Let me be brutally honest here. There are some languages that flow rhythmically and poetically from mouth to ear like some glorious Shakespearian, Mozartian love child – German is not one of them. In truth I have grown quite an affinity to the German people since being released by the cultural grip of semi disdain and suspicion often still experienced in England. Give me a a bushy mustached Hans in a lederhosen as a drinking buddy any time. That being said, a torrent of German still feels like I’m being flogged with cat and water boarded at the same time.
A long ancient bridge led us into the picturesque town of Hospital d’Ortega a few days after leaving Leon. At 204 metres it is the longest bridge along the Camino – and considering the tiny river it crosses – about 200 metres longer than strictly necessary. The majority of this aged relic stretches over a large expanse of bright green grass, which in all likelihood we could have just walked across. Our home for the night was a quaint little alberque that had been recommended to us – a peaceful and serene place until a large gaggle of Italian cyclists arrived.
Outside the main Municipal hostel in Burgos I joined the back of a long line inhabited by a truly bedraggled bunch – all staring vacantly into space. Those who arrived after were given the solemn news that there were no beds left.
“You won’t like it” the taxi driver sneered dismissively as we climbed out in front of the Massara Hotel, “I will wait” he casually added. We were in the seaside town of Kohbar for the weekend. We did like it – I’m not sure if he’s still waiting.
There are few taxis in Al Hofuf. Those that do appear tend to fire past you with a look of repulsion in their eyes. It was a Friday evening in the mid size desert oasis town and we were standing by the side of the road. Nabeel threw out an arm, and within seconds a white Toyota truck came to a halt next to us. The briefest of negotiations took place and we all climbed in.
I’m always genuinely surprised when I successfully manage to get through an airport and onto the plane. Thanks to a litany of travel screw ups, I always fear I’m moments from disaster. An employee turning to me and asking flippantly,
“You’ve got your B7236 per-authorisation form right?” or even the worryingly frequent “this flight is actually tomorrow sir”. On this day however, and despite the body complaining loudly about the rambunctious evening the night before, I breezed through.
In the grand scheme of a walk, it would be a little longer than a pleasant Sunday morning stroll. The Camino de Santiago, a thousand year old pilgrimage route, would take me from the edge of France and across Spain to the famed cathedral of Santiago de Compostela. A little less than 500 miles.
I thrust my hands deep into the coat pockets, a refuge from the biting cold. The Beagle Channel stretches before me. A fierce, angry wind growls in from the sea. Great hulking ships sit dormant in port. Monsters of nautical travel – ice breakers – Antarctic ships. The frozen continent lies a thousand kilometers to the south. Bronze busts of past explorers line the waterfront, staring whistfully out to sea. I have no idea who any of them are – but if their clothing, steely gaze and sensational facial hair are anything to go by they were quite something.
It was still dark as we woke to the frozen town of Rio Gallegos. We disembarked into the scruffy, but warm bus station. Our legs wobbling slightly, as they became used to being used as legs again. The bus had long disappeared when I realized I had left a camera bag on-board.
After a slow and fairly painful interaction with a bus employee, I was given directions to the re-fuelling depot. I ran frantically down the dark, icy street, my breath swirling into mist above me. A bus appeared out of the gloom. I barrelled into the road, waving my arms wildly and screeching like a rabid dog. It came to an abrupt stop, faces filled with fear peered out. I quickly realized that this wasn’t my bus – thankfully it pulled up along side it moments later.