A Bed For The Night. Singular.

Nope, haven’t given up and headed for the less challenging terrain at Anfield; this is an example I saw on my way out Markina-Xemein of  the random words of encouragement to walkers that pop up in the most incongruous places along The Way, and which generally succeed in bringing a smile to your face, even if you’re seriously flagging.

Some speak for themselves:

Others require a bit more explanation. Occasionally you’ll come across a sign constructed by walkers up ahead letting you know how far you’ve come that day; a nice thought, as most walkers have a pretty clear idea of the total distance they want to walk on any given day, and can therefore begin to count down the klicks ‘til their destination:

And others are just plain odd:

Anyway, it’s certainly true that I needed all the encouragement I could get today – it’s been of those days where a friend’s advice to me for the journey couldn’t have been more appropriate: “Just keep putting one foot in front of the other”.

The reason it was so challenging was partly to do with the terrain – the map and gradients below will give you an idea of the overall shape of it – although compared to yesterday’s Leg Breakers, most of these climbs were pretty manageable…

The main issue was much simpler: lack of sleep.

I haven’t really mentioned the accommodation all along The Way – the Albergues (hostels) made available to walkers, where you have your ‘Credencial’ stamped each day to show how far you’ve walked – but with the majority charging around €5 per night, expectations obviously shouldn’t be too high. Nevertheless, the graffiti at the top of the post could equally well have read ‘You’ll never sleep alone’ – here’s a picture of a typical night-time arrangement (in some places, imagine this times 20 or so).

In fact, all of the Albergues and the people who manage them  are unfailingly hospitable, the beds are clean and comfortable and there’s a great sense of a shared sense of achievement at the end of each day.

Which is all lovely…until the lights go out.

Every single night so far on this trip I seem to have drawn the most extreme snorers imaginable, like the proverbial moth to the flame, to the bunk directly below mine, and have probably been averaging around 4 hours sleep per night, once they’ve settled into a slightly less sonorous sleeping pattern.

But my nasal nemesis last night was simply relentless – I swear my mattress was reverberating. My first line of defense was ear plugs, although with nearly disastrous results; when they made no noticeable difference, I shoved one of them into my ear so far that I couldn’t get it out again. Rushing to the loo in a mild panic in search of some kind of sharp object with which to extract it, I bumped into Geraldo and Sylvia, a couple from Madrid I had eaten dinner with that night; thankfully Sylvia had some tweezers which sorted out the problem (clearly a resourceful girl – she had told me earlier that her unique technique for avoiding shoulder chafing was to insert a maximum absorbancy sanitary towel under each rucksack strap. Brilliant. Not convinced I could pull that one off though…)

The snoring was as loud as ever when I got back and by 3am I had tried gently shaking the bed frame; I had tried ‘accidentally’ stepping on the mattress below on a trip to the loo; I’m ashamed to say as a final desperate measure I had also tried a quick pillow swipe from the upper bunk, although I’m relieved to say it didn’t connect – distinctly un-pilgrim-like-behaviour…

And in the end I gave up, finally getting to sleep around 4. The piece de resistance was that I was then woken at 5.30am as the culprit below had decided to make an early start of it (no doubt fully refreshed) and was loudly packing her rucksack with the aid of a head torch that caught me full-beam in the face.

My experience of The Camino so far suggests that people’s spiritual leanings are no longer all that relevant; but one thing is certain – sometimes you need the patience of a bloody saint.

So no mountain top views today, I’m afraid – truth is I was simply too tired to do anything but put one foot in front of the other, not least because it hit 30 degrees by mid morning on a straight seven hour walk. But there’s an upside. And it’s huge. Despite any downsides, I do think the Albergues are an important part of the experience and I will continue to stay in them. But I did promise myself before I came away that once a week I would get a room of my own in a hotel, and tonight I’m playing my trump card. It might not look like much but believe me, right now it feels like The Savoy.

Onwards and upwards…

Filed under: On The Road

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