Day 16 - San Bol to Itero de la Vega

Trip Start Sep 03, 2012
Trip End Oct 07, 2012

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Where I stayed
albergue La Mochila

Flag of Spain  , Castile and Leon,
Monday, September 17, 2012

Distance walked today: 26 kms
Distance walked in total: 361 kms
Distance to Santiago: 449 kms
Pains: left ankle at front as it was a week back. It seems to have transferred from the right ankle to the left one. Perhaps the magical curing waters?
Blisters: same one on heel of right leg, but its getting smaller.

Reflection: "Keep your eyes very open if you walk on the rural roads during Friday or Saturday mornings." The effects from the night before on the drivers make them kamikaze pilots!

Wake up time today was as late as 6.30am, and not because I had slept through, to the contrary, the night was quite restless.

Last night I got into my bed on the first floor. The ceiling was the roof of the albergue, all large wooden beams and planks, and was inclined at an angle. Your had to basically walk on your knees to get to the bed.

I got into bed, put my headlamp off (remember there was no electricity), and immediately heard a scratching noise a few centimetres above my head. It sounded as if something was biting into the wood constantly.

I had heard something similar before and it was wood worm, but this must have been a massive one. I looked around but could not find anything. I simply put my ear plugs on and ignored it as much as possible.

Managing to have fallen asleep, around midnight I woke up to the rustling of one of my plastic bags. One could have been forgiven if they thought it was a pilgrim thief trying to find some valuables. However I automatically knew what it was: mice!

As I mentioned yesterday I had noticed several mouse traps in the albergue (upstairs and downstairs). Additionally while we were chatting outside we saw a couple of field mice running around and getting quite close. The conclusion was easy.

I had no option but to take my rucksack and plonk it on top of my bed, sharing my sleeping space.

My stuff was safe, but the mice kept running around the wooden floor all night. The Ukranian-Catalonian was sleeping on a matress directly on the floor, with all her belongings next to her. So I would not be surprised if she found a hole or two in her bags!

What I didn't sleep with was my boots and flip flops. When I was putting the latter away I realised that the right one had mini-bites along the front part...a plastic loving mice!

So the heavenly albergue is actually a mice house! Anyone not finding field mice as cute little animals should avoid this place.

I left "Casa Mice" just before 7am and joined the pilgrim traffic jam two hundred metres down the path. You could see all the headlamps moving slowly up and down the hills.

That, added to the lights on the top of the wind turbines (red and white), made the fields look like a huge christmas tree. It would have scared the hell out of any medieval pilgrim if they saw it!

And now for a serious thought. By now I have realised, and not due to the cliches release by the candle holders yesterday, that the Camino is very similar to life in certain aspects. The one I analysed today was that of the position we have in life.

In the Camino, whenever we start walking, that will be our position for the rest of the day. You will only advance if you work hard and speed up to overtake others. If we slow down or stop, others will take our position.

So basically if you start early and work hard, and even miss a lunch or a break, you can choose your albergue, bed, and even be first in the throne and shower!

A wonderful theory destroyed by a couple of facts:

- You have the people who phone ahead to book a bed (like myself) and couldn't care less about rushing (although you might not get a goo bed!)

- The Camino is not always as packed as I have found it. Other months apparently people always have places, and sports centres (polideportivos) are open to absorb any later arrivals.

Hence, my theory is a load of bollocks, but it actually looked like it was going to be a moment of enlightment. I will keep trying!

The good news about starting later is that by the time I arrived at the closest town (Hontanas), all the cafes were open and serving food. I sat at one across the church and ate what surely must have the Guinness Book of Records title for "largest tortilla de patatas bocadillo)". It was only 3 euros for a double coffee and the bocadillo, but it had half a tortilla inside. Other people were sharing it amongst themselves as it was massive. I didn't!

The pilgrim train continued to pass, and I have noticed that there are not many single walkers anymore. Only about 25 percent of the pilgrims walking along continue to walk alone. I guess its a mix of people meeting others, and the ones who started together from the start. I have to admit I'm still greatly enjoying my own company, and choosing when or not I include others.

The latter is as easy as walking slower or faster to start a conversation with people behind or ahead. And if I want to avoid company, I simply slip the earphones voila!

The weather has changed slightly, and the clouds cover the strongest effects of the sun, making it an absolute pleasure to walk today.

There is also more shade along the road, with old trees on both sides. That takes me back to the long one day trips we used to take in summer to go from Madrid to Santander. It was the same sort of scenery. Nowadays the motorway will get you there in 4 hours.

I walked though the convent of San Anton as the road actually divides it in two and goes under a couple of huge arches. Apparently, the order of San Anton were experts in curing a certain skin disease (Saint Anthony's Fire). They realised it was related to bread quality, as most of the peasants at the time ate stale bread. The monks had fresh bread, which meant that people suffering the disease would improve by staying with the Antonines.

Talking about diseases, I will have wash my fleece jacket later today to avoid getting one myself. The odour is not too bad (if one allows some sort of odour as acceptable), but the "fly count" following me has certainly increased. They just seem to love landing on it.

Just when you though the Meseta was going to be a long flat plain, you pass Castrojeriz and you are confronted with one hundred metres climb in a twelve degree elevation. It was hot and it made it tough.

That was at "Castrillo Matajudios" (literally "the place where jewsa are killed"), just in case anyone had forgotten which religion the Camino was created by...Matamoros, Matajudios, etc.

All said, once at the top (Alto de Mostelares), the views were well worth the effort. I was also glad I had not seen the path we had to walk for the last 10 kms from a similar view, it was tiring just to see from the distance, so it would have been quite morale breaking to know in advance.

There was a memorial cross at the start of the climb to the Alto and one when I started to go down on the other side. So at least two pilgrims go to their end of the Camino at this hill.

Perhaps this is the sort of place that makes people give up. After over two weeks these climbs can make anyone throw the towel.

Good news for a downhill lover like myself is that the path goes down steeply once you get to the top. I had a delightful jog down to the bottom, probably doing 500 metres in less than a minute. Viva gravity!

By noon, and after five hours of continuous walking, I crossed the Pisuerga river over the Fitero Bridge and into Itero de la Vega. Another symbolic moment as I left another Province behind and noted a new one on my list - Burgos stayed behind and Palencia arrived.

Given a total distance of 26 kilometres, and only one stop of around 20 minutes for breakfast, that makes an average walking pace of 5 kilometres per hour which I very happy with after 16 days on the path.

I went straight to one of the recommended albergues, and I had no problem finding a bed (Albergue La Mochila, 8 euros). However I arrived just in time as half an hour later it was all packed and the "completo" sign put outside. So the last hour fast walk was finally worth it.

An acceptable albergue, where the argentinian hospitalera plays loud folk music all day long as she sings along to it. She also proudly displays the hairiest legs I have seen in my life, with the exception of the "homo antecessor" figure at the Atapuerca musuem. She had lived in Madrid and in London so was excited when I told her about my origins and current lodgings.

Before I could wash my fleece jacket and other vinegar smelling articles, I had to clean the washing basing. Either no one has washed there in ages or a layer of mud has been deposited by the rain the night before.

The jacket lost fifty shades of grey and became light green again.

About the village of Itero de la Vega, there is nothing there. An immense nothingness in the middle of the Camino. That sort of justifies why there are four bars, with the one stuck next to the albergue being a temple of old fashion commie slogans, che guevara t-shirts and ska music. They were very welcoming in any case.

That's were I rested my bones most of the afternoon sipping a coffee and writing a few notes. I had the best entertainment I could ask for in the form of two tables:

Table A: a bunch of four Irish old guys who kept ordering rounds of beer and saying each time "its only fecking 2 euros the pint". Its been that price since Roncesvalles, so they must really be enjoying themselves if they haven't worked that one out yet.

As the afternoon passed, they got louder and mentioned how loud the spaniards were along the way and the fact that they wave their arms around a lot.

They had also decided (after four pints and no food) to buy an old building in San Juan de Otero to create an "Irish Albergue", one that would welcome Irish people. I'm assuming that will be just pub talk...or at least I hope so. Otherwise I can imagine not too many an Irishman passing from that point and joining as an hospitalero saying "I'm staying here...the beers are fecking 2 euros a pint!"

Table B: ten women from the village who had got together to play their weekly card game. The foul language that exited their mouths used up all the existing swear words ever invented and included a few more. They actually proved the Irish guys observation of volume and waving around of arms.

I had clumsily forgotten to take out cash at a Burgos ATM and realised I only had 20 euros left. There is no bank at Itero so I needed to apply some restrictive measures in order to guarantee that I would have sufficient to pay for the next albergue.

That meant having both lunch and dinner from things I bought at the supermarket. Luckily with six euros I managed to get:
- a full loaf of bread
- a can of asparagus
- a can of red peppers
- a can of tuna
- a can of sardines
- a pear and a nectarine
So I certainly did not end up being hungry!

I'm confident there will be an ATM at the next town of Fromista where I can be rich again.

A French woman who lives in London and works as a film producer joined the Irish chaps. She was the first case I have seen in 16 days of the dreaded "bed bugs". I had read that some albergues have them in the matresses, but I had not seen the consequences up to now. She was covered in bites and they were quite large. Its probably the one thing I don't want to experience.

I had an early night, being in bed at 9am and falling asleep while I read a book. The hospitalera kept singing well until 10pm...
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