A few miles out of Santander I stopped at a derelict building to bleed my bladder. Leaning my bike against a roadside post I climbed down and hurried into the ruined remains of the restaurant eager to ease my discomfort. With plumbing equipment in hand and facing a wall I suddenly felt a little uncomfortable. I turned around to see Alfred, from Germany sitting amidst a pile of sleeping bags. I zipped up and zipped out whilst spluttering ‘losiento’ … ‘I am sorry!’ in Spanish.
As a form of an apology I returned with a packet of biscuits to share … however he thrust out his hand asking for money! When I refused he settled for a handful of digestives … not that he needed them! As my eyes became accustomed to the cartons of clutter he obviously had everything! Pasta, biscuits, tinned food, toilet roll and gallons of water. He also had a gas cylinder as large as a refuse truck, which would have come in handy too!
I did not ask why he was there but did ask where all his provisions came from. Apparently, people just dropped them off! His fingers were brown with tobacco stains and his face was a little bloated and covered in burst blood vessels … ‘There but for the grace of God go I’ but judging by the size of the cross on the wall … He was there too! I left feeling somewhat sad!
‘El Camino de Santiago’ is the name of any of the pilgrimage routes to the shrine of the apostle St James the Great in Santiago de Compostela, Galicia, northwestern Spain. In my travels I have met many folk who have done this for various religious, spiritual or personal reasons. However, I found myself on the route by default, simply wanting to cycle around the Spanish coast. The blue ocean to the right and mountains to my left and with the energy of thousands of previous pilgrims throughout hundreds of years I soaked up the ‘Buen Comino’ greetings which flowed my way, omitting to let anyone know that I was just on a bike ride! You can walk, ride a bike, horse or donkey for a minimum of 100 km’s to enable you to pick up a certificate at the Cathedral in Compostela … there is no maximum! I met a family who had cycled 820km’s … of course it is not about the certificate but without the paperwork then you cannot gain entry into many of the ‘Albergue’ hostels which are designed solely to service pilgrims. I was more than happy in my ‘bus shelters’ which were paper work free!
After crossing this bridge (the car free snap took forever!) into Portugal I saw a sigh ‘Albergue’ 250 metres! I was in dire need of a wash and shave and after having covered hundreds of miles on the pilgrimage route I decided to throw myself on the mercy of the receptionist at the hostel. Whilst displaying my biggest smile, I told her the truth and said I was on my way to Africa and had cycled the route but had no paper work. Five euros and my passport secured a shower and a soft bed! It also secured a night of laughter with Katya, a Russian/German pilgrim who had a sharp mind and a seriously funny sense of humour. She was off to study ‘Indology’ which I had never heard of! I have a shocking trait that if I have never heard of something then it cannot be true. According to ‘Wikipedia’ it is the study of Indian history, literature, philosophy and culture! My stomach was sore with laughter as we shared our food and frivolity!