idyllic countryside when passing the jagged ruins of Castrotorafe a watchtower and castle dating, probably, from Roman times.
The countryside suddenly opened up its pages to reveal a long vista of wooded rolling hills over which the tops of other hills that aspired to be mountains peeped. The low morning sun ensured the colours of sky and skidding balls of cloud were at their sarurated best. A small white cottage nestled in a clearing surrounded by pines that protected it from the worst of the prevailing westerly winds. Charms of goldfinches fussed over thistle seeds, and from somewhere close the faint smell of woodsmoke wafted across my path.
In the tiny village of Fontanillas de Castro a flurry of wings and clacking beaks heralded the arrival of a male stork, rerurning to his mate with an offering of grass for the nest. She took it from him and he flew off looking for more while she fussed and phaphed about in the nest until it was just right. She then stood, sentinel like, waiting for the next delivery.
At some stage around here I lost the yellow signing arrows. I asked a lady road sweeper for the Camino. She consulted an old man rolling a milk churn down the lane. They chattered and flapped like a couple of storks before coming to a conclusion and pointing in opposite directions. I thanked them, walked on, and found it myself.
By mid-day I had retrieved the key for the hostel at Granja de Moreruela from the local bar, chose the best bed, and indulged myself in a long hot shower. I returned to the bar to sort out my photographs and update the video I am making of the trek. At 2pm the doors crashed open and a river of yellow jacketed road workers burst in. The bar went from tranquil to chaotic in a millisecond as they grabbed chairs, laid out green felt mats, shouted out their lunch order and then shouted at each other as cards were dealt. I thought it was time for me to leave and wash out my smalls.
A short distance from the hostel is a sign. To the left the Camino goes in a north west direction via the wild open spaces and hills of Sanabria and Ourense to Santiago. To the the right it goes via Astorga and then turns west on the crowded Camino Frances to Santiago. I had set my mind to going via Astorga as I considered it to be the easier route. The North west route involves longer day distances and fewer hostels, although the overall distance is the same.
Now, with the hills of the Camino to Sanabria glistening in the sun I have for the first time doubts about my decision to go to Astorga. I have had weeks of relative solitude and the thought of getting caught up in the rush from the east does not appeal. On the other hand, the thought of wrecking my knees is even less appealing. I am going to sleep on it and in the morning I will stand in front of the sign and make my decision.