Day Five

What a mountain - all switch-backs and its raining - a fine constant drizzle, but its still warm(ish) so with waterproofs on I still find I am equally wet on the inside. I can only see up to the next bend in the road, I have walked/cycled with the bike all morning and still have not reached the top. I am reduced to cycling 50 metres and walk 50 meters. My water supply has ran out and I make little hollows in my nylon waterproof covers on the panniers and slurp the collected water. I became so desperate I boiled up stream water and added some energy powder stuff. IT WAS NECTAR. Not an ideal thing to do as despite the height I am still well within agriculture fields - mostly with goats and cows. The goats run a mile when they see me. But the cows are a different matter - all have large bells around their necks - all roaming freely across the road, a road they apparently think they own. They look at me with quizzical amusement and I have to physically push then aside in order to get through. There can be no doubt - this was tough going. Worse was, I had nothing to see, the view behind me disappeared into the mist and the view ahead was equally obscured - I had simply no idea where I was in the scale of things, there was many, many false summits. So it was with the greatest relief at about 4 in the afternoon I finally reached the highest point. Found this was at 1609mts - Ben Nevis is only 1,344!

After two days of climbing this bloody mountain this is the view I get! The image below is what I should have had!

WHAT HAPPENED NEXT - Well, I reached the top and nearly cried. It was if someone had drawn a line across the summit (also the regional border). On the other side was bright sunshine, clear blue skies and magnificent views. It was just astounding what I was looking at. I was by now non-stop shivering with the cold and extremely wet both inside and out. I could see a little village a short distance below me but I had a major concern about the wind chill on the way down. I put on extra clothing - after nearly two days of uphill it was downhill at last - it owed me big time. I made a vow, the number one, was 'when entering any village do not leave it until you have been watered and fed’.
About 20 mins of blissful downhill - in bright sunshine but still shivering, I sped into the village. The first building I came to was the San Glorio Hotel. I did not even check out the rest of the village, this was for me - proudly displaying that it was a 3 star restaurant. I had no hesitation about going in - I simply deserved it! The four course meal was exquisite but not as nice as the litre of bottled water and the grande cervesa (large beer). I was dreaming wasn’t I! Not two hours previously I was boiling and drinking ditch water! Now I was tucking into fish soup with beans then cod in cheese sauce with fired vegetables, lovely.
When I went outside my body temperature had reached a more normal equilibrium and the heat began to hit me. This was to be it until the rains came two weeks later in Seville. The scenery was magnificent, the roads were quiet, it was downhill, I had been watered and fed, my wet gear was hanging over the rear panniers, what could be better. On the sturdy steed, off I went and for about 10 mins the brakes constantly squealed as I went faster and faster until the bike went over a rock in the middle of the road BANG - I got a puncture! Guess which wheel? Yes, the rear. I was dead keen to get going so instead of repairing it I just changed the tube and I was soon on my way again. Why is that even worth mentioning - you will see later.

Tonight I was looking for a hotel or hostel and at Boca de Huergano got the ideal place - £30 euros, large room ensuite with breakfast. What I was finding though was the total lack of English being spoken - same at the Hotel Gloria and again here. Anyway the bed was welcomed relief.

Day Six

Boca de Huergano to Sahagun. My first high mileage day - 97 k’s. Started off in ever widening countryside following a tumbling river but soon into twisty up and down passages, through high rocky hills. In between, was large, dammed, man-made lakes - most appeared to dangerously empty. The weather was getting hotter but there hung a low fog around these lakes. Crossed a large Hydro dam and was soon in the town of Cisterina. This was a busy place with a new by-pass marking the way to Sahagun. Still had about 40 k’s to go so loaded with supplies climbed out off the town (via the by-pass) and much to my annoyance found that the other end of the bypass was less than a K from where I had been shopping. Midday was now showing 30 degrees and after a particular long walk up one of these never ending type of climbs, sat in a bus shelter for an hour to avoid the main heat of the day. The roads here had a bit more traffic but were good to ride on. You did need to concentrate though as there was steep ditches instead of gutters so the slightest loss on concentration and you would soon be doing some accidental off-roading.

Eventually at about 7 in the evening got to Sahagun, this was one of the historical towns on the main pilgrim route Santiago de Compostela. The fact that I was not a pilgrim, did not have a pilgrims passport (called a Credencial) and was travelling the wrong way anyway, seemed to give me special privileges and I got a room of my own. The main dormitory had over 100 beds three to four stories high. I think I got the better deal for a few Euros more. The town looked worth exploring and had lots of ruined churches and Roman buildings, but sorry, the only exploring I did was looking for this place which I eventually found on an industrial estate. Took the opportunity to do some washing and hang my tent out to dry. Had a very nice evening in the hostel courtyard with my fresh bread, olive oil and a large jar of sardines. I did find the my fellow guests were not unfriendly but very subdued and inward. Nearly all the single walkers were women, very much into ‘finding themselves’ and spent the evening filling in extensive diary entries.

The main group at the hostel seemed to be a large party of Irish Catholics - only partially doing the route (the most interesting bits) and being mini-bused through the not-so-interesting bits (they were being picked up tomorrow which did not bode well for me as I was going in the same direction). Then there was the cyclists - none of which I would class as touring cyclists. Travelling light and fast on very expensive mountain bikes, as if in a race. There was about a dozen of them. Apart from the walkers I felt I is was the only true ‘traveller’.

My first Pilgrim’s Hostel at Sahagan.

A word about the walkers, the ‘Way of St James’ is one of the main pilgrim routes in the world and runs along the top of Spain (the hilliest part ) it is over 800 kms. Most people take months to do it. I would occasionally meet walkers on the Del La Plata route (Seville to Santago). This was even longer at 1200 kms. They got my full admiration, I always made a point of when passing them to ask if they were ‘all right’ and giving the thumbs up.