Thursday, 9 May 2019
Wednesday, 8 May 2019
Buffeted by the wind
Blown from side to side
I barely stay upright against the gale
Stands of poplars bend
In the woodland ride
And all the shrubs and bushes madly flail.
Never have I known a wind such as this, not even when facing a westerly on the coast of Western Australia.
It began as a cold wet wind, too strong for rain although it spattered a few drops from time to time. It was blowing across my path, threatening to push cyclists off the road, and me into traffic as I crossed an overpass over the motorway.
I ate my second breakfast at Reliegos, 13 kilometres from El Burgo Ranero.
Then the wind turned and strengthened. Dust blew across the path. Poplars leaned over, poppies bobbed, and the ubiquitous Dyer’s Woad shook itself like a mad thing. I hung onto the chin strap of my Tilley, for if the wind had snatched it, I would never have seen it again. Never have I been so buffeted and pummelled and shaken by the wind. It was fierce, it was brutal, it was savage. Walking against it was like a stiff climb. I arrived at Mansilla de las Mulas, decided there were too many people there, so walked on to Puente de Villarente. I am exhausted.
Last night the albergue filled up in the afternoon. In the evening, windows closed, the air became warm and muggy, and the woman next to me coughed and breathed out contagion throughout the night. How many of us will get sick over the next few days?
After that experience, I was wary of finding myself in a similar predicament tonight. I checked out the first albergue, and almost stayed, for there was only one person there. But it was a gloomy place. I pushed on and found the Albergue San Pelayo, a large ranch-like building with lots of room to sit down and relax. I am alone in a twelve-bed dorm. Excellent meal. Tomorrow, it is only a short hop into Leon, where I have booked a hotel.
Tuesday, 7 May 2019
On letting people know that you’re on the loo when you can’t close the door (third and final version)
I am in the loo-oo-oo, I can’t close the door
I pray you do not enter, that I would abhor.
I know you must be anxious, not to get caught short
I am trying har-ar-ar-ard, doing what I ought.
This is why I’m si-i-i-inging, so you know I’m here,
Give me five more minutes, then I’ll disappear.
I know the door is o-open, but you can’t come in,
I am on the loo-oo, yes I am within.
I know it must be tiresome, listening to my strain,
Give me five more mi-in-inutes, I’ll not come again.
This is why I’m si-i-i-inging, so you know I’m here,
Give me five more minutes, then I’ll disappear.
(To the tune of Onward Christian Soldiers)
Agnostic though I am, I’m grateful for my Christian exposure, a little from my school, but more from a local church where I was dragged one Sunday by a friend. There was nothing remotely unpleasant about it. No forced conversion, no indoctrination, no threats of hell and damnation, just freedom to make up my own mind. And to make friends.
I loved the hymns, and they still ring in my head to this day. I doubt if any churches still sing Onward Christian Soldiers: it’s hardly politically correct. Strangely, I got to sing it recently with a male voice choir which used to assist at a Remembrance Day ceremony. It was one of the hymns the vets liked: a good marching tune. Although they probably sang “Lloyd George knew my father” to the hymn tune.
The Albergue de peregrinos de la Santa Cruz was very comfortable. In the dorm it was 5€; I shared a double room for 10€.
Dinner was included, although we all had to make a contribution. I brought a bottle of Rioja. At the table, one end was English speaking, the other, French. This Camino Frances remains an appropriate name for this Camino.
A brother or priest gave a very tasteful blessing. You could be a cynical atheist and still feel welcome here. He tied the Camino in very nicely with the text, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.”
Such a variety of people walk this Camino.
I had a conversation with a South Korean, of whom there are many on the Camino, without understanding a word she said. However, I must’ve made the right responses because she later came and shook my hand and wished me Buen Camino.
I met a very flustered Scottish woman who had just removed herself from another albergue and was complaining bitterly about it. She walked around muttering to herself and anyone else who would listen.
Pasco, my roommate, was a very intense Frenchman. He assured me that his hometown, Troyes, was the tenth most visited town by tourists in France. I imagined a list of the other nine. Paris, of course, Lyon, Montpelier, Toulouse, Bordeaux, Chartres, perhaps, for the cathedral, Bayeux, for the tapestry... Pascal was camping along the way, but the site was closed in Sahagún. He would average 39 kms a day. He was off by seven.
Paul, a volunteer hospitalero, was most helpful. He was a rather nervous Englishman who complemented his speech with dramatic gestures and bodily contortions. He was torn. He would follow me to engage in conversation while apologizing for having to stay at his desk to work. And overworked he was. He welcomed pilgrims during the day, helped with the evening meal, and was up for breakfast at seven.
In the morning. it was more than a trickle; rather a drib-and-drabble, knots of pilgrims leaving at intervals. This the time to walk the Camino Frances, early in the season, when the albergues still have plenty of room. Ours was exactly half full.
I crossed an old bridge, and walked along a path beside the road, all the way to my destination. It was a pilgrims’ way, complete with recreational areas for picnics and wooden benches for the weary. Very different from my last trek along here when I’m sure we walked along the edge of the road.
At a bar at Bercianos Del Real Camino, ten kilometres on, I ran into Hans and Doris, the German couple. They told me that Albert the Dutchman had seen me yesterday heading off in the wrong direction and had yelled after me, but to no avail. Oh that I had been wearing my hearing aids!
It was not hard to imagine who was the most hated person in this town. There were several albergues in Bercianos Del Real Camino, situated in the original buildings. Many an old building has been saved in a Camino town, refurbished and put to good use as an albergue. Here they were competing for trade in a respectful manner when suddenly an upstart arrives, buys some land just before the town, for surely the town council wouldn’t give a building permit, and builds a slick modern albergue. The nerve! Enough to start the Albergue Wars.
I walked on another seven kilometres to El Burgo Ranero, where I found a bed in the Albergue La Laguna for nine euros. Not quite the same value as last night. More a commercial operation. But the proprietor was honest. He came to find me later because I’d left a euro in change on the reception counter.
A lazy day, but the weather was changing. I took advantage of a fierce wind to dry my washing. Rain is forecast for tomorrow.
Monday, 6 May 2019
Lines composed while walking along an irrigation ditch
I walked along an irrigation ditch,
For such it was, Indeed no more, but which
Some would give a grander name, to whit
A canal. A gross misnomer, for each bit
Was choked with reeds and rushes, even trees,
No water flowed in channels such as these.
A muddy pool, a puddle, stretch of slime
To thee, O ditch, I dedicate this rhyme.
They were the most hospitable hosts I have ever met, genuinely concerned for the pilgrims’ welfare. Food was simple but good. We began each meal with a rhythmical grace, involving a chant, much banging on the table, and clapping of hands. I didn’t know the words but my rhythm was good.
There were five of us: the German couple Hans and Doris, Albert the Dutchman, and I. Albert is something of a polyglot. He spoke Spanish to the hosts, German to the couple, and English to me
I set out for Sahagun, 19 kilometres away. The hospitalero had said it was an easy walk: across the fields, along the canal, and across the fields again. Remembering my canal walking of a couple of days ago, I was looking forward to doing some more of it.
It was cool as I walked out of town. I have learned to tell the temperature by the state of my fingers. It was 3°.
I crossed the field and arrived at the near ghost town of Arenillas de Valderaduey, where I admired the beautiful apse of the church. Then I crossed a ditch, and headed out once more across a field. After a while, worried by the absence of arrows, I retraced my steps and found that I had missed a sign. It directed me along the irrigation ditch, the canal.
One of the reasons I write this blog is that it occupies my thoughts as I walk across the plain. I dictate them into the notes app on my phone. The composition of doggerel can carry me over many a kilometre. The other day I composed a poem as I walked along, dictating it line by line. The larks were singing, the muse was soaring. Three stanzas, a real gem. But later, when I went to retrieve the poem, it was gone. Somehow I had touched the undo button on the screen. That was the one that would’ve made it into the Oxford Book of English verse. I felt like Coleridge, but without the opium hangover. An unfortunate bit of pocket dialing! Now I try to remember to touch the done button at the top of the screen after each dictation.
I walked beside the ditch for seven or eight kilometres, passed under the railway line, crossed the bridge over the canal, and then followed a gravel road towards Sahagun in the distance.
But the Camino was not finished with me yet. Sahagun wasone of those towns that seems to get further away as you approach. But finally, I arrived at the junction with the Camino Frances. The end! But I have a few days left, and will walk on to Leon, 55 kilometres away.
The town is not overrun with pilgrims, as I had feared. As I sit here, in the early evening, enjoying a beer in a bar on the pilgrim way, they appear, strolling, rolling, limping, staggering, many with the pilgrim’s gait after a shower, a kind of rolling like an old sea captain on dry land. Bult it’s a trickle, not a stream, or the river it will become closer to Santiago. I watch one now, walking slowly, but not in a straight line, still with pack on back so he hasn’t found an albergue. To arrive this late, if he left in the morning, he must have walked 40 kilometres or more.
I am staying in the Albergue de peregrinos de la Santa Cruz, formerly run by nuns, but now by volunteers. It’s in a fine 18th century brick building, a block long. My roommate, Pascale, walks 40 kilometres a day. I won’t see him again.
The wooden pillar stood outside the church
Bearing up the heavy beam above
Faded were the carvings on the face
Of what was once a humble work of love.
Weathered by the heavy wrack of time.
Of its design mere traces do remain.
What once was first a testament to God
Is now eroded by the wind and rain
Saintt or sinner? What story did it tell
To faithful folk assembled down below?
No matter now. They all have gone
The artist, and the world he tried to show.
It was bitterly cold this morning as I walked the five kilometres to Villanon de Campos for breakfast. The sun just above the horizon, the wind biting my fingers, I followed a footpath-cum-bicycle path, once a major road for it was raised above the fields, but was now lined with trees and the occasional iris, and provided with benches for people to sit and enjoy the bird life.
I had breakfast at the Bar Restaurant Camas, well, coffee and a couple of sweet horribles. It was there that I encountered one of the most idiosyncratic loos I have ever experienced. Entering through the door marked Servicios at the back of the bar, I stumbled in the dark down a couple of steps, lucky not to have broken my leg, and careered into the Gents. I pressed the dreaded timed switch, and sat down. I fixed my eyes on it, ready to press it again, when it timed out. But it flashed on and off at intervals, then gave up altogether. I tried the switch again. Same thing. Bit like doing number twos under slow-motion strobe lighting. And the toilet was a leaner. You know what I mean? As I leaned over, it leaned with me, somehow maintaining its seal with the sewer pipe beneath. I completed what the French would call une grosse commission, left the toilet on an even keel, minded the step, and returned to the bar. To be fair, on looking back at the door on the way out, I noticed an Attention Steps sign.
(On a pedantic note, notice that I careered into the Gents. I did not careen. The latter verb means to beach a ship to repair the hull, as Captain Cook did on the coast of northern Queensland. “Shut up, you reactionary old pedagogue,” I hear you say. Sorry, the misuse of careen, and other words like fulsome, which doesn’t mean full, and disinterested, which doesn’t mean uninterested, really bothers me. Yes, I know, commomon misusage eventually becomes common usage, but when that happens the English language suffers a little loss.)
I set out for the town of Santervás de Campos, 16 kilometres across the fields. The wind howled about my ears, threatening to pluck my Tilley from my head.
I entered the hamlet of Fontinoyuelo, a sad place, where a few houses were in good repair, but many were in ruins or heading that way. I passed a playground, overgrown with weeds, silent forever to the sound of children’s voices. I sat down on a bench in front of a church and ate my bread and cheese.
Part of the church had been repaired, the front stuccoed, and new rafters were holding up the roof above the porch. But it was a losing battle. Bricks were falling, leaving holes in the walls of the church. I was particularly struck by a weathered post still displaying the trace of original carvings.
I walked on, not far now, along a slightly more undulating track leading to the little town of Santervás de Campos.
As I walked in the door of the albergue, a woman cried, “Peregrino,” and a man, “We eat at half past two. It was a nice welcome!
Later, a woman appeared and told us were having a tour of the museum and church. This town was the home of Ponce de Leon, the Spanish navigator who first set foot on the continent of America. The museum was excellent for a small town. The church was a mix of styles, but the Romanesque apse was particularly fine. There were two statues of Christ, one from the 12th, the other from the 16th century. The latter was the typical crucified Christ, head forward, bleeding, suffering, not suitable for children, symbol of the joyless Church which prevailed in recent centuries. But the 12th century statue was of Christ alive on the cross, presenting a different message to the faithful.
Saturday, 4 May 2019
On letting people know that you’re on the loo when you can’t close the door (second version)
All you who wait out in the hall
Must know I’m on the loo.
My plaintive voice must tell you all
That I do spend a sou.
(To the tune of O God Our Help in Ages Past)
Rach got lost yesterday as she made her way back to Madrid. She was planning to walk back to Simancas to catch a bus to Valladolid in time for her train. But it’s not easy following the arrows backwards; you need eyes in the back of your head, and Rach doesn’t have them. After wandering in the wilderness for a while she returned to Penaflor de Hornija. She sought the help of the wonderful Gonzales at the El Bar Hornija, where the good food is served. Gonzales’ girlfriend drove Rach back to Valladolid in time for her train.
After a quick breakfast in the centre of town at Medina de Rioseco, I walked for eight kilometres along the bank of the Canal Castilla. It was a delight. Sunny but cool: my numb fingers told me it was only two or three degrees. But oh, so calm and peaceful.
Three long low warehouses lined one side of the canal at its beginning, suggesting it was once a very important transport route. Magnificent buildings!
What do canals and discontinued railway lines have in common? They are flat, and a joy to walk along.
Happily, the canal was lined with poplars, not plain trees. On the Canal du Midi the plain trees are dying, stricken by a curious malady that seems to be transmitted by the water flowing along the canal.
About eight kilometres on, I arrived at a bridge next to an old mill. A leet (how often do I get to use that word?) ran underneath the mill, fed by a pond formed by a widening of the canal. I crossed the bridge and walked towards Tamariz de Campos. Here there was supposed to be a friendly bar, when it was open. It wasn’t.
Just after the town the guide suggested several options, including a direct but unofficial route along the road. Surprisingly, this was the route indicated by the arrows, so I walked along the highway for eight kilometres to Cuenca de Campos.
The field to one side stretched as far as the eye could see. Newly cut hay indicated that this land was used for producing animal feed. On the other side I noticed splashes of water rising in different parts of the field. Sprinklers were fed by pumps on tractor trailers drawing water from a network of pipes obviously coming from the canal. After the ground was soaked, a tractor would draw the pump to the next location. The motors driving the pumps would be running all day long.
In the grand scheme to end the raising of animals for food, these fields would be planted with trees, for this was a wasteful consumption of water and fuel. But every farmer who passed me by gave me a friendly wave. They enjoyed farming this land.
Part of a tower and a wall were all that remained of a ruined church, but the storks were happy to make their nests on the top of the tower
A tractor passed me by, and the make reminded me of an old joke, attributed by my daughter to one of her teachers, about the man whose wife left him for a tractor salesman and sent him a John Deere letter.
I had a mixed salad at the restaurant, and checked into the albergue, the upper floor of a palatial municipal building, shared by an elderly German couple and me. I haven’t seen Albert the Dutchman today, but Rachel the Brit stayed here last night.
Friday, 3 May 2019
I’m on the loo, but can not close the door,
So please be patient, just five minutes more.
That’s why I’m singing, more or less in tune
And I’ll be out of here, very soon
(to the tune of Abide with Me)
It was a very comfortable albergue: three rooms with four bunks each, a heater in each room, and a wifi that didn’t work. Only one bathroom, with a toilet and shower. Bit of a problem here: the bathroom door wouldn’t close; in fact, it wouldn’t even stay ajar, but would swing wide open. Not really a problem with just three of us, Rach and I and Albert the Dutchman. We had to sing on the loo to let the others know it was occupied, but with a dozen people and one bathroom with an open door, that would be difficult.
Rach and I parted company this morning: she to walk back to Simancas to catch a bus into Valladolid for a four o’clock train to Madrid. It was a sad farewell: I could not have asked for better company.
I walked out of the the town down a long ramp, circled round a little, then doubled back for a long climb out of the hollow.
Back on the meseta, I walked long the edge of a field of wind turbines, all of them turning lazily except two together who were stubbornly still. They looked oddly petulant. Perhaps the others were stealing their wind.
After five kilometres, I passed through a wood, by a pig farm, then back onto the fields. And then, at ten, I walked into Castromonte, past a magnificent nineteen thirties school which had become the albergue, and into the bar for my first coffee. Albert the Dutchman arrived while I was there.
As I left Castromonte a sign on the highway indicated that my destination was only 13 km away but the arrows led me off the highway. What a pleasant diversion beside a brook! But then back to the meseta.
As I walked on I thought about the discussions Rach and I had enjoyed along the way. Rich is a vegan, for ethical reasons, mainly. She doesn’t believe in the exploitation of animals, and she understands their environmental impact through their production of toxic gases and the growing of crops for their food. Stop eating animals and save the planet!
She is right, of course. If the land on either side of me and elsewhere in the world that is given over to the production of animal food were planted instead with trees, then we would reduce the production of methane and carbon dioxide enough to reverse climate change.
But what to do about all the people that would no longer have a livelihood? People that don’t have a meaningful purpose in life don’t care about saving the planet. Jobs, jobs, jobs! It really is the most important thing.
As I pondered upon this, a fellow driving a tractor approached, slowed down, and opened his door to speak to me. He must have noticed me grunting and sweating under my weary load and wanted to encourage me.
“Only two kilometres to Valverde de Campos,”, he said, “where there’s a bar, and seven kilometres to Medina de Rioseco, where there’s an albergue.” He was a happy fellow. But take away his livelihood, and he might drive his tractor at me.
Or as a disgruntled Brexiter put it recently, “I may have voted for disaster, but at least those bastards in London are going down with me.”
I walked into Valverde de Campos and ate my lunch on a bench outside the church. And then it was an easy five kilometres to Medina Rioseco where I found a bed at the Albergue Convente de Sara Clara.