Monday, 23 August 2010

Castrojeriz, Spain - Don´t shoot, I´m a pilgrim

Well, I have slipped seemlessly into Spain but not without incident. My first night in Spain was a wild camp in a little wood on a Saturday night. I thought it was a good, concealed spot so looked forward to a lazy Sunday morning. The height of laziness when camping for me is to make my first mug of coffee without even getting out of my sleeping bag and to sip it with the door of the tent peeled back so I can watch the world go by from the comfort of my tent. But this Sunday morning at 7am gunshots started in the woods all around me. It doesn´t take a genius to figure out that it is not wise when there is shooting going on to be concealed in the trees in a tree-coloured tent! So I was out of there faster than you can say "hasta luego".

It´s amazing how quickly things changed between France and Spain - like the flick of a switch. The countryside is scorched to shades of ocre and gold; folds of hazy mountains stretch to the horizon; the little hill-top towns are now closely stacked with flat terracotta roofs and look quite precarious like the constructions you made as a child with a pack of cards. One of the most notable differences is that Spanish campsites provide toilet paper, although it tends to be one large communal roll outside the toilet block. This is a bit strange - how do you know how much you´re going to need before you go in? It´s sure to happen on occasion that you get settled in your little cubicle and realise too late that you´ve not taken in enough paper!

I´m now well along the camino and meeting lots of pilgrims. It´s a lovely feeling to have a shared sense of purpose and goal with all these strangers. I experienced quite a strange coincidence with one fellow cyclist, Hans. Like me he had cycled from Holland following an almost identical route through France along the Loire and down the west coast; he was now cycling along the camino like me; and amazingly also turning south through Portugal to a small town only 10 miles from the small town in Portugal that I´m heading to, where my sister lives! Isn´t that funny?

However the biggest excitement of the last week is meeting up with my friend and base camp manager, Graham. I met him off his bus in Logrono - him and his bubble-wrapped bicycle. It was great to see a familiar face, especially as he´d brought lots of my favourite gluten-free goodies! So now I have a companion for the rest of the camino to Santiago. We each have our shells tied to our bikes so people can see we are pilgrims - this gives us some discounts at campsites and encourages complete strangers to shout, peep and yell directions at us as we pedal along. Everywhere we go we look for shells - tied to other bicycles or walkers´backpacks, hanging above doors, brass shells embedded in the pavement, shell sculptures - all leading the way to Santiago. In the last couple of days we´ve passed through the swanky town of Burgos. We strolled along in the shade its wide tree-lined avenues and gazed in awe at its glorious cathedral. Now we face the big challenge of crossing the Meseta - a vast plateau at 800m scorched by the sun and scoured by the wind, where even water is not guaranteed. It will take us four days. Our ploy to beat the heat is to rise in the dark and be on the road at 7am as the sun is just coming up.

So stay tuned. Will we ever see the sunrise? Will we die crossing the Meseta? Will we make it to Santiago? If we do, will we still be speaking to each other?

New photos on my Flickr page.

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