Does a bear …

Day 25 (yes I know I’m mixing them up but days mean nothing on the Camino)

O’Cebriero to Triacastella. 21 km

Distance the Santiago : 96 miles

So while everyone else in the world was watching what seems to have been a spectacular Olympics opening ceremony, I was in the basement of a refugio doing two loads of washing in an attempt to finally rid myself of those bloody bed bugs. I’ll know soon enough if it’s worked

There was some surprising and not altogether welcome news today – imparted while gazing at a tourist information sign in the middle of a secluded woodland track.

Local wildlife in the hills around here include otters, foxes., badgers

And bears

Yes, bears.

The great Bill Bryson, preparing for his Appalachian trek, noted that the guidebooks state that “Black bears hardly ever attack humans..”

“But here’s the thing,” he wrote

“Sometimes they do.”

The views from O’cebreiro to here are stunning, looking across spectacular mountain vistas.

Or so the guidebooks say. I can’t vouch for that because almost the entire 21km hike (just a stroll for us these days) was competed in the thick mist that often shrouds these hills. It only cleared as we descended into the valley to Triacastella , a town which used to have three castles but now has none.

To lose one castle could be seen as unfortunate but to lose 3 could be seen as carelessness (thank you Oscar)

From now on the Way is marked by concrete posts counting down every km to Santiago. It currently stands at 130

I don’t think I mentioned Otto the German yesterday?

Actually I dont know his name , but if it isn’t Otto then it should be.

I met him just as I left Villafranca , both of us veering right to take the quieter (and very steep) route to O’cebreiro.

“I went up ziss hill yesterday to see what it voss like ,” says Otto as I struggled for breath and sweated copiously

I literally stopped in my tracks and stared at him in disbelief

“You climbed up here yesterday.? What the hell for?”

“I am walking ze Camino viss my wife but she is exhausted mentally. So she stay in ze bed while I explore”

“I think ze climb gets more easy now,” he said as we turned a bend to face yet another 35 degree slope

Within 5 minutes he was out of sight.

No wonder his wife was exhausted.

And probably relieved this maniac was away from her for the day .

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We’re going up sunshine mountain

Day 22
Villafranca to O’Cebriero
Miles to Santiago: 115

We have left behind Castille and today crossed into our last province: Galicia

I know this for two reasons:
One: The language Nazis are out in force. I’m assuming there is no letter G or J in the Galician dialect. So every road sign that incorporates those letters is defaced and replaced with the letter X. It’s like being in Wales back in the 70s.

Mind you, the sign vandals are no worse than the so-called Pilgrims who feel the need to write their names and mindless messages on almost every Camino sign along the Way.

The second reason I know we have crossed into Galicia is the murderous mountain we staggered up at the end of a 35 km day

On and on and on it went. A track of broken stones ever upwards. It was the hottest part of the day. I have never – and I mean never – sweated as much.

I had to stop to fill up my camel back for the third time at a middle of nowhere village.

I had my head under the cold water spout when I heard the sound of cow bells. Then three of the biggest meanest matador-killing bulls came round the corner (oh ok they were cows) butted me out of the way and started drinking from the trough

“This is our turf dude, don’t be messing with the Galician gang …sorry, xang”

Just before this I filled up the camelback in another small village and was casually sucking down some water from the tube as I idly looked at load of posters on the town hall notice board.

I literally paused in mid suck with a horrified expression on my face when I read a notice in Big Red Letters saying it was forbidden to use the water in this area.

Oh super, now I can add poisoning to my head fungus issues

But I’m hoping – and I dont read Spanish that well – that they were saying that water could not be used for gardens. A hosepipe ban , in effect

Time will tell

Oh and we have fewer than 100 miles to go

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Ashes to Ashes

Day 23. Pontferrada to Villafranca de Bierzo

Thursday July 26

Not a huge lot to say. I no longer resemble the elephant man but bear a striking similarity to something out of the Quatermass film. That one where the astronaut is turned into a deformed plant.
I have decided that these are bites combined with a possible allergic reaction

They are very helpful here

Arriving in Villafranco Scottish Alan got slightly lost looking for an Albergue (hostel)

Meeting an aged señora he showed her the map and asked where the hostel was

She nodded and kindly took him through the winding streets to the exact location

A kindly act marred only by the fact that the hostel had burned to the ground some years ago leaving a perplexed Alan looking at a pile of ashes

Today we climb to the highest point of the Camino. Forget the Olympics people. This is the real challenge.

Stone me

Day 22. Wednesday July 25
Foncebadon to Pontferrada

I wanted to start this entry with a optimistic uplifting story for a change but sadly my current physical condition does not allow that

During the course of the day I began to develop what I thought were insect bites (not bed bugs) all over my body.

By the time I arrived at the overcrowded aulbergu at Ponferrada they were everywhere. The ones on my neck having a particularly starting effect on my companions

But it’s the ones on my head that are alarming me. They are so numerous that they make me look like the elephant man. Or a Klingon

I’ve decided they may be some sort of allergic reaction. I have no idea what has caused them but I can only pray that anti histamine tablets work.

I feel like so e sort of leper. Fitting for a medieval pilgrimage route

Last night we stayed in a strange ….. street

Because that is all Foncebadon is. A street.

Up until the recent past its only inhabitant was a woman who refused to let them take away the church bells in case she needed to call for help

The hamlet is reputed to have been the home of a witch and was famous for the ravenous dogs that patrolled its streets

I can confirm that some dogs are still around cos were heard them going bonkers in the early hours as we slept on our mattresses in an attic room.

But the Camino is coming to Foncebadon’s aid. It still retains a somewhat derelict ambience but there are now three hostels catering for pilgrims staying the night in these hills.

And a restaurant run on a somewhat bizarre medieval theme by a big bearded bloke dressed in some sort of fox skin gilo.

Today we reached Cruz de Ferro where for centuries pilgrims have been leaving stones in a symbolic act of casting away sins

They leave other stuff as well. Pictures of children. Little notes. And in one case a pair of socks.

Not quite sure what that was all about.