We are in Mansilla de las Mulas about 18kms from Leon - the next big city on our route to Santiago. The 27kms seemed to fly this morning after starting at about 6h40 from Bercianos in pitch darkness but a sky brilliant with stars. There are few street lights in Bercianos and no road lights once you leave the village. We walked into a market so registered at the refuge and then went shopping, buying salad ingredients, cheese and breakfast for tomorrow.
Yesterday started off as an 'out-of-sorts' day for me but ended up magically. Two days ago I hurt my rib cage trying to get off the top bunk without putting my feet on the bottom bed where someone was sleeping. I didn't realise that there was a chipboard under the mattress and the bottom ribs caught on the board. It didn't bother me too much until the night before last when I tried to pull myself onto another top bunk and felt as though the rib was cracked. So, I didn't sleep very well. Also, I have stopped using the sponges on my heels and the day before yesterday decided to wear the thinner sock liners rather than the thick hiking socks. There is a little ridge at the back of my sandals and this must have rubbed on my heel because when I had a shower I felt a bubble blister about the size of a 10c. Bugger!
So, We started off yesterday with me limping along with a blister. I was to deliver 3 Amarula dinkey bottles to a friend in Moratinos - a tiny non-place with only one main street and I couldn't find the flipping house because the numbers started with 2 then jumped to 5 then showed 3 and 6 further on. Anyway, I eventually found the house and left the bottles on top of a car parked next to the house. The strap on Anneliese's sandal broke and we waited in Sahagun for a sport shop to open so that she could buy new sandals.
The walk to Sahagun was on a rocky little path next to a busy road so it was not conducive to camino-magic having car carriers and panetchnikons hurtling past you. Sahagun is a grey, dusty, tired town that had a more illustrious past but is now a graffiti covered, weary looking place.
When we arrived in Bercianos we were less than impressed with the look of the refuge. It was a large square barn constructed, like many of the buildings in these villages, of straw and mud. A wooden floor and staircase has been added to turn it into a refuge. The beds and bunks were old iron and springs and the mattresses were compacted foam with no covers on them. A pilgrim told us that the place had to be closed two weeks ago as it was infected with bed bugs. We were just too tired to walk on so covered ourselves in my musk oil and hoped for the best.
While Anneliese slept, Marion and I sat outside while I treated my blisters. A couple of cyclists arrived and asked if we were the South Africans. They were from Cape Town and having walked the camino last year to Santiago, are cycling it in reverse this year. They had seen my SA Flag shorts fluttering on the wash line! They told us that this refuge was the best and most memorable of their whole camino last year.
Marion and I just stared at them and we had another look inside to see what we had missed. Actually, it was the kindness and generous hospitaleros that have given it its reputation. At about 8:15pm they asked us all (about 50 pilgrims) to walk outside and sit on the bank at the back of the building to watch the sunset. The French pilgrims were humming tunes so I asked them to sing the Chant de Compostelle and soon the fields were ringing with the harmonious sounds of the old pilgrim song - Ültreya, ultreya, e sus seisa...¨. Everyone clapped and then we were ushered into the dining room where two long tables had been set for dinner. Amor, the lady of the house, had cooked an enormous pot of lentil soup, served with bread, salad and freshly cut red melon for desert. Water and wine was put on the table. All of this was gratis - or for a donation only. Marion and I are constantly amazed at the generosity of the local Spanish people who provide these places of refuge for the pilgrims - strangers from all over the world - and provide food, dinner and breakfast. So, a rather poor start for me ended on a special note.
Tomorrow we will walk 18kms to Leon where we have pre-booked a hotel so that we can stay up until mid-night to see the lights being switched on in the cathedral. More about that in a days time. All well, loving every minute of this camino. Marion and I sing a lot and marvel at everything around us. Anneliese is less expressive but I'm sure she is also having a good 'camino' experience.
Love to all,
S A M