Wednesday 11th May 2016 started overcast and grey, much like one year previously when we loaded up our bikes for the first time on our trip and headed into the centre of Perth to say goodbye to our friends. In the intervening year we have cycled almost 11,000km, visited fifteen different countries and met lots of delightful people, many of whom have hosted us or helped us out along our route, and had a fabulous time. We’ve also helped others on our way by volunteering on their building, gardening and event projects. We’ve had tough times too, mechanical breakdowns, physical injuries and illness, and low moral. Living and travelling together has brought its challenges and we are learning a lot about ourselves and each other. Jerry reckons that, at it’s worst, he is still enjoying travelling more than his latter days at work in Pullar House, Perth. And me… I just love exploring new places, practising my languages and learning about different cultures.
We decided to celebrate our time on the road with a bottle of Rioja in La Rioja and a tub of ice cream – our two favourite treats.
Luckily, by the evening in Najera, the sun had come out and we ate the ice cream down by the river watching the swallows skimming the water for flies. The wine we saved to have with our dinner at the local Albergue (hostel).
For the last few days we have been travelling across the plains of Spain.
Easy flat cycling with straight roads that stretch away into the distance ahead of us. We stopped, for an afternoon and evening in the old medevial city of Burgos. A recommendation from the father of an old school friend of mine. Splashing out on the entrance fee to the Cathedral, we were treated to a feast of Catholic architecture, design, and art from the middle ages to modern times. This building was one of the first designated a World Heritage Site back in 1984 and it certainly deserves the accolade and protection. There is a lot of gold leaf on many of the sculptures dating from the 17th century that I suspect may have originated from Spanish conquests in South America. I prefer the simpler motives but here is a selection from our tour to give you a taste of the place.
Since arriving in Spain we have been staying in Albergue (hostels) that are available in almost every settlement, from small hamlets to the big cities, all along the Camino Francés.
They vary in style but generally offer cheap dormitory accommodation and sometimes food. Some are commercial, privately run places, some are run by volunteer parishioners to raise funds for their area, the municipalities also run some, usually in converted old schools or sports halls and some accommodation is available at convents and monasteries. We prefer the smaller albergues, particularly the parish ones. They have a more personal feel and usually everyone shares a meal together, helping the hosts with the preparation and washing up. Sometimes we share a short meeting for reflection on the Camino journey.
Sleeping accommodation is usually bunk beds and occasionally mattresses on the floor. Our most crowded night was in Najero, where 60 of us slept together in one room about the size of a badminton court.
With the windows shut to prevent the ingress of mosies, the room soon heated up to tropical temperatures and I spent the night just in my silk sheet liner. One wonders about the healthiness of such close contact with other humans, but so far we are staving off any illness.
There are a huge number of pilgrims on the trail, mostly walkers. The number of people making the journey to Santiago has increased rapidly over the last 30 years. In 1984, roughly 20,000 people completed the journey, by 2005 this had increased to 95,000, last year 262,000 reached Santiago after walking at least 100km or cycling 200km. We are following the most popular route that over 50% of pilgrims follow.
Not surprisingly then, accommodation fills up quickly. Yesterday, we arrived at an albergue around 1pm to find a queue of about 20 rucksacks lined up outside the door. The albergue didn’t open until 2pm and only took 46 people. The queue was too long even by the time the doors opened.
Extra capacity was created by providing some mattresses on the floors. Two nights ago, we took to our tent after visiting three already full albergues. We decided to leave any more available spaces to the walkers without tents. We awoke to a Spanish dawn chorus and chirruping frogs.
Walking the trail are people from all over the globe and there has been plenty of opportunity to hone our language skills. We have met Spaniards, French, German, Dutch, Italians, Irish, Portuguese, US Americans, Canadians, Mexicans, Brazilians, British, Aussies, Danish, Norwegians, South Koreans, South Africans and Polish and all are making the journey for their own reasons.
Some religious, some cultural, some social. They all share two common words which they call out regularly to other pilgrims as their paths cross: