Goodness gracious. I thanked the man who persuaded me to stay another night in Santiago profusely after seeing how the day went. I walked to the bike shop at around noon and got soaked through. Limbs were down in the park, shops were flooded. I still can’t believe the sheer volume of water coming down. On the walk back, the water was backed up from the grates and little fountains about a foot high were shooting up from inbetween the brick walkways in random places.
Of course, around three the sky cleared a bit and it didn’t rain anymore that evening. This is a trend I have noticed- it almost never rains at three o’clock.
I spent most of the day with Jonny, one of the Germans. We did not do much. I packed my bags, cleaned my bike, repaired my tent, read a lot, wrote a lot. Around two o’clock three of the German girls rejoined us. They had embarked for Fisterre that morning and had made it 9 kilometers before they were soaked through. One more night for them also. Jonny and I made some tasty cheesy eggs with bellpepper on a bed of rice for dinner- filling and delicious. He likes white wine, which is unusual for a German, he sipped his grape-juice while I polished off a few beers from the night before. That evening the girls were gossiping in German, and I was tired, so I turned in early. I finished my one book, and I shall read it again, but I have a Google Play app on my tablet, and it offers Alice in Wonderland, The Three Musketeers, and Treasure Island for free. I have always avoided screen reading, but I have a reading addiction and no other real ones. I am almost done with Alice in Wonderland.
I woke up tired this morning, around 8:45. I made some coffee, packed up my things, and headed out. It was not raining intially, but soon began to dump buckets and dogs and cats and frogs and whatnot. Before I got out of town (which took a minute because, as usual, I got lost), I was thoroughly soaked, boots full of water, the whole nine. This of itself is not too bad, but the last two days have also been quite cold. I stayed warm going uphill, of which there was plenty. Like the other day, the joy was totally sucked out of the descents by the cold wind and spraying water. I was again induced to hyperventilate to keep the blood pumping. There were not many prolonged descents, fortunately. The route towards Léon is hilly, but not severe, quite to my liking, though slow going. As I have come to expect, the classic pastoral countryside is beautiful.
I probably left around eleven. The showers were heavy and long all day. My feet got very cold, and stayed that way. There were intervals of dry weather, short but sweet. My feet would almost get warm again, but then another soaking inevitably came. Despite this, I was in a fairly good mood- it was nice to be rolling again! It feels somewhat like the first stage of the journey is behind me- the training, the injuries, the steeper part of the learning curve- but also, the end of the Santiago pilgrimage, the end of this Northernly coastal route and at last, my eyes are set to the East!
The pilgrimage doesn’t feel quite over, however. I am once again following the path: backwards. I see the scallop shells from time to time, and a few wretched looking pilgrims slogging through the weather made me feel better about the day. If one must be a fool, it is better to have company. I passed a split in the road, and lost the pilgrims, it seemed. I saw a small hostel/restaurant somewhere near this split, which surprised me, it seemed out of place. It looked appealing, but I had much further to go.
I kept on, as did the rain, and the gentle incline. Around three o’clock the rain stopped- it always does- and I came to a small town. I was still considering camping, if I needed to, and could at least get set-up under dry skies before the rain returned, which I knew it would. I much preferred the idea of a hot shower and a place to dry my boots. Anyhow, I decided to stop in at a cafe for a coffee and some warmth. I ordered a sandwich, drank a coffee and ate a donut. I had seen signs that said “hospedaje” or hospidaxe” and I wondered if they were hostels, for one can see the root of the word “hospitality” at play here.
Like most cafés in Spain, this one had wifi, so I could look it up. (I have a translator downloaded on my tablet, but it only goes from English to Spanish, not vice versa, while offline). Hospedaje means “lodging.” Well well… Studying my route I saw that I had come about 50 kilometers in 4 hours. I looked at Lugo, a destination I fully expected to take two days to get to, and thought, it looks like I can just about make it there…
Oh, Gunnar. I’m not sure what I was thinking. I figured I could make it the 50 kilometers there in three hours. Sometimes 50k is all I do in a whole day. It is also 3 o’clock, my accustomed quitting time. I am also sitting in a hotel/restaurant that is probably cheap, with “lodging” signs on another two buildings to either side. Even so, I think to myself that these lodgings may be expensive or low quality, that there may not be any between here and Lugo, because I am not sure that I am still on the Camino. The hostel in Lugo, however, may be packed with pilgrims. I decide I want to stay inside tonight, so I make a reservation, in Lugo.
I could have inquired about accommodation ahead, or where the pilgrim path was, or how much the lodging here cost, but there was also a part of me that knew that if I make it to Léon in 4 days, I am back on schedule. To do so, I need to put in 80 kilometers a day, about 50 miles. Santiago to Lugo is 95 kilometers. This would be a big day, but a good start. So, at three in the afternoon, I book a hostel 50 kilometers away. Hm. Getting cocky already.
I finish up my sandwich and am working on the donut when a man rolls up on a Specialized mountain bike with Ortlieb panniers on the back. I greet him in Spanish when he comes in, but he quickly switches to English- he is a Swiss man en route to Santiago! He is called Rafael, and he started in Bilbao a week ago. He had fine weather all along the Northern coast until yesterday too. Lucky son of a gun. We start talking gear, weather, pilgrimage. I mention my wet feet. He shows off his gaiters that completely encapsulate his shoes. Nice. I mention how I almost bought some, but that these surprise purchases keep hurting my budget goals, mentioning the 12.50 euro can of chain cleaner I bought the day before, begrudgingly. (It worked supremely well, and I should get one or two more cleans out of it, but ouch!)
He is much impressed by my trip, maybe even a little defensive. This man is a handsome late 30’s early 40’s family man, by the way. Anyhow, he gets a little patronly, perhaps feeling bad for this poor, young, foolish, daring American. He tried to give me his gaiters, but I declined. He said he had only one day of riding, that I should take them, but I insisted he keep them- I can afford them, I am just cheap and stubborn, and will suffer long before I give in. Also, I was sure he would miss them…
Of course, I only seem nicer, meeker, and more charming when I humbly and with much blushing, decline. So, he sees my donut, assumes I had a coffee, and before I can tell him I had a sandwich too, he pays for my lunch. I think he may have done some math as he left and realized I got him for five euros, but he felt the need to be patronly. Okay, sweet! I felt a little bad though, because I have plenty of money, I make a conscious choice to suffer, and people sometimes don’t realize that I am closer to 30 than 20… A German girl, as we were talking about the inadequacy of modern culture to keep people of sound mind and soul, she asked, suddenly, how old I was. She was the sharp, know-it-all type, and the question may have been competitive, I don’t think she expected my insights. I told her that was a very funny question to ask, but I don’t care, I’ve dealt with her type enough not to get wrapped up in the game of “outdoing,” so to speak. I say I am 26, which surprises her, she thought I was younger. I say maybe it is my scraggly beard, which I think makes me look young, because it does not come in as thick as it should. She replied that, no, beards make people look older, which is true. Clean-shaven, I always get carded for alcohol, so I keep a little on most of the time. Point is, I felt bad, because I inadvertently portrayed myself as a young, helpless, poor kid. I am, relative to some (aren’t we all), but I am plenty well-off and very experienced, well travelled, rather comfortable in extreme weather conditions, informed enough to know what I need and usually plenty well prepared. I wasn’t looking for sympathy, I just try to be humble. I have yet to figure out how to tell people exzctly what I’m doing without seeming pretentious, overly excited, overly calm, deep, proud, or stupid. Tough. Oh well! Thanks Rafael, Buen Camino.
This whole conversation killed a half hour. I took off in dry weather at a good pace- I had far to go, and I wanted to get in early! I pushed, and for the first time this trip tried to keep up speed. I was a little anxious that maybe the reception would be closed, though they usually stay until 9:00 or so. I did not check, however. The rain soon came on very heavy, which helped my pace. All of the rivers were swollen, flooding fields, roads, parks. There were many live trees jutting out from what were now the middle of turbulent rivers. One could discern the normal dimensions of the meager creeks that were now swallowed by these deluges.
I was somewhat lucky, the terrain was a bit flatter than the first half of the day. My poor legs though, they are unfortunate to be harnessed by such a cruel master! What’s worse, I must have passed 15 hostals, hospedajes, quartos, hotels, and one motel, there was lodging everywhere! I was on the Camino after all, and I could have stopped wherever I wished, and I wished a fair bit, imagining spending time in these charming little establishments, so ending my soggy dash. No, instead I was fighting for every bit of speed, counting every kilometer on every sign as I toiled in a suspended pocket of time, slowed down, intensified by concern over whether I could get into the building when I got there. It did feel good to go hard, I was feeling a bit sluggish from all the beer and chocolate I had consumed in the last two days…
I made it into Lugo in three hours though, about six thirty. I can’t believe how fast I can ride when I need to! This city is a hideous contortion of apartment complexes, until you get to the gigantic and gorgeous castle walls of old town, the biggest I have seen. Here I found my hostel. There was a self-check in, which was interesting, and I was grateful not to be turned away, for I did not see anyone inside. The darned machine would not scan my passport though! I was manually inputting my info when a Spanish man comes to the rescue- he calls the hostel manager, opens the door for me, and shows me my room. With a mix of triumph and defeat I drag my things inside. I am in my room, but I do not yet have a key, so I cannot close the door, and I cannot leave! I am famished, and hurting.
As I am locking my bike, a very nice woman shows up, opens reception, inputs my info into the machine for me, gets me my key. I apologize for coming in late and she says, in Spanish, “Nonsense, it is no problem!” She is sorry the machine did not read my passport. We chat about the weather and my trip, and I get some bad news: tomorrow is supposed to be worse than today. Her husband seems to think I will be staying here another night. We shall see about that. I will admit, I am not sure I can handle another day like today. I am half drowned and beat up. Of course, tomorrow will be a shorter day, but this is no weather for anyone to be in. The kicker is that I hadn’t actually paid for the hostel yet, I think I could have cancelled, or not shown up, no problem. I just put in my info as a form of verification for automated check-in. Also, the hostel is pretty much empty. I am in a room with 14 beds and I am alone, as far as I can tell. There are probably twelve similar rooms, and I am sitting in the common room, alone, haven’t seen a soul in the whole building. Sheesh.
It is so strange to find beauty in the heart of such an ugly city, an oasis in the desert. I will take pictures of the walls tomorrow, but the hostel is super cool. It is called Cross Hostel:
The bunks are little ship cubbies! The stairways here are solid plate steel, yet is not slippery… something I have never seen before. I did almost eat it in my room though, walking around in wet socks…
This building is very old. See those old rough-hewn beams? See how crooked the stone wall is? The pictures don’t even do it justice, just looking at it make me giddy. Awesome.
I saw a lot of slate roofs too today, which is new. I did not take any pictures because of the weather, but I will snap some as soon as I can!
I ate a huge pizza and bought a bottle of wine. I wanted beer, but there was a 4 euro difference. This 1.60 bottle is pretty good! The hostel does not have a bottle opener, which is appalling for any European building, you would think there would be an “in case of emergency” glass case to break in every one, but I got it out very cleanly with a knife- stab and pull while twisting simultaneously, repeat. Perfect. I can even reuse the cork, which I will need because there is no one to share it with…
Ah yes, I am so sophisticated…
Well, it is pouring again, I can hear it. I am very tired, and will be very sore tomorrow, I think. I am loathe to take another rest day, but I am at the mercy of Mother Nature. Hopefully my shoes will dry a bit tonight, I have been considering wrapping my feet in plastic bags tomorrow. When this weather stops, I will almlst feel guilty, things will be too easy, too pleasant! It is the rough stuff that keeps things interesting. I will be sure to stay with the pilgrims tomorrow I think. I like the notion of picking a hostel whenever I feel like it! What will tomorrow bring…