Ages made up for the trials of the monastery – which I later discovered had been built in 1120, and it looked as though little maintenance had been done on it since! Not only was The Alchemist a wonderful old fashioned bar, but the albergue I was at was owned by a great couple. I suspect he was a very talented carpenter as the whole place was fitted out in meticulously carved pine, even down to carving the numbers on the ends of the bunks which corresponded to the numbers carved in the locker doors. When the lady of the house saw me limping, she said “I know what you’ve done!” “Really?”. “You didn’t take a full day of rest during your first week!”. I thought back, she was completely correct … now why wasn’t that little gem in any of the books I read beforehand?
Before the albergue opened I walked round the town and looked in at the church, but I was feeling a bit odd. I think I may have ODed on the anti-inflamatories as I’m nauseous, shakey and feel like an angry donkey has kicked me in the back. My fault. I’m not taking anything any more and the ankle is holding up. Unfortunately, it did mean that I couldn’t do justice to the lady’s wonderful dinner, but instead of ignoring it she brought me a large cup of camomille tea without being asked – how amazing is that when she had probably 50 other pilgrims she was seeing to!
When I spoke to other pilgrims as we all stumbled out into the street the next morning, it seemed that all the albergues in that little town were pretty special, even the Muni.
As we got out into the countryside there was a yellow arrow pointing over a quaint stone bridge. It appeared that the pilgrims in front of me hadn’t taken that route, but then at this part of the Camino there are several different paths. So I trotted happily across the bridge … only to find it led me back to exactly where I was before. There was probably a lesson in that somewhere but I couldn’t fathom it at the time.
Atapuerca hove into view, it’s a small village with a big history, mainly of ancient homo sapiens, and they’ve errected their own mini Stonehenge outside it, a new stone being dragged into place by the sweat of the locals each time. Unfortunately I managed to put my glove over most of that photo and I didn’t check it because my hands were too cold! On the verge I found a very unhappy German, about the same age as me. He too had walked all the way from St Jean and had been doing great until 5km before the end on the previous day. “Something in my shin just seemed to snap,” he said “I thought it might be OK but after 1.5km I can’t move any more. I’ve managed to book a hotel for two nights in Burgos and I hope it will heal as I’ve taken my whole year’s holiday to do this.”
I helped him hobble into Atapuerca – it must have looked hilarious! – sat him in a cafe and called him a taxi seeing as he spoke no Spanish. I felt a bit bad leaving him there while I walked on. It could have been any of us.
My ankle was doing remarkably well but I was beginning to flag slightly, when the most fantastic bus hove into view. It was beautifully painted and claimed that my albergue was a mere 250m away. This was highly inaccurate and I think they must have missed a nought off … or it was another of the younger brother’s pranks.
I arrived and was very warmly greeted by the younger brother. He was in the process of putting a caged Magpie with roughly chopped tail-feathers on top of the concrete pillar of a fountain on the verge. Then he went back inside and put a cage of snails to graze on the grass at the roadside. He was small with a pronounced hairlip and he tended to dance like an excited pixie rather than walk. His elder brother came out of the house and began the usual registration details. He showed me to a pleasant room with just two sets of bunk beds and it’s own bathroom. Elder brother did a bit of serious huffing and puffing over the fact that the pillow cases hadn’t been changed and there was no loo roll, which made younger brother roll about laughing – literally – before skipping off to get them.
“Senora,” elder brother said gracefully when little brother returned, “we are full tonight and there will be all women in here, no big man snores tonight!” It sounded good to me.
Although I was early, the water was stone cold so I went to explore the village instead. When I returned there was a lady from Quebec on the other lower bunk and two guys from the Check Republic on the top bunks. It didn’t bother me, but elder brother was having a total fit on younger brother, which had absolutely no effect except on elder brother’s blood pressure. These episodes went on throughout the whole afternoon.
Although dinner wasn’t until 7, everyone bar gathered in the dining room/bar to try and find some heat. A couple of ladies from Bonn asked younger brother if it was possible to put on some kind of heating. “Of course!” He said, with a deep – and worrying – bow to them. He returned with an enormous contraption which he plugged in with glee and then left the room as we all praised him.
Ten minutes later elder brother came storming out of the kitchen, saw the heater and attempted to rein in his anger in front of the crowd of guests. “I’m so sorry, my brother knows that plugging a heater in here knocks out all the electric in the kitchen. It’s either the heater, or dinner,” he said taking it away with a florish.
We could see through the windows that many pilgrims were still being told to walk on. The next place with beds was Burgos, 14.6kms away. On the forum last night there was a piece saying that 1,000 pilgrim credentials had been handed out everyday last week! Over 7,000 fresh pilgrims in a week! The only time this had happened for one straight week before was for a single week in July 2016.
My donkey was still kicking my back and I was feeling pretty nauseous. I managed the soup but refused the chicken and chips. “Aha” younger brother piped up, “you’re a vegetarian, I will make my brother cook you an omelette.”
“Please don’t I would prefer to just have the salad.”
“No, you don’t understand, I WANT to tell him to do it…” and off he skipped.
I tried soooo hard with that blasted omelette and chips but there was no way it was going down and I gave up after a third.
“Look!” Said younger brother to elder brother, “I told you your cooking was shit!” I was quietly dying and trying to explain diplomatically how exquisite the uneaten omelette was. Elder brother was being the perfect gentleman and asking if there was anything else he could get me, while younger brother was dancing about the dining room inviting everyone else to tell his brother what shite his cooking was! Manic, but afterwards, hilarious, although the cooking was excellent.
The other thing that made it a “dying” meal was when a miner from Lancashire got onto the subject of Brexit. He hadn’t lived in the UK for 13 years and was working in the gold mines in Australia. He was already telling the pleasant ladies from Bonn, with manicured smiles, how dangerous his job was and how much money he made. He also ranted against the Australian government for making his visa increasingly difficult so that he might not be able to stay on there.
Then the lovely ladies from Bonn turned their angelic faces towards me. We had already talked about Mallorca’s beautiful Tramuntana mountains where they had also hiked.
“The Brexit vote, is difficult for you?”
“It’s certainly highly embarrassing, I feel as if people must view anyone with a British passport whom they don’t know as a probably racist.”
“What a load of fucking horseshit,” came from my left side, as the Bonn smiles began to slip a bit.
“My county voted 90 per cent in favor, and they’re totally right! In all this time, what ‘as the EU done for Lancashire mining …_”
I was stuffing the words to Monty Python’s “What ‘ave the Romans ever done for us …” as hard as I could. I couldn’t be the cause of a fresh incident!
“Fuck all!” He said, as the room went silent. After a couple of minutes of diligent eating by everyone else he piped up again. “Isn’t it awful when you’re sat round a table and nobody’s got anything to say for themselves, let me tell you about the Greek chick I picked up…”
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