Thursday, June 17, 2010

Hostel Luck Part II

(continuation from previous post)

I remained stubborn and stayed put in my hostel. This was like owning a loser stock...jumping ship seemed like a loss. Even though the parish hostel was donation only I still felt like I had something gain.

Outside the door we heard the jingling of bells, which are tied around farm animals necks. In this case it was a family of goats, several females, a half dozen kids, and one billy. The babies were wild, jumping all over the old stacked stone house runis and making goat noises. Just like a petting zoo we instinctively approached the little ones until the hospitalero poked her head out of the other door warning us not to get too close the billy goat. "He´s mean" she said. The male goat had a big boner that he seemed preoccupied with, licking it incessantly. We turned around and headed back to the porch, and the goat followed. Oh shit. The door we had exited from only worked one way. Oh shit. The porch had only one set of stairs and railing around the perimeter. We were cornered. Courtney, Cathy, and Ellen began making high pitched noises of uncertainty as they huddled together at the far end. I climed onto a row of chairs. The goat slowly closed in on the three girls. The door opened and one of them quickly disappeared and then another. Boom the door slamed as the goat tried to follow. Now it was just Cathy and the goat. She turned away in fear and the goat started pressing her against the railing. The door opened again and she slipped away as the goat had the door slammed in his face again. He turned back passing me on his way down the stairs, and finally the door opened for me too.

Once the coast was clear I headed back to my hostel for the pilgrim meal I had prepaid for. The hostel was strangely rowdy. I sat across from a drunk spainard man who was infatuated with Sarah B. to my right. Drunk spanish man couldn't speak any english, but kept looking at her with puppy eyes and saying 'Bonita, bonita'. We were only on the salads. By the end of the meal he was offering her his desert. Sarah was completely uninterested and at this point very annoyed. I decided to accept the desert of fresh sliced fruit over yogurt on her behalf. Besides a lot of noise and love struck men the hostel was okay. The pilgrim meal was great.

I left the next morning after my prepaid pilgrim breakfast: coffee, yogurt, a pear, and cereal. I felt like I got my money's worth. I hit the road at 6:45a and with the heavy fog and rain it was nearly dark outside. It was cold and the wind blew hard, sending the rain sideways. It felt like an ocean squal. I walked alone and given the conditions it seemed erie as if I was heading into certain death. There is definitely something unnatural about subjecting oneself to weather like this, but I had gear. The only thing that was getting wet was my shoes and gloves. After two hours I hit the first town and stopped in for a café con leche, orange juice, and danish. I changed my socks and put on another layer under my rain gear. The rain died down and the air warmed as I descended into Mollesecca. I made it to Poneferrada around 1:30p, and checked into a giant Municipal hostel on the edge of town. They put me in an end room with 9 other beds on the first floor, a few of which were taken by Ellen´s students. The room had windows on three walls. The mattresses were bright blue from a pleather-like coating that was peeling off the middle from wear. I took a lone bed with a normal fitted sheet. Ellen showed up around 3p and was put in the basement room with 45 beds...the tables had turned.

I thought I lucked out with my set up but the few remaining beds were taken by snoring spanish men. After listening to them for an hour I grabbed my sleeping bag and pillow and headed upstairs to the internet room and slept on one of the futon-like couches. There was one other person up there who had the same idea. At some point in the night another joined us, and one of the two was started snoring. God damn.

That night the bed bugs paid me a visit. They were either in my sleeping bag or pillow, and possibly lived in the futon although it was sterile looking like office furniture with few places to hide. Bed bugs bite in bursts, making a string of one-two-three or one-two. I had a series on each knee, my right elbow, my right wrist, my forehead, and another just under my waistline. I became the lepper.

The only person I told was Ellen. She could be trusted with my fragile social condition. That night in the basement had fed her up with hostels too. So we when we got into Villafranca the next day we checked into a 'boutique hotel' recommmended by the guidebook. I needed some quarantine time. All of my clothes had to be washed including my sleeping bag.

The hotel seemed so pure and clean, a puffy white bed spread with and fancy bathroom. There was a toilet, bidet, and the shower rained from overhead along with body jets. It was the perfect santizing tank, and scrubbed like hell even though bed bugs don´t live on people. I just felt soiled. The hotel had a laundry service for 6 euros. They gave me a black garbage bag and I filled it with every single thing I had brought on the trip. I delivered it to the front desk wearing Ellen's shorts and low-cut shirt, which fit awkwardly in some areas. The next morning the bag appeared at our door with my clothes folded, but damp. They warned me of this. They said the dryer takes three times as long as the wash. My wool stuff was the driest along with my rain gear and fleece. I was good to go.

We ate the hotel breakfast, which was a nice buffet of fruit, meat, cheese, yogurt, and pastries. The hotel lady brought us café con leches and fresh squeezed orange juice. We really tried to fuel up because we had one of the biggest hikes of the trip that day, the alternative route through the mountains called dragonete. According to our guidebook the path is not very well marked and the route takes you over three mountains with a total elevation climb of 6000 feet. There aren't any services for 26k. None of Ellen's students wanted to do the walk. It was the first day the weather looked promising after all the rain so we decided to do it. We left at 9a after breakfast, a late start compared to our usual departures. The route started with a steep climb up an asphalt road for 5k. We came to Dragonete the town, which was one narrow street lined with stone houses. We had our first encounter with a loose dog that wasn't used to strangers. After a lot of barking and our attempts to yell "vamoose!" like we had heard spanish people say to their dogs, he relaxed, and it was clear he was more interested in the chocolate we had stopped to snack on.

The walk was amazing, easily the best one of the whole trip. The farming villages we passed through were so remote it almost felt creepy. The path was muddy at times, and by looking at the tracks of mostly farm animals and 4x4´s, we were the only pilgrims to walk that day. At the first valley we came to a section of trail where the guidebook had warned that we might get wet. The path became a creak for about 150 feet. We took off our boots and wore our flip-flops. It was 10 feet wide and only ankle deep, but damn cold. We then climbed the second mountain, which took us through a chesnut forest. These trees were crazy looking, huge trunks at least 500 years old it seemed, covered in moss and sometimes partially hollow with new growth coming out of the top.

The weather held for most of the day, only sprinkling a couple times. We emerged from the mountains onto the main trail at 6:30p, and got a text from one of Ellen's students that the hostel was full. We had three more towns in between where we hoped to find beds. The first town was too small and didn't have an albergue. We started another climb and 5k later got to the second town, La Faba, and stopped at the German Confreternity Hostel. It was nearly empty and looked awesome. We were welcomed in as number 15 and 16 (out of 60 total beds). Other pilgrims were cooking in the kitchen and Ellen and I received an invitation to dinner, to be served in 15 minutes. I quickly showered and she ran to the market and picked up a bottle of wine and a santiago cake (a thin, almond cake) for desert. The hostel had a dryer, and for 4 euros the hospitalero took all of my damp stuff and had it dry by the time dinner was finished. I slept great that night, and wasn't bitten again.

The next day was a serious walk because we had to stop short the day before. We had a 37K hike to Samos. We left at 6:30a. It was cold and there was dense fog, so thick I felt like Michael from The Lost Boys when he and the other vampires are hanging from the train truss. Beyond the edge of the trail that snaked up the mountain there was nothing but white. The air was full of moisture, you could see it blow past in the wind. I had to put on my rain gear at the first town we came too, which was really spectacular but difficult to see. We were in Galecia, which is basically irish country, irish decendants and irish weather. The orange tiled roofs we're used to seeing are now slate, and the stucco buildings are stacked stone.

We finally reached Samos and the weather had improved. It was still cool but we had some sun. We checked into one of the largest (by sheer size, only 11 monks actually live there) monasteries in Spain. The hostel was sunken a little below street level off a side street. Inside was a long vaulted room with a plaster ceiling covered in strange cartoon-like murals. It felt cold and dank. The white bunk bed covers were nappy like terry cloth and dirty. We ate a peregrino meal at the restaurant across the street with one of Ellen's students and a lone german lady who spoke very good english. We lamented the funky hostel and talked about switching to a private hostel that had just opened on the other side of town.

Again, I held out. Ellen and Sarah B. went and checked it out and returned with remorseful looks on their faces. They packed up and moved, and for 12 euros each got a clean room of five bunks that never filled up after they checked in. Damn this hostal market. I took a shower, timing it for later in the day to insure hot water. The water was great, but I had forgoten my towel on the bunk. I had to mop myself with a little orange tote bag I use carry my supplies.

The next morning I picked Ellen up at the fancy hostal. The door was locked and I stood out front for a few minutes before another pilrim, Bob from Maine, noticed me from above. "hey you guys leaving already" he said jokingly. Bob is a scruffy grey and brown, and reminds me of an over-enthusiatic high school science teacher. He is in his late 50's and when he shakes your hand he does an extra move at the end that seems left over from the 60's, like "hey man, I really feel you, brother." I like Bob. His wife is Nancy, an asian-american lady with pepper grey hair. She is really relaxed and seems like Bob's opposite.

Ellen was upstairs, popping a new blister she developed. This one was huge, and the first to actually require a needle. It just didn't seem smart to cram it into a hiking boot. We started walking around 8a. The sky was grey and looked at bit threatening. The path followed rivers and streams that snaked through the valleys. We had a short walk of 18k to Barbadello, which was nothing more than a municipal hostel and one restaurant. We all waited for the hostel to open and our group quickly filled the 17 beds. We purposely stayed at this town and not the larger town to get out of sync with the other pilgrims. Most pilgrims follow the schedule in the guidebooks pressurizing the hostels in the destination towns. At this point we were nearing the 100k mark of the walk where the pilgrim population nearly doubles. be continued.

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