|Camino: Pedaling to Earth’s End|
September 16, 2004
Another attempt to bring this blog more or less up to date. I am now in Spain, with over 1600 km under my wheels now since Briançon.
Since Toulouse there have been many different places seen, but always briefly, always passing through. Always the sense of movement, carrying on towards a destination. Some of this I like; there is so much to absorb, too much, really, for the time available: it will take years. I have seen many places I would like to go back to, and spend a longer time: Montpellier, the Haute Languedoc, Arles, Pau.
In “connect the dots” format, here are the “étapes” since Toulouse: to Auch, where I was the only pelerin in the presbytery there — kind of spooky to have such a cavernous place all to myself. From Auch to Maubourguet, where the town has set aside a “chalet” (4 beds) in the municipal campground by the river. All beds were full, and we 4 went to dinner together and had some nice rambling discussions on the Great Issues that arise during a pilgrimage. From Maubourguet to Lescar, on the outskirts of Pau, where I was again the only resident of their local gite for pelerins. Theirs is located directly below the gendarmerie: never have I had a more secure feeling while sleeping…
From Lescar to Borce: a lovely new 6-bed gite in a beautiful Pyrenean village on the road towards the Col de Somport. Again, the only person in the place, which has a private door to the small restored pilgrim chapel alongside. I recommend this gite highly to anyone else taking the Col de Somport route.
The next day over the Col (1650 meters) — I´d thought that, after the Col d´Izoard, all else would be easy. It was not easy, but it was managed. On the way up I passed another cyclist who was resting by the road, and called out: “Ca monte!” as I passed. I saw him twice more through the day, always in passing, the final time as he arrived in Jaca just after me. This was Hans, age 64, recently retired from teaching (and directing) at a school in Germany. We have since struck up a kind of informal riding partnership through Spain. We tend to ride separately, and meet up at the end of the day for the evening meal.
I was not sure what to expect from Spain: my last visit here was in 1987, cycling from Portugal to France. I don´t speak Spanish, and it would make a world of difference if I could.
From Jaca — a lovely town, by the way: they threw a wedding while we were there — there have been long, hot days of riding through long stretches with not much in between. At first I was less than thrilled: I love the green of Canada´s west coast, and compared to northern Spain, France is as lush as Eden. But I have been warming to Spain gradually. The people are wonderful: they struggle to understand me, and I struggle to understand them.
Riding in Spain I have done a mixture of Camino and road. More and more of the Camino has been creeping in: today — from Santa Domingo de la Calzada to Burgos — was entirely on the Camino. Some difficult stretches, pushing the bike up steep, rough paths, but other wonderful stretches through forest, and across fields, with the clouds slowly sliding east across a clear, blue sky. Distances seem very long here: I don´t usually see such far horizons.
Access to the Internet has been almost nil. This alberge (in Burgos) has 2 terminals. I have a lower bunk in a crowded dormitory; there are several dormitories in all, with about 24 people in my dormitory alone, which should give you a sense of the size of the place, and the potential demand for computer time.
We have been encountering fiestas in many of the villages along our route. This can be a lot of fun: music, parades, other stuff as I shall attempt to describe. But it can also mean difficulty in finding a place to stay. A mixed blessing.
In Sanguesa, for example, the albergue was full, so we were directed to a small hotel, and ended up getting their last room. That evening, though, there were fireworks, and everybody partying in the streets: tables set up in front of the bars, people sitting and chatting and drinking red wine or beer and eating tapas. Music until late into the night (or early into the morning, depending on how you look at it). The next day as we were leaving town we ran into a small brass band that was leading a parade through the streets: it seemed to be for people who had stayed up all the night…
Two nights ago we were in Viana, and again it was their fiesta. This one was even better. No fireworks, but they had set up a small ring in the town square, and there were some bulls — not bull-fighting, but bulls chasing people who were taunting them — the people just local people trying to show how brave they were, and having fun.
One bull was smarter than they were though: he managed to lunge over the boards and escape the ring. This caused great excitement. I was right near the part of the ring where he escaped. People were scrambling around, trying to hide behind cars and trucks. Some even jumped into the ring… I hid behind a truck at first, and then climbed up into some folding bleachers and watched the excitement through the slats. Eventually the bull was coaxed back into his proper place and order was restored. One small red car had its left front fender bashed in, and another car had been shoved against a building. Strong bull… It will be interesting to see the insurance claims…
We thought that that was the end of the excitement, so we started to walk back down the main street to find a restaurant (nobody even thinks of eating dinner here before 8:00 or 8:30, by the way, so I have learned not to get hungry before that)
As we were walking along, I started to notice that the stores now had barricades across their doorways. And there seemed to be a lot of people on the other side of the fence around the church, watching people like me in the streets. Suddenly it dawned on me that the excitement was not over: they were about to let some bulls loose in the streets! (It would help, I suppose, if I could understand Spanish: I would have known that something was happening…) So there was a bit of panic: “How can I get on the other side of the fence!” — but once we were on the right side of the fence it was a lot of fun. Lots of people (mainly young men, naturally) stayed in the streets.
There was a loud bang to announce that the bulls were loose, and then sure enough: there they were, charging down the streets in a cluster. I´m sure they were mostly scared, but they are strong, and could still do some damage. The bulls had the run of the street for about half an hour, and then other things happened: live music, dancing, games of chance and skill, bumper cars, French fries — I suppose they should be called Spanish — (2 euros a packet); or “churros”, which are like a donut, straight with ribbed sides: they squeeze the dough through a nozzle and clip it off at the right length, directly into the hot oil. Fry them until golden brown, and then sprinkle them with granulated sugar. A dozen of them in a paper cone for 3 euros. Delicious, and the perfect thing to eat before dinner…
Dinner, by the way, besides being late, is very reasonably priced. Last night, for example, in Santo Domingo de la Calzada, we had a “peregrino” menu for 9 euros 20 cents. A starter course (mine was “minestrone”, in this case a plate of green beans and peas: very good); a main course (mine was a kind of steak with fries); and dessert (ice cream). An entire bottle of red wine was included. I didn´t finish it. Wine is almost always included in the meal — the choice is usually wine or water, so you can see how casually they think of wine here.
By my count I have completed 22 riding days since Briançon (added to that are 3 days in separate places where I spent a second night). This is faster than I´d calculated, but hasn´t been a strain. And it is nice to see the remaining distance diminish each day, creating that sense of making gradual progress towards a distant goal. There are some good philosophical conclusions one could draw from this, but I won´t attempt that here…
Carrying on tomorrow pedalling towards the west (as always). A bientot…
The 3 Ps: Preliminaries, Preparations and Packing
Departure! (and contact info)
Beginning to begin
El Burgo Ranero
Villadangos del Paramo
Rabanal del Camino
Interlude: A New Philosophy
Villafranca del Bierzo
Santiago de Compostella
The end of the earth