I’m very pleased to announce that I’ve had a story published today over at Enchanted Conversations. If you haven’t come across it before, the site is an utter delight – a treasure trove of stories new and old, essays, poems, and other material related to fairy tales.
Wings Over The Plain is a story that was inspired by the Camino de Santiago – specifically, the long drag of the Camino Frances across the meseta, the plain that forms much of the province of Castilla y Leon. It’s inspired by the landscape, and the skyscape, the longstanding association of the Camino with the Milky Way. But most of all it’s inspired by the storks who build their nests on any elevated corner they can find and who, for me at least, were one of the loveliest sights of a lovely journey.
Winter is harsh out on the high, broad, plain of Castile. There’s nothing to stop the wind: it blows in cold from the sea, and becomes colder still as it crosses the mountains. Sometimes it brings snow; sometimes it just sweeps bitingly around every hunched tree and huddled building, and the people get through the winter as best they can. And on those long, cold, nights, the sky breaks into stars, more of them than you could count, brighter than you can imagine, showing a westward path that only the very devout or the very foolish follow at this time of year…
that’s the way of it: you meet them
over and over, evenings, lunchtimes,
along the road,
at cafés, fountains, benches,
along the road,
you meet them, wish them well,
you move on
or they move on
along the road
you meet them, over and over,
along the road,
along the road,
you move on
or they move on
along the road,
you don’t know
the last time you meet them
was the last time you met them
along the road
At the end of Monday I was still not famous. On Tuesday morning we had a train to catch, so didn’t check. We ate breakfast in the café in the station, and then boarded a train headed eastwards. It trundled along at 80km/h for the first couple of hours, then slowed and crept along the sides of steep wooded valleys, following a river. Then it went through Astorga and out onto the meseta, and I sat watching intently out of the window for landmarks I might have seen ten years before, walking the other way. I couldn’t swear to any particular landmark, but I saw some storks’ nests for certain, and was glad.
We came out into Palencia in the early afternoon, and found intense heat, and pale stone buildings, and a park with a retired steamroller mounted in it, and old men sitting on benches. ‘This is what Spain is meant to be like,’ John said, not entirely joking.
It was siesta hour. I’d been the one to resort to Booking.com this time, and had found us a room in a rather quiet, tired, hotel. We found it and checked in – and found the wi-fi.
Now, it turned out, I was famous. The Society of Authors had put out a press release, and I learned that I was the first ever self-published author to be shortlisted for the Betty Trask Prize. I had emails, Twitter notifications. I sent text messages to my parents, linked the story on Facebook and my blog, and watched the notifications roll in for a bit.
Then we went out to look at the cathedral.
Palencia immediately went to the top of my ‘favourite Spanish cathedrals’ list, knocking Burgos down into second place. It was cool and quiet, with far more stained glass than any other I’d visited, beautiful ceilings, and an actual sensible system for keeping the frivolous out of the way of the devout (or vice versa) – separate doors, sending the latter to a chapel right in the middle of of the cathedral, rather than shoved in a (tiny) chapel opposite the main doors as an embarrassment, as at St Paul’s in London. We came in as tourists, and didn’t have to pay because it was a Tuesday. For us, too, there was huge, silent space, and brightness through high windows.
In the evening we ate at a table under a canopy in the square, with too-sweet white Rioja (which I suppose I should have expected, with a name like ‘Diamante’), and liqueurs on the house, and talked about how to spend my winnings. ‘If I win the whole thing,’ I said, ‘I’ll go to Brazil, and if I don’t, I’ll go InterRailing.’
17 May 2017
The next morning was cloudy and considerably cooler. We explored some more of the city, looking at an exhibition about the Spanish air force, walking by the river, going into normal shops (I came away with pyrite beads and owl-shaped ceramic beads; John, with a fidget spinner), drinking coffee and watching storks in their nests on the corners of church belfries.
Afterwards, we sat in the cafeteria in Palencia station watching the rain and waiting for our train. The incoming train from A Coruña and Santiago got later and later, and we became increasingly thankful that we hadn’t attempted to do the whole journey in one day. Eventually our train to Santander turned up and the Coruña train still hadn’t come, and we felt very thankful indeed.
The Santander train was much quicker, of course; it was a much shorter journey. A documentary about Coco Chanel was being shown on the screens overhead. I was quite interested, but the file had some glitch that kept sending it back to the beginning.
Once more in Santander, we returned to Café Royalty for a quick supper before boarding the Pont Aven and investigating all its questionable delights: the duty-free shop, the bars, and the cinemas. The choice of films was, of course, fairly limited: the choice that evening was between the live-action Beauty and the Beast and some action movie I now forget. John and I, possibly compensating for our television-deprived childhood, went for the Disney, and, at the appointed hour, we duly filed into our seats.
Then somebody said my name. ‘Kathleen?’
It turned out to be Father Paul, who had been the Catholic chaplain at my university, and who was walking the Camino del Norte in stages. I introduced John. We attempted to catch up on ten years worth of life and several hundred miles of walking in three minutes before the film started, which didn’t really work.
He was not interested in Beauty and the Beast, though, so he withdrew to the other cinema to watch the action movie. John and I quite enjoyed Beauty and the Beast, and then went to bed.
18 May 2017
I got up earlier than I needed to in order to see the tip of Brittany as the ship passed close in to the shore; but it was good to have the sea to myself for a couple of hours; well, me and the woman hoovering the carpet in the bar, and the rep from the whale charity, and a few other early risers. It was a big ship. John appeared somewhere between ten and eleven and was still in time to see France pass by.
I couldn’t get onto the internet, which was probably good for my peace of mind. I read Madensky Square (acquired from the duty free shop) instead, just sitting there with the sea outside the window and a book and a cup of coffee and no work that I could practicably do. There would be plenty of it when I got back to dry land.
When I packed Four Quartets, I’d expected ‘Little Gidding’ to be the one that had the most to say to me, to be thinking about roses and yew trees and the end of all our exploring. And yet, from the fog-choked eucalyptus of the FEVE, to here, taking the voyage of ten days ago in reverse, my identity as a writer rewritten, it had been ‘The Dry Salvages’ all the way:
You are not those who saw the harbour
Receding, or those who will disembark.
Here between the hither and the farther shore
While time is withdrawn, consider the future
And the past with an equal mind.
The last day of the Camino Inglés: Sigüeiro to Santiago. It was a pleasant enough day’s walk, especially in the early stages: a cuckoo in the woods above Sigüeiro; gentle slopes; gentle sunshine.
Sixteen kilometres according to the book, but the yellow arrows departed from the book at a left turn (book)/right turn (arrows).
We followed the arrows.
The diversion (if such it was) was tedious: it took us through a bus stop and along a very wet and muddy path, though fortunately not so wet that it got through my boots. The worst thing about it was the fact that there were no waymarkings, so I was constantly worrying that we’d got ourselves lost. The sign for Hotel Castro was a real relief, and the coffee was as welcome as the assurance that yes, we were indeed still on the Camino Inglés, but we then spent much time discussing whether it was a change to the route, a reversion to a previous route, or a scam by the Hotel Castro to drum up more trade. (They got €2 out of us for coffee. I suppose it adds up.) Hotel Castro had set up an ‘enchanted forest’: it was a silhouette of a witch on a white umbrella. It was a little bit underwhelming.
We worked our way gradually downhill into the suburbs of Santiago, getting hotter all the while. Actually it wasn’t so bad as it could have been: the arrows had rejoined the guidebook, so at least we were no longer worrying about being led astray.
On the Camino Inglés the cathedral creeps into view gradually: you see the tops of the spires peeping out above the rooftops, and only if you know what to look for. We knew.
And we found the way there with no trouble at all, but there was no obvious way in: the front was covered in scaffolding.
We went to the pilgrim office instead, and found a massive queue. John recommends going in November. I recommend going ten years ago. Still, we got our compostelas and went to find lunch – after which I felt much happier.
John booked a hotel via Booking.com, and I felt happier still. We then wandered around most of the old town trying to find it, and eventually had to ask in a tat shop, by which time I was feeling thoroughly sick of Santiago and all the people in it.
A feeling which, I regret to say, persisted on and off all through that Sunday and Monday. There were moments, but really it was such a shock after the quiet of the Camino Inglés, and it has become such a tourist/pilgrim trap even compared to the last time I did it…
Which I knew. This is why we chose the Camino Inglés. It just hadn’t occurred to me that Santiago was bound to be packed, regardless of where we started.
Getting away from the old town helped quite a lot. We found another fairground, and ate chips from a booth and looked at second hand bookstalls.
I dragged John to the pilgrim mass on Sunday evening – in Spanish; if one has to feel that one’s a heretic, it’s less galling in a foreign language – though we had to stand through an interminable sermon (and they take the trouble to remind you in English that heretics can’t receive communion). After that we picked a pleasant bar and had a drink. Tapas appeared, in the form of an empanada. We shared it: I had the tuna, and John the bread.
15 May 2017
We went back to the cathedral early on Monday morning and it was quite a lot better. I was brave enough to give Saint James a proper hug this time, as opposed to the gingerly pat on the shoulder I managed in 2007, and I found that there was a sense of holiness around the crypt, never mind the fact that I don’t believe that his earthly remains are there, no matter that I don’t believe his matter matters any more.
On Monday we went around the cathedral museum, and sprung for the tour of the roof as well. And this was worth doing, for the views over the city rooftops and for the nooks and crannies that one never normally sees. We were also charmed to find in the museum an altarpiece given to Santiago in the late fifteenth century by a man named John Goodyear from ‘Chal, Isla de Wight’ – or, as we know it, Chale, a couple of miles down the road from where our parents live.
We also returned to the café next to our hotel several times during the course of the day, so that I could get into wi-fi range and see whether I was famous yet. Because this was the day that the Society of Authors was meant to be announcing the Betty Trask shortlist, and this would mean that I was finally able to tell somebody other than John.
I was not famous yet. We walked down to the station to buy tickets to Palencia (€26 apiece, which wasn’t bad at all), and spent the rest of the day writing postcards, drinking coffee, returning to wi-fi range to check Twitter again, and going rather overboard in the souvenir shops. (A cycle jersey for John, an extravagant selection of sew-on patches for my camp blanket, and a model horreo for our father to put next his model railway. And more postcards.)
Then, on John’s suggestion, we went to a bar that the internet said would have live music, except instead it had stand-up comedy in Galician, possibly being rude about pilgrims. It was difficult to tell, for obvious reasons. Though stand-up comedy in Castilian would have been just as unintelligible to us. There was live music, in the form of a couple of cor anglais solos. Also a musical box, though that was part of a card trick.
When I went to bed I was still not famous.
Next time: we like Palencia a lot, and then go home. And I get my fifteen minutes of fame.
The next day’s stage was much less ridiculous. My boots were still wet – of course – when I put them on, and my blisters were still present. All the Compeed was the wrong size, so I’d had to fasten it down with standard Elastoplast over the top. But the profile of the day’s route was considerably flatter.
The weather started out rather lovely, a moody sunrise, though with something of a headwind even then. The first hour’s walk took us through a village with an impressive array of sculptures. One was a huge stone Santiago – it wasn’t the four metres that the guidebook claimed, but it was still pretty imposing. Others were huge dinosaurs, or made from reclaimed farm equipment, and were just plain bizarre. We couldn’t linger and take many photographs, however, because our presence seemed to be upsetting the village dogs. Or so we thought at first. After a little while we decided that perhaps they were more interested in barking at each other than at us.
There was off-again on-again mizzly rain through the first few kilometres, then a proper downpour after we’d stopped in A Rúa for our first cup of coffee. We promptly ordered a second…
After that it drizzled a bit harder, and I put my waterproof on, and got Diamonds On The Soles Of Her Shoes stuck in my head. I observed that this wasn’t necessarily a desirable state of affairs, because surely the diamonds would wear through the soles and start digging into the feet? These and other pointless conversations got us to the bar O Cruceiro (the book said that Carolina, the owner, speaks English; she does, and with an English accent) and had the first and last boccadillos of this Camino.
We were perhaps five hundred metres down the road when the rain really started coming down. I attempted to explain to John why it is funny that Stephen Fry elected to name one of the characters in his The Stars’ Tennis Balls ‘Portia’… Because the equivalent character in the original is called Mercédès, that’s why… Maybe you had to be there.
It rained steadily and hard for about an hour and a half, or however long it took us to go five kilometres. Maybe it wasn’t as long as an hour and a half. Anyway, my boots soaked through to my socks and my waterproof soaked through to my T-shirt, and I was going to have to wear at least some of it again the next day.
The rain let up at long last, but the wind kept on going. We slogged down a very broad, straight, forest track that felt like it went on forever. That’s the thing with a straight road: unless you’re travelling very fast, it seems as if you’re not making any progress at all. On a twisty turny one you do at least get frequent changes of scenery.
This scenery changed after about four kilometres, and we sat down in yet another handy bus shelter and watched the wind ruffling the crops in the field opposite. Having recovered our spirits, we plodded on into Sigüeiro, around the edge of an industrial estate and then through a pleasant park.
On the way out of the park we passed several fairground stands and marquees. One seemed to be a beer tent; our Spanish pilgrim friends waved as we passed by. There was obviously some sort of local festival or fête going on, which we weren’t quite in the mood to appreciate. We booked in at the first albergue instead. And when I say ‘booked in’ I mean ‘walked in and had a bit of a sit down until someone turned up’. We didn’t mind. It was a very nice albergue.
The sun and wind coming into Sigüeiro had gone some way to dry everything off again, but I still felt pretty clammy and horrible, and once I’d had a shower and John had worked out the tumble dryer I retired to my bunk dressed in pants, trousers, sports bra and fleece and read Four Quartets until I’d warmed up a bit.
We went out into Sigüeiro to have a look at the fair and get some food. The fair was mostly shutting up for the evening, so, after wandering up and down the row of stands, we moved on to the ‘food’ part. For reasons that I now can’t remember, we settled on a pizza place.
It was at this point that my Spanish failed. I’d been doing most of the talking all the way along, and my skills had improved along with my confidence. But at this point I was tired and hungry and I absolutely could not remember the Spanish for ‘four’ – which made ordering a four cheese pizza a little difficult. So John did it, and it was fine, and there was pizza.
Then we decided that, since we were in a town, we might as well go out for a drink. We fixed on an establishment named ‘Folk Cervexeria’, which was not at all folky; it had Beatles and Queen memorabilia all over the place. It also had a slightly odd atmosphere. We stayed for one drink and then retired to the albergue.
In the morning we were the last out of the albergue, for no particular reason beyond the obvious, that everyone else had got up and dressed and breakfasted before us. My boots were still a bit damp, though two pairs of clean, dry, socks disguised that fact.
We were both rather daunted by the prospect of this day. We knew from the book that it was long, it was steep, and that there were very few places to stop. There was nothing; then there was Bar Julia, which might or might not be open; then there was a long, long climb up to the highest point of the Camino Inglés.
Still, there was nothing to do but to set out and start walking. The path went downhill for a little, and then uphill quite a lot. While the day was not particularly warm, the air was humid, and I found it difficult to breathe. From time to time it got its act together sufficiently to become real rain. Once again, we were dodging the motorway – though at least there was a rainbow over it at one point.
After that it was road walking, which was hard on the feet. At Cos, we caught up with the Italian pilgrim from Betanzos; we greeted him with a wave. Then we sat down in a bus shelter, ate a large packet of crisps between us, and he got ahead of us again.
At Presedo, twelve kilometres in, we were both thoroughly fed up with the whole thing, though wouldn’t have admitted it for anything. Presedo had an albergue, according to the guidebook, so we hoped that it might have a bar, too. The book did not mention a bar, but all the same we left the path and went down into the village. No luck. We returned to the path and set our faces to Bar Julia.
Sometimes, when you have resigned yourself to the idea that something is going to be awful and you are just going to have to get through it, something surprising and welcome pops up in the middle of it and makes it all considerably less awful. We’d known that the day was going to be twenty-nine kilometres of horrible gradients. We’d accepted the possibility that Bar Julia would be closed and, now that there had proved to be no bar in Presedo, we were resigned to the fact that we were going to have to go all the way to Hospital de Bruma with only such breaks as we could contrive for ourselves.
And then we saw a sign. Red. Meson O Museo on the right in one hundred metres.
We would have been glad to see it even had it been a fuggy little hole jammed with hostile dogs and more hostile locals. But it was wonderful. A shady courtyard with plenty of chairs and tables, an elegant but friendly cat sniffing her way around our rucksacks, a lovely woman behind the bar, a baby in a highchair, and a charming medieval theme. The Spanish trio had already found it, and seemed just as pleased with it as we were.
We got pop to cool us down, and then coffee to perk us up, and got our credenciales stamped, and I glanced at the contents of a glass case that made a tiny museum. It was a lovely place, all the more so because we hadn’t been expecting it at all, and after a couple of minutes there we were able to admit to each other what a relief it had been to find it.
After that the prospect of the rest of the day seemed less daunting, although the damp was slowly seeping from my boots through the double layer of my socks…
The way led us through a little wooded dip, and out and up again between paddocks. A little row of houses stood on the ridge. One of the inhabitants was waiting for us. What language did we speak? English. No good. She spoke Italian or German, but not English. We went for Spanish, and it was in that language that she offered us our pick from a basket of hard-boiled eggs. It was with some difficulty that we came away with as few as three…
We walked on another hour or so, through farmland and woodland. When we came across a children’s playground with a picnic table, I suggested that we stop for lunch, on the grounds that there might not be another spot as good. John agreed, a little reluctantly. We divvied up bread and cheese, and I took boot and socks off to find that what I thought might be a blister was indeed one. I applied Compeed, ruining a couple before I was satisfied with the way it lay.
After that there wasn’t much to do but push on. So we did.
The rain came once more without warning, sudden and drenching. We hastened to put on waterproofs, but we were already wet.
A few hundred yards further on, we found Bar Julia. Open.
If we’d been only a few minutes earlier we’d have stopped and waited out the rain; as it was, we were already wet, and if we sat down we’d be cold too. We set our faces to the climb and walked on past Bar Julia.
The road was quite new, smooth tarmac, and the water ran down it in sheets. We proceeded up it in a slightly less determined manner. The rain stopped coming down after a few minutes; aside from a halt to take advantage of a church with toilets accessible via the outside wall, we kept going up. The path left the road and dived up into woodland.
After a little while I remarked, ‘Now, Jones had left his new-wed bride to keep his house in order,’ and remembering the rest of the poem took us a fair way up the slope.
We didn’t know any other poems well enough to get us any further, however, and it was a very long way up the hill. (A Code of Morals was pinned up in the kitchen for years.) And the combination of the steepness of the gradient and the humidity of the air meant that I had to stop at almost every hairpin to get my breath back.
That was the worst of the day; the worst of it was, there were still another seven kilometres to go. They were tedious. The most tedious part of it was a stony field. I grumbled all the way across it; John nobly refrained from abandoning me in the middle of it. It gave way to what would ordinarily have been a pleasant woodland path that crossed a couple of pretty little streams. The guidebook had promised us a waymarking at one kilometre to go. We kept not seeing it, so that meant that we still had more than a kilometre to go. Of course, when we came to the albergue, we no longer worried about that…
There’s not such thing as the authentic pilgrim experience; there are only pilgrims, and experiences. What I will say of the albergue at Hospital de Bruma is that it was the one that matched most closely my memories of the Camino Frances a decade previously. And this was largely down to an accident of geography: there was no mobile phone reception. It was also the fact that this was a Galician municipal albergue, and all of these have a similar feel to them, no matter that they are housed in a very diverse variety of buildings. And then there were a lot of pilgrims, some of whom we hadn’t seen before; this sense of shuffling the pack felt much more like the Camino Frances.
The Camino Inglés is short enough, and its logical stopovers far enough apart, that you meet the same people over and over again. On the Camino Frances, with its abundance of accommodation (not that it always felt like that) it’s much easier to lose people just because they’re walking slightly faster or slightly more slowly than you are. But at Betanzos we found everybody from Pontedeume, and then a few more; and at Hospital de Bruma, everybody from Betanzos (except the American woman who’d had to give up and go home) plus a few more who had come from A Coruña.
The kitchen left something to be desired, which also seemed typical of Galician albergues. We dined on instant noodles and the hard-boiled eggs. John’s turned out not to have been cooked thoroughly, so he put it in the microwave.
‘I don’t think you’re meant to put eggs in the microwave,’ I said. ‘I think they explode.’
This greatly amused the one other pilgrim in the kitchen, a man in his sixties with an impressive moustache. I tried to explain in Spanish, but he turned out to be Canadian. We talked quite a lot about pilgrims and pilgrimages.
John and I had bunks on the top floor, and I was on the top bunk. At my elbow I had an opening that looked down onto the kitchen, which had the whole height of the building. This meant, of course, that I could look down on the kitchen table and hear everything that was going on. That evening it happened to be the Japanese and Italian pilgrims discussing (I think) twentieth century history, with the aid of one or more bottles of wine. All very amiable, but a bit loud.
Next time: a flattish stage, at long last, and some very weird sculptures.
The Camino Inglés delights in taking you from sea level, up uncomfortably steep gradients, and back to sea level again. Sometimes this is repeated several times over the course of one day. The route from Pontedeume to Betanzos is a case in point. We started on the waterfront. The bar where we ate breakfast (coffee and cold churros) was on the next street along. (The Japanese pilgrims, incidentally, ate their breakfast in the albergue at ten past six.) After that, we joined the route and it went straight up.
And it’s not as if either of us is unfamiliar with the concept of ‘up’. Our parents live in Ventnor, which is about as close as Britain gets to those Mediterranean seaside towns where the streets are arranged in higgledy-piggledy lines up a cliff. This was something else. (It was also raining.) Within about fifteen minutes (give or take a diversion to look at the church of Santiago, which was shut, and several breaks for me to catch my breath) we’d climbed one hundred and fifty metres and were looking down on the town and the bay.
Once we were out of the town, the gradient became less punishing. The rain, however, continued to fall, and I gave up on any hope of my boots drying out. I kept my waterproof trousers on all day – even after it stopped raining I couldn’t be bothered taking them off, and anyway, they were snug enough to compensate for my walking trousers being a size too big.
We were up and down all day. The first downwards gradient was a gentle one, taking us down through scrubby woodland (a nature reserve, I think) towards a golf course. That was deserted, of course, in this weather. The path led straight across, and then into a copse and across a little brook.
After that there were some fairly tedious bits over and then alongside a motorway, leading at last into Miño. This was a reasonably sizeable town, and had a choice of bars. Sitting outside one of them were three pilgrims we didn’t recognise. We stopped for a cup of coffee in the next one along, and then kept on going.
Downhill, again. Heading out of town, the path led gently down all the way down to sea level, and after that up, and up, and up, above the level of the motorway flyovers. 20%. One in five. At least the maths was easy.
We sat on a bench in a dilapidated children’s playground at the top to get our breath back and eat Naked bars. (Naked bars are very good if you’re hiking with a vegan, or hiking as a vegan. They don’t melt, and they don’t crumble too badly.) Then there were lots of single track lanes. We met two dogs (one a very friendly puppy) on one of them and, a little further down the hill, looked back to find that a dapple-grey horse was following us. We had no idea what to do about a loose horse; fortunately it got fed up with the idea after a hundred yards or so, and turned off into a field.
A rural bus shelter made a decent spot to stop for lunch. More of the same followed: narrow roads, little hamlets. I was surprised to find the road surface not too hard on my feet, but I was still very tired by the end of the day. Then, at last, a field of allotments (and a briefly interested cat), and we proceeded into the walled town of Betanzos.
The Betanzos albergue was big, and well-appointed. There were two floors of dormitories, laundry rooms (yes, plural), boot racks, sitting rooms, a kitchen and dining area, plenty of showers, and wi-fi. Also the heights of joy and depths of despair that come with hearing, and then believing that one has misinterpreted, the word ‘secadora‘. And the joy that returns when it does in fact turn out to mean ‘tumble dryer’.
Granted, there was a very odd mark on the ceiling above the shower that I used (mould, I thought) but generally speaking it was all that one would wish. We bagged bunks, unpacked, went off to take showers, and, as our father would say, ‘went and died for an hour or so’.
There were more pilgrims here than at Pontedeume. The trio we’d seen earlier had turned up here, and turned out to be Spanish; apart from them, there was an Italian man in his sixties, and, of course, the three Japanese men.
The churches and streets of Betanzos
I looked at my boots to see how far the line of damp had receded (not as far as I’d have liked) and dragged John out to see the churches of Betanzos and their fabulous Romanesque architecture. I liked the houses, too; as in Ferrol and Pontedeume, many of them were magnificent affairs of three or four storeys, with graceful glazed balconies on the upper floors.
After that we set off to look for O Pasotempo, and food.
The CSJ guidebook described O Pasotempo as –
‘a sort of rural Spanish Victorian theme park erected in 1893 by a couple of local men who made their fortune in South America and came home to share the wealth and cultural excitement with their home town’.
So of course we had to look at it.
It was a gloriously eccentric nineteenth century pleasure garden, dilapidated in a way that was just the right side of the boundary between ‘charming’ and ‘public health hazard’, and filled with all sorts of weird and wonderful sculptures. Shells set into the walls. A relief map of the Panama Canal. A panel of clocks – the usual London – New York – Paris set-up, except not, because it was made of plaster, and there were about 25 clock faces in total, and the central one said Buenos Aires. Half mermaids. A mandarin duck. A mallard duck with ducklings. (These were real.) Plaster figurines of intrepid explorers on camels. Caves! With fake stalactites! And dragons! We agreed that it was like Blackgang Chine, only considerably weirder. We loved it.
I had mismanaged my blood sugar to the point where there was no question of holding out for food until we got back to the albergue. But the supermarket that we had passed on the way to O Pasatempo had a café. The café provided sugary drinks and snacks. The supermarket provided longer term sustenance. We stocked up for the next couple of days, then walked back to the albergue to cook and eat some of our purchases. ‘Cook’ in this context meant ‘heat up in the microwave’. It made a change from bread and cheese.
Afterwards, we sat in the sitting room upstairs, reading, and talking to an American pilgrim who was doing a little mending. This was more in resignation than in expectation, as she had been waiting for so long to recover for an injury that her visa had run out, and she was going to have to fly home without completing her Camino. But she was still going to do her sewing.
For my part, I wondered morbidly if I was coming down with a cold. But I embraced the power of denial, and went to bed.
Next time: the most wonderful surprise of the whole Camino. And some eggs.